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:


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 …


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 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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Long time, no blog … then there were two!

Welcome to the launch of the 2015 Fall To Be Read list!

Hello everyone!

As you saw in my previous post, the summer list finished with Blood on the Sand, the second book in a trilogy of medieval historical fiction by the brilliant Michael Jecks. Here’s my Amazon review:

For Jecks’ fans, “Fields of Glory” tested our mettle to see if there was Jecksian life after Simon and Baldwin. We carefully put our toes in the Vintaine water and decided that everything was fine. But now, with “Blood on the Sand,” we are totally convinced! The Jecks magic has emerged in all its splendor! This book is literally the definition of a “page turner” that is impossible to put down! When you decide to open this book, set aside a quiet weekend because you will be binge reading! Fripper and his men wend their way through the siege of Calais with English pluck and aplomb! Bodies are strewn everywhere! In somewhat of a departure for this brilliant author, a bucolic ending serves to make us wonder what will fill the last tome in the trilogy. Undoubtably this is a must read!

But now, it’s on to the 2015 Fall TBR list. We’ve got until about the 21st of December and I’ve chosen eleven mystery/thrillers to curl up with in front of the wonderful fall fireplace festivals. One caveat – I read books in order of publication, so with an ongoing series, these selections represent where I am in the chronology. Most of these can work as a stand-alone (that’s what the authors and publishers want you to believe!). However, I find the character relationships and development to be so much more interesting and vivid if you follow them right from the beginning. One more thing: I do 99.9% of my reading for fun on my Kindle app on my iPhone 6. I have my entire library attached to my belt or in my pocket at all times and I can often steal an hour here and there to jump into some sleuth’s paradigm!

Having said that, here is the 2015 Fall TBR List (fanfare)! I hope you will join me and read along. You might even reply to a post, or make a suggestion from your own personal reading list. Anyway, here we go …

(This is a long list – go get a cup of coffee …)

Lee Child – Make Me (Jack Reacher)

“Why is this town called Mother’s Rest?” That’s all Reacher wants to know. But no one will tell him. It’s a tiny place hidden in a thousand square miles of wheat fields, with a railroad stop, and sullen and watchful people, and a worried woman named Michelle Chang, who mistakes him for someone else: her missing partner in a private investigation she thinks must have started small and then turned lethal.  

Reacher has no particular place to go, and all the time in the world to get there, and there’s something about Chang . . . so he teams up with her and starts to ask around. He thinks: How bad can this thing be? But before long he’s plunged into a desperate race through LA, Chicago, Phoenix, and San Francisco, and through the hidden parts of the internet, up against thugs and assassins every step of the way—right back to where he started, in Mother’s Rest, where he must confront the worst nightmare he could imagine.

Walking away would have been easier. But as always, Reacher’s rule is: If you want me to stop, you’re going to have to make me.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. My son, the tenor, got me hooked on Reacher (not the Tom Cruise version, however) and now I am committed. The problem with catching up to an author is you have to wait so long for the new opus! Well, it’s here and I can’t wait! This is a perfect start to the list!

Tim Ellis – Souls of the Dead (Tom Gabriel)

Tom Gabriel is asked by Giuseppe to go back to Staten Island and find out who killed his friend – the bag lady – Horty. No sooner does he begin investigating her murder, than a sniper tries to kill him. He is soon trying to keep one step ahead of the shooter as he follows the clues Horty left for someone to find.

Rae goes to a dying woman’s house to listen to a strange story about abducted women over fifty years, and the clues to those abductions being left in the woman’s head by a man every five years. As soon as she begins following the clues, she realises the story is true.

Tim Ellis is very prolific, writing several books in multiple series’ each year. I read his Parrish & Richards series and the Tom Gabriel series. This is the latest Tom Gabriel, a retired cop turned private eye. It’s a mystery/thriller with a twist and a bit quirky – you see, Tom Gabriel talks to dead people! Enough said – read it!

Sue Grafton – X (Kinsey Milhone)

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.

