Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year, from Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer

In honor of the arrival of 2016, we turn to a guy who has no idea what year it is, not that it matters anyway. In 604 words, I give you:

Xavier Xanthum's New Year

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, gazed morosely at the fuel-level indicator of the starship Wanderlust. A voice interrupted his gloomy musings.

"Captain, we're going to have to put in at Haven for fuel," Larry announced.

"I can see that." Xavier let his irritation show. Larry wouldn't take offense. It was hard to offend even a self-willed AI. "I told you, I hate going there," Xavier continued. "Why didn't you remind me about fuel back in the D-36 System where we had some choices?"

"I did. But then there was that sweet little planet..."

Xavier sighed. It had been a lovely planet, with gleaming seas and perfect land-masses. It would have been worth just about anything to claim that one. Too bad about the Krrg who held it.

He'd been in such a hurry to get away from the Krrg--they didn't take kindly to interlopers--that he'd forgotten all about the fuel. Bad, but understandable. "Hey, wait a minute--yeah, I forgot, but you could have reminded me once we were away from those brutes."

"I forgot."

That silenced Xavier. After a long minute, he carefully pointed out, "You're an AI. You don't forget."

Another silence followed, despite the effectively instantaneous nature of Larry's thought processors.

"That is correct."

The two friends, man and AI, considered this. Larry appeared in his usual guise, as a pair of eyeballs, sans body. On this occasion, the eyes were green. An odd, pea-soup kind of green. "I am dismayed to learn this," Larry said, his computer voice drained of expression by his shock.

After a minute, Xavier decided he'd rather not think about it.

"Larry, set course for Haven. We need to refuel." The subject was closed.
###
Haven was wide open.  Xavier studied his viewer with distaste. Like most free-lance space explorers, Xavier Xanthum was an introvert, quite content with the company of Larry and their cat, Comet. It was a necessary condition of the employment; an extrovert would go mad or die, forced to spend month and even years alone between planets.

For Xavier, an entire planet engaged in a massive drunken party was a blast for about fifteen minutes. By now, he knew better than to even start. But there it was, clear on every channel he could open to Haven. Always a party planet at the best of times (the name referred to the planet being a haven from a repressive regime that didn't approve of festivities), every spaceport dirtside appeared to be enjoying some kind of wild celebration.

"What are they partying about, Larry?" It would be good to know. A party this huge might indicate the overthrow of a regime or survival of a plague.

"It appears to be an annual celebration of the recalibration of their local calendar."

Xavier thought about that. "Translate, please."

"Something they call 'New Year's Eve,'" Larry elucidated.

Xavier groaned. He now had a choice. He could try to get his fuel and leave without other contact, giving him nothing to distract him from Larry's surprising revelation. Or he could join in the party and drown the memory of Larry's forgetting in Carpintinarian rum, in hopes that by the time he sobered up he would have no recollection of Larry's descent into humanity.
###
About to drain his first tankard of rum, Xavier hesitated.

Always before, when he'd chosen to get sloshed dirtside, Larry had kept track--of him, of the ship of their Credits, and anything else that needed remembering.

What if Larry forgot?

Xavier slowly lowered the tankard, and slid off the barstool.

This was one New Year he'd skip celebrating.

###

Copyright Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ready for Release!

 Death By Trombone is ready for release! Enter the Giveaway below!


Official release day is Jan. 8...but if you want to get the early-bird copy, check here. As always, direct orders for signed copies are accepted by email to Rebecca.douglass@ninjalibrarian.com.

Amazon pre-orders for the Kindle!
Smashwords pre-orders for all ebook formats.

And in case you haven't read the first book, get Death By Ice Cream at Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes & Noble.

We are very excited about this release! Huge thanks to everyone who made it possible, and who made the book the best it could be.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Death By Trombone by Rebecca Douglass

Death By Trombone

by Rebecca Douglass

Giveaway ends January 31, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Holidays!

...from all of us here at the Ninja Librarian...

Merry Christmas from Ninja Tom, Big Al, Tess, and the school kids!











Happy Holidays (with or without a seasonal fundraiser) from JJ and the Pismawallops PTA.


And a Joyous Midwinter from Halitor and Melly!

 
And Gorg the Troll wishes you happy holiday meals of all the most delicious rocks.
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winter Wonders

A day past the solstice, and I'll toss out a few winter photos. This is a vacation week for me; limited posting and less work. Three winter close-ups and a scene. These are from various times and places over the years. I don't have a lot of winter photos, as it turns out (at least, not digital ones)!

Okay, Lie #1: this isn't a winter photo at all. It was taken in June. At 11,000' in the Sierra. Close enough.
Frosty Seattle morning--cedar
More frosty Seattle. Not sure what plant is hiding under the frost.
Tahoe, possibly the last time there was a good winter.
And one more picture just to remind you--Death By Trombone is available for preorder!
http://www.amazon.com/Death-Trombone-Pismawallops-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B019HK8VI6/ref=sr_1_2_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450414696&sr=8-2&keywords=douglass%2C+rebecca+m

Monday, December 21, 2015

YA Review: Ink and Bone

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Title: Ink and Bone (The Great Libary #1)
Author: Rachel Caine
Publisher: New American Library
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…

 
My Review: 
I grabbed this book because hey, anytime a library is a main character, I need to take a closer look, right? I found the story well-written, powerful, dystopian, dark, and grim. I couldn't put it down, even while I felt horrified by much of what happened. Maybe I felt with Jess the horror that the Library has become the evil, the enemy!

I did find some of the steampunk/magical elements a little hard to swallow, especially the mystical instant-message tablets everyone carries. The logistics of that as a magical device kind of boggle the mind, though we are of course used to it as a technological one. It felt a bit to me as though the plot needed it, so the author created the magic to do it. Maybe it jars me because the rest of the world isn't magical--there are amazing things, for example automata that are pretty much alive. But those are mechanical, however beyond imagining.

This book has a lot of depth and resonance, and maybe is an answer to those in our society who are anti-science? In any case, I will certainly snag the next volume when it comes out. It's a world that's due for a shaking-up, and Jess is a character with enough depth to be worth following.

Recommended for: 
This is a pretty grim and dark story, so I would not recommend it for anyone younger than probably about 14. There is a great deal of death and destruction, though no sex. It is also very much for those who like dystopian tales, and for those who love books and libraries (but aren't afraid of a story where the library just might be the bad guy).

Full Disclosure: I checked Ink and Bone 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." 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deja Vu Blog Fest

Because sometimes we are busy and the blogs just blow by, DL Hammons invented the Deja Vu Blogfest (please visit other participating bloggers!). The idea is that over the Dec. 18-20 weekend, instead of writing a new post, we re-post our best work from the previous year. That of course is completely up to my judgement...I'm narrowing the field by limiting it to my Flash Fiction. Even so, it probably took as long to pick a story (and clean up my story index, which hadn't been updated in far too long) as it would to write one!

