Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Audio-Book Review: One Dead, Two to Go

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I'll start with an apology, because I was sent this book for review last summer, and I listened to it, and enjoyed it, and somehow the review never got written. I only discovered this when I saw the second book was out, and went to look at my review and see what I'd thought of this one. No dice. I must have gone on vacation. So here it is, better late than never. 


Title: One Dead, Two to Go  (Eddie Shoes Mystery #1)
Author: Elena Hartwell, narrated by Moira Driscoll
Publisher: Audible, 2016. Paperback by Camel Press, 2016, 240 pages.
Source: Review copy from publisher

Publisher's Summary:
Private Investigator Edwina “Eddie Shoes” Schultz’s most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. This is the last anyone will see of the woman … alive. Her body is later found dumped in an abandoned building. Eddie’s client, Kendra Hallings, disappears soon after. Eddie hates to be stiffed for her fee, but she has to wonder if Kendra could be in trouble too. Or is she the killer?

Eddie usually balks at matters requiring a gun, but before she knows it, she is knee-deep in dangerous company, spurred on by her card-counting adrenaline-junkie mother who has shown up on her doorstep fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas. Chava is only sixteen years older than Eddie and sadly lacking in parenting skills. Her unique areas of expertise, however, prove to be helpful in ways Eddie can’t deny, making it hard to stop Chava from tagging along.

Also investigating the homicide is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham’s Major Crimes unit but no stranger to Eddie. Their history as a couple back in Seattle is one more kink in a chain of complications, making Eddie’s case more frustrating and perilous with each tick of the clock.
 

My Review:  This is a well-crafted mystery, with characters I enjoyed. Eddie is a nice mix of confidence and insecurity, and while I sense that there will be more romance in later books, the mystery--and the relationship with her mother--absorbs Eddie's attention here. 

As with many first books in series, the cast and the setting feel a little constrained--not too many characters, and my feel for the town is okay but not detailed. That's fine--I think it's easier to get into a series as a reader (as well as for the writer) if there's not too much in the first book. The characters we do have are necessary, well-developed, and seen through Eddie's eyes, so not always quite as they appear. The author manages in some cases to give the reader a sense of seeing more than Eddie does, even with the 1st-person narration--a good trick.

The mystery itself is interesting and entangled, though the actual corpse gets left a little behind (who killed the mistress mostly feels secondary to the rest of the issues). I felt on second listening that the clues were there, and Eddie neither got them handed to her nor ignored anything that was right in front of her face.

The audio production is excellent, and I think the narrator does an excellent job. She didn't get really tested on the tougher regional names, though :)  However, the characters are voiced well, and distinctly, and production values are high.

My Recommendation:
https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1478130298l/32861649.jpgAn enjoyable PNW mystery, set (I have to say it) just across the water from my own Pismawallops Island. If you enjoy character-driven mysteries, and especially if you like the PNW setting, check it out, as a book or an audio book. And keep an eye out for Book 2, Two Heads are Deader than One.  I'll be checking it out.


FTC Disclosure: I was given a free review copy of the audio book of One Dead, Two to Go, 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, May 22, 2017

Audacity Jones, by Kirby Larson. Middle Grade review

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Title: Audacity Jones to the Rescue
Author: Kirby Larson
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2016. 209 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
An irrepressible orphan named Audacity Jones is headed on an adventure of historic proportions! The first book in a brand-new series from beloved Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson!

Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.

So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie--plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late?
 

My Review: 
I snagged this one from the new book shelf at the library in part because I've read other books by Kirby Larson and liked them. But the story sounded kind of fun, too. Boy, was that a good guess! Definitely a quick, engaging read, with humor, adventure, a touch of absurdity, and just a hint of the mystical (can that cat open locked doors?). I read through it in about 2 sittings, and it would have been one if I hadn't started so late at night. 

Writing level and the adventure both come together nicely for kids from about 8-12. The girls at the school aren't really wayward--they were just inconvenient, which is pretty sad but isn't dwelled on. Audie certainly never spends any time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she grasps every opportunity that comes her way, which is how she ends up in a little trouble in DC. But have no fear--she has a great knack for making the right friends, and a lot of ingenuity for getting out of scrapes!

My Recommendation:
A sneaky bit of historical fiction for those kids who don't think they like historical fiction. This is really all adventure, and while the author has made sure Audie's world conforms to 1910, this story isn't about the history. Larson does include a note at the end to straighten out what is in fact historical about the story, but above all it's a frolic.


This review has become a two-fer, as I promptly went back to the library for Book Two.
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Also by Scholastic Press, 2017, and 192 pages.

Publisher's Summary:
Audacity Jones and her best friend, Bimmy, are setting off from Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls on an extraordinary adventure! In the glittering city of New York, the girls meet Harry Houdini, the world's most famous magician, as he prepares a new spectacle: Houdini plans to make an elephant disappear from a crowded theater.

