Friday, October 29, 2010

Snow Day by Billy Coffey

Peter is a simple man who lives by a simple truth--a person gains strength by leaning on his constants. To him, those constants are the factory where he works, the family he loves, and the God who sustains him. But when news of job cuts comes against the backdrop of an unexpected snowstorm, his life becomes filled with far more doubts than certainties.

With humor and a gift for storytelling, Billy Coffey brings you along as he spends his snow day encountering family, friends, and strangers of his small Virginia town. All have had their own battles with life's storms. Some have found redemption. Others are still seeking it. But each one offers a piece to the puzzle of why we must sometimes suffer loss, and each one will help Peter find a greater truth--our lives are made beautiful not by our big moments, but our little ones. (publisher synopsis)

This book was unusual in a couple ways.  First, it was not at all what I expected.  I anticipated a heart-warming Christmas story, where all of life's problems are solved by virtue of it being December.  Instead, it really had nothing to do with Christmas except in a background way.  Secondly, instead of a continuous story, it was a series of mini-episodes - each chapter an individual encounter threaded together into one plot.  Because of that, it felt a little disjointed to me and I found it easier to read the chapters individually, interspersed with another book - taking it in small bites with time to digest.

This is definitely a Christian book, as the main character's faith is the hinge for the entire story.  As we have had a string of life-changing events in the past six months, I enjoyed seeing how the characters handled their similar situations through prayer, incite and faith.  It was both inspiring and touching just to know that someone - even a fictional someone - faces the same challenges.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Movie Review: You Again

What doesn't kill going to marry your brother.

Round 1:  Marni, high school nerd turned beautiful, successful career woman, comes home to meet her brother's fiance', Joanna - only to find that Joanna is actually J.J., the popular cheerleader who tormented her teen years.  Joanna pretends to not remember Marni or any of her own horrid behavior.

Round 2: When Joanna's "Aunt Mona" arrives for the wedding, she turns out to be Ramona, Marni's mother's ex-best friend from high school.  The two of them had a falling-out at their senior prom and have harbored their hard feelings all these years.

Betty White is her usual comical self as Grandma Bunny, and there's even a brief appearance by Patrick Duffy who, incidently, is even dreamier than he was as Bobby Ewing in Dallas thirty years ago. 

There were a couple points where the plot became a bit frantic with over-the-top jokes and shenanigans that seemed avoidable, but rational behavior isn't usually entertaining.  This was a fun date night movie and we left the theater smiling.

The Seventeen Second Miracle by Jason F. Wright

In the summer of 1970, then-teenager Rex Connor let himself be distracted for seventeen seconds.  In that short time, a tragedy occurred which would affect the rest of his life.  Rather than swimming in the sea of guilt that could have drown his life, he begins the tradition of The Seventeen Second Miracle.

The legacy is passed on to Rex's son and dozens of high school students through a class held each November.  Each pupil, including the reader, discovers that while a few seconds can bring adversity, that is also plenty of time for a blessing.  

This is an encouraging story that can give each of us a new perspective.   A life spent looking for ways to perform small miracles for others takes us outside our own problems and focuses us on the positive things in life.  Our lives and our world can be enriched by spending just seventeen seconds putting someone else first.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trauma Junkie: Memoirs of an Emergency Flight Nurse

Janice Hudson's tales of her years as an emergency flight nurse in San Francisco made me laugh a little, cry a lot, and reaffirm that I never, ever want to be in the medical profession. 

I actually purchased this book as a birthday gift for our son, who will be an unbelievable 20-years-old next month, but naturally I read it first.  Mitch is currently in nursing school and this book describes his dream job - to fly on a rescue helicoptor/airplane and treat trauma patients. 

This book reads as if Ms. Hudson were sitting in your living room, telling her tales over a glass of wine.  They are straight forward, with none of the grusome details deleted, although I would imagine they have been diluted a bit.  She is also very frank about her emotions - especially as they struggled to save children facing major illness, or injuries inflicted by careless or impaired adults. 

The San Francisco landscape and weather add the challenges of radio outages, dangerous winds and rains, and even earthquakes - including the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, during which Janice was on duty in the ER - to an already treacherous job.  Ms. Hudson's memoir is a gripping story that keeps you turning pages like a bestselling thriller, then you remember that these stories are true and a new kind of chill grips your heart. 