This is the  alphabet soup of mystery series’! How many authors wish they had thought of this concept? Just two more to go (y and z) – then what? Grafton makes Kinsey unique and she was the first female sleuth that I committed to read.

Jane Haddam – Bleeding Hearts (Gregor Demarkian)

Former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian races against time to prevent a Valentine’s Day murder that would keep the perpetrator of a long-unsolved crime secret forever.

I love this vintage series! I guess because Gregor Demarkian is retired (read: old), a little overweight, and lives in Philadelphia. At this point in the series, Haddam is still doing her holiday mysteries which was a cute concept, but eventually she abandons it. This one focuses on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps I should have left it for the winter TBR list, but I’m curious to see how the storyline unfolds. Of interest is that Demarkian supposedly started the FBI’s behavioral unit that is featured on TV’s Criminal Minds! Mandy Patinkin would be a great Demarkian.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – Game Over (Bill Slider)

When ex-BBC correspondent Ed Stonax is found dead, the last thing Detective Inspector Slider needs to complicate his life is the reappearance of an old enemy issuing death threats. Trevor Bates, aka The Needle, is on the loose and trying to kill him, and with a high-profile murder to solve, Slider must try to find a spare moment to marry Joanna before their baby is born and stay alive long enough to do it. The eleventh Bill Slider Mystery finds the everyman hero grappling with corruption in high places as two old cases come back to haunt him.

Again, one of my favorite series’! In the first book in this series,  an opera  conductor is the victim! Profound, right? I was immediately hooked! Also, Slider’s girl friend is a professional violinist and her world sometimes figures in the mystery. CH-E’s plot twists are usually very clever if a bit on the intellectual side. Give it a try!

Anne Hillerman – Rock with Wings (Leaphorn & Chee)

Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them—one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley.

Chee follows a series of seemingly random and cryptic clues that lead to a missing woman, a coldblooded thug, and a mysterious mound of dirt and rocks that could be a gravesite. Bernie has her hands full managing the fallout from a drug bust gone wrong, uncovering the origins of a fire in the middle of nowhere, and looking into an ambitious solar energy development with long-ranging consequences for Navajo land.

Under the guidance of their mentor, retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, Bernie and Chee will navigate unexpected obstacles and confront the greatest challenge yet to their skills, commitment, and courage.

Anne Hillerman has done a wonderful job of breathing life anew into her father’s characters as they battle the bad guys on the res! Bernie gets a little more airtime,  but it’s all good. If, like me,  you’ve spent any time in Santa Fe, you’ll love the descriptions of the landscape! Also, great insight into native American customs and culture!

Donna Leon – The Golden Egg (Commissario Guido Brunetti)

In The Golden Egg, as the first leaves of autumn begin to fall, Vice Questore Patta asks Brunetti to look into a minor shop-keeping violation committed by the mayor’s future daughter-in-law. Brunetti has no interest in helping his boss amass political favors, but he has little choice but to comply.

Then Brunetti’s wife, Paola, comes to him with a request of her own. The mentally handicapped man who worked at their dry cleaner has just died of a sleeping pill overdose, and Paola loathes the idea that he lived and died without anyone noticing him, or helping him. Brunetti begins to investigate the death and is surprised when he finds nothing on the man: no birth certificate, no passport, no driver’s license, no credit cards. As far as the Italian government is concerned, he never existed. Stranger still, the dead man’s mother refuses to speak to the police, and assures Brunetti that her son’s identification papers were stolen in a burglary.

As secrets unravel, Brunetti suspects that the Lembos, an aristocratic family, might be somehow connected to the death. But why would anyone want this sweet, simple-minded man dead?

Unfortunately, I won’t be going to Venice next summer as planned! The Georgia Ambassadors tour had to be cancelled (boo!). However, I’ve been there enough times that Leon’s writing really comes alive for me. Brunetti is a complex, albeit very interesting, character and detective. Again, Leon’s plots are usually on the intellectual side, but very fulfilling as the story unravels! Hop into my gondola and let’s go! O sole mio, anyone?

