Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Flash Fiction: The Horror of Spam

Yeah, I know. "Flash Fiction Thursday" doesn't alliterate like it does on Friday. But I  do like to post to Chuck Wendig's challenges on Thursday, before everyone has lost interest.

This week's challenge was to write a bit of horror framed as a spam email. I didn't go very horrific, of course. In fact, at first I thought I couldn't do this at all. But while I was out biking on Sunday it occurred to me that one kind of scam/spam was perfectly suited to a Halloween theme, if not real horror: the grandchild in need.  Chuck suggested limiting this one to under 500 words; mine is only 367 including the title. I regret that I cannot reproduce the machine-translated English of most spam (well, no, I don't regret it at all. But you know. I had to say it).


The Horror of Spam, the Spam of Horror

To: Grandma
Subject: Need help!

Dear Grandma,
I am in such trouble and I need your help. I was on our school trip to Romania and we were staying in this really cool castle in Transylvania. So I totally fell in love with our host, this guy Vladimir who lives in the castle. He is sooooo cute! And he says he loves me too, but he’s pretty desperate so I don’t know.

See, now he’s saying that he wants to keep me forever, and that I need to give him money. I mean, I know that castles like his cost a lot to run, and that’s why he rents it out to tourists and sleeps in the basement. Well, in the crypt, really, but it’s totally nice and dry and all, and he says he doesn’t mind a few dead ancestors. Real aristocrats are so much more matter-of-fact about that stuff, aren’t they?

But if I don’t come up with the money, he says—well, I never noticed his teeth, because you know, guys with those smoky sultry good looks don't grin or anything. He’s making me kind of nervous, I mean this is Transylvania after all. And I don’t think I want to be his bride, even if he is a Count, and for sure I don’t want to let him bite me on the neck. But that’s the thing: he says if you don’t send money, I can either join him in his crypt or he’ll give me to his friend Wolfgang. The one Vlad calls “Vulfie” with a raised eyebrow, just to make sure I know what sort he is.

I’m afraid I kind of boasted about how rich we are, when I was first getting to know Vlad. I mean, he’s a Count, you know? I didn’t want him to think I’m from some ordinary family. So he wants like, a million dollars? Please, scrape up whatever you can and wire it to me at 1600 Transylvania Avenue, Transylvania, Romania, unless you want your favorite granddaughter turned into a vampire. Or eaten by a werewolf.

Your loving Granddaughter,
Elvira

P.S. Hope your arthritis is better!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middle Grade Classics: A Little Princess

This is the cover from the first edition in 1905


Title: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: Warne Published in 1905, expanded from the serialized novel, Sarah Crewe, published in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1888.
I read the

Summary:
When the wealthy Captain Crewe brings his little daughter Sarah back from India to go to school in London, she is the prize boarder at Miss Minchin's boarding school. But when he dies and leaves her penniless, Miss Minchin turns Sarah into an unpaid drudge for the school. Sarah's resolve to always be a "princess" in spirit is sorely tested before everything resolves itself into a happy ending.

Review:
I won't pretend this is the first time I've read this book. For all it's dated and follows a stereotypical pattern (unbelievably good child keeps shining through tribulation and is given a great reward as a result), I  love the story, and I've read it many times. (Oddly, I don't think I ever read it when I was a child). Maybe I want to believe in happy endings. I love that Sarah uses her imagination to escape her intolerable reality, and that she can spin stories well enough to carry others away with her. The descriptions of the child's suffering of mind and body are moving to the point of pathos, but I have always been able to immerse myself in the story and enjoy it on it's own terms. And that is what is needed to enjoy this, as it is for many children's classics.

The lessons about generosity and selflessness ring a little old-fashioned (or at least heavy-handed, since after all, we might hope that generosity isn't an outdated virtue!), but the lesson about the power of imagination is one that every writer has long since learned.

Recommendation:
For fans of orphan stories and hard-luck school stories, as well as those who want to explore the classics of children's literature. The language will feel a bit odd and dated to modern children, but I think that most good readers would have no problem with it. The story will almost certainly appeal primarily to girls, though the lessons aren't bad for boys, either.


