Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu Blogfest--flash fiction re-run 

I'd almost forgotten, in the chaos of the season, that I have a little break here (if I can decide which post to re-post). I signed up for it and threw out some suggested re-runs here, but I guess that was one of those unread posts. So now I'm choosing...

Battle Dogs

George, Sally, Steve and Hadrian peered around the stone wall and considered the field before them.  Behind them, their mounts sniffed around, checking for signs of the enemy, or anything that could be eaten.  Their short legs and long hair made them look like oversized caterpillars.
“Dogapillars,” George insisted.  “Not any kind of cats.”  He spat out the word as though it tasted of filth.  The enemy mounted themselves on cats.

Steve was having trouble with his pointed hat.  "Why do we wear these things, anyway?" he grumbled as he centered the thing on his head once again.  “They’re just in the way.  And my corgi doesn’t like it, especially when it falls off and pokes him.”

"We're garden gnomes," Sally answered.  "If we didn't have the pointy colorful hats, we might be taken for mountain gnomes, or even, heaven help us, dwarves."

"They do make us awfully visible to the pixies, though," Steve pointed out.  “It’s hard to hide and peek when your hat sticks up a foot above your head.  And they fall off whenever we charge the enemy.”

“Well, the cats don’t like them either,” Sally said.  “That has to help.”

"Hush!" said Hadrian, who was the only one actually doing any scouting.  The others were letting him manage that part, while they sharpened their spades and grumbled about the hats.  "I see one!  They're out there.”  He backed away from the wall and turned, waving an arm toward the corgis clustered behind the next hedge.  “Sound the signal to mount up!"

Steve gave a loud, squawking squeeze on his concertina, and an army if gnomes burst from the shrubbery and ran for the corgis.  Grabbing the long hair, the gnomes swarmed to the backs of their eager mounts.  Tongues lolling from open mouths, the stubby-legged dogs charged forward almost without waiting for the gnomes, each of whom clutched corgi-fur with one hand and a garden tool-come-weapon with the other.

On the other side of the meadow a phalanx of Persian cats bounded through the tall grass, each with an evil-faced pixie astride.  Shrieking like a flock of banshees, they charged forward.

Corgis barked.  Persians yowled.  Disaster appeared inevitable.

Then the truly inevitable happened.  A squirrel darted up a tree, and many of the corgis veered off in pursuit.  Then first one, then another, of the cats stopped.  They sniffed about, and several sat down to wash their bottoms, dumping the pixies onto the ground.  Chaos reigned, but battle was not joined.  After several minutes, Hadrian sounded the retreat, as did the leader of the pixies.

Back in the garden, Hadrian dismounted and sat with his head in his hand.  His pointed hat had fallen to the ground but he ignored it.  His corgi sniffed at him, and he patted it absently before the dog flopped down to take a nap.

"It could have been worse," Sally attempted consolation.  "At least the pixies didn't do any better, with their Persian cats.  Only an idiot would ride into battle on a cat!  Everyone knows they don’t take orders."

“Neither, apparently, do corgis,” Hadrian pointed out.

"No one got hurt," Steve tried a different consolation.

"But the pixies got away!" Hadrian shouted.  "We can't keep doing this.  We're supposed to be an army, for dog's sake!"  He looked up.  A half-circle of pointed noses and lolling tongues in smiling corgi mouths lay flopped on the ground, attached to the napping corgis.  "Okay, he sighed.  "One more chance." He looked at the corgis, then at his fellow garden gnomes, and raised his voice to rouse the sleepers.  "Send those cats running and the pixies flying, and there'll be treats for everyone!”

At the word "treats" the corgis roused themselves, climbing to their feet and smiling eagerly.  So did the gnomes. Or, rather, they stopped scowling and grew more interested.  Several even began planning with Hadrian how best to mount their attack.

Once again, the gnomes were mounted and ready.  The corgis sniffed the air, and Hadrian's mount raised his head and barked the signal.  Tawny fur flew across the meadow, stubby white legs barely visible under the shag.  A squirrel ran up a tree, but Hadrian shouted "Focus!  Treat!" and the fur-covered steeds hesitated only almost imperceptibly before continuing their charge across the meadow toward the grey fuzz-balls. 

Hadrian gave the command to deploy their most powerful weapon.  “Maximum shed rate!”
Dogs and cats met in a cloud of flying fur as corgi hair filled the air.  Moments later the cats turned tail, unable to see or breathe.  The furballs dumped the pixies to the ground as they fled.  In danger of being trampled by the flashing paws of the eager corgis or choked by lungsful of dog hair, the pixies saved themselves by dematerializing.  Once gone, they could only return to their own land.   It was a total victory for the gnomes and their mounts.

