Wednesday, October 28, 2015

BookElves Anthology, Volume 2--ready for pre-orders!

Thanks to a huge effort by Head Elf Jemima Pett, the BookElves Anthology Volume 2 will launch on November 12th – but pre-orders are now open for early birds wishing to catch the worm! The second BookElves Anthology, features stories by Cheryl Carpinello, Rebecca Douglass, Wendy Leighton-Porter, SW Lothian, Annaliese Matheron, Jemima Pett and Ben Zackheim. ebook (short format):
Createspace shop (paperback)
Amazon (paperback)TBA

Enter the Goodreads Giveaway to win a free copy of the paperback!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

BookElves Anthology Volume 2 by Jemima Pett

BookElves Anthology Volume 2

by Jemima Pett

Giveaway ends November 26, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Or, for more fun, see Jemima's blog and match the authors to the opening lines for a chance to win the ebook!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mystery Monday: Ruddy Gore


Title: Ruddy Gore
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 2005 (original publication 1995). 207 pages. 
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Running late to a gala performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, Phryne Fisher meets some thugs in dark alley and handles them convincingly before they can ruin her silver dress. She then finds that she has rescued the handsome Lin Chung, and his grandmother, who briefly mistake her for a deity.n Denying divinity but accepting cognac, she later continues safely to the theatre where her night is again interrupted by a bizarre death onstage. What links can Phryne find between the ridiculously entertaining plot of Ruddigore, the Chinese community of Little Bourke St., or the actors treading the boards of His Majesty's Theatre? 

My Review:
As usual, I found the adventures of Phryne Fisher to be a read-it-straight-through diversion. There is nothing very substantial about the story, but the addition of Gilbert and Sullivan plots to Phryne's already somewhat entertaining life gave the story some added fun for me (I believe I have confessed before to being a fan of G&S). There were a few things missing from this story that I always enjoy. Bert and Cec played no role, nor were there any appearances by Phyrne's adopted daughters, who tend to add a tough of common sense to the menage (along with Dot, Phryne's maid, who in this case gets to do little but fret over her mistress). But the introduction of Lin Chung is an important development for the series (which I initially began reading rather out of order, so it's nice to learn where he comes from), and the two threads are kept just close enough together to work well, without any unreal overlapping of worlds. The outcome of the mystery was reasonably satisfying, and it's always fun to see Phyrne making people's lives better in between solving crimes and heading to bed with lovely young men.

If you are already of fan of the series, this is an important book! If you aren't, it's an okay place to begin, though I think it's a series that is well served by reading in order (or maybe that's just me being OCD; I've done it both ways and jumping into the middle was good enough to hook me). These books aren't for anyone upset by an unmarried woman with a love of good sex, but they are not particularly explicit and I would be willing to recommend them to my mom.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Ruddy Gore  from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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."  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: One Dragon at a Time

Since the current Wendig Challenge is a two-week challenge (and I may skip it, since it involves writing horror, something I don't much care to do), I went back to the list of titles from his challenge of a few weeks ago. Courtesy C. Steven Manley, I present exactly 1000 words of...

One Dragon at a Time

“Take life one dragon at a time.” That’s what my Da always said. I used to think it was a metaphor. You know, “Don’t count your troubles until they come,” something like that.

It wasn’t a metaphor. It was sound advice for a member of our family and our profession. I didn’t know that until much later, in part because I didn’t learn for many years what my father’s—and thus my—profession was.

I grew up in the kingdom of Battorn, and since I was my parents’ only child, I began my training as Da’s successor at an early age. For the first 10 or 12 years, that training was pretty ordinary, not much different from what all the boys learned. Of course, me being a girl made for some raised eyebrows, but Da just shrugged.

“We’ve no choice,” he said. “The position is hereditary, and I have no other heir. Calla must learn.” And he went back to teaching me to use a sword and spear, ride a horse with and without saddles, and all the other warrior arts, plus a few extras.