Archer Mayor – St. Alban’s Fire (Joe Gunther)

The latest installment in Mayor’s classic Joe Gunther series finds the intrepid detective and his team in scorching pursuit of a serial arsonist.

This series is a great palette cleanser after the intricate plots of some of the above – not that Mayor’s stories aren’t complex – but this is good old New England charm at it’s best. The series has a vintage gumshoe feel to it, but it’s contemporary enough to pull the reader in. Mayor’s varied background allows him to explore some rather unique issues instead of the usual, “here’s a body/catch the killer” standard. For instance, in this one, it looks like we’re going after an arsonist! I’m there!

Les Roberts – The Ashtabula Hat Trick (Milan Jacovich)

The people of Queenstown, Ohio, don’t take kindly to strangers. But they have no choice in the matter after a man’s body is found in a local park, pants unzipped and stabbed through the heart―and a second man’s body turns up days later, his head bashed in. Local law enforcement needs help with the town’s first-ever murder investigation.

Private investigator Milan Jacovich (pronounced MY-lan YOCK-ovitch) tags along when his main squeeze, Cleveland homicide detective Tobe Blaine, is dispatched to rural Ashtabula County to handle the case.

Word travels fast in the small town, and the mixed-race couple receives a cold welcome. The motel manager doesn’t like their looks, the coroner conveniently forgets key details, and patrons at the local watering hole flaunt their disrespect for Tobe’s out-of-town badge and her skin color.

Milan enlists his young assistant, Kevin “K.O.” O’Bannion, to glean information from the town’s teens, who tell tales of their parents’ fervent devotion to their local pastor, an outspoken bigot. Did homophobia factor in the murders?

Looming over the case is nearby Conneaut prison―privately run, overcrowded, and rumored to employ some questionable methods (as well as many local residents). Inside its walls, a powerful convict known as “The Prophet” just might have the information Tobe and Milan need to solve the case―if they can get him to talk.

Queenstown might only be an hour’s drive from Cleveland, but Milan, Tobe, and K.O. find themselves strangers in a strange land. They also soon find themselves neck-deep in serious trouble.

Sorry for the long description! Les Roberts and Milan Jacovich are both near and dear to my heart. We lived for seventeen years in Cleveland and reading Roberts allows us to go back for occasional visits. Plus, it’s hard not to like PI Milan Jacovich. I thought the series had come to an end (Like me, Les is a senior citizen!), so imagine my thrill when I saw a new book! Roberts has a comfortable prose style like putting on an old pair of shoes. His characters are well-drawn and the plot twists keep you flipping those pages. Most of all, read this to get an authentic glimpse of a great city!

Peter Robinson – Past Reason Hated (Inspector Alan Banks)

From New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author Peter Robinson comes this gripping thriller—in the tradition of Louise Penny and Elizabeth George—set in a picturesque Yorkshire village during the upcoming Christmas season…but one of its residents will not be celebrating this holiday.

Chief Inspector Alan Banks knows that secrecy can sometimes prove fatal, and secrets were the driving force behind Caroline Hartley’s life…and death.

She was a beautiful enigma, brutally stabbed in her own home three days prior to Christmas. Leaving her past behind for a forbidden love affair, she mystified more than a few. And now she is dead, clothed only in her unshared mysteries and her blood.

In this season of giving and forgiving, Banks is eager to absolve the innocent of their sins. But that must wait until the many facets of a perplexing puzzle are exposed and the dark circle of his investigation finally closes…and when a killer makes the next move.

Let’s go to England for Christmas – what could be better? When your holiday vacay arrives, curl up by the fire, get a couple or more fingers of Oban single malt and lose yourself in the winter beauty of the Yorkshire countryside! I really enjoy the Banks series. I wish we had more TV episodes to watch. It’s fun to realize that the actor, Stephen Tomkinson, who does a great job as Banks in the TV series, was also the young priest starring in the fabulous Irish classic, Ballykissangel!

