Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Flash: In the Dark

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

In the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight it sounds like a warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why doesn’t he holler?

Why don’t I?

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

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

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: La's Orchestra Saves the World


Title: La's Orchestra Saves the World

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher: Pantheon Books, 2008. 294 pages.

Source: Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

FTC Disclosure: I checked La's Orchestra Saves the World out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mystery review: Death Overdue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Links
Amazon   B&N

And this book has another great give-away! Enter to win a print copy of the book.
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FTC Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC of Death Overdue from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Flash: The Tree

A couple of weeks ago Chuck Wendig presented a flash fiction challenge to write a story in some way involving a tree. I was too busy and distracted to do it then, so today I have a half-flash (just over 500 words instead of my usual 1000) on a tree.

The Tree

I am the oldest resident of this village, and what I do not know of its people and history cannot be known. When all are in haste and fear, I alone stand calm and unchanged. Yet none now alive have heard my voice.

I am the oak that shades the village square, and I have had not one to speak to for many long years. Now there is one who may, at last, linger beneath my boughs long enough to hear my voice. He is still too young for other two-leggers to pay him heed, or even to know himself what it is he hears. But I can begin to tell my history to this seedling, that as he grows old he will remember me.
I was planted by the hand of a man who loved quiet and rest, though his trade was hot and noisy, with fires—I shudder at the thought—and hammers. But he planted my acorn that there might someday be cool shade in which one could nap on a hot afternoon, knowing he would not live to enjoy that shade himself. It is a sorrow I have, that my human companions, so few in any case, live such short lives. For the man’s sake, I grew as quickly as I could, and I was able to cast a modest shade before he lay down at my feet and did not rise again. His son lived to see me reach broad branches to shelter his home, and he did not cut my branches for his forge fire.

It was the daughter of the son, the third smith to ply the trade beneath my boughs, who first learned to hear my voice. She learned, too, that to be heard conversing with a tree brought great sorrow. She fled alive, but I could not follow, and I never saw her again. I feared for a time that the villagers—for a village had in those three generations grown around the forge—would cut me down, but if they didn’t value my voice, they did like my shade and the acorns they fed to their pigs, so they convinced themselves that the smith had merely been mad.

Since that time I have sheltered twenty generations of humans, and their small ones have climbed my trunk and lain on my broad branches, and loved me. The elders have sought rest and refreshment in my shade in summer, and trusted to my strength in winter winds.

But only three times have I found one who can listen to me, and you, the third, will be the last. For my heart is failing me, and this winter the winds will not shake my limbs, but break them. And then I fear I will fall on the very things I have sheltered my whole life.

You must tell them.

You must be the cause of my ending, but you must also save an acorn. Plant it here to take my place when I am gone, that there may be a large and generous tree in your grandson’s time.

And talk to your new tree. She will be lonely.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mystery Review: The Case of the Clobbered Cad

We have another great cozy from Great Escapes blog tours!

Title: The Case of the Clobbered Cad
Author: Debra E. Marvin
Publisher: Journey Fiction, 2017. 302 pages (paperback)
Source: Great Escapes free book tours
ISBN-13: 978-1946892027
E-Book ASIN: B0749K9NZX


Publisher's Summary:
Inspired by the famous Girl Detective, the members of the Olentangy Heights Girls’ Detective Society, affectionately known as the Nosy Parkers, spent their formative years studying criminology, codes, and capers. Unfortunately, opportunities to put their unique skills to work were thin on the ground in the post-war boom of their little corner of suburbia and they eventually grew up to pursue more sensible careers. Until…

Heather Munro’s youthful devotion to The Girl Detective led to a passion for digging around in history. Now pursuing her Master’s Degree in Celtic Studies, Heather must balance exploring Edinburgh with her determination to excel in her all–male classes at the University. Unfortunately, on her first night working in the Archives room, she discovers the dead body of a visiting professor, the same would-be lothario she’d hoped never to see again.

