Sunday, June 30, 2013

June Monthly Reading Summary

Here are the books I read in June.  Links take you to my full review.

All ratings are on a scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (great).

THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher - 5
This first in a new Middle Grade mystery series introduces us to two seventh graders who have decided they want to work for the FBI.  They are practicing by spying on their neighbors, but the game turns serious when they see a neighbor committing a crime.  Things may not be what they seem.  Or they might be in some serious danger.

The book pulled me in with great main characters and a plot that gets very suspenseful as the book progresses.  The target audience will definitely love it, and any adult who enjoys a good mystery should pick it up, too.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

THE TEXAS TWIST by John Vorhaus (Radar Hoverlander #3) - 5
In this book, Radar, his girlfriend, and his best friend, are all trying to help their new neighbor who they think is about to be the victim of a con.  However, the more they get involved, the more things aren't what they seem, and Radar has to figure out the end game before he comes the victim of a con himself.

The plots in these novels are more like onions than anything else I've read, yet they hold together brilliantly.  And the characters are a lot of fun for being criminals. The series is certainly a departure from my normal cozy fair, but I really enjoy it.

REVENGE ON ROUTE 66 by Kris Neri (Tracy Eaton #4) - 5
Tracy is planning to introduce her husband Drew to the pleasures that are Route 66.  But when a family friend is murdered in a small New Mexico town, they find themselves having to solve a mystery 30 years old to find out why he died now.

These books are always wacky capers, and this is no exception.  The mystery is well plotted, but Tracy's antics are a blast the entire way through.  A perfect light mystery for any road trip.

And keep an eye out for a character named Mark Baker.

ROCKETS' RED GLARE by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Holidays from Hell #4) - 5
Zelda is bringing her new boyfriend to the annual family BBQ.  What could possibly go wrong?  Wait don't ask that because the fireworks are about to get started.

It's so nice to see the Bowen family back again.  This e-short story once again crams great characters and a good story into 34 pages.  Well worth reading.

I was sent a copy of this story in exchange for my honest review.

MR. MONK HELPS HIMSELF by Hy Conrad (Monk Tie-In Novels #16) - 5
Natalie's new self-help guru commits suicide in the middle of a public event, but she's convinced it is murder.  Meanwhile, Monk is hired to find the killer of a clown, one of his top 100 phobias.  This is going to be the biggest test of their new partnership.

This is the first tie in novel not written by Lee Goldberg, but since Hy was a writer on the show, he already knows the characters.  He's picked up from where Lee left off, and fans of the show and the books will love it.  Laughs, good mysteries, and great characters.

SIDEKICKS by Dan Santat - 5
When a superhero decides to get a new sidekick, his pets want in on the act.  And that's not quite as bad an idea as it sounds.

This graphic novel is fun, and middle school students will enjoy it.  Heck, I enjoyed it, and I'm an adult.

Game Review: Doodle Dice

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative game and good gameplay
Cons: Can be frustrating to get the most difficult cards
The Bottom Line:
A roll of the dice
Can create a fun doodle
Try to collect six

Unique, Creative, and Fun Dice Game

Many games seem to be variations on a theme.  So when you run across a creative game that stands out from the crowd, it’s time to investigate.  And when that game turns out to be fun, it’s even better.  That’s been the case for Doodle Dice for my family.

Okay, I should be honest.  My brother and sister-in-law found it and gave it to our parents.  But we all love it.

The game is for 2 to 6 players age 6 and up, although really as soon as a child is able to handle taking and waiting their turn and a little frustration they can play.

The game comes with a deck of cards, a plastic cup for shaking the dice, and six – six sided dice.  Each dice has six different shapes on it – dot, dash, slash, arc, squiggle, and face.

The object of the game is to be the first player to collect six cards, one of each color, by rolling the dice and getting the combinations of shapes to create the “doodle” on the card.  The colors represent different number of dice required.  For example, the easiest, orange, just requires one die, like a dash.  The most difficult, purple, requires all six dice to win.  Examples here are a good dog (4 dashes, one dot, and a slash), Swimming Sue (face, two slashes, two squiggles, and a dash) or Singin’ in the Rain (two arcs, a dash, two slashes and a face).  Don’t worry, each card not only shows you what dice combinations you need but how they assemble to create the named item on the card.  Surprisingly given the six simple shapes, most of them look fairly accurate, especially for a doodle.

You start the game with six cards from the deck face up, one of each color.  As each player goes, they start by taking a new card and turning it face up.  Then they have three rolls to create any doodle turned face up.  You don’t have to announce what you are going for, so you can change at any point.  And if you are going for a six dice card but wind up with a three dice card at the end of your turn, you can take that card instead.

Just to add a little more interest, there are a few extra roll and lose a turn cards in the deck.  You can also steal someone else’s card, but for those you have to declare your intent before your first roll.

All five of us have played this game several times over the last few years, and we enjoy it.  The game seems to go to the first person who can get a six and five dice card because the rest are fairly easy to get.  I rare win, but I enjoy the challenge.  It’s fun to roll and see what picture you can create.

As you can imagine, there are many more six and five dice cards than there are two dice cards.  Not only are the lower cards easier to get, but there just aren’t that many combinations.  Never have we looked at a picture and not been able to figure out what the picture is supposed to be.

This game requires more luck than true strategy, but it’s fun none the less.  I have a feeling that we’ll keep doodling with Doodle Dice for a long time to come.

Book Review: Dr. Seuss's ABC's by Dr. Seuss

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Creative alphabet book is just too much fun
Cons: Some harder/imaginary words, but it's minor
The Bottom Line
Crazy alphabet
Full of imagination
Book above the rest

Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz and Other Alphabet Fun

The name Dr. Seuss invokes quite a few things.  Fun stories, great illustrations, and full on creativity.  All of those are on display in Dr. Seuss's ABC.

For those who are tired of the typical A is for Apple alphabet book, this one will be a breath of fresh air.  Yes, it starts off fairly simple, but as you proceed through the book, things get more wild.  We go from Aunt Annie’s alligator in A to yawning yacks for Y with side trips through a lazy lion licking a lollipop and Vera Violent Vinn and her very awful violin playing along the way.

All the while, we’re dealing with a rhythm and a rhyme.  That just shows off Dr. Seuss’ creativity and gifts as a wordsmith.

