Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Round-up

It's the end of another year (and what's with that, anyway? Used to be a year lasted for, well, months and months. Now it's about 15 minutes). and time for some reflection on what I've done, what I'm doing, and what I think I ought to be doing.

Don't worry. I'm not going to talk about losing weight (though I'm sorry to say I gained back all I lost trekking in Peru, and then some) or getting daily exercise (I do). I'm talking about writing.

The Year in Review:

This was a big year for me, writing-wise. I brought out the first mystery in the Pismawallops PTA series, Death By Ice Cream, in April. In November I not only published my first middle grade fantasy, Halitor the Hero, but joined forces with six other great writers and participated in the first Bookelves Anthology, a collection of holiday stories for children. I also managed to survive the April A to Z daily blogging challenge, and averaged about 2.5 posts per week the rest of the year, despite being out of the country for five weeks in June and July (and on the trail for three weeks of that time).

It was also a good reading year, as I kept up my better-than-two-books per week reading pace, posting reviews for many, both works for children and adults. I felt at times as though I wasn't reading enough (dang that Internet and its distractions!) and sometimes felt like I was being pushed too hard to read for a deadline. My reading and reviewing (and Internet usage) need to be examined.

I also began tentatively reaching a bit farther out to make more connections in the blogging world, although my reading and commenting dropped off sadly this fall. Rather, I never regained traction in reading or writing after our summer travels, though I did finish the not insignificant editing process for Halitor.

I also did several classroom visits at two different schools, and was well-received by the kids and teachers alike. These visits are highlights of my writing life!

What I didn't do was much new writing, aside from weekly (or nearly) flash fiction. Thank goodness for that, which keeps me sane when I'm revising! By a quick count, I did 37 Flash Fiction stories, if That is 37,500 words right there!

Reflections on 2014:

I feel like the year was a mixed bag. As my comments above suggest, I'm happy to have managed to publish two books in a single year, but those were both largely written before the year began, so I had a year very heavy on revisions. That was not ideal, and I need to work on making my revision process more efficient, so that I can spend more time writing!

My level of engagement with the profession went up, but not enough. Sales also went up, but again, not as much as I had hoped. I still need to work on the advance publicity for a book. I have my days of thinking that I need to hire both a maid and a marketing director, because I don't seem to be doing an adequate job in either area!

So...what about 2015?

So here's the deal about 2015: I want to write more than ever, and I want to shake up the blog a bit, connect more with more people, writers and readers, and use my time more effectively (online and off). Piece of cake, right?

My thoughts run something like this:
For the writing, I plan to finish editing Death By Trombone (the Pismawallops PTA #2), which I drafted during NaNoWriMo 2013! (I also don't want to get this far ahead of myself again; it was for that reason that I didn't do NaNo 2014). I hope to have my first cut done in a couple of weeks so that I can send it out to my first editor/beta reader. Then I can turn my attention to the next project: the Ninja Librarian's third book (still untitled). And I want to create my own short story anthology, using flash fiction I've published here, spruced up and expanded in some cases. And, of course, I'm starting to think about the next full-length novel after revisiting Skunk Corners. That's probably enough and then some!

As for shaking up the blog, I definitely intend to continue with the weekly Flash Fiction. I like it, and my readers seem to like it. I will also continue posting book reviews, but I may back off to one per week, so that I do children's books the 1st and 3rd weeks (to participate in the Kid Lit Blog Hop) and adult books the other weeks. I need to connect up with more people, so will look at participating in additional hops and tours.  Because I do want to continue to post three times/week, I will be filling in the other days with more varied posts, on writing and possibly on life (though my life isn't very interesting), and more photo essays of current and past journeys. I will also work on the flip side of blogging, visiting other blogs.

If I want a new time sink, I will endeavor to learn to make use of the Twitter account I set up last month!

What do you think? What should I do more or less of in my blog?

Oh--and Happy New Year!

Did you get a new eReader for Christmas? Load it with my new book, Halitor the Hero, a fantasy for 10-year-olds of all ages. Use the Smashwords code AV66V to get it at 40% off! Just click on the cover image:

Friday, December 26, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

I so much appreciated last week's Deja Vu post, that I decided to republish a Christmas Story from last year.

It can be hard to get into the holiday spirit when you're all alone in a space ship, but Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, is determined to try.

