Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Flash: A Pismawallops PTA Christmas, Part II

Last week our intrepid heroine and her side-kick found a kitten ravaging the tables of the PTA holiday bazaar. This week, they deal with finding the cat a home, against all the odds. I ran a bit over, at 1050 words.

A Pismawallops PTA Christmas, Part II

I put my hands on my hips and glared at Kitty. The kitty in her arms poked its furry little face toward me and mewed.

“How on earth do you intend to persuade Arne Hancock to adopt that creature?”

“It’s a kitten, JJ, not a ‘creature.’ And I have about three minutes to come up with the answer to that,” she added.

“While we tidy his table,” I pointed out. “I think it will go a lot better if he doesn’t see what the kitten did to his rainbows.” I left her trying to hold the cat in one arm while she moved potholders around with her free hand. Trotting across the gym, I flipped the switch that started the music, then scurried back the other way to open the door. Three PTA parents stood outside with trays and platters of baked goods.

I took the goodies, directed the one donor who was willing to stay to help Kitty, and tried to match the desserts with Patty Reilly’s signs. Fortunately, Patty came in before I could make too much of a mess of things, and I went back to directing people and coping with emergencies.

I spotted Arne at the door, and, a quick glance showing me that Kitty and her helper weren’t done with the table, set myself to delay him a minute or two.

“Oh, Arne. Glad to see you.” I clutched his arm, turning him so his back was to the scurry around his table. “Do you have the pricing tags for the art table?”

He looked at me, confused by the question, as well he might be. “I’m in charge of the crafts table, Ms. MacGregor, not the art.” He looked at my hand on his arm, and I got the message. I let him go.

“I’m sorry. I just thought that since you’re the art teacher… ” My words trailed off as he turned and saw what Kitty and Amy were doing.

“Why are they messing up my display?”

“Um, they’re just straightening up a bit. There was, ah, a bit of an accident.”

“Again?” His lips narrowed. “I fail to see why my table should be the one cast into disarray by every clumsy lout,” he began, then stopped. “I’m sorry. I suppose one of you bumped it while trying to do too much. No harm done,” he said without conviction as he hurried away to see to his goods.

I watched Kitty turn her back and trot off as he approached, the kitten now snuggled inside her gaudy Santa snowman sweater. I cut across the room at an angle to intercept her.

“I don’t know why Arne is so fussed about his perfect arrangement of potholders,” I murmured when I caught her. “The shoppers will reduce it to chaos in minutes in any case.”

She laughed. “And he’ll spend the whole time trying to restore it to order.”

“What are you going to do with the furball there?” I asked. “Even if Arne does adopt it, you have to do something with it for the day.”

“I’m not sure. I only know I have to keep her out of sight, because if Kat and Sarah see her, I’ll have another mouth to feed at my house.”

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “I’m allergic.”

Kitty didn’t believe me, but I was gone before she could challenge that, off to calm another crisis. I called back over my shoulder, “take it to the teachers’ room and give it some milk!” I’d have to get along without my partner for a while.

The bazaar had opened while I was running around, and shoppers were swarming over the tables, especially the treats. I checked to make sure Amy was at the cashier’s table, and had everything she needed, then went to get the lids for the cups of coffee and hot cider we were selling.

After that, I spent my day dashing from table to table, giving people a break where needed, fetching whatever had been forgotten, and trying to keep a smile pasted on my face so I wouldn’t scare off the customers. Patty slipped me a broken cookie or two, and my coffee cup stayed filled, or I wouldn’t have made it.

Eventually, Arne Hancock waved me over. “I need a break,” he announced. “The crowd is getting rather large and loud and I must go somewhere quiet for a time.”

How on earth did this guy survive teaching high school kids? I hid my smile, and told him I could give him ten minutes.

“I’m going to the teachers’ room,” he said, and was off before I remembered.

Kitty had left the kitten sleeping in a box in the teachers’ room. I hoped Furball would keep quiet.

Arne didn’t return. I needed to leave the table and take care of business, like finding a bathroom to offload the four cups of coffee I’d drunk. Where was he?

I finally got someone over to take my place with the potholders, and found Kitty. “We need to find Arne. He went off to take his break and never came back.”

“Where’d he… oh, no!” Kitty said.

“Oh, yes. If that cat got out and made a mess in the teachers’ room, we will never hear the end of it.” We raced down the breezeway between the gym and the main school building, dreading what we might find. Opening the door of the teachers’ room, we came to a dead halt.

Arne sat on the floor, surrounded by wads of crumpled paper. As we watched, he tossed one to the kitten, who pounced on it and batted it back to him. The stressed-out art teacher had a blissful smile on his face as he reached out to stroke the soft kitten-fur.

When at last he noticed us, he looked up, unperturbed. “You’ll have to get on without me over there. Someone abandoned this poor animal, and I need to take care of her.” He frowned. “It’s not yours, is it?”

“No,” Kitty managed to answer. “I found her in the gym.”

“Excellent. Then I shall take her home and see that she is cared for properly.”

We closed the door before we turned to grin at each other.

Two lonely creatures had found each other.


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

Enjoyed the story? Take a look at the Pismawallops PTA mysteries.
What do you serve when all you have in the freezer is an ice-cold corpse?
JJ MacGregor thinks it’s hard enough to hold the Pismawallops PTA together when a new mom starts tossing out insults.  She discovers it’s even harder when the woman shows up dead where the ice cream bars should have been.
 Formal dances, final exams, and dead bodies. School’s almost out at Pismawallops High!
JJ thought starting the day without coffee was a disaster, but now there's a dead musician behind the Pismawallops High School gym. His trombone is missing, and something about the scene is off key. JJ and Police Chief Ron Karlson are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, but will they be able to work harmoniously or will discord ruin the investigation? With the music teacher as the prime suspect, JJ could be left to conduct the band, and then Graduation might truly end in a death by trombone, or at least the murder of Pomp and Circumstance!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy Hanukkah! Today is the beginning of Hanukkah, so for any readers who celebrate it (or any who are looking for more holidays to celebrate for any reason), best wishes of the season.


After last week's IWSG post, I'm experimenting with writing more about writing. This is also my chance to lay out my holiday posting schedule, except... I think I'll be posting when I feel like it through the end of the year, with the exception of my #Fi50 post on the 24th, and Flashback Friday on the 29th. Otherwise, you can look for chaos for the next 2 1/2 weeks. I do plan to post Part 2 of my Pismawallops PTA Christmas story on Friday.

