July 28, 2017

13 Hours: the Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team

Mention the word Benghazi and both liberals and conservatives bristle. Journalist Mitchell Zuckoff interviewed the private security personnel who were present on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya and has created a non-fiction account that is absolutely riveting.

Although the principal American consulate in Libya was in Tripoli, Ambassador Christopher Stevens was visiting the diplomatic Compound in the secondary city of Benghazi on September 11, 2012. A few blocks away was a CIA center called the Annex with highly trained security guards who were tasked with keeping Ambassador Stevens and other American officials safe.

We are given first hand accounts of the attacks on both the Compound and the Annex. The reader is placed in the midst of fire, smoke, bullets and bombs. The bravery of both private and governmental agents is awe-inspiring.

Your political view of the debacle may not change, but you will certainly know more about what American personnel face when working in countries hostile to the United States.

I have not seen the 2016 movie adaptation by filmmaker Michael Bay, which received mixed reviews, but the movie title and tag line does illuminate a major theme in the well-written book. “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. When everything went wrong six men had the courage to do what was right.”

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

My book-loving middle sister recommended Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, a delicious historical fiction about a woman who stands up to a spoiled heir who runs into their family horse and buggy with his new-fangled motor car.

Constance Kopp inadvertently begins to do detective work, learns how to handle a gun and uncovers crimes such as arson, kidnapping, assault, and even murder. The year 1914 vividly comes to life as we see the Kopp women, Constance, Norma and Fleurette battle not only thugs and bullies, but the restrictive roles placed upon women before World War I.

Amy Stewart’s writing reads like the best detective fiction yet the Kopp Sisters and their stories are based on fact. I see that Stewart has written two sequels to this rollicking read, Lady Cop Makes Trouble and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. I have to get copies, stat!

Notes on the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

David Edelfelt, Elizabeth Doyle & Charles Troy at the Midwest Museum of American Art (a former downtown Elkhart bank)

As musical guests of Charles Troy in his two Cole Porter presentations this past weekend, David Edelfelt and I were introduced to the charms of Elkhart, Indiana and its Jazz Festival, celebrating its 30th year.

The entire downtown becomes one big block party with food concessions, an exhibit of vintage cars and music, music, everywhere. People lay claim to the outdoor row seating or bring lawn chairs to install themselves in front of two large outdoor stages, or they pop into clubs, churches and theaters to catch a great variety of jazz during the three day festival.

Elizabeth Doyle at the Midwest Museum of American Art during the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

The two programs we presented were Cole Porter and the Great Depression and Cole Porter’s Top Ten List Songs. Our connection to jazz was illustrating the provenance of Porter tunes that have become jazz standards. Hoosiers are justifiably proud of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael who hail from Indiana.

Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli and Ed Laub at the New Life Community Church during Elkhart’s 2017 Jazz Fest

We were able to catch some fantastic music when we weren’t engaged ourselves. Chicago trumpeter Bobby Lewis was regaling crowds outdoors with his 1988 Rhythmakers Revival Band. The Ed Laub Trio featured revered 91-year-old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, his son Martin, guitarist Gene Bertoncini and guitarist/vocalist Laub.

We ended Saturday evening hearing the Fat Babies, a tight 8-piece Chicago  band that specializes in 1920’s and 1930’s jazz charts. Audience members leapt to their feet at the end of this young band’s invigorating set.

We also had outstanding food at the Main street restaurant, 523. Their menu had something for everyone, including steaks and chops, seafood, burgers, salads and vegan fare. This establishment has big city tastes with seasoned wait staff and an interesting bar menu.

Seward Johnson’s “American Gothic” statues in Elkhart’s Central Park

David Edelfelt posing with Seward Johnson’s statue of Marilyn Monroe

Art lovers can admire 56 life-like statues by sculptor Seward Johnson, dotting Elkhart and environs. A giant replica of Grant Wood’s American Gothic in Elkhart’s Central Park was my favorite. Then again, I almost put money into the guitar case of a street musician until I realized he was inanimate.