Xavier Xanthum’s Xmas

Xavier Xanthum switched off his book with a sigh and stared at the window.  He was in deep hyperspace, so the window was black.  Whatever was out there, space travelers had long ago decided they didn’t wan to see it.  When he was in hyperspace, then, the window served as a vid-screen.  Xavier called out, “Larry, give me a snowy village scene.”  He turned away while the computer worked on the problem, and found the disembodied eyeballs that were Larry’s physical manifestation watching him.

“You are troubled, Xavier?”  Larry’s voice came from the speaker on the wall, not from the eyes.  It took some getting used to, but Xavier and Larry had been together a long time.

“Larry, how long until we make landfall?”

“Approximately four weeks.”

“And how long since we celebrated Christmas?”

“What?”  Larry was taken aback, not an easy thing to do to a computer.  He recovered almost at once, however, and said, “You were on Gobulan D on December 25th four galactic years past.  It is an Earth-colonized planet, so they presumably celebrate Earth holidays.”

“Huh.”  Xavier couldn’t recall, but four years was a long time in space.  “What’s the date now?”

“Stardate 27358.49.”

Xavier made a rude noise.  “What’s the Earth date?”

“That is a meaningless concept.  You are approximately 40,000 light years from earth.”  Hyperspace really was an amazing thing. 

“Count the days from the last time we were on Earth.”  He reconsidered.  It had been decades since he’d been on Earth.  “Or from that holiday on—where did you say?”

“Gobulan D.”

“Count the ship’s days on an Earth calendar.”  He waited a moment, then demanded impatiently, “well?”

“By that meaningless reckoning,” Larry said with disapproval in his allegedly synthetic voice, “this would be December 24th.  Do you wish to know the year?”  For a computer, Larry could be very sarcastic.

 Xavier ignored the sarcasm.  “December 24th?  Then we,” he announced, “are celebrating Christmas tomorrow.”

“Very well, Captain.”  Larry really could be sarcastic. “In what way do you wish to celebrate this event?”

“In the traditional manner!” Xavier said.  “You figure it out!”

“Very well.”

And then Larry refused to say anything more.  Xavier, for his part, went to work on creating decorations.  He had no access to pine boughs or holly in the ordinary way, but Larry, when asked if the replicator could generate a Christmas tree, gave a curt “of course.  Santa will bring it after you go to bed.”

Xavier thought that was unnecessarily sarcastic, but he forgave Larry.  The computer didn’t like it when Xavier got irrational.  It made Larry nervous.  He played around with the lights to give the single living-working space on his ship a Christmas feel.

The basic flaw in his holiday plans, Xavier realized, was the whole gift-giving thing.  He’d been reading what the computer library called “classics of earth childhood,” and Christmas definitely involved the exchanging of gifts.  Well, he would just have to give Larry a gift, since there wasn’t anyone else.

That left him with the dual challenge of finding a gift for a sentient computer, and doing it in secret when Larry knew every item on the ship and saw everything.

And who would give Xavier a present?  He tried not to think about that.  He even re-read the first chapter of Little Women to remind himself that it was better to give than receive.  He wished there might be some starving immigrants he could give his breakfast to.  He knew it was all silly anyway.  Just something to pass the time.

Even so, Xavier felt a little excited when he woke the next morning.  He had found a sock and attached it to the sticky-tab nearest the air duct (as the nearest substitute he could think of for a chimney).

When he rolled out of bed—Xavier kept the g-field just strong enough that he didn’t have to strap in at night—and exchanged his sleep-suit for a work jumpsuit, he saw a small, weedy-looking fir tree next to the driving panel.

Instead of pushing the button to fold the bed back into the wall, Xavier took a closer look at the tree.  Two small, colored balls hung from branches too limp to support them.

“Larry?” Xavier called softly.  “Did you do this?”

The eyeballs appeared next to him.  “I studied 20th-Earth-Century holiday vids, and this seemed to be the most popular look.  It is something called a ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree.’  And it was easy to replicate, using the program for—” Larry broke off, and finished lamely, “well, you could eat it if you wanted.”

“It’s lovely, Larry,” Xavier said not quite truthfully.  “And a tree needs a present.”  He pulled a small box from where he’d hidden it in his covers.  He thrust the box at the eyeballs, which got a little brighter.

“Thank you, Xavier.  Would you open it for me?”

Larry had no hands, since he didn’t really exist outside the computer.  Even the eyeballs were a projection, or possibly a hallucination.  Xavier opened the package, feeling a small surge of pleasure even though he’d filled and wrapped it.  “More memory for you!”