As clues come to light, it’s clear someone hopes to frame Heather for the murder. Besides her quirky landlady, whom can she trust? How can she clear her name? The police and the American Consul have plenty of suspects, but only two seem to have both motive and opportunity: Heather and the quiet Scottish historian she longs to trust.  

My Review: 
The Case of the Clobbered Cad is a thoroughly enjoyable cozy in a great setting. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of 1956 Edinburgh with Heather as she is trying so hard to settle into her new graduate (or, as they'd say around there, post-graduate) program. She, and we, know that she has to be extra good at it to be accorded any respect, as virtually the only woman in the department. So we can understand the double problem presented by the presence of a professor on whom she developed a crush on the voyage over from the U.S. The author presents Heather's feelings well--her squirming discomfort over having made an idiot of herself, and the realization that this will just make everything harder.

And boy, does it make things harder, because once he is dead, she does look as though she had a motive, and the local police don't seem too friendly. I liked that they aren't incompetent, though, and they aren't evil. The police officer in charge is simply hard-nosed and determined to get the truth out of everyone, which isn't that easy. But since he's not getting there fast enough, and he seems to be suspicious of Heather and other people she likes, it's not unreasonable that she wants to look into it more. An occasional reminder of her childhood interest in detecting (a la Nancy Drew) is more gratuitous than necessary; there is little connection to the "Nosy Parkers" and she has adequate justification for her research without it.

About the only thing that rang wrong in my mind (okay, aside from a day where she was sitting outside enjoying Indian summer weather and then ran for the bus in the rain, which might be an error or might be a comment on Scottish weather), was the insistence from the beginning that she was putting herself in danger. On reflection, I'm not sure why I didn't believe all the people who were worrying about her, since of course digging into murder could be dangerous, but I did feel the concerns were exaggerated, creating a sense of suspense where otherwise there wasn't one. As complaints go, it's pretty minor.

The writing is strong, and the characters well-developed. The balance of romance vs. mystery is about right for my tastes (i.e., almost all mystery with just a bit of romance). Ms. Marvin seems like an author to watch.

My Recommendation:
A promising series for lovers of the cozy mystery, and an especial prize for those who like historical settings, not to mention Anglophiles (is that right for Scotland, too? Brit-o-philes?). Anyway, I recommend it. Note: this is the second in the series, but the series appears to be written by multiple authors.

About The Author
Debra E. Marvin tries not to run too far from real life but the imagination born out of being an only child has a powerful draw. Besides, the voices in her head tend to agree with all the sensible things she says. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Sisters in Crime, and serves on the board of Bridges Ministry in Seneca Falls, NY. She is published with WhiteFire Publishing, Forget Me Not Romances, and contracted with Journey Fiction, and a judge for the Grace Awards for many years. Debra works as a program assistant at Cornell University, and enjoys her family and grandchildren, obsessively buying fabric, watching British programming and traveling with her childhood friends.

Author Links:
Amazon Author Page

Buy Links
Amazon  B&N  kobo

And there's a Rafflecopter Giveaway with this one, a great prize package with three books and a hand-quilted table runner!

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FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Case of the Clobbered Cad as a participant in a Great Escapes Free Book Tour, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Monday, October 9, 2017

YA Audiobook Review: Annie On My Mind, by Nancy Garden


A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something to listen to, and noticed that Overdrive was announcing it was Banned Books Week, and had a separate section for books that had been banned. I leafed through, being taken aback at some of the books people have seen fit to object to, and noticed this book. I could tell it was about lesbian teens, though I was a bit slow to register that it was published in 1982, making it something of a classic.

Title: Annie On My Mind
Author: Nancy Garden; read by Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Listening Library, 2008. Original, Farrar Strous Girroux, 1982 (234 pages).
Source: Library digital resources

Blurb (from Goodreads):

This groundbreaking book is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings. The book has been banned from many school libraries and publicly burned in Kansas City.

Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”

My Review: 
I didn't start listening to this right away, because I'm not a huge reader of YA. An obsession with love in most of those books puts me off a bit. But I wanted to listen to this, because I wanted to see how the subject was handled (even before I realized that this came out while I was--ahem--only a year or two older than the protagonists). Once I started listening, I found it hard to stop, and once I realized when it was written, I had to know what the author would dare to do.

