Thursday, September 29, 2016

From JD to Opera Star: Sing For Your Life by Daniel Bergner

"He was singing to live," Met coach Ken Noda said about Ryan Speedo Green. There was much Green needed to learn--how to sing in foreign languages, how to place his voice, employing dynamics, reading music--but he had a personal energy and presence, a remarkable range, and an ability to "stir a reaction."

In 2011 Green won the Metropolitan Opera's voice competition, beating 1,200 other singers. Green's potential stood out. Yet, while the other opera hopefuls had studied at prestigious schools, Green had grown up in a shack and spent time in solitary confinement in juvenile detention, and had suffered physical abuse from his older brother and mother. Plus Green was African American, and few black men became opera stars.

Sing For Your Life by Daniel Bergner is Ryan Speedo Green's inspiring story, how an angry youth ended up in 8th Grade chorus, discovered he had a voice, and after hitting rock bottom determined to change his life. It is also the story of being black in America where people of color must prove their humanity and equality, and talented black singers are steered toward musical theater and traditionally African American roles.

Green was lucky to have found adults and teachers who helped him along the way. One teacher had students memorize Rev. Martin Luther King's statement about the "content of their character" which Green never forgot. Green turned away from the street life and befriended a boy whose close family offered him a sanctuary of acceptance and normalcy. Many coaches helped him learn to how to train his remarkable voice.

Green's complicated family dynamics and history makes his endeavor to connect with them as an adult poignant. His revisiting the facility where he spent time, singing and trying to inspire the youth, shows his deep commitment to changing not only his own life but the life of others.

Bergner does a wonderful job of explaining the intricacies of vocal performance. Following Green throughout his training could have become tedious to read, but his keeping Green's emotional journey forefront my interest did not flag.

Green has established a very successful career, performing this year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and in Vienna, Austria.

I do love reading about how the arts changes lives!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read Bergner's article on Green's winning the Met operatic voice competition:

"Sing for Your Life is certain to be billed as a book about race. And it is that, and also a book about art and hope and resilience. But this is not a book about abstractions. It's a story that is suspenseful in the deepest sense, and very moving--a story about a fascinating human being. I am grateful to Mr. Bergner for having introduced me to him." Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine and Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Sing For Your Life
Daniel Bergner
Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Sept 13, 2016
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 9780316300674

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Big Book of Fat Quarter Quilts

Sixty-six quilt patterns made with fat quarters! I don't know about you, but I have bins of fat quarters in my stash. I pick them up because I like them, or to 'fill out' my stash, or 'just because'.

What is great about this book are the variety of patterns. There is something for everyone. There are Modern quilts in solids, Country quilts, jazzy and mellow quilts, super sized quilt blocks, pieced and appliqued patterns and quilts that combine the two, traditional patterns and updated looks for traditional patterns. There are seasonal and holiday patterns. Sizes include lap quilts, crib quits, bed quilts, and wall hangings.

Each pattern comes with:

  • a full page picture of the finished quilt
  • materials and cutting instructions, some with cutting layout diagrams
  • illustrated step-by-step sewing instructions
  • assembling the quilt top with illustration
  • finishing information link to online downloadable instructions. 

Applique patterns are also downloadable online.

Handy sidebar advice offer hints, such as auditioning prints, color use, chain sewing, and increasing the quilt size.

I like the easy and quick techniques, like a method for making multiple half-square triangle units from two strips of fabrics.

Several Kim Diehl designs caught the attention of my quilt group when I showed them the review ebook. Based on my quilt friend's reactions, I think this book will interest quilters and be useful in quilt libraries.

You can order the book at

I received a free ebook from Martingale through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Big Book of Fat Quarter Quilts
$27.99 paper back
$19.99 ebook

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue immersed me into another world, an almost claustophobic closed society, reduced to one room, one patient, and little outside interaction.

An English nurse trained under Florence Nightengale during the Crimean War, Lib is hired for an unusual two week position in a poor Irish village. The village still bears the scars of the potato famine, windowless and deserted cottages ovegrown with vegetation, hungry women and children huddled in the rain.

Lib's scientific training is to be utilized in objective observation of eleven-year-old Anna who stopped eating on her last birthday four months previous. A committee has hired Lib and a nun to watch Anna every minute, in shifts, to verify that the child truly has not been eating.

The villagers are ardent Roman Catholics who along with their prayers and rosary continue to adher to local folklore, setting out saucers of milk for the wee folk. Anna's physician hopes he is watching a new level of human evolution that portends the end of starvation and war. Others believe they are watching a miracle. Very few recognize the signs of starvation.

