Monday, January 22, 2018

Audiobook review: The Wright Brothers


Title: The Wright Brothers
Author: David McCullough. Read by the author.
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio, 2015. First published 2015 by Simon and Schuster.
Source:  Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb: 
Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard. The Age of Flight had begun. How did they do it? And why? David McCullough tells the extraordinary and truly American story of the two brothers who changed the world.

Sons of an itinerant preacher and a mother who died young, Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in a small side street in Dayton, Ohio, in a house that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity but was filled with books and a love of learning. The brothers ran a bicycle shop that allowed them to earn enough money to pursue their mission in life: flight. In the 1890s flying was beginning to advance beyond the glider stage, but there were major technical challenges that the Wrights were determined to solve. They traveled to North Carolina’s remote Outer Banks to test their plane because there they found three indispensable conditions: constant winds, soft surfaces for landings, and privacy.

Flying was exceedingly dangerous; the Wrights risked their lives every time they flew in the years that followed. Orville nearly died in a crash in 1908, before he was nursed back to health by his sister, Katharine, an unsung and important part of the brothers’ success and of McCullough’s book. Despite their achievement, the Wrights could not convince the US government to take an interest in their plane until after they demonstrated its success in France, where the government instantly understood the importance of their achievement. Now, in this revelatory book, master historian David McCullough draws on nearly 1,000 letters of family correspondence—plus diaries, notebooks, and family scrapbooks in the Library of Congress—to tell the full story of the Wright brothers and their heroic achievement.

My Review:
As so often happens with the audio books I listen to while exercising or doing housework, I didn't know I was interested in this until I checked this out from the library. But I quickly realized that while I'd have said that I knew all about Wilbur and Orville Wright being the first to have a successful powered flight, I didn't actually know much of anything. David McCullough fixed that.

Another thing McCullough fixed was the controversy (of which I was vaguely aware) about some counter claims to the title of "first to fly." I can see where these came from--the Wrights were very private (secretive, if you wish) during the development of their craft, so others did in fact do well-publicized flights before they did. But the private records confirm it: Orville and Wilbur were first.

I enjoyed the book for the detail it provided about the whole process (how many of us assume that they managed that one famous flight at Kitty Hawk and that was it--flight was invented?), the many iterations and adjustments and the constant drive for more, recognizing that their early attempts hadn't produced practical flight. I was also interested in the struggle they had convincing anyone (like the US government) that what they had was worthwhile (no wonder they had to keep working!), and was intrigued by the fact that they were the only ones working on the problem who were self-funded (and they did it all for a tiny fraction of what most others spent).

The impact of fame on their lives was interesting, as well. The essentially private Wilbur was very nearly tempted out of his industrious path and came close, I think, to succumbing to vanity. His own native good sense seemed to pull him up just in time, though he did become a bit of a dandy for a time. And both the men were, I think, a bit out of their depth in the business end of things, and were lucky not to have been truly taken to the cleaners.

The only aspect of the book that bothered me was the reading. It wasn't bad, but I think the author would have done well to let someone else read it. His delivery is just a bit "flat," rather like reading a news report. That does avoid unnecessary and inappropriate drama, but it doesn't make for good listening. [As a note, he did way better than another misguided author-narrator I started at the same time and had to abandon. Someone should tell Sarah Vowell to stick to writing and let someone else read, because I found her voice unlistenable, a bit like the silent movie star in Singing in the Rain.]

My Recommendation:
An interesting piece of history, and like most of the non-fiction I listen to, it would probably be better read as a paper book. (Which raises the question of why I listen to so many NF books, even knowing they are usually better read. I don't have a good answer, except I do get through more of them this way, and a partial grasp of the subject is better than none.)  Anyone interested in the history of aviation has probably already read it, but if you haven't, nab a copy.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Wright Brothers 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, January 21, 2018

#fi50 Heads-up

Just a reminder to anyone who wants to participate, that next week (week of 1/28) is Fiction in 50 week! This month's theme is "Snowglobe." Use it as a title, or just as a starting point, or ignore it completely, but write your 50-word story and post up your link next Sunday when I post my story!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Non-Fiction Review: The Reason I Jump


Title: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Author: Naoki Higashida; translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell
Publisher: (US) Random House, 2013. Originally published by Escor Publishers, Japan, 2007. 135 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one, at last, have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.

Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.

My Review: 

I grabbed this book at the library because it sounded like a really interesting way of getting some insight into autism. And in a way, it is. I was a little way in when something about it began to bother me, making me wonder if it was really what it claimed. Sometimes the voice didn't seem quite believable. I looked at reviews, and found a lot of food for thought there. After reading reviews and finishing the book, I saw two issues: the author is trying to speak for all people with autism, and the question of whether his ideas could have come from a 13-year-old. 

Most people who know anything about autism spectrum disorders know that you can almost never say "all people with autism..." and not make a fool of yourself. Naoki Higashida, being only 13, can be forgiven for thinking his experience is universal, but I made a mental adjustment and replaced all his "we" statements with "I" statements, because in the end, he's only telling us how he feels (though that insight into his behavior may help to understand other people with autism). To me, it's a non-issue. Most 13-year-olds would probably make the same error.

The bigger issue seems to be whether these are really the author's own ideas. I admit to feeling some doubt on reading some passages that seemed both strange and sophisticated. Higashida also makes a lot of rather odd statements about motivations for odd behaviors. By the time I got to the end of the book, I decided that the author's odd statements are probably his own, the result of spending too much time inside his own head, if you will. I'm impressed that he was able to articulate them, and unsurprised that some answers are bizarre while he was unable to answer other questions at all.

Many reviewers focus their doubt on the bit where he explains autism, or rather his own metaphor for being autistic: "I think that people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization...we are more like travelers from the distant, distant past." I saw reviewers wondering how much of that somewhat poetic language was the work of the translator (I'll never know, but I'm sure there are some bilingual folks who could check), as well as people who didn't believe a kid could come up with the ideas. To me, it sounds exactly like something a kid would come up with, especially a kid with plenty of brains and not much ability to connect and communicate with others. Doesn't every early teen think he/she is an alien from another world, at least occasionally?

In the end, this book bothered me less than it did many people, though I didn't find it all that readable (it's 135 short pages and still took me weeks to get through) for some reason. I saw some things in what he says that make sense, and resonate with my experience with family members on the spectrum. I read other things that I had to shrug and say "well, that's his experience."

My Recommendation:
This book does fill a gap, since most books on autism are either written by adults, either neurotypical or on the spectrum. This one is the kid's view, and is written from a place where he has not yet found a way to function fully in the world, but is old enough to wonder and worry about the need to do so. It's a good reminder that just because a person cannot speak, or speak well, it doesn't mean he does not think, or have plenty of words inside. It's flawed, it's not brilliant, but it is probably worth a look.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Reason I Jump 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, January 19, 2018

Friday Flash: Thieves of Soveriegnty

A quick job of producing a story more or less to the theme Chuck proposed two weeks ago ("the danger of undeserved power," and I can't imagine what made him think of that). I had trouble getting inspired (which is why I didn't write the story last week, when it was due), but I managed to come up with something that I devoutly hope is not prophetic. I'm not wild about it, but I did manage to write it.

Thieves of Sovereignty

The faces on those gathered around the king’s bed were grim. The ruler of the small nation was young and he should have shrugged off his illness. But he didn’t. He had grown more and more ill, until now there was nothing to be done but keep a death watch.

Among the grim faces in the death chamber were some whose grief was a false mask. These were the men and women who had managed to make themselves favorites of the prince, a boy of only ten years, and more spoiled than boded well for the nation. His pet courtiers made sure he remained that way, showering him with gifts and flattering him at every turn.

When the king died, the boy would be king, but utterly unfit to rule. He would have a council of regents, of course, but the hidden smiles told the tale of who would sit on the council, and who would rule.