The quote above about the "fluid, readable style" seems accurate to me. I found myself admiring the writing as well as being wholly caught up in the story. What saves this from being another teen-meets-teen story is, not just that the characters are gay, but that they don't know they are gay. So the reader knowingly watches them falling in love, while they think they are just having a grand friendship. I was wholly caught up in the story from the first chapter.

Some aspects of the book are dated: laws today protect students and teachers from discipline on the basis of their private lives (though I may also be deluded by living in a place where being gay is nothing remarkable). But the struggle of the two to come to terms with their own feelings, especially when they seem to bring the world crashing down around them, feels human and universal, and as relevant today as in 1982. Even better is the author's determination that this would have a happy ending, as almost no books about gay people had before she wrote. It is a happy ending that the characters earn, which makes it even better in my mind.

The reading by Rebecca Lowman is a marvelous addition to the story as well. She voices the characters well, and her voice seems to bring the story to life. I can definitely recommend the audio book.

My Recommendation:
Worth a read for historical value, but also worth a read for teens, gay or straight. Because the book does frankly discuss sexual feelings and desires, though there are no graphic scenes, it is probably not suitable for pre-teens.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Annie On My Mind out of my digital library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Photo Friday: Biking the Marin and Sonoma Coast

A few weeks ago I joined a couple of backpacking friends (Zeke and Walt) for a bike trip up the Marin and Sonoma coastline in California (yeah, a bunch of backpackers on bikes. It happens). The weather cooperated, mostly, and we had a great time. Not an epic ride in terms of miles covered, but enough to see some country and plenty of hills for my flat-lander companions!

Here are a few photos to share the fun.

One of the fun things was that we got to start riding right from my house (this did mean that most of the trip was routes I'd ridden before, but they are worth repeating). The first day's highlight was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looks like the railing on this side is due for painting!
South Tower
Moving on into Marin, we had to climb a long way up to our campsite at Pantoll on Mt. Tamalpais. A little humor helped to keep us going. Temperatures that day were warm, and a bit humid (most of CA was absolutely baking, so we were actually in a good place), which made the climb harder than it needed to be.
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Or just enjoy it.
Sometimes there are a lot of turkeys hanging out and making noise in campgrounds. We did consider supplementing our protein, but Zeke, in charge of food, had brought plenty, so we let these guys go on gobbling.
 That night we walked out the Coastal Trail on the shoulder of Mt. Tam to enjoy views of Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon at sunset. The full moon was rising behind us as we enjoyed the evening show.
I was glad we'd enjoyed the evening view, because next morning the fog moved in. It was beautiful in camp in the morning.

 The fog was beautiful in another way as we rode through it, though it was disconcerting as in places visibility was reduced to a few dozen yards. And it was frustrating to know that there were stunning views of the ocean if we could only see them!
Bikers in the mist. We were running our flashers, but fortunately it is also a road with few cars on a weekday morning; I don't think a single car passed us on our  ride through the mist.
 We spent the next two nights at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, which gave us access to ride out Pt. Reyes. Since the lighthouse was closed to tours on the day we were there (research fail!), we chose to visit Drake's Beach and enjoy a picnic on the edge of the fog. It's a marvelous ride either way.
Lichen-draped trees along the road.
 Drakes Beach clearly gets a lot of use on sunny weekends, but on a foggy Thursday, it was all ours. The receding tide left kelp lying about in interesting patterns on the sand.

 In a theme some of my readers may remember, I had to photograph, mourn, and pack out the inevitable balloon. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: DO NOT release balloons! Of course, this was probably an unintentional release, but still. Maybe think twice about helium balloons at all.

The next day the sun came back out for real, and we enjoyed a beautiful ride up Tomales Bay and through rural Sonoma County to Bodega Bay. There are lots of seafood restaurants along Tomales Bay.
I liked this old guy.
 In case you don't want seafood, this shed lets you know that there's something else cooking inside.

