Sadness in Houston …

Hello again, Friends.

The first week in April ended with a sad trip to Houston to attend funeral services for my friend Dr. William Mack. Bill is the father of my daughter-in-law, Daniela. He was a delightful man who became a friend when our kids got married. We had just welcomed our granddaughter, Eva, and we took turns assuming grandfather duties as the traveling opera singers traversed the country. I enjoyed talking to Bill on the phone. Sometimes we would call each other for no particular reason, just to visit. Bill was a respected physician and had maintained an active practice even into his senior days. He also battled with some health issues but, in spite of all, he was a lovely person and I will miss him.

If there can be a positive from this trip, it was that I got to be the grandfather custodian of my darling Eva during the various activities of the services. At that time she was just discovering that she could do a wobbly walk while holding on to an adult finger. With her other hand she would point to where she wanted to go and then it was off to the races. The age of discovery and exploration has begun.

The miracle of those three days in Houston was a living testament to the circle of life as we said farewell to one while reveling in the exuberance in the new life of another.

And so it goes…

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Spring Break Report – a little late …

Greetings everyone! In order to catch up on recent activities, we’re going to go back in time (you can do that in a blog!) and see what’s been happening since spring break started on March 14.

As you know, every spring break I make an annual pilgrimage to Clearwater to check out Phillie Phanaticthe prospects of the Philadelphia Phillies. I try to go to as many games as possible, but always the St. Patrick’s Day game where the Phils drag out their greeen unis! It was a nice drive down I 75 to Clearwater and I went straight to the ballpark. The first game was against the cross-town rivals, The Tampa Bay Rays. They looked good – the Phillies did not!  Result: loss 5-3!

The next morning I indulged in another highlight of the trip – breakfast at Lennies! This is a bit of Pennsylvania ripped from hallowed ground and replanted right next to The La Quinta Inn (my abode) in Clearwater. It’s hard to describe Lennies, but, suffice it to say that they serve SCRAPPLE! This is an indescribable PA delicacy of rather dubious ingredients, but, to my Pennsylvanis Dutch palate, just heaven!

I walked to the field to see the Phillies take on the cross-state Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, the Phillies were in top form. I think 18 batters came to the plate in one inning! Result: win – a lot to a little!

Usually, I spend Saturday night at Pier 60 on Clearwater beach, but after the game the rains came! I was forced to watch some March Madness basketball in my room.

Sunday morning the weather was again questionable, but I tried to be positive. This was an away game for the Phils, so I drove the fifteen minutes to the home of the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin (that’s Dun-EEEE-din). There was a light rain falling, but a crowd still gathered in hopeful anticipation. After waiting about an hour, the game was cancelled.

I headed north to Valdosta!

 

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Notes from the Recording Session …

Spring Break Greetings from the Outdoor Office warmed to 80 delightful degrees!

A gentle breeze and a garden in full bloom makes me wish an avoidance of the inevitable swelter could be possible!

My report today is about the marvelous Saturday recording session we had in Hamilton, Ohio on the northern edge of Cincinnati. As you’ve read in these pages, PARMA Recordings from New Hampshire is producing a Christmas/Holiday recording which will be a compilation of the works of several composers. My pieces, In the Bleak Midwinter and Balulalow were selected to be included in this recording. PARMA also invited me to attend the recording session last Saturday in the sanctuary of Hamilton’s First United Methodist Church.

The PARMA recording staff was outstanding! Session manager Matt Konrad was on top of everything with a relaxed attitude that was all business. His choral background really helped to communicate with the choir and conductor during the session. A&R rep Brandon MacNeil made sure everything ran smoothly and addressed the needs of many participants.

The choir was a “pick-up” group of wonderful singers, many of whom were masters and doctoral students at the Cincinnati Conservatory. They had a long day which began at 9 am. My session didn’t begin until about 2:30. We were supposed to go from 1-3 pm, but they had to do some additional takes on some complex scores from fellow composer Christopher Hoh.