But Audacity and Bimmy discover a nefarious plot that puts Houdini's illusion in jeopardy. Who could be trying to sabotage the master magician? Audie will need all her smarts, the help of friends new and old, and even her best juggling skills to solve this mystery. Will she manage to save the show in time?

Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson brings readers a magical romp of a mystery that will delight and thrill to the very last page.


My Review:
This book was every bit as much fun as the first, but I didn't find it as good. Does that make sense? I loved that Audie took her best friend Bimmy with her, and Bimmy has the skills and knowledge that round out Audie's own. And the adventure is fun, though there is less sense of brooding peril than in the first book (not that either is very heavy). There is also less sense of history, though the author remains careful to put nothing in Audie's world that shouldn't be there. The cat takes a central role again, and the author lets loose a bit with the cat's abilities, again keeping the story firmly in the 'fun, slightly fantasy-feeling' category that I believe will lead kids to read it in spite of the historical setting. They won't learn as much reading this one as the first, but they'll get a feel for the period.

The ending once again sets us up for another book, and I look forward to seeing what Audie, Bimmie, and the rest of the "Waywards" manage to do next! 

FTC Disclosure: I checked Audacity Jones to the Rescue and  Audacity Jones Steals the Show 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."  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: The Crispins

After a long absence while he was busy doing author things, Chuck Wendig was back this week with a new flash fiction challenge. I used the random number generator to pick my genres, and ended up with Near-Future Sci-Fi and Biopunk. Had to look up the latter, but in the end they kind of ended up being the same thing. I stuck with it, though, because I'd just finished reading an article about CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and it seemed kind of obvious.

Chuck gave us 1500 words, and I ran longer than usual at 1380.

The Crispins


We Crispins were the result of the hubris of the 2030s, when the genetic scientists were sure they had all the glitches worked out of the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing protocols. The big challenge had been solving the problem of not just removing bad DNA, but replacing it with what should be there. They finally got that worked out in 2029. That was when someone got the bright idea of creating enhanced humans.

The result was us. They gave us all the name “Crispin,” after the CRISPR, though someone had the wits to append a unique name for each of us. They swore that the experiment would remain sealed, that our genes would not be let loose on the world unless or until they were certain it was safe. In other words, that we would live as complete prisoners, possibly our entire lives, if they decided it wasn’t safe to use us as intended.

They never asked us how we felt about that.

The idea was that each of us would have enhanced abilities in some area. Some got intelligence, others strength or agility. Lissa has musical talent that would blow your mind, but she’s the only one. Someone must have figured that wouldn’t be much use to the NSA.

They stopped the experiments when they realized that the enhancements always came with some loss. Take me: I have brains like you wouldn’t believe, but I will never be strong or fast. Hermione has a leg that’s nearly useless, though she’s a mathematical genius. Colin can hear things beyond every usual limit of human hearing, but he’s as good as blind. Maybe they meant to limit us, maybe the process just didn’t work as well as they’d thought. In the end, they only made 20 of us, all within a single year.

Then they locked us in a compound in extremely rural Wyoming, and began raising us to be their slaves. After all, they had made us, using embryos and sperm abandoned by their parents. No one had any parental rights in us, and in fact, no one beyond our scientist guardians and a few very highly placed officials knew we existed. We would become the best agents the NSA could wish for, and no parents to notify when we were killed, either.

I think they began to get nervous when we were 6 or 7 years old, because that was when they isolated us from each other. It may have occurred to someone that if we were a bit on the superhuman side, we might be hard to control if we all got together and used each of our strengths to cancel the others’ weaknesses.

I don’t want to pretend it was worse than it was. We weren’t neglected or beaten or anything, and we ate better than most Americans in those difficult times. Many of our guardians were genuinely fond of us, and showed it. We were isolated from each other, but interacted with the guardians. We were each educated alone, in a manner tailored to our enhancements. I think they didn’t want us to have well-rounded educations, because that might set us to thinking in ways they couldn’t control.

There was just one thing that our guardians—our creators and enslavers—didn’t know about us. Their control of CRISPR/Cas9 wasn’t what they thought it was, and a few things changed besides the genes they intended to “improve” or the flaws they introduced.

We were 8 when I learned we were telepathic. Maybe that was when it developed, maybe that was just when we figured it out. But a year or two after they had separated us, we began talking again. Only no one knew but us.

Not all of us were smart enough to see the value of keeping it secret, but those of us who were made sure the others kept quiet. And we shared what we were learning. That meant even the ones who were physically enhanced at the cost of brains knew a lot, because they could lean on those of us with brains. I was sorry we couldn’t share the muscles.

Our education would still have been terribly limited if I hadn’t discovered that, while our guard(ians) couldn’t get telepathic with us, we could read their minds. After that, we began to learn history and politics, and a world of other things they didn’t think we needed to know.

