Monday, December 30, 2013

Mystery Monday Review: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, by Joanne Fluke

I actually managed to finish a book during my holidays, and even to write a review for all of my patient readers who are not also buried in a tide of socializing (if I worked at it, I bet I could mix my metaphors a little more, but it's been a long week).  It's not holiday themed, but here's my take on the first of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen mysteries.


Hannah Swensen runs The Cookie Jar, a bakery in the sleepy town of Lake Eden, Minnesota, and is reasonably content despite her mother's efforts to set her up with every available man in town (there aren't many, fortunately).  But she is less happy when the delivery from the dairy doesn't arrive one morning, and Hannah finds the delivery man dead in his truck in her alley.  He's been shot to death, with a bag of her cookies in the front seat.  Hannah doesn't like it, and she starts hunting the killer, just to help out her brother-in-law, the police detective on the case.

As the first in the series, this is just good enough to make me want to come back for more.  Hannah is a likeable narrator, her family situation is interesting (if a little stereotypical.  I think I'm going to make the relationship between my sleuth and her mother fully-functional, just to buck the trend), and the murder mystery is pretty well constructed.  But as an amateur sleuth I found Hannah a little less than perfect.  She seemed to me to be a little too quick to investigate on her own, rather than turning her ideas and discoveries over to Bill, the in-law on the Force--and he seems much too willing to forgive her for interference that could lead to no end of troubles in the trail of evidence.  She messes with crime scenes, steals evidence that "doesn't have anything to do with the murder," but would upset someone she cares about, and questions potential witnesses and suspects in a pretty blatant fashion.  All of which is within the range of normal for cozy sleuths, but Bill's connivance at it and acceptance of it is over the top.

Hannah is also very quick to jump to some conclusions, while missing others that seem obvious to me.  In particular, near the end she spots an obvious clue, but more or less ignores it to follow up another red herring.

My final take: interesting, imperfect, and I'll give Fluke a second book to rein in the wilder flights from reality. 

Disclaimer: I checked Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder out from my local public library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Flash Fiction 200-word challenge: The conclusion

For the last 5 weeks I've been having fun with the Chuck Wendig 200-word challenge, wherein each writer adds 200 words to a story started by someone else.  This is my 5th and final story.  The project has been both entertaining and educational (in particular, while it is easy to add complications in 200 words, I was unable to conclude this in under 220, and that was with some serious paring down!).  I haven't managed to track all my stories (they're in the side-bar throughout late November and December), but I chose to finish with a holiday tale of a desperate rescue of Santa Claus.

For the record, my original story ("Millions of Cats") is finished here.

A Gifted Wizard

Part 1 by  Andrew Linder - Part 2 by  Caitlin McColl 
Part 3 by - Hana Frank  - Part 4 by Mozette

Mary loved Christmas because it was the comfiest holiday. Sitting on the floor before a modest pile of gilded presents, surrounded by family, sipping hot cocoa—hot cocoa!—she was experiencing true, Christmas bliss. She pet the cat beside her as it nuzzled her knee. Her brother handed her a perfectly wrapped gift. She reached for it, but he yanked it away, laughing. She laughed too. This happened every year. “Mom!” she said, directing her voice toward the kitchen, “Danny’s being a jerk!”

But she snatched the present from him anyway and pulled at the ribbon. 
Then the front door burst open and a gaunt, bearded man in ripped jeans and no shirt stumbled in. He had a large, pointy hat on his head. He glanced around at the startled faces, settling on Mary’s. She knew him, and stuttered, “U-u-uncle Martin?”

He nodded. “There’s magic afoot, niece…You’re a wizard, Mary”. Seeing her confusion, he pointed at the cat. “Look, the cat can talk now.”

She looked down at Bubbles. Bubbles looked up. “Hey,” Bubbles said.

Mary stared. “Hey.”

Uncle Martin pulled a folded up hat, like his own, from his back pocket. “Here! Take this wizard hat and follow me.”

Mary jumped up and with a glance over her shoulder at the confused faces of her family, she followed her uncle out into the crisp fall air. She wondered how he could be wandering around without a shirt when she was wearing a long sleeved sweater. Maybe wizards generated internal heat? "Wait! Hold up!" She jogged to catch up to him. "You can't just throw a crumpled pointy hat from a cheap Halloween costume at someone, make the cat talk, then leave again! I have questions. Lots of them!"

"I'm sure you do," Martin said nodding with brief glance at Mary as he kept walking.

"Like, did everyone else just hear Bubbles talk back then? Or do they think you're crazy for bursting in like that. They probably think I'm crazy now too!"

"No, they can't, just you can. ‘Cuz you're a-"

"You're a wizard Harry!" Mary said in her best mock-Hagrid voice. "I'm not friggin’ Harry Potter, Uncle. I’m a thirty three-year-old nursing student from Portland, not some kid in a story book with a magic wand!” She grabbed Martin’s arm and turned him to face her. “Seriously, Uncle. What’s going on?”

"There's a problem. And we need you." 

"Me?" Mary let go of his arm. "Look, whatever this is about, I'd love to help. Really. But shouldn't you get a more experienced wizard?" 
Martin didn't answer. His eyes were lifted to the sky.  

The faint sound of jingling bells made her turn and look up. Huge clouds parted to reveal a team of reindeer pulling a red sled. The animals drifted down, landing beside Mary with the grace of ballet dancers.

The head reindeer nodded at her then jerked its head at the sled. "Hey Marty. We've gotta go. Like right now dude." 

"Mary." Her uncle's voice was a plea. She stood frozen, staring at the reindeer, her fingers crushing the paper wizard hat. 
"The great Wizard Claus needs our help." Martin shook his head. "Something went wrong and now he can't get back into Real Time." 