Another plus to this book is that is makes a point of showing both the upper case and lower case letters most of the time so that kids learning their letters will begin to learn what both versions looks like.

For illustrations, we get Dr. Seuss’ trademark pictures.  They are definitely stylized with some people and some animals substituting for humans.  For example, it’s one of his not quite distinguishable dog like animals that is standing in the pail as pop for P.  Meanwhile, L’s left leg and the girl in Y are both human.

My only complaint with this book is its classification.  It claims to be a Beginner Book.  And yes, Dr. Seuss was famous for some great beginner books.  But this book also features some of his made up words, like Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz for Z.  (Why he didn’t stick with zebra is beyond me.)  There are words here that kids will stumble over and need adult help sounding out if they can figure them out at all.

Mind you, I’m not saying that’s a flaw with the book.  Adults should have no problem reading it aloud to kids, and both will have a blast with the creative things included here.  I just think it should be classified as a pure picture book.

Even if you already have several alphabet books, you need Dr. Seuss's ABC.  You and your kids will both love it.  Just be careful about letting early readers tackle this one alone.

Book Review: Royal Pains - Sick Rich by D. P. Lyle (Royal Pains Tie In #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Medicine and mystery with fun characters and setting
Cons: Evan; story is a bit uneven
The Bottom Line
Fun visit with some
Wonderful characters. Worth
It for series fans.

Fourth of July in the Hamptons with Some Royal Pains

TV tie ins can be a great way to visit well-loved characters while you wait for the next season to start.  That was certainly the case for me while I was reading Royal Pains: Sick Rich.

The book is set in the world of the USA Network show Royal Pains.  The show centers on Dr. Hank Lawson, a former ER doctor who has set up a practice in the Hamptons.  He treats anyone who needs him with the capable assistance of Divya Kidare.  Rounding out the team at “HankMed” is Hank’s brother Evan, the CFO and in many ways the brains behind the company, at least at the beginning.  Another regular from the series appearing here is Jill, the administrator at the local hospital and Hank’s on again off again girlfriend.

Fourth of July is right around the corner, and the Hamptons are hopping.  There’s Nathan Zimmer’s party, the party to attend if you are in the area.  Evan is obsessed with finding the right costume for it.  Plus Jill has been working for months at putting on the First Annual Hamptons Health and Fitness Expo.  Naturally, HankMed is planning to be there.

But there are other medical issues going on.  A woman has mysterious headaches.  A man moving a piano suddenly has chest pains.  But the biggest issue might be the new designer drug popping up in the teens.  It’s a potential deadly mix of illegal substances.  Will any teens be killed before the dealers can be found?

Most weeks, the TV show focuses on a medical mystery as Hank tries to diagnosis the problem from some changing (always worsening) symptoms.  And there is some of that here.  But the biggest focus is on the illegal drugs, which combine the medical symptoms with a real crime.  It might not be “normal” for the series, but it certainly works.

Because there are multiple stories happening, there is always something going on.  Unfortunately, a couple of the sub-plots feel a bit like filler and slow the book down, but that’s a minor issue.

The characters are true to their TV selves, and the constant banter between Evan and Divya is especially true to form.  I found Evan to be a bit over the top, more like he was in season one than he is now.  Speaking of which, his fiancée on the show is obviously missing, so this must be before he met Paige.  Which is too bad because I love her character and how the two of them interact.

Author D. P. Lyle is a doctor himself, so the book is full of medical information.  Once or twice, it gets a bit more graphic than I would like, but it’s nothing worse than they’ve shown us on the show.  He is a skilled writer as well, and I flew through the book.

While this book obviously builds on the previous one, you can read them in which ever order you prefer.  It would be more helpful to have seen the TV show than read the previous novel, although even then everything you need to know is explained.

So if you are looking for a way to get your Royal Pains fix before new episodes start, Sick Rich is a pleasant way to do just that.

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #7 - Electric Train - 2006 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Train that moves!  And the ornament looks nice
Cons: Tilts left, but not a super bad tilt
The Bottom Line:
Trying out the train
Actually moves on track
For some added fun

Electric Trains Go Round the Track

The very first ornament in the Toymaker Santa Series featured Santa riding a toy train.  That train was obviously designed for a kid to ride.  For the seventh entry, they returned to trains, but this time, Santa is making sure an electric train is working just right.

The ornament has a circular base.  Santa is kneeling in the middle of the circle holding the controls for the electric train.  The track for the train is on the outside of the track, and a train with four cars is on the track.  The engine and first car are black.  The second car is green.  Of course, the caboose is red.

Now here’s the part that makes the ornament fun.  The train actually goes around the track.  Okay, so it’s not really electric, but if you push it, it will go around in a circle.  So you can play with it or position it exactly where you want it to be.  Obviously, since it is small, it’s not recommended for young kids (the box says under 8), but older kids will have fun making this one customizable.

The ornament is very red and green.  The floor Santa is kneeling on is green.  As always, we see parts of his green shirt and red pants, plus he’s wearing his trademark red hat.  His apron, as always, is tan, and the train track and the sides of the base are both gold.  It’s actually a good combination.

The 7 in a Christmas tree symbol is very easy to find since it is paint on the bottom of the base in black along with the only time you’ll find the year of the ornament’s release, 2006.  Since the base is very flat, it obviously sits flat if you decide to display it on a shelf.

The hook for hanging the ornament is slightly off center, and it shows when you actually hang it.  It tips noticeably to the left, although it’s not enough to make the train move or settle on that side.  It’s not as bad as some others in the series, but I do wish more of them hung straight.

It’s the little things in this series I enjoy, and the train moving is the one that does it for me here.  The seventh Toymaker Santa brings a smile to my face that makes up for the tilt.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Toymaker Santa series.

Original Price: $12.50

Office Supply Review: Smead Desk File A-Z

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Quickly and easily holds stuff in alphabetical order
Cons: Could expand more and hold up better to heavy use.  Storage issues.
The Bottom Line
Despite some issues
Great quick way to sort and store
Paper for short time

Perfect for Temporary Storage in Alphabetical Order

I have no idea how my office found and started using Smead's Deluxe Indexed Desk File, but it’s invaluable for us for holding invoices.

These files are fairly simple when you look at them.  They’re just over letter size, so most standard pieces of paper would fit into them.  There are twenty tabs on the top from left to right.  Most of these tabs have one letter of the alphabet on them, but a few of the lesser popular letters are bunched together.  I and J are coupled up as are U and V, for example.

