Author Colleen Chesebro posted a great review of my latest novel. Here’s her first paragraph:
“I’ve been a fan of Mark Sasse’s books for around six years, now. What makes his writing most memorable is how his characters often require lessons to learn and various problems to overcome before they reach redemption. Many of his stories take place in or around Penang, Malaysia where Sasse taught school, which gives his stories a unique Asian flair.”
Please head on over to her great site to read the rest HERE!
The critics seem to agree. Tom Hooper’s CATS is a disaster, and it is bombing spectacularly at the box office. It is set to lose tens of millions of dollars and will surely never recoup its 100 million dollar budget.
I’ve seen the stage version of CATS once. It was in London’s West End many cat lives ago. I was in college. I was an English major. I had studied T.S. Elliot as any good English major would, and I was curious about his cat poems published as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I made sure to buy myself a copy when in London, and I made sure to go see CATS.
I wasn’t even much of a theater geek at the time, but I loved the musical. It didn’t have much of a plot. Just a loose look at different kinds of cats from TS Elliot’s mind and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical imagination. When those sleek clothed cats started dancing to that infectious beat of Jellicle Cats kicked in, I was hooked.
So when I saw Hooper (whom I respected greatly for Les Miserables movie and The King’s Speech) was bringing CATS to the big screen, I couldn’t wait to see it.
I had read some of the reviews before going. A certain NY Times columnist spouted some weird thoughts about how the “Milk Bar scene” was like cat porn. Others used the word “disturbing” — commenting on the weird fur. One complained how Jennifer Hudson kept “crying from her nose.” Reading the reviews for CATS was kind of entertaining in itself. I just couldn’t figure out how Hooper had messed it up so badly. I had to see it for myself.
And you know what? I loved it.
Hooper gets it. These critics can’t get over themselves enough to let the music take them away and relieve a truly ground-breaking musical. When the song Jellicle Cats started, I was captivated once again. And while it’s not a perfect movie, it recaptures all the emotions and joy, yes, joy, that I felt in the West End that evening a long time ago. So let me break this down into a few strengths and weaknesses of the show.
The music is fantastic. I found myself tapping my foot, looking on in wonder, and enjoying most all of the numbers.
Francesca Hayward. She played Victoria, a cat without friends who finds herself caught up with the Jellicle cats on the night of their annual ball. Hayward weaved the loose story together with her subtle expressions, fresh face, beautiful dancing, and lovely singing. Her performance itself is worth the price of admission.
Tap dancing. I so enjoyed the tap dancing of Skimbleshanks, the mail train cat, and the inventive way Hooper brought the entire scene together.
Hooper, himself. He’s been much maligned with this film, but he uses the set and music to recreate the world of the Jellicles in a vivid and lively manner. I found myself anticipating the next songs and wondering how the spectacle would be able to keep upstaging itself. It did.
The cast. It is an extremely talented cast which, once again, brings the music to life. I was singing it on the way home. Heck, I’m still singing it.
Let me tackle a few weaknesses of the show before I surmise what went wrong.
CGI. Hooper admitted it wasn’t ready. I went to the show with my daughter who noticed that the dancers feet kept disappearing and reappearing, making some of the scenes take a back seat to the bad graphics. Supposedly, the film has been patched which takes care of a lot of those problems, but that is a sloppy problem to have for an expensive film.
Gumbie Cat. If any scene was disturbing, it was this one with dancing cockroaches which Gumbie cat would toss into her mouth. It was all a little grotesque. I didn’t exactly appreciate Hooper’s choices in this scene.
James Corden’s overacting. He was a little over-the-top in his scenes. I would have preferred a scaled back version of raiding the garbage cans.
So the remaining question is this: Why was it panned so badly?
The only thing that makes sense to me is expectations. I saw the musical, so I knew what to expect. I knew it would be light on plot, big on spectacle, and really big on Weber’s pop-rock music. Hooper delivered on these three, which made it work for me, but I’m a sucker for musicals. If someone walked into the cinema thinking they were going to be watching a cute, heartwarming story about cats, well, then I guess they might have been dumbfounded by what they saw. Make no mistake about it: Hooper created a piece of theatre. He just happened to put it on film, and in my estimation, it lived up to the musical. I recommend it if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy a night at the theatre, in the cinema. I look forward to seeing it again. Although I might just fast-forward through Rebel Wilson’s scene.