This is a fascinating book that will give you a new level of gratitude for those who dedicate themselves to saving lives.  I still don't want to be a nurse, but I am grateful for - and proud of - those who do. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Murder by the Book by Frances and Richard Lockridge

As part of the Bingo challenge at the library, I needed a fiction book by an author who's last name begins with K-L-M-N or O.  Nothing in my TBR stack fit the bill so I wandered through the stacks and came across the Mr. & Mrs. North mysteries by Frances and Richard Lockridge.  I have long been curious about these classic mysteries so it seemed a perfect solution.  I selected what I thought was the first book in the series, however - color me embarrassed - the list I looked at was printed in reverse order (and I didn't think to check pub. dates) so what I got was actually the last book in the series - written in 1963. 
A little research on these sleuths revealed that they have also been featured in several radio and television series, a Broadway play and a movie.
Jerry and Pamela North, a publisher and his wife, are vacationing in the Florida Keys when Pamela stumbles onto the dead body of a fellow resort resident.  They move from being prime suspects to playing Archie Goodwin to Deputy Jefferson's Nero Wolf - they track down all the clues and hand them over for the police to solve.  

I was especially enamored with Mrs. North.  On the surface she appears to be the typical "dumb blond" - although I don't remember if the author ever actually said she was blond.  Underneath the wheels were always turning.  She spent much time in her own world processing information and then would spit out her conclusions as though everyone in the room had been following her thoughts - usually leaving them totally confused.

The only thing I disliked about this book was one quirk in the Lockridges' writing style - much of the dialog was told third person:
Jefferson sighed again.  He said Key West wasn't like New York.  He said they didn't have a hundred men to turn loose on it - to turn loose on anything.  Or ten men.  He said the city police had a description of her and if they ran across her - "when they're not tagging cars" - they'd tell her the sheriff's office would like to see her.
What dialog was written in the more standard "he said, she said" mode was very abrupt and often felt unnatural.  Other than these oddities, the story was well plotted, with enough twists to keep me guessing, and well paced.  At under 200 pages, it was a quick and enjoyable read.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Movie Review: Ramona and Beezus

Adorable!  Ramona and Beezus are just as much fun on screen as they have been in print for over fifty years.  

All the familiar characters from Klickitat Street are there, including  Henry Huggins, who is now a teenager and coping with a budding romance with Beezus.  Plus, there are characters who were new to me because they came along in the later Ramona books - loooong after my grade-school days.

The story revolves around changes in the Quimby household when Mr. Quimby loses his job.  Antics from several books are combined, with some new material added in, to make a completely fun movie.  No cuss words - except when Ramona threatens to use a "bad" word and yells "Guts!" - no sex, no blood; just good clean fun.  Even with the G rating, it didn't feel like watching a "kids" movie.  Portions of the story appealed to all ages.  We recommend this movie to everyone who has small kids, who once had small kids or who once were small kids. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, Edited by Otto Penzler

For the past seventeen years, Mysterious Bookshop owner Otto Penzler has commissioned a Christmas short story from a well-known mystery author, then distributed the bound pamphlets as Christmas gifts for his customers. The only requirements for the stories are that they be Christmas themed and at least a portion of the action take place at Mr. Penzler's famous bookstore. Contributors have included Lawrence Block, Anne Perry and Mary Higgins Clark.  Mr. Penzler has now gathered all seventeen stories into one volume for us all to enjoy - even if we can't make it to New York to visit his fabulous store. 

My favorite story was "As Dark as Christmas Gets" by Lawrence Block.  I'm sure this has little to do with Mr. Block being one of my favorite authors and everything to do with his writing skill.  Chip Harrison, star of four previous novels, is Mr. Block's answer to Rex Stout's Archie Goodwin.  Chip works for Leo Haig, a slightly off-kilter investigator who believes that Nero Wolfe is real and will invite him to dinner if his detective skills prove clever enough.  I am a huge fan of both Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr series and his Keller series, but was not familiar with Chip.  After reading this short story, I immediately ordered two of Chip's earlier adventures.

The other stories in the group range from humerous to dark to quirky to just plain blah.  Most of the stories contain obscure literary references and/or personal references to Mr. Penzler and his store.  I know many of them flew right over my head, but I loved the ones I got, and a few made me curious enough to do some research. 