In the calm near the mouth, we could see that there was still fog right on the coast.

Climbing away from Tomales Bay, we hit the town of Tomales just in time for lunch. The bakery was a nice discovery. What's the good of biking all day if you can't enjoy a nice brownie for lunch?
Walt and Zeke nearly ready to roll again.
We hit the fog just as we pulled into Bodega Bay at the end of the longest day. Camp felt cold and windy and uninviting right on the shore, so we went into town to eat. But just before bed, the fog lifted a little.
Bodega Bay by night.
 Our final day served up a mix of sun and fog--typical coastal weather--as we headed north through Jenner and on to Stillwater Cove County Park.

Sometimes it doesn't feel safe to stop and wait. This guy watched a long time to see if I was dead.
 Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River, is a favorite snack stop, though this time it was too early for lunch and we merely enjoyed the views for a few minutes.
Rental kayaks hoping for sun and adventurous tourists.

We made it to camp in the end, and watched a beautiful sunset from the cove.

Stillwater Cove marked the official end of the ride, though my husband (who joined us in Bodega Bay) and I did a short ride the next morning. We piled into a couple of cars (we had one along the whole way, Zeke's wife driving our gear from camp to camp, and my husband brought one up) to head back home. On the way, we stopped at Ft. Ross State Park, to check out the reconstruction of the southernmost Russian settlement in what is now the US.
Watch tower.
The chapel, Russian Orthodox style, mostly.
About 80% of the people checking out the chapel had to tap the bell, which could be heard all over, even if you just used your knuckles.
Have to ask my kid what the inscription says.
The place was meant mainly to grow food for the Alaskan outposts (it didn't really succeed), but there are reminders it was also a fort, and they were prepared to defend themselves against the Spanish or the English at need.

One final spectacular view on our way back home.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG: Is that me?

It's the first Wednesday of the month, and that means IWSG time!
Purpose: 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!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Be sure to drop in on our awesome co-hosts for October:  Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!

This month's question:
Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I'm not 100% sure what's meant here by personal information--I certainly haven't given a character my address and phone number. But are there bits of me in my characters? That's a whole other question. 

The simple answer is "yes, of course." JJ MacGregor has my red hair, though it's not as red as mine, and hers frizzes. More to the point, anyone who knows me can see some of my personality in both Big Al (of the Ninja Librarian) and in JJ MacGregor (of the Pismawallops PTA books). In fact, there is probably more of me there than is good, or than I want. 

But while my friends and family may exclaim that they totally see me in the characters, it's less clear to me, because the characters are themselves. Maybe it's something like the way you can see yourself in your children. "Oh, wow," you say. "My kid sounds exactly like me when he talks about math!" Or she has your nose, or your hair. But you also look at the kid and you see a unique person, someone whose thoughts and decisions are not all like yours. That's the way I feel about my characters. I'm certainly not JJ, and while I share Big Al's preference for dungarees over skirts, she is truly her own person, and not really so much like me.

Sneakier are the parts of me that are in other characters. I am in the Ninja Librarian, and in JJ's friend Kitty, and maybe even in Ron Karlson (and no, I'm not going to tell you the parts of me I see in them). I hope I'm not in any of the nastier characters, but I suppose a good look would find something of me, because we can't write a character unless we can imagine that person.

But the only place I have deliberately put something of myself into a book is when I had the local librarian on Pismawallops Island reading The Ninja Librarian.

In other news: 
I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Since I've been pathetic at trying to finish the revisions of my 2015 novel, I haven't even started revisions (major rewrite, more like) on my 2016 NaNo novel. So no way do I get to start another project. Though once I get Death By Adverb (the Pismawallops PTA murders #3) under control, I've no doubt I'll plan and draft another novel before I tackle beating Gorg's book into shape. I'm also trying to spend a little more time on short fiction, and working on finding the right places to submit some of it. As a result, I may also be doing fewer book reviews, or re-running some of the reviews of books I think could use more attention, just to spare myself a bit of time.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?