By the time we were teens any one of us, except maybe Brian, whose musculature had been enhanced more than any others, with a concomitant loss of intelligence, could have qualified for a half a dozen PhDs. After all, the people whose minds we’d been reading for years were highly educated, and highly intelligent. We were lucky that some of the spouses weren’t scientists, which had broadened our education a lot.

The originators of the experiment had promised our genes wouldn’t get out, but they hadn’t counted on our needs and our resources meeting. When puberty hit, we all thought that must have been enhanced by CRISPR as well. We later learned that it was pretty normal. We needed the physical companionship of those with whom we were already mentally so close as to be one, needed it badly enough to do something about it.

It didn’t take us all that long to come up with a plan. We already knew some of the guardians were more empathetic than others, and those empaths proved easy to manipulate. They never did know what we were up to, but for some reason, they started leaving a few of our “condos” unlocked.

They were still keeping us apart with a care that made us laugh, in private. But somehow, Cara and Maria got out. They were two of the Agiles—fine motor skills like you wouldn’t believe. It took them about 30 seconds per lock. In 10 minutes, we were all gathered in the motor pool.

It was 2 a.m., and the night was cold, colder than any of us had anticipated. We were all given time outdoors, of course; they knew that was necessary to healthy development. And our Muscles had spent a lot of time outside running, climbing, and working out, because all the enhancements in the world couldn’t remove the need to train.

What the guardians hadn’t considered was that training could also overcome a lot of physical limits. I had no natural ability for running or strength, but a lot of training had made me a lot stronger than I was ever intended to be. You’d think they’d have noticed, but even smart people mostly see what they expect to see.

None of us knew how to drive, of course, but the Agiles had studied the process in the minds of our guardians, and had the enhanced coordination to master the skill in the time it took to get from the garage to the gate. We hit the barricade, smashed it to bits, and kept going.

That wasn’t the end of it, of course. It didn’t take long for them to organize pursuit, but we outsmarted them.

That bus was empty. We remained in the compound, and when it was emptied, every single one of them flying blindly into the night, terrified at what we might do if we got loose, we rebuilt the barricade. Then we let the government know that we were to be left alone. We had the means—don’t ask me what, because I won’t tell you—to enforce that.

We had a lot to work out. The compound was in the wilds of Wyoming, and we needed to become self-sufficient. The government was certainly not going to go on feeding us. It was the work of several years to create our colony, and we had to maintain a constant vigilance, because even after the government admitted defeat, the locals were scared enough of us to come hunting.

We made use of everyone’s strengths, and we worked it all out, security and self-sufficiency and all.

We had to. We were teens, and we had just met members of the opposite sex for the first time. We did what the scientists tried so hard to prevent.

So we made our place in the world, and made it secure.

We did it for the children.


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


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Non-fiction review: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

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Title: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap 
Author: Wendy Welch
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2012. 291 pages
Source: Purchased

Publisher's Summary:
A book about losing your place, finding your purpose, and immersing yourself in what holds community, and humanity, together—books

Wendy Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. When the opportunity to escape a toxic work environment and run to a struggling Virginia coal mining town presented itself, they took it. And took the plunge into starting their dream as well. They chose to ignore the “death of the book,” the closing of bookstores across the nation, and the difficult economic environment, and six years later they have carved a bookstore—and a life—out of an Appalachian mountain community.

A story of beating bad odds with grace, ingenuity, good books, and single malt, this memoir chronicles two bibliophiles discovering unlikely ways in which daily living and literature intertwine. Their customers—"Bob the Mad Irishman," "Wee Willie," and "The Lady Who Liked Romances," to name a few—come to the shop looking for the kind of interactive wisdom Kindles don't spark, and they find friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book in good company.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap will make you want to run to the local bookstore, and curl up in an arm chair with a treasure in bound pages.
 

My Review:  
I got this book because my friend Melissa of Carpe Librum Books (http://carpelibrumbookstore.booklikes.com/) kept recommending it. Maybe even raving about it. I can see why. I'm not sure I'd rave, but then I don't run a bookstore. But I enjoyed the book immensely, and learned a great deal along the way. Did I need to know about which types of books sell best, and the realities of creating a used book store out of nothing? Maybe not, but I had a good time, and turned some of that knowledge to how I thought about our "Friends of the Library" book sale.

Welch's writing style is engaging, as is her ready willingness to apply some gentle self-mockery to the naive innocence with which she and her husband approached both the bookstore project and their move to a small town. I'd say that the book is about half about running/developing a book store, and half about the realities of becoming a part of the community when the community is small, somewhat isolated, and maybe (like many small towns these days, for good reasons), a bit defensive.

I admit that as I started reading, I thought that the couple's naiveté was going to annoy me, along with a little tendency to look for "signs." But she quickly demonstrates that she is completely aware of both of those things, and maintains a sense of humor that goes a long way toward making this a swift and pleasurable read. 


My Recommendation:
For bibliophiles everywhere. Especially if you've ever thought you'd like to run a book store, this can provide both some practical advice and a reality check. But it also is a lovely story about a a couple becoming part of a community, and I enjoyed it on all those levels (well, I have no desire to run any kind of store, but if I did, it would be a bookstore).