After much debate, I chose Dragon Library.

Dragon Library


The woman paused at the entrance to the library. By her scruffy attire, workmanlike and worn, she was a miner. Key looked her over.

“You have come to use my library?” The dragon’s voice was cultivated, aristocratic, and entirely non-human.

The woman nodded. “I need to do a bit of research.” She didn’t say what sort, and Key didn’t ask. That wasn’t the way the Dragon Library worked.

Instead, Key asked, “You are aware of the terms?”

The visitor nodded again. “I can use the library for as long as I need, for whatever research I wish. In order to leave, I must give you a book or a piece of information you don’t already have. No one seems quite clear, however, on what you will do if a patron cannot pay.”

“It all depends.”

“Depends?”

“On who they are, how interesting, how I feel.”

“And if you are hungry?”

The dragon laughed, carefully controlling the flame this caused. A dragon with a library of antique paper books learned fast to be careful of fire. “Few of my patrons would make for very good eating. You have a name?”

“Etta.” Etta noticed that the dragon hadn’t actually denied eating patrons. Just that they were good eating. She, Etta, had eaten plenty of things that weren’t very good eating. The life of an asteroid miner wasn’t an easy one, and cheap space rations were poor enough to have you eyeing your partner before the end of a trip. She hadn’t ever come to that. But for a dragon, it wouldn’t be cannibalism, would it?

“Well, Etta,” the dragon asked. “Do you wish to enter?” The huge multi-colored eyes were fixed on the visitor.

“I do.”

The dragon let out a happy sigh. “Then do come in. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Etta knew about this part, too. Key was notoriously social. “I would love a cup. Earl Grey, if you have it.” She watched as the dragon heated a pot of water with a few careful puffs of flame, brewed the tea—how did it manage to handle the delicate cups with those claws?—and gestured to a padded armchair.

“Please, sit. Enjoy your tea. The books will wait.”

As will you, Etta thought. “Has business been brisk of late?”

“Oh, you know.” Key had social chit-chat down to an art. “They come. Yes, they do come. And go. Mostly.”

Maybe not such social chit-chat. Etta was still being warned. She wondered if it were too late to change her mind and go. What if this didn’t work? The dragon shifted and chatted on about the weather on Ganymede Seven, and Etta picked up her cup.

Key watched the new visitor drink her tea. The miner had something important on her mind, and Key wondered if she would be able to pay. Key breathed a little faster at the thought. The dragon wanted company, and not so many people were coming by the library these days. It had grown difficult to find new books or even information, and that scared them off. Well, this one would provide entertainment, at least for a while. Key set down the teacup it had been holding.

“So where do you mine, these days? Any good luck?” You could always get a miner talking about their luck, though few would say anything specific about where they met that luck.

“Oh, I’ve been about,” Etta responded with the vagueness Key expected. “But I’ve found a thing or two. Yeah,” she repeated with a significance Key did not miss, “a thing or two of interest.”

Key smiled, though no one but another dragon would have known it. This one, it seemed, would be able to pay. She might not wish to, but in the end, she would. If the information led to wealth, Key could buy more books. If there were any left that were not in the library already.

Key engaged the miner in light chat about the state of the galaxy and the sad difficulty of getting good tea these days, until at last Etta set down her cup.

“I mustn’t keep you any longer. I should get started on my research.”

“May I show you to any section in particular?” Key was fishing now, and the miner knew it.

“No, thank you. I’ll learn so much more by finding my own way.” Etta flashed a meaningless smile at the dragon, and stood.

“Very well, then. There are bells scattered about. Ring if you require food or drink. Both are allowed in the lounge areas, though not in the stacks.”

With a nod, the visitor was gone, down the hall toward the miles of corridors and endless bookrooms.

She could find her own way? What kind of inside knowledge did this woman, this asteroid miner, have? Key shrugged the thought off. Few humans were as smart as they thought they were. Meanwhile, there were books to read, and tea to drink. Key preferred the smoky varieties.

***
Etta ranged down the halls, glancing into the lounges and book-filled rooms. At the moment, it didn’t appear that anyone else was in residence, as it were. Though somewhere there should be at least half a dozen patrons, if her information was correct. At least that many had gone in and not come out over the past year (Standard Measure year; based on the orbit of the Old Earth). At least one of those was her partner.

Etta knew that Eleanor hadn’t become a dragon snack. When they’d flipped a coin and sent Eleanor in first, they’d made sure they could stay in touch. Key could guard the entrance, and no signals could get out from the interior. But nothing could stop Eleanor from sending messages, once she’d found her way to Key’s immense computer database.

The miners’ reunion in the central computer hall was warm, but brief. They got right to business.

“There are eight others, working in the stacks. I never have seen any proof that Key eats people. But some are most ill-suited to work as catalogers, and all wish to return to their own lives. Do you have enough information?”

It wasn’t a query about Etta’s knowledge of the library or the captives.

“Enough for a full dozen. It wasn’t easy, El. Sorry it took so long.”

“Oh, I’ve been happy enough here. I never knew I had a turn for research and cataloging.” She cast a look at her partner. “Key doesn’t pay, but we are fed, and it’s safe here. I’d only wish to be able to leave at times. For vacations, and such.”

Etta grunted. She knew what Eleanor was driving at. It would require thought. Meanwhile, there were the other captives to free.

***
Key wasn’t as startled as one would have thought, when all the captives came to the exit in a line. Each offered a nugget of information, mostly about the asteroids or a newly-discovered planet that hadn’t yet made it into the databases. Key was delighted to gain the information.

Etta and El were last in line. El gave the dragon a book. Key did a quick search, humming a happy tune. New books had become extremely rare, and—yes, this one was new! This time the dragon’s smile was recognizable.

“I thank you. You are free to go.” Key watched as Eleanor stepped through the doorway, and stopped to wait for Etta. “And what do you have to offer?”

The human smiled, in a way Key didn’t much like. “Do you know my name?”

Key huffed, remembering only at the last second not to scorch the visitor. “Of course. You gave it on entrance. You are Etta Sant. That won’t do for your release.” Key moved to block the exit.

“Oh, that was just a test to see what I would need. Now I will lay down some terms.” The human—Key thought she now looked unendurably smug—spoke for several minutes.

“What makes you think I would agree to that?” Key said when the miner had finished.

“My name.”

“Your name?” Key was mystified.

“Georgetta Saint. You’ve heard of Saint George, I believe.”

Key recoiled from the miner. Saint George? The Dragonslayer? What did this woman think she was getting at?

“Oh, don’t worry.” Etta was actually laughing. “I have no desire to slay a dragon these days. Just admit I gave you information you didn’t have. Then you can hire me and El as your assistant librarians, with a regular salary and four weeks vacation a year, to start. We’ll keep the library in order and recruit help when needed. In return, you can open the library for wider use and the Galactic Federation won’t take steps against you. They are thinking about it, you know.”