“I thank you,” Larry said.  Xavier could tell he was pleased.  He’d meant the memory plates as back-up, but Larry would make good use of the added capacity.

“I’ll install it right after breakfast.”

“I regret that I could not. . . .” Larry began, but Xavier was looking at the stocking he’d hung.  It was wriggling.  Xavier shoved off across the pod and lifted the sock, which definitely bulged and squirmed, from the sticky-pad.

“What in space?”  Man and computer spoke together, as a small, furry head popped out of the sock, uttering a plaintive mew.

“Where did it come from?”  Xavier asked.  You couldn’t make a kitten from the replicator.

“I have no idea,” Larry said.

“A stowaway?  For all these weeks?  And why come out now, to hide in my stocking?”  He cuddled the soft animal as he spoke, and it licked his hand.

“Larry, a bowl of milk, warm.”  The bowl appeared in the food slot, and Xavier held bowl and cat as the animal lapped the milk with enthusiasm.  He scanned the night’s instrument records, as his hand absently stroked the soft fur.  Only one anomaly appeared, far too close to them for a brief period and then gone, and that was too absurd to credit.


©Rebecca M. Douglass

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Amulet of Kings


Title: Amulet of Kings
Author: Will Macmillan Jones
Publisher: Safkhet Fantasy, 2011, 176 pages.
Source: I'm not sure, but I think I bought this. Or picked the ebook up on a free day, or something.

This isn't an easy book to summarize. So I'll crib from the publisher's blurb:
What could be worse? Having to take a holiday in the (rainy) Lake District in the Northwest of England, with an aunt who turns people into frogs for a hobby? Or battling the local Dark Lord, whose attempt at world domination starts with the nearby underground Dwarf Mansion, and its enormous collection of used pizza boxes? Or getting involved with a jazz-loving bog troll and his dwarven Rhythm and Blues band? Or is it being miles from a McDonalds? The teenagers find out as they fall into a Mad, Mad World, so close to our own that you can't tell the difference.

Okay, I was predisposed to like this. I mean, not only has the writer made a lot of good contributions to Goodreads groups in which I participate, but what's not to love about trolls who play jazz and dwarves with housekeeping issues? Or surly, strike that. Plenty not to love about surly teens. But when they are someone else's problem, and in the hands of a writer like Will Macmillan Jones, even surly teens have their good side.

I didn't quite know what to expect when I picked this up, and what I found was both a fun fantasy with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and a commentary on society. Also a fair bit of humour, and I spelled it that way on purpose. I'm pretty sure that despite my life-long immersion in British novels, I missed a fair number of jokes. But that's okay, because the book has more than enough to go around, so that the US contingent needn't feel shorted.

In fact, the Banned Underground series is off to a good start as a bit of light humour, more than as serious fantasy. Those looking for serious fantasy, for a reprisal of Lord of the Rings with all grimness in place, should look elsewhere. Occasionally, the balance between the heroic fantasy story (yeah, there is one, really) and the absurdity tipped a bit too far one way or the other. But I never lost interest, and the story never dragged. I will definitely keep reading this series.

For those who like fantasy, but aren't all serious about it, and for those who like British humour. If you didn't like Monty Python, you might want to go elsewhere. Oh, and liking jazz isn't a requirement, though a little familiarity with musicians probably enriches the experience.
Full Disclosure: I bought, borrowed or stole Amulet of Kings all on my own, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

P.S. Have a great Christmas, if that is your holiday of choice! I probably won't be back to post until Friday. Unless I change my mind. And, come to think of it, I'll probably post another "deja vu" post on Friday, too, because I don't have a new holiday story!

Update, January 2015: Book Two is available again

Friday, December 19, 2014

Deja Vu Blogfest--flash fiction re-run 

I'd almost forgotten, in the chaos of the season, that I have a little break here (if I can decide which post to re-post). I signed up for it and threw out some suggested re-runs here, but I guess that was one of those unread posts. So now I'm choosing...

Battle Dogs

George, Sally, Steve and Hadrian peered around the stone wall and considered the field before them.  Behind them, their mounts sniffed around, checking for signs of the enemy, or anything that could be eaten.  Their short legs and long hair made them look like oversized caterpillars.
“Dogapillars,” George insisted.  “Not any kind of cats.”  He spat out the word as though it tasted of filth.  The enemy mounted themselves on cats.