The Mysterious Bookshop is on my list of places to see before I die, and this book should be on your list of books to read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prostitute's Ball by Stephen J. Cannell

Detective Shane Scully responds to a call in the Hollywood hills at a once-immaculate mansion, the scene of an infamous murder twenty-five years prior. He discovers the remnants of a lavish pool party. The revelers have fled, leaving three dead bodies in their wake, all shot with the same gun. One is an acclaimed film producer. The other two, a pair of gorgeous women.

With his new partner, Sumner “Hitch” Hitchens, Scully begins to investigate what looks to be an open-and-shut case: The women were hired prostitutes, and there’s security video of an angry husband firing on all three. A simple case of brutal revenge. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems: There’s a single spent bullet casing that doesn’t match the rest.

From that single bullet emerges a story of love, murder, suicide, and one of the biggest financial frauds in L.A. history. Someone has gone to great lengths to cover up a decades-old crime, and as Scully and Hitch get closer to the answer, they find themselves in a killer’s crosshairs.

In the year that we have been writing this blog, I have discovered that I'm much better at writing a "pan" review than I am at giving praise.  Perhaps there's some deep, underlying glitch in my psyche that calls for closer inspection during therapy, or maybe it's just my naturally snarky nature.  Whatever the reason, I'm feeling very inept at writing this review because I loved the book and all my thoughts are so cliche, so let's just go with that.

Don't judge this book by it's cover.  The ominous picture doesn't begin to predict the twists and turns of this plot.  What appears to be an open and shut case actually opens up a whole other can of worms - a 25-year-old crime that has been swept under the rug.

Ok, that's not doing it either, so here it is, straight out:  This book is an intricately-plotted thriller that goes beyond the standard police procedural.  Cannell weaves the two crimes, the personal lives of the main characters, and the inside details of building a legal case, into one engrossing story.  The gore level is very low.  The action is well paced - never a dull moment - but with plenty of detail about the characters and their lives to make you want to solve more cases with Scully and Hitchins.

Unfortunately, due to the untimely death of Mr. Cannell several weeks ago, that won't be possible.  If you aren't familiar with Mr. Cannell, he is also the creater of dozens of television shows, including one of my all-time favorites, Rockford Files. (Not to mention he was also a Sigma Chi, like our son.)  I am heartbroken that yet another of the best and brightest of authors is gone.   As with Robert Parker's Spenser series, I almost feel fortunate that I discovered this series so late, because I still have past installments to savor. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Read-a-Thon Wrap-up

Much like myself, my read-a-thon was a little abnormal, but still a lot of fun.  My original plan was to read twelve or more hours on Saturday, beginning at 8:00 a.m. (I'm not an early morning person.)  Our daughter, home from college for less than 24 hours, interrupted me for a shopping trip on Saturday morning.  She has discovered that she can purchase more if she actually gets me into a store than if I just give her the money to shop on her own.  I'm not good at keeping track of the dollar amount in the cart and I'm likely to agree to trying a new product if I actually see it, so when we're a little over the budget at check-out, I'll usually pony up the money rather than make her put things back.  (She also knows that getting Daddy in a store is even more lucrative.  She smiles, bat's those big brown eyes and says "But Daddy..." and he caves.)  Anyway, that pretty much killed Saturday morning, but I did manage to finish Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn. 

Once Amanda was on her way back to school, I began my read-a-thon anew and continued through Sunday, with a break for a full night's sleep, of course.  With brief time-outs for household chores, cooking and a movie, I was still able to get in about eighteen hours of reading spread over the weekend.  I rotated my reading between Stephen J. Cannell's Prostitute's Ball, Snow Day by Billy Coffey and Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler.  When the Penzler and Cannell books were done, and only a few chapters left in Snow Day, I began A Piggly Wiggly Wedding by Robert Darcy. 

I only participated in a few mini-challenges - usually the ones that only required a brief response - and I didn't win any prizes, but that's ok.  I have way more books than I can get read as it is (plus access to the entire library at work).  Thanks to all that sponsored a challenge.  I know they required effort and a chunk of time out of your read-a-thon day.

I learned two lessons this year that I will carry over to the next read-a-thon:

1.  The book rotation plan worked really well.  Reading a chapter or two from each book.  This plan kept me from getting bored and kept me from giving up on more difficult reads.

