Monday, February 29, 2016

Middle Grade Review: The Turn of the Tide

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Title: The Turn of the Tide
Author: Roseanne Parry
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 304 pages.
Source: Library

Summary: 
(I really didn't like the publisher's summary, which I found misleading), so I'm writing my own this time).

Kai has lost nearly everything he cares about in a tsunami. To make it worse, his parents send him from their devastated home in Japan to stay with and aunt and uncle he scarcely knows in Astoria, Oregon, instead of letting him stay to do the honorable thing and help clean up. His cousin Jet isn't too sure she wants him, either, despite her sympathy for him. She has her own problems. Together, the two find their connection through the thing they both love most: sailing. A summer's adventures in their small boat brings them healing and maybe the way to fulfill their dreams.

Review:
This wasn't a terribly deep or significant book in some ways, but it did offer an interesting take on a number of things (actually, that is my main criticism: I think it took in too many things). Jet and Kai have to learn together to help him find the healing he needs when his long-standing love of the sea collides with his new-found (and not unreasonable) fear of the ocean that brought such devastation to his life and his town. At the same time, Jet has to deal with changes in her friends after a year of Junior High, and she never lets go of her ambition: to be a bar pilot, guiding ships into the mouth of the Columbia--just like her father, and just like exactly one other woman in all the history of shipping in the river. Quite a few things are sorted out in a rather exciting finish to the story (which I really liked), as each of the cousins has to overcome fears to do what needs doing.

Even though I thought the author tried to take in too many things--I'd probably have dropped the whole changes-to-her-friends thread--the book was a fast, engaging read, and I had trouble putting it down once I passed the midpoint. Roseanne Parry has created very real and likable characters, with both good and bad traits, and deals well with the ways their different cultures shaped the two cousins (differences that made it realistically hard for them to relate at first).

I loved the historical note at the end that told about the history of the bar pilots on the Columbia--apparently one of the trickier river mouths around (and there really is, or was, only one female pilot). Part of the interest in this for me is that my mom rather wanted to be a (ship's) pilot when she was growing up, and I always wondered about how true it was that the profession was pretty much not open to women. Seeing how few and far between women are in the 21st Century, I have to concede that it would have been an uphill battle indeed to break into the profession in the 1950s.

Recommendation:
A good read for boys and girls, maybe 9-12, who like adventure and boats, or even just like thinking about boats.

Full Disclosure: I checked The Turn of the Tide 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, February 26, 2016

Friday Flash: Gorg and the Mages

As a special treat this week, we return to the continuing adventures of Gorg the Troll!

Gorg and the Mages

Gorg Trollheim stood at the window at the top of the tower and studied the Valley of Baleful Stones. He tried not to notice the scattering of stone trolls. He would bring them back to life if he could. He just had to find Duke Bale, kill him yet again, and force his sorcerer to undo the petrifying spell.

Bale wasn’t in his tower. Gorg had found only three empty grey robes, like the one that had failed to stop him from entering. These didn’t speak to him, but they did stand in their corners unsupported, which gave him a creepy feeling. Were they watching him?

Probably they were. He couldn’t help that. What he had to do, and do fast, was figure out where Bale and the actual sorcerer had gone. A strange idea was starting to tickle his stone mind, and Gorg didn’t like ideas, especially strange ones. To distract himself he broke a bit of stone off the windowsill and put it in his mouth.

He spat out the stone after the first crunch. This was no fine sandstone or foamy granite! The tower was built of the stinking, sulfurous stone for which the valley was named. Gorg tried to tell himself that was only right, but he knew better. The tower he had pulled down a few months ago, crushing Bale under a pile of stone, had been built of a fine granite. Something about this tower was completely wrong.

 With a sigh of resignation, Gorg took a sip of his magic potion. The ghastly stuff had been meant to render a man incapable of intelligent speech, and it did. But it made a troll think faster and speak more wisely. Gorg needed to think just now.

When the potion took effect, Gorg stopped staring out the window, and descended the tower stairs faster than he’d gone up. The smell of burning sulfur penetrated his consciousness and now made sense, giving him the motivation to accelerate his usual deliberate troll’s pace.

He made it out the door as the tower burst into flames behind him, and vanished.

It had been an illusion. Only the mocking echo of the sorcerer’s laugh was real. Gorg turned his attention to the valley. If he could not find Bale, could he reanimate his petrified friends and relations?

Gorg approached the first statue, salt tears etching lines down his face as he recognized his friend Pulgrum Stonelump. He laid a hand on the stone head, and said, his voice the rough sound of stone rasping over stone, “I will save you, my friend.” Then, thinking hard, he uncapped his flask of Confusion Cocktail, the magic potion that had unintentionally given him such quick wits, and let a single drop fall on Pulgrum’s head.

The drop left a wet line as it ran down the stone, but, to Gorg’s disappointment, the stone remained stone. He corked the bottle and sat down, for the moment too discouraged to go one.

“I think you need our help,” said a voice behind him.

Gorg stood and whirled, faster than one would have thought a creature of stone could, and prepared to do battle with the three mages who stood a dozen feet off. He didn’t know when or from where they had materialized, but he knew that none of his dealings with mages had been positive. Well, except when the Earl of Beetroot had given him the Confusion Cocktail, but that hadn’t been meant as a favor.

“Easy, there, Trollheim,” the lead mage said. “We’ve come to help.”

“Why?” Gorg didn’t even try to sound polite.

“Because Duke Bale the Artichoke Hearted threatens this entire kingdom with his greedy, hateful ways. We have sworn to stop him.”

“I no longer care what he does to humans,” Gorg said, his eyes still fixed on the field of statues.