The marvelous conductor was Paul John Stanbery. Paul is music director of the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra, a composer, and a church musician. He had an uncanny affinity for my music and incorporated many of my ideas into the session without me saying anything! He made two comments to the ensemble that were gratifying to me. About In the Bleak Midwinter he said, “I think this is the best piece we done this entire session.” About Balulalow he said, “Isn’t it wonderful when a composer knows how to make the choir sound great.”

All in all it was a superb weekend. Aija and I had some excellent meals in various Cincinnati locations, and, to celebrate, on Saturday night we took in a Cincinnati Cyclones hockey game!

The next step in the CD production process is the creation of the master. Matt and Brandon took the hard disks containing the raw recorded material back to the studio in New Hampshire where the production team will take over. In two to three weeks I will receive a copy of the initial master and will have an opportunity to add my comments and suggestions. Still to come will be the creation of the liner notes and the cover artwork. The recording will be on the Navona label and will be available in the fall through Naxos as well as Spotify, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets. I hope you’ll put some on your Christmas lists.

In other news, Thursday I’m off to Clearwater for the annual spring training jaunt. This year I’ll see the Phillies against the Rays, Pirates, and Blue Jays. I’ll also check out Pier 60 and the beach and visit Lenny’s for my yearly scrapple fix! (I am, after all, a Pennsylvania Dutch boy!)

Have a great week, especially if, like me, you’re on spring break! I’ll see you ONLINE!  -JAS

 

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Another Choral Publication Is on the Way …

Greetings!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Colla Voce, Inc., the outstanding music publisher from Indianapolis, will publish my choral piece On Christmas Night. This is my sixth publication with Colla Voce and I am deeply appreciative for my relationship with them.

They actually published this piece in its original form (SATB/Keyboard) a year or so ago, but this new publication is an arrangement of my original composition, this time for men’s choir with flute and harp (keyboard).

In addition to the two versions of On Christmas Night, Colla Voce has published my compositions: In the Bleak Midwinter, Trust in Me, Love Came Down at Christmas, and Balulalow.  You can find details and recordings of these pieces and others over on the music page of this website (click on “Music” above, then “Choral”).

Speaking of recordings, as previously announced, this Friday I will be flying to the Cincinnati area to attend the recording session of my In the Bleak Midwinter and Balulalow.  The recording venue is the First United Methodist Church of Hamilton, OH and the performing group will be the Stanbery Singers conducted by Paul John Stanbery.

The recording is under the auspices of PARMA Recordings and will be released on the Navona label. It will have distribution through Naxos, Barnes & Noble, Spotify and more.  It will be a compilation CD of Christmas works by several composers including yours truly! Look for a release next fall in time for your Christmas stocking!

I am so looking forward to being part of the recording process as well as the post-recording production activities.  I will announce distribution details as they become available.  As of now, the CD remains untitled.  I will announce the title from here as well.

I hope you will explore the music page on this site and encourage those you know who are responsible for holiday programming to consider using my works. Most importantly, if you have sung my pieces or you are programming any of them, please let me hear from you.

I will have another HUGE career announcement in a few weeks – stay tuned! Meanwhile, I’ll see you ONLINE!  – JAS

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Oops! Here’s the Winter TBR List …

Greetings!

A quick review of my new resurgence in posting revealed that I never gave you the details of the Winter TBR (To Be Read) list!

Here you go!  Grab one of these at the library, bookstore, or Kindle and read with me!

Ian Rankin – Even Dogs in the Wild

Rebus comes out of retirement…to save his nemesis.

Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is feeling the heat. She’s investigating the death of a senior government prosecutor, David Minton, who has friends in high places. When one of their own is killed, the powers that be want answers fast. But Clarke is puzzled: if Minton died in a robbery as everyone thinks, why is nothing missing from his home? The answer may lie not in what was taken, but in what was left behind at the scene–an ominous note. 

Malcolm Fox is feeling useless. Shunned by his colleagues because of his past in the Complaints bureau, he’s been reassigned to a grunt detail, helping a surveillance team–one that trusts him even less than his own boss does–track a notorious Glasgow crime family. Helping Clarke with the Minton case is the only thing that makes Fox feel like a real cop. 