FTC Disclosure: I bought The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, 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, May 15, 2017

Great Escapes Tour: Dumpster Dying. Review and Interview!

http://www.escapewithdollycas.com


We have a special treat today--not only my review of a really fun read, but an interview with a major character!
Title: Dumpster Dying (Big Lake Mysteries #1)
Author: Lesley A. Diehl
Publisher: Creekside Publishing, 2016. 248 pages.
Source: Electronic review copy as part of the Great Escapes free blog tour.
Publisher's Blurb: 
Emily Rhodes came to rural Florida for the cowboys, the cattle, and to do a little country two-step, not to fall head first onto a dead body in a dumpster. Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They're more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, who discovers the body of the county's wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner's death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires -- hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer. 


My Review: 
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I maybe had an especial appreciation of the fact that the main character isn't a sweet young thing, but a mature woman. I might relate better to Emily than some (okay, I really relate to her inability to keep from spilling things on her shirt-front). Besides Emily, the book has a strong cast of characters, some of whom are characters in the sense we mean when we say "he's a real character." And everyone seems to have some kind of secret.

The writing is tight and well-edited, and the plot is interesting, convoluted, and well worked out. I guess a few things before the end, but for some reason (in retrospect it's staring me in the face) not the murder itself. That might be because, with so much going on (fires and lawsuits and bartending and adult children being difficult), I almost forgot about the murderer. Fortunately for everyone, Emily doesn't forget, and she pulls it all together just in time for an ending well suited to a place that claims to be the last bastion of the wild west.

I was a little surprised at first by the point of view occasionally shifting (in a proper manner) to not only the police detective but also to other characters. It's unusual in the genre, but seems to work. I enjoyed seeing a few things from Detective Lewis's perspective, though I might not (as a writer) have used some of the others. In the end, this was only a minor distraction, and didn't prevent the book working well.

The hints of romantic possibilities remain just that: hints, at least for this book. I'll be reading #2 soon, and then maybe I'll know if Emily's done mourning!

My Recommendation:
Most fans of cozy mysteries should enjoy this one. The setting is interesting and well-drawn, the characters are a load of fun, and the story moves fast and keeps the reader turning the pages, with just the right amount of peril. I give bonus points for making the heroine someone who'll never see 50 again.

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Dumpster Dying 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: Lesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida-cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. In her words, "I come to the "Big Lake" to write, hang out in cowboy bars, and immerse myself in the Florida that used to be. No beaches, no bikinis, no sand. Just cows, horses, and gators."





And now for a visit from Detective Lewis!


My name is Detective Stanton Lewis. I’m not certain how I got talked into this, but for some reason readers seem to be interested in my point of view as a detective. I love my job as a homicide investigator. I’ve worked in rural Florida for most of my career except for the few years I was on the force in Brunswick, Georgia. I liked the work there, but my personal life in Brunswick was hell. That’s another story, but you can read all about it in Grilled, Chilled and Killed. In retrospect I should have told Emily about those years, but I didn’t. I always tell people that their secrets always catch up with them, so it’s better to be up front about your past. I should have taken my own advice. Emily may be barely five feet tall, but she’s a real pistol when she’s made. And was she hot when she learned about Adrienne.

So I was saying how I like my work in rural Florida. I’m not crazy about developers who come in here, thinking they can change things for the better. Folks around here kind of like the rural flavor of the place and aren’t real keen on filling in swamps and building condos. I think most folks who come to Florida to vacation or spend the winters prefer the mouse village at Disney or the coasts and find all the scrub land, palmetto, scraggly sabal palms and the alligators around here  a bit off-putting.  Especially the alligators. That’s fine with me. The fewer people who come here, the less work for me. Not that there aren’t problems with locals. Like the guy who decided to take a dip in Nubbin Slough at two in the morning and lost his arm to a gator. What a dumb a__, uh, idiot. I guess there’s no avoiding what problems booze and drugs cause, not even out here.

Then there’s the issue of attitude. Some of our winter visitors think because we’re country folks that we’re dumb or because this is wild, untamed Florida with a lot of swamps and fields that we’re a big garbage dump where they can toss their cans and fast food wrappers. Oh, the locals do it too. It’s just that it accumulates here in the winter when the population of visitors soars.

And speaking of attitude, Emily Rhodes, whom I came to know through a murder investigation, has a boat load of it. Like I said, she’s a bitty little thing, but she can get under a man’s skin. I’ll admit she’s real pretty with those blue as the south Florida sky eyes and her blond hair, but she also thinks she can do my job better than I can. She’s stumbled onto two dead bodies already, and I’m worried she thinks this is some kind of sign she’s meant to solve these cases. They are my cases! I try to follow up on a lead and she’s already there with some hypothetical about what’s going on. It’s darn aggravating especially when she looks up at me with those round, innocent eyes. What I really hate most is that she’s been right more than not. And I also don’t like the way I feel when I’m around her. The last time I got those feelings I ended up engaged. Well, that’s not going to happen again. I just wish I didn’t make such a durn fool of myself when we run into each other.