Lib doubts what she is seeing, knows the girl must be participating in a hoax. An unbeliever, Lib distains the pious Catholicism of Anna and her community. As Lib watches Anna decline in bodily health she comes to see the girl's deep intelligence and learns that the child is willing to die if it means she can save her deceased brother from purgatory.

Good nurses follow rules, but the best know when to break them Lib decides, and with the help of
Byrne, a newsman lured by a story, she decides to break all the rules she has been taught, becoming personally involved with Anna and altering her fate. To do nothing is the deadliest sin, Byrne had told her.

This is the first time I have read Donoghue. It is a masterfully crafted novel. The novel has subtle details that place it in time. The Crimea War and Great Potato Famine are recently past. Lib reads Charles Dicken's magazine All the Year Round and George Eliot's Adam Bede. Byrne's history as a journalist reminds that while Ireland starved Parliment stood silent. Lib is allowed to slowly grow in her understanding of what she is observing, struggling with issues of faith and the nature of her professional role. Perhaps the ending is too neat, but it is gratifying wishfullfillment. We come to admire Lib and Anna captures our hearts.

The story was inspired by the stories of Fasting Girls over the centuries.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Wonder
Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Date: Sept 20, 2016
$27 hard cover

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

I was thrilled to win Behold the Dreamers on Goodreads Giveaways! After reading it, I am grateful to have won it. It is a beautifully written, deep, and thoughtful exploration of the oldest theme in American literature: The American Dream. What makes this treatment stand out is the jutaposition of the dreamers who hope to achieve the dream against the family who already lives the dream.

Jende and Neni have come to New York City hoping for a better life. Neni is a strong willed woman who defied her father to marry Jende. She is determined to get an education and a career. When Neni became pregnant her father had Jende imprisoned. In 2007, now together and living in Harlem, Neni is in school and Jende has landed a posh job as a chauffeur to a Lehman Brothers executive. They are full of hope for the future. All they need is to become permanent residents.

Jende's boss Clark and his wife Cindy are successful, rich, beautiful people, who have come up from the lower and middle classes. In truth Clark is a workaholic whose moral sense must be supressed as he conforms to the business ethics of Lehmans, while Cindy obsesses over fitting in, passing as one of the 1% to maintain her status.

As the two couples struggle with their personal demons, watching their dreams unravel, choices are made that will alter their lives forever.

I enjoyed this book on so many levels. Mbue is a wonderful story teller, her characters are vivid and unforgetable. The treatment of  the immigrant experience and American immigration law is relevent and revealing.

I loved how Jende and Neni were hard working idealists about America. The battle between Clark's Midwest values and the realities of Wall Street destroy him while his wife escapes into the oblivion of drugs and alcohol. Cindy and Clark's son Vince understands the spiritual death of American society, dropping out to find a life worth living. I loved the ending as Jende and Clark meet a final time, no longer boss and servant, but as men recognizing their mutual struggle to do what is best for their families.

It impressed me that Mbue, born in Cameroon and living in America for ten years, has a masterful writing style and a deep and intelligent insight into the psyche of both immigrant and American. This is her first book, and I can't wait to read more from Mbue.

I received a free book from Random House in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Random House
$28 hard cover

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Eugene Gochenours Memoirs: Gene Gets A Girlfriend

Gene Gochenour and Joyce Ramer. 1948. Grand Island, NY
Dad named this section of his memoir "Gene Gets a Girlfriend." The story of Mom's pursuit of Dad was legend in our family. Dad takes his girl hunting, on the motocycle, and for a Niagara Falls Honeymoon. Of course, things do go awry. And I finally make my arrival in the story! 

My grandparents Lynne and Evelyn Ramer and their four children, Joyce, Nancy, and twins Don and David moved to the Sheridan Park Project during WWII. Gramps worked as a testing engineer in the airplane factory. He also obtained his MA in Mathematics from the University of Buffalo and taught there after the war. Mom was the 'jitterbug queen' of the project. Sadly, she never could teach me to jitterbug.

My Aunt Pat, Dave Ramer's wife, and her sister Bonnie told me that ALL the girls had a crush on dad.
1946, Mom age 15, at Sheridan Park Project
Gene Gets a Girlfriend

"My first and only real girlfriend was Joyce Ramer. She lived across the tracks at the housing project.
Shy teen Gene
"As a teenager I was very shy. I was told by a friend that a certain girl named Joyce Ramer had “set her sails for me.” I knew that when I got on the school bus in the morning there would be an empty seat next to her, and she would trip me as I went by, but I was too shy to even acknowledge her. She probably thought, “What do I have to do to get this bonehead’s attention?” They say cave men would hit a woman over the head to get her attention: Joyce did other things to get mine.