Newly minted civilian John Rebus is feeling restless. Being a cop is in his blood and he’s failing miserably at retirement. So when Clarke and Fox ask for his help, Rebus doesn’t need long to consider his options. But before he can get his bearings, a call comes from Rebus’s old nemesis–“Big Ger” Cafferty. Someone just fired a bullet through his front window–and sent him a note identical to Minton’s. The normally unflappable old gangster is on edge, but for the life of him Cafferty can’t figure out who he’s wronged. And the only man he trusts with his life is Rebus. 

As the cases collide, it’s up to Clarke, Fox, and Rebus to connect the dots and save their unlikely ally Cafferty, whose past harbors a shocking secret that implicates Minton’s friends in an unspeakable crime. Even Dogs in the Wild reunites crime fiction legend Ian Rankin’s greatest characters in an explosive story exploring the darkest corners of our desires.

Karla Hull – The Grievance Collectors: A Sip of Death

A glimpse into the dark underbelly of University life. 

         “An intriguing, suspenseful book with unexpected plot twists

Murders, an active shooter, and sexual predators create a tangled web of danger on campus.  Dr. Bridget O’Leary becomes the Provost while still tormented by the recent murder of her husband, and soon learns that she can’t simply think her way out of the problems encountered at the university. She will need to add a gun to her administrative toolbox as she works with a university police officer, a city police detective, and a troubled student to solve the mystery of three unexplained deaths on campus.

        The Grievance Collectors: A Sip of Death is the first book in the series and it may remind you of events and characters from your own university experience. Every university has its dark secrets

 

Michael Orenduff – The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

Hubie Schuze must solve the case of a $25,000 pot theft—or he could be in deep trouble

A dealer of ancient Native American pottery, Hubert Schuze has spent years combing the public lands of New Mexico, digging for artwork that would otherwise remain buried. According to the US government, Hubie is a thief—but no act of Congress could stop him from doing what he loves. For decades, Hubie has worn the title of pot thief proudly. Outright burglary, though, is another story.
But an offer of $25,000 to lift a rare pot from a local museum proves too tempting for Hubie to refuse. When he sees how tightly the relic is guarded, he changes his mind, but the pot goes missing anyway. Soon a federal agent suspects that Hubie is the culprit. After things take a turn for the serious, Hubie knows he must find the real thief quickly, or risk cracking something more fragile than any pot—his skull.
The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras is the 1st book in the Pot Thief Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.

Elizabeth George – A Banquet of Consequences

The unspoken secrets and buried lies of one family rise to the surface in Elizabeth George’s newest novel of crime, passion, and tragic history.

As Inspector Thomas Lynley investigates the London angle of an ever more darkly disturbing case, his partner, Barbara Havers, is looking behind the peaceful façade of country life to discover a twisted world of desire and deceit.

The suicide of William Goldacre is devastating to those left behind who will have to deal with its unintended consequences—could there be a link between the young man’s leap from a Dorset cliff and a horrific poisoning in Cambridge?

After various issues with her department, Barbara Havers is desperate to redeem herself. So when a past encounter gives her a connection to the unsolved Cambridge murder, Barbara begs Thomas Lynley to let her pursue the crime, knowing one mistake could mean the end of her career.

Full of shocks, intensity, and suspense from the first page to the last, A Banquet of Consequences reveals both Lynley and Havers under mounting pressure to solve a case both complicated and deeply disturbing.

Tim Ellis – The Kisses of an Enemy

 Due to a shortage of murders, Parish and Richards are asked to help out in the search for a missing eight year-old girl, but as usual things are never what they seem. 

Xena and Stick are seconded to the Kent & Essex Serious Crime Directorate and are put on stake-out outside an industrial unit waiting for a drug delivery. However, Xena gets bored on stake-outs and things quickly become something a lot more sinister when she decides that they should go and investigate.