Aside from her, the only other aggravation in my life is my partner Toby. The chief hired him because Toby begged and the chief and Toby were classmates at the academy. Toby is a fat troll as far as I’m concerned. He spits tobacco into that spit can he keeps in his office. It smells so bad in there that no one wants to go in, and the cleaning crew refuses to touch the can. Toby sometimes leaves it there for weeks before he empties it. I noticed lately that he’s grown a full beard. It came in white , but because of his chewing and spitting, the mustache is yellow and brown and so is the hair below his lip. He’s also the laziest cop I’ve ever met. People call into headquarters to report Toby sleeping in his cruiser under the shade of a tree, and it’s usually the tree outside the Burnt Biscuit Bar and Restaurant. He finally got caught in one of his schemes, kicked off the force, but then assigned the job of an undercover snitch for the department. My bet is that he finds out some way to make that assignment work in his favor and makes some money under the table. Of course, it’s my job to keep an eye on him. Why does he always get away with stuff? Well, maybe not this time.

Let me ask you something. Do you think I have a chance with Emily? Should I ask her out? Oh, never mind. She’ll blow me off and I’ll just feel like an idiot.

Gotta call Toby to check up on him.

Stanton connects on his cell. “No, no, no. I’m not loaning you one more red cent, Toby. You’ll just drink it up. Okay, fine. I’ll foot the bill for food, but that’s it. No, you cannot have a steak at the Burnt biscuit.  I’ll give you enough for a burger at a fast food join. Toby, please don’t beg. You know I hate that. Oh, all right. You can have a chocolate shake with the burger. But this is the last time.”
Stanton disconnects and drops his head into his hands.
 
Author Links
www.lesleyadiehl.com
www.lesleyadiehl.com/blog
www.twitter@lesleydiehl
www.lesley.diehl.1@facebook.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lesley-A-Diehl/522270901254754?fref=ts
Purchase Links
Dumpster Dying – Amazon 
Grilled, Chilled and Killed – Amazon

And...one last bonus! A giveaway, with a special prize: the winner's name gets to be used for a character in the next book!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: The Silent Dragon

I used a random title generator this week to give me the title, and I knew it needed to go along with a couple of other stories I've written about the Dragon Emissary. If you wish, you can check out One Dragon at a Time and The Second Dragon before you read today's installment. It's just under 1000 words.

The Silent Dragon (A Dragon Emissary story)

Calla gazed at the parchment in her hand, her mind working overtime. She had fished the packet from a secret compartment in the back wall of her semi-secret workroom. Someone had wanted it to be found only by the right people.

And no wonder. It contained a secret that changed a great deal, if not everything, about her job. Calla was the 23rd Dragon Emissary of the Kingdom of Battorn, and she had taken over the job rather abruptly when her father’s skills had proven unequal to the task.

That was how most of the Emissaries got the job. None retired to warmer climes, and very few had lived to fully train their successors.

Calla read the document again. It told her something she needed to know, but it did not tell her how she was going to manage the issue of this attack by the dragon WindDancer. If it was in fact WindDancer who had done it. That was one thing she had learned from the piles of books and scrolls she had read before stumbling on the key to the secret parchment: dragons lied. Especially they lied about who did what, and they liked getting each other in trouble. The dragon SkySoarer had made the accusation, and that made it at least as likely that she had burned the border farm as that WindDancer had.

All this was making Calla’s head ache. She had to be a detective as well as a diplomat and a warrior, and she was beginning to wish she’d had an older brother to inherit the job. Failing that, she wish she possessed the gift of seeing the truth, as she suspected the first Dragon Emissary had. It was an inheritable gift, but only cropped up occasionally.

Calla, alas, had no magic of any sort, let alone that most useful of Gifts. Her first dragon had nearly killed her, in part because he lied and she couldn’t see it. She meant to be better prepared for the second dragon. If she couldn’t see lies, she could at least assume that the dragons were lying.

All of that was secondary to the difficult terrain she had to negotiate at home, thanks to what she had just learned. The parchment had contained a royal lineage…which showed that King Kor himself had dragon blood. No wonder Battorn, unlike the other kingdoms that surrounded the dragon lands, maintained a Emissary rather than just sending in a lot of knights to slay wayward dragons.

Take this WindDancer. Not only did she need to figure out if he had really done the crime, but she needed to know if he was, in fact, the king’s uncle, or third cousin twice removed, or what. And how did dragon blood enter the royal line, anyway. Surely humans and dragons couldn’t…well, how did it? There must have been wizardry involved somewhere. Probably a dragon had been turned into a human at some point.

More complications.

