Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mystery & intrigue flow in 'Venetian Blood'

   Point Richmond, Calif. - Christine Evelyn Volker's novel Venetian Blood fairly drips with intrigue and mystery in a complicated plot that unfolds gradually in the city of Venice, Italy.
     And there are enough words and phrases in Italian to keep anyone in love with Italy and Italian culture happy for a long time.

     The subtitle of Venetian Blood - Murder in a Sensuous City - gives an excellent clue about much of the focus of the book. As strong as the characters are, the city of Venice is probably as major a player as any of the various people who move in and out of the chapters seamlessly. Anyone who has been in Venice will recognize a lot of the landscape, history and descriptions of the boats that ply the famous canals.

     The plot involves murder, love affairs, money, art and in some spots international intrigue on the level of an Ian Fleming novel.
     Oh, there is a journalist character, too, whose sources provide a lot of their own intrigue and interest as the main character, an American woman named Anna - lurches from an illicit affair into danger.
Christine Evelyn Volker
     Venetian Blood occasionally bogs down slightly in the author's carefully ornate descriptions of art, architecture and the many drawing room scenes. But those well-written passages might well turn out to be the favorites of some readers patient enough to wait for the next plot developments.
     Throughout Venetian Blood, there is an undercurrent that hints at a surprise ending.
     And hoo-boy, it certainly is a good one!
      
     The author keeps the surprise wrapped up tightly until nearly the last page of the book.
     Venetian Blood should leave any reader smiling as they finish it.
     Venetian Blood is a publication of She Writes Press and is available in August from Amazon.com and book retailers.

Reviewed by Michael J. Fitzgerald

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Haunting notes in 'Song of the Plains' memoir

   VALOIS, New York - The president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers has just published her second memoir, Song of the Plains (She Writes Press, Berkeley, June 2017). It's an intriguing book full of self-disclosure and surprises that pop up very early.
    Linda Joy Myers has produced a book rich in detail that at times will make readers want to weep - or openly weep. At others, Myers middle name takes precedence as she talks about her life from childhood to today where she leads the vanguard of a national memoir movement that is continually growing in strength and recognition.
     
   The subtitle of the book, "a memoir of family, secrets and silence," is a good clue that the book has an ample share of darkness. Maybe more than ample.
    Not far into Song of the Plains this sentence jumps out: "The stories that have the most juice are those no one will tell you."
    It's at that point readers realize they will accompany the author very closely on her journey to uncover the backgrounds of those stories.
    That journey includes a dark undercurrent of abuse and molestation, but explained more than dwelled on. Myers does an excellent job of telling the story through her youthful eyes as a child, then teen, then continuing to adulthood.
     
   It would be unfair to say much beyond that - the tales she recounts so skillfully are best left to be said in the author's own words.
    And the words flow easily, sometimes in an aphoristic style, at other times more poetry than prose, reminiscent of the descriptive phrasing of American author James Lee Burke.
    This sentence fairly jumped off the page as it described a tense scene between Myers' grandmother and grandfather:
    "Behind the masks of smiles, the weight of the past seemed to rise up like a thick white curtain of fog."
    A few sentences later she writes:
    "The fog of history hovered around them near the colorful hollyhocks, plants that were nearly as tall as grandpa."
     
   Song of the Plains is not paced like a novel. It's a book that requires some quiet reflection almost every few chapters. It would seem a excellent work for any book club to take on as it it would likely provoke plenty of discussion and emotion.
    Plenty.
    Song of the Plains is available for purchase online through Amazon and at book retailers around the San Francisco Bay area, including Book Passage.

  --- Reviewed by Michael J. Fitzgerald

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Actor Michael Parks passes away at 77

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - I have television and film actor Michael Parks to thank for my moving to California in 1970.
     No, he didn't offer me a job, cash, or even talk me into to fleeing the Rust Belt Village of Lakewood, NY.
     What he did do was star in a television program called Then Came Bronson that probably launched thousands of guys like me on wandering trips around the country.
     I just happened to land in California.

     The opening episode actually begins in San Francisco - not that far from where I am writing this today.
     His character was emblematic of a generation of young men who were convinced that something out on the road was calling them. It certainly grabbed my attention from the first episode.
     But at the time the program was getting underway, so was my young family.
     Married with a three-month-old infant son, a motorcycle like the one driven by Michael Park's character was an unlikely vehicle for the three of us.

    So the compromise was another icon of the era - a beat up VW microbus, complete with a peace symbol painted on the front in place of the metal VW symbol. That peace symbol was painted over just before we left NY for points west.
    Watching the iconic film Easy Rider convinced me a slightly less 'in-your-face' vehicle might get me through some of places that sported signs in those days that said things like "NO HIPPIES ALLOWED" and "YOU WANT EAT HERE? GET A HAIRCUT."
     The details of that sojourn will take an entire book to tell.
 
