Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green

I'm a big fan of Simon R. Green's Ishmael Jones mysteries. They feature an unconventional sleuth, an alien who crashed landed in England in 1963, and some fifty years later he works for the Organization, protecting humanity from otherworldly threats. He looks like us, and blends in. In fact, he doesn't want to be noticed. He is understated, with a tongue-in-cheek dry humor. The latest adventure, Into the Thinnest of Air, beautifully blends horror and a country house mystery.

Ishmael's partner, Penny, would like one weekend when they could just be normal. What could go wrong when they accept an invitation for dinner at Tyrone's Castle? It was once a smuggler's haven, a Cornish inn where Elliot Tyrone poisoned all of his Christmas dinner guests in 1886, saying the Voices told him to do it. Ishmael and Penny will be just a normal couple at a normal dinner.

Albert and Olivia Calvert were once friends of Penny's late father. They invited her, along with the vicar and his wife, a reporter and an author, but Ishmael was unexpected. The others had all been childhood friends, and the couple prepares a special meal. Then, when Olivia goes to the kitchen to fetch dessert, she disappears. The others decide to call the police, only to discover their cell phones are gone. Their car keys also seem to have vanished. When they give into their fears, and don't listen to Ishmael's advice to stick together, another person disappears.

Ishmael and Penny listen as the others terrorize themselves, trying to decide how they could prevent the worst things they can possibly imagine. Fears and imagination frighten them, and they even decide to hold a seance. Ishmael plays along reluctantly, letting the others know he doesn't believe in ghosts or the supernatural. But, there's something menacing in the atmosphere in the castle. Even Ishmael admits it feels as if someone is watching and listening.

Into the Thinnest of Air is a wonderfully creepy, darkly humorous story. Green, author of The Nightside and Secret History series, understands the relationship between fear and imagination. Into the Thinnest of Air, an unusual spin on the country house mystery, is another enjoyable vehicle for Green's "normal" couple.

Simon R. Green's website is www.simonrgreen.co.uk

Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green. Severn House. 2017. ISBN 9780727887573 (hardcover), 167p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Weekend in Washington, D.C.

My sister, Linda, and I went to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. First, though, I drove to her house in Columbus. Linda & I don't believe in down time. Even though I drove for over five hours, we went to a play that night, "Daddy-Long-Legs". It's an enjoyable romantic musical with only two cast members. It was a small, intimate theater, and we had a fun evening. Then, poor Linda had to drive home in a raging downpour.

We flew to D.C. the next morning. How long has it been since I've been there? Other than catching the train there last year, I haven't been there since grad school. It's been a little while. We stayed in a nice little hotel in Foggy Bottom, The River Inn. Very nice older hotel, and it was just two blocks from the Kennedy Center.

Here's our neighborhood in Foggy Bottom. And, my token picture of a door, that I have to have from a trip.






We walked to the Kennedy Center, past the Watergate building. We picked up our tickets to see the musical, "Chess". The ticket seller told me it was sold out, and people were coming from all over the world for it - China, Brazil, Japan.

We took a tour of the Kennedy Center - free, and well worth it. It was a little over an hour, and there were only three of us. It was kind of sad that when I answered the tour guide and said "Yes, please", she stopped, looked at me, and said, "Thank you. That's the first please I've heard in years." Linda told her it was because we were raised in the Midwest. Anyways, we were able to see all the theaters, go into some of the boxes and private lounges, and see and hear about the art that was a gift from different countries. I also took a picture of the Don Quixote statue outside. Just because.



The weather was cold on Friday, but we still walked blocks to Kramerbooks and Afterwords. It's a bookstore and restaurant that's been there so long that I went there when I was in grad school in D.C. We had a very good dinner there, especially because our waiter was so much fun. We took Uber back to the hotel, and had about three hours to play a card game. That was really our only downtime the entire trip.