As for writing, my mind is full of the question of editing, and our internal editor, the one who has most of us convinced at some point in the life of every book (or at many points) that the book is awful. For me, the only way out of that seems to be to a) let someone else read it and give me honest feedback, and/or b) walk away for weeks or months until I have perspective again.

But what if the gut feeling is right and the book is deeply flawed? I have salvaged one by coming back literally years later and doing a major rewrite. Maybe the toughest test a writer can face is the need to make deep changes in a book you thought was done (thanks, Jemima Pett, for showing by example that this is a genuine option). But unless there is something incurable, I think that it's worth putting in the time (I'm not happy about that thought; I'll do some kicking and screaming and whining if I need to do it, but I think it's right).

I may be in that position with Death By Adverb. I was planning to start advance advertising, even to schedule a release date. But now I'm not so sure. Plans are on hold, including plans to reveal the gorgeous cover Danielle English has made for me. I have reasonable confidence that the book will be finished. I just don't know when. I do know that I have to put in the work it needs, and no release a half-baked story. I also know that if I need to give it space, I have a long backlog of projects I can turn to. One piece might be a mess, but I never run out of things to write.

Watch this space to see what happens next!

Writing is like body-surfing: sometimes you ride the wave, sometimes the wave lands on top of you and you get sand up your swimsuit.

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mystery Monday: Honey-Baked Homicide by Gayle Leeson

Title: Honey-Baked Homicide
Author: Gayle Leeson
Publisher: Berkley, Dec. 5, 2017. 288 pages, paperback.
Source: Great Escapes Book Tours electronic ARC

Publisher's Blurb: 
The owner of a delightful Southern café tastes the sharp sting of suspicion in this delectable comfort food mystery . . .

It’s fall in Winter Garden, Virginia, and business at Amy Flowers’ Down South Café has never been better. So when struggling beekeeper Stuart Landon asks Amy to sell some of his honey, she’s happy to help. The jars of honey are a sweet success, but their partnership is cut short when Amy discovers Landon’s body outside the café early one morning.

As Amy tries to figure out who could possibly have wanted to harm the unassuming beekeeper, she discovers an ever-expanding list of suspects—and they’re all buzzing mad. She’ll have to use all of her skills—and her Southern charm—to find her way out of this sticky situation…

My Review: 
Honey-Baked Homicide is a good read--a setting that works well, interesting and engaging characters, and a mystery that I didn't solve until the end. I enjoyed the story, and didn't feel like it was odd that the main character was investigating the crime--she had a good reason to care, and wasn't really treading on the toes of the police. I did have a little trouble keeping characters straight, which suggests to me that reading the series in order might help. The book definitely stands alone, but there were some things I felt like I was missing.

My main critique of the book was that there is too much description of food and clothing. That is, of course, a purely subjective critique--a reader more interested in the details of what characters are eating and wearing will probably not notice, or be happy to know what's on the menu at the Down South Café. For me, it was a bit off-putting, though by no means enough to ruin my enjoyment of a quick and pleasant read. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the way Amy talks to her dog as though he can answer--just one of many humorous touches that kept the book moving for me.

My Recommendation:
A good choice for lovers of comfort food! There are several recipes included :)

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Honey-Baked Homicide 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."  

About the Author: 

Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent. I also write as Amanda Lee. As Gayle Trent, I write the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series. As Amanda Lee, I write the Embroidery Mystery series.

The cake decorating series features a heroine who is starting her life over in Southwest Virginia after a nasty divorce. The heroine, Daphne, has returned to her hometown of Brea Ridge to open a cake baking and decorating business and is wrestling with the question of whether or not one can go home again. She enjoys spending time with her sister, nephew, and niece, but she and her mother have a complicated relationship that isn’t always pleasant. Daphne has also reconnected with her high school sweetheart and is pursuing a rekindled romance while desperately trying to put her past behind her.
Kerry Vincent, Hall of Fame Sugar Artist, Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show Director, and Television Personality says the series is “a must read for cake bakers and anyone who has ever spent creative time in the kitchen!”

Says Dean Koontz, #1 New York Times bestselling author, “One day I found myself happily reading . . . mysteries by Gayle Trent. If she can win me over . . . she’s got a great future.”

The Embroidery Mystery series features a heroine who recently moved to the Oregon coast to open an embroidery specialty shop. Marcy Singer left her home in San Francisco, along with the humiliation of being left at the altar, in order to move to Tallulah Falls and realize her dream of owning her own shop. She takes along her faithful companion, a one-year-old Irish wolfhound named Angus O’Ruff. She makes many new friends in Tallulah Falls, but she also makes a few enemies. Thankfully, her best friend Sadie MacKenzie and her husband Blake run the coffeehouse right down the street from Marcy’s shop, the Seven-Year Stitch; and Detective Ted Nash always has her back.
Publishers Weekly says, “Fans of the genre will take kindly to Marcy, her Irish wolfhound, Angus O’Ruff, and Tallulah Falls. This is a fast, pleasant read with prose full of pop culture references and, of course, sharp needlework puns.”

Pat Cooper of RT Book Reviews says, “If her debut here is any indication, Lee’s new series is going to be fun, spunky and educational. She smoothly interweaves plot with her character’s personality and charm, while dropping tantalizing hints of stitching projects and their history. Marcy Singer is young, fun, sharp and likable. Readers will be looking forward to her future adventures.” (RT Book Reviews nominated The Quick and the Thread for a 2010 Book Reviewers’ Choice Award in the Amateur Sleuth category)

I live in Virginia with my family, which includes my own “Angus” who is not an Irish wolfhound but a Great Pyrenees who provides plenty of inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Ruff. I’m having a blast writing this new series!

And now--a special interview with author Gayle Leeson.

Hi, Gayle. Thanks for taking time  to answer some questions for our readers! We always like to hear about how writers do their job.
 When did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life?
My parents tell me that almost as soon as I could talk, I started telling them stories that began, "Once uppa time..." So, I guess it was meant to be! LOL!
I can relate, and you clearly have gift of story-telling.  Do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?Oh, my goodness, my process is weird. I'm not sure you could even call it a process. I have to write things out in longhand at least, until I get to know my characters well. And then I type. But I still always set out my chapters in longhand and then type the chapter. Does that make sense? Type a chapter, grab a pen and outline the next chapter; repeat.

Interesting. It makes some sense, though--our minds work differently depending on how we are writing. So,
do you create a detailed outline before you start writing, or… I'm something of a pantsing outliner! I try to get the big picture and then outline the chapters one at a time.