The gnomes encouraged their mounts to halt, and the sharp-nosed smiles turned to Hadrian.  He waved them back to camp.  "Cake all around!"  The victory cheers were nearly drowned by the ecstatic barking, as the fur settled slowly to the ground.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Corgis, ready for battle

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Middle Grade Classic: A Wrinkle in Time


Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Publisher:   Originally published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1962, 203 pages.
Source: I have owned a copy for years, though of a more recent (1980) paperback edition.

This is a book for which the term "speculative fiction" might have been invented. Part science fiction, part fantasy, it is a great quest story with a twist. Meg Murray and her little brother, Charles Wallace, are misfits. They team up with another misfit, Calvin O'Keefe, and three very unusual entities, and travel through space and time to a planet where a single brain rules everything, and free will is non-existent, in order to rescue Meg's father. How they manage that and what it requires of them is the core of the story.

There is a reason this is a classic and holder of a Newbery Medal. Although the story occasionally feels a little heavy-handed with morality, it has held up very well over time (possibly better than I have), and continues to work both as a great adventure with just a hint of teen romance and as an exploration into what it is to be human. The characters, especially Meg but also Charles Wallace and Calvin, are well-drawn. Meg is very human, which at times makes me squirm a bit, but I realize that is because I can recognize my own faults in her. It's nice to know that those faults are part of what allows her to succeed in her quest!

Reading this book as a writer I can also see the fun that L'Engle had writing characters like the three almost supernatural beings, Mrs Who, Mrs What and Mrs Which*--not to mention the Happy Medium. Like me, I suspect she didn't always care if her jokes went over the heads of her younger readers.

Wrinkle is a fun book to read, and one that leaves the reader something to think about when it's finished. What more could we ask?

I recommend this for children and adults from about age 10 or 11 and up. I would be remiss if I did not address L'Engle's use of both an occasionally heavy-handed (in my opinion) Christian imagery and philosophy--and her use of quotations and beliefs from many other philosophies. L'Engle was a writer whose strong Christian faith informed her work, and while most of her characters are at the least questioning what they believe, the writer herself writes from a place of firm belief. As an agnostic reader, I am aware of times when I may not agree with everything she says, but I do not find that it destroys my enjoyment of a good read. Some readers may be more troubled by this than I am (and I suspect some of the most troubled readers will be Christians who are not comfortable asking questions).

*An interesting note of Who, What, and Which: L'Engle wished for the names to be printed as I have written them, English-style with no period on "Mrs," in order to emphasize their status as something Other. This, however, was apparently too much for the type-setters, and the only editions in which this was done were the British ones, where it of course did not communicate anything.  I no longer remember in which of her non-fiction works I read this.

Full Disclosure: I have owned a copy of  A Wrinkle in Time for many years, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Audiobook Review: Dancing at the Rascal Fair, by Ivan Doig

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I've included both the audiobook cover (which I didn't ever see, because I was listening to it!) and the original hardback cover, which is what we have on our shelf.

Title: Dancing at the Rascal Fair
Author:  Ivan Doig; narrated by Robert Ian MacKenzie
Publisher: Originally published by Atheneum in 1987 (384 pages). Audio book published by Recorded Books, Inc., in 2010.
Source: Library. I also own a copy of the hardback, which I read back along about 1996.

First, I want to note that although this was the second book Doig wrote about the McCaskill family it is chronologically the first. He created the family in English Creek in 1984, his first novel set in the Gros Ventre area (the land Doig wrote about most often and refers to as "The Two Medicine country" after the river that runs through it), but went back a generation with Dancing at the Rascal Fair to explore how the family got there.

In 1889, Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill leave Scotland, a pair of single young men in search of a new life in a new country--the mythical land of Montana where Rob's uncle Lucas lives.They are all of 19 years old, and in  Angus's words, "green as the cheese of the moon." Despite their blind naivete, they survive, locate Lucas, and homestead the north fork of English Creek.  Angus tells us of their lives for the next 30 years, as they grow older and grow families in "Scotch Heaven." As a narrator Angus is insightful and witty, at times addressing Rob or others in second person, at others narrating in a more conventional first-person voice, and always with Doig's inimitable language, visual and imaginative and with a touch of humor.

The story is by no means all joy, just as life never is. This is an adult novel in the best sense of the word, with love, loss, and deep feelings running all directions. And every word of it is amazing.

Robert Ian MacKenzie's narration in a lovely Scots voice adds a crowning touch to the story, and lured me on to sit and listen when I should have been doing other things!

As with virtually everything Doig has written, I give this an enthusiastic five stars, two thumbs up, and a cheer, as well as a few tears (because that's life). Long may Doig write.

Full Disclosure: I checked Dancing at the Rascal Fair out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Absurd though it feels to mention my work on the same page as Doig's, I'll still encourage you to enter the drawing for a free electronic copy of my newest book, Halitor the Hero.

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