Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Interesting Times

Interesting Times (Discworld, #17)
Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times.  Ebook from the library, so I don't know how many pages.

Yet another venture to the Discworld.

Summary: Rincewind, the (disc)world's most hopeless wizard (he can't even spell it, for heaven's sake!) finds himself on call in a land far, far away (any resemblances to China are, I am sure, totally coincidental).  As for the rest, the title tells it all.  You know the old curse, right?  "May you live in interesting times."  Probably the thing Rincewind wants least.  He likes boring.  Boring he never seems to get.

Review:  Pratchett skates close to the edges of real political incorrectness in this one, but it's funny enough that I don't think it matters.  And however stereotypical the language problems he presents, they are not only funny but pretty accurate, at far as I understand Chinese (which admittedly is all by hearsay, as I don't in fact understand Chinese at all).  Good jokes, good adventure, and about what I expect of Pratchett's writing.  I'm trying to think of the flaws, as I'm sure there must be some.  I know I was bothered by a lack of stopping places, but I don't think that's really a flaw.  At most, it struck me that Pratchett was working a little too hard at this one, pulling up everything from the oddities of a tonal language to the terra cotta warriors and a bit that didn't quite fit the theme, about butterflies that change the weather.  Worked for me, though.

Definitely a thumbs-up.  Like Pratchett has ever earned any less from me.  Heck, I just have a lot of fun with his books!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: Vincent, the Outhouse Mouse

The Ninja librarian is still on vacation, but based on my experiences of outhouses along the Rockwall Trail in British Columbia's Kootenay National Park, I wanted to present the tale (tail?) of Vincent.  Enjoy!

Once upon a time, on a rocky, snow-fed creek on a far northern mountain, men built a small cluster of structures, and among them, an outhouse.  A long-drop.  A loo. A WC without the W and a great deal more the size of a C than is usual.

It wasn't a particularly nice outhouse.  For one thing, it stank.  For another, it tilted at a most precarious angle, such as made the humans who entered uncomfortable or giddy, or startled from them a laugh at the expedients necessary for its use.

But to one creature it was home.

Vncent the Outhouse Mouse (though of course he was then just plain Vincent), wriggled under the door one autumn afternoon and looked about.  His nose twitched.  Yes, it smelled, but a mouse is not offended by the aromas that send us mere humans running.

Vincent saw a spacious shelter where no hawk could spy him and swoop down to make of him a tasty lunch.  Nor could a weasel or a martin squeeze under the door as he had.

But it did have a smell that made him hesitate: human.  Vincent looked about further.  Yes, there was a hole, and a space into which he could retreat further at need.  And, scrambling to the ledge above, perilously close to the long drop itself, he found the means to line his nest more softly and warmly than ever mouse could dream.  Vincent moved in.

All winter--really, in the cold even you or I would scarcely notice the smells--Vincent the Outhouse Mouse enjoyed his home.  But when the days grew longer and warmer, and the shows melted, the door was more and more often flung open, and Vincent had to dodge large feet, often clad in heavy, hard boots.  And sometimes the dreadful creatures even left the door propped open!  Why, one night when they did so, a porcupine came in and ate a goodly portion of the floor!

Vincent the Outhouse Mouse endured many frights and panics, and still the visitors increased.  So did the smell.  Even a mouse must draw the line somewhere, and Vincent did.

One fine warm day he ran right out between the feet of a startled human, then froze by his crack under the door, fearful of what lay beyond as he was put off by what lay within.

To his surprise, the door was pushed open wider, and the creature on the ledge made gentle noises.  Vincent lost his fear, and strolled through the open door, to face again the adventure of life on the outside.  He would know where to go come winter.  Unless, of course, his outhouse fell over entirely.

Thus were the thoughts that occupied Vincent's mind in the last moments before the hungry hawk, frustrated all winter of his rightful prey, stooped upon the complacent rodent.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Running out of posts

Yup, I'm still off hiking, and running out of preface posts.  I've just a couple left, so please be patient, and I'll be back to my three times a week publishing schedule as soon as possible! If I'm lucky, I'll get another story out of our next backcountry venture, and will find another nice library to let me post it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: No Life for a Lady

No Life for a LadyNo Life for a Ladyby Agnes Morley Cleaveland.  Memoir.
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.  Original: Houghton Mifflin, 1941, "Life in America" series.