"Thank goodness she was persistent, because I finally got the courage to visit her at her house. [Ed. Note: Mom told me that she had a mutual friend bring Dad to her house!] The first time I went to Joyce’s house, her best friend Doris Wilson was there also. Doris lived with her family right next door, and they were always together. We went into the living room and I sat down. Then Joyce and Doris started wrestling on the floor. I guess they were nervous too. I didn’t know what to do around these crazy girls, so I just sat there like a bump on a log. Soon I was going there a lot, but it took six months before I got up enough nerve to kiss her.
My teenage mom, Joyce Ramer, at dad's Military Road house.
"When we first went together Joyce was fifteen and I was sixteen years old. Every Friday we would go to the dance at the Project Administration Building. Joyce was a good dancer; I was not. She loved to Boogie Woogie, and I could not, so she often danced with one of her girlfriends, or one of the guys who could dance. The last dance they played was always “My Happiness,” and that became our song.
Steve Capuson jitterbugging with Joyce Ramer at
Sheridan Park Projects dance

Joyce Ramer, 1947, Sheridan Project

Joyce Ramer, Sheridan Parkside
"Joyce, I, and my good friend Dale Thiel rode to school very often on my father’s three-wheeled motorcycle. After school we would drop Joyce off at her house and Dale and I would find some coal jobs and make a few dollars. Other kids rode to and from school on the school bus so we always beat them to the jobs. I drove the cycle all through the winter, even though it was very cold. The cycle had a windshield, and I wore a leather jacket someone had given me.

"One day on the way home from school a policeman stopped me because there were five people on the cycle. He stood with his hands on his hips, looked at me and said “Where do you think you are going?” I said we were just coming home from school. Since I only had a Junior driver's license, I had to have a valid reason for driving. He shook his head and said “Get some handles on this thing!” So when I got home I put some cupboard handles on the rear seat.

"The photo below is what we looked like, although it is with my father, sister Mary, a cousin, me, and my sister Alice. The year was 1947.

1947. Dad's motorcycle.
"I once took Joyce to a farm at Allegheny, N.Y, where we often hunted. The farm was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Putt, and I had hunted there with my father since I was very young. I had my shotgun and Joyce and I walked up a large hill till we got to the top where we found a large log to sit on to watch for deer. After a while I asked her to stay sitting and I would try to find some deer. Later when I returned I found that she was petrified since she had never been alone in the woods before. [Ed. Note: As Mom told me, she was also pretty annoyed. Some date!]
Joyce at Putt's Farm, 1948
"Joyce had one living grandmother and grandfather, on her mother’s side of the family. Della Victoria Smith was her grandmother’s maiden name and Cropper Greenwood was his. Cropper was born in Bacup, England; Della was born in Manchester, England; and they came to America when they were still young. They lived at Watervliet, New York, a small town near Albany.
"Cropper was a small, shy, gentle man. He was a jewel! Joyce’s grandmother was a large, portly woman, and she ruled the roost! One summer before Joyce and I were married we asked our parents if we could visit her grandparents, and they all said yes. My father let me use his '37 Buick for the trip, and one summer day we packed up and left.
Gene Gochenour at Greenwood home
"We took old Route 5 and everything went fine until we got to about ten miles from our destination. Latham Circle was the name of the place. I went to stop at a stop sign, and the car just kept going. The hydraulic brake hose had broken, and I lost my brakes! I did not hit anything when they broke, and luckily we were through the mountain area. Since it was not too late in the day when it happened, we found a garage where they repaired it, and we continued on our way.
Joyce Ramer, age 15,  at her Grandparent Greenwood's home
"Cropper had waited all day for us to arrive. Joyce’s grandmother had given him a burlap bag with kittens in it, and he was told to drown them. Timid soul that he was he could not do that, so as soon as we pulled into their driveway, he came to the car with the bag, and asked me to drown them. I was shocked and didn’t know to say no. I had grown up around farm animals, had rabbits that we butchered, and hunted, and I knew that was how people got rid of unwanted cats. So I drowned them, relieving Cropper of the foul deed. I did not feel very good after that, but at least Cropper was happy.
Gene and Joyce at Watkin's Glen, NY
"While we were there we did some sightseeing. We stayed there about a week, then headed home. In those days it was about a full day of driving for the trip.
Joyce and Gene
"A few years after we visited them, her grandmother decided to move to be near the rest of the family, so she bought a house on Englewood Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda. During 1955 she decided that they needed a new car, so they bought a new Chrysler. It was a big fancy car with a huge engine. We bought their old car, a 1950 Dodge Coronet. It was a black stodgy four door, with a six cylinder engine. But my wife’s grandfather loved that old car, and when they came to visit, he would go out in our backyard, and sit in it. When Joyce and I bought another car a few years later, we used the old Coronet at the station to pick up parts, and occasionally tow a stalled car. We called it “The Tank.”

