Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Flash: In the Dark

It's getting toward the end of October, and that means time for some spooky stories. So for your reading pleasure, a little venture into the woods. Don't be scared. They're just trees. About 950 words of pleasantly spooky reading!

In the Dark

“What’s that?!” At the first owl-hoot, Joey jumps like a scairt rabbit and grabs my arm in a death-grip.

“Owl.” I answer as though the bird hasn’t startled me a bit. I know an owl is no danger to us, even if it does come sudden out of the dark.

 A stick breaks off to our left, and he grabs my arm again. I’m going to have bruises shaped like my cousin’s fingers. I cock my head and listen for the next heavy step.

“Deer.” I peel his fingers loose and walk on. Joey’s a city kid, and he’s been driving me crazy for a week, showing off how much he knows about everything that I ain’t had any chance to learn. Plus, he goes on about how much better boys are than girls. He thinks boys are so much braver because they go to war. Joey’s crazy about wanting to be a soldier, which any girl can see is plain foolishness.

That’s why I decided that we needed to go visit Aunt Bella, who’s about a hundred years old, and lives away back in the forest. I made sure that we stayed long enough so’s we headed home after dark. That was easy enough, since Aunt Bella loves to be telling stories about the old days. Only, come dusk, I think she read my mind, because she started in to telling some of the odd things that have happened in these woods.

So by the time we started home Joey was pretty well spooked, and it was as dark under the trees as the inside of a bear’s belly. I made sure to use that expression, as we started out with just a candle-lantern to light our trail.

A tree creaks in the breeze, and Joey’s got my arm again. “That’s a bear, isn’t it Sarah? Growling at us, just like Aunt Bella said they do when they’re hunting.”

I suppress a little shiver of my own. I’m not afraid of bears—much. There ain’t many of them left around here, and anyhow a real bear don’t growl when it’s hunting. Joey wasn’t listening to Aunt Bella’s story so close, I guess, because she wasn’t talking about flesh-and-blood bears. Not that I believe a word of her talk of spirit bears.

That creak is just a tree talking. In daytime, you can tell it’s just a noise made by some branch or other rubbing on another. At night, it’s the trees talking, I guess to each other or the animals. I can tell, but try as I might, I can’t quite make out what they are saying.

Tonight it sounds like a warning.

Ma’s going to be mad with me for keeping us out in the dark. She’s Joey’s aunt and she came from the city, too. Pa, he understands that a kid has to roam, even a girl-child, and like I say, there ain’t no bears or panthers around here no more. He says there ain’t no haunts, neither.

I believe him about the bears and panthers, but suddenly I ain’t so sure about the haunts. I wish Aunt Bella had stuck to telling about people getting eaten by real live bears. That was all I wanted—to get Joey worked up about bears, so I could show him a thing or two about who’s brave. But she just had to go on about spirit bears, and ghosts, too.

The breeze is picking up. I don’t like that, because I can’t hear any particular sound when all the leaves are shaking. Their talking picks up, but I still can’t make out the words.

A sudden puff of wind puts out our candle, and Joey screams. Maybe I do, too, a little, but that’s just because I’m annoyed. Once I know my voice is steady, I say, “Aw, quiet, Joey. I know the way, and we’re almost back to the road anyhow.” I reach out a hand. “Grab hold and I’ll lead you so you don’t get lost in the woods.” That should put him in his place!

The hand I touch is icy, and it sure ain’t Joey. Right there, I forget all about keeping my cousin safe, and I start running. I know every story Aunt Bella’s ever told about the ghosts of all the folks killed by critters and snakes and bad men. And every one of them has icy fingers.

I can hear something crashing through the bush behind me, so I run faster. It ain’t until I get to the road, where the moon shines in on account of the trees being cleared away, that I slow down and start to think.

Do ghosts crash around in the bush? Once I catch my breath, I decide maybe I made a fool of myself. Ma’s told me a hundred times that there ain’t no such thing as ghosts and haunts, but she’s from the city, so I ain’t sure she knows. But even Aunt Bella would tell me that whatever was behind me was made of flesh, to crash around so much.

And then I remember Joey. Aw, shoot. That was him chasing me, and now I’ve gone and lost him, and the trees are louder than ever so I can’t hear him no more.

Why doesn’t he holler?

Why don’t I?

When Pa finds me still sitting in the middle of the road in the dark, I swear that I shouted the woods down trying to find the fool boy who ran off, scared of a creaky old tree.

I don’t tell him that the trees told me to keep quiet and set still.
In the dark forest...

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: La's Orchestra Saves the World


Title: La's Orchestra Saves the World

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher: Pantheon Books, 2008. 294 pages.

Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1939. Lavender—La to her friends—decides to flee London, not only to avoid German bombs but also to escape the memories of her shattered marriage. The peace and solitude of the small town she settles in are therapeutic . . . at least at first. As the war drags on, La is in need of some diversion and wants to boost the town's morale, so she organizes an amateur orchestra, drawing musicians from the village and the local RAF base. Among the strays she corrals is Feliks, a shy, proper Polish refugee who becomes her prized recruit—and the object of feelings she thought she'd put away forever.

Does La's orchestra save the world? The people who come to hear it think so. But what will become of it after the war is over? And what will become of La herself? And of La's heart?

My Review: 
With his fantastic #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, as well as the bitingly funny Portuguese Irregular Verbs books, Alexander McCall Smith doesn't really need me to tell the world that he writes good books. But here I am anyway.

There is nothing huge and earth-shattering in this book. And that's just the point. La and her orchestra save the world by providing normalcy, and a sense that the small things are more than worthwhile--they might be essential. They might be the things that save the world.

It's not that La or her village are particularly special, or that everything is sweetness and light. There are some not-so-nice people, but the drama is muted, leaving a story that is just a quiet pleasure to read.

My Recommendation:
Check it out. This feels less to me like any of the author's series, and more like his My Italian Bulldozer, which I read in May but apparently failed to review, even though I swear I remember writing about it...wonder where that was? Anyway, both are sweet books with a bit of humor and an understated love story (way understated, in fact). Great reads for disturbing times.

FTC Disclosure: I checked La's Orchestra Saves the World out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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." 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mystery review: Death Overdue


Title:  Death Overdue: A Haunted Library Mystery  (Cozy Mystery; 1st in Series)
Author: Allison Brook
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (October 10, 2017). Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1683313861
Source: Electronic ARC through Great Escapes Free Book Tours

Publisher's Blurb: 
Carrie Singleton is just about done with Clover Ridge, Connecticut until she’s offered a job as the head of programs and events at the spooky local library, complete with its own librarian ghost. Her first major event is a program presented by a retired homicide detective, Al Buckley, who claims he knows who murdered Laura Foster, a much-loved part-time library aide who was bludgeoned to death fifteen years earlier. As he invites members of the audience to share stories about Laura, he suddenly keels over and dies.

The medical examiner reveals that poison is what did him in and Carrie feels responsible for having surged forward with the program despite pushback from her director. Driven by guilt, Carrie’s determined to discover who murdered the detective, convinced it’s the same man who killed Laura all those years ago. Luckily for Carrie, she has a friendly, knowledgeable ghost by her side. But as she questions the shadows surrounding Laura’s case, disturbing secrets come to light and with each step Carrie takes, she gets closer to ending up like Al.

Now it’s due or die for Carrie in Death Overdue the delightful first in a new cozy series by Allison Brook. 

My Review: 
I really have to stop reading books set in libraries, because they all seem to be so much better funded than my library! Okay, seriously, I knew I had to read this when I saw it, because how could I not read a book with a librarian for a detective heroine, even if I did have some reservations about the ghost aspect. Despite an enjoyment of the Aunt Dimity mysteries, I'm not a big fan of the ghost mysteries that have become popular lately, but to my surprise, I found I didn't mind the ghost in this one at all. Mostly, my mind just accepted her as another character and allowed the willing suspension of disbelief so I could get on with the story.

The mystery in this case was decently constructed, and the writing solid, so that it was a quick, enjoyable read (due to a mix-up, I didn't get my copy until Friday, but I had no trouble sitting myself down and reading right through the book). It caught my interest from the first chapters, and if I at times got impatient with Carrie for doing stupid things (WHY did she keep telling people what she was finding out, even after that led to trouble and she was warned to keep it to herself?), I never stopped wanting to find out what she'd do next. I had a pretty good idea who the murderer was before she did, but the author managed to make me doubt myself with a couple of last-minute reveals about various characters, so there was never any doubt I had to read to the end.

There is a lot in this book that hints at an interesting backstory for Carrie, making her a character who seems worth the time to get to know. I hope I can check her out again in the future, as she makes many returns (I'd apologize for the library puns but...I won't).

 My Recommendation:
 This would fall under the heading of "beach reads" for me, I think. It was fun and had a good mystery, but had too much romance for my taste (so might be perfect for most cozy fans!). The writing could be a little tighter, but was never a significant distraction from the enjoyment of the story. Oh, and people working for under-funded libraries should beware of library-envy when reading this! The Author
Allison Brook is the pseudonym for Marilyn Levinson, who writes mysteries, romantic suspense and novels for kids. She lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling, reading, watching foreign films, doing Sudoku and dining out. She especially loves to visit with her grandchildren on FaceTime.
Author Links
My Amazon page:

Purchase Links
Amazon   B&N

And this book has another great give-away! Enter to win a print copy of the book.
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FTC Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC of Death Overdue from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further 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."