Monday, January 27, 2014

Grey Howl

Grey Howl
A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery
Clea Simon
Severn House Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0727883469
March 1, 2014
$ 27.95
208 pages

For Dulcie Schwartz, working on her final thesis at Cambridge University while balancing her school schedule with her private life is challenging, especially with a boyfriend who works night. Her boyfriend, Chris, has finally changed his schedule from working nights to days and hopefully will be seeing Dulcie more frequently now. Computer technicians, especially competent ones, are frequently needed at all hours, especially at universities.
Cambridge is hosting this year's prestigious ELLA conference, the Association of English Language Literature Academics which is a big deal since usually the conference is in exotic places such as Dubai and Oxford. Dulcie feels privileged to be presenting her paper on the genealogy of a Gothic novelist. She realizes that she has not earned fame or notoriety in the field yet, but this is a phenomenal opportunity and the first major step in her chosen career.
Martin Thorpe is currently the acting head of the department and the keynote speaker. Since the university is also interviewing for this permanent position, he is extremely nervous and relies on Dulcie to be the university liaison keeping all the behind the scenes planning moving smoothly. The university is planning on interviewing certain presenters while visiting Cambridge for the conference for this cherished position. Being that this is a field known for its rivalry among the members, the competition will be fierce. Would someone purposefully sabotage another person to gain favor with the university?
The conference is be using the Science Center. Since there will be little use of the building since this is the time between classes and final exams, the use of this building's large lecture hall and numerous classrooms are perfect. However someone in facilities maintenance thought this would be the perfect time to update the plumbing. They hope of have most of the restrooms available when the conference opens.
Dulcie has an unusual talent. She can communicate with certain cats with the guidance of a deceased much-loved pet, Mr. Grey. His insight guides her where humans cannot begin to comprehend.
As one visiting professor is setting up her presentation, a disaster occurs. Her presentation has disappeared. It was on her computer but now there is no trace of it. Can Chris recover the presentation? Was the presentation ever on the computer? Is this a tactic? Where is the missing professor? Are there unknown relationships between the presenters? Is he avoiding Dulcie or is he purposefully hiding? Why?
Clea Simon currently has three series of cat mysteries. So far, there are four novels featuring Theda Krakow and three with Pru Marlowe. Grey Howl is the seventh in this Dulcie Schwartz series following Shades of Grey, Grey Matters, Grey Zone, Grey Expectations, True Grey, and Grey Dawn. She currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts working on her novels and contributing to various publications with her husband who is writer, Jon S. Garelick.
Grey Howl is a fun, fast-paced mystery into the world of academic literature conferences. Some of the conferences probably have more drama than the novels discussed.  The humor with Mr. Grey makes the reading light but with the real world of graduate classes at any major university. 
I look forward to reading more of these delightfully fun mysteries by Clea Simon.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement

Most people enjoy remembering "the good old days" especially the large audience at The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College last Friday. Everyone returned to the year of 1960 in a Lutheran church basement surrounded by friends and relatives who were mostly of Scandinavian ancestry for "A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement".
The play began with Beverly, a young teen, reviewing her Luther Small Catechism for her upcoming confirmation. She had memorized the entire small book along with Martin Luther's explanation of each one which ended with, "This is most certainly true". She nervously was preparing for the final questions which was witnessed by the entire congregation while wearing her first pair of high heels while others were preparing for the wedding reception for their pastor.

For Beverly's mother, Karin, finding her daughter growing up presents her with a mixture of pride and tears. Pride of her daughter's accomplishments and tears of a childhood quickly slipping past her. Karin possesses a driver's license but does not drive any distance. Can she learn how to handle a car with a stick shift? Can she write a check without her husband?

For farm wife, Mavis Gilmerson, life in the church is a luxury compared to her daily duties. However, she has many concerns about that new Eisenhower Highway that wants to cut through the middle of her land. For those unacquainted with the Eisenhower Highway, that became what we now know as the interstate system across our country.
Mrs. Vivian Snustad is a longtime member of the church and really isn't in favor of their pastor remarrying. It has been three years since his wife passed away. Isn’t this a little too soon for his upcoming nuptials?
This delightful comedy was a blast from the past. The music was engaging and upbeat. The performers with Tim Drake as Pastor, Kay Francis as Vivian, Nikki Savitt as Mavis, Carrie SaLoutos as Karin, and Kimberly Steffen as Beverly were all superb.
The show was a true time capsule into 1960 with everyone dressing as Jackie Kennedy, women just beginning to drive long distances, the complaints of a church congregation changing hymnals, women realizing that they can sign a check on their own, the minister living in a parsonage that allows for no privacy, and Brylcreem, "a little dab will do ya".
Compared to the previous two shows in the "Church Basement Ladies" series. These shows are for an audience who can easily remember 1960 and life at that time. This one was a little longer and definitely had more engaging and comical. The music was great fun with "All Heaven Broke Loose" being enjoyed by the cast and the audience.
What will “Church Basement Ladies” do next year? I'm certain that their 1960s will be a great show.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Night with Stephen Sondheim

Who cannot recognize the genius of a songwriter who can translate real life into music? This weekend at the Chanticleer Theater, the music of Stephen Sondheim is the focus of the latest Cabaret. The purpose of the Cabaret is to continue with raising additional funds for the theater.

Combining interesting facts about Stephen Sondheim's life between 23 musical selections from various production makes for a unique entertaining evening. Participants in this Cabaret are Karrin Jones Dignoti, Chris Ebke, Jackie Kappes, Sara Mattix, D. Laureen Pickle, Sarah Query, Jon Turnbeaugh, Jonathan A. Wilhoft, and accompanist Meg Latta. Blending the biographical aspects with Sondheim's lyrics and music beautifully creates a musical collage into this program.

Naturally, everyone has a favorite in this variety show. The opening number from The Frogs was perfect for explaining this production to the audience while combining the comedy and musical abilities of each performer with the expectations upon the audience. Certain songs were snippets of the musicals The Frogs, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Company which told the story through acting as well as the song. These were unquestionably well-planned and perfectly matched the personalities and vocal ranges and demands along with excellent acting from the performers.
For me, "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George was glorious. The eight individual voices joined in harmonies that truly complemented the entire company. Meg Latta was outstanding as the accompanist perfectly setting the mood and tempo for each selection. Also, the sound system was well balanced while still not be overwhelming for all the singers.
With a community theater, what is special about these organizations is to witness a particular performer grow in their ability and learn how to showcase their talent. That is unquestionably the case for Chris Ebke who is a mature and confidently polished performer now. His talents have truly added to the value of the Chanticleer community.
The show continues through Sunday with a 2 p.m. performance at the Chanticleer Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs. Tickets are $25 which includes appetizers and a glass of wine. For tickets, call (712) 323-9955 or through email at
This production is just a taste of future Sondheim performances at Chanticleer with Follies opening in the spring this year.

This show of Sondheim, Our Time: The Songs of Stephen Sondheim is relaxing, enjoyable, humorous, entertaining, and just a snapshot into a musical legend of Sondheim.  This Chanticleer production is outstanding entertainment with delicious delicacies.  What a wonderful treat for the entire family!