What was odd, I figured out around age 12, was that Da wasn’t a warrior. At least, he wasn’t one of the King’s Guard, or in the army, or anything like that. He didn’t go off on campaigns when King Kor marched on his enemies. Besides, none of those things were hereditary, and neither the army nor the Guard took girls.

Da just disappeared from time to time and came back looking battered and singed and worn out. And he never told me what he did, what I was training to be. I tried asking questions, but if anyone knew, they weren’t telling me.

In the end, I stopped asking and learned what I was taught. At last, when I turned 18, Da began to teach me the rest of our job.

He took me to a locked room in the castle, and there he showed me shelf after shelf of books. Every one was about dragons. “You must know everything there is to be known about dragons,” he said, and then he was called away, leaving me to a task for which I wasn’t well suited. Too many years of running and fighting and sword training had left me impatient with sitting and reading. But I was beginning to get an inkling of my future, so I sat and I read.

Two days later, they came and told me that my father would not return, and that I was now the kingdom’s chief dragon fighter and emissary to the dragonlands. If there was an afterlife, I was pretty sure my Da was there, kicking himself for not teaching me more, sooner.

I assumed a dragon had killed Da. I found, among the books, the logbook of the Dragon Emissaries, and, reading it cover to cover, decided that the job was half diplomacy, half battle. I entered the date of Da’s death, and the words, “Presumed killed.” That matched what ended each emissary’s section. Da’s handwriting began with those words, about his father.

Then, hands shaking, I turned to a clean page and wrote “I, Calla Daughter of Kellan, am the new Dragon Emissary. I know nothing, and I must travel to the Dragonlands to complete my father’s task, and I must avenge his death.” The book told me what Da had gone to do—to collect payment of damages from one Skycloud, a male dragon of three and a half centuries—just middle-aged—for destruction of a farm on the border with the Dragonlands.

Skycloud was the obvious suspect in Da’s death, so I had no need to remember Da’s words to me, for I would deal with only one dragon in both matters.

Only, when we stood, puny human face to vast dragon face, Skycloud was flanked by his brothers. Then I remembered my father’s words. “Take life one dragon at a time” suddenly looked like survival advice, not a pretty aphorism. I might be able to negotiate or fight with one dragon, but not three. I had to find the way to separate the brothers.

“Come walk with me, Skycloud, and we can discuss this matter of the Hillborn Farm.”

“My brothers may hear all you have to say.”

“So say you. But I say otherwise. You wish to intimidate me, but I am the Dragon Emissary, and I am not intimidated.”

That was a lie. I was very intimidated. I was also getting a bit angry. “Are you a coward, that you will not meet alone with a single human?”

That didn’t sit well with the dragon. “Very well. We will walk.” We strode off in the direction of the woods, a ridiculous pairing of a skinny girl in armor and an immense dragon with armored scales. But I knew the woods were the best place for us, because the thick trees limited the dragon’s movements more than my own.

So I told Skycloud he must pay, and I told him he must also pay for my father’s death. He laughed.

“I gave your father the gold, and he left with it. It is not my fault if he proved unfaithful, or careless.”

I contained my anger, and thought of Skycloud’s brothers. “The ancient agreements say you pay, and give safe escort to the border. Were you that escort?”

“I sent my brother.” And before I could react, Skycloud called, and his brothers came. “This puny human creature accuses us of treachery,” he said. “As though what any mere man thinks could matter to us.”

I’m no man, I thought. I’m a girl, and what I think is going to matter a whole lot.

It did, but not quite how I intended. As the three dragons closed in on me, I thought of my father’s advice. Take life one dragon at a time.