“I understand,” said the second mage, a female. Gorg thought he recognized that voice, and looked closer. He had last seen her at Bale’s tower.

“Have you changed your allegiance, Katerina of the Vale of Kale? You were Bale’s pet when last I saw you.”

“I have changed much, including my allegiance, Gorg Trollheim. You persuaded me to leave. I went to the City of Celestial Celery, and there I learned the extent of Bale’s plans. That included not only eliminating Trolls from the kingdom, but eliminating sorcerers, once we had done his bidding.” She made a face. “I didn’t care for his attitude.”

“He wishes to make all living beings his slaves.” The deep, calm voice came from the third mage. “We can stop him, but only if all his enemies work together. We will awaken your kindred, and you will lead us in the hunt.”

Gorg nodded. He might never fully trust a mage, but he could see their argument.  “Where has Bale gone? And what sorcerer left his empty robes to defend the tower?”

They all turned to look at the smoldering remains of the tower. Katerina scowled. “I don’t know,” she said. “Do you, boys?” She looked at Gorg. “I should introduce my friends. This,” she gestured at the first speaker, “is Brendren, of Mosternestine City. And our leader,” she indicated the deep-voice mage, “is Hort, master of all sorcery in the Vegetative Kingdoms.”

Gorg bowed. “I have heard of your power,” he lied. It was always good to make sorcerers feel important. The truth was that Gorg paid too little attention to human affairs to know the names of their leaders. He made a decision. “You can find Bale?”

“We can. But we are too few to stop him. There are some humans who will follow us, but most without magic are too afraid.”

“So you need the trolls, who are too stupid to fear?” If Gorg sounded bitter, he felt he had reason.

“We need the trolls, who have already lost too much to fear more.”

Gorg thought, took a sip of his potion, and thought some more while the mages waited.

“Awaken them. We will stop Bale.”

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016

The Valley of Baleful Stones, with an army of petrified trolls.
Okay, actually this is Goblin Valley State Park, Utah :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Non-fiction review: Satellites in the High Country

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 Title: Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man
Author: Jason Mark
Publisher: Island Press, 2015. 320 p.
Source: Purchase

Publisher's Summary: 
In Satellites in the High Country, journalist and adventurer Jason Mark travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. In California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a battle over oyster farming and designated wilderness pits former allies against one another, as locals wonder whether wilderness should be untouched, farmed, or something in between. In Washington's Cascade Mountains, a modern-day wild woman and her students learn to tan hides and start fires without matches, attempting to connect with a primal past out of reach for the rest of society. And in Colorado's High Country, dark skies and clear air reveal a breathtaking expanse of stars, flawed only by the arc of a satellite passing—beauty interrupted by the traffic of a million conversations. These expeditions to the edges of civilization's grid show us that, although our notions of pristine nature may be shattering, the mystery of the wild still exists — and in fact, it is more crucial than ever.

But wildness is wily as a coyote: you have to be willing to track it to understand the least thing about it. Satellites in the High Country is an epic journey on the trail of the wild, a poetic and incisive exploration of its meaning and enduring power in our Human Age.


 My Review:
Since this book addresses some issues near and dear to my heart (the preservation of wilderness and the pursuit of wild places), I really wanted to like it. And when the author recounts his adventures and wilderness travels, I was pulled along and enjoyed the trip. But in the end, I was disappointed, despite a number of thought-provoking moments along the way.

I think the problem may be that the author is trying to take in too much, or possibly looking too hard for the right situations to back up his argument. It's a bit hard to be sure about that, because in the end, I am not sure what his argument is. He seems to be claiming both that we are seeing (or have seen) the end of wildness/wilderness, and that we have an on-going need for it and must preserve it. Maybe those aren't contradictory arguments, and maybe I was unsatisfied because I prefer to imagine that we can have a real wilderness still, even though I know that my own ventures into "the wild" are heavily mediated by gear and infrastructure.

I'm not sure, but there's a good chance that, reading my last sentence, the author would be satisfied.

Recommendation:
This is a book that would probably bear discussion, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a way into the question of the wild/wilderness and it's future. In fact, for all their romantic inconsistencies, I would recommend beginning where I (and the author) did: with classics like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Colin Fletcher. One thing is clear: the author did make the effort to put himself out there where he could experience what wildness he could find in the US, and I don't think he'd say that it's dead, however much we must (realistically) manage it.

Full Disclosure: My husband purchased Satellites in the High Country, and neither of us 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, February 22, 2016

Middle Grade Audio Review: The Book of Lost Things

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Title: The Book of Lost Things (Mister Max, Book I)
Author: Cynthia Voigt; read by Paul Boehmer
Publisher: Listening Library, 2013. Original Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, 374 pages.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary:  
Max Starling's theatrical father likes to say that at twelve a boy is independent. He also likes to boast (about his acting skills, his wife's acting skills, a fortune only his family knows is metaphorical), but more than anything he likes to have adventures. Max Starling's equally theatrical mother is not a boaster but she enjoys a good adventure as much as her husband. When these two disappear, what can sort-of-theatrical Max and his not-at-all theatrical grandmother do? They have to wait to find out something, anything, and to worry, and, in Max's case, to figure out how to earn a living at the same time as he maintains his independence. This is the first of three books, all featuring the mysterious Mister Max.

My Review:  
This was a fun story. Though Max faces some serious issues, the book never loses sight of its essentially humorous nature, with characters a little bit over the top and situations that will make you smile even as they keep you reading to see how he'll solve this one. (As a matter of fact, in many ways Voigt has captured pretty much the tone I aim for in The Ninja Librarian, both with the humorous touch and the focus on solving problems). Max is a great character--he has more resources than your average 12-year-old but a realistic set of issues and concerns as well. 