Key hadn’t known. This annoying human had twice pulled out surprises. There was really only one thing to do.

“You’re hired.”

“On our terms?”

“On your terms,” Key huffed. “Return next week to take up your duties.” The dragon’s natural desires forced it to add, “And can you bring some Laspang Souchong when you come?”
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

If you want to look at some of my other stories, go here.

###
And then there's the other big news: We have a release date for Death By Trombone. It should (knock wood) go live on January 8th. Preorders are available at Amazon and Smashwords.
Special deal: use the "Find My Books" link above and order direct from the author before Jan. 8 and receive a signed copy for only $12.00 US, shipping within US included (international shipping charged at cost).

JJ MacGregor is ready to relax into summer vacation. She just has to get through Senior Prom, graduation, and a divorce hearing without going nuts. Then she trips over a body behind the gym and life gets messy.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff

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Title: Gingersnap
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff; read by Olivia Campbell
Publisher: Listening Library, 2013. Originally by Wendy Lamb Books, 2013, 160 pages
Source: Library (digital download)

Summary: 
In 1944, 10-year-old Jayna is living with her 18-year-old brother at last, after years of the orphans being separated in foster homes. But when Rob is called up for military service, Jayna is left uncomfortably with a landlady who doesn't really want a child. When Rob is reported missing in action, he shows her a book and a picture, and tells her they may have a grandmother in Brooklyn. When things get bad, Jayna sets off with her pet turtle and a mysterious ghostly voice to find that grandmother.

Review:
I'm a big fan of children's historical fiction, and Patricia Reilly Giff does a good job with the genre. The story is moving, and doesn't drag. I could do without the ghost (which might be dismissed as a psychological aberration, but it's not easy); mystical stuff doesn't do much for me. But aside from that, the book is a quickly-moving, sweet story, with an ending probably too good to be true, but presented well enough to satisfy.

The reader does a very good job, and there are no technical issues to get between the listener and the story.

Recommendation:
This one might be better for the kids than the adults. There is plenty of suspense, but nothing very terrible happens in the book, and it can introduce the time and place to younger readers. I'd recommend from age 8 up.
 
Full Disclosure: I checked Gingersnap 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."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nonfiction Audio Review: Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age

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Title:  Lusitania: Triumph Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age
Author: Greg King and Penny Wilson. Read by Johnny Heller
Publisher: Tantor Audio, 2015. Original hardcover by St. Martins, 2015, 400 pages.
Source: Library digital collection

Publisher's Summary: 
On the 100th Anniversary of its sinking, King and Wilson tell the story of the Lusitania's glamorous passengers and the torpedo that ended an era and prompted the US entry into World War I.
Lusitania: She was a ship of dreams, carrying millionaires and aristocrats, actresses and impresarios, writers and suffragettes – a microcosm of the last years of the waning Edwardian Era and the coming influences of the Twentieth Century. When she left New York on her final voyage, she sailed from the New World to the Old; yet an encounter with the machinery of the New World, in the form of a primitive German U-Boat, sent her – and her gilded passengers – to their tragic deaths and opened up a new era of indiscriminate warfare.

A hundred years after her sinking, Lusitania remains an evocative ship of mystery. Was she carrying munitions that exploded? Did Winston Churchill engineer a conspiracy that doomed the liner? Lost amid these tangled skeins is the romantic, vibrant, and finally heartrending tale of the passengers who sailed aboard her. Lives, relationships, and marriages ended in the icy waters off the Irish Sea; those who survived were left haunted and plagued with guilt. Now, authors Greg King and Penny Wilson resurrect this lost, glittering world to show the golden age of travel and illuminate the most prominent of Lusitania's passengers. Rarely was an era so glamorous; rarely was a ship so magnificent; and rarely was the human element of tragedy so quickly lost to diplomatic maneuvers and militaristic threats.
 

My Review:
I used the publisher's summary above to illustrate a point. Despite the blurb's opening lines (italicized by me), King and Wilson make a point in the opening chapter of the book of debunking the idea that the sinking of the Lusitania brought the US into the war. A quick look at the timeline (sunk in 1915; US entered the war in 1917) should make that point, and that's about all they gave it.

In any case:  this book isn't as much concerned with the war and the political significance of things as it is with the culture and society. It's not what the sinking started that concerns King and Wilson, but what it ended: the Edwardian Age. Of course, that era of mannered society, strict class lines, and opulent elegance (for the rich) wasn't just ended by the sinking of one ship. It was ended by the war, but the ship makes a lovely metaphor.

It isn't a metaphor that King and Wilson explore very deeply, in my opinion. To me, this book was largely a joyous dive into the elegance of the ship and the era, and an exploration into a selection of lives (largely of survivors, no doubt in part because of a greater access to information). That the authors chose to focus on first class passengers, and a few from second class whom they found interesting, sent me a clear message. The book is not a very deep look at the age or the event, but it *is* a fascinating look at a number of lives and a nice illustration of the times (including, perhaps, the way in which the war was not taken quite seriously by the US at that point). That said, the look is never deep enough and the switches from one to another were far too rapid for my taste.

The audiobook: 
My last comment above brings me to the main problem of the audio book, which is not entirely the fault of the narrator. With the story switching rapidly from one story-line to another, the listener (this listener, anyway) is always a step behind, without any of the visual cues a printed book gives for such changes of direction. The narrator might have done more to create hesitations, but the book switches so often and so rapidly that I think that would have created its own listening problems. In general, the narrator did a good job, but it was still sometimes hard to follow.

Summary:
This book was interesting to listen to, and I learned a fair amount about the event and the era, but I found it in many ways shallow and, as mentioned, very hard to follow as an audio book. I think there may be better books out there about the sinking of the Lusitania, and I may well hunt them down.

Full Disclosure: I checked  Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age 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."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: The Missing Snow

First, yes, I noticed I missed my Wednesday post. It happens. Moving right along...

I turned this week to an internet random title generator, and when I saw this one, I knew I had to write it, with one eye on the Paris talks. My first shot was looking far too grim, when I thought of the person who might most be in trouble if the snow all goes away. In 995 words, with tongue firmly in cheek, I present:

The Missing Snow

The workshop seethed with controlled chaos as the deadline loomed. No one had so much as stuck a nose out the door for days, with elves running in every direction at once. (Some elves possessed this ability to a greater extent than others. Hark could run in four directions at once, and rumor had it that the Big Boss could manage hundreds.) Elfira wasn’t very good at multi-dimensional haste, but she was very good at bows. She had been tying 2.7 bows per minute for the last five days, each one as perfect as the one before.

“Blast!” A cramp in her hand had caused her 19,441st bow to droop to the left.

“Take a break,” Jingle advised.

“I’ve only been working five days,” Elfira demurred. “Look at Hark. He’s still going strong, and he’s been working in four places at once for a week.”