Source: I purchased this in a national park bookstore (can't remember which one now.  Those park bookstores are totally our downfall!).

Brief description:  Agnes Morley was born in Cimarron, New Mexico in 1874, and lived out her life until adulthood (and a fair bit of it after) in some of the wilder parts of that state.  Her father was a civil engineer who "built" the Santa Fe railroad, before he was killed by an "unloaded gun" when Agnes was about 7.  Thus began a new period in her life, even farther out in the sticks.  Her mother remarried, to a man who persuaded her to sink all her savings in a ranch.  The man eventually left, but the family owned the ranch until the 1930s.  Agnes grew up with a curious mixture of inevitable wildness--and was a pretty good cowboy--and her mother's attempts to civilize her, which eventually led to boarding school back East.  The book not only recounts that growing up, but the evolution of the family and the region as both moved from the frontier days to the 20th Century (even if the region was a bit late in arriving at the latter).

Review:  I am constantly on the prowl for first-person accounts of the settlement of the West, especially those of the women and children who so often had no say in the matter (and equally often, as Morley clearly demonstrates, loved it and thrived there--though her mother did not).  Such accounts are not usually literary gems, and I would have to say that, though No Life for a Lady is better written than many such "reminiscences" it does nonetheless have it's flaws.  Primarily, I could have wished for a stronger sense of chronology and narrative.  In effect, after the first chapters (clearly constructed along more typical "biography" lines as the author had to get the information largely second-hand), the book becomes a collection of brief nuggets, loosely connected in a generally chronological manner.  I am left with a certain amount of confusion about dates (which she hardly ever mentions) and order of events.

On the plus side, those nuggets are real gems that capture with a minimum of words the reality and feel of life in Datil, NM.  Cowboys come to life, as do horses and cattle, good and bad.  If attitudes toward Indians and Mexicans are the product of her times (and they are), they are nonetheless well-drawn and completely lacking in the hatred and disdain many of her era expressed.

I have been reading away at bits of this book since last October, but the slow progress is not an indictment of the writing.  Rather, it sprang from the vastness of my pile of library books and the manner in which this narrative lends itself to sampling and nibbling.  With no strong narrative, I didn't feel that I lost the narrative thread by leaving it for days and weeks between chapters.  I simply enjoyed each chapter for the glimpse it gave me into a life and a period that fascinates me.

Recommended: yes, for those with an interest in frontier life.

Full Disclosure: I purchased this copy of No Life for a Lady myself and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hi everyone!

I just dropped in between hikes (really)to belatedly tell you all to check out the  interview of me on
Cheryl Carpinello's blog: http://carpinelloswritingpages.blogspot.ca/2013/07/meet-childrens-author-rebecca-douglass.html

The vacation is going great, having much fun and very little Internet (today for about 45 min, the first in two weeks!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sneak Peek: Return to Skunk Corners

Instead of Flash Fiction, today I'm giving a sneak peek at the opening of the new Ninja Librarian book, due out August 15: Return to Skunk Corners.

First, though the cover isn't finished so I can't do a reveal, I just want to say it will feature this guy:

And, so do some of the stories.  After all, this is Skunk Corners, right there next to Skunk Springs on Skunk Mountain.

So the story opens:

 Skunk corners with no librarian
It didn’t come as any surprise.  When we sent the toughs from Endoline packing without any help from the Skunk Corners librarian, I knew what we’d proven.  I’d known the Ninja Librarian long enough to guess what came next.
Still, it had been a nasty shock when I woke that morning to find an envelope on my kitchen table.  Only one person could’ve snuck in and left it without me waking.  With a sinking feeling, I slit the envelope with my hunting knife, feeling the big brass key inside.  Along with the key to the library was a single line penned on a bit of stationery in the Ninja Librarian’s fussy, old-fashioned handwriting:
It’s yours now, Alice.
Mine?  I knew even less about running a library than I did about running a school.  Which, despite several years in charge of the Skunk Corners school, wasn’t much.  Anyway, I couldn’t run a library and a school, could I?  I raced to the library, meaning to stop him if I had to sit on him, but he was gone.
Just like that, I’d lost my best friend, my teacher, and my mentor, and gained another unwanted responsibility.  If Ninja Tom wanted me to grow up, he’d opted for the sink-or-swim approach.
I was giving some serious thought to sinking.
It wasn’t just me.  In the following weeks my students grew mopey, the mayor nervous, and Tess and her girls cranky.  Maybe not as cranky as me, but they’d lost a friend, too.  Like me, they didn’t have many they could spare.
In short, our town had lost its heart, just when we’d started to learn we had one.
“This is silly,” Tess tried to convince us both.  We were having drinks in her place—Two-Timin’ Tess’s Tavern—shortly before closing a couple weeks after he left.  We sipped our tea from shot glasses.  “It’s not like Tom was one of us,” she argued.  “We got on before he came.  We’ll get on without him.”
“I know,” I said.  “He was just an outsider who came and tried to tell us how to run things.”  It was a good effort, but it didn’t work.  “I was an outsider myself not so long ago. Tess.  What makes me any different from him?”  Tess shrugged.  She didn’t have any answers.
Ninja Tom had come and shown our whole town how to grow up, and that was worth a whole lot more than being born here.  Everything was different because of him, and what I was afraid of—what we all feared—was that without him we couldn’t keep it up.
“I don’t want Skunk Corners to go back to being the sort of town that drives off librarians and raises children who can’t read.  Won’t read, which you gotta admit is worse.”
“I know,” Tess said. 
“That’s why I’ve got so gloomy and cantankerous.”
I suppose I should introduce myself.  Around Skunk Corners I’m known as Big Al, though Tom called me by my given name almost from the first.  That’s one thing Tom hadn’t finished before he left.  I might’ve let him call me Alice—he once kicked me into the street on my hindquarters for backtalk, so I didn’t argue—but he couldn’t make me like the name.  And I didn’t let anyone else use it.  Now that he was gone, no one called me Alice, not even Tess, who dared most things.
Tom hadn’t managed to turn Big Al into a girl.  It should have made me happy.
Later that night, though my heart wasn’t in it, I practiced the drills Tom had taught me. That was another thing he hadn’t finished.  I was no Ninja fighter yet, though I was better set to defend myself than I’d been a year before.  I could maybe handle the sort of trouble-maker we got here well enough.  I’d already kicked one low-down side-winder out of town.  But I’d be no match for someone really mean.
And I didn’t know how to defend Skunk Corners from itself.  Fewer people came to the library now, and I didn’t seem to have Tom’s ability to captivate the children at story time.  Oh, I knew the tricks he’d used in the beginning.  But he hadn’t needed those tricks for long.  His voice could hold them once they’d been quiet long enough to hear it.  Mine held no magic at all.
So I was expecting the worst when disaster hit our town, though what I expected was nothing like what happened.

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Progressive Book Club

I don't know if the PBC is going to meet this month, and I'm not home to meet, not really.  But I wanted to link back to my earlier post on the work under discussion, if only to explain why I'm not really doing a post on the topic (that, and not being near my computer).

So take a look at what I had to say after working on the first chapter.

I fully intended to do more with the book (Julie Cameron's The Artist's Way); at least try to work through two or three chapters.  But the truth is, this book just wasn't for me.  Not my style, not where I am right now, and much too mystical for me.  I meant to at least try to keep up those morning (or evening) pages, but I couldn't even manage that.  And, truth to tell, I'm not feeling the need.  But I do hold the option, reminding myself that when the noise in my head gets too loud, grabbing a journal and writing it all out is not a bad way to regain control.

So. . . I'll see you next month, or the one after, whenever we move on to another text.  And I will be interested in seeing if the book is helping any of you!

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday!

Here's another bit from the Ninja Librarian himself. 

