Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NaNo Nano. . . oh, wait. . .

No, not Mork and Mindy.  This is something else.  Another day when I don't have a book review ready to go so I'm faking it.  No, no--this is more than that (though I also don't have a book review for you)!  After thinking about it and sneering at it and duly noting that the schedule won't really work for me, I'm going to join friends like Gus Sanchez (language occasionally unsuited to children) in NaNoing my own way (That means participating, sort of, in National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo).  Here's the plan:

1.  Just finish the danged edits.  You have time, just need e a little longer attention span!
2.  Get the last major bits of the outline in place for the Orcaville PTA #2 (I really need a title.  Death By Trombone, perhaps, especially since #1 is looking like  Death By Ice Cream.  Sets up a nice pattern in titles).
2A.  Write the one-page synopsis.  That and what outline I've got should be a pretty good roadmap.
3.  Start writing, at least by Nov. 6 (post-election.  The election-night results party at my house should be a great warm-up for writing about corpses. . . ).
4.  Have a wheee of a time and write every day.  My big goal is to do it even during Thanksgiving break, meaning I take time to sneak away by myself and write--a great way to improve my sanity, as there will be (counts on fingers) 8 of us in my in-laws rather modest house.  Nine for lots of meals.
5.  Since my actual goal is more like 80,000 words, I won't be stopping with the end of November.
6.  I will ignore the rules (there are way too many) and pick and choose what will be helpful to me.
7.  I will try to continue to publish flash fiction and reviews on here, though some weeks I may cheat and share bits from my WIP (more likely the one that's nearly done; I really prefer not to share my rough drafts with anyone).  

NaNo is first and foremost meant to encourage people who have long thought or talked about writing a novel to actually do it.  I'm not putting myself in that category.  But hey--writing is a lonely process (which is just fine most of the time), and joining a community might make it easier.  Who knows?  In a way, it's already working--I've been working much harder at finishing the current revise of Death By Ice Cream in order to clear my plate to start the fun of generating all-new prose.

So any of you out there who are going to be NaNers, buddy up with me--you'll find me at Rebecca Douglass (yeah, not so original!  But I'm working hard to get some name recognition, so seems like hiding behind funny usernames is counter-productive!).

And here's my inspiration for keeping on going:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Meanderings

Monday rolls around again, and I've no book review to share.  I did finally finish one--the October Terry Pratchett from my Humor Club read. But I've reviewed so many of his books, and I'm not sure I'm up for another--though The Hogfather seems to have called out some disgruntlement among other devoted fans.  The fact that I didn't have any problem with it suggests to me that I either wasn't paying enough attention or I'm easily satisfied.  Though I'm not sure I could make a coherent narration of the plot, that doesn't mean much with Pratchett.  So I'll digest that one a bit more before I decide if I want to attempt something of a review.

Meanwhile, what have I been spending my time on?  Editing, when I'm not campaigning (that's a different story and one I'll be happy to put behind me in 9 days).  And contemplating how to make the schedule work to join in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) madness.  I had hoped to have the first Orcaville PTA mystery tucked away and the second fully outlined by the start of the month.  It is gradually dawning on me that it's simply not going to happen.  I'm thinking that I might start NaNo a week late, and let it run until I finish the draft, which is really the point anyway. 

Though all that might conflict with my plan to sleep for a week when the election is over.  Preferably on a beach in Tahiti.  Probably not happening anyway. 

See you Wednesday--I hope to have something worth sharing by then. 
Sometimes the work is watching you too closely.

And sometimes you have to look twice to find it at all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday--I Am Going to Miss You

This week's Wendig challenge was another random title quest, but a little different.  We were directed to go to Pandora or whatever and pick a song title at random (I assume those places can do that for you).  Since I don't use any of those sites, I went to my collection of CDs, closed my eyes, and reached out and grabbed a disk.  Then I closed them again and pointed at the list on the back, and there was my title.  Not as random as it might have been, but it did the job.  I got "I Am Going to Miss You" by Laura Love, from the album "Fourteen Days." I did NOT look at the liner notes to see what the story of the song might be, and I've never listened to it enough to remember.  Though now that I've written the story I might put it on.

The title at first made me think horror, but everyone at Terrible Minds is doing that, and it's really not my thing.  So here's another bit of mostly light fantasy.

I Am Going to Miss You

Lady Knight Farinia thought about the mission she faced, as she saddled her destrier and buckled on sword and shield.  She let her squire stow her lance in the boot by her stirrup.

Once a week for a year Farinia had ridden forth from the castle to meet Biter in single combat—if combat with something that had three heads and two tails could ever be called “single.”  That Farinia was still alive was a testament to her skill as a knight.  That Biter was still alive was proof of the near-impossibility of the task she had been set, for no better knight graced the kingdom.  Every time she went out to try the monster, usually soon after her third cup of coffee on Monday morning, she expected it to be her last.  She spent the weekends griping to the other knights about it—why did she have to go, how come no one else got sent, and what difference did any of it make anyway?  Couldn’t they just leave the creature alone?

But on those Monday mornings, she knew she was alive as she did at no other time.  Only those who were alive could be so certain that they were about to become dead.

Farinia ran a last weapons check.  Sword: honed to a perfect edge.  Shield: polished.  Lance: newly-tipped.  And last, something new.  A little bag of powder hung at her belt, a potion guaranteed to give her a few minutes of redoubled strength, perhaps enough to finally finish the job.  Everything was in place.

Farinia took a deep breath, mounted up with a boost from her squire—even chain mail was heavy and flexed poorly, making mounting a chore—and accepted a bow and quiver from the armorer.