I kind of like that compromise! 
Sometimes writers have to find out about all sorts of odd things. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?I'm not sure it's the weirdest thing off the top of my head, but I recently researched reading tea leaves. I'm not sure it's something I could ever do, but hopefully, I can pretend that one of my characters can.

You have a  number of different themes and careers for your heroines. What is the strangest job you’ve ever held?
The strangest job I ever had was for a small-town attorney. He was so tight that he wouldn't buy a copier, and I had to go down a flight of stairs and up the street to the courthouse whenever I had to make a copy of something! And, of course, they charged him for the copies. In the long run, it would've probably made more financial sense for him to buy a copier, but noooo...

Penny wise, pound foolish! I'll bet you were glad to leave that job. One last question: If there’s a spider in the corner of the room, do you a) panic, b) drop everything until it is removed, or c) hope it will eat the other annoying bugs that get in?
If it's in a far corner of the room, I'll ignore it. If it's in MY corner of the room, I'll speak to it and tell it  that we're good as long as he doesn't drop down on my head or something. One night I was on the porch and saw a massive spiderweb. The spider was sitting there, and I said, "That's a really nice setup you've got there--like a spider mansion or something. You should write SOME DOG in the web for Cooper." And then I laughed. Which is probably how the neighbors know I'm crazy. I attribute talking to weird things like spiders to too much Disney growing up. And, you know, being crazy. LOL!
I love it! Thanks for sharing that, and thanks for stopping by to chat with the Ninja Librarian!

Intrigued? Here are the links for more information:

Purchase Links:

And, last but not least, we have a Giveaway! Enter to win a $25 Amazon giftcard!

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: A Pismwallops PTA Christmas, Part 1

Decided to have some fun as we run up to the holidays (and yes, I will unashamedly say "holidays," because there are a bunch of them and I like to celebrate any that come my way, and encourage others to celebrate any they like). So I dropped in to see how the Pismwallops PTA handles the event. With a fund-raiser bazaar, of course! But nothing ever goes quite according to plan when JJ MacGregor is involved. It's looking like a 2-part story.

A Pismawallops PTA Christmas

“JJ, we need another table for the baked goods!”

“JJ, the tree won’t light up!”

“JJ, the—”

I tuned out the last voice. Arne Hancock always had a crisis for me to fix. I dispatched two kids to get the table Patty Reilly needed for the brownies, and went to help Kitty Padgett with the lights that didn’t light. Kitty’s the PTA president, so she was getting her own share of people demanding instant fixes.

“It’s plugged in?” I asked.

Kitty gave that the eye-roll it deserved, so I added, “In an outlet that actually works?” The Pismawallops High gym needed some upgrades, no question.

“I tried three outlets,” Kitty said. “It’s got to be a burned out bulb.”

I eyed the antique string of lights on our decidedly fake tree. There was no good way to find the defective bulb, unless the principal had someone in detention he really wanted to punish. Each bulb would have to be replaced, one at a time, and the string tested after each one. I made the sort of executive decision expected of a VP, even of a small-town PTA.

“Toss ’em. Buy a new set at McMullens when we get done here, and we can string them in the morning.”

Kitty nodded agreement and we moved on to the next set of crises. Arne was at my shoulder, so this time I had to pay attention.

“Someone has been playing with the hot pads and scrubbers. I left them perfectly arranged, and now look at them!”

I could see his point. The colorful clothes and crocheted plastic pot scrubbers were jumbled in disarray on the table. I thought it looked fine—a cheerful chaos—but Arne liked order.

“I suppose someone must have bumped the table or something,” I said. “It won’t take long to fix it. Get some of the kids to help.”

He pursed his lips and regarded the teens who swarmed over the gym, hanging decorations and creating a joyful chaos. At length he selected Kat and Brian—Kitty’s daughter and my son—and set them to work lining up the handicrafts.

By bedtime, the gym looked pretty good. Swags of greenery covered at least some of the cinder-block walls, and the tables lining those walls were heaped with seasonal goods. Our Holiday Bazaar was as ready as it would ever be, aside from the lights. Arne’s table was a perfect rainbow again, and Patty had the food tables organized with pricing signs to show were everything would go when the goodies rolled in in the morning. A fair number of sealed containers were already in place.

I checked to make sure none of the containers could be opened or nibbled through. We’d been known to have a pest or two in the school. Convinced everything was tight, I doused the lights, the last one out, and locked up.


I was the first one back at the gym Saturday morning, with Kitty right behind me hauling new strings of colorful lights. It was two hours until the holiday bazaar opened its doors, and we had some work to do.

I hit the lights, and scanned the room. Everything looked like we’d left it…until my eye reached the hot pads. Arne’s fastidious rainbow had been scrambled into a chaotic swirl once again.

“Oh, no! Arne’s going to have a coronary!”

Kitty, coming up behind me, said, “What?”

I pointed.

“We’ll have to get it back in order, fast.”

“But how could it have happened?” I wanted to know. “I was the last one out. It was fine then, and I locked the door. No one’s been here.” Except someone obviously had been there.

Carlos, the custodian and our PTA secretary, had keys, but he swore he hadn’t been near the place, and I believed him. That left burglars, who I assumed would at least have stolen some brownies, not just messed up one table; students, who would have no way to get in; or ghosts.

“Poltergeist. That has to be it,” I told Kitty.

“The Ghost of Christmas Presents?” she suggested.

“Let’s get these lights strung, then we can do something about the table.”

I checked the other tables, but as far as I could see, no one had touched anything else. I did eye one well-sealed pan of brownies, which seemed to have some scratches on the cover, but nothing had gotten in. We shared a brownie before we started, just to be sure they were okay.

We strung the tree in record time. Expecting volunteers and food donations to begin arriving at any moment, I crossed the room to turn on the music, though I’d been enjoying the silence. Kitty headed for the hot pads.

I was about to flip the switch when Kitty gasped.

“What?” I turned around, not sure what to expect. That talk of ghosts had been a joke, but maybe we were a little jumpy, or just punchy.

Kitty was crouching by the table, hand extended. She made a little kissing noise and said, “Kitty!”

“Why are you calling yourself?” Now I wondered if there’d been something odd in those brownies we’d tested.

“Not me—kitty as in cat.”

“Kat? What’s she doing under there?” And Kat couldn’t hide in that heap of hot pads.

“Not Kat. Cat.”

I still wasn’t getting it, and became convinced the brownies had been laced with something. That would be a fiasco, we’d have to…

“C-A-T. There’s a cat in here!” Kitty was laughing, at the same time as she tried to keep still and not scare the animal.