The idea behind these files is that you can sort and store documents in alphabetical order in a draw.  We use this for our unpaid invoices.  That way, if you need to find something quickly, just go to the tab and pull it up.  I pull the back up once we’ve run checks, and it’s very easy to find them.  Plus, you don’t have to put them in alphabetical order before you file, just grab the top one and add it to the appropriate slot.  This could also be used for customer invoices that have not been paid.  Employee information could be put here until it is properly processed and filed and still be easy to find.  The uses for these sorter files are quite extensive.

However, they do have some drawbacks.  While they do expand some, they don’t grow much beyond six inches think.  And when you realize they are three inches think to start with, that’s really not that much space.  Actually, we have two folders, one for each half of the alphabet.  Even then, if the bills come in too quickly, they can be bursting at the seams.

That’s another issue.  The accordion nature of the files is rather weak.  These seem to last for about two years of daily use several times a day, and then you need to replace them.  For the price of roughly $15, that isn’t too bad, but it would be nice if they lasted longer.

Finally, the files need some form of support.  You either need to wedge them in a draw or find a place to lay them flat.  They are too thick for most file folders and don’t come with hangers to hang them in a file cabinet.  Then again, they are usually so heavy they would probably break most hangers quickly.

These complaints can be annoying at times, but if you have a need for filing and sorting material temporarily, Smead's Deluxe Indexed Desk File is invaluable.  There really is no good substitute, and they make life much easier.

Book Review: Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans Document #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and plenty more laughs
Cons: None for me since I was too busy laughing
The Bottom Line
Plenty more great laughs
Characters that keep growing
Won't want to put down

Banana.  No Apple!  And Other New Spellman News

Some series pretty much stand alone, each book being a new adventure.  Other books definitely build on each other, and you need to know what happened before to full appreciate what happens here.  While Trail of the Spellmans isn’t quite as dependent on previous books as earlier volumes in the series, it would certainly help enjoy the fifth to have read the previous four.

If you are new to this wacky clan, The Spellmans are a family of private investigators living inSan Francisco.  Our window into their world is through Isabel, the 34-year-old narrator.  There’s older brother David, 36, who was a successful lawyer at one point.  The youngest is Rae, who is now 20.  Parents Albert and Olivia started the business and are still very much involved.  With all the secrets they uncover, they are very good at keeping their own from each other, which can cause problems since Isabel just can’t leave anything alone.

It’s been two years since Isabel has felt the need to chronicle the going ons in her family.  But they are at it again.  Mom Olivia is taking many new hobby classes and is out every night of the week.  Oldest son David is staying at home with his 18 month old daughter and ignoring most personal hygiene.  It appears that Rae might be the most normal one in the group as the 20 year old settles into life as a college sophomore, however, she’s done something to infuriate David and the two aren’t speaking to each other.  Even Isabel is avoiding her boyfriend and his visiting mother.

Fortunately, she has some surveillance cases to throw herself into.  There’s the brother who wants his sister followed and the wife who wants her husband followed.  Then there are the parents who want their daughter followed so they can be sure she’s not going wild living on her own as a freshman.  Finally, there’s the math professor with OCD who hires them to make sure his apartment isn’t being destroyed when he leaves.  There’s never a dull moment with this crew.

Let’s get the usual genre discussion out of the way.  These are classified as mysteries since the Spellmans are PI’s.  And I’ll confess that I first picked it up because of the mystery connection.  I quickly realized that these are more dysfunctional family comedy than true mystery.  Yes, there are some human mysteries (why people behave the way they do), but little in the way of crime and no murders.  That has never bothered me in the slightest, and I think if you pick them up with the right mindset, you’ll absolutely love it.

Why?  Well, for starters, the books are too funny.  The way the family treats each other would drive me crazy in real life, but as I read it, I can find lots of laugh or at least chuckle at.  Some of that comes from character and what we’ve learned about them over the last few books.  But some of it is just funny no matter what.  I read a few bits to my family as I was reading it, and they laughed as much as I did.

The characters feel more real with every book as we get to know them better.  That’s no exception here.  In fact, a couple of times when Isabel figured out why someone was behaving the way they were, I felt like I should have seen that coming all along.  They’ve also grown over the course of the series, and that is evident here as they grow further.  Of the cases, the only character to get much definition was the OCD professor who at times seemed very much like Monk, a welcome comparison for me since I love that character and show.

The various stories weave in and out of each other, but it’s never hard to keep anything straight.  And if one story doesn’t interest you, you’re on to the next fairly quickly.  In fact, I never wanted to put the book down.  Might be one of the reasons I finished it in a couple of days.

As always, there are no official chapter breaks, but frequent breaks with headings that help you keep the action and stories straight.  There aren’t as many transcripts this go around, although there are still some footnotes.  Yes, footnotes in a novel.  Think of them as asides to the main action; they’re usually very funny.

Yes, you can pick up this book and I think still enjoy Trail of the Spellmans.  But I highly recommend going back to the beginning to fully understand everything that happens here.  You’ll be enjoying this one before you know it.

If you need to backtrack, here are the Spellman Files in order.

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #6 - Sled - 2005 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mostly perfectly tilted ornament to capture the fun
Cons: Side to side tip, but a minor issue
The Bottom Line:
Hearty Ho Ho Ho!
As Santa enjoys his job
Testing out this sled

Santa Proved Just How Much Fun Testing Toys Can Be

You know, I think it's time for a career change.  I need to find a job as a toy tester.  It would be a sacrifice, but one I'm willing to make to guarantee that the toys will be fun for boys and girls.  My inspiration for this?  The 2005 entry in Hallmark's Toymaker Santa ornament series.

While all of the ornaments in this series show Santa testing out the toy he's just finished, it's this one that really show just how fun it can be.  Santa's sitting on a sled.  The body of the sled is wood, but the bottom part is red.  Santa's holding onto a green cord with one hand and his hat with the other.  He's leaning back on a bag of toys as he goes flying down a steep hill.

While Santa's trademark squinty eyes and smiling mouth don't always work with the pose, here they perfectly capture that look of fun as he goes careening down the hill.  Like others in the series, Santa is wearing his work apron over green and red clothes; he even still has his hammer attached to the apron.

