Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

If I had to choose one genre to read for the rest of my life, I’d choose mystery. I love true crime tv, podcasts like Serial, and I’ll forever have a special place in my heart for all of Mary Higgins Clark’s formulaic murder mysteries. My husband jokes that he sleeps with one eye open because I have an extensive knowledge of how to kill and get away with it. But seriously– suspenseful, spooky murder mysteries are my jam. I’ve read several great books lately that fit into this category, but this particular book, People Like Us by Dana Mele, still haunts me:

One girl is dead, found drowned in the lake on the grounds of a prestigious, private all-girls school. Unfortunately, Kay Donovan and her friends were the ones to find the dead girl, Jessica Lane, and now Kay is a suspect. Kay’s mean-girl ways combined with her part in the deaths of her brother and best friend don’t work in her favor. To complicate matters, Kay receives an email from Jessica, blackmailing her into ruining the lives of her friends if she wants to clear her own name. 

Kay teams up with social outcast Nola whose computer hacking skills may help Kay save her reputation and land the soccer scholarship she’s worked so hard to earn. Their research casts each of the people in Kay’s popular inner circle in terrible light–perpetrators of bullying, cheating, doping and worse–and it’s hard not to judge Kay for her own ruthless behavior and efforts to salvage her own reputation. She is a deeply flawed protagonist. 

When additional bodies surface, Kay must face her past transgressions and hope that she can outsmart the killer (or ghost?) before she’s framed for murder.

This is the best mystery book I’ve read in a long time. It’s chilling, and Dana Mele’s characters are fascinatingly messed-up. The ending is a doozie, too. I highly recommend the audiobook.

The Lure of the Lemp

I was almost giddy about the #plotdrivenlife experience I chose for this book: to visit a locally haunted location. In People Like Us, it’s easy to believe Jessica Lane is haunting Kay through the wicked emails Kay receives. I was thrilled to have an excuse to book a ghost tour to a place that is notorious for its gruesome history and world-wide acclaim as a haunted house: the Lemp Mansion.

The foreboding front entrance of the Lemp mansion.

The Lemp is a foreboding building that sits just a few streets away from the sprawling property occupied by Anheuser Busch-InBev in downtown St. Louis. Mike and I visited the Lemp on an ugly, cold night in November when the house’s main floor was full of murder mystery dinner party guests who seemed to be having the time of their lives. We were there for a paranormal tour of the other floors of the mansion, armed with both a night-vision camera and an EMF (electromagnetic field) detector to hone in on nearby spirits. Before we set out in search of ghosts, we were treated to some Lemp family history and an explanation of why the mansion is believed to be so haunted. Our tour guide from the St. Louis Paranormal Research Society explained that the lavish house was once owned by the Lemp family who made their fortune in beer brewing during the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite their vast fortune and successful business, three Lemp men are believed to have committed suicide in the mansion, and, while official records claim young Elsa Lemp Wright also committed suicide, there is evidence that she was murdered by her husband after returning from their (second) honeymoon. Regardless, the mansion will give you the creeps!

Mike, with his night-vision camera, sitting just feet away from where Charles Lemp killed both his dog and himself in 1949. Our tour guide says a blood stain on the carpet is still detectable.

The house has been renovated to mimic how it would have looked during the Lemp’s occupancy, and on a paranormal ghost tour, the hallways and rooms you are exploring are lit with just enough light that you won’t trip, break your neck, and add yourself to the list of household dead. Mike and I stumbled around with others on the tour, eager to locate a ghost with our equipment. Mike swears he caught sight of something with the night-vision camera, but I didn’t have much luck with the EMF detector. Nonetheless, the house feels like it holds dark secrets, and though it’s an option, you would never catch me spending the night! The experience of touring the house motivated me to attend an event at my local library about the mystery surrounding Elsa Lemp Wright’s murder, and I’m chomping at the bit to check out this documentary which is now scheduled to be released in 2020, 100 years after Elsa’s death.

This crest in the Lemp mansion basement covers the entrance to the cave network underneath the house where the family once stored beer and built a swimming pool.

There is so much about the Lemp that I want to explore in more detail: information about the cave system below the house, the mental illness that seemed to curse the family, and the evidence that has earned the house a place on reputable lists of the most haunted places in the USA. Stephen Wright’s book, Lemp: The Haunting History, is a great place to start, if you’re curious like me.