Calla leaned back in her chair, stuffed the last sausage roll in her mouth, and thought about what to do. After thinking a long time (she might have napped part of that time. She hadn’t slept in two nights, and there was the matter of her first Dragon Emissary job, which had involved fighting her way out), Calla got up. With immense care, she restored the parchment to its wrappings and placed the whole thing back in the hole in the wall. She re-set the booby-traps, and sealed the stone back in place with her congealed porridge, which shared many of the properties of mortar.

Now to go do the job for which she’d spent her life training.

***

WindDancer looked down his nose—a nose that allowed for a great deal of looking down—at the puny human who insisted he owed damages to the border farmer.

“Who says that I, WindDancer of the dragon clan Whrrr, have done this thing?”

“So says Sky Soarer of your people, and so I have determined from my own investigations. King Kor of Battorn has issued the order that you must pay the damages.”

“And you will enforce this order?” There was a subtle emphasis on “you” that set Calla’s teeth on edge.

“I am the Dragon Emissary. I will enforce the order, by the authority invested in me by your kinsman, King Kor.” The words out, Calla held her breath. She had said aloud what had remained unspoken for generations. Depending on how WindDancer reacted, she might have achieved nothing, or laid the seeds for the destruction of the kingdom—or opened the door to a new relationship with the dragons.

If she had guessed wrong, the first part of the kingdom to be destroyed would be Calla, the Dragon Emissary. The rest would follow. She met the dragon’s gaze and did not blink.

WindDancer blinked. Several times, rapidly. Then he said, “Kinsman?” Recovering himself, he said arrogantly, “Kor is a human. That makes him no kinsman of mine.”

“That’s where you might be wrong,” Calla said. “It’s about time you dragons admitted that there are limits to your knowledge—and your power.”

“My power is certainly enough to squash you like a bug,” WindDancer pointed out.

“Ah, but what might my power do to you if you do that?” Calla spoke with more confidence than she felt, but it worked. The dragon stopped posturing and studied her in a new way.

“Perhaps we should discuss this.”

“Perhaps we should,” Calla agreed. She had a feeling King Kor wouldn’t like it, but that was his problem. She had already decided where her duty lay. Calla would do what was needed to maintain the peace with the dragons. With a bit of luck, and a few lies, she might even be able to put an end to all the raids.

That would be a task worthy of her title.

“Come. I’ll buy you a drink.”

****

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Last Season, by Eric Blehm: Non-fiction review

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Title: The Last Season
Author: Eric Blehm
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006. 335 pages.
Source: Borrowed from a friend.

Publisher's Summary:
 

My Review:  

A third of the way through the book, I was wondering why I was reading it. This was partly the inevitable result of picking away at it in tiny bits when I wasn't very engaged, but it was also a result of the way the book is written. Let me hasten to add that, not long after that, I settled down to read for real and soon found myself caught up in the story.

The main issue with the book is really the question of whether, aside from the mystery of his disappearance, Randy Morgenson was really a person in need of a biography. And the point of the book is really the disappearance and the search operation, with the rest of Randy's life feeling a bit as though it's there to make this into something more than an in-depth magazine article. But at some point, too, we realize that the construction of Randy's nature, through his past and up to the time of his disappearance, was essential to the searchers.

I was also intrigued by the description of a life that might have been one of those Robert Service wrote of when he penned "The Men That Don't Fit In" (except I think Service is too hard on them, and Randy would tell Service that his life had its own rewards). Randy really couldn't live in the front country for long, and that was both what made him an amazing ranger, and what (I'm guessing) also made it a difficult job in the end. He seemed to subsume his need to roam the world into a need to park himself in the depths of the Sierra for months at a time, an urge I can understand.

Randy was also, in some ways, a mystic, and I have less sympathy for that. Still, he turned that impulse toward conservation, and toward writing about the mountains in the manner of John Muir or Mary Hunter Austin--with prose that ranges toward the purple, but carries a lot of understanding and love. The pieces of his writing--journals as well as published essays--included in the book make for interesting reading.

My Recommendation:

If you like John Muir, or wonder about what kind of person it takes to spend the whole summer in a cabin three days' hike from the nearest road, take a look. Not every back-country ranger (thank goodness) needs to be quite as wedded to the mountains as Randy Morgenson. But I'm guessing that the job requires a certain amount of that impulse Robert Service wasn't sure about.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed The Last Season from a friend, 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." 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#AtoZReflections

Did you survive? 

A to Z Reflections Post: Late, as usual

So I guess this was supposed to happen yesterday. To be honest, the listless A to Z was, in fact, listless, and I was busy, so I pretty much just put it all behind me and carried on. But it seems only fair to offer my reflections and opinions, if anyone is listening.