To help with the illusion that Santa is sledding down a hill of snow, the ornament tips when you hang it by the brass ring on top of Santa's head.  It's at the perfect angle for the illusion.  While he also tips to one corner, it doesn't ruin the illusion much.  Because of the sturdy base of the sled bottom, you can set this one out to be displayed, but it really ruins the illusion and doesn't look nearly as good as it does when you hang it.

As I said, this ornament was released in 2005, so I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that 2005 is painted on the side of the sled.  The copyright information and Hallmark's series marking are hidden on the bottom of the sled.

This is definitely one of the more fun entries in the series.  I just can't help imagine a joyous "Ho, Ho, Ho!" coming out of Santa as he sleds right past me when I look at it.  And that makes me smile.

So the 2005 Toymaker Santa has inspired me.  I'll be right here waiting by the phone for my turn to have as much fun as he does testing out toys.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Toymaker Santa series.

Original Price: $12.95

Movie Review: The Muppets (2011)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great to see the Muppets again, many jokes work
Cons: Needed more humor and punch in the second half
The Bottom Line
Yes, many fun parts
But slows down in second half
Not as good as hoped

"I Always Dreamed We'd Be Back Here."  "Dreams?  Those Were Nightmares."

Having become a big Muppets fan in the last few years, The Muppets was a must see on my holiday movie list for 2011.  And somehow November and December came and went without me making it to see the movie in the theater.  So, I made a rare exception to my normal rule and bought the movie on Blu-Ray.  Unfortunately, the movie is slightly disappointing.

The story is told to us by Walter (voiced by Peter Linz).  Growing up, he's different from other boys, but he's close with his brother.  It's not until he finds The Muppet Show that he feels like he truly belongs.  In fact, he becomes obsessed with the show and their biggest fan.

Flash forward to now and Walter still lives with his brother Gary (Jason Segel). Garyis taking his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) toLos Angelesas a 10th anniversary present, and as a surprise he has a ticket for Walter as well.  Walter can't wait to visit Muppet Studios, but the place is all but deserted.  Hiding in Kermit's old office, Walter hears a plot by Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to destroy the studio and drill for the oil underneath.

The trio head to find Kermit, figuring he'll know what to do.  He's reluctant to get the gang back together for a show to save the studio, but eventually, he's talked into it.  Will that work?

Right off the bat, this movie had one strike against it.  The plot was recycled from the made for TV movie It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.  Okay, some of the plot points were different, but it's still felt like a rip off to me.

Still, the movie started out well.  There were lots of touching moments as Walter struggled to fit into life in the real world and then we looked back at the Muppets' career.  You felt the sense of loss Kermit was dealing with as he thought about his friends.

And there were some great moments of comedy.  I'm not going to spoil the gags, but they are perfectly in line with the feel of the show over the years.

Plus there are the cameos.  Whether as characters or themselves, there are tons of well known people in the movie, sometimes in blink and you miss them moments.  I had a lot of fun with that.  There are also plenty of jokes at 80's pop culture, which was lots of fun.

And I'm not going to fault the cast, human or Muppet.  All the performances were perfect the this film.

However, the movie felt like it was trying too hard.  What it was trying for, I'm not quite sure.  The jokes weren't quite there to keep things going.  The story became a bit too predictable and lost it's fun in the final act.  And don't get me started on the ending.  I don't quite get that one at all.

I think part of the problem is that the Muppets work best when they are creating jokes.  Here, they had to carry a movie, including serious moments.  That's not their real strength.  Frankly, I think the movie needed more laughs.

That point was driven home to me when I was watching the bonus feature on the Blu-Ray.  The behind the scenes featurette had some info in it, but it was also just plain silly.  Same with the bloopers.  And the spoof trailers were a riot.  If the movie had included more of that kind of stuff, it would have been great.

Yes, I enjoyed The Muppets.  But it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been.  More laughs would have definitely made for a better film.

Music Review: Broadway Stories by Sandi Patty

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great songs from a wide range of musicals
Cons: If there is one, I sure can't find it
The Bottom Line
Show stopping music
Sung by incredible voice
Such a great CD

Will Leave You on Your Feet Shouting "Encore!"

As much as I love musicals, there are way too many gaps in my knowledge of them.  That’s been pointed out to me again when I bought Sandi Patty’s Broadway Stories, a collection of songs from musicals.

Now, my lack of knowledge hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of this disc in the least.  Sandi is backed by a full orchestra, so it sounds very much like a soundtrack.  I may not know the full context for the song, but her performances are still wonderful.

The songs I do know best show up in two medleys.  Up first is “The Sound of Music Medley.”  As the title implies, there are lots of songs from one of the best known musicals here including the title song, “I Have Confidence,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” and “Edelweiss,” and “Climb Every Mountain.”  Even though the track clocks in at over 7 minutes, not all of each song is here, but the arrangement spends plenty of time on each song, and it’s easy to sing along.  As an added bonus, there’s a kid’s choir helping with “Do Re Mi” and another choir backing her on “Climb Every Mountain.”

The other big medley, clocking in at eight and a half minutes, is “A Doll Sings the Guys.”  I don’t know all the songs here, but there are some big ones that stand to me are “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” from Oklahoma, and “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady.  This track more than any other shows off Sandi’s acting ability as she really gets into each character she’s portraying.  It brings an extra smile to my face.

There’s one more medley, “Swingin’ Love Medley.”  As the title suggests, the song has a fun big band/swing feel to it as it celebrates love.  There are only three songs in this track, including "I Just Found out about Love," This Can't be Love," and "Our Love is Here to Stay."

The other seven tracks are all individual songs.  They range from the slower “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” to the more energetic “All of Me.”  I would say the songs tend toward the slower side of things, but they are interesting in their own right.

One highlight is “Smile.”  I’ve got to say I expected it to be a preppy upbeat number, but I do love it because of the descriptions as the singer tries to encourage someone who is down to smile.  The orchestra also gets a wonderful bridge here.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum is “Send in the Clowns.”  Sandi gives this one everything she’s got, and the result is heart breaking as she sings from the point of view of someone who has missed her life focusing on career over people.  The melody is haunting, which really helps draw you into the song.

Closing out the disc is the encouraging “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  Sandi’s voice soars over the orchestra and the background choir.  It is soul stirring and makes me feel like I can face anything.  When I’m doing listening to it, I’m ready to stand up and cheer.

