Thursday, November 28, 2013

Audio Book Review: The Penderwicks at Point Muette


Title: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall.  Audio Book read by Susan Denaker.
Publisher: Listening Library 2011; original Published Knopf Books, 2011, 295 pages

In this third book of the Penderwick family saga, the family is separated when the father goes to England on a honeymoon with the new Mrs. Penderwick and her toddler, Rosalind (the oldest and very responsible sister) goes to New Jersey with her best friend, and the remaining sisters (and Hound) go to Maine with Aunt Claire.  Joined by their friend Jeffrey, the Maine contingent has a series of catastrophes and adventures, all reported in Birdsall's inimitable humorous style.
I love this series.  We read the first book (The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy) several years ago (when our boys were still young enough to read such books to) and I've devoured each book as it came out.  So listening to this was a repeat, but listening is always different from reading, too.

The Penderwick books are well-written, amusing stories that nonetheless have real stakes and fully-realized characters.  Even without the marvelous reading by Susan Denaker, I could tell who was speaking almost every time, just from what they said and how they said it.  And they act very consistently within their characters.  The books are a delight to read, and I think that this one competes with the first for best in series.  (The middle book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, is somewhat less appealing to me for a variety of reasons, though still a great read).  I love the summer-vacation feel of this book and the first book.  When the sisters travel, anything can happen (and does).  

Now, because I've been neck deep in my own writing while listening to this book, I got to thinking last night about structure and plot.  Especially I was thinking about stakes.  That is, what are the stakes for the main characters, and what makes them something we care about?  In this case, the most central character is Skye, who is thrust unwillingly into the role of OAP--Oldest Available Penderwick (adults don't seem to count as far as the sisters are concerned).  For her, the stakes are huge: it is her responsibility (as she sees it) to make sure that all of them, especially 5-year-old Batty, return alive and in one piece.  Having a good time would be a nice bonus.

Birdsall sets the stakes, then ramps up the difficulty with one humorous, yet real, catastrophe after another.  And in the end, the stakes climb highest for Jeffrey, in a twist that's not hard to spot coming, but still works well.  The smaller crises--injuries, love, and golf balls, not to mention the destruction of the list that tells Skye everything she needs to know about taking care of Batty--kept me fully engaged.  But the bigger crisis put an extra twist on the story and gave it a real point.

Mission accomplished: high stakes, without horror, life-threatening danger, or even vampires.  I'm impressed and inspired.

 Full disclosure: I borrowed a copy of  The Penderwicks at Point Mouette  from the (digital) library.  I received nothing from the author or publisher for my review, which is my honest opinion.  The opinions expressed therein are my own and those of no one else.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wendig Challenge: the first 200 words

I'm not posting this one as my Friday Flash Fiction (or maybe I am), because with the holiday I may or may not make it to Friday.  The Wendig Challenge from here to the end of the year is to write a story, 200 words at a time.  Naturally, to keep us on our toes, we have to keep rotating--writing the next 200 words on a different story each week.

My offering for this week is

Millions of Cats

Things never worked out according to plan when there were cats involved.  I knew that, and I should have known better than to take the job.  Either don’t try to plan or stay far from cats, and I knew which would have been better for me.  But Keelan made it all sound so easy: we just had to pick up the consignment from Alpha-Centauri 4 and take them to Exilion 17.  Four days, max, and two of them in hyperspace.

“What could go wrong?”  I should really have run when Keelan said that, because you know as well as I do that anytime those words are uttered you should run, very fast, in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately, we needed cash, and the cat people had it.  So we went and picked up the load of cats.

That was where the trouble first began.  They were supposed to be crated, sedated, and ready to be picked up by fork lift and stowed in the cargo hold.  But when we arrived, a team of cat-wranglers was still chasing them around a pen.  We had to wait an extra three days for all of them to be properly prepared for flight.

This has been continued in at least two directions.  Here's part two and part three of one of those continuations.