“If he tried to tie a bow, it would be a square knot,” Jingle said. “Bows are tiring. Go outside and throw a snowball at Rudolf.”

“Jingle! That would be so wicked!” Elfira was horrified, but Jingle laughed.

“So throw a snowball at a snowbank. Snowballs are good for bow-tying cramps.” Jingle shook his bells at her and laughed some more.

Maybe a quick romp in the snow would be good for her, Elfira thought. She put down her bow-tying materials and stood up. “I’ll be back in 13.5 bows.”

It wasn’t easy to get to the door. With so many elves, many of them in several places at once, it took a lot of dodging and diving and then some hunting about to find the door behind a ten-foot-tall pile of packages. When she finally got there, Elfira heaved a sigh of relief, flung open the portal—and halted, appalled.

“The snow! The snow is gone!”

“Impossible,” said the Big Boss, striding across the room. “There is always snow at the North Pole. Especially at my North Pole,” he added in a voice only Elfira heard, as the well-padded belly and white beard came to an abrupt halt next to her, looking out at bare rock and mud.* “Well I’ll be a reindeer’s hind end,” Nick muttered. “The snow’s gone missing.”

“That’s what I said,” Elfira told him, then clapped her hand over her mouth. She oughtn’t talk like that to the Big Boss! Nick didn’t seem to care, or maybe to notice.

“This is serious, very serious.” He tugged at his waist-length white beard. “No snow, no sleigh.”

“But your sleigh flies, doesn’t it, Boss?”

Nick looked at her as though seeing the elf for the first time. “Yes, it does. But the reindeer can’t get airborne without a good run-up to launching. That’s why we always stop on the rooftops.”

“Oh, dear.” Elfira didn’t think that was a very helpful response, but she couldn’t find a better.

“Deer, reindeer. It’s all the same, missy. That sleigh isn’t the most aerodynamic thing on earth, you know.” By now half the elves were crowded around, craning their necks to get a look at the muddy dooryard.

Jingle pushed his way through to stand next to Elfira. “Who could have taken the snow, Boss? Who would want to keep you from flying?”

Nick’s laugh lacked any merry ring. “No one stole the snow, Jingle.”

“Then where’d it go?”

“It melted.” A gasp propagated through the crowd.

“But what will we do, Boss?” Hark called from four sides. “Can you make the snow come back?”

“No one can do that.”

“Then,” Elfira said, “we have to find a way to get the sleigh in the air without snow.”

“And when we do we’ll need all those presents ready to go,” Nick boomed. “Don’t any of you worry!”

Reluctantly, the elves went back to their gift making, gift wrapping, sorting, stacking, and piling. Nick touched Elfira’s shoulder as she went to resume her place at the bow-tying station. “Think hard, missy. Think hard.”

Elfira thought hard. She thought while she formed big loops on the left. She thought while she wrapped the ribbon around itself. She thought while she pushed it through and made a big loop on the right.

And after another 38.9 bows, she finally thought of the answer. “Oh!” She said aloud, but not very loud.

“Oh, what?” Jingle asked.

“I know how to get the sleigh in the air.” She finished the bow, put down her materials once again, and went to find Nick.
***
It was nearly midnight on the 24th, and Elfira watched as the last packages where loaded into the sleigh. The reindeer were comfortable now that they wore their familiar harness, but they hadn’t liked getting there at all. Elfira and Jingle had needed to offer Rudolf some serious bribes before he led the way from the stables to where the elves had parked the sleigh. Now Nick climbed the ladder, picked his way across to the sleigh, and sat down with a sigh of relief.

“I knew I should have put a chimney on this place,” he said. When the elves looked confused, he laughed. “That’s how I get in and out of houses, you know. Up and down chimneys. Easy as pie, and no falling off ladders into the mud.” He brushed at a smear on his lovely white fur trim.  “Good enough.”

Nick took up the reins and called out a perfunctory “On Dasher, on Dancer, and all the rest of you hoofers!” The reindeer began to run, and the sleigh to slide down the roof. Just as it tipped off the edge, the reindeer caught the wind properly, and they were off, soaring into the night sky.

###

*Fortunately for the entire operation, the Big Boss long ago set up his own version of the North Pole, which, unlike the actual Terran North Pole, is not floating on sea ice. Had he not done so, the entire holiday enterprise would have been at the bottom of the Arctic Sea.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Middle Grade Monday! The Headmaster's Cave

23554998 





Title: The Headmaster's Cave
Author: D. S. Allen
Published: 2014; 170 pages
Source:  I am participating in a book-review blast and was given a free review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher's Summary: 
No one goes into The Headmaster’s Cave.
The 120th anniversary of the disappearance of seven children and their Headmaster in a local cave known as The Headmaster’s Cave is approaching. When George and Dougie receive an unexpected email stating that the mystery has finally been solved, not even Dougie and Katie can persuade George to journey with them to the dangerous and ‘haunted’ cave. Only when Dougie goes missing, will George and Katie, accompanied with his dog, Flanagan, journey to rescue their friend. On their way, they must not only battle their fears, but must also overcome nature’s obstacles, Old Maggie and her dog pack, and the local bullies. But that’s nothing compared to the terror that awaits them in The Headmaster’s Cave, when the mystery is finally revealed.


My Review:

This is a fast-paced adventure for middle-grade readers, with enough peril and tension to keep the kids on the older end of that age range engrossed. It is also a mystery, of a sort, and though I could see through the wild and mystical ideas that the children have about the titular cave, most children will probably go along with the characters' ideas.

I do have a few quibbles with this book. I was bothered by some editing issues--in particular, a number of misplaced apostrophes (a particular pet peeve). But more to the point I found myself having trouble being fully engaged with the main character. He's a bit of a sad-sack, and while the effects of the bullying he endures are probably realistic, they made me not like him all that much. That bullying brings me to another issue: the 120-year-old mystery of the cave and the 7 children who disappeared seems to have too much importance in the village for me to believe it. Really? Other kids bully Dougie and George because they have ancestors who were part of that group? (there may be some more reason for George to be a victim, though he doesn't know it--which to me argues that no one else does, either because those bullies would never keep quiet about it).

So I did have some problems with the story and the way it was developed, though as it went on, I think it got stronger. Once the "quest" is set in motion, the motivations no longer really matter. The kids will go one because they are going on. And the adventure they have is  definitely exciting.

Recommendation:
For kids maybe 10-13 (because there are some kind of grim bits) who like adventure, mystery, and don't mind a bit of maybe mystical stuff too. Oh, and the story is written in British English, just enough to be noticeable, eg. they use a torch, and for that matter have a headmaster, not a principal.