The setting of the story is deliberately left a little vague (again, reminds me a bit of Skunk Corners!), which  overall works very well. I was occasionally a bit frustrated by my tendency to want to know everything, as well as just a bit of desire to sort out what kinds of help and perils he might face. (For those who want to know, it's a 1900-ish setting, though which side of the the Atlantic or what city I couldn't say--quite possibly a port on one of the Great Lakes, but that's not really the point). It feels  like it takes place outside of time and space.

This is the first of a series, and while Max solves most of the problems he encounters, the big problem is only partially addressed, not solved, leaving us poised to leap into Book Two, which I fully intend to do.

The audio narration was excellent. I had no trouble following everything, and characters were nicely distinguished. I can recommend the audio version though may look for the next one in print just to see if I missed anything.

Recommendation:
The writing level is upper elem to middle school, but the content is fine for all ages. I think this would make a great read-aloud for kids from about 7 up, with independent readers from 9 or so able to handle it fine.

Full Disclosure: I checked The Book of Lost Things 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, February 18, 2016

Friday Flash: Just Another Job

Our Wendig Challenge this week was another sort of mash-up: using the time-honored means of describing a story as "It's like X meets Y," we were given two lists of movies, TV shows and books, and were to pick one from each. I tried the RNG, but turned out to be familiar with only a very few of the references, so I just picked two I knew. And thus I found myself contemplating a story that's like Scooby-Doo meets the Hunger Games. Chuck gave us 2000 words, I used 1380 of them, because I'm not cruel enough to go to 2000. Plus I didn't need to, and left myself just enough time to make it shorter.


Just Another Job

Brutus, tail wrapped over his nose and purr engaged, was preparing to take a nap when someone pounded on the door. The humans jumped, and the female got up and opened the door.

A man stood on the front step, hat pulled low and collar turned up, his face effectively hidden in the dim light. “If you wish a job, be at the abandoned house at the end of Dead Man’s Drive at midnight,” he said in a rasping voice. He turned and vanished into the darkness before anyone could ask a question.

“Well!” said the female, looking at her watch. “It’s 10:00 now. Do we go?”

“No way!” Brutus yowled.

“Of course,” said the human male. “A job’s a job. What could go wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all,” Brutus said.  As usual, the humans failed to understand. Idiots. They never could understand his speech, which forced him to do a lot of complex stuff to save their bacon and solve their cases. Brutus curled back up for his nap. He’d need it, if they were going at out midnight.

#

The team stopped on the walkway in front of the old house. The overgrown yard and wrought-iron gates gave even the humans pause. Brutus took one look, arched his back, and spat.

“It looks pretty spooky,” agreed the male.

“It looks like they need a gardener, not a sleuth team,” said the female.

Brutus prowled forward, tail expanded and nose working overtime, sniffing for trouble, and sure to find it in a place like this. The yard reeked of ghosts, trouble, and…what was that? Brutus sniffed again, but the smell was unknown. Alien.

“What the heck?” That yowl got the attention of the humans, and even they seemed to understand Brutus’s confusion and uncertainty. They hesitated. Then—

“Well, we’re about out of cash. There’s really no choice. If we don’t take this job, we won’t be able to buy any more cat chow.”

That convinced Brutus. His tail remained bristling and erect, but he led the way through the garden to the front door, which swung open with a long creak, just before the male touched it. Worse, they were only steps past it when it swung shut behind them with a slam.

“Uh-oh,” the three chorused. The female turned back and tried the door. It didn’t budge. She and the male looked at each other, looked at Brutus, and shrugged.

They continued down the hall, illuminated only by the tiny flashlight on the female’s key chain, and hesitated in front of another door. Another exchange of looks, another shrug. The male opened the door and stepped through.

Lights blazed on, blinding them, and a voice Brutus almost recognized announced, “We have our second set of competitors! This intrepid duo—”

“Trio,” Brutus yowled, but the voice went on, unheeding.

“This intrepid duo will battle the team of gumshoes from Gotham City, for a grand prize of…” Static overrode the naming of the prize, but Brutus had a bad feeling. A prize of cat chow seemed unlikely. And what did the losers get? Maybe he’d keep quiet and slip away. He could always find new humans.

“Round one: mental arithmetic.” Brutus had the voice pegged. It was the same voice as had delivered their invitation, without the rasp.

Brutus heard the male sigh in relief. “We’re set,” he whispered to the female. “You’re good at this.”

She nodded, and stooped to pick up Brutus. Across the room, a pair of very tough-looking men, in plain clothes but with the scent of cop about them, stood and watched, arms crossed and identical cynical smiles curving their lips.

The voice began to boom out questions, difficulty and speed mounting with each correct answer. At first, Brutus had time to study the room. He could sense the presence of something in the one corner that wasn’t well lit, and knew it was the source of the alien scent. He wanted to follow up, but about then, the questions got harder, and the female began to need his input. This was the one place she seemed to pick up his brain waves or something, because he could solve the problems, think the answers, and a moment later she would brighten with her own matching answer.

The questions were beginning to worry Brutus when the gumshoe faltered, offered an answer, immediately changed it, and, “You lose!” boomed from the loudspeaker. “Round one goes to the amateurs from Littleville.”

Brutus’ keen ears picked up the gumshoes’ mutters of “what’s mental math got to do with crime-busting, anyway?” but no one else seemed to hear.