In the small hours of the night, the inevitable happened. The king breathed his last, and a sob broke from more than one throat, either from grief at the personal loss of husband, father, and friend, or from fear of what would become of the kingdom in the hands of Prince—now King—Lewan.

The senior noble present, Duke Merrin, laid the king’s hand gently on his breast and closed the unseeing eyes. Turning, he laid a hand on the shoulder of the half-sleeping Lewan, and said, “The king is dead. Long live the king!”

The courtiers echoed the wish, and Lewan began to cry.

In the weeks that followed, the fears of Merrin and the others proved well-founded. Lewan showed little interest in learning the job he now faced, and he listened only to a few of his favorites, none of whom Merrin trusted. The Council was too heavily weighted toward those who preferred to keep the boy weak and ignorant.

A meeting took place in a very private room indeed, where Merrin and the few nobles he trusted could be confident they would not be overheard.

“Arlan and Roscina seem to be the only people to whom Lewan will listen now,” the queen whispered. “He openly defies me when I attempt to make him do what he must. He seldom sits through and entire Council meeting, and he neglects his studies. He says that as King he doesn’t have to do any of that himself.”

Merrin looked at Queen Kaia with pity. She was reaping a bitter harvest for the over-indulgence that had, after all, been not so very different from that shown to most wealthy children. Only Kaia, too often ill to oversee her son’s upbringing closely, had not known to just what extent his love and loyalty had been stolen by the courtiers who had provided him with the toys, ponies, and sweets he wanted in excess.

“Arlan and Roscina are but two members of the Regency Council,” Merrin pointed out. “They cannot rule.”

“Not now,” she whispered. “But what of the future? And what of the others who have come to their side, knowing who will be in favor in four years?”

Lewan would rule in his own right from the age of 14, a thought which made his tender years seem too close to adulthood for comfort, when Merrin thought about the manner in which the young king was being corrupted.

“There are but we five on the Council who hold true loyalty to the king and the nation.” Ewin, the younger brother of the dead king, and uncle to the current ruler, knew the danger to the kingdom better than any. “If we cannot do something, I have little faith in our surviving to see Lewan crowned in his own right.”

Ewin’s words proved prophetic. One of the loyal nobles was thrown from his horse and killed. An accident, of course, but no one was fooled. When rumors began to circulate that Ewin plotted to take the throne himself—a solution that in fact the secret group had considered, and he himself rejected—he was forced to flee the country, escaping from the castle minutes ahead of the King’s Guard. Another of the nobles vanished without a trace, possibly choosing exile over death.

Merrin hung on to his place on the Council, as did Kaia, but their voices were drowned in those of the many nobles who echoed whatever Arlan and Roscina proposed, including suggesting with increasing frequency that Lewan need not suffer through the long meetings.

Kaia fought to make him better than he was. “Lewan! You are king. Your duty is with your kingdom, and you cannot leave the rule of your people to others.”

“But I can’t really rule until I’m 14, Mama. I’d rather go riding now, and this meeting is boring.”

Merrin took a risk. “If you do not pay attention now, young man, and listen and learn and make what decisions you may, you will not be fit to rule in three more years.”

Lewan grew angry. Arlan and Roscina egged him on. In the end, to save his life, Merrin resigned from the Council.

In the second year of the Regency of King Lewan, the Duchy to the north took advantage of the weakened state of the kingdom. The last of Lewan’s loyal nobles were killed in the battle.

Some said that Arlan and Roscina had led the invading army. No one by then, however, dared to remember that they had come from the borderlands, and no one questioned why or how they continued to hold authority in the kingdom, let alone how it was that they alone of the Council survived the fighting.

They had had stolen their power inch by inch, and now it was all theirs, and the people would bow to their will.

Lewan and his mother fled in the night, though she had to drug him to make him come. The young king still believed that his favorite courtiers were his friends.