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic copy of The Headmaster's Cave by the publisher in exchange for my honest review and received nothing further from the writer or publisher.  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."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Flash: The Unwilling Words

This week's Wendig Challenge was a Twitter challenge--#talesfromblackfriday. That is totally cool--check out some of the little 140-character stories. But it's not a blog post, so I went to my collection of random titles, and chose one. It didn't go at all where I thought it would. That's how my writing is right now.

This one's a little shorter than usual, at just over 730 words. I guess the words were a bit unwilling.

The Unwilling Words

Alfiero fa Selennara sat at a desk surrounded by stacks of books. Histories, books of mathematical reasoning, compilations of the tales that people in different lands told around the campfires. And of course books of magic. The library at Carbunquia was famous for having the largest collection of magic books anywhere. Not everyone who came, however, realized that there was a different between books of magic and magic books. Alfie was one of those who didn’t understand. He had pulled them all out, in search of answers.

Alfie loved words, and words, though he didn’t realize it, loved Alfie. His magic never worked in the way others expected, and so was usually considered not to be magic, but something else: good luck, bad luck, or odd chances. But it was indeed magic, and had everything to do with the way words stuck to him. Alfie never ran short of words, but he seldom managed to put them together into the spell he needed, unless he could read it right out of the book. Thus his quest for the elusive spell on that winter afternoon. Alfie had come all the way from his home by the sea to the great library of Carbunquia in search of a spell that would straighten out his magic. He also had a commission from his mother, to find recipes for cooking eggplants, as the crop had been excessive that summer.

Alfie was certain that the spell he needed was somewhere in the piles of books. He had found quite a number of recipes already, and dutifully copied them out, but he couldn’t find the magic spell that would solve his larger problem.

It was the magic books that were causing the trouble. He needed just one particular spell in one particular book, but magic books and books of magic alike have a dreadful tendency to keep their secrets. They moved the stacks about, despite Alfie’s best efforts to be organized. He was certain, for example, that he’d looked at the book of spells for the perfecting of apple pies three times already, and it was making him hungry. It also made him wonder if his mother could use magic to improve her cooking. Something needed to, especially if she was to try each of the 37 recipes he had copied for the cooking of eggplant.

All the books talking of food had their effect. Alfie looked about and wondered if he could go get something to eat. Pie of course was the first thing he thought of, but on the whole, after looking at so many pie spells, he thought it might be better not to. Some of those spells were a bit queasy-making. He wasn’t really sure cooking should be mixed with magic. Perhaps it was better just to put up with his mother’s efforts.

A thick slice of bread and butter wouldn’t go amiss, though, if he could find a way out. Jam on top would be even better. He looked around. The books barricaded him completely. He was no longer sure just where the door was, nor which side was the desk he’d been using and which stacks were books to the floor.

Alfie began trying to move the piles of books, but it seemed that every time he moved one, three more filled its place. The piles, in fact, grew higher about him. Frantic now for his dinner, Alfie began tossing the books aside, muttering under his breath, looking for the right words to convince them to let him go. But the magical spell-words would not come to him, even while all the other words came to him, in ever-higher stacks, unwilling to leave his side.

The librarian heard him scream, and saw the pile of books moving closer and tighter about something. She gave a sharp command, and a few of the books moved aside. It took many more, and stronger commands, to move the unwilling words away. At last, the piles were in order, revealing the whimpering young man, wide-eyed and terrified. When the librarian helped him out of the circle of adoring (or devouring?) books, he could only repeat, “I just wanted a slice of bread and butter.”

If ever Alfiero fa Selennara had wished for more than a snack, the wish had gone. The words, obedient at last to the Librarian, had left him. He enjoyed his bread and butter very much.
###
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Photo courtesy of Griffen Dempsey

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Insecure Writers' Support Group

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Purpose of the IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
 
The Insecure Writer's Support Group posts the first Wednesday of each month to talk about whatever is making us insecure. Or writers. Or whatever requires support.

When Planning Fails

So I did my first IWSG post as we were swinging into NaNoWriMo, and I was worried about pulling it off. Now, 60,000 words later, I have a new worry. Obviously, I can spew an adequate supply of words. And I'm not even too worried by the fact that they are, many of them, superfluous or merely badly chosen, since that can and will be fixed. No, what worries me is that I need about 20,000 more words to finish up, and my rather hastily-constructed and unfinished outline has gone the way of the scythe and the plowhorse--left behind by progress. As a result, I am left, watching each person through the door hoping they'll drop some clue to tell me who the heck committed the murder (the novel's a mystery, the 3rd in my Pismwallops PTA series).

In other words...my efforts at outlining failed. Two years ago, I put together a great plan for Death By Trombone, and sailed through to the end with some surprises but nothing too disruptive. This time, I started with only about 2/3 of an outline (more on my outline technique here) and a lot of unanswered questions. Then I killed my prime suspect halfway through. That was a bit disconcerting, and maybe if I were taking my time about things I'd have gone back and changed it, or spent the day or three needed to re-work the outline (and finish it). Instead, the corpse remained a corpse, and on I went. Now that NaNo is over and no one is looking to see if I've written 1667 words each day, I may want to take a day or two and go back to working out some of the questions.

Meanwhile, I'm facing a few other writerly challenges. As I was sending the final draft of Death By Trombone to the proof-reader, I got some comments from a rather intelligent reader of Death By Ice Cream that led me to re-write the ending (thanks, Rodney!), so I added that to my burden of tasks during NaNo. The result is, I believe, a decided improvement and awareness of a mistake I won't make a third time. The publication date has been pushed back to January 8 (okay, I never dared set a date until now. That should keep me in a panic).

Then there is the really big writer's challenge: the annual family Xmas letter. This one really is tough this year, because, well, this author who publishes at least one book a year...hasn't managed to finish a holiday letter in 4 years. Distilling those 4 years into a modest bit of readable text and a bunch of photos is a daunting task by any standard! On the other hand: if I master that one, move over Hemingway!
****

Coming January 8!
If you haven't already, grab your copy of Death By Ice Cream today--because it's only 99 cents until I log in and change the price back up!
http://www.amazon.com/Death-Ice-Cream-Pismwallops-Pismawalllops-ebook/dp/B00J4W055A/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1396584626

Monday, November 30, 2015

Middle Grade Monday: Treasure, by S. Smith

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Title: Treasure (Seed Savers #1)
Author: S. Smith
Published: 2012, 221 pages
Source: I either purchase the 3-volume Seed Savers set or picked it up on a free day. Naturally, I can't recall because it sat on my Kindle for months before I read it. It is only right to disclose that the author and I are both members of the "BookElves" group, but my review is in any case my honest opinion.

Publisher's Summary:
It’s 2077. There’s no apocalypse, but some things are different. Things like the weather, the internet, and food. In twelve-year-old Clare’s world, blueberry is just a flavor and apples are found only in fairy tales.

Then one day Clare meets an old woman who teaches her about seeds and real food. The woman (Ana) tempts Clare with the notion that food exists other than the square, processed, packaged food she has always known. Under Ana’s tutelage, Clare and her friends learn about seeds and gardening despite suspicions that such actions are illegal.