"Tell her about it on the way dude." This from one of the reindeer at the back.

"Yes. Yes of course." Martin held her arm, gently steered her towards the sled steps. "We've only got an hour left Mary." 

Well, she decided, talking reindeer and a sled were way cooler than the magic cars Harry Potter flew in.

Uncle Martin didn’t wait for her to sit down as he grabbed the reins and snapped them gently, urging the eight reindeer to take flight as gently as they had landed; pushing her back into her seat.

“So, what’s the big emergency you need me for?” she heard herself ask as he steered the team up into the sky and above the cloud cover.  The sun shone blindingly bright and made the cloud tops look like meringues fresh and ready for the oven.

“Well, like Comet said, Santa is stuck in there, he’s lost his way.” He muttered, “And right now, he’s holed up in a psych ward.  He knows who he is, but the doctors are trying to make him not believe…” he looked over at her briefly, “… and you know what will happen if he stops believing in who he is, don’t you?”

Her gut turned cool, “Oh, god… Christmas will disappear forever for all the children around the world.” Her eyes wandered to the reindeer and over the gorgeous sleigh as tears pricked her eyes, “Okay, what do I have to do?”

His eyes glimmered, “Good, you’re with me on this.”

My contribution:
“We’ll break him out,” Marty continued.  “No time for anything else.”

“But I d-don’t kn-know anything about being a wi-wi-wizard.”  She could hardly say that word even if her teeth hadn’t been chattering with the cold wind.

“Yer the decoy, darlin’ girl.”  Comet again.  “Leave the wizardin’ to Marty.”

Of course, it wasn’t quite like that.  Uncle Marty taught her a few spells, though she knew they’d never work.  At the hospital, Mary jumped out and ran in to go distract the employees.  But no one was at the front desk, and a sound of laughter suggested they were partying in a back room.  She kept moving down the long, sterile hall, skidding to a halt before a door labeled “Nicholas.”

She didn’t even pause to knock.  She shouted the unlocking spell at the door, and it flew open, revealing a fat man in a red suit.

“They took my boots, blast them,” he said.  “But these slippers will do.”  The slippers had bunnies on them.

“Come on, then.”  An explosion interrupted her, and the bars on the window blew to bits.  She got Santa shoved through just as the sleigh pulled up underneath, and followed him out, landing in a heap in the back seat as the old man took the reins. 

“Dash away all!” came the shout, and the sleigh showed what it could really do.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Child's Christmas In Wales


Title:  A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, 47 pages
Publisher: Holiday House, 1985.  Original publisher: New Directions, 1954
Source:  Library

This Christmas classic is worth a read, but a lot depends on the illustrator, as it really is a picture book.  Thomas's poetic prose is beautiful, and evokes a long-past childhood that seems just a little bit magical, with a touch of humor (Auntie Hannah!).  Somehow, over all these years, I'd never actually read this (despite the fact that it took about 20 minutes, tops!), and it's a shame.  I would have enjoyed sharing this with my boys when they were little.

I have to admit that I'm not crazy about the illustrations in the edition I read (the first on the left above).  The landscape and village structures--those are great.  The people are a little odd, though, and kind of scary. I'd like to see the original.  But this is what our library has, so it's what I read.

Wander down to your bookstore, check out the different editions, and pick one that you like to add to your collection of holiday traditional reads!

Disclaimer: I checked A Child's Christmas in Wales out from my local public library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 


And so. . . A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Murder! A Holiday mystery review

Since Christmas is upon us (just in case someone among my readers is living in a cave high on a mountain in the wilds of Mars, and hasn't noticed), I thought I'd review a holiday-themed cozy mystery.  I did a library search, found several from authors I have never read, and dove in, taking my chances (after a little vetting by reading the back covers).  The first I read was:

Title: The Body in the Sleigh, by Katherine Hall Page,  256 pages
Publisher: William Morrow, 2009
Source: Library  (have I mentioned how much I love my library?!  Without the free public library, I would have gone broke buying books years ago, and the house would have collapsed under their weight!)

Faith Fairchild and her husband, the Rev. Tom Fairchild, are spending the Christmas holidays on Sanpere Island in Maine while he recovers from emergency surgery.  They are having an idyllic holiday, marred only by Faith's discovery of a dead girl in an antique sleigh, part of a holiday display at the historic society.  Another curious event is more positive, though just as mysterious: spinster Mary Bethany finds an infant in the manger when she goes to feed her goats on Christmas Eve.  A note and a bag of money make it clear the mother intends Mary to raise the child, but give no clue as to who or why.  Faith is convinced the dead girl, despite her reputation, did not OD on drugs, deliberately or otherwise, and is as determined to find out who killed her and why as she is to find out who left the baby--and make sure Mary really gets to keep him.

I was a little surprised at the mix of decidedly cozy elements in this book with a certain grim grittiness.  One thing is certain: Page doesn't want to let us think that even idyllic retreats from the world are truly free of trouble and evil.  The story is tight, fairly exciting, with characters (primarily the Fairchild family) that you quickly come to care about.  Faith herself and (surprisingly) Mary Bethany, are the only characters I saw as fully realized, however.  Page also surprised me by using extensive flashbacks to explain backstory, and in so doing left the reader knowing more than  the sleuth through much of the book (though she doesn't exactly tell whodunnit or why, the direction is pretty obvious from midway through the book).  I found the structure a little off-putting (though I didn't have any tendency to put the book down and walk away, so I guess it worked okay!), and I was definitely expecting something a little lighter.  Page falls into the cozy genre on the whole, but definitely doesn't use humor to get there.  My take: worth reading, and a series worth further exploration.