Title: Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?
Author: Liz Kessler
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2014. 280 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Jessica Jenkins has always been a perfectly ordinary girl—until one day part of her arm vanishes in the middle of geography class! Jessica’s friends Izzy and Tom are determined to help her develop her newfound invisibility, though Jessica is more concerned with discovering where the ability came from. When it becomes apparent that there may be other kids developing strange powers of their own, Jessica marshals them into a slapdash band of “slightly superheroes.” But when an unscrupulous adult discovers the origin of their powers and kidnaps one of the team, the rest must put their heads—and all of their skills—together to avert disaster.

My Review: 
I've read some of Liz Kessler's other books, and she likes to play around on the margins between science fiction and fantasy. I really liked North of Nowhere, and was less crazy about The Year Without Autumn (which I apparently didn't bother to review). None of that, of course, has anything to do with my reactions to this book. 

I thought that Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? was a fast, fun read, an adventure with an interesting science fiction/fantasy twist. I also think that's about all it is. Although the main characters learn a few things about judging other people, and their world opens a little bit, there isn't any major growth happening in this book. It's an adventure, not a coming-of-age story. The adults in the story are (aside from the villain) pretty much peripheral characters and with one exception seem to have nothing to do with the story, which in a way helps keep it at a not-too-scary middle-grade level.

I will also admit that from my adult perspective I'm left a little uneasy at the end, as the villain hasn't really been what I'd call adequately neutralized. Maybe Ms. Kessler is leaving the option open for a sequel!

My Recommendation:
Good for those who like adventures, and light science fiction. It will probably annoy any kid who is really into science, as the speculative part is a bit unreal. But the adventure is good, so I'd call it a nice light vacation read for kids from about 9-12.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Flashback Friday: The Forgotten Library

It's Flashback Friday, the last Friday of the month when bloggers in the know re-post an old favorite, or something that you think deserves more attention than it got the first time around.  Jemima Pett is managing the party for now, at least. So give yourself a break and join the fun! Pop over to her blog and add a link to your post in the comments.

I picked this little story from 2014, part of my ever-growing collection of library stories.

The Forgotten Library

A lone rider advanced wearily up the long, winding road toward the city that rose from the summit.  The horse drooped with heat, dust, and fatigue, and the rider slumped in the saddle as though the effort of remaining upright were nearly too much.

For long months and years the pair had sought this place, riding over much of the known world, following rumor and ancient tale, ignoring those who said it had never existed.  Now from time to time, as the rider drew up to allow the beast to rest, the cloaked figure ran eager eyes over the walls ahead, and a gleam of life sparked under the dust and exhaustion.

Little about the place would seem to call forth such interest, or explain the life-long quest.  No flags or banners flew from the walls.  No bright-mailed guards watched from gate or tower.  Only birds flew overhead, offering the semblance of life in a place that had been dead for years beyond all accounting.

The dusty travelers topped the last rise and halted at last before the gates.  This was the last barrier, the final puzzle to be solved before reaching the long-sought goal.  For despite the passage of many lifetimes since the walls were manned, the gates still stood intact, an immovable barricade between the rider and the long-sought destination.

“’No man can breach the gates,’” the rider murmured, as though quoting something learned long ago.  “There is no spell, they say, and yet people have entered.  There will be a way.”  The horse twitched an ear, gazing dispiritedly about.  A forecourt so long abandoned should have been overgrown with grass and weeds, but nothing showed green here, no mouthful offered itself for a weary mount’s refreshment.

Dismounting stiffly, as one who has been too long in the saddle, too many days together, the rider scouted in either direction.  Perhaps the wall had crumbled elsewhere, that folk might enter without breaching the gates.  But the wall fitted too well to the top of the hill, and there was no path to trace to either side.  The city wall merged seamlessly with the cliffs below.  Only at the road and the gate could one approach the city at all.

Frowning with the frustration of the thing, the rider reached out and touched the gate.  There was no movement of the immense panels.  Suddenly, however, the rider laughed, and spoke.  A single word in a strange tongue echoed from the walls.  The gates still did not budge, and the rider frowned once more.  After a moment’s thought, the cloaked figure tried another phrase, first in the long-dead alien tongue, then in Common.