When the authorities discover the children’s forbidden tomato plant and arrest their mother, Clare and her brother flee. Clare has heard of a place called "The Garden State," and with their bikes, a little money, and backpacks, the children begin a lonely cross-country journey that tests them both physically and spiritually. Will they succeed in their quest to find a place of food freedom?  And can they, only children, help change the world?

Treasure is a gentle dystopian, frightening only in the possibility that we may not be far from the future it paints.
 
 

My Review:
The entire concept of the Seed Savers series is a bit chilling, primarily because, as the publisher's blurb states, it paints a future we can easily see coming our way. But the story itself is not edge-of-the-seat frightening, and would be suitable for most children of 9-12. Clare is a likable heroine, and if she and her little brother get along a bit unbelievably well, they have good reason to stick together, especially once they are on the run. 

I found the beginning of the story a little slow. It takes time for Clare, Dante and their friend Lily to learn about the whole idea of seeds and growing plants, which is understandable, but the story might do better to move more quickly through this. For me, the story takes hold when the food police (as it were) arrest Clare & Dante's mother and the kids flee. Their view of the world has been pretty circumscribed, not just with regard to food, and we see them growing and expanding as their world does. I can't help liking that they make their escape to Canada by bicycle, nor do I miss that the heavy guard the border carries is to keep people IN the US, not out.

One thing which made me a little uncomfortable was the use of religion in the story. I kind of get it, but it doesn't seem necessary to have them be religious, nor does it seem necessary to the story to focus so on prayer and scripture (well, maybe the latter makes some sense, because it is partly the Bible's agrarian roots that sabotage the efforts to make everyone forget where food comes from; this works because while the government controls science education, they have apparently chosen to leave religion alone, a plausible development in today's world). I might like to see a more overt consideration of the implications of religion, not as a means for the children to pray and make things okay, but as something which seems to be simultaneously a controlling tool of the government--and the source of the rebellion. That might be asking a bit much of a children's book, though!

Recommendation:
This book and its premise are (pardon me) food for thought that everyone should consider. Those whose children are not Christian may need to talk about the religious aspects, but that doesn't seem so bad either (everyone should be willing to read about people of other religions). And everyone, of whatever age, would do well to ask themselves where their food comes from--and in the case of the vast bulk of processed foods in our stores, what it might be made of.  
Full Disclosure: I purchased the Seed Saver boxed set on a sale or free day, of my own will and desire, 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."  


****&&&&****

Last day to get Death By Ice Cream for only 99 cents!
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1495986861

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Flash: Dahlia's Doorstep

A month or so ago, the Wendig Challenge presented us with a whole lot of titles dreamed up by his followers. I wrote down a half a dozen I liked, just for times like this when I need a prompt. So, courtesy of s.c.kross (if I've read my own notes correctly), I present, in 792 words, my Thanksgiving tale, "Dahlia's Doorstep." Since I've used that name before, I tied this back to another story, from September of 2014, simply titled "Dahlia"

Dahlia’s Doorstep

The cat known to some as Dahlia sat on the doorstep and surveyed his world. Colorful leaves blew by, and a chill touched the air. It was fall. A general feeling of change ruffled his fur, as the scent of roasting fowls disturbed his magnificent complacency.

He did not, in fact, mind if the turkey was roasted or raw, nor did his friends.  But if The Woman wanted it roasted, that was fine with him. Even a cat known to his friends as James Dean could compromise for the sake of a big hunk of turkey.

Killer Instinct arrived first. The dog was looking a bit thin and seedy, and slunk out of the bushes with a wary look about him.

“Hey, Fluffy!” Dahlia/James Dean liked to tease his friend about the name his people had given him.

“Not flippin’ Fluffy any more, Dahlia,” KI growled. The cat ignored the jab at his own name, surveying his friend with a superior air.

“No, you aren’t looking so fluffy these days. What’s happened to you? Aren’t your people feeding you right?”

“They left.”

“Left? And what, you wouldn’t go? Had enough of being Fluffy?”

“They didn’t give me the chance to go, did they? Up and left me sitting on the doorstep watching. Didn’t even wave goodbye.”

James Dean’s world reeled. The way he saw it, an animal could leave his people any time. He’d done it, for a while, when he’d tired of being called by that silly flower name. He’d come back, and The Woman even tried to remember not to call him that. She didn’t call him James Dean, because she didn’t know. She called him John Travolta because he liked to hang out at a dance club downtown. Anyway, he’d come back, and she fed him, because people didn’t leave their animals. People were there to serve the  animals, right?

“Need a meal, then?” he asked, when he recovered from the shock.

“Yup. It’s killing me, JD. Everyone’s cooking meat today for some reason, and I got nothin’ but half a burger from the bin behind the Dairy Prince.”

“Stick around. It’s Turkey Day, you know. Some human ceremony that requires they roast a turkey. Burnt offering to the gods or some such.” JD spoke indifferently. He didn’t care what the offerings were for as long as he got his cut. The Woman was good that way.

The little dog, white fur matted instead of fluffed, flopped down on the doorstep next to the big marmalade cat. “I kind of liked being fluffy,” he admitted. “Not the name, but the rest. Warm, fed, and clean. I mean, it’s great being Killer Instinct all the time,” he hastened to add. “A dog should be fierce and all that. But really, you know, I’m kind of small for it.”

JD nodded. He massed more than the little dog. They sat together on the porch and watched the leaves blow by.

A scrawny black cat slunk out of the shrubbery and eased himself onto the porch.

“Heya Tom,” JD greeted him.

“Hey yerself,” growled the feral cat. “What’s with the good smells?”

“Turkey Day. Stick around; I’ll share.”

Tom settled himself with the skill of long practice, nabbing the sunniest spot on the doorstep. They all settled down to nap while the scents grew more alluring. Over the course of the afternoon the group on the doorstep grew. Two neighborhood dogs—Snuffy, who preferred to be called Growler, and Wobbles, who couldn’t shake the name his people gave him because it fit him to perfection, stretched out next to KI. Another feral cat introduced herself as Cat and settled in next to Tom.

The afternoon was growing old when the door opened.

“Dahlia, here’s your—oh!” The Woman stopped abruptly, looking from the small dish of sliced meat in her hand to the crowd on the doorstep. “Just a moment, John Travolta,” she said, correcting herself. She sighed and went back into the house.

James Dean followed, and supervised while she cut a few more slices from the large roasted fowl on the counter, laying them on a plate with vegetables. Then she took up the rest of the bird, set it on a tray, and carried it out to the front stoop, JD following her every move.

“Here you are. Happy Thanksgiving, all of you,” said the Woman, laying the turkey down on the doorstep.