Disclaimer: I checked The Body in the Sleigh out from my local public library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 
 Very last day for the #MGBookElves "Twelve Authors of Christmas" giveaway!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: Halitor at Midwinter

Because writing is way more fun than editing, or cleaning house, or shopping for Christmas presents, here's one last holiday story before I turn to focus on my family for a week or so.  Have a safe and pleasant holiday!

Halitor at Midwinter

Halitor the Hero stared gloomily into his fire and sighed.  He remembered how it had been this time last year.  He’d been warm, for one thing.  Snow had been falling then, just as it did now, but he’d been in Alcedor Castle, with Melly and the king and all the court, enough people and enough fires to make even a drafty old castle warm.

Now it was Midwinter’s Eve, the time of year when everyone gathered with family and friends and celebrated the return of the sun—or celebrated to ensure the sun would return.  Some said the parties determined how the year would come out.

Halitor really hoped that wasn’t true.  If it was, he was probably ruining the year for scores of people.  And he was supposed to be a Hero, making their lives better!  He poked the fire, added another stick, and huddled closer.  His horse moved in to enjoy the warmth, too.

“Come on in, Nightwind,” Halitor told the animal.  “Maybe if I make your life a little better tonight it will keep the bad luck away.  If I’d been smart, I’d have given up my quest and gone back to the castle for Midwinter.”  The horse snorted.  He knew as well as Halitor that they had traveled much too far to return for the holiday.  And, the young Hero reminded himself, along the way he had managed to do some good.  He’d rescued a family from ogres, and arrived at an isolated farm in time to help put out a fire that threatened house and barn.  He steered his thoughts away from some less heroic events.

Now he was in the sparsely populated lands in the farthest mountains of Kargor, and apparently a lot higher than he’d meant to be.  He looked into his saddlebags, extracting a bag of beans and spices, and poured a handful into the pot of water coming to a boil over his fire.  He’d had no luck hunting, not for days.  Animals had more sense than to be out in this weather.  His Midwinter feast would be another pot of watery bean soup.

He’d known worse.  And the shallow cave that Nightwind had found offered more shelter than they’d had for days.  Halitor smiled in spite of himself.  He was cold and wet and hungry, but he was a Hero, by heaven he was!  In the morning, if the storm had blown itself out, he’d ride on and find that village he’d heard of, the one with the wyvern problem.  That settled, he ate his dinner, wrapped himself in his blanket, and went to sleep.

It wasn’t yet light when something nudged him awake.  A foot.  An experienced Hero like Halitor knew that it was never good when someone woke you up with a toe.  That kind was always an enemy.

In this case, the enemy was a boy about nine years old.  Halitor looked from the pale and very young face to the bare foot that had kicked him.  A bare foot?  In this blizzard?  He started to sit up.

“Just you stay put, mister.”  The voice was as tough as a treble could be.  Halitor would have ignored the command, but the boy looked scared, which meant that he might do something foolish.  It also meant that he could use a little encouragement.  Halitor knew all too well how it felt to be over his head.

“Right.  I’m your prisoner, then.  Would you like some breakfast?”  Halitor didn’t know what time it was, but when you were a little kid and barefoot in the snow, it was a safe bet that it was mealtime.  “If you let me sit up I’ll fix us something.”

The boy hesitated.  He edged a bit closer to the fire, and made up his mind.  “Very well.  But don’t do anything foolish.”  Halitor sat up very carefully, happy to see that for once his captor wasn’t pointing his own sword at him.  The boy had only a sharp stick.  And behind him there were three more children, each younger than the previous. 

“Da always said no one but a bandit would be out in the woods on Longnight,” the second child said. 

“We are,” pointed out the third child.  The fourth just stood there shivering, a finger in his mouth.

“Getting storm-caught can happen to anyone,” Halitor said with the sort of cheer he saved for desperate situations.  He no longer worried he was in danger.  But as a Hero, he had to find a way to save these waifs from the storm.  “Sit up to the fire.”  He handed the second child—the only girl—his blanket. “Wrap up together, all of you.”  After a second look, he took off his cloak and gave that to her as well, then built the fire back up.

Only when the food was ready did the oldest lower his stick and sit in with the others.  “Don’t forget, you’re my prisoner,” he told Halitor.

“I won’t,” the Hero promised.  “See?  I’m doing your bidding, making you something to eat.”  When the child’s mouth was full, Halitor asked, “How did you all come to be wandering from home on Longnight, and in such a storm?”

Stick scowled and wouldn’t answer, but Girl spoke up.  “We got no home.  Not no more.  Wyverns come and wrecked it.”

“Your parents?”  Halitor didn’t want to ask. 

“Dunno,” Girl said.  “They wasn’t to home, and we had to run and then we got lost.”

Halitor kept feeding the children, even though he was nearly out of food, and kept them talking until daylight, and until he had a pretty good idea where their village might be.  When at last they were warm and well-fed, he stood up.  Instantly Stick was on the alert again. 

“Let’s get going,” Halitor said, ignoring the bristling child.  “We need to get you back to your village before Midwinter is over!”

He loaded the children onto Nightwind, wrapped the blanket around them, and led off through the snow, trying to ignore his own cold feet.

“Mister?”  It was the littlest child, finally without the finger in the mouth.  “Are you the Longnight Spirit?  The one who brings gifts to little boys and girls?” 

Halitor shrugged to himself.  A Hero was what he needed to be.

“I guess I am.”