“Right, then, Lady Knight!  Return with your shield or on it!”

“Do be quiet, Sedwick,” Farinia rebuked the over-eager squire.  “If I am defeated, I won’t come back on my shield.  I’ll come back as a little pile of monster dung, and you know it.”

Sedwick dug a toe in the dust.  “Yeah, I know, Lady Knight.  But that doesn’t sound so encouraging.  ‘Come back victor or monster dung!’ just doesn’t have the right ring.”

Farinia couldn’t help herself.  She laughed, and armed with laughter and the potion at her belt, she felt this might be the time.  “Biter, you’re mine, you evil beast!”

In the darkest part of the forest, the monster known as Biter stirred in its sleep.  She was coming.  It could feel her.   Biter stood, and stretched, and prepared for battle.  With this knight, there was always the chance that the battle could be their last. 

They always met in the same spot, a clearing not far from Biter’s cave.  Years of combats with a series of knights had gradually enlarged and smoothed the open ground until it was as large and perfect as the jousting yard at the palace.

Farinia drew up in the middle of the clearing and whistled shrilly.  Then she called out, “Biter!  Come forth and meet your doom!”  Her hand drifted down toward the pouch at her belt, then away.  Not yet.  It felt like cheating, that magic potion.  Her own strength and skill had kept her alive so many times, even if they hadn’t yet sufficed to slay the beast.  Perhaps this would be the time.  If not, the magic was always there.

Biter emerged from its cave, nodding all three heads and swishing both tails menacingly from side to side.  “We meet again, Lady Knight.”  The creature had a surprisingly high, cultured voice.  Farinia always felt it would be more fitting if it bellowed in a deep, coarse tone, or even stuck with savage, bestial growls.  Instead, Biter spoke in a voice that reminded her painfully of the etiquette teacher who had taught all the pages to bow to ladies and wait at table.  The sound of that voice had driven her into a frenzy as a page, and did so now as a grown knight.

Battle was joined.  The fight raged about the clearing for two hours, while the sun rose high and hot, and Farinia began to wish she hadn’t drunk that third cup of coffee.  At last, as deep down she’d known she would, she reached for the pouch at her belt.  Her right hand pulled it free and loosened the drawstrings, while her left continued to make her sword sing a deadly song of war and destruction, keeping the monster at bay.

Farinia tipped the contents of the pouch into her mouth. . .

. . . And began to cough.  The powder wouldn’t be swallowed, but dusted everything from eyeballs to lungs in a choking cloud.  In a panic, she dropped her sword and groped for her flask.  Clumsy fingers knocked it from her saddle.

Biter watched for a moment until, her eyes streaming and coughs unabated, Farinia tried to turn her horse and run.  Then Biter reached out and took her from her mount with a single blow of the left tail.  Placing a huge paw on the heaving chest, it stood until the coughing, and all motion, had ceased.  Then it took the first bite.  Savoring the always-delectable mixture of human and steel, Biter paused.  No other knight for centuries had been such fun.

“I’m going to miss you.”  The words were muffled as it took a second mouthful.  Farinia’s shield lay nearby, waiting.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Help me with my new book!

So the editing and revising and outside input and all is working well, rapidly turning my first murder mystery from a stinking heap of random words into an MS that I can be proud of.  But I'm totally stuck on one particular point:

The Title

That's right.  I've been working on this for years, and have never lit on a title that I really like.  So I'm going to give you the two-bit summary and a list of possible titles and let you vote.

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s why JJ MacGregor likes it.  When a rogue member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ wants someone to take a firm stand.  When Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while someone else solves her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and a loud mouth and insatiable curiosity can be a dangerous combination.

And here are the possible titles:

Death Stalks the PTA
The Corpse in the Ice Cream
Murder a la Mode--please ignore this option--it's been done, more than once!
Death By Ice Cream
Fundraisers Can Be Fatal

The poll is over there in the side-bar, because I can't figure out how to put it right here.  ~~~>

Oh--and if you have a better idea, speak up!  I'll even give you credit!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mystery Monday: Speaking From Among the Bones


Speaking From Among the Bones: A Flavia Du Luce Novel, by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
Publisher:  Books on Tape, 2013.  Original Pub., Delacorte Press, 2013
Source: library; Overdrive audio downloads

Eleven-year-old (or is she 12 now?  If not quite, very soon to be) Flavia du Luce is eagerly present for the opening of the ancient tomb of St. Tancred, in the local church of that name.  When the body of the missing church organist appears in the upper part of the crypt, Flavia is at once hot on the trail of the killer.  Accompanied by Gladys, her faithful bicycle, Flavia uncovers more village secrets than expected, and rides into the heart of trouble, as always.

After some disappointment with the lack of development and understanding of the familial relationship in Flavia's last outing, I am happy to report that the story in this case not only comprises an intriguing mystery (which I did NOT unravel in advance of Flavia, though to be honest that seldom happens, especially with audio books, where too much is apt to slip past me for cleverness), but also a more convincing level of complexity in the relationships.  In fact, I found the story very enjoyable right up to the end, where we are left hanging a bit more than I'd like about the future of the family.

Flavia narrates the story with her customary zest, ego, and firm conviction that she can see through to the answer better than anyone.  There are a few places where I either missed leaps to some understanding (due again to the hazards of listening while doing other things), or they were not adequately explained.  I unfortunately can't actually say where the fault lies when I don't quite follow from point A to point B on an audio book. 