Steve was having trouble with his pointed hat.  "Why do we wear these things, anyway?" he grumbled as he centered the thing on his head once again.  “They’re just in the way.  And my corgi doesn’t like it, especially when it falls off and pokes him.”

"We're garden gnomes," Sally answered.  "If we didn't have the pointy colorful hats, we might be taken for mountain gnomes, or even, heaven help us, dwarves."

"They do make us awfully visible to the pixies, though," Steve pointed out.  “It’s hard to hide and peek when your hat sticks up a foot above your head.  And they fall off whenever we charge the enemy.”

“Well, the cats don’t like them either,” Sally said.  “That has to help.”

"Hush!" said Hadrian, who was the only one actually doing any scouting.  The others were letting him manage that part, while they sharpened their spades and grumbled about the hats.  "I see one!  They're out there.”  He backed away from the wall and turned, waving an arm toward the corgis clustered behind the next hedge.  “Sound the signal to mount up!"

Steve gave a loud, squawking squeeze on his concertina, and an army if gnomes burst from the shrubbery and ran for the corgis.  Grabbing the long hair, the gnomes swarmed to the backs of their eager mounts.  Tongues lolling from open mouths, the stubby-legged dogs charged forward almost without waiting for the gnomes, each of whom clutched corgi-fur with one hand and a garden tool-come-weapon with the other.

On the other side of the meadow a phalanx of Persian cats bounded through the tall grass, each with an evil-faced pixie astride.  Shrieking like a flock of banshees, they charged forward.

Corgis barked.  Persians yowled.  Disaster appeared inevitable.

Then the truly inevitable happened.  A squirrel darted up a tree, and many of the corgis veered off in pursuit.  Then first one, then another, of the cats stopped.  They sniffed about, and several sat down to wash their bottoms, dumping the pixies onto the ground.  Chaos reigned, but battle was not joined.  After several minutes, Hadrian sounded the retreat, as did the leader of the pixies.

Back in the garden, Hadrian dismounted and sat with his head in his hand.  His pointed hat had fallen to the ground but he ignored it.  His corgi sniffed at him, and he patted it absently before the dog flopped down to take a nap.

"It could have been worse," Sally attempted consolation.  "At least the pixies didn't do any better, with their Persian cats.  Only an idiot would ride into battle on a cat!  Everyone knows they don’t take orders."

“Neither, apparently, do corgis,” Hadrian pointed out.

"No one got hurt," Steve tried a different consolation.

"But the pixies got away!" Hadrian shouted.  "We can't keep doing this.  We're supposed to be an army, for dog's sake!"  He looked up.  A half-circle of pointed noses and lolling tongues in smiling corgi mouths lay flopped on the ground, attached to the napping corgis.  "Okay, he sighed.  "One more chance." He looked at the corgis, then at his fellow garden gnomes, and raised his voice to rouse the sleepers.  "Send those cats running and the pixies flying, and there'll be treats for everyone!”

At the word "treats" the corgis roused themselves, climbing to their feet and smiling eagerly.  So did the gnomes. Or, rather, they stopped scowling and grew more interested.  Several even began planning with Hadrian how best to mount their attack.

Once again, the gnomes were mounted and ready.  The corgis sniffed the air, and Hadrian's mount raised his head and barked the signal.  Tawny fur flew across the meadow, stubby white legs barely visible under the shag.  A squirrel ran up a tree, but Hadrian shouted "Focus!  Treat!" and the fur-covered steeds hesitated only almost imperceptibly before continuing their charge across the meadow toward the grey fuzz-balls. 

Hadrian gave the command to deploy their most powerful weapon.  “Maximum shed rate!”
Dogs and cats met in a cloud of flying fur as corgi hair filled the air.  Moments later the cats turned tail, unable to see or breathe.  The furballs dumped the pixies to the ground as they fled.  In danger of being trampled by the flashing paws of the eager corgis or choked by lungsful of dog hair, the pixies saved themselves by dematerializing.  Once gone, they could only return to their own land.   It was a total victory for the gnomes and their mounts.

The gnomes encouraged their mounts to halt, and the sharp-nosed smiles turned to Hadrian.  He waved them back to camp.  "Cake all around!"  The victory cheers were nearly drowned by the ecstatic barking, as the fur settled slowly to the ground.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Corgis, ready for battle

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Middle Grade Classic: A Wrinkle in Time


Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Publisher:   Originally published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1962, 203 pages.
Source: I have owned a copy for years, though of a more recent (1980) paperback edition.