And here's part four. And part five.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oops. . . .it's Monday again already?

Well now.  It was a nice weekend.  I took a needed break from writing (I hit 50,000 words on Friday, satisfying the NaNo "winner" requirements, but only about 2/3 of the way through the novel) and did some hiking and biking.  The weather in San Francisco was beautiful, not to be ignored.  Besides, even writers should probably think hard about working 7 days a week. 

And somewhere along the way I forgot to create a post for today. 

So.  . . no book review this morning.  Or afternoon, for my fans in distant places who are already thinking about tea when I'm still digesting my breakfast.  Instead, you get some random musings on life and writing.

It's fall, a season I love in part because our incessant coastal summer fog blows away and we have sunny days, eventually (if we are lucky) giving way to the rainy season.  I've lived here for 19 years now and have almost gotten used to the idea that for many months, it just doesn't rain.  For a girl from Seattle, this is a difficult concept to grasp.  When you live on the wet side of the Pacific Northwest, you expect rain at any time.  In most of California (or at least in coastal California), you can go out unprepared for rain with complete confidence about 7 or 8 months out of the year.  Weird.

As a result, we get all excited when the rains resume.  Go stomp in the gutters and run in the rain.  If they resume.  That's the other side of the idyllic California climate (a bit of marketing delusion if ever I heard any!) . . constant worry about drought.  You know, when I lived up Seattle way, we very seldom worried about drought.

And now to tie this back to my writing. . . my current book (and the preceding book, in final edits) is set on an island in Puget Sound, not totally unlike the one where I grew up.  And I keep having trouble remembering to make it rain!  I'm headed north for Christmas with my Mom, and maybe spending a week or so up there in the dead of winter will help remind me what the climate is really like.  Writing about a place, even a fictional place, where you haven't lived for years can be tricky.  Weather is very much a part of setting.

And how is the writing going, you ask?  Like I say, I took a break over the weekend.  I needed to regroup a bit, try to either see my way out of the slow middle of the story or just decide to go ahead and leap forward to the exciting parts and keep going.  I've ended up somewhere in between those options.  I figured out a bit more of how we get  from Point D to Point H, and will do what I can to move on.  I can come back later and flesh things out, obfuscate the puzzle a bit (as the Car Talk guys say).  I always have to, anyway.  It's true you can write a novel in a month.  But it's good to remember that it's not really a novel at that point.  If you're lucky (or skilled, or well-practiced) it's a draft.  If you're more scatterbrained, like me, it's a really, really fleshy outline. 

I suppose "National Novel Outlining Month" just doesn't have the same ring to it.  And "National Novel Fleshy Outline Month" is even worse.  So to all of you NaNers out there, keep writing!  And get yourself a really fat, fleshy outline by the end of the month.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: The Cat Did It.

Last week, Chuck Wendig challenged us all to come up with the first line of a story, one compelling enough to get our fellow Wendigos to choose to write the story.  This week, we wrote those stories.  I picked a line by "jebdarsh" which lent itself to my style (I don't have to tell you what the line was, since it's what?  The opening line!).   It wasn't an easy choice--there were several lines I could have run with, but this lent itself best to my kids' stories.

Here's the result:

The Cat Did It

Now, I’m not saying the cat was plotting to kill me.  But.

It started with football practice.  I’m not really supposed to be there anyway, since no one thinks a girl should play football.  Mom says nobody should play football, and she was only letting me play as long as it was flag football.  That gave me one more year.  After that, the only options were to convince her I could play tackle ball or quit.  Maybe I could find a rugby team.  Bet Mom would love that!

But at practice last week, we were horsing around, tackling each other and wrestling and stuff, only I looked around and saw my cat.  He was just sitting on the sidelines watching us, but he wasn’t supposed to be there at all.  He’s supposed to stay in the house.  He raised a hind leg to wash his backside, and I started to turn toward him.  I meant to catch him and take him home so he wouldn’t get hit by a car.  I mean, I was trying to keep him safe, even though I don’t really like him.  But just as I turned, Jakob hit me.