Although Flavia is only 11 (or maybe 12--I really should have been listening more carefully), these books are not for children.  She being an innocent (sort of) from 1950-something, there is essentially nothing of sex, but plenty of other darker passions, all given us with just enough humor and style that I enjoy them very much (but wouldn't give the book to a child).  I'm not sure I'd say that Flavia is a wholly believable child (MUCH too smart and too good at chemistry etc. for her age, though she is far from a know-it-all in every area, leaning heavily on her sisters for history, etc., and only now beginning to see through their claims that she's a foundling or changeling, and no child of their dead mother), but that really isn't the point.  She's interesting.

The reader: Ms. Entwistle seems to me to voice Flavia very well indeed, and conveys very well the girl's ghoulish delight in all things morbid and/or chemical.  She puts over a sense of the girl's youth without being annoyingly childish.

This isn't the best mystery I've read, but it may be the best in the series so far.

Full disclosure: I borrowed this audio-book from the digital  library and received nothing from the author or the publisher for this review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: Gorg in Pursuit of Bale, Part II

So several weeks ago, Chuck Wendig challenged us all to write half a cliffhanger and leave it for someone else to finish.  I did that here, and the next week Jemima Pett wrote the next installment, or a possible next installment.  I mean to go back and steal some of her version, but never got around to it.  Because my dirty secret is out: I had already written a continuation of the Gorg story, which is looking more and more like a serial.  Here's my version:

Gorg in Pursuit of Bale (Part 2)

Gorg could feel his fingers growing into the rock.  His stone-bound Troll mind cracked here and there as part embraced the rock, and part struggled to move.  He looked down at the glassy surface of the water below.  A twist of his head showed the other side of the gorge only a dozen yards away.  But it might as well have been a hundred miles, because he could not cross that water.

Trolls can’t swim.  Being born of stone, they sink.  And one need they share with humans: they must breathe.  Deep water meant death and an end to Grog’s quest.  Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted would never be punished for having Gorg’s uncle, brother and three cousins turned (back) into stone.  He would either descend and drown, or stay where he was and become one with the cliff.

The thought roused him to anger.

“NO!”  Gorg’s bellow echoed back and forth between the canyon walls.  A few pieces of rock broke loose and fell with a hollow plunk into the water below.  And Gorg moved his left hand.

Slowly his fingers separated themselves from the rock face and he moved his arm upward, seeking a new hold.  The right hand followed.  His booted feet hadn’t had time to reach through the heavy dragon-hide to embed themselves in the rock, so they shifted easily to new knobs and ledges.

Retreating was hard.  Gorg had single-mindedly pushed forward, following the winds that had carried his enemy away, until it had become nearly impossible to do anything else.  Being born of stone makes trolls’ brains less nimble and flexible than humans’ minds, more tenacious and unbending.

When he stood on the rim of the gorge once more, Gorg turned his head and felt the wind.  It had shifted.  With relief, he turned and followed the gorge down the mountain.


Three days later Gorg stood on the Great East Road, which rolled between the Plains of Fruitfulness and the mountains.  Still following the wind, he turned south again.  Somewhere off there he would find Bale.

He would also find the City of Celestial Celery, home of King Celery the Half-Wit.  Gorg hadn’t yet worked out Bale’s plan with regard to the so-called King, but he knew his kin had been guards at the castle before becoming statuary in the Royal Gardens.  Bale might return to the scene of the crime.  And the wind led him in that direction.

A human traveler would have enjoyed the trip through the Plains of Fruitfulness.  It was the heart of the kingdom, farms as far as the eye could see, and well-watered by the rivers flowing from each crack and gorge of the mountains.  Gorg had to stay on the edges of the Plains, for deep, rich earth covered the rocks he needed to keep life in his stone body.  For all the challenges they posed, the mountains were more friendly to his nature.  He pushed on.


The City of Celestial Celery shone in the last light of a clear day when Gorg passed the gates and entered.  The last time he’d been in a city, a magical token had drawn him to his target.  This time he had no such help.  After wandering the streets for hours—and being threatened with fines for vandalism when he plucked up a cobblestone and ate it for a late dinner—he turned in at a way-house that advertised accommodations for Trolls.

Gorg paused just inside the door, his eyes adjusting to the dim light, and from a table to his left a voice called, “Gorg!  Gorg Trollheim!”

He turned.  “Pulgrum Stonelump!”  His luck had held, bringing him among friends.  And friends who knew the gossip of the City.  Three glasses of the powerful drink they called Stonejuice had loosened more tongues than Gorg’s, and he had told of his quest—and heard that the arrival of a balloon bearing a madman had been all the news for the last week. 

“They say he is completely insane, can’t talk so anyone can understand.  So King Celery has taken him in and given him a room and nurse.”

“Huh.”  Gorg wasn’t a city troll with lots of learning, but he knew a bad smell when he smelled it.  Gorg wouldn’t believe Bale was crazy and harmless even if he saw it with his own eyes.  And Crazy or not, Celery really was a half-wit if he took in his worst enemy right into his own castle. “I still have to kill him.”

The other trolls nodded.  “You do.  And he still needs it.  But you can’t just go in there and do it, you know.  Celery won’t allow it.  We need a plan.”

“We?”  Gorg felt something he’d never felt before.  He felt. . . friendship.  He knew kinship, and the rights and responsibilities it gave.  But others, trolls who would help him because they had known his uncle and cared about the revenge and the king and maybe even Gorg himself?  That was new.  They leaned their heads together, careful not to touch—it was annoying, how quickly trolls could grow together, rock calling to rock even faster than Gorg’s fingers in the stone of the gorge he’d so narrowly escaped—and began to talk in low voices.