Joyce in graduation gown,
Sheridan Parkside Projects
Joyce Ramer's Senior Photo 1949

"Joyce took up comptometer courses and got an office job after her graduation. The job was in Buffalo and she had to take a bus to get there every day. After I graduated I got a job at the construction company working on the [new Philip Sheridan Elementary] school, then when the station was ready to open, I went to work for my father.

"When I was single I was paid twenty five dollars a week at the station, then when I married, my pay was forty two dollars a week. Not very much money, even then!
Gene Gochenour at Military Road

Joyce Ramer high school graduation 1949
Joyce and Gene at Senior Dance, Kenmore High School, 1948
"Joyce’s father worked as an engineer, testing aircraft engines at the Chevrolet factory during the Second World War, then as a professor after the war at the University of Buffalo. Because he had gone to college to be a minister and was ordained, he was also an associate pastor at an Episcopal church in Kenmore. When the time came that Joyce and I were to be married, Joyce’s mother wanted us to be married at that church by a high ranking bishop who was a friend of theirs. Dick Watkins was my best man, and Joyce’s sister Nancy was the bridesmaid. It was not an elaborate wedding, because no one had much money in those days.
Dick Watkins, Gene Gochenour, Joyce Ramer, Nancy Ramer
Mom and Dad's wedding 1949

Joyce Ramer Gochenour and Gene Gochenour
I believe at the Niagara Falls gorge.
"The reception was at Joyce’s parent’s house, and Joyce and I did not stay very long. It was the first week of January, and the weather was very bad. We did not have much money, so we went to a hotel at Niagara Falls, the honeymoon capitol of the world! Niagara Falls was about twenty miles from where we lived, and when we got there we found we were about the only people at the hotel. The next day we took a walk to the falls, but everything was covered with ice careful and fell, I think we could have slid over the falls! It was a beautiful sight though, with all the ice coated trees glistening in the sun! Since the weather was so bad, and it was so quiet at the hotel, I remember going to the lobby to get some comic books for us to read! So after a few days we decided to go back and work on fixing up the apartment we were to live in.
My Mom, Joyce Ramer Gochenour

"The apartment was upstairs from where my mother and father lived, behind the station. My sister Mary and her husband Clyde lived in the apartment below us.

"Joyce found a job closer to home, but she did not like the people, or the work. She still had to ride the bus to work, and in those days, women that worked in offices did not dress casual, but spent a lot on shoes, suites, make up, etc. Since she only made twenty five dollars a week, we decided she should quit, and be a housewife. I was happy she quit, but we were very poor then. When I was single I was paid twenty five dollars a week at the station, then when I married, my pay was forty-two dollars a week. Not very much money, even then!

Joyce and Gene
"Since I was a child I had always saved old coins like Indian head pennies, Buffalo nickels, silver dollars, and so on. One day the paper boy brought in a whole handful of old coins, and I thought I had hit the jackpot! I traded them for some newer ones, then he told me that my wife had paid the paper bill with them. So I had bought my own coins back! I could not blame her, for in those days we were very poor.
Gene and Joyce in Allegheny
"When we were first married I told Joyce that she should handle the finances, and that we should never buy anything we could not afford, and we should never have a late bill. Well, a few years after we were married, Joyce gave me a check to mail, and a few days later we were notified that the payment was not made. This disturbed Joyce very much, because she knew that the check had been made out and sent in. So after she was told of the non-payment, she made out another check, and sent it in. About a year later I decided to sell our car, and when I cleaned out the glove box, I found an unmailed letter. In the letter was a check, and it was I, that had caused the bill to be paid late! I don’t think I told Joyce about that! Joyce always did a good job of handling our meager finances and balancing the check book.
Joyce Ramer Gochenour and Nancy (me!)
"A few years after we married we had our first child, Nancy Adair.
Nancy Gochenour and Debbie Becker (daughter of Lee Becker,
Dad's uncle) 1953. Rosemont Ave and John Kuhn's barn in background.