Well friends, if you’ve made it to here, you are indeed a book-reading saint! I’m going to read these books in the order I’ve listed them here. I invite you to join me. All are available on Kindle and most at good prices. There are some excellent releases coming in the next few months, so I think the Winter list will be excellent as well.

In another blog post I will keep you abreast of the other Shrader goings-ons. We’re looking forward to opera jaunts to Leipzig (Aija), Boston, (Aija), Philadelphia (both), and San Francisco (both). If you want to know more about the opera singers, Alek Shrader and Daniela Mack, google them, or check out their schedules on operabase. As for the other household members, Valda and Moxie are both in fine fettle and enjoying the cooler weather even here in South Georgia. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the new love of all our lives, Evangelina Violet, AKA Eva. Granddaughters are absolutely the best!

Sorry for the lengthiness! Please reply, respond, like, share, etc.  I hope to see you ONLINE!  Cheers!  -Jim


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The Summer Reading List Comes to a Thrilling End …

Hello everyone!

It’s the end of summer and the summer TBR list has been completed. I finished up with the medieval thriller Blood on the Sand by brilliant author Michael Jecks! If, like me, you’re a  mystery/thriller devotee, I hope you took the time to explore some of these titles. Here’s what I read during the summer of 2015:

MC Beaton – Death of a Liar (Constable Hamish MacBeth – Scotland)
Marjorie Eccles – An Accidental Shroud (Inspector Gil Mayo – England)
Tim Ellis – Fragments of the Dead (Parish & Richards – Englend)
Tim Ellis – Whispers of the Dead (Tom Gabriel, PI – St. Augustine, FL)
Jane Haddam – Festival of Death (Gregor Demarkian – Philadelphia, PA)
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – Dear Departed (Inspector Bill Slider – England)
JA Jance – Remains of Innocence (Sheriff Joanna Brady – Bisbee, AZ)
Peter Robinson – The Hanging Valley (Inspector Alan Banks – Yorkshire, England)
Donna Leon – Beastly Things (Commissario Guido Brunetti – Venice, Italy)
Archer Mayor – The Surrogate Thief (Lieutenant Joe Gunther – Brattleboro, VT)
Janwillem Van de Wettering – Hard Rain (Grijpstra & De Gier)
Martin Walker – The Crowded Grave (Bruno Coureges, Chief of Police – St. Denis, France)
Michael Jecks – Blood on the Sand (Fripper Berenger and his Vintaine – Calais, France)

It was a great reading summer between Santa Fe and Valdosta as well as the long plane rides in between! Since I finished a bit early and it wasn’t quite fall yet, I started on a “tweener” reading The Einstein Prophesy by Robert Masello. I’m not quite done with it yet, so it’s delaying the launch of my fall TBR list, but it’s a very good read. It’s a work of historical fiction taking place in 1944 and, yes, Albert Einstein is a prominent character, although not the protagonist. It’s a very interesting blend of the occult with the appearance of demons from ancient Egypt, the race with the Nazis for the atomic bomb, and an ancient archaeological discovery. You might think of it as Indiana Jones and The DaVinci Code. Anyway, I’m enjoying it, but I’m anxious to get started on the fall list. It starts with the new Jack Reacher title, Make Me!

Nothing much more to report. Creative activity has all but stopped due to school duties. I seem to be on a plethora of committees each with a significant workload that was due “yesterday.” And then, of course, online classes require the constant reading of 300-500 word essays. So the two novels are parked midstream and the composing ideas are just that – ideas!

The fam is off performing: Daniela in Leipzig (Aija went along as Eva’s nanny!), Alek in Philadelphia for his first Alfredo (Traviata). Holidays and school breaks will find us in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Aija and I did manage a “daycation” to Jeckyll Island on Labor Day. Valda, Moxie, and I are here in the deep south holding down the fort!

It’s been a long time since the last blog post. Chalk that one up to the start of school! Please reply, respond, share, like, subscribe, and any other way you can let me know that somebody out there reads this!