2.  Pick and choose which mini-challenges to try.  Entering every challenge and visiting all the blogs to see how everyone else is doing can easily fill the entire 24 hours.  This time I entered only those challenges that required just a brief response.  Not that the longer challenges aren't great, but the ones requiring pictures, writing a brief story or other creative works just take me too long (I'm not particularly speedy with the technology stuff).  However, I enjoyed looking at everyone's entries on those challenges.  Next time I may branch out and enter some that are more in-depth - or even sponsor one - but I will still limit the number I enter or I'll get no reading done.

Over-all my first "empty nest" read-a-thon was much easier than in the past, and I had a great time.  Thanks to everyone who planned, organized, cheered, judged, created or shipped.  You are all angels!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Read-a-Thon: Hour 13

We interrupt this Read-a-Thon for a movie.  We are stepping out for a couple hours to see Ramona and Beezus.  Since this movie is based on one of my favorite childhood book series, we feel justified in including it in our read-a-thon day.  Also, movies are only at our little theater for three days, one showing per night, so our options are limited.  We will return to our reading at approximately 9:00 p.m. Mountain Time. 

Read-a-thon Update: Hour 9

As hour nine begins, I'm finally getting some reading done - but my restless leg syndrome is driving me to distraction, so some Ibuprofen and a few minutes of pacing, then settling into a new reading spot to try again.  I have made some progress on The Prostitute's Ball,  read a short story from Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, and one chapter of Snow Day.  If you're not familiar with Snow Day, it is a story of a man off work for one day because of a blizzard.  Each chapter is a mini-story with a moral.  I find it's best read in one-chapter increments sprinkled between other books.

Hope your Read-a-Thon day is going well.  

Read-a-thon: Redux

The best laid plans of mice and men...  Daughter is (was) home from college for less than 24 hours, so she felt we needed to have mother/daughter bonding.  Specifically, she felt our bonding should involve my checkbook, so we spent a large portion of this morning buying groceries and toiletries, then getting her car loaded and headed east.  So I'm starting my read-a-thon afresh.

Between shopping and chatting, I did manage to finish Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work.  Don't be too impressed, I was past the half-way point to begin with.  I love this book and I'm giving it to everyone I know for Christmas.  More details when I have time to review.  Now, on to the next book - and some peace and quiet.

The Read-a-thon Begins

Good Morning, Readers!  I'm actually out of bed and set to read 30 minutes ahead of schedule....which probably means I'll fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon.   I'm reading solo, at least for the first eight hours, as Dave had to go to work.  

My reading list today includes:  
  • A Killer Plot by Ellery Adams
  • A Piggly Wiggly Wedding by Robert Dalby
  • Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn
  • Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler
  • The Prostitutes' Ball by Stephen J. Cannell
  • Snow Day by Billy Coffey
My participation in today's read-a-thon is in memory of my best friend, Wanda, who passed away six years ago after a long bout with leukemia.  Wanda loved to read and always carried a book in her massive suitcase of a purse.  Reading racy romances got her through many, many chemo treatments.  She would have adored the read-a-thon with a cup of tea or a glass of blackberry merlot.  So in her honor, I have my favorite coffee cup which was a gift from her - it's all pink and flowery and says "Friends Are Special People" - my breakfast, and a stack of books and I'm retiring to the couch for my first hour of read-a-thon fun.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reminder: It's Read-a-Thon Weekend

Don't forget to join Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon tomorrow.  Reading begins at 6:00 a.m. in my time zone (Mountain), but the chances of me being up at that hour on a Saturday are slim.  My hope is to read at least twelve hours - beginning whenever I can pry my eyes open.  I also hope to limit myself to 15 minutes of each 2-hour period for blogging/mini-challenges, and 15 minutes per 2-hours for housework (I know - but it's my only day off and the floor is about to disappear under a coat of dog hair and we're gonna need clean socks again at some point.) 

Happy reading to all the participants.  If you've never joined the read-a-thon, give it a shot - even if it's just for a few hours.  It's a great way to share the love of reading.

A Christmas Snow by Jim Stovall

For Kathleen, Christmas has always been an unwelcome reminder of her father s abandonment almost 30 years ago. Although she has tried to forget her past, it has not forgotten her, and in the days leading up to Christmas an unforgiving blizzard traps her in her own home with two unlikely roommates. Sam, a gentle older man Kathleen took in for the night and Lucy, the daughter of her soon-to-be fiancé, bring her face to face with the hurts of her past. Will she be able to let go and grab hold of a life-changing forgiveness or will she continue to be haunted by the pain of the past? (publisher's synopsis)

This book grabbed me from page one.  Not the story - the actual pages.  Each one has a backdrop of delicate, pale blue snowflakes.  How can you not love a story written on snowflake paper?  And the story was good, too. 

