Friday, February 24, 2017

Flashback Friday:

It's Flashback Friday, and time to pull something out of the archives that I think could stand a little more exposure. If you'd like to join the fun, clink on the image above to visit Michael d'Agonstino's A Life Examined blog and see how!

Okay, yeah, I know it's almost Saturday some places (Hi, Jemima!). The kid was off school this week and I got confused...But here it is at last, from June 2016.

Dead in the Water

The body washed gently against the shore, bumping up against the rocks and washing away, only to return with the next wave. The the blonde hair floated about the head like a halo. Marsha Harrigan, police detective, watched the corpse for a minute, and reflected that her peaceful lakeside vacation had just come to a crashing end. With great reluctance she pulled out her cell phone, looked up the number of the local police, and dialed.

She would have liked to just report the body and let the police take over, and go on vacationing. Except that Lilacs-on-Lakeshore was in her jurisdiction, and she knew the police chief. Alex Tormentino knew his limits, and he was very good at handling petty thievery, speeding, and excessively noisy parties. He had never, to her knowledge, handled a murder and he would want an expert at his side. Marsha was an expert, and she was on the spot. The boss would order her to cut short her vacation and take the case.

It worked about that way. Tormentino was on the spot within 15 minutes, studied the floating corpse for a few seconds, and turned to Marsha, who already had her orders.

“What now?”

“Pull her out, dry her off, and try for an ID.”

He gave the appropriate orders to his subordinates, then said, “Oh, I know who she is.” His tone said that there was a tale to be told. Marsha listened.

“Her name is Annalynda Smith.” Marsha raised an eyebrow, and Tormentino shrugged. “I know. Sounds like a fake. Probably was. She runs—ran—the local beauty salon.” His eyes drifted toward the dripping body that had been pulled from the lake.

“For how long?” Marsha distracted him. Tormentino was looking pale. She would have to examine the body, but there was no reason for the poor police chief to make himself sick.

“Maybe six months. I don’t know where she came from.”

“Do you know who she aggravated?”

Tormentino heaved a sigh. “Everyone.”


“The women complained that she flirted with all the men. The men complained that she flirted but didn’t mean anything by it. And the neighbors hated the smells from the salon she ran in her house.”

Marsha sent Tormentino off to see who had seen Ms. Smith last, and when, while she studied the body. The blonde wore an outfit that explained the complaints of men and women alike, and there were suspicious marks on her neck.

“Looks like she aggravated one person too many,” Marsha muttered to herself. Then, to the waiting deputies and EMT crew, “Take her down to the City and let the medical examiner get started.” No sense in being careless. You never knew what might be discovered with a proper autopsy. Meanwhile, she would do a close inspection of the shore to see what else might have washed up.
“Ah, Detective Harrigan. The Chief is waiting for you.”

Marsha walked into the Chief’s office and stopped. A collection of townspeople sat in folding chairs looking at her. “What’s this?”

“These,” Tormentino said sadly, “Are some of the people who had cause to wish Ms. Smith ill.”

“Look at us!” A middle-aged brunette with a bad haircut blurted, waving a hand at several similar women. “We all got our hair done yesterday and look what she did to us! I’m glad someone stabbed her! She deserved it!”

Marsha made a silent note that either the woman was misinformed or was being excessively clever, and looked at another citizen.

“Mr. Collins says she flirted with him right in front of his wife, and he had to sleep on the couch for a week. That gave him such a stiff neck he hasn’t been able to work.” Tormentino nodded at another man. “He lives next door to her. He’s had to move into the hotel because the chemicals from her salon trigger his allergies.” He went on, explaining why each of the persons present might wish the dead woman ill.

Then he said, “But they were all accounted for last night. Most of them saw her at the pub, where she ate a very late dinner of cheeseburger and fries, washed down with more beer than you’d believe. The bartender says Smith went out alone at about 1 a.m., and that’s the last anyone saw of her. She said she was going for a moonlight cruise. Most of these were home in bed by then, of course.”

“She didn’t go sailing alone. I heard the boat this morning, leaving after she was dumped in the water. Someone wasn’t home in bed.”

The townspeople looked at each other with new suspicion. “You mean someone took her out in a boat and shot her?” Another guess.
“No.” Marsha said. “She died of a heart attack. I suppose you could say the cook killed her, but the burger and fries were her own choice. But someone didn’t do right by her.”

A young man stood up, shaking. “I didn’t know what to do! I took her out in the boat. I was so sure—never mind. We headed out toward the Island, and suddenly she stood up and grabbed her throat. She was wearing one of those choker necklaces and she ripped it loose, like she couldn’t breathe.”

Marsha nodded. “She couldn’t.”

“I thought she was being dramatic, some silly game, and then she toppled over. Right overboard.” He was sweating. “I searched for hours. But I couldn’t find her in the dark, and when it started to get light, I panicked. I knew you’d all think I killed her! So I just—left. ” He began to cry, and Marsha let the others lead him out.

When they were gone, she turned to Tormentino. “You can decide if you want to press charges. I’m on vacation.” As she left, she fingered the broken necklace she’d found on the beach. No one could ever know who had broken it.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Audio Book review: Bradbury's Martian Chronicles

Title details for The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Available 

Title: The Martian Chronicles
Author:  Ray Bradbury; read by Stephen Hoye
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2009. Original stories published between 1947 and about 1951.
Source: Digital library

Publisher's Blurb:
There were a lot of these to chose from, since there are dozens of editions of the book out. I share here the one that goes with the Blackstone Audio version:

In connected, chronological stories, a true grandmaster enthralls, delights, and challenges us with his vision, starkly and stunningly exposing our strength, our weakness, our folly, and our poignant humanity on a strange and breathtaking world where humanity does not belong.