A little, scared, scrawny kitten crawled out from under the hot pads, where it had obviously made a warm nest for the night. Kitty scooped it up, cuddling it. “Here’s our Christmas ghost!”

“A Christmas present for Arne, for sure,” I laughed. “But how on earth did it get in here?”

“Santa?” Kitty guessed.

“And what do we do with it?”

“Her,” Kitty corrected, having taken a look. “She’s for Arne, of course.”

“You don’t think he’s going to adopt a cat, do you?” I looked at the ruin of his perfect rainbow. “Fussy, tidy people do not like kittens.”

Kitty smiled. “Wait and see.”


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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG: 2017 Year-End Round-Up

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 link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the December 6 posting of the IWSG are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner! 
December 6  (optional) question - As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

I'm going to take this opportunity, as I do each year, to look back on my year as a writer and see what I have to celebrate, to regret, and to do better next year. 

The first and most obvious thing I see is that I'm not publishing anything in 2017. Book 3 of the Pismawallops PTA mystery series is nearly ready, but won't be out until early in the new year. I wanted it to be ready for the holiday season, but somehow, it just didn't happen. In part, that's because the revisions proved to be a great deal more challenging than I expected, requiring some re-jiggering of the plot, which means a big mess when you are writing a mystery. But I will also confess to some significant periods this year when I just didn't work on it, or anything else. Not sure why, for sure, though I may blame a lot of it on big changes in the family, as our youngest started college and my husband is preparing for retirement (and that will be another huge disruption to work, so I can expect my production of books to slow down even more for the next few years as we do long-awaited traveling).

On the up side, I'm doing great with the blog (too bad hardly anyone's reading it). I have written 64 book reviews for the blog so far (with several more to come), and somewhere around 30 flash fiction pieces, put together several photo-essay posts, and drafted 3 longer short stories, one of which I submitted to the IWSG anthology (no word yet, but I'm not holding my breath). That last bit fell short of my intentions of submitting at least one story a month (which I reduced to one/month over the summer, and didn't even manage that!). But I do have 2 stories that are a good polish away from submission, and plan to make that a priority after the book edits.

That raises a question for y'all: how do you manage books and shorter works at the same time? Or do you? Flash fiction is easy--by its nature, it's not as polished, and at 1000 words or less it's a matter of an hour or two. But a 3000-5000 word story for submission takes a lot more time and effort, and I can't seem to do that without destroying my focus on the book.

In a nutshell, 2017 has been a bit of a disappointing year for me. Sales are stagnant (maybe because I'm not doing any marketing? Ya' think?) and my writing editing pace is glacial, though committing to a set of editing steps each day during November (instead of drafting another mess) helped a lot.  I have a feeling my focus isn't going to get better any time soon, so maybe I need to think about a new normal. bring it back to the IWSG question, what would I do differently? Maybe work more diligently at getting the edits done? Maybe plan so that I could bring the book out more quickly when they are? Maybe backtrack all the way to 2015 when I drafted Death By Adverb during NaNo and take the time to make a more thorough outline so the final thing wouldn't have been such a mess?

There's one other thing I may want to change going forward: how I blog. I am getting burned out on all the book reviews, which have meant reviewing virtually everything I read. I'd like to keep blogging 3X/week, but I want to think of some different things to blog about, to keep myself and others reminded that this is primarily a writer's blog, not a review site. I think I let myself get swept into something didn't intend because it was an easy way to have content for the blog.

Oh, and one final plus: this fall, I took over managing the Fiction in 50 blog hop (#Fi50) from Bruce Gargoyle. It had lost pretty much all momentum, and is rather slow to get it back, but I'm trying. Check it out and feel free to join in during the last week of each month. Or even just leave me some ideas for prompts!

Okay--over to you! Let me know how your year went, and what you are proudest of.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mystery Review: A Dangerous Talent


A Dangerous Talent

Author: Charlotte and Aaron Elkins
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer, 2012. 270 pages
Source: I purchased this book.

Publisher's Summary:

Alix London has a promising career as an art consultant, a sumptuous condo in Seattle’s toniest neighborhood, a gorgeous figure, and a presence that exudes Ivy League breeding and old money. She has it all…or does she? Only Alix knows that the image she presents to the world is a carefully constructed mirage that veils an embarrassing truth. A brilliant, once-promising art student, the daughter of a prominent New York art conservator, her world was left in ruins when her father went to prison for art forgery. Now a Harvard dropout with an emptied bank account, she is languishing in a career that has produced little more than a lucky house-sitting gig. But all of that changes when Alix meets Christine Lemay, a novice art collector with money to burn and a hot tip on a recently discovered painting by American master Georgia O’Keeffe. Chris hires Alix to perform the authentication, an assignment that finally could launch Alix into the big leagues. But soon after her arrival in Santa Fe, she finds herself tangled up in a web of forgery, deceit—and murder. Anxious to avoid becoming the next victim, she teams up with FBI Special Agent Ted Ellesworth—and gets a little unlikely help from her roguish father—to uncover the truth behind the painting and those who would kill to have it. Sharp, witty, and devilishly fun, A Dangerous Talent offers an insider’s look into the surprisingly treacherous contemporary art world.  

My Review: 

I have long been a fan of Aaron Elkins' Gideon Oliver mysteries, as well as the Lee Ofsted mysteries he has written with his wife, Charlotte. So I was pretty excited to find that they had more books they have collaborated on. The pair have come up with an interesting premise, as usual, and as usual have executed it with highly readable and often witty prose. I enjoyed the characters, and the New Mexico setting was a lot of fun, as I am familiar at least a little bit with some of the places mentioned.

I did notice a couple of things that bothered me a little. One was that friendship between Alix and Christine feel very similar to that of Lee Ofsted and her friend Peg--nothing wrong with that, but it was a little disconcerting, especially as both Alix and Lee are a bit uncertain about their careers, and are befriended by somewhat brash older women who push them to accomplish what they might not on their own. It's a nice form of mentorship, but I thought the Elkins were recycling a bit.

The other disappointment was that I figured out the mystery before the end. That's not so bad--I didn't have all the details, and it wasn't much before the end, but Alix definitely missed one big red flag. 

In the end, neither of those issues stopped me from enjoying the book very much, and I will be reading any more they write in the series (or any other series, for that matter).