This is a book for which the term "speculative fiction" might have been invented. Part science fiction, part fantasy, it is a great quest story with a twist. Meg Murray and her little brother, Charles Wallace, are misfits. They team up with another misfit, Calvin O'Keefe, and three very unusual entities, and travel through space and time to a planet where a single brain rules everything, and free will is non-existent, in order to rescue Meg's father. How they manage that and what it requires of them is the core of the story.

There is a reason this is a classic and holder of a Newbery Medal. Although the story occasionally feels a little heavy-handed with morality, it has held up very well over time (possibly better than I have), and continues to work both as a great adventure with just a hint of teen romance and as an exploration into what it is to be human. The characters, especially Meg but also Charles Wallace and Calvin, are well-drawn. Meg is very human, which at times makes me squirm a bit, but I realize that is because I can recognize my own faults in her. It's nice to know that those faults are part of what allows her to succeed in her quest!

Reading this book as a writer I can also see the fun that L'Engle had writing characters like the three almost supernatural beings, Mrs Who, Mrs What and Mrs Which*--not to mention the Happy Medium. Like me, I suspect she didn't always care if her jokes went over the heads of her younger readers.

Wrinkle is a fun book to read, and one that leaves the reader something to think about when it's finished. What more could we ask?

I recommend this for children and adults from about age 10 or 11 and up. I would be remiss if I did not address L'Engle's use of both an occasionally heavy-handed (in my opinion) Christian imagery and philosophy--and her use of quotations and beliefs from many other philosophies. L'Engle was a writer whose strong Christian faith informed her work, and while most of her characters are at the least questioning what they believe, the writer herself writes from a place of firm belief. As an agnostic reader, I am aware of times when I may not agree with everything she says, but I do not find that it destroys my enjoyment of a good read. Some readers may be more troubled by this than I am (and I suspect some of the most troubled readers will be Christians who are not comfortable asking questions).

*An interesting note of Who, What, and Which: L'Engle wished for the names to be printed as I have written them, English-style with no period on "Mrs," in order to emphasize their status as something Other. This, however, was apparently too much for the type-setters, and the only editions in which this was done were the British ones, where it of course did not communicate anything.  I no longer remember in which of her non-fiction works I read this.

Full Disclosure: I have owned a copy of  A Wrinkle in Time for many years, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Just two days left to enter to win a copy of Halitor the Hero! Remember, books make the best presents.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Audiobook Review: Dancing at the Rascal Fair, by Ivan Doig

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I've included both the audiobook cover (which I didn't ever see, because I was listening to it!) and the original hardback cover, which is what we have on our shelf.

Title: Dancing at the Rascal Fair
Author:  Ivan Doig; narrated by Robert Ian MacKenzie
Publisher: Originally published by Atheneum in 1987 (384 pages). Audio book published by Recorded Books, Inc., in 2010.
Source: Library. I also own a copy of the hardback, which I read back along about 1996.

First, I want to note that although this was the second book Doig wrote about the McCaskill family it is chronologically the first. He created the family in English Creek in 1984, his first novel set in the Gros Ventre area (the land Doig wrote about most often and refers to as "The Two Medicine country" after the river that runs through it), but went back a generation with Dancing at the Rascal Fair to explore how the family got there.

In 1889, Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill leave Scotland, a pair of single young men in search of a new life in a new country--the mythical land of Montana where Rob's uncle Lucas lives.They are all of 19 years old, and in  Angus's words, "green as the cheese of the moon." Despite their blind naivete, they survive, locate Lucas, and homestead the north fork of English Creek.  Angus tells us of their lives for the next 30 years, as they grow older and grow families in "Scotch Heaven." As a narrator Angus is insightful and witty, at times addressing Rob or others in second person, at others narrating in a more conventional first-person voice, and always with Doig's inimitable language, visual and imaginative and with a touch of humor.

The story is by no means all joy, just as life never is. This is an adult novel in the best sense of the word, with love, loss, and deep feelings running all directions. And every word of it is amazing.

Robert Ian MacKenzie's narration in a lovely Scots voice adds a crowning touch to the story, and lured me on to sit and listen when I should have been doing other things!

As with virtually everything Doig has written, I give this an enthusiastic five stars, two thumbs up, and a cheer, as well as a few tears (because that's life). Long may Doig write.