Does that sound cynical? There may be a reason for that. You see, because of my time zone and my personal schedule (I could, of course, have posted at 3 the afternoon before and put my links up when the Brits did. But I don't want to), I ended up posting my link in the comments pretty much dead last every day. And that attracted about...zero...readers. I'm not sure if anyone visited here who wasn't responding to my visits, and frankly, I found people to visit by following comments on my friends' blogs. As a means of publicizing and promoting my blog, it was not, in fact, worth the touted "five minutes a day" (and yes, I resented the implication in the survey that if I didn't like having to go and post the links daily I just wasn't prioritizing publicizing my own blog. In point of fact, my blog is NOT my priority. Writing novels is my priority. And I want to publicize both in ways that work).

Okay, grumps aside, I did find some fun new blogs to follow, or at least to follow in A to Z (this is something I have run up against before, and one reason I think that Jemima Pett had it completely right when she decided to blog as she always does, and just tie it in to the letters: blogs are often very different in A to Z than they are the rest of the time. That includes mine, most years).

So here, in list form, are some things that I think went well and what didn't:
1. I had some fun, exploring characters from my own and my friends' books.
2. Because none of us knew how to find new blogs, I think I had more people coming back to read multiple posts than usual. 
3. #2 may mean more real followers.
4. I spent too much time finding links to follow.
5. Without the linky list and the codes telling me what kind of blog each was, I wasted a fair bit of my limited visiting time checking out blogs that I had no interest in.
6. Most of the month, my book sales were even flatter than usual (there was a flurry right at the end of the month. Did I post something that drove a few sales, or is it coincidence?). 
7. May partly explain #6: my participation in all my social media dropped off during the month, because I have only so much time for it, and I was using most of it to post and visit.


My conclusion? I probably won't do A to Z again, and not just because of the loss of the linky-list. I think that as a writer I'm moving beyond that. My priority is writing, and not blogging, though I don't deny the importance of the blog for getting my name and my books out there. What it does make me think is that I may want to revisit how I manage my blog. So maybe that's a benefit of A to Z. Blog hops do help people find you (though I sometimes wonder if anyone but other bloggers ever reads any of us!), but I actually find smaller hops more effective. Somehow, when the list is only a couple of dozen long, I'm more apt to visit more blogs. Go figure. They can also be more focused on what I'm doing.

Apologies for the long and grumpy post. April was a tiring month, and May is shaping up to be harder. I've no doubt it shows.

Click on the survivor badge above to find the Reflections post with the links in the comments, to read other bloggers' reactions.

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



Monday, May 8, 2017

Middle Grade Review: The Only Road, by Alexandra Diaz



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Title:
The Only Road
Author: Alexandra Diaz
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 308 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life.
  


My Review: 
The events that inspired this book, as suggested in the blurb, aren't necessarily the travels of one specific child, but of far, far too many children. These children are coming alone over long distances and at great risk, in hopes of finding a chance for life in the US. And therein lies both the strength and the weakness of the book. 

At times, I felt as though the author was working too hard to make clear the hardships and dangers of the route north. Clearly, she has the intention of engendering sympathy for the people who make the trip--and maybe of reminding comfortable American readers that people don't take that decision lightly. This led to some aspects of the story feeling a little contrived, as we are carefully shown each danger along the way. 

Those dangers are completely real, though, and in fact, the most unreal part of the story may be that Jaime and Ángela make it north safely, and with comparative ease. I am assuming that's no spoiler; this being a children's book we can expect that much. The author keeps the reality of the dangers at one very narrow remove, as the characters witness others along the way succumbing to thirst, violence, and la migra.  The question for me isn't if the book does a good job of conveying an important message: it does. The only remaining question is if it is an engaging read, and I found it so, despite occasional bits that felt like the author was trying too hard to win our sympathy. Just so she knows: she got it. And she created a couple of characters that I definitely cared about and rooted for.

My Recommendation:
This is a good read for older children (there is enough violence and hints at the sexual violence faced by girls and women in some places that it's not suitable for young children). But maybe it's more important for adults to read it, in today's political climate. I'll recommend it especially for anyone who thinks that people make the decision lightly to come to the US without documentation.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Only Road 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."  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Photo Friday: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

It's been a long time since I did a photo special, but I have some good shots to share from a late-March visit to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in southern California. The area got some hype this year about a super-bloom, and while it was maybe a bit exaggerated, we certainly found good flowers, and far more than we've seen in recent years.

The drive down from San Francisco is a long one, but it was nice to see the hills covered in green (and a fair number of California poppies).

We began our trip with something new (for us): a 60-mile bike ride that took us up into the hills to the west, to have lunch in the town of Julian before a glorious descent back to the park (and the heat).
Pre-sunrise breakfast before starting to ride. We needed an early start to beat the heat and the traffic.
Started right off with the looooong climb out of the valley. This was just the beginning.
After the first  dozen miles, we got a respite in Ranchita. Where they seem to revere Bigfoot (more on him later).
After the ride, and the ice cream, we headed out to check out the main areas with thick flowers.
A field of desert gold (a sort of sunflower, or DYC). There were primroses mixed in, but this was pretty much a monoculture.