We picked the perfect day to go to the Newseum. The weather was supposed to start getting bad about 2 PM (it did), eventually turn to snow, and be sloppy until about 10 PM. We were at the Newseum from just after 9 AM to 5 PM and closing. If you ever go, your ticket is good for two days.




We could have used a day and a half or two days there. There were movies and exhibits we didn't even get to. But, Linda and I are both fascinated by news and history, and we analyzed and discussed the exhibits. One exhibit was a temporary one, all the Pulitizer Prize-winning photographs. And, we looked at every one, listened to tapes about some. We laughed at the exhibit about the Presidential dogs. In one hallway, there are the current days front pages from one newspaper from each state and from some foreign countries. Each morning they receive copies of 80-some newspapers from around the country and the world. We discussed all those front pages, comparing them and the front page headlines. There was one room with the front pages of historic days in U.S. history.

You can walk out on the 6th floor terrace where they have a fantastic view. And, then you work your way down the building. A few buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue that you can see from the Newseum.





There was an exhibit about the Bill of Rights. My favorite Amendment? Of course, it's he First Amendment.



There was a very moving exhibit about the Berlin Wall. We didn't even get to the news movie. And, we didn't have the heart to watch the Holocaust movie. I already cried at the Berlin Wall stories.
West Berlin side of the Berlin Wall (pieces of the actual wall)

Whitewashed East Berlin side of the wall

Lower part of a checkpoint

Tower of a Berlin Wall checkpoint

At least I didn't cry at the cartoon display. I was just talking to Linda about this cartoon, and turned around, and there was a copy of it.



Can you call a day thoughtful? We spent a full day talking history. Thoughtful conversations with my sister. A few tears over history.

At five when we left the museum, it was slushy and snowy. So, it took our cab a while to get through the 5 PM traffic. By the time we arrived at the hotel, we had only about a half an hour until the time we planned to walk to the Kennedy Center. We took our umbrellas (now rain), linked arms, and carefully walked the two blocks. By the time we left after the show, the precipitation had stopped, it warmed enough to melt the slush, and we just walked back.

"Chess". Here's how "Broadway World" introduces it. "Chess is an epic rock opera about love and political intrigue set against the backdrop of the Cold War as two superpowers attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political ends.
Written in 1984 by songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (Mamma Mia!) and lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King, Evita), Chess has been seen in numerous productions around the world. The original concept album spawned two international hit singles, "I Know Him So Well" and "One Night in Bangkok." Presented as a part of Broadway Center Stage, a Kennedy Center-produced series of musicals in semi-staged concerts, Chess ran February 14-18, 2018 in the Eisenhower Theater.
Chess stars Raúl Esparza as American chess champion Freddie Trumper; Ramin Karimloo as rival Russian chess star Anatoly Sergievsky; Ruthie Ann Miles as Anatoly's wife, Svetlana Sergievsky; and Karen Olivo as Florence Vassy, a remarkable Hungarian refugee who becomes the center of the emotional triangle."
*****



It actually fit perfectly with our day at the Newseum. The history background. The orchestra was above the stage, and above the orchestra were screens where film of historic political moments of that time period were shown. 
When we had dinner, a woman next to us was surprised we had come from the Midwest to see it. I told her people had come from all over the world to see it. Linda told her I actually came to see an actor, Ramin Karimloo. But, I was also excited to see Bryce Pinkham as the arbiter, and he was perfect. Actually, it was a once-in-a-lifetime cast. They rehearsed for one week, performed seven shows, and that's it. Even if they hope to take it to Broadway, that cast will never be together again.
We had wonderful box tier seats, in the front row of the box. Perfect seats. It was a wonderful evening with a receptive audience who appreciated every song, every solo, and each one of the actors. They showed their appreciation as each came on stage. Just an unforgettable experience.
We flew back to Columbus the next day, and then I drove home. It made for a busy, enjoyable weekend to be able to meet up with Linda, see two shows and visit the museum. Just perfect.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Have You Heard? A Vision of Murder by Victoria Laurie