It was good advice, if you could find a way to follow it.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Bloomability, by Sharon Creech   

Title: Bloomability
Author: Sharon Creech. Narrated by Mandy Siegfried
Publisher: Listening Library, 2009 (original by Joanna Cotler, 1998)
Source: Library (digital download)

Dominica "Dinnie" Doone feels abandoned and betrayed. Her big sister is having a baby, and her parents, always on the brink of financial disaster, have sent her off with an aunt and uncle she doesn't even a boarding school in Switzerland. In the course of the school year, however, Dinnie comes to see that maybe this isn't such a bad thing, as she learns about friends, family love, and the beauty of the Swiss Alps.
The first thing that struck me was wonderment at how anyone could be angry about getting to attend an international school in Switzerland. Dinnie doesn't even have to live in the dorms, since her uncle is the new Headmaster. On reflection, though, I think Creech caught the 13-year-old reaction very well. Dinnie, even though she's used to moving all over the place as her father looks for his one big break, doesn't like change. And at first all she can see is change, and she's not given any say in it, and her family isn't there. No wonder she's upset. 
Creech allows Dinnie to gradually come to a realization of what she has, rather than any sudden conversion. She is justifiably angry at her family for not even writing to her very often, and that doesn't change, even as she slowly realizes that she likes the school. ALL the children are from elsewhere, so she's not the lone outsider this time (though seems to me that being the Headmaster's niece might have been more of a barrier to acceptance than Creech makes it). And she seems to be getting the help and attention she needs to thrive in school, even enjoy her studies, mostly.

The book has humor, growth, exciting developments, and a compelling storyline. The narration was good, and not intrusive. Characters were well voiced, including various accents.

This is a good 10-and-up book. Nothing is too intense or too adult for younger children (though there is one pretty tense scene), but the interest seems strongest for somewhat older children. There is no romance, which I found a relief, but some kids might think was wrong for 13-year-olds. There are, however, some very strong friendships developed.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Bloomability from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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."  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mystery Monday: A Dangerous Place

 Title: A Dangerous Place (A Maisie Dobbs Novel)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2015. 308 pages.
Source:  Library

Four years after the end of the previous book (Leaving Everything Most Loved), we catch up with Maisie, on her way back to England at last. Devastated by great loss, she is unable to face a return to family and familiar places, and leaves the boat at Gibraltar, where she finds herself investigating a brutal murder. 

 Jumping ahead in time four years gave me a jolt, and seems to have shifted Maisie's story onto another plane. Yes, this is still a mystery, but Winspear is moving more and more into novel territory. The real investigation in this story is into Maisie's own state of being, which is fragile in the extreme in her grief--and into the condition of Europe on the brink of WWII (it is 1937), and more particularly, Spain in the grip of the Civil War.

Winspear spins a gripping tale in which the personal--both Maisie's loss and the lives touched by the death of the man whose body she finds--and the political share importance. The questions raised about Britain's role in the mess that was the 1930s are interesting and well-researched, leading to a sense of foreboding. At the same time, it is fascinating to watch Maisie gain strength and confidence from her old calling, untwisting the threads that lead to murder.

I was at first taken aback by the changes that Winspear wrought in Maisie's life, and the feel of the book is different (especially from the earlier mysteries in the series). But in the end I felt that it was also a more complete and complex book for that reason (not that the series has ever felt shallow; these mysteries have all been more novelistic and less formulaic than most). It was painful to see Maisie, who has always been such a strong character, reduced to serious mental and physical weakness. But it was good to see her find her way out of it to some kind of recovery.  I recommend the book both to followers of the series and to those who simply want to read a good period novel (though a reader new to Maise Dobbs may occasionally feel they are missing something).

Full Disclosure: I borrowed A Dangerous Place  from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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."  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Photo Friday: Flowers and Patterns

I set out to make this a narrative post about our 7-day backpack trip into northern Kings Canyon National Park last July. But I got a little distracted by the number of photos I had of interesting patterns, as well as the flowers. So I decided to drop the narrative, and just play with photos.

Flowers. Even in July, even in a dry (insanely dry) year, there are wildflowers in the mountains. In the lower and wetter areas, you get one set:
Leopard Lily--well below treeline, in the forest.
A little higher, and a little wetter:
Shooting Star grow at higher altitudes, but in wet places. Look for them around the edges of alpine lakes.
Just as high, but in dryer areas:
Okay, I admit I don't know what this one is. It grew in nooks and crannies among the granite boulders around tree line.