You know what goes here!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chuck Wendig 200 Word Challenge--week 4

We're coming down to the end on this--just one more week to go.  It wasn't easy, but I managed to find a story I could work on that no one else had gotten to first (I should have been faster!).  This is called "In Too Deep," and was begun by Jim Franklin, continued by Lynna Landstreet and then by H. Petterson.

Parts 1-3 are here.  As well as below, because I'm not cruel.  I did notice that Part 3 is written 1st person, while the rest is 3rd person.  I chose to stick with 3rd person, since that was the majority.

In Too Deep

Jim Franklin’s original:

   The plunge into the ice-cold water hit Derry like an avalanche. A fading knowledge of the film Predator had informed him to lower his body temperature so that the alien wouldn’t see him. Though he hadn’t realised how cold the water would be, how the flow of the water would drag him away from the bank, or how his thick woolen coat and boots would become the rocks that pulled him down.
   It’s worth noting at this point that in Predator, the hero was a hardened military veteran with experience in guerrilla warfare, while Derry worked in the Accounts department for a large national fish exporter, and the most alien thing he had encountered in his life so far was the perpetual lack of sticky notes in his office. Being woefully terrible at making quick decisions, preferring an hour or two to mull over every eventuality, also goes some way to explain his poor choice of hiding place.
   His limbs stiff, his breathing now wheezy gulps, and his head now spent more time underwater as his legs struggled to move. Derry panicked, with a thought that he didn’t have hours to mull this over…. he was going to die.

Part 2, Lynna Landstreet’s continuation:

   As he floundered, the creature loomed over the water’s edge, staring down at him — so much for the hope that it wouldn’t see him! It raised some sort of complicated device to its — those were its eyes, weren’t they? Undoubtedly a weapon of some sort, and he found himself wondering which would be worse: drowning, freezing to death, being vaporized, or being eaten. But no laser bolt came, just a light that illuminated his sodden head as the creature peered through some sort of lens. The hell –? Was that some kind of camera?
   The thing opened its terrifying maw, and let out a sound somewhat like a cow being fed through a woodchipper. Or at least what Derry imagined that might sound like, not that he’d ever needed to before now. Then it made some adjustments to a device affixed to its throat, and a strange mechanical voice accompanied the bellowing: “Good evening. I observe that you have placed yourself in a context|challenge|predicament causing respiratory and circulatory distress. May I inquire as to the significance of this act among your tribe|culture|species? Are you attempting to terminate your existence, or this is an artistic performance|athletic event|mating display?”

Part 3, H. Petterson’s continuation:
    I broke the surface of the freezing water and gasped loudly. After grabbing a half of a lungful of air I retched out the other half lungful of water I had ingested under water. I looked at the creature as I crawled to the bank.
   “I didn’t understand/comprehend/grasp what you just said.” He tilted his head at me and I said slowly.
   “What do you want….why are you chasing me?” I steadied myself and stayed in a sitting position, although still freezing it was better than the ice cold water.
   “I need/require/want information from you….are you familiar with this continent?” Its translator took on a softer feminine tone. As I looked at its attire I guessed it to be female.
   “I…I live a mile away….what are you doing here?” I slowly stood up and wrung the water from my hair and wiped my face with a soaking jacket sleeve. 
   “I mean/present/offer you no harm….I…We are lost.” It looked up to the sky and seemed to be visually charting the early night’s stars. I was tempted to run, but knew it would catch me pretty instantly in my exhausted condition.
   “We are crusaders from the Freeman sector and need/require/beg your help…unfortunately.”

My continuation:

Derry gulped, and thought resentfully that the creature needn’t have been so dubious about his ability to help.  He’d been voted Most Valuable Employee in the company’s accounting department three years in a row.  He was good at what he did.

What he did had nothing to do with helping lost aliens find their way home.

“Um, where exactly did you need to go?”  Derry’s teeth were starting to chatter and his clothes were stiffening with frost.

“It is unclear/difficult/challenging. . . .”

Derry made a quick decision.  He couldn’t escape the thing, and he had to get home and get into warm, dry clothes.  “Come with me,” he said.  They made a curious pair, trudging through the snow back to Derry’s house.  The creature—she?—kept asking him about landforms he knew nothing about.  He put it—her—off with promises. 

He just had to make it home before he froze to death. He would deal with the alien later.  He had a good collection of Triple-A maps.  Surely something would do the job.  With a sigh of relief, Derry staggered in the back door, pausing only to push the thermostat up to 80 before racing for a hot shower.

Okay --someone else gets to finish this off in 200 more words!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Kid Lit Blog Hop--Kringle, by Tony Abbott


Title: Kringle, by Tony Abbott,

Kringle is a 12-year-old boy who has had a special mission since birth, though he hasn't always known it.  It takes a disaster to help him discover it.  Before the story is done, we've learned just where Father Christmas came from, and why we aren't plagued by goblins (you wondered, right?).

I really, really wanted to love this book.  And I did like it.  I did.  But I didn't love it.  It took me a lot of thinking, but I believe I've figured out why not, since most of the story really pulled me in.  The problem is the mixing of mythologies.  See, the majority of the book reads like a good fantasy, in a land where there are elves and goblins and magic.  And then, enter the Romans, and a priest, and the story of the Child (never named, but you know who they mean).  Now, I get that an origin story for Santa Claus kind of has to involve the point of the holiday.  But it just feels wrong.  I ended up feeling like someone had stuck a pill into my nice, yummy fantasy dessert.  Now, maybe other people won't feel this way.  Maybe I'm sensitive to religious teachings in the Middle Grade fiction I read.  Or maybe it really is that the two mythologies don't fit so well together. from my issues, though, the fantasy is well-written, and has just the right amount of drama and excitement and danger.  And it really is a fun take on where Santa--er, Kris Kringle--comes from.  For that, I'll give it 4 stars. But I'm not sure I can really say either that it's a great Christmas story or that it's a great fantasy.