I’ll follow this post with another launching the fall TBR list. I hope you’ll read with me and stay tuned for further adventures! Meanwhile, maybe I’ll see you ONLINE!  Cheers!  -Jim

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Quick Summer TBR Update …


I finished Jan Willem Van De Wetering’s Hard Rain. It was a quirky and sometimes confusing saga featuring de Wetering’s usual cast of characters. The ending, however, was satisfying because the bad guys got their comeuppance! (Oops – spoiler alert!) My review may or may not appear on Amazon.

Now it’s on to the final book for this summer – Blood on the Sand by one of my favorites, Michael Jecks. It’s the second in a trilogy featuring a platoon of English archers during the Hundred Year’s War. It is an epic read and I have 20 days to finish it.

My Cedar Key mystery is making some steady albeit slow progress. My choral marketing strategy is being formulated. My university duty is eating my lunch! Retirement may be looming a bit closer! That’s all for now – please ley me hear from you. Comment, reply, like, share, etc.

See you soon!  -JAS

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Bless me, Father …

It’s been twenty-two days since my last blog. I am truly remorseful and ready to accept appropriate penance …

OK, so that’s out of the way! Hi again! Miss me? (Don’t answer, I’m sensitive!)

If you checked into the August 4 blog, you saw all the opera stuff associated with Santa Fe Opera this summer. I didn’t get to see Finta or Salome, but, thanks to famous son, I got to hang with some of the singers in those shows. Santa Fe is such a magical location, especially if your an opera buff. We’ve been there now three out of the last four summers and never come away without being enthralled! There’s nothing for us next summer, but look out in 2017 when both family super stars might make return engagements! Meanwhile, we’re globe hopping: Leipzig, Geneva, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore, etc. It’s frequent flyer heaven!

Let’s do the run-down.

I finished Walker’s “The Crowded Grave.” It was rather thrilling for Bruno, Chief of Police in the French village of St. Denis. It had everything – romance, murder, international spy stuff, archaeology, cooking – you know – all the required elements for a ripping good mystery! As with the other tomes in the Bruno series, I liked it a lot. It’s, well, a mystery with which to relax.

Now I’m on to Janwillem Van De Wettering and another in the Grijpstra and de Gier series which takes place in Amsterdam. The title is Hard Rain. This author and this series takes a bit of intellectualism during the reading. The humor is a bit different and you really need to be familiar with the characters to not become confused. (This detective team play duets on the flute and drum set which they keep at the police station. They have two informants named “Ketchup and Karate.”) Anyway, I enjoy the series and I should have not waited so long to return to it. Sadly, Van Wettering is no longer with us and the end of the series is now in sight. If you’ve been reading from my list, hang in there, you really will like it! I hope to publish a review on Amazon when finished.

Writing: Rubbish!


Also rubbish – although I have a marketing, promotional idea that will appear on the music page soon. Note to choral folks: I’m looking for a choir who might be willing to record some of my stuff. Reply here or privately at


This is the main cause of my blog fail! Lots of prep time required this term. OK, I’ll whine a bit! I’m returning to my Honors Leadership class with a new edition of the text. I last taught this about three years ago. I’m continuing with my online Music Appreciation and Development of Rock & Roll classes. Not a real problem for me, but students really struggle understanding and motivating themselves in an online environment. I’m doing a new preparation – Song Literature I. I spent a lot of time prepping this class and the students are good. The problem is it’s only a one hour class, which is like impossible to deal with the vast array of material! I think I’ll call it “Song Literature Light!!!” Additionally, I have some new voice students and all the returning ones – it’s a nice little studio and they will do well. I have a new teaching location which is a vast improvement. Then there are the committees – lots (Did I say rubbish?).

So friends, some of you know my quote, “Time is the currency of the new millennium.” I need more currency!

My goodness – what a bitchy blog this turned out to be! My apologies.

I’ve got to go cook some fried rice for dinner. That should make it all better.