I plan to return to see all 19 of the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail, having seen one downtown garden that used real flowers to fashion a patchwork pattern. There are also 22 hand-painted murals on buildings that continues the quilt theme throughout the city.

A visit to downtown Elkhart encompasses music, art, good food and fine fellowship.

Count me in for next year’s 31st Elkhart Jazz Fest.

www.elkhartjazzfestival.com

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F. B. I. by David Grann

If your taste runs to historical non-fiction, consider Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and the previous bestselling author of The Lost City of Z.

A veritable “Reign of Terror” was waged on the Osage tribe in the 1920’s as wealthy members were bumped off for their money and “headrights.” Local law enforcement and courts in Oklahoma seemed unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the guilty parties.

Enter Tom White, a Western sheriff who was tasked by Edgar J. Hoover and his fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation with getting to the bottom of this rash of Indian deaths by poison, guns and bombs.

Just when you think the case is all wrapped up, Grann digs deeper to find more skullduggery. The book reads like a cross between precise journalistic writing and a thriller. Killer of the Flower Moon belongs on the shelf with other books about the West, Native American history and the FBI. Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.

The Nightingale by author Kristin Hannah

Published in 2015, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was the darling of book reviewers and book clubs alike when it first came out. It viewed World War II France from the perspective of two sisters, one woman who was trying to raise her daughter without fighting against the German occupiers and the other, an active member of the Resistance.

I must admit that the prose is not going to rival any of the great literary giants, but the plot is engaging and there are many emotional moments as the characters navigate through the treacherous waters of loyalty, patriotism, brutality, self-interest and love.

There seems to be an inexhaustible interest in World War II, Paris and the Resistance. This book belongs on the large shelf of entertaining historical fiction that is set during this turbulent and storied time.

Hannah, the author of over 20 books is yet another lawyer-turned-writer. She lives with herhusband in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

http://kristinhannah.com/

Robert Harris: The Fear Index, Conclave

I first heard about former BBC reporter, Robert Harris because of his trilogy on ancient Roman history (Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator). World War II is another area of interest for Harris having written both non-fiction and fiction works set in that era.

The book that first snagged my interest was Conclave, a novel about the selection of a Catholic pope in Rome. He manages to make a thriller out of this religious ritual as he depicts the factions and candidates vying for power in the Vatican.

Next on my nightstand was Harris’ The Fear Index, so different in subject matter that I had to keep looking at the cover to make sure that it was the same author. A scientist who has invented an algorithm for a hedge fund sees his luxurious life in Geneva, Switzerland unravel. The reader enters the world of cutting edge computers and of high finance.

My husband just finished Pompei and says Harris’ fine writing, historical research and edge-of-your-seat pacing is also evident in this novel set in 79 AD. This writer could seemingly take any topic and make it exciting. Robert Harris may be one author whose entire catalogue will be on my “to read” list.

Victoria on PBS

After watching The Crown on Netflix, I dove into the world of Victoria on PBS. Initially the Victoria production suffered in comparison, the first two episodes seeming a bit snoozy to me, but once Albert arrives in his red boots and military uniform, the drama takes off.

Don’t get me wrong, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne and the queen’s first confidante is engaging, but the suggested emotional connection between the Prime Minister and Victoria seems to be a dramatic contrivance. The show is really about the wonderful happenstance that an arranged royal marriage could still contain romance and genuine sexual heat. Actor Tom Hughes as the serious but dashing German-born Prince Albert seems straight out of a fairy tale.

Some of the side characters (Victoria’s maid and other serving staff) have compelling story lines, but the true heart of Victoria is the queen herself, marvelously embodied by Jenny Coleman. At one point she wishes to be just an ordinary woman and not the monarch of multitudes of citizens. The tug of war between Victoria’s regal responsibilities and her personal wishes provides the drama in this series created by Daisy Goodwin, formerly an executive producer of The Apprentice and the author of a book entitled Victoria on which the current series is based.