Bronwyn books into the Beautiful You Cosmetic Surgery Clinic in London, but when she hacks into the system she is drugged and locked in the basement. Jerry, Shakin and Joe decide to find out what’s happened to her, but things quickly go from bad to worse – a lot worse.

 

JA Jance – Dance of the Bones

J.P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker, two ofNew York Timesbestselling author J. A. Jance’s most acclaimed series characters, join forces for the first time in one of the most suspenseful works of her career.

Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos’s “real” killer and clear his name.

Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help.

Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?

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The Winter Read Is in Full Bloom!

Greetings!

Well, there’s only sixteen days left to complete the Winter TBR list and, guess what? We’re not going to make it! So, just like last month we made an adjustment on Leap Day (February 29), I’ll adjust the Spring TBR to make sure it can be accomplished  by June 21.

Before delving into the Winter TBR progress, a brief note about upcoming travels.

Aija is pulling nanny duty in Boston right now, then she’ll make a short overnight to Baltimore to reunite Daniela and Eva with Alek, before finally returning to the warm climes of South Georgia. Next week, we’re both off to Cincinnati where I will be overseeing a recording session of two of my Christmas choral works, In the Bleak Midwinter and Balulalow, for inclusion on a Christmas CD to be released next year. After three days, we’ll return to Valdosta where I will be on Spring Break! I’ll be doing my annual jaunt down to Clearwater to catch three Phillie spring training games and check out the beach and cuisine of the Gulf coast. My next trip will be to Orlando for the Southern Regional Honors College Conference which I always find exhilarating! In April it’s more nanny chores for Aija and opera trips to Forth Worth (Daniela in JFK) and Pittsburgh (Alek in Rake’s Progress). In May you might find us in Chicago (Daniela in Three Cornered Hat), then in June it’s back to Cincinnati (Alek in Die Fledermaus). Finally, as the summer begins, the fam will once again gather here in our Georgia version of an Italian Villa for another brief vacay. Eva should be walking by then and it will be my goal to keep up with her!

Needless to say, it’s a great life thanks to our brilliant and talented children!

Now, let’s see how the Winter TBR is doing …

I started with Dance of the Bones by JA Jance. Jance has several protagonists all working simultaneously and every so often she has them meet up for a shared adventure. In this tome, my old friend J.P. Beaumont, retired from the Seattle PD works with Brandon Walker, retired Arizona Sheriff. I hadn’t read any of Jance’s books featuring Brandon Walker so this was a new direction for me. Beaumont, on the other hand, is a familiar character and I eagerly anticipated this new story. This tale is basically a cold case assigned to these two retirees who finally do get the right bad guys and release the wronged good guys. It takes place mostly in Arizona. Each chapter has a Native American prologue that I found difficult to assimilate into the ongoing plot. I would also have liked more Beaumont and less Walker, but that’s probably because Beaumont was more familiar. All in all, Dance of the Bones holds your attention, but the tempo of the action is not too quick. A chapter every night before nodding off to sleep is just about right! (No Amazon review from me yet.)

Next I read The Pot Thief Who Studies Pythagoras by Valdostan Michael Orenduff. Full disclosure: I am a friend and colleague with Orenduff’s wife as we both work and teach at Valdosta State University. Michael has a series ongoing featuring the pot thief Hubie Schuze, and this is the first in the series. This book is terrific. Orenduff shows to be a master of the first person narrative. I think he even has me convinced to give it a try with some of my efforts. Schuze is a marvelous character – a protagonist/theif with a good heart and a self-deprecating attitude that is endearing and yet interesting to the reader. The plot moves right along with short chapters/scenes and the plot twists are easy to follow. The method Hubie uses to abscond with a pot on display in the museum in Albuquerque is quite ingenious! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and welcome these characters into my family of personalities of whom I keep track through the years. Well done, Michael – let’s have coffee one of these days!