To save Celery from Bale, they had to save him from himself.  It wouldn’t be easy.  But a half a dozen trolls made a formidable force, an unmovable obstacle to a regicide. 

They hoped.


Up at the castle, in a luxurious room lit by scented candles and cushioned with fine tapestries and feather comforters, Duke Bale stretched out on the bed, put his hands behind his head, and smiled to himself.  The winds of luck were still with him.

Gorg and his friends at the table?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kid Lit Blog Hop: Seventh Grade (Alien) Hero (Review)

It's the one-year anniversary of the Kid Lit Blog Hop, so hop on over and check out all the great kidlit offerings--just click on the badge above to see the list!

Seventh Grade (Alien!) Hero, by K. L. Pickett.  114 pages.
Published: MuseItUp Publishing, 2013
Source: Free day, I think.  I can't really remember when I put this on my ereader, but there it was.

Science fiction.

Seventh-grader Dustin Cotter is struggling.  His mom and dad have broken up, and he and his mom have moved to boring Cactus Flats, Arizona where he doesn't know anyone and no one (he thinks) is interested in astronomy.  Then he goes out chasing a meteor, finally meets the cutest girl in his class, and starts to find his place. . . all the while protecting an alien and avoiding some scary individuals who would like to take it away.

I was a little worried when I first started this book.  The first chapter is heavy on exposition, back-story, and scene-setting, and the tone doesn't ring quite true.  But once the action begins (in the second or third chapter), the narrative style smooths out and I was caught up in it.  In fact, the action is fast, fun, and just exciting enough (a hint of danger, but little sense of serious peril), and kept me zipping right through this little story.  My biggest complaint, aside from the awkward beginning, was a sense that things were working out a little too smoothly--not in the rescue-the-alien story, but in Dustin's social life.  It ended up feeling not only a little too easy, but a little too much like a "lesson" about making assumptions about others, getting to know people before judging them, etc.  All good things to do, but the easy route to friends made the lesson just a little too clear.

I'm not completely sure what age this is aimed at.  The writing seems a little simple (and the story short) for Junior High (where the characters are), so maybe upper elementary.   At that age, the hint of "romance" shouldn't be a problem, and the easy reading might go down well.

A decent read, but not one that blew my socks off.  Just a fun story with a not-quite-predictable ending.

I picked up  Seven Grade (Alien!) Hero  on a free day at Amazon, and received nothing from the author or publisher for this review, which is my opinion and only mine.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince


Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, by Nancy Atherton.  Aunt Dimity series #18.  246 pages
Publisher: Viking, 2013.
Source: used book sale

Lori Shepherd and her neighbor Bree Pym spend a week chasing around the countryside near Finch, Lori's sort-of idyllic English village, looking for a Russian Prince from a story told by a child.  As usual, Lori gets  a little help and guidance from her "aunt" Dimity Westwood, who never let a little thing like being dead keep her from helping her best friend's daughter cope with life.  Oddly, Lori seems much more concerned with the unlikely prince than with the disappearance of the child and her mother.  Maybe there's nothing she could do about that, but she could at least try!

Recipe for Russian tea-cakes at the end of the book.

Review (sort of spoiler-ish):
I got lucky and scored a basically brand-new copy of the latest by Nancy Atherton at our library fundraiser book sale.  Aunt Dimity is one of my almost embarrassing little indulgences--cozy mysteries so cozy they verge on the saccharine.  In fact, I have to say that this time we've tipped over the edge.  Atherton seems to share a problem I sometimes have when writing: she just hates to make anyone really a villain.  But a mystery where everyone turns out actually to be nice?  Well, I don't think this is the first time, but she goes too far with that. 

Frankly, I found the premise of this book unconvincing, and the characters rather one-dimensional, though it was fun to discover what each suspect in turn was really like.  And there's no denying the book is a fun romp, but it lacks that tiny hint of an edge that even a Cozy needs to qualify as a mystery.   The only part of this book that offered a real edge was the missing child, and that thread is left in the dust.

Was it still fun to read?  Yeah.  But not as fun as it should have been.  Aunt Dimity has had better adventures.

Recommendation: for die-hard Aunt Dimity fans, and those who like their books excessively sweet.

Full disclosure: I purchased this book second-hand at a library fund-raiser and received nothing from the author or the publisher for this review, which they probably won't like anyway.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else, unless someone happens to agree with me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: My Horse-Drawn Shame

This week's challenge: roll the RNG and combine two elements into the title of your story.  Challenge courtesy Chuck Wendig, as usual.  I rolled. . .  

My Horse-Drawn Shame

I hate this horse and cart.  I, who once was driven about by liveried footmen in gilded carriages, now drove myself behind an antique mare in a cart that was held together only by will, good luck, and the termites holding hands.  I pulled my shawl over my head and wrapped it across my face when I turned onto the road.  It hides my face, not that it matters.  No one but me knows my shame.  But the evening is bitterly cold.

I want to be home—home!  The farm is no home to me, though all the home I have!—but Sadie plods on at her only pace, no matter how often I shake the reins and call for her to “git up!” 

Behind me in the ancient wagon lies the detritus left from a load of turnips, carted to the market and sold, excruciatingly, for a penny a pair.  I carry my day’s earnings—less payment for a market stall and a bit of hay for Sadie—knotted in the bottom of my pocket.  I admit I also spent two pennies on hot buns for my supper.  I’ll get nothing when I return to the farm, save a licking for being late.