My Recommendation:
Fans of Aaron and Charlotte Elkins will definitely want to check this out, as will anyone who is interested in art or Georgia O'Keeffe. You won't find it hard to read, and you won't regret it.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased an ebook of A Dangerous Talent at retail, 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, December 1, 2017

Friday Flash: Dead Comet

For this week's flash fiction prompt, I headed over to Jemima Pett's blog and checked out out her collection of prompts. A few clicks of the random number generator gave me my title, and the story gives a nod or two to Jemima and her Viridian System books.

Dead Comet

“I don’t like this.” The uncertainty in Althea’s voice carried clearly over the communications link. “There’s something wrong here.” 

Aboard the Jemima, Marlis frowned. It wasn’t like her partner to give way to vague misgivings. They might be due for some time in port, maybe even a visit to Sunset Strip. That was supposed to be the best liberty port for spacers in this quadrant. She shook herself. No good thinking about heading dirtside until they finished what they were here for. They needed to score something big if they wanted a vacation. Marlis spoke into her comm unit.


“I’m not sure, Mar. Just…it’s wrong. The whole thing feels dead.”

“It’s an asteroid. They’re all dead. Nothing can live on an asteroid.” Marlis thought that the sensitivity that made Althea good at her job could work against her sometimes.

“I know. So why does it feel weird that this one is dead?”

That wasn’t the sort of question you could answer, so Marlis didn’t try.  “Is there anything there worth mining?” The pair were asteroid miners, not orichalcum like the top guys, but pretty much everything else. They did well, mostly because they were willing to put in the effort to harvest the stuff others bypassed.

“I’m not getting readings for anything familiar,” Althea reported. “Not even iron.” That was odd. Pretty much every asteroid had iron.

“But the computer said to walk it.” Walking was what they called landing on an asteroid and assessing its minerals.

“Maybe the computer needs a vacation, too.”

Marlis fiddled with the sensor controls. “I’ve got nothing. If you aren’t getting anything, come on back in.” She pulled the hood of her own suit closed, and propelled herself along the passage to the airlock, to spot Althea on her return. That was the dangerous moment, and the spacers never did it alone.

Later, in the control room, Althea tried to explain to her skeptical partner. “Maybe it was because the computer insisted we needed to mine that one. Maybe I was just disappointed that there was nothing there.”

Marlis nodded, but she didn’t believe it. Althea was too old an asteroid miner to be thrown off by a dead scent. It happened. The computer sensed something they couldn’t reach, or contaminants in the sensor gave them a false reading. Althea had never been bothered by it before.

“I wonder why I thought it was dead,” Althea mused.

“All asteroids are dead,” Marlis said.

“That’s just it. They’re supposed to be lifeless, so they don’t feel dead. This—remember that time we found the ghost ship?”

Marlis shuddered. She remembered. They’d found the ship drifting, no responses, no life signs, no machinery working. They had boarded it only to find the crew, so long dead they were mummified. No idea what had killed them.

“It felt like that,” Althea said. “Like something that should have been alive.”

Marlis was fiddling with the computer. She stopped, read something, turned back and read it again, and turned to her partner. She wore a puzzled expression.

“I ran the spectrum analysis. It’s not anything like the other asteroids around here.”

Althea asked, “some kind of interloper, then? Not part of whatever broke up and created this asteroid belt?”

“Yeah.” Marlis continued to stare at the computer. “’Thea, what feels alive when you walk it?”

“Planets. Ships, except when all sources of power have shut down,” she added, remembering that drifting tomb. “Not sure what else there is.” She thought and counted them off on her fingers. “I’ve been on ships, planets, and asteroids. And that thing out there,” she knew it now with a certainty that had no knowledge behind it as yet, “that thing is none of those.”

“And what else is there in space?”

“Space junk. Human detritus. I guess that’s what that ship was, except it should have been alive, so it felt weird. This wasn’t human, I’m sure of it.  Not space debris.”

“What else?” Marlis prompted.

Althea thought for a minute. “Comets,” she breathed, seeing it. “That thing is a comet. But…” she hesitated. “I thought those were just in Sol System.”

“They’re bits of rock and ice, left kicking around after the formation of a planetary system. As far as I can tell, they can happen in any planetary system. They orbit the sun, spewing bits of themselves all the way.”

“This thing isn’t spewing anything,” Althea protested. She knew it wouldn’t appear to be moving. The whole asteroid belt was in orbit, albeit a slow one, and the Jemima with it. But the tail should have been visible.

“It’s dead,” Marlis said. “Stopped moving, except with the whole asteroid belt.”

“Doesn’t that just make it another asteroid?”

“It should. You tell me.”

It didn’t. Althea remembered what it felt like to stand on the dead comet. It made her want to leave, to get far away.  “Why did the computer want me to go there? What does it have that we want?”

Marlis studied the computer some more. “Aha! It has things that were frozen into it at the birth of this star system. There are scientists that will pay for an artifact like this.” She looked closer and whistled. “Pay a lot.”

“Did I miss something?” Althea asked. “Why would they pay so much? There must be something of value in it.” She was wondering if they could mine it after all.

Marlis looked at her partner. They’d worked, lived, and loved together for more decades than either of them wanted to remember, but some things never ceased to amaze her. “It contains knowledge, Althea. We just have to get it to the people who can decode it.” She could see that Althea didn’t really understand, but loved an engineering challenge, and was already working out how to capture and tow the comet without it melting or breaking apart.

If they could pull this off, they could have a long holiday dirtside, maybe retire.


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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian--Cover Reveal!


When Lucy Berberian quits her Philadelphia law firm and heads home to Ocean Crest, she knows what she’s getting—the scent of funnel cake, the sight of the wooden roller coaster, and the tastes of her family’s Mediterranean restaurant. But murder wasn’t on the menu . . .   

Things are slow in the off-season in this Jersey Shore town, but Lucy doesn’t mind. She doesn’t even mind waitressing at the Kebab Kitchen. Her parents have put in a new hummus bar, with every flavor from lemon to roasted red pepper. It’s fun to see their calico cat again, and to catch up with her old BFF, who’s married to a cop now.

She could do without Heather Banks, though. The Gucci-toting ex-cheerleader is still as nasty as she was back in high school . . . and unfortunately, she’s just taken over as the local health inspector. Just minutes after eating at the Kebab Kitchen—where she’s tallied up a whole list of bogus violations—she falls down dead in the street. Word on the grapevine is it’s homicide, and Lucy’s the number one suspect . . .

Recipes included!












Coming February 27, 2018 from Kensington Books!!

You can pre-order your copy today!!