It might not matter, Kaia thought as she rode for the far border, her unconscious son draped over her saddle. But it might. It might be worth the effort to keep herself and her son alive. Maybe someday she would see her errors corrected, and the kingdom restored. But not until Lewan had learned what it was to work for his living. The thought gave her a certain pleasure.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Cover Reveal: Tick Tock, A Stitch in Crime

I'm a day late, but I'm excited to reveal the cover the the IWSG anthology, and announce the publication date! I'll be sure to share when it's available for pre-orders.

The clock is ticking...

Can a dead child’s cross-stitch pendant find a missing nun? Is revenge possible in just 48 minutes? Can a killer be stopped before the rescuers are engulfed by a city ablaze? Who killed what the tide brought in? Can a soliloquizing gumshoe stay out of jail?

Exploring the facets of time, eleven authors delve into mysteries and crimes that linger in both dark corners and plain sight. Featuring the talents of Gwen Gardner, Rebecca M. Douglass, Tara Tyler, S. R. Betler, C.D. Gallant-King, Jemi Fraser, J. R. Ferguson, Yolanda RenĂ©e, C. Lee McKenzie, Christine Clemetson, and Mary Aalgaard.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these eleven tales will take you on a thrilling ride into jeopardy and secrecy. Trail along, find the clues, and stay out of danger. Time is wasting...

Release date - May 1, 2018
Mystery & Detective/Crime/Thrillers
Print ISBN 9781939844545 eBook ISBN 9781939844552

What's your favorite kind of mystery? 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fiction Review: All the Light We Cannot See


Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner, 2014, 531 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

My Review: 
I don't usually review big best-sellers. In fact, I don't usually read them, probably due to a not very admirable stubbornness that refuses to jump on the bandwagon. In this case, the general story (and that cover) kept catching my eye at the library, and I initially made an attempt to listen to the audio book. I think that there was something wrong with the recording, though (this sometimes happens with my ancient MP3; files get a little scrambled), and it just didn't seem to make sense or grab my attention. I gave up. [As noted, this is not a condemnation of the audio book, since I think that the problem lay in problems I was having with my device.]

But I kept talking to people who really liked it, so I finally took the hardback out of the library, and read it during the holidays. To my surprise, I quickly became engaged with the book and ended up liking it very much. (Okay, I can hear you saying that I shouldn't be surprised to like a book with so many literary prizes, but that's me. Literary prizes make me suspicious.)

What makes the book work? For one thing, the characters are unusual but not unbelievable. Werner, in particular, is no hero. He has a particular kind of genius, but that doesn't translate to any ability to stand up to injustice and wrongs through most of his boyhood. A hard life has taught him, instead, to keep his head down and obey orders, which he does through most of his life. But he is human, and so what his orders lead to sickens him, and creates in him a growing tension that I expected to break out in a different way than it did. (I only now see that what happens to him in the end is an expression of this).

Marie-Laure is perhaps even more amazing--the blind girl who learns to do so much, and goes through so much, without giving up. Her story is a more conventional coming-of-age tale, in many ways. Certainly she grows up through the terrible events that are the crux of the book. She is a more likable character than Werner, but I think that the brilliance of the book lies not with her ability to overcome obstacles, but in the development of Werner as a human and humane individual who is nonetheless not a hero who stands up to the Third Reich. He humanizes the German side of things, without being the kind of desperate rebel we prefer to glorify. At first, I was put off by this failure on his part, but in the end, I saw him as a way of understanding how so many basically good people ended up going along with the Nazi regime.

The writing style makes this a much faster read than the page  count would suggest. Short chapters alternate between Werner and Marie-Laure, and sections switch back and forth between the crucial final days in Saint-Malo and the years leading up to that point (this may have been part of my problem with the audio book, as it is harder to track switches like that on audio, without visual cues). The settings and voices are clear and easy to track.

My Recommendation:
Read it. It's not perfect; there are some things about the ending that I wasn't wild about. But it's a good read, and it helps us see two sides of something in this time when empathy seems to be in danger of extinction.