Sadie, and the cart she pulls, are a constant reminder of who I am now.  That is the reason I am given this conveyance by my captors.  They mean it as a sort of horse-drawn shame, something to keep me in my place lest I realize who I really am.  But I have always known that I am a princess of the royal blood.

Yes, a princess.  Royal, in any case.  That is the story I cling to, because I know I was never born to be a drudge on a turnip farm. I know so little else.  Only that I no more belong to the pair at the farm than to the man in the moon.  They have made that clear, as though I’d ever want to imagine them my parents!  No, I am glad I’m a foundling, left on their steps at age three, rather than someone born into such an existence with such people!

Yet I have no memory of who I was, or how I came here.  But I have worked it out, over the years, from the clues not destroyed by the passage of time.  There is my name, for one thing.  They call me Katy, but when I came I told them my name was Katherine Georgianna, though I didn’t know my surname.  Indeed, I once heard the Woman say that I had insisted I had none, and needed none.  They thought I was a stupid child, but I know that is the first clue.  Royalty need no surnames.

When I ask Them what else I said, because a child of three can say a great deal if one only listens, they claim all I uttered was gibberish and nonsense.  No doubt They failed to listen, or disbelieved my talk of palace and servants.  Or perhaps—I really don’t know—I spoke another language, and am a princess of some other nation, brought here who knows how. 

My own early memories are limited to a single image of myself, surrounded by a sea of black-trousered legs, and filled with a sense of fear and desolation.  But I know what happened.  Separated from whoever was guarding me, I was snatched from the palace and brought to Grimdale Farm, about the worst place you could find to dump a child.  And there the evil miscreants left me on the doorstep, wrapped in a filthy blanket.

The blanket long ago perished.  But I have seen the dress I wore that long-ago night, and it confirms I was no common child.  I suppose that is why They have saved it, from some thought of proving someday who I am, and claiming a great reward for “keeping me safe” all these years.  Or of extorting a great ransom for my return.

Of course, every foundling believes she is of Royal blood.  You must, to survive.  But I have more than my belief.  I have the tattoo, my final proof.  I suppose She must have seen it, for surely She bathed and dressed me those first days, when I was scarcely more than a baby.  But, of course, She could do nothing about it, even if She understood its importance.  The tattoo cannot be scrubbed off.  By now, perhaps They have forgotten about it, for the mark lies privately on the inside of my thigh.

Oh, I know the importance of that mark, if not its exact meaning.  Yet never have I heard any rumor of a missing princess.  How far from my home am I?  Or was it all so long ago that no one thinks now to speak of it, here in this dark corner of the country where few speak of aught but the next meal or the poor harvest?

But now, at last, I have a way to escape. They say I am nearly grown, and send me to market alone—and beat me if I’m late, or don’t bring enough money, or for any of a dozen other reasons or for no reason at all.  I bide my time.  For They do not know that the price of turnips has gone up.  And while I will turn over my knotted pocket full of pennies, They will know nothing of the larger coins carefully layered in my ragged stocking.

After just one more market day I will have enough!  Then I will take that tiny dress, and Sadie and I will turn west, toward freedom—and my true home.  Then Sadie and the wagon will not be my shame, but my triumph, and I shall once again be the Princess Katherine Georgianna, and never again Katy the drudge.

Such were the thoughts that warmed me that bitter November night as I drove my horse-drawn shame through the darkness to the place that could never be home.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Reviews and Review policy

There's been a lot of talk around lately about  authors reviewing books, and I am thinking that it's time I articulated my policy and explained a few things about my reviews.

1.  I never take money to review books.  I do at times accept review copies, books (usually e-books) given by authors to reviewers in hopes of getting a review.  The clear understanding is that I review that book as I see fit, unbiased and unprejudiced. If I can't see my way to writing a review that says something kind, or if the book really isn't my style, I don't do the review.

2.  Most of the books I review I pick up at the library, either on a recommendation or because I liked their looks.

3. So what if I hated the book?  This hasn't happened much.  But if I am reading a book from the library, if I don't like it well enough for it to be worth at least 3 stars, I probably don't finish it.  Which means I don't review it. [Side note, regarding Goodreads, since there is overlap between readers of this blog and friends on Goodreads: On my Goodreads shelf, an unfinished book will either get put on my "DNF" shelf or more likely just quietly disappear.  This happens to books that are perfectly good, but just not my cup of tea, so that's not an indication of quality (for example, I don't care for paranormal, and teen romance bores me).  This also occasionally happens to library books that expire before I can finish, if I get distracted with something else before I can check it out again.  So, really: not an indicator of quality.]

4.  Why don't I do negative (one- and two-star) reviews?  Answer: not only is it probably bad karma, but as noted above, if the book is that bad or unappealing to me, I don't finish.  And if I haven't read the whole thing, I don't review.  In any case, I write reviews more to turn people on about books that they might like to read than to warn people off bad books.  I suppose if I read something that was getting a lot of press about being the next new wonderful thing and I thought it was awful, I might go ahead and review it and say so.

5.  So what do my star ratings mean?  I'll start with one star, even though I don't do those reviews, just to give a sense of my progression.
1 star = unreadable.  Story, characters, and editing are all hopelessly sub-par.
2 stars = poorly written, but there are redeeming features and some might enjoy it.
3 stars = decent work.  This is where you will find books with good stories and characters and sub-par editing and proofing, or a  nicely produced book that just doesn't quite grab me due to some kind of flaw in characters or plot.
4 stars = where most books end up.  I enjoyed the book, found the plot and characters engaging, and was not distracted by editing issues.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes to read this type of book.
5 stars = top of it's category.  I don't give too many of these, because, well, how many can be at the top of the category?  (and by category I mean "children's time-travel fantasy" or "historical cozy murder mystery"--i.e., pretty small categories, and a book that's not any work of literature might get 4 or 5 stars because it fully delivered what it promises).