I am now in the middle of The Grievance Collectors: A Sip of Death by another Valdosta State friend and colleague, Karla Hull. Dr. Hull was interim Provost at VSU when I was granted tenure, for which I will be eternally grateful! This is her first book and, wouldn’t you know, it’s about murders at a mid-sized southern university (hmmmmm). When the book was first published, everyone at the university was reading to see if they recognized any of the characters in the story! So far I’m intrigued by the plot, although it moves a bit slowly at the beginning (despite opening with the first murder on page one!). It seems like the corrupt professors are getting their comeuppances, and our heroine Provost seems to be successfully navigating the turbid waters of academia. I’m only about half way through it, I look forward to what is ahead. If there is a recognizable chubby old bald professor in the works, I’ll let you know. Great first book: I also want to do coffee with you, Karla!

Still on the Winter TBR list is Even Dogs in the Wild by Scotsman Ian Rankin (featuring retired detective John Rebus – there seems to be a theme in my reading!). Then we’ve got a continuation of the Thomas Lynley/Barbara Havers series with A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George. Finally, one of favorite authors in one of his best series, Tim Ellis provides The Kisses of an Enemy featuring the continuing saga of Inspector Jed Parrish and his stepdaughter, detective constable Mary Richards.

I obviouslt can’t squeeze them all in by March 21, so, as I said above, we’ll make an adjustment in the spring list. I’d love you to read some of these with me and drop a comment or two in the reply space below. The azaleas are coming out here in the Azalea City and I wish you all the best for a glorious spring.

Check out the Music page tomorrow for music news!  -Jim

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Now I sit, me blog to write …

Greetings!

As I hitch my rather large frame to the blog wagon, I marvel at the fact that the last time I did this was January fifth! At first this was to be a weekly epistle, then monthly, and now I guess it is unintentionally quarterly. I’m afraid sloth rules!

It’s not like we’ve been dormant. After a Christmas season that saw the house overflowing with family, we did another of our famous “drive-by” overnight opera visits, flying into Phoenix to see Daniela as Carmen with Arizona Opera. She was spectacular as usual!

A few days later, as February dawned, we welcomed Alek, Daniela, and the amazing Eva to the house for a wonderful two weeks vacay. My granddaughter is obviously the most exciting and gorgeous creature on the face of the earth!

As the Valdosta time faded, the singers dispersed to Boston (Daniela for L’heure Espagnol with Dutoit and the Boston Symphony Orchestra) and Baltimore (Alek for Almaviva in Barbiere with Baltimore Opera). Meanwhile, Daniela is getting ready to be Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the world premiere of JFK with Fort Worth Opera and Alek is off to Pittsburgh Opera for Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. Of course, we’ll be attending both!

So – there’s so much news due to my tardiness in blogging that I’m going to separate the news items. I’ll use this home page to relate reading and writing items while I use the music page to highlight new ventures in that area (and there are some!). In a later post, I’ll be announcing a major career event, but probably not until April!

But I think I’ll start the reading and writing stuff with a fresh post, so stay tuned and keep checking this out. As always, I’ll see you ONLINE!  -Jim

 

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Greetings Friends – I hope you had the Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years! 2016 has appeared in our headlights while 2015 disappears in our rear view mirrors! Let’s move right into the update …

Music News …

I am thrilled to announce that I have signed with PARMA Recordings to record two of my choral compositions on a Christmas compilation CD to be released next Christmas on the Navona label. It will be available on Naxos, Spotify, Barnes & Noble, and other streaming, online, and retail outlets.

The two pieces will be In the Bleak Midwinter and Balulalow. The performnce will be by The Stanbery Singers conducted by John Stanbery. We will record in the Cincinnati area in March. I will be there and actively involved in the recording sessions. The release date has not been set yet but it will be in time for the 2016 Christmas season. I hope you will listen, download, or purchase the recording and then share you thoughts with me here.

The Fall Reading List Goes into Overtime!

Well, I guess I was a little ambitious when I constructed my fall reading list. I was supposed to finish by December 21, but, as of January 4, I have two and one-half books to go! The end of term responsibilities at the university, preparations for the holiday, and hosting lots of family guests over Christmas (ten in the house!), all contributed to my lacuna in serious reading time.