If one could wear out the ridges of a digital LP, “Cappadocia” might be reaching critical mass. Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy have created a lush, intriguing, and satisfying album that I can’t stop listening to.
“Cappadocia”, named after the semi-arid, beautiful region of Turkey, is really a stunning achievement. Johnson is a master of creating expansive moods and atmospheres on his magical keyboard and when coupled with Keaggy’s sweet melodies and amazingly textured guitar playing, you have an instrumental album that reveals new discoveries at every listen.
The title track is infectious with glimpses of Middle Eastern tones without being overwhelmed in the regional sounds. Keaggy’s playing is always surprising. There are times when a melancholic chord turns hopeful and surprisingly takes the music in a way I never would have thought of. I’m thankful that this duo are the ones writing the music and not me.
All of the tracks are outstanding, but I am literally hooked on Cappadocia and Quo Vadis. However, there’s this musical phrase at the end of Trinity which I can’t get out of my head – and that’s a good thing! It’s so beautiful.
If you love instrumental music by truly master musicians at the peak of their craft, you won’t want to miss this album. It’s a treasure.
Now let me delve back in and see what other gold nuggets I can find.
Book reviewer Michelle Clements James has become the first reviewer of A Parting in the Sky which releases on March 20, 2019.
In part, she says:
“With colorful characters and vivid scenes, the story has a bit of everything–riveting suspense, sensational action, plausible crime, and mystifying fantasy. I was genuinely sorry to finish reading A Parting in the Sky.”
“[Sasse’s] work flows smoothly, and the carefully crafted characters and engaging plot jump off the page.”
A short while back, Lars from Brandywine Books posted a great review of “A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far.”
Here’s a couple excerpts:
“A sort of a cross between A Christmas Carol and Winter’s Tale. ”
“It’s hard to evaluate an idiosyncratic book like A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far. It’s the beginning of a trilogy, so a lot of things remain unexplained. We don’t learn clearly what sort of creatures Bee and Ash are, and what their purpose is.”
“Fascinating. Easy to read. Enjoyable … recommended!”
I’ve been meaning to post a 5-star, two-thumbs-up review of Needtobreathe’s “Forever on Your Side” EP. So here it is.
Get it! It’s tremendous.
The EP released last month in anticipation of their national “Forever on Your Side” Tour, which recently kicked off. The EP consists of four songs.
“Bridges Burn” – a song about forgetting the past, leaving your regrets behind, and burning the bridges that link us to those things we should leave behind. Here’s the chorus:
I wanna watch all my bridges burn
Stand in the rain ’til the page is turned
Dance in the light of a lesson learned, lesson learned
I wanna leave everything that hurts
Never go back to the way we were
Set it on fire, baby, watch it burn, watch it burn
“Darling” – This is a sweet and revealing glimpse of a musician who doesn’t want to be on the road anymore. He just wants to lie down with his “darling” and talk. This is a beautiful song with a wonderful, stripped down production with gorgeous evocative saxophone.
“Bullets” – Oh my, I love this song. It’s got this funky-soul-rock groove going on that’s just infectious. The layers on instruments build on each other, starting with a soaring melodic guitar riff and Bear Rinehart’s soulful voice and crescendos with the entire band jamming. You’ll be tapping your toe or dancing. One or the other.
“Forever on Your Side” – This song ends the EP, a tremendous wave-your-cell-phone-in-the-air anthem that is inspirational and moving. Here’s the chorus:
All these pieces they fall in line
Because I’m forever on your side
Take my hand when you can’t see the light
‘Cause I’m forever on your side
I will carry you every time
Because I’m forever on your side
Oh I’m forever on your side
The only thing wrong with this EP is that it’s an EP. If they would have added 6 more songs along the same vein, they would have themselves a truly terrific album.