On this blog, I also reserve the right to just give my take on the books and not bother with stars.  That is especially true when I'm reviewing books outside my area of expertise (see recent review of Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life), or books that I just don't know how many stars I should give, maybe because I'm waffling or I need another cup of coffee, or. . . you get the picture.  When I post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, they require a rating, so I try to come up with one, along the lines outlined above.

And, finally, I will always indicate at the end of my review if I was given the book for review purposes, bought it, checked it out of the library, found it under a rock, or whatever, just so you know.  Not all my older reviews have this feature, though I will try to keep going back and adding it.

And one final word: the contents of the blog are copyrighted and are the sole property of Rebecca Douglass.  When reblogging, please link back here.  If you wish to use all or part of a review or post beyond the blogosphere, please contact me for permission.  Photos used on this site are my own and also protected, with the occasional exception as indicated (most of those are taken by my husband and are his property).

Books.  Don't leave home without one.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Princelings of the East Blog Tour, Author Interview, and Giveaway!

The Princelings of the East by Jemima Pett

I'm pleased and honored to be a part of the  Princelings of the East by Jemima Pett blog tour.  I've been reading and reviewing the books in this delightful series, so it was fun to interview the author and get the inside scoop!  When you finish reading here, check out the other blog stops and support some great bloggers as well as Ms. Pett--and don't forget to enter the Giveaway!

About the Book
Title: The Princelings of the East (Princelings Trilogy, Book 1)
Author: Jemima Pett
Year published: originally published 2011
Publisher: Princelings Publications
Number of pages: 103
Recommended age: 10+
Summary (Amazon):
The Princelings of the East is the first of a trilogy telling of the adventures of Fred and George. When the King's Birthday feast is ruined by an unnatural power drain, our Princeling heroes leave their scientific experiments to set out in search of answers. They encounter the enigmatic businessman Hugo, the impressive Prince of Buckmore, the wise Lady Nimrod, the irrepressible barkeeper Victor, but find themselves threatened by those with vested interests. The scene shifts from a rural, feudal setting to the towers and heights of the curious Isle of Hattan, but where, or when, are they? Time is of the essence in solving this puzzle, and our heroes must keep their wits sharp and their heads clear if they are to survive. Suitable for good readers aged 10 and over, The Princelings of the East is a fantasy adventure with the charm of the Wind in the Willows in a world reminiscent of Anne MacCaffrey's Pern.

Jemima Pett Author

Eight questions (because everyone does ten!) with Children's Author Jemima Pett

1. What are your books about and who is the audience?
Start with the difficult ones, eh?  When I originally wrote the books, I was just writing stories for the fun of it. They are the adventures of my guinea pigs living in their own world where they are kings and princes and goodies and baddies and have their own complicated society.  After the first book I realised I didn't have enough female interest in them.  Lost City addresses some of the problem of only having male guinea pigs and introduces issues about male dominance and wasting half the resources of the world, i.e. women.   From there my stories continue to develop in a changing society, where population growth and new technology all start to put pressure on the old feudal society. But that's not what they're about.  They're about doing things and using your talents and initiative and friends to solve the problems you come across.

My first audience were my fellow guinea pig owners, and some of them were reading them to their 6-12 year old children. So when I came to the stage of publishing, I found it very difficult to classify them.  I think they are fantasy stories for good readers about 10 and up.  They are the sort of stories I like,  and I think they are the sort of stories I would have enjoyed at that age.  But as someone said in an interview recently - today's kids are different from how we were at that stage.  I take guidance from fellow-bloggers and reviewers on the appropriate age group, but I think there is a big cultural difference in what is seen as suitable reading for kids in different countries.

2. What is the best thing about being a writer?
Letting all those people out of my head!  I realise I've always lived in this alternative world, where adventures were happening while I carried on with all the everyday stuff like school and work.  I expect most of us have fantasies and daydreams, but some of us get more lost in them than others.  Don't let them take over your lives, though. And if they start telling you what to do, get some help. LOL!  I'll try to remember that!  

3. Do you write longhand or compose at the keyboard?
 I am chained to my keyboard and screen.  Fortunately I bought a wifi keyboard so now I can take it in the garden if I fancy, since the keyboard on my laptop is too small to be used for serious writing.

4. Which authors have influenced you the most and how?
I suppose Kenneth Graham must have influenced me from a very early age.  He wrote for children and adults at the same time – I used to skip the chapter “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” when I was a kid because I thought it was boring; now I read it and it’s just so beautiful!

I read a lot of Enid (pronounced Ee-nid) Blyton and she probably influenced me in terms of story telling.  I remember I was told not to mention her at my interview for secondary school (age 11-18) because she was out of favour at that time, but I did and I defended her style (early campaigner)!

More recently, Anne McCaffrey and J K Rowling,  for world building and the background detail required in a story for nerds like me, and JRR Tolkein, who was an expert in that, but also the prose style, which I love.  Me too!  We share a lot of old favorites!

5. So. . . if you could invite any 5 authors to dinner who would you choose?
Well, my first thought was Julie Grasso, Rebecca Douglass, Steve Lothian, Sally Harris and Stanley and Katrina (can they count as one?)  because that would be really cool!  If any of them can’t make it, then Paul Hewlett and Krista Michelle Breen! I know I’m suppose to think of more famous authors, but really, that’s who I’d like!
 Wow, thanks!  I accept the invitation--it'd be a great evening!

6. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I used to have this conversation with my dad over the dinner table. I'd talk about the places I'd been lucky enough to visit and how nice it would be to live there (like Australia or New Zealand), but they'd be too far away, and anyway they have most of the same socio-economic problems as the UK does, although in different shades.  We discussed a few more countries.  I like a number of European ones, influenced by the nice people and colleagues I've met in them, but when it comes down to it, I'd really rather live here, where I am, in Norfolk, on the east coast of England, in the UK.

7. About that--You mentioned your garden.  Do you focus on vegetables or flowers?
I focus on vegetables and enjoy the flowers!  Vegetables take planning and cossetting and coaxing, and protecting, but it's rewarding especially as I eat the good bits and the guinea pigs eat bits I wouldn't.  OK, they eat bits I would too. I tend to have flowers that inhabit odd corners and come up year after year like old friends.  They spread around and I pull them up when they are in the wrong places.  The Michaelmas Daisies that I planted around Fred and George's grave have bloomed non-stop from July this year, and it makes me feel good about them.
Aw.  It's sad to realize that the real Fred and George are gone, but great about the flowers.  And, of course, they have a whole new life in the great books about them!  And by the way--I like best the garden I can eat, too :)

8. And finally: If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?
“Snorkeling with guinea pigs – the woman who learnt a lot about many things, but never went into any of them too deeply.”  I might write it :D
Well, you are deep enough into some great writing now, but if you write that book I'll be queued up to buy it!  Thanks for coming by and answering my questions!

Follow the links for my reviews of Ms. Pett's first three Princelings books:

The Princelings of the East

The Princelings and the Pirates 

The Princelings and the Lost City



The Princelings of the East by Jemima Pett

Amazon (US) * Amazon (UK) * Barnes and Noble * Smashwords


The Buzz

"Jemima Pett has woven a suspenseful mystery featuring a cast of memorable characters headed by the two charismatic guinea pigs, Fred and George. Pett dives into the story right away introducing Fred and George and establishing the crux of the plot early in the book - namely, the mysterious Energy Drain. The plot line, with its many twists and turns, is very intricate and complex; thus, making it enjoyable for older tweens and even adults. Science fiction aficionados in particular will be interested in the element of time-travel in this book." ~ Mother Daughter Book Reviews, 5 Stars
"It was easy for me to settle into Pett's writing style; it's been a while since I've read anything by Anne McCaffrey or J.R.R. Tolkien, and Pett's writing is a welcomed reminder of how that style of writing can really add to a good plot-line. I have to say that I was impressed with the novel overall. Although it is for older children, it's still written in a way that will appeal to many adults." ~ Megan, Amazon, 5 Stars
"After reading The Princelings of the East, I felt as if my IQ had gone up a few points with Ms. Pett's vocabulary choices - what refreshing text. This true adventure book which includes a fight, time travel and mysterious strangers is reminiscent of Wind in the Willows - with a twist...I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed it very much and look forward to reading the next book in the Princelings series." ~Christine M. Goodreads, 5 Stars.

Book Website:

Author Website:

Twitter: @Jemima_Pett

Facebook: The Princelings of the East

Pinterest: Jemima Pett

Google+: Jemima Pett

Goodreads: Jemima Pett


*** The Princelings of the East Blog Tour Schedule 2013*** 

September 24
September 25
September 26
September 27
September 28
September 29
September 30
October 1
October 2
October 3
October 4
October 5
October 6
October 7

*** The Princelings of the East Blog Tour Giveaway ***

The Princelings of the East Trilogy by Jemima PettAmazon 25 gift card
 Prize: One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card or PayPal cash + a paperback copy of The Princelings Trilogy by Jemima Pett  
Contest runs: September 23 to October 20, 11:59 pm, 2013
Open: WW  
How to enter: Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.
Terms and Conditions: A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. If you have any additional questions - feel free to send us an email! a Rafflecopter giveaway
MDBR Book Promotion Services

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: Cliffhanger, Part II

So last week, I wrote half a story, and left Gorg the Troll on the side of a cliff.  Finishing that one is someone else's job now.  To be specific, it's Jemima Pett's job.  Pop over and see how she finished it.  I'll probably post my own finish next week, unless I like hers so much better I dump mine.  And I, meanwhile, have finished her story (it wasn't necessarily supposed to work out that way, but I liked her story and she named the main character Rebecca and took her hiking, and. . . well, I just had to).

Here's the link to the Chuck Wendig post explaining it all.

And here's Jemima's story from last week, Girl on a Ledge. You'll probably want to read that first if you haven't already.

And I think I've only brought us to another turn in the story.  Back over to you, Jemima!

Girl on a Ledge, Part II

Rebecca tried to convince herself that anything was better than being stuck on that cliff back on Earth.  Falling into an orange sky at low gravity?  She could handle it.

Back on Earth?

No, she couldn’t handle it.  She opened her mouth to scream.

Then she closed it.  No, really, she could handle this.  She wasn’t falling, she was floating.  Rebecca closed her eyes for a moment to enjoy the sensation.  If she spread out her arms would she soar like a hawk?  She opened her eyes and tried it, and realized that she was no longer falling toward an orange sky, but gliding above an orange landscape.

Clearly a dream, she thought.  I always wanted to dream of flying.  The thought comforted her, though the thought of the worm niggled at her mind.  She knew that worm.  If she could only remember where from.  Then she decided she was thinking of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, which wasn’t at all helpful.  At least, it hadn’t been for Alice.  And there was no worm here.