I will shortly develop a winter TBR list, but it will probably be a bit more conservative and less lengthy! Several of my favorite authors have new releases coming up, so it promises to be a good list.

Here are my brief thoughts on the continuation of the list from the last post:

Jane Haddam – Bleeding Hearts

Gregor Demarkian, the Armenian Hercule Poirot (He hates that!), is once again thrust into murder and mayhem in this absorbing Valentine’s Day adventure.

If you’re not willing to enjoy the Armenian ethnicity of this series, you will probably lose interest. Since the first book, Haddam has woven an interesting cast of characters on Cavanaugh street in Philadelphia. This entry in the saga maintains the holiday theme. Spoiler alert: Haddam eventually abandons the holiday format but continues the series in free-form style.

Some points of interest in this book are the inclusion of one of the Demarkian circle of friends in the murder (she didn’t do it!), and some intriguing plot twists that elevate this story to an “almost procedural” rather than a “cozy.” Of course, Gregor always seems to have the whole thing solved and even appears to withhold information (very Poirot-esque) from his friends and even us! In the end, all the tangled skeins are unraveled and the miscreant is revealed. We’re left wondering why Gregor Demarkian ever leaves his apartment! Whenever he does, the game is afoot, as they say!

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – Game Over

Inspector Bill Slider needs to multi-task! He’s got a high-profile murder to solve,  a former nemesis has escaped from prison and is trying to kill him. and he’s needs to marry his pregnant girlfriend …

Harrod-Eagles was one of those authors caught up in the Amazon vs publishers argument which made the Slider series unavailable to Kindle readers (like me!). This a an absorbing read, but – you really need to be already familiar with the characters to derive complete enjoyment from CH-E’s work. Like just about every series I read, you need to read the books in order. This is the eleventh entry in this series and the recurring characters are fully developed. I can see where it might be a bit disconcerting as a one-off read. I found it to not be a page turner as some of the series have been, but I am happy to delve into the characters as they eventually untangle the interlocking issues. Go back to book number 1 (an orchestra conductor is murdered – how can you resist!), and make your way to this one. It;s worth the effort!

Anne Hillerman – Rock with Wings

Hollywood comes to the Reservation as Bernie and Chee chase down the bad guys!

As I’ve stated before, I think Anne Hillerman is doing a magnificent job of keeping her father’s iconic characters alive and thriving in the paradigm of the Navajo Tribal Police. Another interesting change with Anne taking over the series is the emergence of Bernadette Manuelito Chee as a major character. This tale brings a Hollwood set and company to the desert and, of course, murder makes itself known! Bernie and Jim just can’t seem to spend enough time together as Jim is assigned to security with the movie folks and Bernie deals with family issues surrounding her sister and mother. In a delightful turn of events, Joe Leaphorn, recovering from a near-fatal shooting, becomes involved in the mystery and lends his expertise and experience in developing the solution. It’s wonderful to still have these characters with us and kudos to Anne Hillerman for skillfully maintaining her father’s world while bring a freshness to the series story line! This is an easy read and often hard to put down!

Donna Leon – The Golden Egg

In a deviation from the usual police investigation, Commissario Guido Brunetti is asked by his wife Paola to look into the death of a mentally handicapped man. What unfolds is a tale of dark inhumanity that Brunetti pursues to the bitter end. As always, Leon’s marvelous depictions of Venice and Venetian society greatly enhance the story.

Leon usually produces a thoughtful read that winds its way carefully through the complexities of plot and character. The Golden Egg is no different. Allow time to revel in the glories of Venice and the depth og characters and their connections. The time spent will be richly rewarded as the subterfuge of the plot twists will finally become clear. This is the twenty-second Brunetti book in the series. I am almost caught up and look forward to the next issue. 

So, that’s the book list update. I’m about finished with Archer Mayor’s St. Alban’s Fire, which isn’t going as quickly as I thought it would. Still to come will be The Ashtabula Hat Trick (Les Roberts) and Peter Robinson’s Past Reason Hated. This last one is a Christmas story that will just be a little late this year!