The primroses, with desert gold reaching for the sky, and some verbena making a purple splash
Lily. Not a flower we've seen often. It must insist on good conditions.
On out to Font's Point for sunset over the badlands.
Ocatillo
Sunset on the badlands.
After a sunset (and a night's sleep), you get a sunrise, and an hour or two of good light. This morning, we had clouds that kept it from getting hot, and made for some good photos as we explored the area near our camp.
Mesquite (I think) and wave clouds.
Brittlebush blossoms, and cholla cactus against a cloudy sky.
I did promise you more Bigfoot sightings. I caught a glimpse of this one--I think it's female--in among the brittlebush. Or it might have been an Ewok.
Actually, that's a dead cholla.
Our final activity was an overnight hike into Borrego Palm Canyon (you need a permit, and you must be willing to scramble some, as there is no trail up the canyon beyond the first palm grove). In 2004 a flash flood scrubbed the canyon and the alluvial fan (and wiped out parts of the campground) pretty well, though the groves were not destroyed. It was encouraging to see how well the groves are recovering, and there are many, many young palms in the canyon. I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if floods help the seeds germinate.
The alluvial fan on the approach to the canyon was a garden, heavy on brittlebush but not limited to it.
The main, and lowest, grove. There is a decent trail to this point.



























Palm fronds.
One last mini flower garden before we moved on to see what was blooming in Joshua Tree National Park (quite a lot, as it turned out).
Desert dandilion, and the blue is phacilia, but I'm not sure about the white flowers.


Hope you enjoyed the trip!

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


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG:

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

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 (click on the badge above for the list) and connect with your fellow writers - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

This month's question:  What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?
Great question, so I think I'll talk about that!

Actually, I've long had a joke about some of the things we writers of murder mysteries research, and how long it will be before the cops are knocking on my door. But honestly, most of what I've checked for the murders is pretty mundane. You know, drugs that would mimic a heart a attack, drug interactions that might cause an actual heart attack, what time the sun sets in Bellingham in mid-August...

The most fun I've had researching stuff has all gone into a couple of books I've never brought to the point of finishing for publication. One I probably never will, as it is actually a sort of fan fiction: the "other side" of the story of Rilla of Ingleside, the last of the Anne of Green Gables books, set during WWI. I was never satisfied with the behavior of Rilla's love interest, so I spent years researching WWI (from the Canadian point of view where possible), and wrote his version of the story. Along the way I became totally fascinated with WWI, and discovered several writers whose books are set during or just after the war. Maybe sometime I'll write my own historical mystery.

Along the way, in addition to the war, I researched parenting manuals of the period, which make for entertaining reading!

The other unfinished historical fiction is based on my grandmother's childhood. That one I still want to make work, but I'm in no hurry, as historical fiction isn't selling well for kids these days. Maybe that will change? Meanwhile, the story percolates, and I have a large collection of information about Nebraska in 1900 and Okanogan County, WA, in 1908. I even found someone (sadly, the contact info is lost, though I think I still have the information he sent) who could help me figure out how someone would take the train from Nebraska to Spokane.

But the coolest thing I found was a book on life in the Nebraska sandhills, in which the author mentions the best teacher he ever had--my great-grandfather.

Your turn--tell me something you've researched that might get you in trouble or make us laugh.

Part of the Nebraska research included visiting the Sand Hills and trying to find the site of the "town" where my great-grandparents lived. Somewhere around here.


Or more like here. This was as close as we were able to drive; the road became too sandy for our 2-wheel-drive. Apologies for photo quality. These are low-quality scans of slides that weren't so good to start with.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Middle Grade Review: Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

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 Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books, 2016. 291 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.


My Review: 
This is definitely a growing-up book.  By that I mean, it's a book that doesn't have an easy and happy ending, and not only does the protagonist have to do some growing up, but so does the reader. It's a wonderful book, and leaves one with unanswered questions and some frustrations--much the way Annabelle feels.

The book is not so much about WWII (that's just the time period when it's set) as it is about bullying, justice, and the power of prejudice. In this case, there is a deeply troubled girl who is getting no help with her problems, and the entire community pays the price for that. What Betty does costs everyone in the town a little bit of their humanity, I think, though it also allows a few people to discover some things they didn't know they had. Annabelle especially discovers that she has a courage she never suspected, when she discovers that she has to stand up to a bully to protect those she loves.

I think the heart of the story is summed up in the line (part of the text on the front cover as well as part of the first chapter): "The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered. So much, sometimes, that I wasn't sure I wanted such a burden. But I took it anyway, and I carried it as best I could." Ultimately, if any of us learn that much from a book or from life, we've probably done okay.

My Recommendation:
This is another I will recommend for adults as well as children. The feel of the book is dark enough that I think it isn't suitable for kids younger than 11 or 12, not because of any inappropriate language or actions, but because of the adult decisions that Annabelle ends up making, and the adult consequences they have. It just feels like a book that might be hard for a younger child to take in.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Wolf Hollow 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."