FTC Disclosure: I checked All the Light We Cannot See 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, January 12, 2018

Photo Friday: Water and Light

No flash fiction this week, due primarily to procrastination. Instead, I'll share some photos I took over the holidays, mostly of water and light (with a few trees thrown in). I have a feeling that until I get some kind of grip on the edits to Death By Adverb I'll be burrowing into the archives for photos on more Fridays that this. [Note: progress is happening on DBA. I have figured out, I hope, most of what needs to be done. Doing it, of course, is always another matter.]

Leaves under the surface, their own world.

I sat on the ground to photograph the twinkling lights in the pussywillow tree. Still trying to figure out why the lights flared that way.

Fairy lights
I think this is my favorite abstract for the year.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Goodbye Piccadilly


Goodbye Piccadilly
Author: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Publisher: Sphere, 2014. 392 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants and neighbours, life will never be the same again. For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye.

The once-tranquil village of Northcote reels under an influx of khaki volunteers, wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees. The war is becoming more dangerous and everyone must find a way to adapt to this rapidly changing world. Goodbye Piccadilly is the first book in the War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, author of the much-loved Morland Dynasty novels.

Set against the real events of 1914, Goodbye Piccadilly is extraordinary in scope and imagination and is a compelling introduction to the Hunter family.

My Review:  

A later book in the series caught my eye on the New Book shelf at the library, and I'm a sucker for WWI stories, so I decided to take a chance and start the series. Certainly lots of the reviews raved about it, though a few gave me pause.

I should have paid more attention to the negative reviews, because they were right. It's not that this is an awful book. I didn't struggle to finish it. But I never fully engaged with it, either, for several reasons.

The biggest flaw in the book, in my opinion, is that it is trying too hard to do too much. This is the opening salvo of an epic saga, doing its best to do what Downton Abbey does. We are going to track the movements and moods of the extended Hunter family plus a number of their neighbors, their servants...and we do. Unfortunately, not only are there so many characters that it is hard to keep track, but we spend so little time with each in many, many short scenes, that I never developed a lot of feeling for any of them (with the possible exception of Laura, the spinster sister, and Sadie, the 16-year-old who doesn't want to grow up and stop playing with horses).

Those quick glimpses into each person's life may work in Downton Abbey, but in my opinion, they don't here. I would probably have been much more engaged, and still able to get a feeling for the whole community, if the author had kept the focus on two or three characters, and let us see the rest through their eyes. As it is, no one is developed enough to be interesting, and the omniscient narrator tells us too much--no one is going to surprise us. At the same time, I have no real sense of anyone's interior. How does Diana know she's in love, not just fortune-hunting? Nothing that happens or that we see of her makes me believe that she loves her suitor, yet Diana insists she does, and the narrator seems to go along with that. I need to be convinced.

Further, much of the historical setting is trying too hard. We get summaries of the causes and progress of the war that read more like a textbook than part of a novel, and while I recognize that some of that is needed for a generation that doesn't know anything about WWI, from a narrative perspective it doesn't work.

In a strange way, I think I've been spoiled by reading children's historical fiction. Those tend to stick to a tight story and a tight view of the main character, whose youth allows the reader to see things she/he can't.  Or maybe I just don't have the patience for a sweeping saga.

My Recommendation:
If you like the period and the style, you may be one of the vast majority of readers who seem to like the books. If you really want to see into the period, though, I think there are better options, though I did learn a thing or two from the historical bits. If you like to see into and understand a few characters well, rather than a sweeping view of a whole village, you may react as I did, with a resounding "meh." (Note: It's not awful. I'll give it 2 stars ["it was ok"] on Goodreads, or even 2.5).

FTC Disclosure: I checked Goodbye Piccadilly 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, January 8, 2018

Middle Grade Fiction: When Santa Fell to Earth


Title: When Santa Fell to Earth

Author: Cornelia Funke. Trans. Oliver Latsch

Publisher: Scholastic ebook, 2011. 90 pages. Original by Dressler, 1994 (in German).

Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
What would happen if Santa fell to Earth? Christmas through the eyes of Cornelia Funke: quirky, funny, ultimately heartwarming, and packaged in a collectible format. A new holiday classic! Scared by a storm, Twinklestar, the least reliable reindeer, bolts--causing Santa and his sleigh to crash-land. And though Santa has dropped into a friendly neighborhood, he's not safe: Jeremiah Goblynch, the ruthless new leader of the Council of Yuleland, is determind to put an end to children's wishes and turn the holiday season into his own personal moneymaking scheme. As the last REAL St. Nick around, only Santa stands between Goblynch and his grinchlike plan. With the help and hope of kids Charlotte and Ben, Santa must face Goblynch and his Nutcracker goons to save Christmas!

My Review: 
This was a delightful short read! I loved the glimpses of a magical world of Santas, as well as the mild adventure story. There is a grave peril to Santa and thus to Christmas as we (well, of a select set of first-world countries, but that's a different discussion) know it. But the peril is never too frightening or too disillusioning for the very young, making this a good family read-aloud for the holidays.

At only about 90 pages, it doesn't take long to read. I enjoyed it enough to sit down and read straight through in one go, and I liked the balance in the end of giving the children what they needed, and being Santa, who maintains a certain distance and has important things to go do (well, after Christmas that important thing is to sleep on a tropical beach for a while, but hey, he works hard in the weeks leading up to the holiday!).

And after reading this, I will never eat another chocolate Santa (easy vow: I like high-quality chocolate, and they usually aren't!).

My Recommendation:
Read it aloud to the family next Christmas. Taken in small doses, you might be able to make it last the week before Christmas, or at least the time after school lets out. It offers just enough to be kind of fun for the grown-ups, too, though this really is a book for the kids up to about age 9 or 10. It won't disillusion the ones who still believe in the big guy, either.

FTC Disclosure: I checked When Santa Fell to Earth 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, January 5, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: The 13th Keeper

Friday looming ahead of me, I pulled another title from Jemima Pett's flash fiction prompts late Thursday afternoon. That gave me "The Thirteenth Keeper," and I decided that a little romance might be in order. This one's about 950 words.

The 13th Keeper

"He's cute." Jill giggled, a sound disturbing incongruous with the evidence of decades past that marked her eyes, if not her skin.

Sandra nodded. "It's worth investigating. You never know."

"The last one didn't turn out so well."

"You won't know unless you try."

The two women leaned their determinedly dark heads together, whispering, before sitting back and taking long, thoughtful sips from the glasses they held. The gentleman in question, unaware of their scrutiny, continued to sip his own drink, apparently lost in thought.

"So how do you go about it?" Sandra wondered. “You’ve no one to introduce you.”

"It's an art," Jill said with a smirk. She was much better at this than her friend, who hadn't needed to practice for many years. "I'll show you." She touched up her hair, pulled out a compact and tidied her lipstick, then pushed back her chair and stood up. Her stumble as she passed the target's seat was completely convincing.

He leapt to his feet, putting out a hand to steady her, and Jill smiled at him with all the dazzling power her dentist and plastic surgeon could impart upon her.

"Oh, thank you!" Jill's eyelashes, the full unbelievable inch of them, flew up and down as she clutched the stabilizing arm. "I might have hurt myself if you hadn't been there, so strong and gallant!"

The gentleman made a small bow, smiled, and said, "Oh, not at all. I'm sure such a graceful lady could never stumble and fall."

Jill beamed at him. "You are too kind, my dear Mr., ah?" She let the question hang, the eyelashes hard at work.

Again the gentleman bowed. "Smith. James Smith." He patted her hand and made to let go, but Jill clutched the tighter.

"And I am Jillian Cartwright. You must let me buy you a drink to thank you for saving my life."