If you’re reading this, thanks for catching up with me. Please share this with your friends list and like, subscribe, all that stuff.

See you online soon – and I really mean that!  Cheers!  -JAS


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Back in the mountains – Aaaaah …

Greetings again from Santa Fe!

I got here on August 1st ostensibly to see some operas but actually to see granddaughter, Eva!  Oh yeah, Alek and Daniela too! I need to return to V-Town on August 6 in order to be ready for school meetings which start next Monday.

Santa Fe Opera HouseI saw the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain last Saturday. It was at the end of my travel day and the time differential was a bit daunting, but I enjoyed the show. Because I know many of the principals, I’m not going to actually review it. Outstanding performances by Nathan Gunn, Isabell Leonard, Jay Hunter Morris, Kevin Burdette, and especially Emily Fons. It was an interesting production with a serviceable albeit abstract unit set. The lighting was a bit dark for my taste, but arguably fit the story well. The orchestration was interesting with some percussion features that sometimes distracted, but, the Santa Fe French horn section is outstanding! Higdon favors the winds over the strings and there are some “chamber” like sections that make for a thin sonority at times. The men’s chorus of apprentice artists was wonderful and Higdon is a master at writing for this ensemble. All in all, I think this work will withstand the test of time and become part of the contemporary operatic repertoire. It is somewhat declamatory at time, but there are plenty of tuneful moments to satisfy the traditional opera-goer. Bravi tutti!

Last night I went to Daughter of the Regiment featuring my favorite tenor. It was a delightful production and Alek got all nine Cs and then some! Once again, the orchestra was superb under Italian Maestra Speranza Scappucci. In addition to Alek, kudos to Anna Christy and Kevin Burdette. Christy was having a great vocal night and the physical comedy of Burdette was amazing, particularly a long bit in a wheel chair! It was a really enjoyable evening at the opera house as well as an opportunity to hear Alek in what might be his final performances in this role as he moves on to a more lyric fach.

Tonight I’m off to see Rigoletto and look forward to a production that has garnered good reviews. It’s press week here in Santa Fe, so there’s lots of attention  by reviewers, agents, and guests from other companies. In the private opera club, there were many dignitaries and schmoozing was in full bloom!

Yesterday, I had the joy of having breakfast with my dear friend and mentor, Ken Davis who lives here in Santa Fe. Ken has turned to landscape painting as a second career after incredible years as a conductor and professor. He still keeps his hand in the choral world through The Ken Davis Chorale which meets occasionally to present concerts. It was a delightful time of reminiscing and discussion. It was so good that we’ll do it again over lunch today! Seeing Ken is another great reason to spend so much time in Santa Fe!

Reading: I finished Archer Mayor’s The Surrogate Thief. Here is my review available on Amazon:

Archer Mayor has a varied background of life experiences and he brings them all to play in the excellent Joe Gunther series. The plot of The Surrogate Thief is complex but not complicated! It’s more a How-Done-It than anything else. You know Joe will come out on top, but how it all unfolds makes for an intense and interesting read. Along the way Joe’s relationships play a big part in his state of mind as he is obsessed with solving this tricky cold case from his past. Because Mayor’s style pulls the reader deeply into the story, I’m looking forward to continuing the series with the next tome! As with any long series, I suggest you start at the beginning and work your way through the rich tapestry of character development. When you get to The Surrogate Thief, you won’t be disappointed!

Now we’re travelling to the French countryside and revisiting Bruno Courreges, police chief in the village of St. Denis. The book is The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker. This is a delightful series that sets the reader alongside the investigators right in the descriptive landscapes.

Composing: I got the official word from Colla Voce – not publishing When Christ Was Born of Mary Free. I disappointed, but that’s the composer’s lot! I’ll put it up on these pages as available from the composer and, at the same time, submit it to other publishers. I’m grateful to Colla Voce for publishing five of my pieces and they did invite me to continue submitting new works.

Please comment, reply, share, like, etc. I enjoy hearing from you on these pages!