The booklet that comes with the CD talks a little bit about each song – either the history of the song or why Sandi chose to include it.  Since I know so few of these songs, it helps give me a context for them and I appreciate them much more as a result.

Not only is this a little bit different in Sandi’s career, but it’s something different in my collection.  It’s a great change; Broadway Stories will be enjoyed for a long time to come.

CD Length: 49:23
1. Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
2. Smile
3. Swingin’ Love Medley
4. The Sound of Music Medley
5. The Man I Love
6. All of Me
7. A Doll Sings the Guys
8. Send in the Clowns
9. Love is Only Love
10. You’ll Never Walk Alone

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #5 - Wagon - 2004 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun memories captured with a red wagon
Cons: Still tips some (although not as bad as earlier entires)
The Bottom Line:
Santa and wagons
Two great Christmas memories
On one ornament

Wagon Full of Toys 

What kid doesn’t love owning a red wagon.  It’s full to fill it with stuff and then pull it all around.  The fact that they can be practical isn’t important to their fun.  And some little kid is in for a joyful surprise this Christmas thanks to the fifth entry in the Toymaker Santa series.

This ornament depicts a smiling Santa kneeling by a just completed red wagon.  And in order to test it out, he’s put a purple ball, a doll, and a teddy bear in it.  While Santa hasn’t tested the wagon yet, we can find out that it will work well since all four wheels spin.  I don’t recommend dragging the ornament around the table, however, because the ornament also rests on Santa’s knees and toes, so it doesn’t really roll.

It does rest comfortably if you set it out on a table, however, so you can display it any flat surface as well as on your tree.

As for Santa himself, he’s dressed like he always is in this series.  A tan apron is covering a green shirt and red pants.  He’s got a hammer on his apron.  He is wearing his traditional red hat for this ornament, something he doesn’t always do.

This ornament represents two firsts for the series.  This is the first time there is enough of a flat surface on the bottom of the ornament to hold the 5 in a Christmas tree and the copyright information on it.  As a result, it appears that artist Ken Crow didn’t put his initials on the ornament.

The other first is the balance.  Okay, so it’s not perfect and tips slightly to the right.  However, considering how far off the mark the series has been so far, it’s a huge improvement.  By the time you get this on a tree with lots of other ornament, you probably won’t even notice that it’s not perfectly straight.

While the wagon certainly makes you think of the famous Radio Flyer wagons, Hallmark must not have gotten permission to use their logo.  2004, the year of the ornament’s release, is painted in white on the side of the wagon, but it really doesn’t look like the Radio Flyer fount.  Still, I can’t help but think of the Radio Flyer wagon I had as a kid when I look at it.

And it’s just that nostalgia fun feeling that they are going for with this series.  This ornament perfectly captures it, and it hangs straight to boot.  That’s why I highly recommend the fifth entry in the Toymaker Santa series.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Toymaker Santa series.

Original Price: $14.95

Book Review: The Secret of the Unseen Treasure by Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden #19)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Lazy summer feel in an engaging mystery
Cons: Very little Di; Dan acting weird
The Bottom Line
Summer mystery
Combines fun with the suspense
For a pleasant read

Who is Harassing Mrs. Elliot?

Even though I’ve been out of school for too many years to name, I still get a thrill when summer starts.  There’s something that makes it seem like it has a slower, more relaxed pace.  And that feeling is captured in The Secret of the Unseen Treasure, the nineteenth in the Trixie Belden mystery series.

For those who aren’t familiar with this series, it’s a mystery series for kids along the lines of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.  I just happen to like them better because, at least in the better books, Trixie and her family and friends seem like real people with strengths and weaknesses.  Yes, the plots are a little simple, especially in the back half of the series, but I just love spending time with them.  The early books were written in the 1950’s, but much of the second half was published in 1977, and that creeps into the books at times.

It’s the first day of summer, and Trixie is looking forward to fun and maybe a mystery or two.  But the mystery starts earlier than expected when she and her friends head to a neighbor’s house to make a delivery.  They show up in time to keep a stranger from burning down Mrs. Elliot’s shed.  Over the next few weeks, Social Security checks are stolen and a water pump stops working.  Who is behind these attacks?  And why?

The first 10 books in the series take place in about 10 consecutive months.  The next 7 are all set in summer, and book 18 takes place in early fall.  But the tainted timeline is officially underway in this book because it opens on the first day of summer vacation while none of the characters have aged a day.  I was so used to characters not aging and I read the books all out of order, so to me this is worth noting only in passing.

The plot is fairly decent although certainly a product of the 70’s.  I’m not going to say more so I don’t give anything else away.  As a kid, I didn’t make the connections much before Trixie did, and there was one reveal I never would have guessed.  I remember enough of the plot these days that it holds very few surprises, although I don’t find it frustrating waiting for Trixie to reach the right conclusions, which is always a good thing.  A nitpick I have with the plot is that Trixie’s dad a couple times shares privileged information relevant to the plot with his family.

The characters, for the most part, are their better selves.  Trixie bickers with her older brother Mart, but there is lots of love behind it.  Trixie is determined and persistent while making honest mistakes, but she tries hard to avoid being rude.  One of Trixie’s friends shows up in some group scenes but doesn’t really have much of a part.  The biggest out of character issues I have are with Dan.  Another of Trixie’s friends, he has a background with a gang in New York City.  Some of that comes into play in the plot, but even then he feels too far out of character to me.  Then there’s his infamous outburst late in the book that is funnier than it’s supposed to be.

Speaking of funny, early editions of this book feature a cameo by a dog who hasn’t been around since book two.  Both copies of the book I’ve had over the years have featured the correct dog, but it’s the kind of error you get when you are dealing with lots of ghost writers and books published in a very short amount of time.

I mentioned earlier that the book features some lazy summer days.  Yes, Trixie has chores to do, but she still has time for horseback riding and swimming.  In that kind of stuff that also helped draw me to the series, so I love that.

I also like the fact that, unlike most books in the series, this one takes place over half the summer.  For some reason, that always struck me as a nice, realistic touch.  The book itself clocks it at just under 200 pages of text, so it’s a fast read for anyone from the target age of upper elementary school up.

The second half of the series can be hit or miss, but The Secret of the Unseen Treasure is definitely a hit.  It may not be quite up to the earlier entries in the series, but it’s still a good mystery with lots of fun thrown in.