     Michael Parks died earlier this week. He was 77 and had a fabulous film and television career acting in many great roles.
     But for me, he will always be Bronson on his motorcycle.
     In the video clip below (at about 1:12), a tired commuter driving a station wagon pulls alongside at a stoplight and asks Bronson where he's going.
     "Oh, I don't know," Bronson says. "Wherever I end up, I guess."
     The commuter responds, "Man, I wish I was you."
     "Really?" Bronson says. "Well, hang in there."
     Well, hang in there, Michael Parks, wherever your celestial motorcycle is taking you.
     I'll hang in here.
     Maybe someday we'll meet up going down that Long Lonesome Highway.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

'The Battle for Veterans' Health Care' subject of talk Friday night at Kaleidoscope Coffee

   POINT RICHMOND - Health care journalist - and Richmond author - Suzanne Gordon will be unveiling her book, The Battle for Veterans' Health Care, Friday at Kaleidoscope Coffee.
     The event is open to the public and runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Refreshments are available to purchase.
     Gordon will be leading a discussion of veterans and caregivers at the book party, focusing in good part on why Donald Trump's plan to outsource medical treatment for veterans is a manifestly bad idea.
     The book was published by Cornell University this year.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Artist Jim DeWitt's work at El Sol restaurant

Jim DeWitt at El Sol
   POINT RICHMOND - Selected pieces of art by well-known Point Richmond artist and sailor Jim DeWitt are now on display at El Sol Restaurant on Park Place.
    DeWitt recently joined the Arts of Point Richmond.
 
   "Art has always been my first love," he says.
    El Sol is open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.
    A link to his website - with an online gallery of his work -  can be accessed at this link: The Art of Jim DeWitt.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A look at Oscar-nominated movies & race

(Editor’s Note: The following narrative and free verse was submitted to The Point by Point Richmond resident Cornel Barnett, a native of South Africa.)
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By Cornel Barnett
Point Richmond

These snippets in free-verse focus on the Oscar-nominated movies on race as we understand it in the U.S. Jim Crow and Civil Rights context. They are indispensable in understanding our historical and social context in order to help our nation towards its stated principle of liberty and justice for all. 

2017 Oscar-nominated Movies on Race*

The 2017 Oscar collection of movies on race
Is the antithesis of last year’s minimal line-up.
It shows that Black lives matter – enormously!

In “Hidden Figures” numbers emerge
From brilliant brains hitherto hidden
And a race and rocket reach new heights

In “Fences” old wounds of discrimination in baseball
Fester in an old pro who finds solid work in garbage
And fences grow while his gifted family is wasted

In “I Am Not Your Negro” James Baldwin articulates
Along with movie clips and real life past and present –
And race in the United States is decisively dissected

In “O. J.: Made in America” football turns farcical
In a harrowing journey of ambiguity and contradiction
And O. J. and the U.S. are radically exposed and wrung out

In “13th” the law that abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude
Except as punishment for a crime, becomes a loophole that sends
Civil Rights to jail – and modern-day slavery and servitude spikes

In “Loving” interracial marriage is considered crime
In the State of Virginia and love in its many manifestations
Weaves a magical web through courts of the country

* Best picture: “Hidden Figures”, “Fences”
   Documentary feature: “I Am Not Your Negro”, “O. J.: Made in America”, “13th
   Best Actress: Ruth Negga, “Loving”


Monday, March 6, 2017

A poetic look at some Oscar-nominated movies

Editor's Note: The following bit of commentary and verse was submitted by Cornel Barnett, a Point Richmond resident.
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By Cornel Barnett
Point Richmond

     These thoughts on the Oscar-nominated movies on refugees do not give away their plots. They are mere indicators to encourage you to see the movies. 
     The films capture the refugee crisis like no other, except if you have actually been there. 
     It’s painful
     Thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, we get an inside look that will open wide your heart.          
     Let’s hope it turns policy and encourages peace in the pertinent councils of power.  

2017 Oscar-nominated Movies on Refugees *

Six 2017 Oscar-nominated movies
Address the global refugee crisis.
Each is tragic as hell – yet hopeful

In “Fire at Sea,” a Nigerian laments aloud
His harrowing flight and death walk
Through desert, Libya, jail and escape to the sea

In “Silent Nights,” Denmark houses diverse communities
And everyone discriminates, nationals on transnationals,
Refugee on refugee – and silently, love emerges

In “Watani: My Homeland,” a Syrian warrior is killed
And his wife and three children find refuge
In a welcoming, aging, medieval German town

In “Ennemis Interieurs,” a French officer interrogates
For authenticity the loyalty of a Muslim in France
And Arabs no longer feel safe and at home

In “4.1 Miles,” the Greek island of Lesbos is swamped
As thousands of men, women and children are rescued
Or they wash ashore – and Europe is overwhelmed

In “Joe’s Violin,” Joe buys a violin in a ghetto
During his flight from World War II and Nazism.
Seventy years later, the violin soothes others

Addendum
(A precipitating event):

In “White Helmets,” brave men save hundreds
From buildings blasted and bombed in Syria
And a baby is pulled from the rubble and cries
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* Documentary feature: “Fire at Sea”
   Documentary short: “”4.1 Miles”, “Joe’ Violin”, “Watani: My Homeland”, “The White Helmets”.

   Live-action short: “Ennemis Interieurs”, “Silent Nights”.