Dahlia’s doorstep, Dahlia’s feast…The Woman watched the animals gather around and begin eating, then went back into the empty house, to emerge a moment later, plate in hand. Stepping carefully over the feasting dogs and cats, The Woman seated herself on the steps.

“No one should eat Thanksgiving dinner alone,” she said, and smiled.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Here in the US, it's Thanksgiving. So instead of a book review today, I'm posting a few things I'm thankful for.

My family. A great bunch of guys (well, mostly guys. We women are in a woeful minority), from my husband and sons to my brothers and brothers-in-law and nephews and a few parents and sisters-in-law. I'm particularly grateful for a pair of boys who have never gotten into trouble, consistently get top grades, and are actually kind of sweet.

My husband, who is part of the family mentioned above, but gets a special listing for making my writing habit a possibility, among other things ;)

The personal computer. I am old enough to remember writing before the word processor. Believe me, it's much better now. I still carry a notebook everywhere, but I love my computer.

Good food, and the ability to eat it. There are too many people with too many allergies, for whatever reasons. I am grateful that I can eat anything (except parsnips. They aren't as awful as they were when I was a kid, but I still don't like them).

A bicycle and a beautiful place to ride it. As long as I'm not too scared of traffic. So I'm also grateful for a couple of lean years in Seattle when I worked as a messenger. After that, it's hard to get too scared of normal traffic.

Friends and fellow writers (like the BookElves!). What a joy to be able to do what I love, and share that with others who love it too!  The same goes for all my backpacking friends, whom I got to know through something else I'm grateful for:

The Internet. Yes, that thing we all bemoan for the way it shortens our attention spans and distracts us from our real work. It's also given me some friends, and I don't mean "friends." I mean people who would cross the country to help me out, and vice-versa. Not everything on the Internet is bad.

Okay, and pumpkin pie. I really really like pumpkin pie. And turkey. And my mother-in-law's stuffing. I really really like that, too. Bathroom scales, not so much.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: Come Rain or Come Shine

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Title: Come Rain or Come Shine (A Mitford Novel)
Author: Jan Karon
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Son, 2015. 287 pages.
Source: Library

Summary:
This is the 11th of Jan Karon's Mitford books, 13th if you count the two she wrote as books strictly about Father Tim Kavanagh. In this book, which I'm guessing may be the last, we jump ahead a few years and enjoy the wedding of Dooley Kavanagh and Lace Harper, foreshadowed through the entire series. That's really the whole story, told in Ms. Karon's usual Mitford style of wandering in and out of the heads of different characters.

Review:
No pussy-footing around here. I loved this, and read straight through. But it's a sentimental treat, and not a great deal more. Of course, you could probably argue that about the entire series, so I won't quibble. It's still an engaging story, with a few mild twists and surprises. And Karon resists the urge to make everything right and tie up all the loose ends with a bow, so there is a sense of reality retained.

Recommendation:
This is no place to start the series. If you've never been to Mitford, go back and start at the beginning, or you'll be lost in all the characters (I was a bit lost at times anyway, since it's been a while). If you know and love the series, this will be a treat. If you are put off by religion you may want to give the series a pass, but I find that most atheists are able to let that just be part of the story and enjoy the people. Jan Karon's books are all about the characters.

Full Disclosure: I checked Come Rain or Come Shine 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."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday Flash: Helplessly Hoping

This week's challenge from Chuck Wendig was the Random Song Title Palooza. I took a few tries because I wanted a title for a song I didn't know. That's not a requirement, but I didn't want to be thinking about the lyrics, just using the title. I eventually got "Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Not sure why I don't know the song, but I don't. It took me to outer space, where things got very bad very fast, but no one is doing any helpless hoping. I used most of the 1000-word allotment.

Helplessly Hoping

When everything has already gone wrong and there’s nothing more to do, they say that all you have left is hope. At that point, “hope” is a four-letter word.

I had always thought hope meant you had guts. You didn’t give up, even though things looked bad. Turns out there’s a world of difference between looking bad and being hopeless. I knew that now. When you are helpless and there is no one to come save your ass, hope is for cowards.

I wasn’t going to die helplessly hoping. I’d die with my eyes wide open, grinning right back at Death.

***

Today started as a good day. “Day” is an artificial term in space, but our bodies create days wherever we are. My space days are 26.3 Earth hours. I work alone, so that’s how I set up everything in the ship. The computer tracks UT—Universal Time, the arbitrary clock that allows ships to communicate and coordinate. Since I avoid other ships, the only time I have to change my inner clock is when I go dirtside.

I hadn’t been dirtside for a long time when I reached the Shortcut. The Shortcut is the asteroid field surrounding Settlement Two on three sides. Settlement Two sounds like a frontier outpost, and it was, back when it got the name. It’s been the hub of galactic parties for a long time now.

I wasn't going there to party. I think I’ve made it clear I’m a loner. I did want to refuel and restock some crucial supplies. I was nearly out of Scotch, and completely out of what they still call “feminine hygiene products.” Most spacer women take the Pill and skip that whole mess if they aren’t trying to reproduce. I’m allergic, worse luck, so I needed those supplies.

I read history. I know that when we first went into space, some argued that women shouldn’t go because of our monthly cycles. Too hard to manage. I laughed when I read that, but I had no idea then that a an incipient period would kill me.

I needed tampons, so I took the Shortcut, and now I can die alone, helpless, and stubbornly not hoping.

***

I can see the asteroids out the view window of my EVA suit.  Beyond them, I can see the galaxy. I’ve always loved that view. Sometimes I go Outside just to admire it. I'll tether myself to my ship and lie back and enjoy the scenery.

There’s no ship now, and no tether. Just me and space, and no one to rescue me. I have 726 minutes of air left. One thing about this death: I don’t have to worry about dying of hunger or thirst. Though now that I can't have it, I’d like a good meal before I go.

***
The trip around the Shortcut would have taken two extra days. You can’t do it as a hyperspace jump; it’s too close to the planet, and too close to the asteroid field. Two days was too long. Even going through the Shortcut dead slow—and no one did it any other way unless they were committing suicide—it would be faster than that. I put the shields on maximum and drew a straight line for Settlement Two. Eight hours of hypervigilance would see me through, and then I could sleep.

The whole thing should have worked fine. Lots of ships did it. I’d done it myself, when I was younger and took risks for their own sake. One hour into the traverse, everything went to hell. It started with a glitch in my nav computer. That didn’t worry me too much; I pretty much had to drive this stretch myself anyway, and they could fix the problem when I landed.

Then I drove right into the tail of the comet that laid down the mess. I knew when it was where. But my internal clock killed me: I failed to translate to UT, and with the computer down there was no check on me. I missed my route by hours, because my ship wasn’t doing the thinking for me. The third substantial chunk of debris took out my shields. By that time I was already dressed for an emergency EVA, which is why I am not dead yet. Rather, I'm dead, but I'm still breathing.