I was all off balance and twisted up, so I fell and hurt my ankle.  By the time I finished yelling at Jakob, Boswell—that’s what Mom named the cat—was gone.  And Coach said my ankle might be sprained and he called Mom to take me to the doctor.  She had to leave work early and she chewed me out all the way to the hospital.

That finished my season, probably the last season of football I’d ever get to play, and I missed the last two weeks.  I was stuck with a taped-up ankle and a pair of crutches mostly good for whacking people.  Jakob was off the team for hurting me, too.  I thought that was pretty unfair, since he hadn’t meant to hurt me, and I’d actually started the rough-housing.  But I didn’t feel as bad about him as I did about me, because Mom said I wasn’t playing any more blood sports, whatever she meant by that.  She said I should learn to play tennis.  Tennis!  No way am I putting on one of those silly short skirts.

Then the cat started in.  Mom says poor Boswell just wants attention, but why does he have to come looking for it when I’m on the stairs?  He’d come and rub around my foot and my crutches, and Mom said he was just being a cat, and I needed to be careful.

I’ve always suspected him of wanting to do away with us all, if only he could figure out the can opener.  And yesterday he scored again.  I was pretty sure he’d managed to get my ankle sprained.  He probably had hoped I’d break my neck, but I’m pretty tough.  Anyway, it was definitely his fault I was hurt, sneaking out and over to the practice field and all. 

But yesterday morning he got down to it and started really playing dirty.  He’d figured out that I wouldn’t start down the stairs if he was anywhere around, so he held off his attack until I was already halfway down.

Lucky for me, he waited a little too long.  I was only three steps from the bottom when he came out of Mom and Dad’s room like a furry lightning bolt, and flew down the stairs right into my left crutch, just as I was making the move from the third step to the second.

Boswell knocked that crutch out from under me, and bang!  Down I went.  Then he walked up to me where I was lying on the floor yelling, and gave me an evil look.  He said one loud “Meow!” then sat down and licked his butt in the most insulting way.  He stalked off when Mom came running.

Of course, Mom didn’t believe me when I said Boswell had done it on purpose.  She told me to be more careful, and brought me an ice pack for where I’d bumped my head, and another for my ankle because it was time to ice it again anyway.

Then she left me on the sofa and went off to work.  As soon as she was gone, Boswell padded back in and sat on his haunches and just looked at me.  I knew what he was thinking.  At one point he tried to dash up and lick my face.  I mean, ewwww!  I’d just seen what he used that tongue for!  I got my hands up just in time and shoved him away, pretty hard.

Every time I got up to go get a snack or pee or anything, he was right there underfoot.  Mom says he felt bad for hurting me and rubbing up against me was his way of showing his love, but I know better.  Cats don’t do remorse, and they love food, not people.

I’ve taken to whacking him some with my crutch, so he’ll stay away.  Mom got mad when she saw me do it, but I’ve taught Boswell I’m not going to go without a fight.    I’m just afraid he’ll manage to get into my room while I’m asleep.  He could smother me in my sleep and I’d never know it.  He’s always tried to sleep on my face. 

I know he’s plotting to kill me, and I know why.

I’m just a practice run.  He and his cronies—I hear them all yowling about it at night, when Mom thinks he’s safely in his basket behind the dryer—are plotting to take over the world.  I saw Boswell with three neighbor cats yesterday.  They didn't’ see me looking out the window—I stayed out of sight behind the curtain.  But I saw them, and I know what they’re up to.

I’ve seen it.  The cat is plotting to kill me, and anyone else who won’t become the willing slave of catdom.  I’m guessing they’ll keep Mom around to run the can opener.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kid Lit Blog Hop and Blog Blasty Tour! The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets



Stanley and Katrina von Cat the Master of Wisdom and Knowledge are celebrating their one year blogiversary (click here to read their inaugural post) by hosting their very own "Book Blasty Tour". Thank you for taking the time to visit this special stop along their tour.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to enter the giveaway!