The Librarian on the Flood

Once again I feel compelled to take up my pen and set the record straight, as there are some gaps in the narrative Alice has so ably constructed regarding the flood that came so near to washing our town from the face of the earth.  More happened that day than Alice ever knew, and I feel obliged to complete the record, though I fear it does not reflect on me the heroic light than even her somewhat ironic narrative provides.*
When the rains began—no, when the rain reached Skunk Corners, for subsequent events made it evident that it had been precipitating on the mountain above us for some time.  When, as I say, the rain reached us, I was in the library.  I was, in fact, reading a book which outlined the means, historical, fanciful, and scientific, by which Man endeavors to affect the weather.  In particular, I was reading about the calling of rain from empty skies.  I did not have any great faith in such methods, but conditions in Skunk Corners were becoming desperate, and I had nearly determined to attempt some such influence.
You will understand therefore, that I felt both interest and a mildly amused surprise on finding that it had commenced to rain, as though merely reading of the procedures had summoned the water from the sky.  Laying aside the book, I gazed out the window, smiling when I saw Alice and her bevvy of young scholars emerge from the school, laughing and shouting, to dance in the street.
After a moment, unable to resist their joyful spirit, I laid aside my frock coat (being unwilling to damage a garment I could not easily replace), and turned to the door.  The rain drumming on the roof set up a roar which, curiously, seemed little lessened on emerging from under its shelter.
Only when I splashed into the street and found myself stepping not into a puddle, but a stream of moving water, did I understand.  Miss Alice, too, was looking from the water about her feet to the forest from which it seemed to come.
A flood of this sort was outside my experience, but I had been cornered for two days on the train coming West by an old frontiersman with an endless supply of tales.  He had spoken, among many other things, of the violent floods that could follow a storm—what he called a “gully-washer”—in the dry desert areas to our south.  After months without rain, I now envisioned a wall of muddy water crashing down the mountain toward us.
Alice has narrated how I alerted the town and how we sent the children to the library and mustered the able-bodied citizens to attempt to keep the creek in its rightful channel.  Naturally, her narration creates the impression that I saw the danger instantly and with equal celerity determined a solution and put it into practice.
My view differs somewhat.
I come from a climate not subject to lengthy periods of drought, so that I was both more and less excited by the arrival, at last, of the rains.  More, because the lengthy dry period seemed to me odd and unnatural.  Yet a part of me refused to believe we could pass three months or more without rain, so I had counted each dry summer day as a gift.
When the water began to rise around me, however, I first froze in disbelief, then accompanied the crowds to the creek out of, I am sorry to report, an ignorant curiosity rather than a true grasp of the seriousness of our situation.
Now, in those early months in Skunk Corners, I was saved from many a blunder, and helped to appear far more knowledgeable than I truly am, by one person.  That person is Johnny, Miss Tess’s bartender.  Johnny was, in fact, the first person to accept me—but that’s another story.  I am speaking of our flood.
It was, as I say, Johnny who saw the danger and knew we had to restore the brook to it’s proper course before further damage was done.  Knowing he does not wield the authority of a librarian—the authority of a bartender is large, but of a different nature—he sought me out in the crowd and explained the danger in a few expressive words.
Now, I may not know the West, but when a plan is laid out for me, I grasp it quickly.  Thus I was able to mobilize the townspeople in time to dam the overflow and dig the diversion channel around the obstruction which was causing the flooding in our town.  Johnny informed me later that the rest—moving the fallen tree which blocked the stream—I had been able to do only because I failed to grasp that the effort was insane.
What no one, not even Johnny, ever knew was how badly that water frightened me.  I never saw so much water moving so fast.  And that, my friend, led almost directly to my near-death by drowning.
I must confess it: I was so determined not to show my fear that I put myself forward in every way, directing the efforts and laboring with the shovel alike.  And, I regret to say, I put myself forward to the edge of the channel Tess and Alice had so competently dug.  When that branch broke loose and swept me off my feet, I knew I was dead.  I did not hit my head at that time, but only when I had finished falling.  The time it takes for a fool to fall three feet is more than enough time to understand many things.
Being certain I was dead, therefore, I had no idea what to think when I again became aware of myself and found the faces of my friends peering at me.
Although my efforts very nearly cost me my life—and, more unforgiveable to me, nearly cost Alice’s life—I count that day as among my best.  When I awoke, wet, muddy, and with a head that ached as it has not since my student days, and saw myself surrounded by the anxious faces of people who had risked their lives to save mine, I found I had a family such as I had not known for many a year.
But I vowed never again to underestimate the force of moving water—nor my own ability to make poor decisions.  Whether I have kept that vow I leave to you to decide.
And that is the truth of the events of the day of our flood, which I will not tell to Alice.