Joyce Gochenour and Mary Becker with Nancy and Debbie
on Rosemont Ave, 1953

"This picture was taken at Military Road. The girl with the cowboy hat is Linda Guenther, my sister Mary's child, the other is my daughter Nancy. The lot behind them is where the Town dumped trash, and where a Texaco gas station and a bicycle shop would be built. Connie Ippolito ran the bicycle shop, and his brother Joe ran the station. In the background is the Brace Mueler Steel warehouse. The house on the right was owned by the Kellers, and it sat on the other side of Waverly Street."

Mom in 1958, Military Road House. Rosemont Ave and the Kuhn's farm in the background.

Friday, September 23, 2016

My Quilt Projects!

My MODA Bee-autiful Quilt-A-Long top is finished!

 I made a small quilt with my sister-in-law's heirloom lace.
Finally, I am working on The Great Gatsby storybook quilt I have been planning for several YEARS, ever since I read Maureen Corrigan's book So We Read On which lead me to reread Fitzgerald's masterpiece. Read my review here.
 Tom and Daisy, the rich couple who wreck havoc on other people's lives.

Jay talking to Nick.
Jordan and Daisy.

We bought local eggs and what pretty colors they are!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Friendship of Auguste Rodin and Rainer Maria Rilke

I was excited to receive an ARC of You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin by Rachel Corbett in the mail. I was clamouring to read it, entering give-a-ways and requesting it on Edelweiss, then it arrived unanounced in the mail. Thank you, W. W. Norton!

I was in my twenties and living in Philadelphia when browsing in a Center City bookstore I happened upon Letters to a Young Poet. Later I bought the Duino Elegies-which I read on vacation camping at Acadia National Park-and collected poems in several translations.

The Burghers of Calais by Rodin
I first encountered Rodin in a high school art history class, learning about The Burghers of Calais. Later we visited the marvelous Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.

Corbett's book follows the lives of both poet and artist, concentrating on their friendship and how Rodin influenced Rilke's view of the artistic life and appreciation of art, in context of their contemporary society and artist communities.

As a young man Rilke traveled to visit his idols but it was Rodin who took him into his home and confidence.

The poet served as Rodin's personal secretary, living with him at Meudon. In a writing slump, Rodin directed Rilke to the zoo to observe the animals, altering the trajectory of his work culminating in his famous poem The Panther.

Rilke took to heart Rodin's admonition that the artist must dedicate their life to their art; seeking solitude Rilke abandoned his wife and child to fend for themselves.

Rilke wrote a monograph on Rodin in which he wrote, "and he labors incessantly. His life is like a single workday" in which "therein lay a kind of renunciation of life." Rilke stressed Rodin as "solitary": "Rodin was solitary before his fame"; he lived "in the country solitude of his dwelling"; he learned his craft "alone within itself" until "Finally, after years of solitary labor, he attempted to come out with one of his works."  That work was rejected and he "locked himself away again for thirteen years."

Rilke's perception of the artist influenced his own artistic philosophy, evident in the letters he wrote to a young student, Franz Xaver Kappus, who published them in 1929 as Letters To A Young Poet. In the letters Rilke advises the aspiring poet that no outsider can affirm one's own artistic worth, that it must come from within. He tells Kappus to "look to Nature," the "little things that hardly anyone sees." Rilke praises solitude, "it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it."

Neither man was a paragon. Rodin lived with a commonlaw wife who had to tolerate his series of mistresses, including his art student Camille Claudel. He was sensitive and irascible and after nine months he threw Rilke out over a perceived breech of trust: in Rodin's absence Rilke had written a letter to a friend he'd introduced to Rodin, and Rodin had not approved his writing the letter.

The world in the early 20th c. was rapidly changing. Rodin's art became repetitive and was considered too representational. Rilke's work was in keeping with the new movements of Existentialism, Abstract Art, and Depth Psychology. Rilke's poetry continued to show growth during his brief 51 years, but Rodin, over twenty years older, in old age realized how serialized his work had become and felt the irony that only as he neared the end of his life did he realize the pupose of his work.

Toward the end of Rodin's life Rilke realized Rodin had failed to live up to his own advice, which Rilke had taken to heart: work, only work.

"You must change your life" is the last line in Rilke's poem Archaic Torso of Apollo which I first read translated by Stephen Mitchell. Rilke responds to a sculpture of the god Apollo, sans head, arms, and legs, but which still holds a transformative power so that "you must change your life" upon encountering it.

Read about a newly published translation of Rilke by Ruth Spiers here
Read about Rilke's influence on me here

I received an ARC from W. W. Norton in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

You Must Change Your Life
Rachel Corbett
W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Sept. 2016
$26.95 hard cover
ISBN: 978-0-393-24505-9