Disclaimer: I checked Kringle out from my local public library, and received nothing from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own and those of no one else. 

And, yes, you guessed it, don't miss your chance to enter to win one of 30 great kids' books!

Monday, December 16, 2013

#MGBookElves: Interview with Cool Mom from Stanley and Katrina!;postID=4077811867626951157;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=5;src=link

 Last month we reviewed the delightful middle grade novel, The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of PetsToday, we are delighted to interview, not the author, but the author's Mom!  That's right.  The author of that charming work is "just a kid" (and if you can use that phrase with a straight face after reading the book, there's something wrong with you!).  I caught up with Christine, AKA Cool Mom from Stanley and Katrina, Pet Authors, for a few tips on parenting a writer (and many thanks to Christine for providing the link to allow you to tweet this post!).

1.  Your daughter was only 9 when she wrote The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets. Were you aware what she was doing?  At what point did she involve you in the process, and when did you both decide she should publish?
It seems a bit crazy, but, yes, she was 9 when she wrote The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets (TPPotPoP). Felicia participated in NaNoWriMo YWP, (That's the National Novel Writing Month Youth Writing Project for those who don't want to click through) last November, after completing ScriptFrenzy, in April of 2012. She was highly motivated during NaNoWriMo by the idea of winning free printed copies from CreateSpace.  During November of last year, my role was primarily to be her encourager as well as someone to bounce ideas off of as needed. NaNoWriMo was fantastic for teaching her that the writing process has different stages, and for that very first stage, turning off your inner editor can be rewarding. Publishing her book for anything more than our own family's bookshelf was never the goal. Stanley and Katrina, her characters, seem to have taken on a life of their own. Our family is enjoying the journey.

2.  Nurturing a young talent is a tricky thing.  You have to maintain a balance between support/encouragement and pushing them to improve the work.  What was the hardest thing for you about having your daughter publish a book?
Initially, reviews of her book were the hardest thing for me. Felicia has never wanted TPPotPoP to be treated differently from any other book on the market. My fear was that she would receive harshly critical reviews that might cause her to stop enjoying writing. Thankfully, the few critical reviews she has received to date have only motivated her more. At the moment, the hardest thing is keeping her balanced and making time for her to just be a kid. She needs her down time and I find protecting that has become an extremely important part of my job and my husband’s job as her parents.

3.  I believe you served as general editor for the Perpetual Papers.  Was it difficult to manage the tone of the work--to keep her (child's) voice while at the same time insisting on meeting certain standards of writing and plotting?  I have a couple of sons, and I've never been able to tell them much of anything--did you get a lot of pushback?   
Oh, yes! When she was motivated to truly publish her book for a serious audience, we definitely had push-back during editing.  The punctuation, grammar, capitalization and such were the easy parts. She did a great job with her first draft and that made my job easy. It was important to me to protect that her book continued to remain her work throughout editing.  I focused on pointing out to Felicia when things didn't make any sense, or if I thought she might be able to add more to the story to be sure her readers understood what she was trying to say. To assist the process, we decided to enlist others in the beta reading and editing. Felicia had two wonderful friends and four adults read through her book and act as editors. When she learned that I wasn't the only one having trouble with a certain spot, it made it easier for her to see that it was something that truly needed to be addressed.

4.  On the same lines, my 16-y.o. has been writing a book for the last year plus, and it's got great potential, but he has zero interest in the hard work that is revision.  How did you inspire Neighbor Girl to make that effort?  Or where did she get the idea that she could/should put more effort into it?
There isn't much my husband or I can do to motivate Felicia if she doesn't want to do something. When I find an area of interest for her, I keep an eye out for contests, projects and awards that might be available to her and present them to her for her consideration. Sites such as Hoagies Gifted is a great place to start:  
For TPPotPoP, Felicia happened on a huge motivator to get her through editing speedily - not that I recommend the timeline she had to anyone. We were traditionally homeschooling Felicia last year, but discovered a charter school that appeared to be a great fit for her. After attending an open house and learning she needed two writing samples included in her application to the school, Felicia decided that she  would like TPPotPoP to be one of her writing samples. It gave her about four weeks to get through editing, proofing and printing her book. It was entirely her decision and it motivated her well. That early copy of her book had some things we missed for sure - as I said, I wouldn’t recommend rushing through editing, but it got her to the next level.  I’m thrilled to share that she was accepted to the school and it has proven to be a great fit for her.
Inspiring your child is sometimes about finding the thing that motivates them and jumping in with both feet. Getting past the fear of trying is half the battle in most cases. One of our favorite acronyms is F.A.I.L.

5.  Finally, an under-age author faces extra challenges in the internet world.  I know you have acted as her voice on most discussion boards and forums.  Talk a little bit about protecting her privacy and finding the balance with that and the need for an author to have a public presence.
All accounts are in my name or our names together, and I am the first line of communication to anyone who reaches out to Stanley & Katrina online. Felicia is not old enough to have any of the online accounts on her own.   While I administer the content on her blog, nothing gets posted without her approval - other than books that I have reviewed.  She creates all of Katrina's Word of the Week sentences and handles the Wordless Wednesday pictures.

6.  Finally, any other advice for parents who have talented kids?  (In answer to this question, Christine sent the following lovely graphic!):

  Thanks for having me, Rebecca!

So glad to have the chance to chat!