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Towers Falling
Author: Jewel Parker Rhodes
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co., 2016. 228 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

My Review: 
This deceptively simple book has some elements that are too predictable--any adult will know from the beginning what the trouble is with Deja's Pop, for example--but it does do what the author sets out to do: presents the story of 9-11 in a way that will be accessible to children born long after the rubble of the towers was cleared. Rhodes brings up issues of race and prejudice, and the children all have their own issues to deal with.

In fact, at times the relationships and circumstances feel a little too contrived. The friendship between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen is too instant and too smooth, and their three separate issues are a little too neatly complementary. Deja lives in a homeless shelter while Ben seems to have everything he could want, but of course his family is falling apart while hers sticks like glue no matter what. Sabeen has enough money and an extended family, but must deal with being Muslim in America.

In the end, the story reads well, and kept my interest despite the weaknesses, but I never really lost sight of the author's goal of making a book "that teachers could teach" about the attack on the World Trade Center.

My Recommendation:
I'd say that this is a book to use exactly as the author intends: as a supplement to explaining 9-11 to children. In fact, because of the subject matter, a child not familiar with the attack should probably not be turned loose to read it without some guidance, though the author does work hard to present the whole thing in a way that won't traumatize children, even while conveying the horror of it.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Towers Falling 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."  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#Fi50: Fiction in 50 Blog Hop

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 add a link to your post 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. I will be adding more for 2018 soon, so please make some suggestions to help me out! 

The November prompt is

The Worst that Could Happen

I took the controls with a giant grin. Finally allowed to solo! 

I did all the rituals the old flyers insisted on with my tongue in my cheek: kissed the ground, all that. I had this. What could go wrong? 

I hit the power button and went to find out.


Now write your 50-word story and drop a link in the comments!

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Flashback Friday: What's for Dinner

It's the last Friday of the month, and that means time for FlashBack Friday! It's every blogger's chance to take a little break and re-run a post that you really like, or wish had gotten more attention. Join in! Just add the logo, and jump over to Jemima Pett's post where she's managing the hop and add your link in the comments. Then visit the other participants to see what else you might have missed!

I found this food-related flash fiction to share in honor of Thanksgiving. I might have used it before, but I still like it. The narrator does find in the end he has a lot to be grateful for.

What’s for Dinner?

Mom’s acting weird.  Well, that’s kind of normal, if you follow me, because she’s always weird, but usually she’s weird like wearing strange clothes and working all night on one of those bizarre sculptures she makes.  I won’t ever tell her this, but I don’t like them.  They have too many jagged edges.  They’ll tear holes in you if you get too close.  I sometimes wonder if she’s out to destroy someone, or if she just sees the world that way, all jagged.  Either way: weird.

But what’s really weird is that she’s started cooking.  No more Swanson’s pot pies, and no more trips through the fast food drive-through window.  So now, I have to eat what she calls “real food,” which is sometimes pretty unreal, if you follow me.

The thing is, her idea of real food can get pretty disturbing.  And that’s why I am sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework, instead of in my room with my music.  I’m keeping an eye on the cooking, between algebra problems.  I’m watching for that moment that says she’s gone over the edge, so I can try to save the rest of us.

She’s put on a big pot of water to boil.  That seems pretty safe, so I turn back to my math book.  6x + 7y=23.  If y=2, what is x?  Okay, algebra’s weird, too.  What do I care what X equals?  I can see at a glance that it’s not going to be a nice round number.  I don’t like decimals.  They’re messy.  And I need some kind of motivation for X, if I’m going to care why it’s multiplying six.

Pasta.  She’s gotten out the spaghetti, which is good, and matches the pot of water.  But a lot depends on what she wants to put atop it.  My palms start to sweat as she begins pulling things off of shelves and muttering.  She’s got an awful pile of weird stuff: ginger and allspice and beans, and for some reason a bottle of pickled pigs feet.  And is that an incantation she’s muttering?  We have never in our lives eaten pickled pigs feet, and I do not intend to begin now.  I forget all about algebra and concentrate on willing the bottle to disappear.

She puts the first cupboard load back on the shelves, and I heave a sigh of relief when the pigs feet disappear.  Then the search starts all over, and I start to sweat again.  What is that green stuff?  And is it supposed to be green, or is that a very bad sign?

Mom does the search three times, and I can’t tell what she’s selected.  By the third shelf of the third cupboard, I’m a nervous wreck, and algebra is a distant memory.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is the night she poisons us all, and I can only wonder if it will be on purpose or just because she let her artist’s imagination get loose.  But if I’m poisoned, I won’t have to turn in my homework, so I don’t hurry.

I start to pray.  I’m not religious, but when we studied world religions last fall, my best friend Griffin and I memorized prayers from every one of them, mostly in languages we don’t understand.  We made up a couple of our own, too, in the elf language J. R. R. Tolkien invented for The Lord of the Rings.  I repeat them all now.  Maybe at least one of the gods will appreciate the attention and save me.  And Dad and my sister, though by this time I’m thinking mostly of myself.

Mom plops the big pasta bowl onto the table, interrupting my prayers and scattering my algebra.

 I stare into the bowl, horrified.  It’s green.  Radioactive waste is green, isn’t it?  Or ectoplasm, or space aliens.  And mold.  Mold is green.

“Eat up,” Mom says.  “Come and get it,” she calls to Dad and Lily.

My hands are shaking.  We who are about to die. .  .

“It’s just pesto, for heaven’s sake Joseph!”

I sag in relief.  Pesto’s bad, but it’s better than interplanetary ecto-slime. 

Rats.  I’ll have to finish my homework after all.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of us in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. In spite of everything that's happening in our country, there's a lot to be thankful for. Maybe it's mostly worries on the national scale, but there is plenty of room for gratitude on the personal front.

I like Thanksgiving. What's not to like about a holiday that focuses on food and people you love, with no religious issues to get between you and the pie? We should all be able to get behind the idea of showing a little gratitude for the good things we have.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for.
A few years out of date. We are overdue for a family portrait.
I'm especially grateful for my husband, who is my co-conspirator in travel to beautiful places. Plus: he supports my crazy writing habit.
Speaking of that writing thing, I'm really rather grateful to have been able to indulge my desire to write, and to have my books out there, available to readers.

And how about feasts of good things, and the health to be able to indulge a bit?
Health, food, family, and the freedom to be my creative self. There's a lot to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia


Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad, 2010. 217 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

My Review:  
Before I start my review, I'm going to share the list of awards this book has received: 

With that much confirmation that it is a good book, what can I say? I read this because I stumbled on the sequel, P.S.: Be Eleven and was intrigued by the characters, the setting, and a view into a different world from my own. Of course, being me, I had to read the books in order, so I sent for this one through the library.