*See The Ninja Librarian, Chapter 8, “The Ninja Librarian Meets His Match”

Get your copy of The Ninja Librarian with the new, improved cover! 

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Middle Grade Review: Bo at Ballard Creek

Bo at Ballard Creek, by Kirkpatrick Hill, illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Bo at Ballard CreekPublisher: Henry Holt & Co., 2013
Middle Grade historical fiction

Source: Library.  I just plucked this one off the new book shelf, first because it looked like historical fiction (my favorite), and then on reading the blurb I thought it might fit in with the orphan theme I've been looking at.

Brief Summary:  This turned out not to actually be an orphan story.  Yes, Bo is an orphan (abandoned as a baby by her mother).  But she is promptly taken up by a pair of miners, Jack and Arvid, who become her Papas (she names them both Papa, which should be confusing but isn't), who are en route to the mine at Ballard Creek, Alaska, in about 1930.  So she's not an orphan--she has a pair of loving parents, not to mention the whole community at Ballard Creek who help raise her.  The book is the account of their last year at Ballard Creek, when Bo is about 5.

Review:  This book made me think of Little House in the Big Woods, both because it does something everyone will say you can't do nowadays: it's a middle-grade (say, ages 8-10) book with a much younger protagonist.  It's also more a series of sketches of life at Ballard Creek than it is a novel.  Through most of the book, not much really happens, though a single story (of a little boy who is found near the town and taken in by them all) develops through the final chapters.

So, by all the rules, this book shouldn't work at all.  And I admit I kept waiting for something to happen, holding my breath for the disaster that was surely going to strike and destroy their happy life.  But that's not the sort of book this is.  It's a soothing, pleasant account of life in a time and place that's mostly gone now.  I think there are two main points to the story: first, that a family looks like whatever works for you.  This isn't a veiled depiction of a gay couple; the miners all partner up to keep safe and sane, and there's not a whiff of sexuality anywhere in the book.  It's just saying that they're a family because they act like a family.  The second point, brought home at the end of the book and made explicit, is that nothing escapes change.

Using a very young protagonist allowed the author to look at everything in town with fresh, interested eyes.  Bo doesn't go to school, so she's not reading about the outside world, and all she knows is Ballard Creek.  That allows for a feeling as you read of being totally in that place, at that moment--as small children usually are.

As you can tell, I enjoyed this story a lot.  I'm not sure how to rate it, as some readers will feel there needs to be more action, more plot.  For them, it's probably about a 3.  But for those who like to just immerse themselves in a time and place, and let life roll by. . . it's a 5.

Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Bo at Ballard Creek from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Soul Music

Continuing my steady read through all of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.  This month's selection is Soul Music.
Soul Music (Discworld, #16) 

Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett.  The 16th Discworld book.
Publisher: HarperPrism, 1995
Source: the Library

Brief Summary:
Really?  I don't think it's possible.  Okay, I'll give it a try.  A young bard named Imp y Celyn (which means "of the holly") gets tired of being just a young bard in a country full of bards, so he goes traveling.  And ends up in Ankh-Morpork.  Where he discovers that the Musician's Guild has a stranglehold on all music, and that he and a couple of fellow-musicians (a Dwarf named Glod and a troll named Lias) don't have the money to join.  But they do have the money to buy a very strange guitar, which has some very strange effects on them.  Meanwhile, Death's granddaughter Susan is having some very strange experiences.  Death is having (another) existential crisis and has gone missing, so somebody has to take over.  But Susan is all too human.  Things get weird after that.
Okay, that does it.  I'm not going to try any more.