Here’s my advice to them. Please, start the entire show with “Bullets.” This song builds expectations and would be an awesome way to get the show rocking. Then, as a second curtain call song, end everything with “Forever on Your Side.” Bookend the concert like that and it will be a great success. Needtobreathe’s a talented band, and they shine on this EP. Check it out!
I, like millions of other children from my generation, grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Living just 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, I watched it on his home station, WQED – PBS Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
His gentle demeanor, memorable opening song, iconic sweater, simple puppets, and the ever-cool red trolley are indelible parts of my childhood. I enjoyed the show, but soon out-grew it, and never really thought of its overall impact until I watched the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” from film-maker Morgan Neville.
If you haven’t seen it, please go. I’ll briefly put my thoughts on the movie in relationship to the four words above.
Touching. There are many touching moments in this film. Fred Rogers had the ability to reach the hearts of those he spoke to – and not only children. One of the most remarkable parts of the film is watching the many interviewees listen to a short clip of Fred telling people to think for one minute about a person who made a difference in their lives. Of course, Fred framed the scenario in such a lovely way, that every single one of the interviewees teared up. He encouraged them to slow down, think, remember, and cherish those people who made them who they are. Some answered ‘Mom’ others a relative or friend, one said ‘Fred.’ All of them were unmasked in a beautiful way by Fred’s amazing ability to speak to the soul of an individual. It was a perfect scene.
Timely. In this day and age of everything being hyper-politicized, Fred’s message of love and acceptance to the children he had passion for is such a tremendous message. One, albeit, lost daily on the TV airwaves. Just a quick perusal of TV channels this Sunday evening made this all the more real. The plethora of choices available were dearth of heart, meaning, sincerity, and substance – all of which Fred displayed in abundance, not only on his show but as a person in real life. Be like Fred, everyone. It should be a motto on a t-shirt.
Inspiring. As an educator, I walked away from the movie truly inspired. The way he spoke to children, the way he listened to children, the way he advocated for children, and the way he educated children has, I believe, never been matched. He tackled difficult topics with care and heart (here’s that word again). Topics like war, assassination, divorce, racism, acceptance, disabilities, etc… while the rest of TV land droned on in a flashy drivel void of meaning or substance. Watching this movie made me want to be a better teacher.
Infuriating. I was not upset at Fred at all. How could I be? Well, it seems that some people can be upset at just about anyone. If you can find fault in the public discourse and actions of one Fred Rogers, you’d probably would have lined up in glee to watch the decapitation of the Apostle Paul. Seriously, what is wrong with people? Some pundits have blamed Mr. Rogers’ philosophy of telling children that they are good and lovable and worthy of love as a message which has poisoned a whole generation by making a bunch of spoiled, entitled brats who feel they don’t need to work for anything because Fred Rogers told them that they are special. If I can be frank, what kind of idiot analysis is that? If you have a problem with telling every child that they are unique and special and lovable, then you have a problem. In fact, the philosophy of Fred Rogers is, in my view, one of the keys that the world desperately needs if we are ever going to bridge the divides which have pulled us apart.
Thank you, Morgan Neville, for bringing this touching and timely reminder of what decency and civility really is. I wish someone would bring it back to children’s television.
The venerable Midwest Book Review published a review of A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far in their online book review magazine “Small Press Bookwatch” in April 2018.
They categorized A Man Too Old under the Fantasy/SciFi heading and had this to say about it:
“Critique: A unique, entertaining, and deftly crafted novel by an author with a genuine gift for imaginative and engaging storytelling, “A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far” is an especially and unreservedly recommended addition to community library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that “A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far” is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $3.99).”
Michelle James posted her review of A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far, and it’s a great one! Here’s a short excerpt:
Michelle writes, “This story is well fleshed out with notes of magical realism, suspense, and history. For me, this is a perfect combination.”
Please head over to her fantastic website and check out the full review – and her thoughts on other books! Michelle James’ Review
Remember, A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far is only part one of the brand new Forgotten Child Trilogy. Book two is scheduled for a June release, so if you haven’t read book one yet, here’s your chance. It’s available on Kindle and in paperback.