Christine is also known as Cool Mom on the Stanley & Katrina blog. She is the mother to Felicia, aka Neighbor Girl, and is the personal assistant to the pets and Felicia. Christine acts as their web administrator as well as their social media manager. Visit her hobby project

Felicia is known as Neighbor Girl on the Stanley & Katrina blog. She is the author of The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets. She loves writing, reading, acting, singing, reading, gymnastics, doodling, reading, ice skating, painting, reading, doing computer stuff… did we mention reading? Her latest creative project is organizing the D.I.R.T. Kids.

Now Enter the Giveaway!

You could win a prize from one of these authors. Most are offering one or two books from their series: if you've already got the first, they may offer you a different one if you win. The prizes are as detailed on the rafflecopter form.  
Contest runs: December 1st to 23rd, 11:59 pm EST, 2013  
Open: Worldwide  
How to enter: Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.  
Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Winners 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 until 28th Dec. to respond. If the winner does not respond in that time, a new draw will take place for a new winner. No cash alternatives to the ebooks offered. Authors may (at their sole discretion) offer a different ebook from that listed if the winner already owns the prize listed. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the authors named and is hosted and managed by Jemima Pett, the Princelings author. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send an email to jemima (dot) pett (at) gmail (dot) com.
 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Minor Blog Issues

I want to start off by apologizing to everyone who's been cut out of posting comments by my activation of the "Google +" comments.  I didn't read carefully enough to realize that would require everyone who posted to have a G+ account.  I still can't believe they did that--it's so contrary to what a blogger wants, which is maximum engagement, that I didn't even believe it when someone first told me they'd been unable to comment. Someone please test while NOT logged into G+ and let me know if it works now!

Secondly, I have no idea how much I'll be posting through the holiday season.  I am certainly finishing up the "200 word challenge," and have regularly scheduled posts through the 23rd--which just happens to also be the last day to enter the #MGBookElves giveaway.  There will almost certainly be no post on Dec. 25--I'm sure no one is going to want to take time to read one that day!

Finally, since the end of one year and beginning of another is a time for assessing, let me know what you'd like to see more (or less!) of on this blog.  Want more author interviews?  More reviews (probably not happening--reading and reviewing the books as I do takes some serious time)?  More pearls of wisdom on the writing process (always bearing in mind that I am totally talking through my hat).  Speak, O Reader(s) and let me know!

Meanwhile, don't forget:

And a gratuitous photo of a cute small furry animal, because I can:

Oh--and I may have found a photo of Gorg the Troll in my archives:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: Elidor, by Alan Garner


Title:  Elidor, by Alan Garner.  Paperback, 173 pages
Publisher: Magic Carpet Books (Original: William Collins Son & Co., 1965

Summary:  Siblings Nicholas, David, Helen and Roland (who all appear to be near the same unspecified age, probably stepping up from about 10 or 11 to 13 or 14) are having a good wander through Manchester when something very strange happens.  They find themselves in another land, a place of magic--and a place where forces of darkness and death seem to have won.  Back in England, the children try to pretend it didn't happen--all but Roland.  He knows that there will be more to do, and he is right.

This classic fantasy definitely is not your modern fantasy.  More reminiscent of the Narnia books than Harry Potter, it actually spends very little time in the fantasy realm of Elidor, and most of the time dealing with the spill-over from that world into 1965 Manchester.  At first I found that a little disappointing, but the story is gripping, and soon I found that the problem of dealing with magic leaking into a place so mundane was if anything greater than the mission they'd faced in Elidor (not surprisingly, when the kids found themselves in Elidor, I assumed we'd be there for the rest of the book.  Garner doesn't do things that obviously, though).

The story is tight and gripping, but I did find that the characters, aside from Roland, were a little thinly drawn (as noted above, I'm not even sure how old they are--they all feel the same age, and I'm pretty sure they aren't meant to be quadruplets).  And because we spend so little time in Elidor, we are less invested than we might be in the outcome--but that's part of the story. 

This is another take, as well, on the standing Middle Grade issue of what to do with the parents/responsible adults.  In this case, the children have hold of something so outrageous and unbelievable that they can't tell anyone--no one would believe them anyway.  They mostly don't really even believe it themselves.  It's up to Roland--whose name is probably not chosen by chance, and who is the only one who really believes it happened--to keep the faith and deal with the problems that their little adventure has caused.

A good read, but not I think as good as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by the same author, due mainly to the lack of character development.

 Full disclosure: I borrowed a copy of  Elidor  from the 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.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fiction bonus: 200-word challenge, Part 3

This week, for the Chuck Wendig challenge, I chose to continue Wanderer’s continuation of Meagan‘s story featuring a snarky demon, some particularly terrible summoners, and gin. I’ve included their parts first and then my addition.  The result isn't quite my usual PG material, so be warned.

         “Yes, this penthouse view is quite breathtaking,” I turned to the luscious blonde before me, “but not nearly as lovely as—”

A thunder clap, and then I was standing in a small, glowing circle, surrounded by a gaggle of chanting fools in robes.

“Oh great Sorasel im Palat, lord of fire and darkness, fell devourer of the innocent, conqueror of—” Arcane symbols covered the speaker’s robes, nearly obscuring the heavy crimson fabric.

“Yes, yes, get on with it.” I gestured with my gin martini.

He paused, then finished in a post-pubescent squeak, “We invoke thy true name and bid thee do our will.”

“Oh you do, do you? Well I want you to send me back. I was having a smashing time, and that girl may not have two brain cells to rub together, but she looked quite likely to do some rubbing together. If you know what I mean.”  
The robe-wearers shuffled, and whispered amongst themselves. The leader piped up again.

“O great Sorasel im—“

“Stop that, stop that,” I interrupted. “Only my dad calls me that. I prefer my middle name. If you must speak, call me Stewart.”