I admit I have my times of wondering who the heck I am to write a review of Sir Terry's work.  I mean, really?  But that's what I do, so I'll try.  
I have mixed feelings about this one, as I do every time too much of our world intrudes into the Discworld.  I mean, I know the whole thing is just a means of satirizing the heck out of everything human, but still, I get all weird when the boundaries of fantasy and reality start to blur (for the record, I also liked Anne McCaffrey's Pern a lot less when the old computer started to give them modern technology).  But Soul Music is also just glorious fun, with all the references to rock and roll (er, that would be "music with rocks in").  And he does offer a brilliant view of the beginning of everything in a single chord of music.  I really like that modification of the big bang.  The Big Band theory?
Finally, we are given a view of the choices we all face, in a way.  Susan Death may be able to prevent the day the music died, but young Imp (known from the time he started playing music with rocks in as Buddy Celyn, and you figure it out) may have to pay the price.
There's a boatload of inside jokes, a fair number of references that the younger generation may or may not get, and a joke about viola players that I have to remember to share with my Mom (who plays viola).  All in all, a worthwhile Discworld outing. 

Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Soul Music from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.
Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Friday, July 5, 2013

TV Tropes Challenge

I'm a bit late with this, but here it is, if a bit less polished than usual.  This is another Chuck Wendig challenge.  He sent us to TVTropes.com, to randomly pick a trope and write a story using that trope.  I got the "Death Course," a series of deadly booby traps the hero must pass. Bovrell the Bold returns in,

The Mission

Bovrell the Bold contemplated the steep, mountainous trail before him.  His horse snorted and shied, turning aside in a clear statement of distaste.  Bovrell spurred him on, but the animal declined to continue.

"Come on, Horsefeathers," Bovrell growled.  "We have to do this."

With a shake of it's head, the horse indicated that, while Bovrell might need to follow that trial, Horsefeathers felt no such obligation.  In the end, Bovrell climbed out of the saddle with a sigh.  Cursing the animal, he took up the reins and towed it toward the narrow trail.

Two steps on, the ground gave way and he fell, only saved from certain death by the reins wrapped around his hand.  With another snort, clearly of disgust this time, Horsefeathers backed slowly away from the edge, pulling the Hero from the spike-studded pit that had so nearly ended his life.

Back on solid ground, Bovrell studied the way more closely.  Then, sighing, he tethered he horse, patted it on the nose in a gesture of thanks, and returned to the path.  He sidled carefully past the pit, hugging the inner cliff-face.  When he reached solid trail again, Horsefeathers snorted.  Bovrell stopped and looked back.  The horse tossed his head to the left, and Bovrell crossed carefully to the outer edge of the trail.  A large slab of rock crashed down where he's been.

"That's two," Bovrell muttered.  He looked back at Horsefeathers again, but he had had turned away and begun grazing.  Bovrell turned to study the trail ahead.  No hints there.  He moved forward slowly, all senses alert for the next trap.

Three steps later his foot rolled on a stone, and he staggered, coming to a rest tilted against the cliff face.  A shower of rocks tumbled past from an overhang, missing him by inches.  He mopped his brow and stood up.

"What did the old man say?" Bovrell tried to remember.  "Six paces past the rockfall and dodge left?  or was it five and then right this time?"  He pulled a coin from his pocket, flipped it, and stepped ahead, counting.  ". . . four, five, six."  He stepped right, then panicked.  "Left!  It was supposed to be left!  I think." He stood still, wondering what he'd stepped into, and a tentacle reached over the side of the path, groping but finding nothing to grab.  "Guess it was right after all.."  Bovrell shrugged.  Only a few more paces, and no other instructions.  He took two confident strides forward, then noticed his bootlace had come untied.  He knelt to tie it, glancing up with mild interest as a flight of arrows passed inches above his head.

"One more trap after all.  Sneaky son of a rock monster!"  He stood, laid his hand on the hilt of his sword, and strode the last few paces to his goal.  In one easy motion he collected the contents of the sacred receptacle, and turned, realizing that he must now retrace his steps.  Counting carefully, he ducked, dodged, and tilted, sidled back past the pit, and remounted Horsefeathers.

A short canter brought Bovrell to the isolated castle from which he had been sent out on his quest.  The old man waited in the courtyard.

"I have succeeded, my Lord," he said, handing over the bundle.  "Five gold crowns."