So do I think it's worth all those awards? Probably maybe. I like the description above, of "the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers," because it does have some of that feel. There is a huge potential weight in this book, but it is kept at bay by a good grip on humor, and maybe the absurd (did the Black Panthers run summer camps for kids? I am not completely sure about that, but they did invent the free breakfast program). It's good to be shown another side of something that the media painted with a pretty broad brush at the time, and maybe ever since.

Like many children's books, this is also about family, and what it means. I think Delphine and her sisters get some lessons there, but not as big a lesson as their mother does.

My Recommendation:
Definitely worth reading, for both an engaging story and an historical education. I will be reading the sequel(s) soon.

FTC Disclosure: I checked One Crazy Summer 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, November 17, 2017

Friday Flash: Time Was

This week's Wendig Challenge was to use your smartphone's predictive text feature and, starting from "Once upon a time," pick words until you had a story, or at least an opening line. My own efforts were pretty boring, but follow the link and see what some people came up with. Since I didn't like what I got, I picked one to use to start my story. I stole the line, "Once upon a time, I could change time," and got something from someone else mixed in, which gave me a story to write. I even hit 1000 words spot on.

And maybe I have another flash-fiction anthology to put together sometime: the end of the world. I think I've destroyed it quite a few times on this blog.

Time Was

Once upon a time, when there was time, I could change time. I could speed it up or slow it down, even stop it altogether for…a time. 

The only thing I could not do was the one thing I wanted to do. I could not turn time back. But I had to.

It’s not that time is a river, the way they say. You literally cannot turn a river back, unless you are a really major earthquake, I guess. It’s more that time is a one-way street: you can go the wrong way, but you had better be prepared to be run down by a semi. Or I could put it stronger: it’s like those old-fashioned clocks with chimes, the mechanical kind from way before they invented electronics. You could put them forward, but if you tried to set them back, they broke. 

I tried to turn time back.
It happened a long time ago. Or maybe it was yesterday. I told you I broke time.

I was in charge of my little brother, and I failed.

Mom threw us out of the house that morning, told us not to come back until dinnertime. She'd had about enough of summer vacation, and didn't want us underfoot. "Adam, you take care of Benji. Make sure he doesn't go anywhere near the quarry."

Of course, all I wanted that day was to go to the old quarry. My friends were headed there to go swimming, and I didn't want a little brother tagging along, even if Mom hadn’t forbidden it. He'd rat on me if I took him, anyway.

Don't ask me why I didn't think he'd rat on me for leaving him behind, but I was only 14, so my brain didn't work so well.

Long story short, I ditched him, he tried to follow me, got hit by a car, and died three days later.

Later, when I found out that I could change time, can you wonder that the first thing I wanted to do was go back and change that day?

I first learned I could change time during an incredibly boring Western Civ lecture in college. I know, you’re thinking that everyone has found that time takes twice as long to pass when you are bored out of your mind. But when I got to wishing the end of the class would come faster…it did. Of course, I missed the rest of the lecture, and all that stuff was on the test. I got my first “D” ever, but I was too excited by what I’d discovered to care.

A few days later, I found myself doing a bio lab with the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and I just didn’t want the class to end. I managed to stretch that 3-hour class over about 3 days, judging by how my beard grew. No one else seemed to notice, which was weird, but I was too happy to care.

I spent the next several years trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. From the first, I knew what I was going to do once I had learned enough. To help me get there, I changed my major to physics, and then started a graduate degree in theoretical physics.

After five years of study and experimentation, I decided I was ready.

I spent weeks making my plan and preparing for the project. There were some things I couldn’t figure out. I had no idea if, when I got back to that fateful day eleven years before, I would be 14 or 25. I didn’t think that mattered, but I worried what would happen if, having saved Benji, I lost the ability to manipulate time, or the drive to perfect the skill, or…you can see the sort of dilemma I was considering. Or should have been considering.

None of that mattered to me. I wanted Benji back and I was willing to risk anything to get him.

The one thing I didn’t consider was that I might not just rip the fabric of time, but destroy it.

I did it all with my mind. I didn’t need a time machine or anything like that. Not even a TARDIS, though that would have been way cooler. I just had to re-work my entire consciousness, while leaving my body free to do whatever needed doing.

If I’d been as smart as I thought I was, I’d have done a dry run—gone back to yesterday and ordered the shrimp taco instead of the chicken, or something like that. But I was so sure of myself, and so eager to see my brother again and fix what I’d done, that I jumped right in.

I knew as soon as I began that going back in time was different from slowing or stopping it. I could have scrubbed the experiment, but I was too excited. I pushed on.

I mean that more or less literally. That whole “time like an ever-rolling stream” thing works here. I was swimming against a stream, and it wasn’t a gentle brook. This was a flood. Not the 60-mph debris-filled flash flood of the desert, but more like the Mississippi in flood: much faster than it looks, and about a million tons of force pushing against you.

I struggled on against the flood of time, and the farther back I went, the harder it pushed, and the faster it seemed to move. I was nowhere near my goal when I began to get glimmers that something bad was happening. I thought it was just happening to me, and I was willing to do or suffer anything for Benji, so I kept on.

I’ve tried two or three metaphors for what happened, and none of them is right. That semi on the wrong-way street didn’t crush me. The clock didn’t break into pieces. The river didn’t turn backwards.

They all fragmented.

Time fragmented.

Chaos consumed the universe.

And Benji was still dead.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Audio-book review: The Last of the Doughboys


Title: The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and their Forgotten World War
Author: Richard Rubin; read by Grover Gardner
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2013. Hardcover by Houghton Mifflen, 2013. 528 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. But then, he found another. And another. Eventually he managed to find dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now.

A decade-long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their Great War led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, and battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German aeroplane; an 18-year-old Bronx girl “drafted” to work for the War Department; a machine-gunner from Montana; a Marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the 16-year-old who became America’s last WWI veteran; and many, many more.

They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment, so that they, and the World War they won – the trauma that created our modern world – might at last be remembered. You will never forget them.