Full Disclosure: I long ago purchased A Little Princess, 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." 

 ###
Further musings: 
I have been watching old DVDs of a 2002 PBS show called Manor House, in which ordinary people are recruited to fill an English manor house as it would have been in 1905. They have everybody, from the lord of the Manor to the scullery maid. And therein lies the problem, because for the most part, 21st Century folks have trouble working as servants, especially in that extremely hierarchical society. The butler has to continually remind them that even the servant's hall isn't a democracy, and they have no "right" to time off, or even to complain.

This made me think about two things. One was Sarah Crewe and how she copes with her sudden shift from, effectively, lady of the manor to scullery maid (and those descriptions of her working 14 and 16 hours a day at a very tender age appear to be simply statement of fact as life was lived then). Now, being a child, she may in one sense adapt more easily than an adult (kids do tend to adapt to a new reality pretty quickly), but of course, her gracious acceptance is also exaggerated to show her noble personality.

The other thing I thought about was my own brief excursion into the servant's life. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I spent a winter working as an au paire in Monaco (!). Now, in some families, the au paire is part of the family. I drew a more wealthy family, where I definitely felt that I was seen as a servant. Shall we simply say that the experience suggests that I would have been one of the less successful "servants" in the Manor House? It's no small thing for a person who has grown up with a firm belief in equality to suddenly find themselves decidedly not equal. And that may be a good thing, outside of historical re-enactments.  As we used to say when I was an undergrad, "Question Authority!"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mystery Monday: Murder in Real Time


Title: Murder in Real Time
Author: Julie Anne Lindsey
Publisher: Cariona Press, 2014, 228 pages
Source: Review copy provided for blog tour

Publisher's Synopsis:
With the chaos of summer tourists and fall birders out of town, counselor Patience Price is looking forward to the quiet life she remembers. She longs for some peace. And an apple fritter. But the calm is cut short when a reality show sets up camp to film a special about ghosts on her little island. Now fans, reporters and crew have flocked to sleepy Chincoteague. Who knew ghost hunters had an entourage?

When two cast members are killed in a room at the local B&B—a room usually occupied by Patience’s FBI agent boyfriend, Sebastian—she finds herself on the case. Sebastian doesn’t want Patience ruffling any feathers but, as always, she can’t help herself.
Patience promises to let Sebastian handle the investigation—he is FBI, after all—but after a drive-by shooting, her wicked curiosity gets the best of her. And with the TV show forging ahead with filming, the list of suspects (and the line of food trucks) only grows. But has the shooter already flown the coop? And how do you find a killer when you don’t know who the target is?

Review:
This book started with a little advantage, being set on Chincoteague Island, a place well known to and beloved by all fans of Marguerite Henry and Misty of Chincoteague. All resemblance to that childhood classic ends at the causeway to the mainland, however. Murder, mayhem and a dash of romance kept me fully occupied with never a pony in sight. Because this is Book 3 in the Patience Price series, there were things that confused me, and a lot of references to the chaos that had gripped the Island since Patience's arrival that made me want to go read the other books. I had a little trouble keeping track of all the characters, probably partly because of that history I didn't know.

The mystery is fairly well put together, though I was a bit put off by the ending. I will also say that Ms. Price pushed some buttons with her interference in police business, and still more with her foolhardy behavior on more than one occasion. Those factors did detract from an engaging story that picked up speed as it went along until flying on to the end. Pacing was excellent; behavior of characters was at times inconsistent or unconvincing. Despite that, I found myself rooting for Patience and her friends, and needing to know how the story came out.

Recommendation:
This is a cozy mystery that leans on the romance side, with as much of the story about relationships as about crime. I recommend it for those who like books and series where you get deeply involved in the characters' lives, however disfunctional they may at times be. In any case, Patience and her friends do put the "fun" in disfunction, so they are worth the time for a quick romp.

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of Murder in Real Time in exchange for my honest review, not for a positive 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." 

About the Author
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Julieannelindsey.com

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