A thirty-something woman and a 10-year-old girl, both hurting from the loss of a parent, are forced to spend Christmas together, trapped by a blizzard.  The story is touching, as a Christmas story should be, but it also teaches a lesson of healing.  Each of the activities Kathleen, Lucy and Sam create to occupy the time and make make their cramped quarters more festive, stir up memories for all of them and help them move past their pain and fears.  A magical twist lifts this tale above the average Christmas schmaltz. 

After you fall in love with the snowflake pages, try this site to create your own gorgeous snowflakes.  Warning - it's addicting!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Schmucks: In Film and Print

Just from looking at the pictures, you probably wouldn't think that there is a connection between the movie, Dinner for Schmucks, and the book, Chesapeake Shores Christmas, by Sherryl Woods - but there is.

Dave and I saw Dinner for Schmucks last weekend.   I knew that any movie starring Steve Carrell would probably be what I call "guy humor" or just "stupid humor" (for examples, see any movie Will Farrell or Adam Sandler ever made), but Dave - being a guy - likes that type of humor, and I just like going to the movies. 

In this movie, Tim, a young executive looking for a promotion, is invited to a "Dinner for Idiots" hosted by his boss.  Each executive brings a guest - the biggest schmuck they can find.  The guests are told it is a dinner for "exceptional people".  If Tim brings the biggest schmuck to the dinner, he will be rewarded with a bump up the corporate ladder.  Convinced by his girlfriend that this is a nasty way to treat people, Tim is prepared to turn down the invitiation...then he meets Barry.  Barry is an IRS accountant and part-time taxidermist.  He makes vignettes of famous scenes from history and literature, using mice that he finds on the street and stuffs.  He's the perfect schmuck!  As the story progresses, Barry moves from sad, lonely oddball to annoying half-wit to so ridiculously moronic that you just want the movie to end - regardless of HOW it ends - so he will go away.  At one point Dave said "I want to crawl into the screen and strangle this guy.  Why has no one killed him?"  And therein lies the basis for the connection to the O'Brien family in Chesapeake Shores.

Chesapeake Shores Christmas is fourth in the Chesapeake Shores series.  I have not read any of the first three, and perhaps my sympathy level for the characters would have been higher if I had, but I don't think so.  Megan O'Brien left her neglectful, tyranical husband after nearly twenty years of marriage, and lost touch with her five children in the process.  Now, years later, Megan and ex-husband Mick have reconciled and are planning a New Year's Eve wedding.  The problem is, Megan wants the childrens' blessing on the reunion, and son Connor is not willing to forgive her yet.  Megan also wants to start her own business, with no help from Mick, who insists on stepping in.

The plot is sound and offers lots of fodder for a touching Christmas story.  Unfortunately, the Christmas portion of the story consists mainly of carrying decorations down from the attic and untangling lights.  By two-thirds of the way through, I was echoing Dave's words at the movie - "I want to crawl into the page and strangle these people!"  Someone really needed to give this family a major attitude adjustment and a little advice to "grow up!"  

I wouldn't recommend spending time or money on either of these tales, but perhaps if you've read earlier Chesapeake Shores volumes, you'll have more tolerance and understanding for the characters than I did.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker

This was a bittersweet read:  one more visit with Spenser, Susan and Pearl.  On the sweet side, this story is one of the best of the recent Spenser episodes.  Through thirty-nine books, spanning more than 35 years, Spenser has grown from a hard-knock, street-smart P.I. to a well-read, cultured, sometimes-sensitive investigator who can still hold his own in a fist-fight.  His quick wit and charm - not to mention his cooking skills - make him one of my all-time favorite characters. 

The bitter comes from saying good-bye to such loved characters.  Mr. Parker passed away in January, 2010, so this will necessarily be our final chance to spend time in Spenser's Boston.  I wish for one more glimpse of Hawk, Spenser's favorite co-hort and friend but, alas, he was out of the country during this caper.  However, I like the fact that this wasn't written to be the close of the series, with all details attended to and lose threads neatly tied.  We are left to imagine our own future for Spenser and Susan.