My Review:  
I have read and listened to a lot of books about WWI, or fiction set during that war. This is arguably the best. The publisher's blurb gives some idea of why. I will go further to say that Rubin skillfully interweaves the historical events before, during, and after the war into the accounts of the 30+ veterans he interviewed. The result is a book that not only gives a deep personal insight into what it was to be there (though most of the men Rubin interviewed downplayed the death and danger), but also helps clarify what the US did in the war--and why. For me, there was another side-effect: since much of my knowledge of the war comes from fiction written in Canada or the UK, I had a different set of battles in mind as the important ones. The book gave me a new set of names to remember. (By the way, I would dearly love to read any similar book in which someone interviewed British or Canadian veterans of that war).

The book is not a comprehensive history of the war, for all that. It does not try to understand the political mess that dragged the world into the war, nor even to lay out all the battles in an orderly fashion. What it does, and I would say does well, is personalize the war. And the fact that Rubin could find veterans of that war in 2003 helped to bring back to me that this was my grandparents' war. Both of my grandfathers were involved in the war; I have to regret that I lost them before I was old enough to know how much I wanted to ask them about it. Listening to the accounts of the men (and woman) Rubin interviewed helps bring their lives into focus for me.

My only regret with this book is that it needs visuals--maps and photos. It occurs to me that the print edition very likely has these things, and that this is a drawback of listening to history rather than reading it. I may pick up a print copy, in part also because there were things I learned that I'm already having trouble remembering.

My Recommendation:
A must-read for anyone interested in WWI, or anyone who hardly knows we fought in the First World War. I'll go out on a limb and recommend the print edition, unless it turns out not to have any images, in which case, Grover Gardner does an impressive job of reading, especially voicing the men Rubin interviewed.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Last of the Doughboys 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, November 13, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Stepping on the Cracks. An Audio-book Review.


Title: Stepping on the Cracks
Author: Mary Downing Hahn; read by Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Audio-Go, 2013. Original publication 1991 by Clarion Books.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:

Margaret and her best friend Elizabeth both have brothers fighting the war against Hitler; like everyone else they know, they are filled with feelings of patriotism. Margaret and Elizabeth support everything about the war: the troops, the reasons for going to war, even the food rations. After all, this is the good war and the Americans are the good guys.

But the girls are also involved in their own personal war at home. Gordy Smith, the worst bully in the sixth grade, teases and torments them, and Margaret is scared to death of him. But when Gordy and his pals Toad and Doug grow bolder than ever, Margaret and Elizabeth come up with a daring plan to get even. That’s when the girls discover a shocking secret about Gordy that turns their lives upside-down and draws them into a startling confrontation with family, friends, and their own strongly held ideas.

My Review: 

Though it is in many ways a typical kid's book about the WWII era (younger sister at home, older brother off in the army, everyone stressed), this book takes some interesting turns and saved itself from being so-so by delving into several less obvious issues. (This no doubt explains why it got about half a dozen awards). Questions of courage and cowardice come up repeatedly, as does to what extent a child can make adult decisions. Likewise, we can watch while Margaret discovers that adults aren't always right, and don't always even know what's right.

The events that unfold over the 8 or 9 months of the story lead Margaret to see that she does not always have to agree with her parents, and she begins to question many things that they have taken for granted (including the right of a husband and father to "discipline" his family as he sees fit). I think it is for these things that the book received the awards, as the author doesn't take the common path of having the child grow up enough to see that her parents are right. In this case, she grows up enough to see that her parents may well be wrong.

The audio book is well-produced, and the narration is good, with characters voiced distinctly and appropriately.

My Recommendation:
A good read for upper-elementary (11-12) kids ready to consider some difficult issues, including the fallibility of parents. Listening to the audio with your child might provide some chances for discussion.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Stepping on the Cracks 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, November 10, 2017

Friday Flash: The Center Does Not Hold

Two weeks ago Chuck Wendig was having a blue fit or something, and issued a flash fiction challenge based on William Butler Yeats' poem, The Second Coming. In particular, around that key line, "Things fall apart; the center does not hold." Work on Death By Adverb is keeping me from putting as much into my flash fiction this month as I might, but I played around with the theme (a week late), and ended up with more of a dystopian vignette than a story, and only about 625 words. But here it is, for what it's worth. It might appear to contain some political commentary.

The Center Does Not Hold

Things fall apart; the center does not hold.

Was it better when everything stayed in its place, and the magnetic pull of the god kept everyone in tight orbit around their station? My grandfather says it was, but I think Grandmother is less certain. Maybe that’s because she says that her place used to be a bit cramped and uncomfortable. I used to think she meant she had to live in a little box. Now that I understand metaphors, I think that her box is only a little bigger.

Grandfather says there didn’t used to be violence and fighting, because everyone knew his place and was content. But I have learned how to get into the records, and I think maybe it wasn’t so simple. Grandmother says it never is, and that I should think long and hard about what I’m doing.

I have thought. And what I think is that I’ll take my chances on what the world will be without that center Grandfather likes so much. Sooner or later everyone is going to have to either line up on the side of the old ways or on the side of freedom. I know where I’m going to be, and I’m not going to wait until the fight comes to my street. I think Grandmother is secretly proud, for all she’s cautious. We aren’t telling Grandfather.

My parents don’t get a say, because they vanished a long time ago. Now I know why, and I think they’d like me to fight the death-grip of the god, or those who claim to speak for the god.

The first thing I learned when I joined the rebels, is that there’s always a center, or things really do fall apart. We have leaders and rule and a command structure, just like the army on the other side. That’s fine. You do have to have someone in charge. What we don’t have is anyone born into her place and stuck there.

We’re mostly young. The older people have something to lose, but under the god’s regime most of us would be looking at a long empty life of doing what we are told. Or maybe we would be quietly ‘disappeared’ if we didn’t prove useful enough. For all Grandfather says the old times are gone, they really aren’t. It’s just that some of us are fighting the old ways, and that threatens a lot of people.

The funny thing is, I’m still doing what I’m told. But—and it’s not a difference to ignore—I helped decide the purpose to which I’m being directed. We all voted on how, where, and when to make our move, and then our leaders set to planning.

Grandfather would say that everyone deciding that way is chaos, but he’s wrong. It’s something called democracy. Some of the men argued that letting leaders make the detailed plans was giving our power away, but most of us think we should let people do what they are best at. And no plan will be set in motion without the approval of us all. It’s kind of messy, to be honest.

It has to work, though. If we fail, things will be worse than ever. The so-called priests of the so-called god will go back to openly “liquidating” people who don’t stay in the places they are born into. The color of you skin or hair will determine what you can do all your life, and shut up if you don’t like it, because if you don’t match the priests’ looks you must have an inferior brain.

There’s a word for what we want, you know.


I’m willing to take my chances to make that our center, even if everything else falls apart.

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