More shuffling and whispering from my summoners.

—————- (Part 2)
“Oh great and mighty…Stewart….” the leader—whose pasty face was mostly spots—began again. “We bind thee to our will.”

I took a sip of my martini—extra dirty, extra olives—and raised an eyebrow at the little prat. Summoners used to know what they were doing. I looked at the floor where their demon trap was sloppily drawn with what smelled unmistakably like fresh, store-bought spray paint. I sighed. What happened to the blood of a virgin? Or even the vital fluids of an unwilling Christian priest? 

I noticed their silence; I could practically smell their fear—a mixture of piss and that foul deodorant that promised them flocks of women. I took another gulp of the martini—it was perfect. Almost as flawless as my blonde client who was no doubt currently working her minimal intelligence into a sweat in an effort to find me.

“Well? Get on with it.”

“We bound you, oh great Sora—er—Stewart.”

“I heard that part. So,” I made sure to smile with all of my teeth. “You’ve bound me. Congratulations. Now, what do you plan to do?”

“Jaime, this was your idea.” One of the other robed figures poked the leader.

And my 200 words:
Jaime shrugged.  "You know what we're asking.  Oh, great Stewart--that sounds silly, can't we use your demon name?"

"No.  If you call me by that ridiculous name it's all off."

"Fine, then.  Oh, great Stewart, we bind you--"

"You've said that.  What the hell do you want?  I've got things to do.”  And people to see, especially the blonde.

"Yes."  Jaime was getting bolder.  "We bind you to our service, to do our homework for us."

"What?  That's cheating.  I can't do that."

"What do you mean you can’t cheat?  You're a demon.  You're supposed to be evil, and you have to do whatever we command.  It’s in the book."  Jaime waved a hand-bound tome at me, as though I was going to pay attention to that.

"I'm not doing your homework for you, and that's flat.  How about I conjure you some chicks?"  Surely that would distract these teenaged would-be wizards.

"Chicks won't get us into MIT," one of the other kids whined.

I had to put an end to this.  The blonde back in my office wouldn't stay there forever, and I had better things to do than bandy words with a gaggle of incompetent conjurers.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mystery Monday: Heirs and Graces


Title: Heirs and Graces  (Royal Spyness #7), by Rhys Bowen.  295 pages
Publisher: Berkeley, 2013.
Source:  Library digital editions (Overdrive)

Lady Georgianna Rannoch is 35th in line for the English throne, and in 1930-something that's not a place that gives her a lot of options.  So she's pretty happy when the Queen sends her to Kingsdowne Place, the fabulous country seat of the Duke of Eynsford, to help the new heir overcome his Ausrtralian-Outback coarseness.  Regular meals are a bonus.  Finding the current Duke with a knife in his back rather takes the edge off, however.  And when everything starts to point to her protege as the guilty party, Georgie has to take matters into her own hands.

 I do enjoy this series!  Georgie is a good narrator with a self-deprecating sense of humor and just enough blind spots that we can feel a bit superior. But we also like her and care about her.  Other characters are also well-developed and though there is some tendency to caricature, it's all in the service of fun and even the more ridiculous characters still manage to feel like real people.

In this series the mystery is always a bit secondary to the rest of life, which for Georgie has a lot to do with finding her next meal and a place to live, and wishing she could marry her fiance, Darcy O'Mara, and get on with learning about sex (her friend Belinda gives her no end of trouble about her naivete).  But the mystery is also well-developed, plausible, and has at least two good red-herrings, though Georgie likes one a little too well for us to believe in his guilt. The final reveal is a surprise, in more ways than one.

The Royal Spyness mysteries are fun first and foremost, and this is a worthy addition to the collection.

Recommended for those who enjoy a little humor with their corpses, and maybe a side of romance.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Gorg in the Castle of King Celery the Halfwit

Yes!  Flash Fiction Friday has migrated all the way to Sunday!  I was very busy this week, but I did manage to squeeze out a little time to continue the on-going story of Gorg the Troll.  For earlier segments of his story, see here, here, here, here, and here.  It's not necessary to read them first, but it's probably more fun to let the story develop.  This offering is just under 1100 words.

In the Castle of King Celery the Halfwit

Five trolls moved heavily (the only way trolls can move) through the City of Celestial Celery in the direction of the castle of King Celery the Halfwit.  In one of the thousand rooms in that castle their greatest enemy lounged in the lap of luxury.  Had King Celery only the wit to know it, the man was also his greatest enemy, but Celery was not called The Halfwit for nothing.  Bale played the madman and plotted the overthrow of the man who fed and housed him.

Trolls are not noted for their brains, but it must be said that the five who approached the castle had far more than the king, even individually--a low standard, but one they easily beat.  The five trolls--five friends, to the pleased surprise of Gorg Trollheim, who had been a loner so long he didn't know there was any other choice--had created what they hoped was a plan.  They knew the steps they needed: enter the castle, find Duke Bale the Artichoke Hearted, and reduce him to dust.  The details, however, were a bit vague. 

A good fourth step to have planned would have been “escape alive,” as King Celery considered the Duke to be hopelessly insane and thus harmless and worthy of protection.  The leap from "insane" to "harmless" was a perfect example of his hopeless stupidity.  Bale might have been insane, but he was by no means harmless.

The trolls were less concerned about protecting the king than they were with exacting their revenge.  In pursuit of his own nefarious ends, Bale had turned several of Gorg's kin back into the stone from which trolls came.  Or rather, because even such a small change required magic--trolls are nearly stone even at their most animated--Bale had directed his pet sorcerer to convert the trolls.