“I come seeking knowledge.”

No living creature moved, but the gate swung aside just enough to admit horse and rider.  “No Man may enter indeed,” she said to herself with a smile.  “But yet it seems that Woman is not barred.”  Behind her, the gate silently swung shut again.  It made a solid sound that made her frown as she looked around.  A shudder passed over the cloaked body, ravaged and lean from a hundred months of ceaseless journeying.  Would the gates that so easily admitted one seeking knowledge let her out again when curiosity was satisfied?

Would she even want to go? 

Too late to turn back.  With a shrug, the rider led her mount over the cobbles.  A trickle of water ran ever into and out of a trough across the courtyard, out of a stone pipe and into a hole in the cobbles to vanish beneath the city.  The rider spread a hand over the pool, and finding no sign of magic or disease, knelt and drank deeply before allowing the horse to slake its thirst.

“Easy, girl.  Not too fast.”  She pulled the animal away, and filled a waterskin from the trickle.  She should leave the horse there while she searched, she thought, though a look about revealed no more grass grew here within than without.  But the silent, empty city filled her with a chill she could not shake, and she would not lightly part from the only living creature within the walls.  Even the birds did not land or nest here.  She took up the reins and led her mare deeper into the maze of streets.

Led by who knew what instinct, she followed street after street, turning right and left as though she knew where she went.  At last she stopped before a grey stone building.  The houses on either side had broken and fallen, but the grey stone looked untouched by time.  She looped the mare’s reins over a broken timber from the next building and approached the immense timber door.  Hand shaking with anticipation, she reached for the latch.

Silently, the door swung open, and she stepped inside, halting to gaze about in awe and wonder.  It was real.  She had found it.

Row after row of shelves led away into the dim recesses of the single, huge room.  Every shelf was filled—jammed—with books.  Reverently, she stepped forward along the first row, reaching a shaking hand to touch a spine here, a scroll-end there.

They should have been covered with dust.  They should have decayed into dust themselves long since.  But this long-forgotten library showed signs of neither age nor neglect nor use.  Magic crackled in the very air, but she ignored it.  With a happy sigh, the scholar pulled a volume from a shelf, read the title with a smile, and settled into a chair at the single long table and began to read.

Outside, the horse gave a toss of her head.  The bridle slipped over her ears and dropped to the ground.  Turning, she went in search of grass and water. 

She’d not be needed any time soon.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Caravan, by Dorothy Gilman


Author: Dorothy Gilman
Publisher: Fawcett Crest, 1993 (original by Doubleday, 1992). 248 pages
Source: I think I found this at the library book sale. Or else on Mom's bookshelves.

Publisher's Summary:
A lushly romantic adventure story set in the North African desert in 1914, told by the impeccable Lady Teal as she reminisces in her London town house about her decidedly peccable past…

With her anthropologist husband murdered and their caravan stolen by fierce Tuareg tribesmen, Caressa’s choices are death or a life of slavery. Concealing her dangerous beauty beneath the faded robes of an Arab boy, she embarks on the adventure of her life, harassed by vicious nomads, slave traders, and the envious witch doctor, Isa. Only a handful of carnival magic tricks stand between her and oblivion. Then she discovers an inner magic so mysteriously compelling that the desert people call her a sorceress. With it she will secure her freedom and discover the love of her life…

My Review: 
I thought I had long since read all of Dorothy Gilman's books, but if I read this one, I don't remember it. So it was kind of fun to find it on my shelf and dive in. 

The blurb calls the story "lushly romantic," but frankly I put it more in the category of adventure. Caressa is a naive schoolgirl of 16 when she marries the anthropologist (more because he says to than because she has any idea what that means). They don't have much of a marriage, and soon enough he is dead in the desert--but not before she begins to see him in a more accurate light. The beauty of this story is not just the adventure, but watching Caressa grow up and seeing her draw on her carnival background for survival (and that background certainly serves her much better than the lessons in being a lady she was taking before her marriage).