Full Disclosure: I checked Dancing at the Rascal Fair out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Absurd though it feels to mention my work on the same page as Doig's, I'll still encourage you to enter the drawing for a free electronic copy of my newest book, Halitor the Hero.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Voyage on the Great Titanic

Bet you thought I wouldn't get my Wednesday review out!

Today's book is another entry in a really solid series, the "Dear America Diaries," historical fiction presented as the diaries of young girls living through significant events and periods. I want to say that I do like the look and feel of the hardback editions of these books which are carried by our library. The covers carry an image meant to be the girl in question, superimposed on a historical photo. The size is that of many diaries, and feels just right in the hand!


Title: Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady
Author: Ellen Emerson White
Publisher: Scholastic, 1998, 204 pages

Margaret Ann Brady, age 13, is living in an orphanage in London and dreaming of the day when her older brother will earn enough to bring her to America to join him. She gets her lucky chance when she is selected as companion for a wealthy American woman who must cross the Atlantic without her husband and doesn't wish to do so alone. Their crossing will be the maiden voyage of the biggest liner ever, the RMS Titanic.

The first thing to strike me about this book (and it's not a criticism, just an observation given the series) is that it is really an English story, not an American one.  Margaret is of Irish descent and London upbringing, and while she is eager to get to America, she is also a keen and at times critical observer of her American patroness and her friends. But she is a sympathetic and engaging narrator as well, and the reader will root for her to find her brother and root herself into the American life.

The premise felt a little strained--I had trouble believing that a woman of that class would look for a companion both so young and so lower-class (though the nuns have done their best to give Margaret good manners and educated speech, she is clearly a poor orphan girl). Sadly, it is entirely believable that in 1912 a child would simply be turned over to a random adult with few or no formalities.

In Margaret's case, this is a temporary arrangement that gets her what she really needs, and if her employer is a bit clueless (to put it kindly!), she does get the girl to America. Of course, the focus of the story is the Titanic. First there is the intriguing perspective of a poor girl riding first class--feeling like an imposter but also unashamedly enjoying the luxury. Then there is the disaster, a narrow escape from the sinking ship, and the horror of the hundreds of people freezing and drowning through that night. If Margaret expresses this with a sophistication well beyond her 13 years, we can forgive the author for the sake of the immediacy she brings to that event.

Like all the "Dear America" books, the story is followed by an epilogue that summarizes the life stories of the key characters and a historical overview of the times and, in this case, an examination of the Titanic, with loads of pictures.

Voyage on the Great Titanic is a worthy addition to the series, and can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in that disaster (dare I say even by boys?). As always, I appreciated the historical background and found the book a pleasant way to pick up a few more details about the period.

Full Disclosure: I checked Voyage on the Great Titanic out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Read Tuesday isn't over--deals on many books, including mine, continue through the end of the week.

Nor is my Giveaway over! Enter now to win an ebook of Halitor the Hero!
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Don't Forget...Read Tuesday is TODAY!

Like Black Friday for books, it's a huge sale where you can find new authors at low cost--even free!

Read more:

Get my paperbacks cheap! Use coupon code PLT2XALB for 20% off all (except A is For Alpine)
Halitor the Hero
The Ninja Librarian
Return to Skunk Corners
Death By Ice Cream

Coupon is good through the end of the week, but after that, prices go back up!

Ebook discounts available from From cheap to free!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Nonfiction Review: The War that Ended Peace


 Title: The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Author: Margaret MacMillan
Publisher: Random House, 2013, Kindle Edition, 784 pages.
Source: Library

The War that Ended Peace follows Europe through the final decades of the 19th Century and into the years leading up to World War I. It is a detailed study of the mystifying and multifarious causes of that war, introducing all the key players and offering some insight into how and why they let--or made--such an awful war happen.
MacMillan tackled an immense and difficult subject here, and the resultant tome--nearly 800 pages, though mercifully I couldn't see that while reading on my Kindle--reflects that. In some ways, all my review needs to do is note that it took me six months to get through this. But get through it I did, and not solely because I'm too stubborn to give up. The subject is dense, and the writing not, in my opinion, sterling. But the topic is also one which fascinates me, and in the end I did come away with a better understanding of the origins of the Great War, a war that put an end to one of the longest periods of peace (in a general way) that Europe has ever known.

The book's strength is also it's greatest weakness: the amount of detail the author provides on everything from the political situation in Turkey to the life of the Russian Ambassador to Germany. Only by considering all those details can one begin to really understand what happened in 1914, but at the same time, that detail makes it almost impossible to keep it all straight.