Logic problems came next, and this time the male took the lead in answering. He lasted quite a while, but as the pace picked up he began to sweat, and eventually the others were declared the winners.

“Well,” the male whispered to the female, “so far this doesn’t seem so bad. Even if we lose…”

“Next round: physical combat!”

“Uh-oh,” the three chorused once again. Brutus didn’t listen while the voice droned on with the rules and instructions. He leapt down from the woman’s arms, and prowled off to the edges of the room. Out of the range of the lights, he began to sniff his way toward the unknown controllers.

“I object!” The female made an attempt to stop this. Looking right across at the men from Gotham, she said, “Why on earth should we fight just because some, some TV announcer,” she put a world of scorn into the words, “says we should?”

The gumshoe on the left laughed. “Weren’t you listening? Two people get to leave this house alive, girl. Sorry, but it’s going to be us.”

“Why should we believe them? I don’t even see anyone.” That was the male. Brutus willed him to continue. If they were debating, they weren’t fighting, and the alien presence behind the lights was distracted. Brutus kept moving.

The gumshoe on the right spoke. “Because they’ve already proven they can enforce their will. How do you think we ended up here?”

“I don’t know? Answered an invitation, like we did?”

The man laughed. “Not exactly, sweetheart. We’ve traced four murders to this house. We’re apparently the third episode in their little reality show.”

The male and the female said nothing while they thought about this. The announcer said, “If you are done with fruitless debate, we’re on a schedule here. Unarmed combat will begin in three…two…”

Brutus jumped.

The announcer screamed as teeth and claws sunk into his—its?—head. Brutus yowled as the taste of alien blood—truly alien blood—set his mouth on fire. The cameraman, if you could call a tentacled creature from an unknown planet that, lurched forward into the light, cat clinging to its head.

The female screamed. The male dove at the creature and wrestled it to the floor. The left gumshoe dove for the cables that powered the lights. Sparks flew.

Brutus, spitting and yowling, leapt for the other alien, the one with the weapons, followed by the right gumshoe. As soon as the creature went down, Brutus yowled, “Time to go!” For once, the humans seemed to understand. Left Gumshoe in the lead, they crashed through the door, back into the dark hall. A glow from distant streetlights outlined a window, and Left Gumshoe pulled his trenchcoat over his head and dove through, followed closely by the male, the female, Right Gumshoe and, trailing behind because the alien blood made him cough and gag, Brutus.

They all scrambled away through the underbrush, as the house behind them burst into flames. Brutus found some grass to bite and chew, then a clump of mint. Even better. He was still cleansing his mouth when the female scooped him up.

“There you are, Brutus! Good work. Looks like this job was a bust, but at least we got out.”

“No kidding, girl.” That was Right Gumshoe. “I’m just hoping there won’t be anything of those creatures left after the fire. This is one case I don’t want to have to explain to the chief.”

Everyone turned and looked back at the house, where the flames were an interesting shade of purple.

“I never liked reality TV,” the male said.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Blast: the Perihelix, by Jemima Pett


Perihelix finalThe Perihelix, a new book by Jemima Pett, is launched this week! You buy it at Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo and Smashwords. So, why should you buy The Perihelix?

The Perihelix by Jemima Pett

Book 1 of the Viridian System Series
  • Published by Princelings Publications
  • Genre: science fiction/scifi-adventure/space opera (for grownups, although I wouldn't describe it as adult)
  • Words/pages: 83,800 / 360
  • Formats: all ereaders and paperback
  • Price: ebook currently on special offer at 99c (rrp $2.99): paperback rrp $10.99

 

The Blurb:

Two asteroid miners, three women, one spacecraft, and five pieces of a legendary weapon scattered around the galaxy. Big Pete and the Swede are rich, or so they discover after bringing their latest haul of orichalcum in from the asteroid belt. So some well-deserved vacation awaits them. It starts out just fine, with one of the men winning the big flyer-race of the season, but they start to receive odd messages, and despite the attentions from the girls, both realise that someone is trying to drag them back to their pasts, pasts they have tried hard to erase. As they set out to discover who’s bugging them, they are kidnapped by some particularly nasty aliens, which leaves the girls in a mess – stranded on the spaceship with very little idea how to fly it.

What I think of it:

I may be biased, as Jemima Pett is a writing pal and a friend. I read two or three drafts and offered feedback, so of course I think it's great! But seriously, when I proofed the final copy, even knowing the story quite well I couldn't stop reading. I'm definitely in love with the characters! So, you can discount my bias and still know you should read it :)

Purchase links:

Amazon - Smashwords - B&N - Kobo - iTunes - Book Depository
The Perihelix (Viridian System, #1)

on the beach - portraitInterview with Jemima Pett

Q: How did you come to invent the characters in your new book?
 It was through my regular flash fiction stories on my blog. We'd had a couple of times when I'd ventured into science fiction, once in a Casablanca/Star Wars mash-up which was called Paradisio, and then those characters got mentioned in a Random Title story called the Orichalcum Library, where two asteroid miners wanted to read real books, so the bar owner on another planet got hold of some which had been swapped for food by some fugitives from the Paradisio story. The asteroid miners turned into Pete and the Swede, and there we go.  

Q. Why did they end up with three women? Isn't it a bit degrading to bring in your female characters as escorts?
Asteroid miners have a reputation for being hell-raisers when they aren't mining. Pete and the Swede want some female company, and after a while they realise they actually want company, good food, people to enjoy their vacation with, as well as bed companions. So when they found escorts who they liked, they rehired them, and if you can afford more company, then why not? As for why are the females escorts, well, in the Wild West women are generally either bar girls (escorts) or pioneer/ranchers' wives, and I didn't have any ranches around. The Viridian system is very much Outback, and although there are a few women in what you might call 'normal' jobs on Sunset Strip, it's not an area that's easy to get to without a sponsor. These girls have quite interesting futures ahead of them, though, as you'll see when you read the book.  