Must stop now: Time to “bill and coo” with Eva!  Cheers!  -JAS

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Quick update …

Hi again!

I finished Donna Leon’s Beastly Things last night. My review is up on Now it’s on to Vermont and Archer Mayor’s The Surrogate Thief starring Detective Joe Gunther. Happy reading! – Jim

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The heat goes on …

Greetings all!

IMG_0814Well, I’m one week past 67 and surviving! Thanks to many of you for FB birthday greetings. I must say I’ve enjoyed my summer and contemplated, several times, what it will be like to retire to this life. Not bad, I must say!

I’m toasting you with a cup of delicious Swiss coffee! This is from a cafe in the heart of Crans-Montana, Switzerland which we visited last summer on the Georgia Ambassadors tour. I’m afraid it may be bad news for next year’s tour. The numbers are quite small for this time in the recruiting period and the trip itself is in doubt. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll try to talk Mrs. Dr. Shrader into a European excursion on our own. I’ll be disappointed because we had a really fine staff and we all became good friends. I’ll miss hanging with them. Keep your fingers crossed …

On to the categories –

READING: I’m still into Donna Leon’s Beastly Things. I love the Guido Brunetti series that takes place in Venice. Leon, although American, lives in Venice and manages to impart descriptive sentences that maintain the flavor of the Veneto and still be perfectly understood by the rest of us. Brunetti is the benevolent detective who always manages to outwit the bad guys. This one goes a little dark, especially in the description of the goings-on inside a typical Italian slaughterhouse! Yuck! Anyway, I’m about to the denouement and, when I’m finished, I’ll post my review on Amazon.

WRITING: I’m making some serious progress on Cedar Key. Of course, not as much as I had hoped, but the plot is unfolding. It’s turning out to be a bit more complex than in my original outline. I’ll try to take a research trip down to CK in a few weeks just to re-encounter the vibes and atmosphere of the village and the island. I’m about to begin chapter three of a proposed twenty-seven, so a long way to go.

TEACHING: I’ve been consumed lately with setting up a variety of classes for the fall term. Just today I finished my online music appreciation class. The online rock and roll class is almost finished. I’ll be re-doing my Honors Leadership class with a new text book (that’s for next week). Finally, I have everything I need to design the vocal literature class, except students! We have a very small number of vocal performance majors, so I’ll wait until the students actually return to make a decision about offering this class. Then, of course, I need to select repertoire for my voice students.

COMPOSING: I’ve given up on Colla Voce in regards to When Christ Was Born of Mary Free. I think it’s one of my best works but obviously the powers to be at CV don’t agree! They ran a “Christmas in July” promotion online and there was no Shrader. I’ll keep submitting to them hoping to strike the right nerve, but it’s probably time to diversify a bit. I have a website called Donaldson Music where I could self-publish but I’m not sure I want to do that yet. We’ll see …  Meanwhile, if you click on the music page on this site, you’ll find some pieces that are available directly from me which might be of interest to you or your choir director friends.

TRAVELS: I’m off to Santa Fe in eight days, ostensibly to see some operas, but really to see Alek, Daniela, and the darling Eva. She’ll be almost two months when I’m there and I can’t wait to see how she’s grown! I’m seeing Rigoletto, Cold Mountain (premiere), and, of course, Daughter of the Regiment, featuring all nine high Cs of my tenorish son! The reviews have been excellent and I love the Santa Fe venue. Down the line will be Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Fort Worth, and others. There’s San Francisco, but I may skip that one. You can always follow the singing kids on opera base.

That’s a full 700 words or so for today and bless you if you’ve made it this far! I’m actually in my home office today (not the gazebo!), but now we’re all going for a dip in the pool which, yesterday, felt like a sauna! The rain usually arrives around 4 pm, but that’s summer in South Georgia!

I crave your comments, replies, likes, shares, subscriptions,et al. Take care, stay cool and have fun!  Cheers!  -Jim

PS. I do have some political thoughts coming into my head, bu I’ll save them for a later post (God help you!).  Bye …

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