The winter TBR list will commence when I’ve finished Past Reason Hated and will run until March 21. Meanwhile, keep reading and enjoy the New Year!  -JAS

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Let the Vacay Begin …

Happy December!

Autumn has been incredibly busy with school and travel. Here are some of the highlights:

Travel/Opera

It was off to Philadelphia to be present for Alek’s first foray into a bit heavier fach as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata. It was an excellent production and I thought Alek did a great job. Having sung this role myself, I know about its difficulties vocally, dramatically, and emotionally. It was my first time in the Academy of Music theater, noted as the oldest opera house in the country. I thought the acoustics were fine, the ambience vintage, and the seats (at least mine) very uncomfortable!

The performances happened to coincide with my fall break at VSU, so I had the opportunity to rent a car and drive northwest from Philly and visit my home town of Berwick on the banks of the lovely Susquehanna. After having lunch and walking through the unpretentious downtown district, I visited the graves of my parents. I spent the rest of the time driving around town and snapping some photos of my former residences, all still standing, but some with major renovations. The last time I was in Berwick was twenty-two years ago for my Father’s funeral. I recalled after that visit how much smaller everything seemed since the days of my youth. I had that same feeling again, although the borough has definitely reached the 21st century. It was very nice to visit my old haunts. I’m not sure if I will get back there again.

While in Philadelphia I got to spend quality time with the new love of my life, our first granddaughter, Evangelina (Eva). In mid-October, Eva was just four months old and already a seasoned traveler having undertaken flights to Houston, Leipzig, Germany, Boston, Philadelphia, and then San Francisco! Of course, she is the most gorgeous child on the face of the planet and I couldn’t help trying to figure out a way to put her in my suitcase to bring home with me! Alas, it was not to be!

After some days at home, the next opera trek found us flying off to San Francisco for lots of family festivities! We saw Daniela as Rosina in Rossini’s Barbiere, which is a signature role for her. As expected, she was magnificient and garnered excellent reviews. It was a redo of the same production that she starred in with Alek in a previous season. We had seen photos, but being in the theater was magic!

In San Francisco, we stayed at The Inn at the Opera which was literally right across the street from the War Memorial Opera House. While there, we ran into old friend Maestro Stephen Lord, Music Director for Opera Theater of St. Louis and former colleague of ours back in the 79s at Oberlin. He was in town to conduct a concert and it was great to visit for a fleeting second in the hallway!

The apartment for Alek, Daniela, and Eva was also just a short walk with only one hill (!) and situated above the famous Philz coffee shop (My favorite: Turkish coffee with a mint sprig). Needless to say – lots of walking, but lovely weather. We had pre-ordered a delivery of all the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner and spent the day cooking and revelling. Of course, the center of attention was Eva who had grown by leaps and bounds since Philadelphia.

The next day, Alek made another career debut, this time in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, singing the lyric tenor role of the apprentice, David. I don’t think of Alek as a Wagnerite, but the role is very good for him. Vocally it is fine and the youthful and comic demands play to his strengths. He is the king of “Tweets” on the Twitter thing. He is developing quite a following as he tweets during his off time in rehearsals and performances. Since the performance we saw was on “Black Friday,” his tweet was particularly appropriate: San Francisco Opera Black Friday Sale – Six Hours of Opera for the Price of Three! (Priceless)  And true! The curtain was at 6 pm and we left the theater just before midnight! Oh Richard … !

We spent our last day in SF hanging out entirely with Eva, giving Mom and Dad a date night – we were thrilled! They will all be coming to our home for eleven days at Christmas and we are ready and excited!

I’ll stop here because this seems to be turning into my next novel! I have more to relate, but I’ll wait a bit to post – hopefully not another month. Relative to the title of this edition, tomorrow is the last day of classes with voice juries and a final exam on Tuesday, then it’s Vacay time. The lights are up as is the tree! There’s more to do, but there’s a lot of joy on the way! I’ll probably speak to you before then, so enjoy the holiday season. Meanwhile, I’ll see you online!  -JAS

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After several weeks, here’s the Fall TBR update …

Greetings!