My Review:  
I think I have to start with Bradbury's own take on the book, from the introduction to the audio book. He describes the stories as not really science fiction, or about Mars, but rather fables or parables, the author's exploration of humanity. Certainly the prose is lush and at times the stories are pointed. In fact, one thing I think no one could argue with is that Bradbury is a master of prose.

It might be best not to think of the stories as SF, since the date of their composition puts the vision of scientific advances at, shall we say, a disadvantage. I'm always interested, when reading classic SF, to see what writers got right, and what they got wrong. Bradbury creates a fully-automated house that a Silicon Valley billioniare could build today (and for all I know, may have). But other things are laughable: clear, instant telephonic communications between Earth and Mars, and private, "family rockets," used even for travel between different parts of the planet. Nor was there any imagination of the cell phone or the computer (let alone the PC)--not surprising, given when they were written. It doesn't matter, because the stories are about humanity and society, not science. (We'll leave aside what we now know about the surface of Mars; Bradbury went with the views of his time on Martian canals).

In one area of his critique of society, though, I had to admit to disappointment. I know this was early, and it's probably wrong of me to apply a feminist critique to a book from 1950. But still...even by the end of WWI, let alone WWII, women were coming into their own as thinkers and writers and persons with intelligence and will. Sadly, Bradbury failed to notice it. Every female, human or Martian, in the book is weak, insipid, silly, subjected, subservient, robotic, or some combination of the above. And all are dependent on men, most being absolute stereotypes of the 1950s wife.

I don't think I'm quite willing to let Bradbury off the hook for this. It's the scourge of early SF: it was, in essence, a masculine genre and at heart even misogynistic. I can only be glad that, however slowly and painfully, the genre has evolved to allow that maybe, by say the year 3035 or so, women might be held to be equal to men. We can hope.

My Recommendation:
Despite the above criticism, which as noted may not be fair, I do consider this a masterpiece, and a classic that ought to be read by all, especially by any afficionado of the science fiction genre.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Martian Chronicles out of my digital 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, February 20, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: The Quilt, by Gary Paulsen


Title: The Quilt
Author: Gary Paulsen
Publishing info: Yearling, 2005. 96 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
A six-year-old boy goes to spend the summer with his grandmother Alida in a small town near the Canadian border. With the men all gone off to fight, the women are left to run the farms. There’s plenty for the boy to do—trying to help with the chores, getting to know the dog, and the horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.

But when his cousin Kristina goes into labor, he can’t do a thing. Instead, the house fills with women come to help and to wait, and to work on a quilt together. This is no common, everyday quilt, but one that contains all the stories of the boy’s family. The quilt tells the truth, past and future: of happiness, courage, and pain; of the greatest joy, and the greatest loss. And as they wait, the women share these memorable stories with the boy.

My Review:
I read this book as a group read with my Great Middle Grade Reads group at Since I am a fan of Paulsen, and familiar with Paulsen's characters and voice, I enjoyed it, and was a bit taken aback to find that many of the other members of the group were very put off by the style. The common complaint was that the main character is referred to by the narrator only as "the boy," which many felt was distancing and off-putting. The style, the consensus was, didn't create any emotional connection to the character or the story.

Given the frequency of that reaction, I decided I needed to look at it more closely and consider both why that would be the case, and why it didn't bother me. That question led me to a  point of wondering if this brief memoir (I notice the publisher's blurb doesn't indicate it is anything but a story, but the author's own forward makes it clear that this is part of his own story, perhaps as fictionalized as you might expect of memories from age 6) was really a children's book. Not only did people question whether a child reading the book would connect at all with the character, given the distancing narrative style, in some ways the subject matter seemed beyond children.

[Digression: a child can live through things that are, apparently, inappropriate for a child to read about. On reflection, this makes sense, in a saddening way.]

While others saw the story as drained of emotion and more (in the words of one member of the group) "like reading a pamphlet or a behavioral analysis," I had a very different reaction. I was fascinated by everything that wasn't said, and found myself reading it almost like poetry. That feel was broken in places, though, by intrusions that were harder to view from that distance. In other words, my problems came more from the points where the distance was broken, than from the sense of distancing itself.

Whether or not the book is right for kids, or even a good book, I thought it did one thing: it offered some insight into where the characters Paulsen likes to write spring from. This is the story of a little boy whose emotional support is distant, not unloving but undemonstrative. I can see his childhood shaping a strong, independent young man who has some trouble relating to people and has a strong preference for the outdoors.

Kind of like the author's most famous character, now that I think about it.

My Recommendation:
Given the reaction the book created, I'm not actually sure what to recommend. It's a very quick read, and the writing level is fairly low, for a book that in some ways could be read by fairly young children. The subject matter is not for small kids, though, and now I don't know how older ones might relate to the main character or the style.

Maybe I'll just recommend that if you loved Hatchet  and the other Brian books, or The Voyage of the Frog or other Paulsen books, you (at any age over maybe 11) might be interested in this glimpse of what goes into creating characters like that.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Quilt 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."