You'll find more fun when you read the Trixie Belden Mysteries in order.

TV Show Review: Hey Dude - Season 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun stories with great characters
Cons: 80's, low budget production, poor acting
The Bottom Line
A trip back in time
With a show that's lots of fun
If a little dated

"Why Do You Automatically Assume that I'm Involved?"  "Ted, You're Always Involved."

If you grew up in the 80’s, Nickelodeon was part of your everyday life.  Even I, who didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up, knew about some of their shows.  And one I always enjoyed if I caught it was Hey Dude.  Watching season two on DVD has reminded me just why.

The show is set on the Bar None Dude Ranch and follows the misadventures of the teenage staff.  There’s senior staff member (and most likely to goof off) Ted (David Lascher), Native American Danny (Joe Torres), horse riding instructor Brad (Kelly Brown), and life guard Melody (Christine Taylor).  Overseeing all of them is ranch hand Lucy (Debrah Kalman) and the owner Benjamin Ernst (David Brisbin).  Rounding out the cast is Buddy (Josh Tygiel), Mr. E.’s son.

The thirteen episodes here are rather typical of the series, which was a single camera comedy before the current craze in the genre took off.  There are some battle of the sexes stories, most noticeably when the guys and girls try to decide how to spend a $100 tip that was left.  Melody gets a chance to train for the Olympic swim team.  Danny deals with making a huge mistake.  After Ted tells a ghost story that scares the rest of the teens, they try to get him back.  A bank robber crash lands on ranch property.  And Mr. E. decides to sell the ranch, but the reason just might surprise you.

While the setting is a guest ranch, most of the storylines are relatable to kids, so that helps explain the popularity then and the fond memories now.  Plus the characters are great.  You feel like they are real and can’t help but like all of them, even Ted whose ego could always be knocked down a peg or two.  The comedy comes from the characters and situations, although occasionally they really do go overboard and descend into farce.  Really, the best example of that is the final episode on this set, which features a panic as the gang things aliens have landed near the ranch.

The exception to that is Mr. E.  He’s almost always over the top with some new scheme that is crazy.  He’s not a good example of a responsible adult (we’ve got Lucy for that), although when he does need to get serious with the kids, he does.  Even so, they do respect him as an authority even if they don’t always respect his ideas.

The show does scream 80’s.  It’s most noticeable in the clothes and hair styles.  But why wouldn’t it?  These particular episodes were all released in 1989.

It was also low budget, which is noticeable at times in the production.  No, I don’t spot mikes or anything like that, but the sound level can often be uneven, especially on the outdoor scenes.

The acting, too, isn’t always the best.  It does seem like the actors have settled a bit more into their roles, although Christine Taylor continues to be the shining star in the acting department, and this is coming from the guy who had a crush on the beautiful Kelly Brown.  The acting is good enough to allow you to enjoy the episodes, so that’s all that really matters.

The thirteen episodes included here are on two discs.  They’re presented in their native full frame picture and stereo sound.  And…that’s it.  Unlike season one, which included a short interview with Christine Taylor, this season has nothing in the way of bonus features.

Hey Dude is probably best viewed through the lens of nostalgia, but those who remember the show will have a blast revisiting the characters in season two.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Loose Lips
2.Battleof a Hundred Bucks
3. Our Little Champion
4. Bunkmate Battles
5. Crash Landing
6. Ghost Stories
7. Teacher’s Pest
8. Treasure Teens
9. Dan the Man
10. Superstar
11. Bar None Babysitter
12. Cowboy Ernst
13. Take Me to Your Leader

Music Review: Fiddle on the Roof Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great recordings of some classic songs
Cons: Maria Karnilova's voice; some missing songs
The Bottom Line:
So many great songs
My minor complaints aside
A classic soundtrack

This Soundtrack is Not as Shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof

I got to see a production of Fiddler on the Roof this weekend.  I’d forgotten just how good the musical is.  It also inspired me to pull out my Original Cast Soundtrack again.

Now, I bought this particular CD back in the late 90’s when I was in the play.  I listened to the songs I was part of quite a bit so that I could learn them.  Granted, I was only in the chorus, but that still meant I was listening to quite a bit.  Now, I listen to the entire thing and enjoy it just as much.

One thing to note about the soundtrack is the use of stereo.  I’m sure in the 60’s it was extra special since it was new technology.  Even now it’s fun.  For example, on the first track, the different groups that sing do so in different speakers.  It almost makes you feel like you are seeing it on stage.  That also shows up on group numbers like “Sunrise, Sunset” and “The Rumor” as well as the duet “Now I Have Everything.”  The songs that are solos play in both speakers equally.

If you aren’t familiar with the play, it follows the story of Tevye, a Russian Jew around 1905.  As the play opens, he and the villagers fill you in on their lives and the “Traditions” they follow.  The rest of the play sees their traditions and their way of life fall apart as Tevye’s three oldest daughters don’t wait for the matchmaker to find them a match but fall in love on their own and even dance with men.  This plays out against the Communist revolution and the Jews being driven from their homes.

The first act is fairly light, and that’s reflected in some of the songs.  The daughters sing the fun “Matchmaker” as they dream of their future husbands, until the eldest wakes to up to the potential bad husbands they might get stuck with.  “To Life” is a show stopper that finds the men celebrating and dancing in the local bar.  It’s in the second act that things get much more serious, as reflected in “Far From the Home I Love,” which the second daughter sing as she leaves home to join her fiancée in Siberia.  Then there’s “Anatevka,” which the village sings as they learn they much leave in three days.

Naturally, those later songs are slower than the fun earlier numbers, although the tempo changes regularly overall and keeps things interesting.

Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye, a part he revived many times in his career.  It’s easy to see why he became so famous for it after listening to this disc.  Tevye’s famous solo “If I Were a Rich Man” is absolutely wonderful.  And he brings such life to his monologs in “Tradition” and his part in the group number “To Life” while showing his emotions in “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for Maria Karnilova, who plays his wife Golde.  She’s got a voice that tends to squeak some.  While it works great for the comic moments of “Do You Love Me?” and “The Dream,” it doesn’t work quite so well for “Sabbath Prayer.”

In between these two extremes, the rest of the cast is fine.  It might feel slightly dated since this is the 60’s overall, but I still enjoy it.  The cast is accompanied by a full orchestra, including fiddle solos to start and end.  The orchestra never over powers the cast but provides a rich backdrop to their voices.