The old man rifled through the materials.  "Junk!  I'm not paying you five gold crowns for a fistful of worthless paper!"

Bovrell considered his options.  The Hero's Guide forbade that he should run the man through, age being nearly as sacred as femininity.  Sighing deeply, he turned his horse to the wider path leading down the back of the mountain.  At the castle gate he turned and delivered the only blow he was allowed.

"After this, you can get your own mail, Dad!"

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Middle-grade review: The Flight of the Doves

Kid Lit Blog Hop day! 
Kid Lit Blog Hop

After the fun I had last week with two old favorites, I decided to go ahead with one more of my old "orphan books."  So here is my review:
The Flight of the Doves The Flight of the Doves, by Walter Macken.
Published by Scholastic Books, 1968.  224 pages.
I bought this book from the Scholastic book advertising flyer thingie (you remember those, right?  Kids still get them, too) with my own pocket money when I was in grade school, shortly after it was published.  Did I just admit that?

Brief Summary: Finn and Derval Dove are living in England with "Uncle Toby," who married their mother after their father died.  Their mother is now dead as well, and Toby isn't nice to them at all.  In fact, he's abusive.  One night things come to a head, and the two children run away that very night.  Their destination: their Granny O'Flaherty somewhere in the west of Ireland.  Finn is 12, Derval 7, and neither knows exactly where they are going--until news coverage of their case gives it away.  They cross Ireland on foot and with help from various people, and come in the end to find the family they need.

Review: I think this might be the perfect balance of adventure for the middle grade child.  There is excitement, narrow escapes, and lots of creativity and initiative required from Finn (Derval is not a very developed character; she is the small child who provides both a reason for Finn to do what he does and the greatest source of anxiety during the process).  But the danger is never life-threatening, unless you count being sent back to an abusive and loveless existence.  And what they do feels totally believable.  There are no exceptional skills on their part, no super powers or even knowledge beyond what any kid Finn's age would have known in the 1960s.  He does it all with stubbornness and determination, and just enough adult help to be believable.

The writing style feels a little odd.  I'm not sure if it's dated or just that the author is making a conscious effort to keep it within the parameters for children of a certain age, but sentences feel short and declarative.  Nonetheless, it reads well and the writing feels more like a stylistic choice than a grade-level requirement.  The plot, as noted, is believable, and the story develops quickly and moves fast enough that I have trouble putting the book down, even though I've probably read it a dozen times or more.

Four and a half stars.

Full Disclosure: I bought this copy of The Flight of the Doves when I was in grade school, and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Notice: This blog is posting itself in my absence.  If you comment, I WILL respond. . . but not for a few weeks.  This does not mean I no longer love you.  It just means I've gone hiking.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Updates and business and stuff

This is just a post to say that I will be traveling through most of July, and won't be able to post regularly (if at all.  It depends on finding a hot spot and time to make use of it).  I will schedule in advance as many posts as I can, spread throughout the month.  But I won't be making my three-a-week schedule, and the fiction will get a bit thin on the ground.

Taking July off presents me with a lot of challenges.  For one thing, I'll lose momentum in my writing (I know from experience that when we are on the road, I do well to keep my journal/trip log up to date, let alone any other writing).  I hope to have Return to Skunk Corners ready to go before I leave, so that I can plan on a publication date in early August, when I'm back to manage that.  And I've starting plotting and planning and scheming a sequel to Murder Stalks the PTA, even though I haven't finished that one yet.  So I'll keep working on that if I have time (though as about the only thing that would give me that kind of time would be illness, I hope I don't have time!  I've already done that, coughing my lungs out in camp while the rest of the family hiked all over Glacier National Park).

If I could work in a moving car this would go a lot better!  But except maybe on some stretches of freeway (and we won't be seeing many of those), I'm apt to puke if I try to do much besides stare out the window.  And I will NOT haul a fat MS along when backpacking, though I always carry my journal, so I can keep working.

So when you wonder why I'm not posting, just bear in mind that this is my idea of a vacation:

A relaxing day in the country:

 New heights of inspiration:

A family meal:
 (All three photos copyright Dave Dempsey; used with permission)