Painted Ladies elicited both amusement and melancholy. If you are a long-time Parker fan, you'll love this last installment.  If you've never met Spenser, dive into the series anywhere and fall in love.  This is one instance when I'm glad I have read the series out of order - there are still some older Spenser adventures for me to catch up with, but the literary world is slightly dimmer for the loss of Robert Parker and Spenser.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First Blogiversary

Today marks one year since we fired up this blog and reviewed our first book.  Over time the blog has expanded to cover random thoughts and happenings in our lives, but the main focus is still books.  Our hope was to share our new-found love of reading together and encourage others to do the same.  We're both lifetime readers, but sharing a book by taking turns reading aloud was a new found joy.  Since Oct. 2, 2009 we have shared fourteen full-length novels and four novellas.  Our goal for 2010 was one per month and we are at ten so far, one ahead of the game. 

In honor of our first year of reading together we invite you all to stop by our house and select the book of your choice from our overcrowded shelves to help us thin down our library.  But seriously folks, we do want to thank you for stopping by on occasion.  We love all the friends we've made in the blog world.  Even though you don't hear much directly from Dave, believe me, he's skulking in the background keeping up on everything.

We renew our challenge that we made back in January: Find someone special, and read together.  Take turns reading aloud, read to someone with a visual impairment, read a school-assigned book with your teen, volunteer to read to nursing home residents. If you aren't comfortable reading aloud, pass the book between you, with each of you individually reading a chapter or chosen number of pages at a time. However it works for you - the idea is to be involved in the story simultaneously. And then discuss what you're reading.  For every book you share, stop here and leave us a comment to enter in the prize drawing.

Thanks for making our first year so enjoyable.  Ya'll come back now, hear?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Call Me Mrs. Miracle

I know it's barely October, but the Christmas books are starting to arrive at the library.  This one actually showed up in September and I just couldn't resist the gorgeous artwork or the early twinge of Christmas sprit. 

This Christmas, Emily Merkle (call her Mrs. Miracle!) is working in the toy department at Finley's, the last family-owned department store in New York City. And her boss is none other than…Jake Finley, the owner's son. 

For Jake, holiday memories of brightly wrapped gifts, decorated trees and family were destroyed in a Christmas Eve tragedy years before. Now Christmas means just one thing to him—and to his father. Profit. Because they need a Christmas miracle to keep the business afloat.

Holly Larson needs a miracle, too. She wants to give her eight-year-old nephew, Gabe, the holiday he deserves. Holly's widowed brother is in the army and won't be home for Christmas, but at least she can get Gabe that toy robot from Finley's, the one gift he desperately wants. If she can figure out how to afford it…
 Fortunately, it's Mrs. Miracle to the rescue. Next to making children happy, she likes nothing better than helping others—and that includes doing a bit of matchmaking!
(publisher's synopsis)

The story of Holly taking care of her nephew while his widowed father is in Afghanistan is touching and very well developed.  The changes they go through as they each learn to adapt to their new lifestyle are very natural and realistic.  They become a family that you really root for.

Jake and his father's story is slightly less believable.  The premis that Jake's decision to purchase 500 robot toys may financially endanger the store is mentioned in the synopsis, but never developed in the actual story, at least not as the crisis foreshadowed.  Similarly, Jake and J.R.'s refusal to celebrate Christmas because of personal loss many years ago is not explored as deeply as it could be and makes them, especially the father, come across more as a grumpy old man than as a distraught husband and father.   Their half of the story is rather lack-luster.

And of course there's our heroine, Mrs. Miracle.  She's a jewel!  Her gentle, unruffled spirit puts you in mind of every wonderful grandma stereotype you've ever heard.  You just fall in love and want to spend more time with her.  Somehow I missed the first Mrs. Miracle book last Christmas, but it's on order so I can get another dose.  Both books are now Hallmark Channel movies starring Doris Roberts - the perfect Mrs. Miracle.  I hope they'll be re-running the first one this year so I can catch up. 

If we're going to spend any more time together on this blog, you might as well know - I'm a Christmas freak.  I listen to Christmas music at least four months out of the year (sometimes more).  I watch nearly every sappy Christmas movie on tv, repeatedly.  I'm addicted to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  It's really kind of sad, but that's me.  This story may not make my re-read list every year and, yes, you can predict some aspects of the story by page 20, but it was fun.  A firm 4 out of 5 stars with a sprinkling of colored sugar.