This particular release included two previously unreleased tracks.  The first is the instrumental “Wedding Dance” which includes the famous bottle dance and some more music they danced to right after that.  Again, this track holds memories for me as I was a bottle dancer when I was in the play.  Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the dance but not how terrified I was of dropping and breaking a glass bottle during a show.  (I broke several in rehearsal, but never on stage.)

The other never before released song is “The Rumor.”  This short song is the lightest moment from the second act and was cut from the movie.  It finds some news about Tevye and his family getting out and flying around town, but every time it is shared, it changes with comic results.  It’s silly, and I love it.

There are some tracks missing from a complete recording, although I don’t know if these are available anywhere.  Tevye’s internal monologs as his daughters ask for permission to marry the men they’ve fallen in love with are usually never listed as songs, but he does sing.  The bigger omission to me is “Chavaleh (Little Bird),” which is maybe a good thing since it’s so heartbreaking it would probably make me cry every time I listened to it.

My issues with this soundtrack are minor.  While I’ve kept my eyes open, I’ve never seen another one I thought would be better than this one.  It’s got several classic songs and many of the tracks are fun even outside the play.  The Original Cast Soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof belongs in any serious soundtrack collection.

CD Length: 49:47
1. Prologue: Tradition
2. Matchmaker
3. If I Were a Rich Man
4. Sabbath Prayer
5. To Life
6. Miracle of Miracles
7. The Dream
8.Sunrise, Sunset
9. Wedding Dance
10. Now I Have Everything
11. Do You Love Me?
12. The rumor
13. Far From the Home I Love
14. Anatevka

Movie Review: John Carter

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Epic story that will hold your interest
Cons: Characters could be stronger, but I still got into the story
The Bottom Line
An epic story
Entertains the whole way through
Want to watch again

Epic Action Adventure Science Fiction

I wasn't that intent to see John Carter until I started hearing word of mouth from those who had seen it.  They convinced me that I should give it a shot.  I'm glad they did or I would have missed a great film.

The story is told in a flashback as John Carter's nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara in a very small role) reads a diary that his uncle had just left behind.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Confederate Civil War vet trying to live by himself in theArizonaterritory after the end of the war.  He's had a personal tragedy that has driven him to isolation, and he spend his days hunting for a rumored cave of gold.

One day, he finds himself hiding from a band of Native Americans, and he stumbles upon that cave.  But before he can do everything, a robed figure appears, and John kills him in self defense.  Before the other man dies, he utters a strange phrase.

The next thing John knows, he's in the middle of nowhere.  When he tries to walk, he finds himself leaping incredibly high.  As he explores this new terriroty, he finds himself captures by aliens and in the middle of a feud between two warring human races for the fate of the planet?  And the planet he's on?  Mars.

The movie is based on books by the real life author Edgar Rice Burroughs penned around 100 years ago.  In many ways, the story defies genre.  Yes, it's science fiction since it mostly takes place on Mars and involves an alien species.  But it's also action adventure.  And the epic part?  Well, the movie clocks in at over two hours, but it felt like they had so much more to it.  I kept thinking it had to end soon, but it just kept going.

Now, before you think I was anxious for the movie to be over, let me set you straight.  While the story was a bit slow at the beginning, especially with several different opening bits before the story really got going, I was enthralled the entire time.  As the story progressed, the stakes were raised and John actually came to care for the inhabitants of this strange world where he found himself.

I would say the movie's only failing is that I didn't care quite as much about the characters as John came to.  There was always something keeping me from truly engaging with them.

However, when we got to the end of the movie, I found I did care.  I wanted our heroes to have a happy ending.  I will only give this away about the ending, it is brilliant in that it took a bunch of seemingly random things and made them all bit together perfectly.

The movie is filled with special effects.  Most of the alien species are computer animated, and there is an alien dog that is computer animated as well.  You'd never know it.  Meanwhile, we've got some fun flying ships and other effects.  I bought every minute of it.

The acting was good as well.  The only cast I was familiar with (Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church) voiced some of the aliens.  But just because they were unknowns doesn't mean they weren't great.  Taylor Kitsch as John Carter is in just about every scene, and he's great.  Lynn Collins is captivating as the female lead who is a very strong character in her own right.

There will be comparisons between this and some of the better epics of our own day.  The friend I saw it with immediately noted similarities between this and Star Wars, for example.  Personally, I felt recognized a few conventions as well, especially with some superhero stories.  So it becomes an issue of who ripped off whom.  Personally, I got so caught up in events that I didn't care what I had and hadn't seen before.  I came together in a way that felt original to me.

I chose to see the movie in 2D, so I can't speak to the 3D effects.  I can say I didn't feel like I was missing anything watching it in 2D.

As I said, I was planning on skipping this movie until two weeks ago.  I'm glad I got talked into seeing it.  I highly recommended you make a point of seeing John Carter.  You'll be glad you did.

Ornament Review: Toymaker Santa #4 - Spring Rocking Horse - 2003 Hallmark Ornament

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Real springs make for an awesome ornament
Cons: Tilts way too much when you hang it
The Bottom Line
Wish it didn't tilt
Even so, it's so much fun
With cowboy Santa

Real Springs on This Spring Rocking Horse Ornament

It’s always the little touches that make me love one of Hallmark’s ornaments.  That’s certainly the case for the fourth Toymaker Santa ornament.

This ornament features Santa testing a spring rocking horse.  He’s sitting on the horse with one hand on a rope connected to the horse’s head and his other arm is up in the air.  With his mouth open in a big O, you get the feeling that he is whooping it up like he’s riding a bucking bronco at a rodeo.  The fact that he has a cowboy hat hanging on his back only helps with that illusion.  His legs are sticking out in front of him making it hard to see the horse’s head, but if you look, you can tell that the paint on the horse offers some festival reds and greens in the reigns and saddle.  There’s even a 2003 painted on the horse, which is the year the ornament first came out.

Since this is a spring horse, the horse is suspended over a red frame by four springs.  And here’s the touch I love, those four springs are real springs.  If you are gentle with this ornament, you can actually make Santa and the horse rock back and forth like the horse would if it were a real toy.