Because I was out of town this weekend, and didn't arrive home until late, it's the perfect time to use one of Sandie Herron's reviews of an audiobook. Thank you, Sandie, for sharing your comments about Victoria Laurie's A Vision of Murder.
*****

A Vision of Murder
Series: Psychic Eye Mystery Book 3                                
Written by Victoria Laurie
Narrated by Elizabeth Michaels
Unabridged Audiobook
Listening Length: 9 hours and 14 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: March 2, 2010
ASIN: B003AOVP0W
***** stars


I loved the third entry in Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye series entitled A VISION OF 
MURDER. Psychic intuitive Abby Cooper buys a piece of property with her sister Cat and 
Dave, the handyman who helped Abby fix up her own home.  They plan to fix up this new 
house not asAbby’s new home but hopefully to sell for a profit.  Unfortunately, the house is 
inhabited by the ghost of a murdered woman who must be dealt with before any transfer of 
ownership can take place.  

In order to do so, Abby calls MJ Holliday of Ghoul Getters (a firm in Boston featuring 
mediums created by Victoria Laurie in another series) for some paranormal advice on how to 
get rid of the ghost and poltergeists in her fixer upper home.  MJ is a gifted medium who can 
talk to and see the dead, which Abby cannot do.  The women get along well with MJ 
teaching Abby a thing or two about spirits and their world.  While their fields of interest certainly cross, they are also vastly different than one another.


I loved the story of the battling jewelers, in essence. The fact that not all the jewelers are 
currently alive doesn't stop them from trying to find and/or protect a very unique gift that 
goes back to World War II.  Put the ghost together with some poltergeists in the same house 
that was purchased by Abby, her meddlesome rich sister Cat, the talented contractor Dave, independent from Abby’s boyfriend, Dutch, and you have chaos.

The plot was complex enough to keep me reading intently, paying attention to names and 
places and dates, but not so complex that I needed a map through time and space. I did not 
get lost in details, and everything flowed smoothly, even if I didn't know why at all times.  
If I had any complaint it would be with Abby’s seeming disregard for her own safety in her determination to achieve her goals.

There are a couple of romantic details about Abby and Dutch that don't come to fruition, 
through no fault of their own.  I sure hope they will carry onward in the fourth installment 
to this fine series, providing all the right people survive this misadventure.

Definitely recommended.

Sandie Herron

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is recognized as "The" author of Regency Romances. Her Regencies are considered the model of all other ones. When Heyer's official biographer, Jennifer Kloester, discovered three short stories that had not been republished since they originally appeared, she added them to the collection that was called Pistols for Two, and retitled the anthology, Snowdrift and Other Stories.

I read Pistols for Two years ago, and had forgotten the stories. Kloester remarks that Heyer introduced intelligent heroes and independent heroines. The problem with short stories, though, is that there's not enough character development. That's very evident when you read these stories, and realize the hero and heroine don't have time to become acquainted. The romances seem rushed, and, at times, even ridiculous. Why would a much-sought-after lord fall in love with a young woman of eighteen upon first sight, and immediately decide he's going to marry her? In Heyer's novels, the characters have more opportunity to get to know each other, to develop a relationship.

Saying that, the stories are still charming. In "A Husband for Fanny", a widow hopes an eligible man is interested in her daughter, although she herself is still younger than the man. "Night at the Inn" is reflective of Heyer's mysteries more than her romances. I went back and reread one of the three newly published stories, "Runaway Match" after the first reading to catch the dialogue, looking at it after knowing the ending. It sparkles even more the second time around.

While they're not as complete as her novels, Georgette Heyer's short stories show the roots of her Regency romances. Snowdrift and Other Stories is worth picking up just for those discoveries or as a reminder of her talent and wit.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer. Sourcesbooks Casablanca. 2017. 290p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rattlesnake Hill by Leslie Wheeler

After reading Leslie Wheeler's Rattlesnake Hill, you might not think of the Berkshires in Massachusetts in quite the same way. If you think of Tanglewood and vacations and fall foliage, you might not think of the dark side of the hilltowns. That's the atmosphere Wheeler captures so beautifully in this mystery.