Mr. Smith allowed himself a slight smile at this exaggeration, but he also allowed Jill to buy the drink, gracefully ensconcing herself at his table.

When she left the restaurant an hour later, Jill picked up Sandra, who was reading a book in her own corner of the bar, and linked arms gaily as they went out, pausing only to give a flirtatious little wave in the direction of Mr. James Smith.

"So," Sandra asked, amused, "is he a keeper?"

"Oh, very definitely." Jill winked. "A most eligible gentleman. We will be dining on Tuesday, and I most certainly intend to keep him."

"What does that make?" Sandra inquired idly. "An even dozen?"

Jill paused to count on her fingers. "He's the thirteenth. The Thirteenth Keeper, and I've kept them all."

"For a little while," Sandra noted dryly.

"For a little while," Jill echoed, satisfied.

The flirtation developed nicely over the weeks that followed. Jill made sure that the dinner on Tuesday led to a sunset walk on Friday, and that to more time spent together over the weekend. Before the month was out, she was able to tell Sandra with confidence that “he’s in the net, dear. You see how it’s done? Just dangle the goods in front of a man and he’ll fall right in line.” The seductive smile wasn’t in use now; they were private, enjoying coffee at Jill’s apartment. Neither woman had put on her war paint, and the years were more obvious in the harsh light of morning than they needed to be.

“Do you ever worry you’re pushing your luck?” Sandra asked.

Jill shrugged. “Numbers one through twelve went quietly, and never a sniff of worry. I just need James Smith, and my retirement portfolio will be complete. I can quit, then.”

The wedding took place two months later. The previous twelve husbands had found that Jill’s attractions wore them out faster than expected, and each had died in a different manner, except two. Those two she had divorced without fanfare, claiming infidelity and accepting generous payments to keep the matter out of the courts and the press.

Mr. Smith seemed to be of a stronger fiber. Not only had he written the pre-nup himself, in a manner that made Jill vaguely uneasy in the moments she allowed herself to think of it, but he seemed to be disgustingly healthy.

Too healthy. Her best efforts had no effect, and she was beginning to worry.

The end came when she prepared his morning coffee, carefully stirring a spoonful of sugar into the cup, just as he liked it. She turned to get the second cup. She took her coffee black.

“What are you doing this morning, Darling?” Appearances had to be maintained until she was done with him, after all. “Will you be going to the office?”

“No, I believe I’ll be staying in. I have business her, my dear.”

It wasn’t until she had taken a hearty swig of the coffee that Jill realized it was sweet. Somehow, she had gotten hold of his cup? How could that have happened?! In a panic, she ran to the bathroom, willing herself to vomit, but nothing came up. Her new husband, the 13th, followed her, but he seemed to lack the concern she expected.

“You needn’t worry, my dear. You’ll be sick enough soon.”

Jill paled, and cursed. “How did--?”

“It really wasn’t hard. You should have made sure the cups didn’t match. In a little while, I’ll call the doctor, terribly worried over your illness. It will, of course, be too late.”

James Smith shut and locked the bathroom door, and walked away as Jill began to vomit.

Thirteen, he mused, had always been his lucky number.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

IWSG and Flaming Crimes Blog Fest

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 January 3 posting of the IWSG are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

January 3 question - What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing? 

I struggle constantly with this, because I really *want* to be planning and scheduling and being very productive. But I'm not. I do try to set publication dates, but not until I'm close enough to done to be confident I'll make it--and that means no schedule through most of the process. But I'm working on the process, and as I said in my post on New Year's Day, I am very close to announcing a publication date for Death By Ice Cream, the 3rd book in the Pismawallops PTA mysteries. 

I am also hoping (planning might be too strong a word) to do more short-story work this year, in part in recognition of the life changes that will make it harder to do big projects. In part, that is also a result of the encouragement I got by (checks watch to be sure it's okay to say this) (sound trumpets) having my story, "The Tide Waits," accepted into the new IWSG anthology, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime! I am over the moon about this wonderful start to my year, and have gained fresh motivation from this much-needed encouragement.