I’d been thinking in terms of going EVA to do repairs, once I was clear of the worst of the debris. I couldn’t turn back—there was more behind me than ahead, by my calculations.

I was still working on those calculations when the big one hit. After that, it was too late to activate an SOS, and I was already EVA. By which I mean I had no ship. Gone. Pretty much vaporized; I think maybe there are some bits floating nearby, but nothing bigger than my head.

Curse the effectiveness of these suits! By all rights, I should have been pulverized along with my ship. Then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of dying by inches, without hope or help. I’m using my suit jets to start me in the direction of Settlement Two, if I have the direction right. But even if I could live long enough to drift that far, if my guess is wrong by even a hair, this far out, I’ll drift right past the planet. If I get close enough and I'm still alive, I could activate my suit beacon and there would be a one in 2.37 million chance that someone would pick it up and sort it out from all the noise that surrounds a planet like that.

Hitting those jets and turning on the beacon are the last things I can do for myself. Those done, my state is the definition of helpless.

When I’m ready, I will defy the urge to hope, and remove my helmet. This is one spacer who won’t die helplessly hoping, an inch at a time.
***

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Middle Grade mysteries: 2 New Frankie Dupont Books!

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Participating in a Book Review Blast with Mother-Daughter Book Reviews.

About the Books

Title: Frankie Dupont and The Science Fair Sabotage  
Author: Julie Anne Grasso | Illustrator: Alexander Avellino
Publication Date: May 11, 2015  
Publisher: Independent  
Pages: 134 
Recommended Ages: 8 to 12  
Publisher's Summary: Frankie Dupont is less than impressed when he has to attend the Sustainable Science Fair with Kat and Amy. Upon his arrival, he learns that Amy's brothers have had their robotics chip stolen. Keen to recover the chip, Frankie questions the kids in the competition, but everyone seems to have a motive. When baffling clues start rolling in via ͞ Snap-Goss ͟instant messages, Frankie realizes it will take all of his detective muscles to solve this case. An illustrated mystery for ages 8- 12.

My Review: 
I found the mystery and solution in this story perhaps the most satisfying so far of the Frankie Dupont Mysteries, but admit that as it has been many months since reading the first two, I found that I had lost track of some characters whom I was clearly expected to know. This is frustrating at first, but soon enough the story picks up speed on its own. A quick and easy read, it is nevertheless a good mystery, with a solution that holds up, and it is even plausible that young Frankie can solve it more or less on his own, with some reasoning.



Amazon * Goodreads


Title: Frankie Dupont and High Seas Heist
Author: Julie Anne Grasso | Illustrator: Alexander Avellino
Publication Date: July 6, 2015 
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 148 
Recommended Ages: 8 to 12
Publisher's Summary: Frankie Dupont seems to catch odd-ball cases in the most unlikely places. You would think he would be used to it by now. When his next case lands him on a luxury cruise liner full of devious chocolatiers with ulterior motives, Frankie will be expected to solve the crime, even before it's committed. Although his mind is certainly up for the challenge, Frankie realizes his stomach has yet to find its sea legs. An illustrated mystery for ages 8- 12

My Review:
Frankie's all at sea this time. He has gone on an Antarctic Cruise with his father, his dog, and his two sidekicks Kat & Amy, on a mission to find a thief and stop a theft before it happens. This time Frankie is working alongside both his father and Inspector Cluesome, who up to now has felt more like a nemesis or at least an arch-rival. 

It wasn't until they took off from Tasmania that I remembered that Frankie lives in Australia. That helps make the cruise a little more plausible, but the whole thing still feels maybe a little too far from realism, or maybe Antarctica feels that accessible from Australia (a cruise to Antarctica to reveal a new chocolate does feel a little absurd; maybe it's supposed to). The mystery is still good, though the denouement was visible from fairly far off, and this time Frankie is maybe a bit too dependent on his gadgetry rather than his brains. 

Recommendation:
I enjoy Frankie, and find that in most of his stories he has a nice blend of unusual smarts--and some lovely flaws, including too much belief in his own skills.The books aren't terribly realistic, and aren't trying to be--there's a hint of SF/Fantasy in most of them, from the super-advanced detective gadgets Frankie uses to the mysterious behavior of Enderby Manor (Book 1). That means that I have to change my mind-set a bit to read them, but most children will have no trouble with it. 

I can recommend the Frankie Dupont books to any child who likes mystery. I would say it's for fans of the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, but these books probably come before those in terms of reading level. The publisher lists the age range as 8-12; I would probably say the audience tends to the lower end of that span.

Amazon * Goodreads

About the Author: Julie Anne Grasso

Julie Anne Grasso
With a background in paediatric nursing, Julie Anne Grasso spent many years literally wrapping children in cotton wool. Every day she witnessed courage and resilience from the tiny people she cared for, which inspired her to write stories to entertain them. A science fiction nerd (she even owns a TARDIS), cupcake enthusiast and lover of all things mystery, she lives in Melbourne with her husband Danny and their little girl Giselle. Most days she can be found sipping chai tea and dreaming up wonderful worlds that often involve consumption of cupcakes.





And it's time for the Kid Lit Blog hop, now hopping once a month. Follow the link and join the hop, or just hop around to check out lots of great kids books.
http://www.whenigrowupiwannawriteakidsbook.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery Monday: A Rule Against Murder

4201106 

Title: A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4)
Author: Louise Penny; read by Ralph Cosham
Publishing Info: Blackstone Audio, 2009 (original by Minotaur, 2008, 322 pages)
Source: Digital library

Publisher's Summary:
It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family -- rich, cultured, and respectable -- has also arrived for a celebration of their own.
 
The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.

My Review:
This may be the most satisfying yet of the Inspector Gamache series, at least after the first. While the last two books have bothered me with the amount of plotting against Gamache that goes on, that has vanished from this book. We are still treated to some views of the dark interiors of people--this series really doesn't qualify as "cozy," not because it's a police procedural (though it is, for the most part), but because Penny doesn't flinch from exploring the dark bits in everyone. In fact, I could wish she did, because I'm not sure I believe everyone has so many dark bits, and a few of the characters who are supposed to be sympathetic end up not being very much so. (Ask me about Peter and Clara Morrow and their relationship and I'll probably start ranting).

On the other hand, the mystery kept me guessing, and both the puzzle and the clues were well-constructed. The gradual revealing of Gamache's own history always pull me in, and there was just about the right amount of action for me. The writing remains top-notch, the settings deeply evocative, and I remain ambivalent about the series. I'll keep going, but probably only in small doses.

Recommendation:
If you like your mysteries a bit more meaty than cozy, and don't mind feeling at times like everyone is a bit unpleasant underneath, this is a series you don't want to miss, because they are incredibly well-written. If, on the other hand, you prefer to stay on the lighter side of the mystery genre, you might want to think twice.
Full Disclosure: I checked A Rule Against Murder out of my (digital) 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."