Gorg had dealt with Mergle months before.  He'd also taken care of Stenrect, Bale's next magical assistant.  But Bale himself remained always just out of reach.  While Gorg had battled Stenrect, for example, Bale had floated to freedom in a gas-filled balloon.  The five trolls had vowed to put an end to his escapes, in the most final way.

So, with the night well spent, they moved up the cobbled streets, stopping occasionally to snack on a loose stone.  Up, toward the castle that topped the hill, surrounded by high-walled gardens. The first test came at the outer gates.  The guards were unlikely to admit a single troll, let alone five.  But Gorg and Pulgrum Stonelump had come up with a plan.  They loaded Herg Rockling and Pulgrum's brother, Krump, onto a cart along with the fifth troll, Daisy Basalt.  They dragged the heavy cart slowly up the last blocks to the gate, saluted smartly--Gorg rather overdid it and chips flew from his forehead where his hand struck--and said "Delivery of statues for the King's rock garden, sir!"

The guard, sleepy and stupid in the last hour before dawn, waved them in, only vaguely wondering why the king would want such ugly statues for his garden.  Perhaps he figured they would frighten off the birds that ate the young vegetables.  Gorg would have been surprised to know what the guard was thinking.  He considered young Krump, and especially Daisy, very good looking indeed.  They would add a touch of class to any rock garden.

As soon as they were out of sight of the guard, Pulgrum asked, "Where are the gardens?"  That stumped them until Gorg remembered, "We don't want the gardens.  We want Bale!"  That contented them until they realized they had even less idea where to find Bale than the gardens.

"Then we shall all go be statues after all," Daisy suggested.  "We will sit where we can watch as much of the castle as possible and see who goes where. Inside."

They all became still as . . . stone, thinking about that.  Getting inside the outer walls had been easy,.  Could they pass as convincingly as statuary in the very halls of King Celery's palace?

Gorg could.  He would do anything it took to get to Bale.  He looked at Daisy with ever-increasing admiration.  Beauty and  brains.

By down, five new, rather rough, statues of trolls graced the major corridors of Celery Hall.  They did not move all day.  Trolls are very good at standing as though turned to stone.  If Bale had seen them, he might have guessed.  But Bale was locked in his room, pretending to be a madman while he laid his plots.  No one else in the palace paid any attention.  The decor changed so often, according to the whim of the king.

By night, Gorg knew where they had to go.  He, being unfamiliar with the ways of the city and the palace, had sought a dingier corridor where he felt more at home.  This proved to be the servant's hall, and the servants, he found, gossiped non-stop.  And griped.  Two in particular griped about having to carry food clear to the top of the tower for the crazy man, who not only demanded they return for a different kind of wine, but grabbed their bums every chance he got.

That sounded like Bale, Gorg thought.  He was rude to the servants on whom he depended.  And he was more than rude to trolls, who never forgot or forgave.  Well, they had him now.

At midnight, the new statues were on the move.  First they found each other, then the tower stairs.  There was only one stair up or down.  There would be no escape for Bale now.

There wasn't. 

By dawn, the killer of trolls and plotter against kings was gone.  He had leapt from the tower window rather than face five angry trolls.

The trolls, too, found there was no escape.  They had been cornered in the tower, arrested, and now faced the difficult task of convincing King Celery the Halfwit that they had been protecting him.  Gorg didn't know if it was possible to explain anything to Celery, but he would find out.  He had thought that if he punished Bale he didn't care what followed, but he found he did care. He and his friends would talk their way out of the dungeons.  They must, for the others must not suffer for his revenge.  Especially not Daisy.

Gorg began to marshal his thoughts and prepare his arguments.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Twelve Authors of Christmas!


Welcome to the fantastic 12 Authors of Christmas seasonal giveaway and blog tour!

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I'm so excited to be part of this great giveaway and book tour!

Who are the Authors on tour?

All these authors are interviewing each other, reviewing each others' books and more in the Giveaway blog tour starting 1st December. Click the links to go to their websites and find out more about them, and check out their books in the InLinkz list below.

Jemima Pett: the Princelings of the East series (1st, 11th and 18th December)

M G King: Fizz & Peppers at the Bottom of the World (2nd and 10th December)

Fiona Ingram: The Secret of the Sacred Scarab (3rd and 12th December)

Wendy Leighton-Porter: The Shadows from the Past series (4th and 14th December)

Stanley and Katrina (Pet Authors): The Perpetual Papers of a Pack of Pets (5th and 17th December)

Ben Zackheim: Shirley Link, ace detective series (6th and 19th December)

Rebecca Douglass: The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners (7th and 16th December)

Cheryl Carpinello: The Young Knights of the Round Table series (8th and 13th December)

S Smith: The Seed Savers series (9th and 18th December)

Julie Grasso: Caramel Cardamom series (11th and 22nd December)

Paul R Hewlett: Lionel's Grand Adventure series (16th and 20th December)

S W Lothian: the Quest series (tba)


Check out all these books!

Now Enter the Giveaway!

You could win a prize from one of these authors. Most are offering one or two books from their series: if you've already got the first, they may offer you a different one if you win. The prizes are as detailed on the rafflecopter form.  
Contest runs: December 1st to 23rd, 11:59 pm EST, 2013  
Open: Worldwide  
How to enter: Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.  
Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. Winners 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 until 28th Dec. to respond. If the winner does not respond in that time, a new draw will take place for a new winner. No cash alternatives to the ebooks offered. Authors may (at their sole discretion) offer a different ebook from that listed if the winner already owns the prize listed. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the authors named and is hosted and managed by Jemima Pett, the Princelings author. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send an email to jemima (dot) pett (at) gmail (dot) com.
 a Rafflecopter giveaway