I admit it was less fun (but no less a good story) to see her hiding that part of herself and using the lessons in being a lady to fit into a new situation when she comes out of the desert. I suppose in a nutshell it is a story about adapting and survival, with point illustrated in some radically different settings! In any case, an entertaining book if not exactly a work of important literature (and not quite as fun as Mrs. Pollifax, but what is?).

My Recommendation:
A good read for a weekend at the beach or a stormy winter night.

FTC Disclosure: I bought Caravan second-hand, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   


Did you write your #Fi50 story? You have until the end of the month! Post it on your website and link back to my story. Then check the Fi50 page above to see what the November theme is!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mystery Review: Murder at the River Bend Resort


Title: Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort
Author: Stan Schatt
Publisher: self. 2017, 238 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1548656195
Publisher's Blurb: 
When a very disagreeable resident of the exclusive River Bend Retirement Resort is murdered, bestselling mystery writer Miriam Lipsky has to find the real killer to save a dear friend from prison. She finds the retirement home seethes with intrigue, passion, and jealousy. To make matters worse, it’s hard to distinguish what residents actually saw from what they imagined.
Miriam finds she has to search for the killer while juggling an autistic grandson, a divorced daughter with a tendency to choose the wrong man, her best friend’s overly friendly husband, and a stalker who who leaves her more and more threatening notes. To make matters worse, her rabbi won’t take no for an answer when it comes to fixing her up.
Miriam, a widow after a disastrous marriage, has given up on love. Just when she is sure that part of her life is over, someone new appears from a very unexpected place.
Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort is a cozy mystery with a sleuth who has to learn on the job. Despite her best intentions, Miriam makes mistake after mistake and yet moves ever closer to discovering a cold blooded killer who has no remorse.

My Review:
This is a solid mystery, with reasonable markers for the culprit but enough red herrings to keep the reader uncertain. I think the best part is what it says in the blurb--Miriam is truly an amateur, and makes mistakes, but learns from them. I have no doubt she'll be a better writer for the experience, too! Miriam has a better excuse than many cozy sleuths for doing her sleuthing, and a little more legal standing than most, though she is on shaky ground there, and gets a lot of forgiveness from the police chief, which she needs.

There are enough interesting side issues to make the story well-rounded, and about the right amount of romance for my tastes (for new readers of my reviews, that means there is some, but it is far from a dominant feature of the story, and there are no sex scenes). There were a few minor editorial/proofing issues, but nothing that jarred me out of the story too far.

My Recommendation:
This has the promise to be an interesting series. If you like cozies, check it out.

About the Author
Stan is the author of over 40 books including the Frankie and Josh mysteries. He has published books on career changing, technology, and writers that include Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva.

Author Links
Purchase Links
Amazon    B&N

September 18 –  Back Porchervations – REVIEW
September 19 – Lisa Ks Book Reviews – REVIEW, INTERVIEW
September 20 – Readsalot – SPOTLIGHT
September 21 – Mythical Books – REVIEW
September 22 – StoreyBook Reviews – GUEST POST
September 23 – Valerie’s Musings – REVIEW
September 24 – Laura’s Interests – SPOTLIGHT
September 25 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW
September 26 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – SPOTLIGHT
September 27 – Community Bookstop – SPOTLIGHT
September 28 – Brooke Blogs – REVIEW
September 29 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
September 30 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT
October 1 – Lori’s Reading Corner – SPOTLIGHT

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Murder at the River Bend Retirement Resort from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

#Fi50: Oops!

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words). Then click the link in the image above and add your post, or add a link in the comments below. Check out some of the other offerings, and join the fun! You can post any time during the week, or the whole month--prompts are available on the Fi50 page through the end of the year.


“Festering rat-dung!”
“What’s the matter?”
“Uh, my hand slipped.”
“Yeah, maybe. What does blood do to these circuits?”
“I have no idea. Test routine one.”
“Controls respond.”
“Air quality okay. You need a bandage.”
“I’m getting some odd readings.”
“Yeah. I hope your insurance is paid up.” 

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!