I do feel that a defter pen might have made this a bit more accessible and rendered me more likely to read larger chunks at a time, which would have improved my understanding. I found myself at times mentally rewriting to produce a simpler sort of prose, something I would argue is a good thing to bring to a complex topic, and at times a lack of commas (or full-stops) forced me to read twice to sort out the meaning of a sentence.

I can only recommend this book for die-hard students of the Great War. For those truly wanting or needed to know what made that happen, it is invaluable, and well worth the effort of reading it. For the casual history buff, I don't know if there are better books on the same subject, but I know that the drive to finish it may not match up to the task at hand.

Full Disclosure: I checked  The War that Ended Peace out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Choice or Destiny?

One more story from the Douglass-Pett challenge! Jemima sent me this title since there was no proper Wendig Challege this week.

Choice or Destiny?

‘You must decide.’ That was what the Elders always said, and I was beginning to doubt them.

Rather, I was beginning to doubt that my choices made any difference. For nearly two decades I had been choosing: choosing to be different, choosing to fight where others fled, choosing to lead. And at every turn I have felt that I had no choice, only one possible route I could envision taking.

Now Remon had said it: “It seems like you’ve been guided—or forced—to this point, Tama.” It did. Everything I ever did brought me back to the question I now faced: fight, or submit. Was it even a choice any longer? And if not, what had taken my choices from me?

As far back as I can remember, our kingdom has been under threat from one force or another. When I was very young, it was coastal raiders. I chose to stay with Father when Mother fled with most of the other women and children. I had fought alongside the men, in my own childish way: gathering arrows and using a sling to fling stones at the enemy.

Later, there was the time of plague. Father and I both fought and fled that time: we ventured into the wild hills and risked much to collect the herbs the healers needed. We had to fight there, too, so I learned both herb lore and more of fighting. There were other times, as well, and each time I chose to do something, rather than nothing.

I had never chosen acceptance, always struggle, and now I wondered if that in itself had been a choice—or my doom. Had I ever truly made any choices?

Did I have a choice now?

Our tiny kingdom faced its biggest threat yet, and there were far too few fighting men in the kingdom to face down the neighboring kingdom, when that ruler decided he wished to control all the lands. This threat required a different solution, one which neither the old king nor his young son could offer. It was perhaps best addressed by a woman still young, who had spent her life honing all types of skills: fighting and herb-lore and thinking. Even the feminine skills of seduction and deception mattered here. If I chose, I could save the kingdom, but at what cost to myself?

“Remon, if I have spent my life being pushed to this point, is it even a choice now?”

“What else?” he asked. “Destiny? Do you even believe in Destiny?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Do you?”

“For myself, no. But for you? Maybe. You are different, Tama, and you know it.”

“I do,” I admitted, though I hated to. “It’s not much fun.” Then I gave a bitter laugh. “I know. No one ever promised life would be fun. But this—” I couldn’t finish. This was horrible.

“It is necessary.” The deep voice belonged to Lord Ervin, the Eldest of the Elders. I made a face, but I am far beyond the age when I could let him see it, so I kept my back to him and my face to the wall—and Remon. 

“It is necessary that I sacrifice myself for the kingdom,” I said without inflection, controlling my anger.


“Destiny, then,” I said to Remon, and turned at last to look at the Elder.

Lord Ervin fixed me with an eagle’s gaze from eyes that should have been too old for that. “Not destiny, you young fool. What is necessary is not what is destined. The choice is yours.”

“I don’t see that.” It made no sense to me. If I had to do it, what was different from Destiny in that? Remon, too, looked doubtful.

“Listen!” Lord Elvin pounded his staff against the stone floor to get our full attention.  “Fate may play a part. You may be in a position that gives you few or no options. But that does not mean there is any force—or Destiny—that guides your path. It may well be luck, or chance. And ever the choice, however limited, is yours.”  He calmed himself as I nodded. I did understand, up to a point.

“And yet,” I said, and this time I could not look at Remon, “it is really no choice at all.” If I did this thing it would hurt him, too.

“I know,” Elvin said more gently. “No Destiny has led you to this point, but your life has. All the choices you have made, all that has gone before, has shaped you into the one person who can—perhaps—stop King Karlon.”

“By marrying him. And then slaying him,” I added with deliberately brutal directness. “No one says so, but marriage in itself would not stop the invasion, even were I royal. But I could stop Karlon.”