Q. What was the most difficult thing about writing the book?
Having developed my worlds of Pleasant Valley and Sunset Strip, the two inhabited planets of the Viridian System, in part through the short stories, I then had to check the science for them. I've done a course on planetary science, and to me, getting planets that were physically feasible was important. I wanted Sunset Strip to have two sunsets in a Standard day, which led me to realise the difficulties with that, which I've mentioned in the 'world-building' section on the Viridian series website. Now, sorting those worlds out wasn't difficult. But then I realised ALL the other places they go to on their adventures need to be fully realised as well. Oh, boy! Physical characteristics, society, relationships with other planets, weather, occupants.... and keeping tabs on with all with a huge spreadsheet. But it's great fun. As long as my memory holds out!  

Q. How do you keep up with the science?
At present it's hard, because in the eighteen months since I wrote the first draft of The Perihelix (at Camp NaNoWriMo) there have been huge developments in the detection of exoplanets - planets around stars outside our own system - and level of detail we've worked out about them. We've also had hugely more information about the outer planets of our own system. What is emerging is that basically, anything goes; a lot of what we thought would be the rule from what we knew of the solar system has been turned on its head. It's really exciting! Most of my updates come from a couple of websites, from other bloggers who report on interesting things, from the Norwich Astronomical Society and from the excellent BBC programmes The Sky at Night and Stargazing Live. And with a #BritInSpace on the International Space Station at the moment, there is more interest in astronomy and space travel in the UK than there has been for years.  

Q. What's next for Pete and The Swede?
Well, I've already written about 15,000 words of Book 2, some of which are scenes for later in the book. I have a setting, some propositions and some problems, but I haven't got the solutions yet - except there will be a third book, so I don't have to complete the overall storyline yet, just advance the main issues of book 2 to a satisfactory conclusion. No cliff-hangers!  

Thank goodness for that! Thanks for talking to me, Jemima

About the Author:

Jemima has been writing since she was 8 years old, and reading science fiction since she was about 15. She tried writing a scifi book while at college, but was put off writing entirely by a 'friend' who said it was rubbish. Even with a maths degree, a Masters in Environmental Technology and a Diploma in Earth Sciences, Jemima kept writing – although it was mostly manuals, newsletters and research papers. It was only when she moved to Norfolk, on the east coast of England, that she found characters who inspired her to write fiction again – and that led to the Princelings of the East series, now six books long, with the seventh due later this year. Where Pete and the Swede came from is another story entirely, but she thinks the guys who inspired her would probably be flattered, if they realised!  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mystery Review: Death and the Brewmaster's Widow

I just have to note before I start here, that with all our W2s and 1099s in, this week I'm apparently dealing with both Death and Taxes...glad the former was an entertaining mystery, because the latter is a seriously frustrating mystery!

http://www.escapewithdollycas.com


Death & the Brewmaster’s Widow
(An Auction Block Mystery)

2nd in Series
Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink (February 8, 2016)
Paperback: 264 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0738747057
E-Book ASIN: B019KKTWU4
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Publisher's Synopsis:
They call it “the Brewmaster’s Widow”; the abandoned brewery where Death Bogart’s brother died in an arson fire.

With his girlfriend, Wren Morgan, Death goes home to St. Louis to take on a deeply personal mystery. When Randy Bogart went into the Einstadt Brewery, he left his broken badge behind at the firehouse. So why did the coroner find one on his body? Every answer leads to more questions. Why did the phony badge have the wrong number? Who set the brewery fire? What is the connection between Randy’s death and the mysterious Cherokee Caves, where the opulent playground of 19th century beer barons falls into slow decay?

Not understanding how and why he lost his brother is breaking the ex-Marine’s heart. But the Brewmaster’s Widow is jealous of her secrets. Prying them loose could cost Death and Wren both their lives.


My Review:
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Death and the Redheaded Woman, so I signed up for this blog tour expecting to like this book, and I was not disappointed. The story is a nice mix of mystery and romance, with the latter being a down-to-earth relationship that skips the does-he-or-doesn't-he drama of too many such stories. The mystery is solid, though I saw where it was going well before the official revelation (which is given to the reader ahead of the characters), and the writing is strong and well-edited, and the outcome of the mystery good for a smile and a tear.

My biggest gripe is the Hardy Boys-style set-up for the next book. You know the kind: "Frank and Joe didn't know that their next adventure awaited them in The Case of the Bewildered Bunny." Ms. Ross isn't that blatant, but I don't need the teaser in the final pages to want to come back and see more. Let the story wrap itself up in comfort.

I'm not sure this is as strong a book as the first, but it is definitely a series worth reading, and I'll be watching for Book 3. How could I not love a series where characters are named for Lord Peter Wimsey and places in Middle Earth?

About The Author

Loretta Ross is a writer and historian who lives and works in rural Missouri. She is an alumna of Cottey College and holds a BA in archaeology from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She has loved mysteries since she first learned to read. Death and the Redheaded Woman will be her first published novel.
Website: http://www.lorettasueross.com.
Blog:  http://lorettasueross.com/blog/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lorettasueross
GoodReads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/236665.Loretta_Ross
Twitter: @lorettasueross  –  https://twitter.com/lorettasueross


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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Friday Flash: Bovrell Takes the Case

This week Chuck Wendig challenged us with a genre-mashup. I spun the random number generator, and it came up...humorous fantasy and whodunnit. Clearly, this was a job for Bovrell the Bold, the dubious apprentice-master who abandoned Halitor the Hero to his own devices. Bovrell never was terribly bright.