I’m still here! Incredibly busy through the middle of the semester. I will divide the news into a series of short(er) blogs. We’ll start with the Fall “To Be Read” (TBR) update. There are ten books to be read before December 21. I’m currently on number 4 – Jane Haddam’s Bleeding Hearts. If anyone is reading along, let me know. There’s lots to share about travel, opera, university, grandchild, choral music, etc. All that is for later – stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are my reviews for the first three books on the list. All can be found on Amazon.com. I would tell you to stay warm as winter approaches, but it was 83 today here in South Georgia! Cheers!  -JAS

Lee Child – Make Me

A Bit Formulaic But Who Cares – It’s Reacher!

It’s always a difficult wait for we Reacher-ites for the next saga to become available. We are never disappointed and “Make Me” certainly does not disappoint! The action leaps off the very first page with no preliminary verbiage. By the way, that’s the way we like it! Child sustains interest by incorporating several mysteries to contemplate, not the least of which is the name of the locale known as “Mother’s Rest.”

While this is a very satisfying read, particularly if you are up to date in the Reacher canon, there are some formulaic elements that sometimes give pause. Reacher randomly encounters a situation that ignites his code of ethics and requires his involvement. He hooks up with a strong female partner and experiences the requisite bedroom scene that has become another hallmark of the series. He is fascinated with technology, although sometimes not very good at it. He is tough – very tough, and he knows how to prevail in seemingly outnumbered situations.

In a noted departure from other tales in the series, Reacher does his familiar walk (or drive) into the sunset at the end, but this time not alone! Hmmm ,,,

All in all, this is a cracking good tome that will satisfy the desire for continued Reacheralia. You simply must read it! The final mystery of this latest Child opus is: When will we get the next installment?

Tim Ellis – Souls of the Dead

This Quirky Series Continues With Another Winner

I came to the Tom Gabriel series while waiting for the next Parrish & Richards book. Now I am hooked into two Tim Ellis series! While I’m not usually enamored by sc-fi elements in my reading selections, I am not bothered in the least by Tom Gabriel’s ability to see and communicate with dead people! It just seems to be part of the fascination of this remarkable character.

In “Souls of the Dead,” Ellis revisits characters and locale from the previous book to achieve some closure to that unfinished tale. He also weaves a new mystery into the mix as side-kick Butterfly takes on a new case on her own. Ellis skillfully moves his camera back and forth on these parallel developments as Gabriel tries to manage events from afar.

One of the main attractions of this series is the locale descriptions provided by Ellis as he takes us from St. Augustine, Florida to New York City, to the swamps of Georgia. As with the Parrish & Richards series, the dialog is energized through wonderful sarcasm and interesting interplay among all the carefully delineated characters.

As always, I suggest you start the series at the beginning, but you won’t be disappointed even if you start with No. 3. Kudos to Tim Ellis for providing us with such a rich tapestry of plots, twists, and quirky characters.

Sue Grafton – X

A Delightful Cozy As The End Of The Alphabet Looms!

It seems like it’s been a long time between Milhone episodes. However, Kinsey is still the same loveable, girly PI stumbling onto a case where perhaps none existed! Once she takes the gig, the twists and turns come flying in. The cast of regular characters remains the same. The paradigm that Grafton has created is familiar and helps to turn this series into somewhat of a succession of “cozies,” Still, Grafton, writing in the first person through Kinsey’s eyes, manages to maintain our interest through the labrynth of situations.

What’s really fun is the series of “gotcha” moments where the reader might say “I didn’t see that coming!” All this makes sense because when writing in the first person, we only know what Kinsey knows. Without a variety of points of view or the benefit of an omniscient narrator, we experience the events in real time along with Kinsey. As difficult as first person writing is, Grafton accomplishes it masterfully! Finally, while I usually advocate reading a series in order from the beginning, the stories of the Milhone alphabet series really can stand on their own. Meanwhile, let’s all place bets on the titles for “Y” and “Z!” Hey – how about Zamboni!

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