At last Rebecca drifted down to the billowing orange surface she’d taken for sky.  She sank into it a little, then stabilized.  She could stand on it, whatever it was.  Maybe clouds?  It was like nothing she’d ever seen before, but a glimpse of the worm disappearing over a hill of the stuff started her off at a trot.  The surface gave beneath her feet, springing back to make running a joy.  She crested the rise and there was no sign of the worm.  She stopped, and knelt to feel the “ground.”  It was the same stuff as the non-rock that had formed the luge-course that had brought her here.  Wherever “here” was. 

With a mental shrug, Rebecca started walking again.  A long time later, bored silly, she said aloud, “This isn’t much of a dream.”

“You think this is a dream?”  The high-pitched voice that had lured her off the nice, solid, Earthly cliff was back in her ear.

“It has to be.  I don’t climb cliffs.  And I don’t fall through wormholes into alternative realities, or whatever this is meant to be.”

“I see.”  The voice, which she was beginning to believe was that of the worm, continued to sound all around, so she couldn’t spot the speaker.  It made her cranky.

“And I don’t like orange,” Rebecca announced loudly.

“I do apologize,” the voice said.  “I thought—your hair—”  It seemed to be having trouble saying it.

“My hair is NOT orange,” Rebecca grumbled.  “It is red.  Copper, if you want, but never, ever orange.  I do not like orange,” she repeated.  The sense of overwhelming reality that had come over her when clinging to the cliff face was long gone, and it seemed both reasonable and very odd to be arguing over the color of the ground, if ground it was.  The only reason now to doubt she was dreaming was that she’d never in her life had dreams like this.  Not even the time she’d eaten an entire anchovy pizza, washed down by three pints of root beer.  Of course, that had given her no dreams at all, because she’d been sick all night.

“Oh, very well,” grumbled the voice—the worm?  The surface under Rebecca’s feet shifted and swirled, and came up the color of a new-minted penny.  “Is that better?”

“Why does it have to match my hair?” Rebecca asked cautiously.

A sound like a mosquito buzzing in her ear was the only answer, and with a sigh she walked on.  Did this strange place have water?  She wanted a drink.

A long time later Rebecca had another idea.  She stopped walking, and lay down.  The strange springy surface made a surprisingly comfortable bed.  She stretched out, closed her eyes, and slept.

Panic.  She was trapped in something simultaneously soft and unyielding, and if she didn’t break loose she would die.  Rebecca awoke with a gasp and sat up.  Rather, she tried to sit up.  She was trapped in an orange cocoon, unable to free herself.  Thrashing in increasing terror, she struggled until one hand came free and she could push the hood off of her face.  Drawing a deep breath, trying to still her racing pulse and generate a rational thought, she fumbled for the zipper on the sleeping bag.  Pushing it down until she could move freely, she collapsed on the scrunched-up jacket that served as a pillow and took several calming breaths. 

That had been a weird dream.  No wonder, with the sleeping bag so completely fastened up over her face.  “I hate mummy bags,” she muttered.  But at least the dream was over.  No cliffs, no weird land, no elusive worm.

Then she opened her eyes.

A large, hairy face peered down at her from where the roof of the tent should have been.  Its breath was foul, and the teeth sharp.

She closed her eyes again and thought about the worm and the cloud-land.  Cautiously, she opened her eyes, keeping fingers and toes crossed. 

The tent, the sleeping bag, and the bear were gone.  She was lying on a coppery cloud.  The now-familiar voice squeaked, “Are you ready now?  There isn’t a lot of time.”

“Tell me what I have to do,” Rebecca answered with a sigh.  “I don't like cliffs and I don't like bears, so I guess I must be ready.”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kid Lit Blog Hop--The Last Dragonslayer


The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, 287 pages.
Publisher: Harcourt, 2012.  
Source: library

Jennifer Strange is just a foundling, working out her apprenticeship for Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  She's 14, in charge of a stable of magicians who have become increasingly weak over the years, so that they are reduced to tasks like clearing drains and delivering pizza (via magic carpet, of course).  The world is changing, and she just wants to keep her head down, keep her orange VW Bug running, and have everything continue as it always has in the Ununited Kingdoms.  But Big Magic is afoot, and before she knows it, she is at the center of it, destined to be the last Dragonslayer and scheduled to slay the last dragon, whether she wants to or not.

Fforde's first children's book (more or less children's; this strikes me as somewhat like my own books: adult fiction masquerading as Middle Grade fiction) grabbed me from the first page when Jennifer, three magicians, and the quarkbeast drive up in her "rust-and-orange-but-mostly-rust Volkswagen" to rewire a house.  The author's light hand with absurdity and well-developed sense that something more is going on caught and held my attention.  As the situation develops, it seems an insoluble problem, and I didn't see the solution coming until the very end.  There is, in my opinion, just the right balance of tension, humor, fantasy, and reality (especially with regard to human nature; indeed it may be a little cynical for the younger set).  The language is good, editing excellent, and pacing near perfect.  My only complaint is that the character of Tiger Prawns, the 7th Foundling to be sent to Kazam as an indentured servant, seems to be brought in and left without a clear purpose.  I have a feeling he'll have more of a role in subsequent books in the series--which I will be reading.

Highly recommended for older children and adults who have a sense of humor and enjoy a good yarn.

I checked The Last Dragonslayer out of my library, and received nothing from the author or publisher for this review, which is my opinion and only mine.