About the Book

Title: The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets
Authors: Stanley & Katrina, Pet Authors
Illustrator: Miro Chun
Year published:  2012
Updates: This book was updated in September of 2013 with a new cover, interior illustrations, and a sneak peek of book #2 in the series.
Publisher: CreateSpace
Number of pages: 106
Recommended ages: 5+ 
Summary (Amazon): After three years of living under the same roof as the dog in the house, Katrina von Cat the Master of Wisdom and Knowledge decides to write a letter to her canine housemate, Stanley. Katrina loves treats, naps and bossing the dog around. Stanley loves snow, attention and turkey. The diva kitty, Katrina, will have none of Stanley's antics and most certainly will not stand for him eating her food. The only reasonable solution is to take him to Kitty Court.


Amazon U.S. * Amazon U.K. * Amazon Canada 

 Barnes & Noble *  Leanpub(digital formats) 



My Review:

This charming book is a quick read for younger middle-grade readers.  The author has used a mix of letters, narration by the pets, and even a newspaper clipping, to tell a story that developed in ways that surprised me.  It was good to see the animals learning to get along and work together when things get truly bad (pet shows!  the horror!), but they never lose their personalities or their strong attitudes (especially Katrina von Cat the Master of Wisdom and Knowledge, whose consistent use of her full name tells us a great deal about her).

Although there are moments when the youth of the author shows in curious story developments, these only add to the charm, and the book is well edited, so that it is a polished and professional work.  If the diction is occasionally slightly odd, it seems completely in character with the narrators. Characters (of the animal sort; people are of little interest to Katrina except as sources of treats) are developed with clear and consistent personalities throughout, and are in keeping with their cat and dog natures (I'm less sure about how guinea pigs normally behave, but Zorg the guinea pig from next door is a joy in any case).  There are some rapid changes of narrator in parts that could be confusing, but aren't because they are clearly marked (though it's not always clear just why they are needed).

I can recommend this for independent readers from about grades one or two up, and as a read-aloud for even much younger children, who will certainly get some giggles from the Pack of Pets! 
The cover art is delightful, and the interior illustrations add to the charm. 


The Buzz

"The book is really humorous. It is unique in a manner where you see the cat and dog communicating with each other about themselves, their likes, and dislikes in a letter form. The narrator's tidbits add to the charm of the book. The contrasting characters and their individual personalities have been etched well. The author has put the perspective of the pets in the forefront and written a unique and excellent book for children." ~ Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite

"We enjoyed this book tremendously! It charmed us, made us laugh, and kept us wanting to read more. A tip of the hat to the pair of pets whose rivalry leads the story along its delightful course." ~ Amazon Reviewer


About the Authors: Stanley & Katrina

Stanley is a three-year-old black Labrador/Rottweiler mix who does his best to ignore Katrina.
Katrina von Cat the Master of Wisdom and Knowledge is an eight-year-old grey tabby cat who loves her toy mouse.
They would love to tell you where they live but all they know is that they live in a tan house. For more information about Stanley & Katrina, please visit their website,


* Free Printables For This Book! *

Kid Lit Printables has created fun and FREE printables for The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets. Click here to view all available printables, now. 


Stanley & Katrina's 

Book Blasty Tour Stops(2013)

November 8


* $25 Book Blasty Tour Giveaway *

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner's choice)
Contest runs:November 8  to November 30, 11:59 pm, 2013 
Open: Internationally
How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget above or by clicking here.
Terms and Conditions: A randomly drawn winner will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest or any other entity unless otherwise specified. If you have any additional questions, feel free to send us an email at stanleyandkatrina (at) gmail (dot) com.
* This giveaway is sponsored by the authors, Stanley & Katrina. *

 Full disclosure: I received a copy of The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets from the author in exchange for my honest review, which is posted above.  The opinions expressed therein are my own and those of no one else.