So watch this space for further announcements about the anthology, about Death By Adverb, and other news from a writer who is feeling fractionally less insecure than usual (but who still can't make a schedule and stick to it).


And now for an exciting announcement from author Chris Fey, and some blog-hop fun:

Flaming Crimes Blogfest

Prompt: What is something ridiculous you would save if there was a fire?

For a Californian in 2017, this is a hard question to treat lightly. Too many of our neighbors (in a manner of speaking) have had to make this decision, if they had time to grab anything. But on the other hand, it means I've thought about it. 
There are so many ridiculous possibilities, or at least things that would make you go "huh?" But maybe my first choice would be...the bread loaf pans my mother got as a wedding present from her sister, and which have been in pretty constant use by her and then me since 1958.


Series: Disaster Crimes #4
Page Count: 304 
Digital Price: 4.99 
Print Price: 16.99
Rating: Spicy (PG13) 


BLURB: Beth and Donovan are now happily married, and what Beth wants more than anything is a baby. Her dream of starting a family is put on hold as fires burn dangerously close and Donovan becomes a victim of sabotage.

Donovan escapes what could've been a deadly wreck. Their past enemies have been eliminated, so who is cutting brake lines and leaving bloody messages? He vows to find out, for the sake of the woman he loves and the life they're trying to build.

Amidst a criminal mind game, a fire ignites next to their home. They battle the flames and fight to keep their house safe from the blaze pressing in on all sides, but neither of them expects to confront a psychotic adversary in the middle of the inferno.

Their lives may just go up in flames…

Chrys Fey

About the Author: Chrys Fey is the author of the Disaster Crimes Series, a unique concept blending romance, crimes, and disasters. She’s partnered with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and runs their Goodreads book club. She’s also an editor for Dancing Lemur Press.

Author Links:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Welcome, 2018

First, a summary of my reading challenges for the year. I was only doing two that I can track easily. For the Goodreads Challenge for total books read, I've been beating my prediction for several years, so keep upping it. I think I found the limit. I managed to hit 162 of my 160-book target (finished one last book at 10 p.m. New Year's Eve!), but it felt forced. I'll scale back for next year, as I didn't care for the fake pressure the goal created, and want to read because I feel like it. The second challenge was the GMGR A to Z Challenge. I hit all but 8 letters, and that was without making any special effort. This year, I think I'll make an effort, since part of the point is to read books I might not otherwise.

Now on to 2018...

Since I already did a 2017 summary in my December IWSG post, I'll celebrate the New Year by looking forward. There are some things I know will happen, some I expect, and a whole lot of not being sure exactly what will occur, including some things I'm going to plan on doing. But I'm not making resolutions. I'm making plans.

I know that I will be releasing the third book in the Pismawallops PTA mystery series, probably in early February. Look for a cover reveal in the next couple of weeks, along with a firm release date.

I expect to draft a new novel, though I'm still debating which idea to follow up for that. And I plan to (finally!) return to Gorg the Troll and see what kind of mess I made for him during NaNo 2016.

I am also planning to write and submit more short stories. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that I think it's a good way to increase my visibility as a writer. But it's also because some big life changes coming up make make it tough to manage long-form fiction for a while.

So what are the changes? Well, the spouse is retiring May 31, 2018. I will shed my own responsibilities in the weeks following that, so that we can spend the summer hiking and working on our house. And we are planning to spend most of the next year traveling, in the US and abroad, though plans are not yet set in concrete. It is my intention to keep writing--but I'm also very aware of how hard it is to do much writing when traveling, so I'm trying to keep my expectations in check. As the spring moves along, I will decide on some specific goals, in hopes that having a concrete plan will enable me to keep writing.

2017 was the year of the Empty Nest (our younger son started college in September). 2018 will be the year of upending the nest and shaking everything out. Should be interesting--but you may see something less of me here!

How about you? What's in store for you in 2018?