Chuck gave us 1500 words, and I used them.

Bovrell the Bold Takes the Case


Bovrell the Bold, Hero at large, pulled his horse to a halt and considered the castle. It wasn’t much of a castle. He was used to better, he told himself, but it was going to rain, and he hated it when his armor rusted. He crossed the drawbridge.

Careless of them to leave it down, really. Anyone could wander in. He, Bovrell, was a knight and a Hero, but you couldn’t trust everyone. They ought to use care. He followed his nose to the stable.

“Ho! Stableboy! I’ve a mount needs grooming!” Bovrell climbed down from his horse and waited for a groom. None came. Grumbling, he led Black Warrior into the stable, shouted again, and finally unsaddled the beast himself. “Fool stableboy, to run off. Fool lordling, to let his servants run off.” Bovrell groomed Black Warrior, badly, and walked back to enter the keep, where the laws of hospitality would require them to feed him. Thus would they bless themselves with his presence.

Bovrell pounded on the door, and the heavy oak panels swung open at the impact. He stepped into the hall.

The light within was dim, but not so dim Bovrell failed to see the body sprawled at the foot of an elegant but narrow staircase. The man was well-dressed, no longer young, and Bovrell guessed he had found the lord of this pathetic excuse for a castle.

“Sirrah! Sprawl not so on the floor, but rise and do proper honor to a noble guest!”

The man on the floor didn’t move. “Drunk, by all the gods!”

“I scarcely think so.” The voice was young, scornful, and feminine, as was the person who moved out of the shadows. “Or does drinking always produce a spear through the back?” She looked Bovrell over, as he did her.

“And who might you be?”

The question came simultaneously from each, but neither rushed to answer. Instead, Bovrell demanded, “Who is he?”

“He was the lord of this holding, and my uncle. But someone has killed him. Was it you?” She seemed rather calm for someone looking from the corpse of her kinsman to the armed and armored man who might have killed him.

“Nay, Fair Maid—you are a Fair Maiden, are you not?” Bovrell said it with capital letters. He was a man who believed in titles.

“Fair enough to judge men wisely, and maiden enough to beware your sort. I have just come from the kitchens, and find Uncle but lately dead, and you standing over him.” That wasn’t exactly true. Bovrell stood a distance away, dripping on the mat, but he was the only person present. “Are you certain you did not slay him?”

Bovrell overcame his outrage and confusion to repeat, “Nay, that I did not. I entered to find him even so, and all the servants fled from hence.”

“No, it’s just that we haven’t any servants. So far as I know, Uncle and I were the only ones in the castle, save for an old couple who cook and keep the fires burning. And now you,” she repeated meaningfully.

“Then he must have been slain by these servants of whom you speak.” It was obvious. It was also obvious that he would get little service or comfort here. Bovrell turned to leave, but the sound of rain on the drawbridge made him pause. “The laws of chivalry say you must offer me food, and shelter against the storm.”

She cocked a head to listen to the light patter of the rain. “Some storm. Those laws also say you must discover who slew my sole protector and bring the miscreant to justice. And say not it was old Elly and Eli. Neither could lift that spear.”

Nor could they, Bovrell had to admit when he saw the pair. That was in the kitchen, whence the Fair Maiden had led him, having first helped him off with his armor. Bovrell had made a few grabs at her in the process, but she was quick, and he’d gotten nothing.

Bovrell ate all he was offered before he reached his solution. “If no one else was in the keep, then you must have killed your uncle. Unwomanly fiend!”

“Nay, not I.”

“Who, then? I saw no sign of battle, nor was there ogre nor giant at the gate. Though,” he frowned, straining to think around his third tankard of ale, “The drawbridge was down and the door ajar. Aha!” He had it. “The killer fled!”

“So I must assume,” said the girl. “Now you are fed, will you pursue the knave?”

Bovrell sighed deeply. It was still drizzling and he would very much have preferred another tankard of ale. “As you ask it, Fair Maiden, so I must.” He thought some more. “Do you know who the villain might be? It would make it easier, you know.”

“So it would. You might,” she suggested, “visit our neighbor to the south, who has long coveted my uncle’s holdings.”

So it was that Bovrell, after a not wholly satisfying supper and another tankard of ale, found himself being armed once more, by the little serving man who was indeed very small, and very old.

The girl had to saddle the horse. Bovrell couldn’t manage it. He considered such chores beneath the notice of a Hero. About to mount, he stopped. “How am I to know if this neighbor has slain your lord?”

“Well,” suggested the Fair Maiden, “you might look for blood.”

“But blood may come from many sources.”

“True. So you might look for the gold-washed mail my uncle bore, and which has vanished.”

Bovrell rode out, grumbling, into the rain. It was easier to ride up to an ogre, slay it, and carry the Fair Maiden off to celebrate, than to do all this hunting in the rain.

He thought that again an hour later, as he stood dripping in the courtyard of the next castle. Bovrell had no idea how to proceed. Simply asking, “Excuse me, did you kill your neighbor?” seemed awkward. Ogres were definitely easier. He stuck to formulae.

“I seek shelter on this wet and unfriendly night,” he announced. Castle servants dashed about to dry him, bring him food, and prepare a bed. This, he thought, was more like it. This lord knew how to treat a guest. He couldn’t help wondering if yet another Fair Maiden was worth the journey through the rain, though he was glad her quest had sent him to a hot bath and warm bed.