Upcoming episodes in Season 1 show her holding firm against her husband and advisors, so I look forward to seeing her go from young queen to seasoned sovereign.

If you need car chases, guns and a fast pace to be entertained, this is definitely not your show. Victoria shines with splendid cinematography, impressive costumes, first-rate acting and well-crafted script-writing.
The series has already been renewed for a second season which is not surprising since Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years.

Terra Cotta Warriors and Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

I usually don’t write about exhibits that have just left Chicago, but I decided to write about two showings that are moving on to other cities.

It has long been my dream to see the famed Terra Cotta Warriors in their original excavation site in Xi’an, China. The Field Museum exhibit which ran from March 4, 2016 to January 8, 2017 seemed to be the next best thing.
My thumbnail review: admission and parking were expensive and the exhibit itself was rather small with very few artifacts that weren’t reproductions. If you never plan to visit China, you may want to make a spring visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors in Seattle, but I myself am holding out hope to see the real thing in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibit
Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA
April 8 to Sept 3, 2017

A much more satisfying exhibit was Moholy-Nagy: Future Present which ran from Oct. 2, 2016 to January 3, 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a painter, photographer, film-maker, sculptor, advertising man, product designer and theater set designer. Happily, the exhibit gave us glimpses of every phase of his work. Room after room featured samples of his work from his lucite and metal chandeliers to his photos, films, paintings and graphic designs.

Moholy-Nagy holds a place of honor in Chicago history having been instrumental in creating the New Bauhaus here which morphed into the Institute of Design on the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus.

The Moholy-Nagy exhibit was previously at the Guggenheim Museum in New York city and now moves to Los Angeles. West coasters who admire early 20th century art and design are strongly urged to attend this fine show.

Moholy-Nagy Future Present
Feb. 12 to June 18, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum

The Crown on Netflix

I was going through a bit of Downton Abbey withdrawal so The Crown, a Netflix ten-part dramatic series seemed to be the perfect “hair of the Corgi.”

High quality production values were apparent from the opening credits, but what unfolded was impeccable acting and emotional script-writing as well as gorgeous cinematography and beautiful film music.

Claire Foy is wondrous as Elizabeth II, from her father’s death in her 20’s, through her coronation to dealing with family and national squabbles in her first years as queen. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is surprisingly good despite being a Yank actor and is both an adversary and advisor to the young Elizabeth. Matt Smith, known for his stint on Dr. Who, is believable as the prince consort who finds himself overshadowed by his regal wife. Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret is vibrantly played by Vanessa Kirby. Their sororal relationship in this very visible British royal family provide some of the most dramatic scenes.

Friends have found the slow pace of the episodes off-putting, but I luxuriated in the elegance and grace of this production. The Crown might make a relaxing binge between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Google Arts and Culture site

google-arts-and-culture-logoWhen traveling, I love visiting museums, gardens and venues of visual beauty. Unfortunately, my wish list of places to visit continues to grow, while my time to travel remains relatively small.

Google Arts and Culture comes to the rescue with a comprehensive web site that allows the viewer to virtually visit a host of cultural and natural sites all across the world. biodivwand_c_carola-radke-mfnBio Diversity Wall at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

Some of the web site headings include Your Daily Digest, Stories of the Day, Zoom in and Explore by time and color. A seemingly endless number of virtual tours are available including Ford’s Theater in Washington,  10 Downing Street in London and the Taj Mahal in India. One can do searches by art movements, artists, historical events or places along with a host of other topics. Every visit to Google Culture and Art home page could be a different, enlightening experience.

I see from the internet address that Google Arts and Culture is still in beta-testing mode, but the site looks quite polished and professional in its current state.
On my next Google Arts and Culture experience, I plan to make virtual visits to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to the Great Barrier Reef. Excuse me while I pack my virtual suitcase.

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/