A tour to the Lemp was the perfect #plotdrivenlife experience to match the eerie vibe of People Like Us. What haunted locations have you visited, and would you ever consider staying overnight as a guest at the Lemp?

Happy reading,

Turtle Takeover

Turtle Takeover

Heroes in a Half-Shell!

Were you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles junkie like me as a kid? I spent many an afternoon in front of the tv in the 1990s, totally absorbed with these “heroes in a half-shell” with “turtle power!” As I reflect on this completely ridiculous show (and now movie franchise) as an adult, I have to believe that the writers were high on drugs when they came up with the premise: after being infected by toxic sewer waste, a life-sized rat mentors four adolescent, juiced-up turtles, each named after a renaissance painter, as they fight crime. What the what? You can actually read about how the TMNT came to be here. Talk about accidental genius.

This week’s #plotdrivenlife experience also features a crazy concept about turtles. I’m writing about John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. I’ll explain the title’s meaning, but first, my review:

This book provides us a glimpse at a young lady who is often tortured by her OCD, a mental illness John Green himself admits to having. Green’s story features Aza whose social circle is limited to Daisy, a fierce friend who writes Star Wars fan fiction and dreams of a life out of poverty. Daisy convinces Aza that they should pursue the $100,000 prize for information that leads to the whereabouts of Russell Pickett, a corrupt billionaire business tycoon who vanished from a suburb of Indianapolis before police had the chance to arrest him. Aza knows Pickett’s son Davis since the two once attended the same camp for kids with a deceased parent, and when Aza sees Davis again during their “investigation, “she feels a connection to the boy who, despite having all the money in the world, is suffering, too.

John Green allows readers to intimately feel the pain of his characters in this book. Aza’s OCD rules her decisions and relationships, and Green is clear that there is no easy fix for her thought-spirals. Turtles All the Way Down also offers a realistic glimpse into the complexity of friendships. Daisy is no flat character; she makes cringe-worthy mistakes, and Aza’s inability to escape her own mind makes her unaware of Daisy’s struggles.

A stand-out title, and a raw look at mental illness that can benefit all of us. The audio-book was exceptional.

Turtle Takeover

The phrase “turtles all the way down” actually refers to the idea that a giant turtle is carrying Earth on her back, and she, in turn, stands on the backs of other turtles. As a result, Earth is supported by an infinite number of turtles, or turtles all the way down. I know; it’s about as nutty as liking a show about over-sized turtles wielding nun-chucks.

But really, the planets and solar system play an important role in this story. Davis Pickett, Aza’s love interest, is mesmerized by the cosmos. Despite the fact he lives in a sprawling estate, Davis admires the beauty of the stars, and he romances Aza with his knowledge of astronomy.

Not knowing much about astronomy myself, I turned to the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri (ASEM) for some guidance. Almost every Friday evening, regardless of the season, anyone can visit Broemmelsiek Park’s Astronomy Viewing Site where expert astronomers set up their telescopes for the public to enjoy, beginning at approximately 7 pm. It’s a completely free activity for all ages. There were several Girl Scouts on site when we visited!

Awkward photo taken by the hubs.
It was a beautiful night to star-gaze! Bet you can’t spot Venus.

Thanks to the delightful members of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri, I was able to view Venus as well as Jupiter’s storm and several of her moons through their various telescopes. Through the massive telescope that is permanently on site (it literally has its own shed), I had the opportunity to view a globular cluster for the first time. Simply incredible!

That’s my friend, Jaime, looking through the permanent, on-site telescope.

One of the ASEM members also recommended I download a free app called SkyView Lite (for iOs only) which, when pointed at any part of the sky, identifies stars, planets and satellites and outlines constellations. I have fallen in LOVE with this app, and it’s become a habit for me to use it any time I’m sitting outside at night.

Leo, as seen through the SkyView Lite app.

If you like free, take note of the fact that ASEM has a partnership with the St. Charles City-County Library District that allows local residents to check out one of 19 telescopes! And if you’re a teacher, you can check out a Sunspotter solar telescope to use with your students. I had no idea!

I have to emphasize how cool it is that St. Louis-area people have access to a dedicated star-gazing spot AND that the ASEM folks dedicate their Friday nights to teach the locals about the cosmos! I’m very sure Davis Pickett would choose this as a date night activity with Aza.

Happy reading,