“If you so choose,” Elvin repeated.

And then I would be tried in Karlon’s courts and executed. I should embrace it, or at least shrug it off, if it was Destiny that drove me.

Choice was harder. Would I choose to commit murder and then die for the sake of the kingdom?
I made my decision some weeks later: I would kill, but not die, not then. King Karlon lay dead in a pool of his own blood, but the window stood open, and Remon’s boat lay off the coast. I left the tiny knife—a weapon too small to be noticed, but large enough to do the job—in Karlon’s hand, below the slit throat. Let them think he had slain himself.

I stripped and climbed through the window. It was perhaps 20 feet down to the waters of the high tide; a distance great enough but not deadly. The splash as I struck was lost in the general crash of waves, and the rough surf tumbled me for a moment before I could gain control and strike out for deep water and Remon’s single light. I had chosen.

©Rebecca M. Douglass

Like the story? Consider purchasing one of my books!
Halitor the Hero is a slightly tongue-in-cheek fantasy for 10-year-olds of all ages!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Picture Book Review: Librarian on the Roof!

Once again I have been lured from the paths of Middle Grade fiction (or adult) into the world of picture books! I saw this while looking at fellow Book-Elf M.G. King's books, and simply had to have it.

Title: Librarian on the Roof!
Author: M. G. King   Illustrator: Stephen Gilpin
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co., 2010; 32 pages

Publisher's Summary:
When RoseAleta Laurell begins her new job at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas, she is surprised that the children of the town think the library is for adults. She vows to raise the money for a children's section and spends a week living and working on the library roof, even surviving a dangerous storm. With the help of the entire town, RoseAleta raises over $39,000 from within the community and across the country.

Today if you look through the front window of the Eugene Clark Library, you will see shelves stacked full with children's books and tables and chairs just the right size. You will see artwork on the walls, and a row of busy computers. Best of all, you will always find crowds of children who love to read and learn inside the walls of the oldest library in Texas.

My Review:
As I said above, when I saw this book I just had to have it. RoseAleta Laurell is a librarian after my own heart, and one the Ninja Librarian would be proud to call a colleague!  The story is pretty simple, and fully summed up above, and it's as delightful as it sounds. It is non-fiction, but reads like a flight of the author's imagination, and is charmingly told and wonderfully illustrated. I very much enjoyed Stephen Gilpin's illustrations, and thought they complemented the story perfectly.

There is a full page (for the adults) at the beginning which tells the true story of RoseAleta Laurell's efforts to revive the library in Lockhart, Texas in 2000.

I first recommend this for every librarian I know, because it's just wonderful. But I'll also recommend for anyone, adult or child, who loves books or loves their library.

Full Disclosure: I bought Librarian on the Roof! with my own money and of my own volition, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


And...taking care of business!

Don't miss the Goodreads BookElves Anthology Giveaway!  

Also: Check out Read Tuesday next week! Hundreds of great deals of books--it's Black Friday for Books!

And last, but by no means least, be sure to enter the drawing for an ebook of Halitor the Hero!
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Unpacking the new books:
Open the big heavy box!

Remove many layers of paper packing.

Ooo! Books! Pretty!

{Big Smile}

Fully restocked supply shelf! Ready to take orders! Special pre-order price is good until Dec. 10!

Monday, December 1, 2014

As Promised: An International HTH Giveaway (ebook)!

I said I'd do it, and I am: since finances forced me to limit my paperback Goodreads giveaway to US residents, I am going to do a giveaway right here for 5 ebooks of Halitor the Hero.

A Fair Maiden who breaks all the rules.
A would-be Hero who fails everything by the book.
It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime…if they survive past breakfast.

Halitor wants to be a Hero and ride through the world rescuing Princesses and Fair Maidens in distress, but he’s hindered by a tendency to trip over his own feet and drop his sword when he gets excited. So when his Hero apprentice-master abandons him at an inn in Loria, he resigns himself to life as a kitchen boy. But he’s reckoned without Melly, the young kitchen wench. She wants his help finding her father, and she won’t quit until she has it. Soon Halitor is tramping through the mountains fighting ogres and dragons and just trying to stay alive. Along the way he learns a lot more than just how to be a Hero. This fun fantasy adventure has a good dose of humor and plenty of excitement to keep kids turning pages.

Now enter the giveaway and win your copy, just in time for Christmas!
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