The red frame is designed so that it will stand on a table or other flat surface perfectly level.  Unfortunately, I can’t way the same for hanging the ornament.  Frankly, that’s not surprising since the hook is on the top of Santa’s head, and he’s leaning pretty far back.  The ornament tips pretty badly toward the front right corner.  I really wish it didn’t, but in order for that to happen, Santa probably would have had to be sitting straight up, which would have ruined the effect of the piece.  Fortunately, you can disguise the tipping pretty well if you find two branches close together.  Hang the ornament from one and rest it on the lower.

Santa’s green shirt is hiding the artist’s initials and the 4 in a Christmas tree that Hallmark uses for their series pieces.

I wish this ornament hung straight so I could give it 5 stars.  I really do love it.  But it just tips too badly to justify it.  It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue to collectors since this is one of the rarer pieces in a popular series.

So tracking down this particular edition in the Toymaker Santa series might be hard.  While it isn’t perfect, I think it is worth it.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Toymaker Santa series.

Original Price: $14.95

Book Review: The Fall of the Louse of Usher by Lisa Lideks and Mara Lideks

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Funny mystery with a good plot and interesting characters
Cons: Timeline not always clear (although always explained later)
The Bottom Line
Funny mystery
Despite some timeline issues
I recommend it

Poisonous Cooking Lost at Sea

When an author I like goes out of her way to recommend a novel, I pay attention.  And when she gets me a free copy to read and honestly review, I bump it to the top of my to be read pile.  That’s how I came to read the electronic book The Fall Of The Louse of Usher.  And I enjoyed it.

Emmy’s cooking is pure poison.  Both her sisters Wally and Brook agree on that.  But it’s not because the food will kill you; it’s because she includes too much rosemary in everything.  The only one who seems to enjoy it is Emmy’s contraband pet peacock.

Emmy is going through a divorce from Bronze medal winner Flynn Fairbanks.  A few days after a nasty and public fight, Flynn falls off a cruise ship after uttering the words, “It’s poison.”  And sure enough, poison is found in some soup that Emmy had given him before he left.  But she knows she’s innocent.  Can the three sisters band together to prove it?

Let’s get my one complaint out of the way first, shall we?  I am a nitpicker when it comes to timeline, and this book really messed with that a couple of times.  The worst was near the beginning when five days lapsed between scenes, and we weren’t told that until several pages into the next scene.  I have a feeling it was a stylistic choice that, at least for me, fell flat.

But it was a minor irritant to an otherwise enjoyable novel.  The plot was very well done with a new suspect popping up all the time.  Things really take off in the second half where the twists start coming.  I never saw the ending coming, but it perfectly wrapped up the mystery.

The characters are enjoyable as well.  The three sisters are very different and enjoyable in their own ways.  The rest of the cast is equally memorable, and it’s easy to keep them all separate in your mind.  I’d say the characters were right on the border between caricature and character, but that works because of the comic tone of the novel.

I certainly found the book funny.  Between some sub-plots and a few comic happenings connected with the main plot, we get Brook’s observations on the events.  All that adds up to a few laughs and multiple grins over the course of the book.  I even read a few sentences to my roommates one night, and even out of context they thought they were good.

Plus, how can you not love something that ridicules Wikipedia?

My complaint with narration timing aside, I really enjoyed The Fall Of The Louse of Usher.  I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun comedic mystery.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Music Review: Hope of the Broken World by Selah

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Many songs of encouragement with a fun, diverse style
Cons: A couple songs I don't connect with, but they're growing on me
The Bottom Line
Pause, reflect, and rest
All found in Selah's latest
Which is a great disc

Music for a Parched Soul

For some reason, I decided years ago I wasn’t interested in the music of Selah.  All that changed at Christmas  of 2011 when I wound up getting this Christmas CD and I fell in love with it at first listen.  That led me to get Hope Of The Broken World, their 2011 release.  I can’t get enough of it.

Selah takes their name from a word in the Psalms that we think means pause and rest.  At least that’s how most Bible scholars think it should be interpreted.  And that’s exactly what I find when I listen to this disc.  It reminds me of truths I know but in ways that seem fresh.  And their almost constant change of musical styles keeps things interesting.  Plus Allan Hall, Amy Perry, and Todd Smith have such outstanding harmonies together it’s so lovely to listen to.

Selah is a trio with roots in the bluegrass country style.  You can definitely see that as times, like on the first track, “On the Mountain.”  But it’s most pronounced in their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and the original song “He’ll Hold You.”  Then there’s their fun bluesy “ShelterMe.”  But there are slower, quieter ballads like the title track and “When Love was Slain.”

Selah is famous for creating new takes on classic hymns that make you focus on them in new ways.  There’s only one hymn here, and it’s great.  Todd grew up as a missionary kid inAfrica, and they occasionally use that in their arrangements.  They’ve incorporated it here, and parts of the song are sung in an African tribal language.  The song has an overall African chant feel with an emphasis on the percussion even from the other instruments they are playing.  It’s different, and I love it.

Another highlight is member Amy Perry’s take on “I Look to You,” a song made famous by Whitney Houston.  Here, it’s a quiet piano ballad that really allows you to meditate on the words.  Amy’s voice is strong although the song never overpowers.

For my money, I actually prefer the similarly themed “I Turn to You.”  A duet featuring Amy and Todd, the song soars and their voices blend perfectly.  But I think the ultimate reason I love it is because of the longing in their voices for God’s presence.

The disc ends with “When Love was Slain,” a quiet piano based ballad about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yes, I do enjoy the more upbeat moments, too.  “On the Mountain,” a song about how long the journey toward being like Christ really is, has a toe tapping mid-tempo beat.  And I’ve got to give another mention to “ShelterMe.”  This take on Psalm 91 is so much fun.  If you aren’t grooving to the music, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

Not all the songs are hits for me.  While I like the message about counting your blessings, I’m not a huge fan of “Coat of Many Colors.”  “Moments Like These,” an ode to fathers and daughters from the dad’s point of view, doesn’t completely connect with this single guy.  Even so, both songs are growing on me; I might grow to love them yet.

I’m going to have to go back and explore more of Selah’s previous work.  I’ll get right on that as soon as I stop listening to Hope Of The Broken World, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

CD Length: 49:31
1. On the Mountain
2. Hope of the Broken World
3. Shelter Me
4. Coat of Many Colors
5. He’ll Hold You
6. Be Still
7. Moments Like These
8. I Turn to You
9. ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus
10. Threshold of Glory
11. I Look to You
12. When Love was Slain