And yet. Under all Bovrell’s idiocy, somewhere there lurked the Hero he had once set off to become. And so, in the night, he rose and searched. And he found the gold-washed mail. Long he stared at it, wondering. Then he wrapped the treasure in a cloth that lay at hand, and carried it back to his chamber. Dressing yet again in his wet clothing and gear, he armed up, crept to the stables, and roused a small boy.

“I must ride far this day. Saddle my mount and let me out at the postern.” It took a few coins, but the boy did as asked. Bovrell grumbled and swore the whole time, but he would do what a Hero did.

Arriving at the tiny keep in the chill dawn, Bovrell pounded on the door. The girl opened the door.

“You were right. He had the mail. I have retrieved it for you.”

The Fair Maiden received the cloth-wrapped bundle in her arms, and stood looking at him. Bovrell looked back. By rights, this woman was now his. He opened his mouth to say so.

“And what of the murderer?” she asked.

Bovrell swallowed. He had forgotten. “I have found who he was. I cannot be expected to revenge your uncle upon him. That,” he found inspiration to explain his lapse, “is a matter for the law.”

The girl only stared at him, with an unsmiling expression that scared him. After a long time, during which he shifted uncomfortably in his saddle and wondered if he were being cursed, she said, “I see. I thank you for your service.” The irony of her tone was lost on Bovrell, who was only glad he had not been turned into a frog, but even he understood the door which slammed in his face. This was one Fair Maiden who did not consider herself rescued.

Well, it was a poor and drafty castle in any case, he thought as he turned away. He had found the murderer for them. His work was done, the rain had stopped, and he would ride north.

From the ramparts, a man watched him disappear into the distance. When the dust vanished, he turned to find the woman standing beside him, the gold-washed mail in her arms. “Come, my darling. The elves say the illusion will vanish with the risen sun. This is the last of the treasure. We are finished here.”

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mystery Review: Death Before WIcket, by Kerry Greenwood

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Title: Death Before Wicket
Author: Kerry Greenwood 
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 1999. My (US) edition: Poison Pen Press, 2008. 232 pages.
Source: Library

Summary: 
Phryne has responded to a call for help from a pair of young university students, and plans to enjoy a bit of a holiday in Sydney at the same time. She's watching some cricket, storming the Arts Ball in a rather daring costume, locating her maid's sister, solving a crime or two, and of course enjoying the company of a lover. All that despite a climate that she finds melting.
My Review:
I always enjoy Phryne Fisher's outings, but found this one perhaps a bit less to my taste than most. Part of that might have been the cricket, a game which makes even less sense to me than baseball. That makes it hard (read: impossible) to follow whole paragraphs describing the game (even the title I'm pretty sure has more depth than my vague awareness of a play on some kind of cardinal cricket-sin called "leg before wicket"). Another source of my discontent might have been the setting. In Sydney, Phryne feels the frustration of being without her usual set of henchpersons and sidekicks. I missed them too. So, nothing wrong with the story, I just didn't have as much fun as usual (though at least this time she was seducing someone old enough to know what he was getting into, at least sort of. I do worry sometimes when she's dallying with inexperienced young men).
Recommendation:
Even on an off day (and this was more about tastes than anything wrong with the story) Phryne is good company. I recommend the book, and the whole series, to anyone who likes the between-the-wars setting, intriguing mysteries, a goodly touch of humor, and isn't put off by a female lead who likes to jump into bed at every opportunity (part of the fun, for me, is watching her rather straight-laced Catholic companion Dot deal with this). 

Full Disclosure: I checked Death Before Wicket 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, February 8, 2016

YA/Middle Grade Audio Review: Chomp, by Carl Hiaasen

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Title: Chomp
Author: Carl Hiaasen. Read by James Van Der Berk
Publisher: Listening Library, 2012. Originally by Knopf, 2012, 290 pages
Source: Library (on-line resources)

Publisher's Summary:
Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one.

When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.

They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun . . .

It's anyone's guess who will actually survive "Expedition Survival". . . .
  

My Review:
I like Carl Hiassen's juvvy/YA novels. I've even gotten used to Florida, where they are all set (an alien space to this Westerner, for sure).  Each one of his books I've read has been the best, which either indicates that he keeps getting better or that I have a poor memory. In any case, this one had a number of elements that appealed. There was, of course, Hiaasen's usual dry humor and use of slightly absurd, over-the-top (I think. On the other hand, Florida may be a bit...different) situations. In this case, he also had a great time doing a marvelous send-up of a certain star of a "reality" survival show (show and star shall remain nameless), especially with the bit about having to eat something disgusting every show. Since the backpacking forum where I'm an active member periodically has fun eviscerating the alleged survivalist for stupid moves and bad advice, I had extra appreciation for what Hiaasen does to poor Derek Badger.

But even aside from snarking at reality TV, it's a great read, with a plot that keeps ramping up to a hold-your-breath finale. 

The audio was beautifully done, with characters well distinguished and fully realized.

Recommendation:
I would put this at older middle grade to young adult level--maybe 12 and up. There's no sex, but there is some pretty serious violence, including life-threatening situations and that dad with a fist and a gun. Also perfect for any adult who has ever thought That Show was stupid. Mr. Hiaasen is a powerful advocate for preservation, and his dedication to protecting the Everglades is clear.

Full Disclosure: I checked Chomp 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, February 5, 2016

Friday Flash? Friday photos!

This week's assignment from Chuck Wendig was to write a story in the form of social media.  I had a lot of trouble getting my mind around this, maybe because I don't do enough with social media to have the feel? Or maybe because it's hard. Anyway, for that part of it, I'll direct you to my story Blackberries, written before social media, but in something of the spirit, being told entirely in "honey-do" notes. Then I'll go on and do a photo piece, because I'm really rather caught up right now in my current novel.