Kathryn Stinson arrives in New Nottingham looking for the answer to a family mystery. Over a hundred years earlier, an ancestor brought the portrait of a beautiful woman with him to California. No one in the family knows her name, but Kathryn's Great Aunt Kit always wanted to travel to the town and find the answer. Now, with Kit gone, it's left to Kathryn to take up the search. However, the people of the town are secretive, sometimes rude, and they're certainly reluctant to let a stranger into their stories.

But, Kathryn is renting a house from a widower whose wife was recently shot to death. And, it seems Diana had been involved with Earl Barker, part of the infamous family known for handling rattlesnakes. Earl frequently shows up at Kathryn's house, to work for her landlord, and to brood over his dead lover. It's a story Kathryn finds as disquieting as the account she's slowly uncovering about the woman in the picture. The townspeople have stories about Earl and Diana. Once a ninety-year-old secret keeper points Kathryn in the right direction, Earl has a story to spin about the woman in the portrait, a woman once involved in her own romantic triangle. And, it's Earl's poetic storytelling that intrigues the inhibited Kathryn.

It's only to Earl that Kathryn reveals her own family secrets, ones that have made her afraid of men. But, Earl's obvious interest in the newcomer, and the hints left by that ninety-year-old woman, will lead Kathryn on a dangerous path.

As a fan of the hill stories of Sharyn McCrumb and Phyllis A. Whitney's romantic suspense novels, I was drawn to Rattlesnake Hill. Wheeler's vivid setting and strong sense of place is as atmospheric and essential to the story as the setting in McCrumb and Whitney's works. There's a haunting sense of foreboding in this first in a new series.

Leslie Wheeler's website is www.lesliewheeler.com

Rattlesnake Hill by Leslie Wheeler. Encircle Publications. 2017. ISBN 9781893035812 (paperback), 306p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Winners & A First in a Series Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Mark B. from Santa Clarita, CA won the copy of Another One Bites the Crust. Ginger Snapped is going to Kathleen F. from Blue Springs, MO. The books went out in the mail on Wednesday.

This week, I'm offering two books that are first in new series. Survival of the Fritters kicks off Ginger Bolton's Deputy Donut Mystery. Emily Westhill runs the best donut shop in town, alongside her retired police chief father-in-law and her cat, Deputy Donut. But after murder claims a favorite customer, and Emily finds her surrounded by donuts, Emily is determined to find the killer.








Murder of a Good Man is the first in Teresa Trents' Piney Woods mystery series. Nora Alexander arrives in Piney Woods, Texas to fulfill her dying mother's last wish. She's to deliver a letter to the town's most beloved citizen. But, Nora's mother certainly didn't love Adam Brockwell, according to that letter. And, when the man is found murdered, Nora, an outsider, is the top suspect.

Do you want to discover a new mystery series? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read either "Win Survival of the Fritters" or "Win Murder of a Good Man." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. This giveaway will end Thursday, February 22 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Are You Reading?

I'm actually on my way to Columbus, Ohio, today to meet up with my sister. Then tomorrow, we're flying to Washington, D.C. We're going to see a play in Columbus tonight, "Daddy-Long-Legs", and in D.C. we're going to see "Chess" at the Kennedy Center.

So, I'm really not reading anything right now. I can tell you what books I'm taking with me, but I don't know if I'll get much reading done. I've packed Kelli Stanley's latest Miranda Corbie mystery (due out in March), City of Sharks. And, I have Miranda James' new Cat in the Stacks mystery, Claws for Concern.


I won't get a chance to check here after about 11 am because I'll be driving. Talk amongst yourself, and, if there's anything I need to answer later in the day, I'll try to answer on Friday. I'm still interested in what you're reading or listening to. And, I know others are waiting. Thank you!