 McGee Lakes, King's Canyon NP

I've posted before on the trip over Lamarck Col and into the Evolution Valley, so I'm going to just focus on the off-trail part of last summer's 7-day Sierra trip. Our 3rd day we dropped from the Darwin Bench to the John Muir Trail, followed it a mile, and headed cross-country up to the McGee Lakes.

Full packs and ready to start.
 Departing camp in the morning, and looking across to where we are headed (behind that peak). There is, alas, a very deep valley between, as there so often is.


 Crossing Evolution Creek. Refreshingly cool water.
That's me. My spouse took this photo.
 Climbing up toward the next level.

The stream coming down through this meadow provided a perfect lunch stop. Eldest Son lost no time getting his feet wet.
If my memory serves, this would be McGee Creek, though it wanders a bit from the lakes to the valley floor.
 Finally reached the lakes, which were well worth the climb!
The spouse, either surveying the landscape or waiting with some impatience for his wife.
We spent two nights at the lakes, giving us a day to explore. The spouse climbed the round peak shown here across the lakes. I climbed farther than I intended up the west side and had a great view back down to the lakes. Our camp was on the peninsula you can see in the photo. By this time, there were no other hikers in the basin.
McGee Lakes

Pedicularus
 Our second night we got the first and most mind-blowing of three great sunsets in a row. It doesn't get much better than that: kicked back in a camp chair, watching the light show.
Is it still a selfie if it's a photo of your feet?


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group: Book Launch Jitters

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

The 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!

Publication Jitters

I brought out another book last month. That's always a perfect time to be insecure, since it then starts accumulating reviews and sales and...wait, that's not very many sales. And really, no one has reviewed it yet. Oh, no! What's wrong??!

See where I'm going here? Whatever happens after launch day, an author has the option of freaking out. A note from someone who found a typo or a bout of second-guessing your ending as you start on the next book can cause you (by which I mean "me") to assume that your career is over. What's more, everyone's going to know you're a fraud, and your big brother will laugh at you.

Wait. I think my author nerves have merged with the ones I developed to a fine pitch back in graduate school. Or is it just that whatever we do, and however well we do it, some part of our brains insists on freaking out?

Well, let it. I'm going to keep working on the next book and let this one go. That doesn't mean I'm not going to worry, mostly about my failure to leverage the launch in the most effective way possible. But I'm going to do that worrying while eating chocolate and writing another book.

###

Congratulations to Helen H. and LL M., winners of the Goodreads Giveaway for Death By Trombone.

Watch for the blog tour in April, with Death By Ice Cream on sale for 99 cents for the ebook--and another giveaway! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

AudioBook Review: The Blood of Heroes

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Title: The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo--and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation
Author: James Donovan. Read by the author.
Publisher: AudioGo, 2012. Original, Little, Brown & Co., 2012. 500 pages.
Source: Library (digital collection).

Summary: 
Texas, 1836. A mixed group of settlers from the US and Mexico declare independence from Mexico, and in the name of liberty create the new nation of Texas. Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico and part of the reason they want out, reacts badly. When a group of about 150 Texans, led by William Barrett Travis and including Jim Bowie and David Crockett, take a stand at the Alamo, Santa Anna ultimately sends an army of two to three thousand against them. The outcome, as we all know, was bad for the defenders, but ultimately equally bad for Santa Anna.

James Donovan explains the events leading up to and away from the fatal days at the Alamo, tracking the major players and events and discussing their significance.

[Note: the publisher's blurbs refer to the defenders as "Americans." While many were, in fact, Americans come from the States to help in the fight, the locals were very serious about themselves as Texans (or "Texians" as I believe the author calls them), citizens of a new republic).

Review:
Since most of what I knew about the actual events at the Alamo could be summed up in a single sentence (think something like "Remember the Alamo!"), I was bound to learn a fair bit from this book, and I did. Being vaguely aware that Texas had been, for a short time, an independent republic, I knew that this story would have something to do with that. In the course of listening to the book, I learned not only the politics behind the struggle, but also the people involved. Donovan does a good job of making clear what happened and why, as well as (especially in an excellent epilogue) making clear the detective work required, after so long and writing of an event with no direct surviving witnesses, to figure out what happened and what is just the myth that has grown up around the event.
The author takes, in my opinion, a very even-handed view of the events. While he is generally sympathetic to the Texans' side of things, he does explore motives and characters on the Mexican side, and is open about the brutality displayed by both sides, though it appears to have been more reactive among the Texans and deliberate on Santa Anna's part.

I admit I wasn't as taken with Mr. Donovan's reading of the work as with his writing of it. He avoids the overly-dramatic rendering that sometimes irritates me with non-fiction audio books--and I found that adding a little drama into the reading might not be a bad thing. The reading is very clear and easy to follow (though as often with this sort of work, there are enough players that I had trouble keeping track, especially as I am a more visual learner, and remember names best if I see them written). It is, however, a bit flat, making it too easy for my attention to wander.

Recommendation:
As seems to be becoming too common, I'm more inclined to recommend reading the paper book than listening to the audio. In addition to my trouble keeping track of the many players, there are maps and pictures not available to the listener. The story itself, however, is worth listening to, at least for those of us who like knowing bits of history. Certainly given that the cry of "Remember the Alamo!" echoes through American literature, at least, it's worth knowing the origins and significance of the event.
Full Disclosure: I checked The Blood of Heroes 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."