I have a couple of favorites, flowers that seem to grow pretty nearly everywhere (with, I assume, minor variations).
Indian Paintbrush. This one comes in every shade of red, from white to deep magenta to blood red.
More paintbrush, red-orange. See? All colors.
And finally (though this is by no means all the flowers we saw), a couple of plants that grow up where nothing ought to grow at all:
Old Man of the Mountain Sunflower, here at Lamarck Col, overlooking  Darwin Canyon
Sky Pilot. If you see this, you know you are in the alpine. The way-up, clinging-to-the-rocks alpine. In this case, scrambling down from Alpine Col, cursing our route choice.
And now for a few patterns from nature. Water always lends itself to interesting textures. Sometimes the light is just right:
Shallow waters in the early morning light. The ripples refract the light into patterns, which show up on the sandy bottom.
 Morning and evening are the times for photos. A glorious sunset can provide all sorts of opportunities.
Sunset on McGee Lake
Not every intriguing pattern comes from nature. Sometimes it's just the laundry, looking like the shed skins of aliens....

And sometimes nature lets you see what patterns are for. Other times, they work too well and you miss them.
Trout. Not certain what kind; I'm not a fisherperson.
I'm sorry to say that I can't leave  without a final shot of a less attractive sort. Not every pattern you see in the wild is one you want to. Sometimes it's a jarring disruption to the natural colors and patterns.
Please: think twice before using/releasing balloons. Then just don't do it. I carried this one the entire trip to dispose of it properly, after finding it the first night, miles into the wilderness. At least it was light.
 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Outlines and Planning Ahead

Chuck Wendig has opened the conversation about plotting and outlining, in time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I have written about this before, because I have gone both ways with my writing--total pantsing (def: pantser: one who does things by the seat of the pants, i.e. without planning or forethought) as well as pre-plotting. How well each works may depend (for me) on the type of book. The Ninja Librarian didn't require a lot of planning, because each story stood alone, and was short enough to get it all out at once--and to edit easily.

On the other hand, my first attempt at a full-length mystery novel was a disaster. It took well over a decade to draft, and was so riddled with plot holes and issues that I never was able to beat it into shape. The second went better, but still--revision for Death By Ice Cream was a painful and lengthy process that I didn't want to repeat. So when I decided to draft Death By Trombone (which is coming this fall!) during NaNo 2013, I made an outline. And by gum, it made the writing easier, and--the real key--it has made the editing easier (you wouldn't think so by how long that has taken, but, well, I got distracted by Halitor the Hero in the middle) (and I did a pretty danged cursory outline of that, which worked out okay, but it was a much simpler story).

So my verdict has been: for easiest writing and editing, a bit of planning is in order.

That leaves the huge question of what an outline might look like, and (more important) how you get there. Chuck describes several approaches to outlining in his post on the subject, and that's a good place to start. Go ahead and read it; I'll wait (caution: Chuck uses naughty language. Funny language, usually, but often naughty. Don't go there if you are easily offended).

What I use for DBIC was the "question approach." Start with some basic questions, and work on finding answers for them. This was my initial set of questions:
That's right. One page, and obvious questions. Who got killed? Why? Who killed him? What does my heroine have to do with it all? And, because these are, after all, the Pismawallops PTA mysteries, what does it have to do with the school/PTA?

After this page, I spent a fair bit of brainstorming time (on the following pages) coming up with answers to many of these questions--and discovering many, many more questions to answer. Eventually, I did create a more traditional-looking outline, with 5 main sections for the main--not scenes, but arcs, I guess--of the story, and lists of the things that should be covered in each. This outline was what I referred to as I wrote, and I can't include it here because it would be a total spoiler.

What did my outline do for me? First, it was a brainstorming tool. I could start small, with the obvious questions at the heart of any mystery, and use that framework to start fleshing out the story, start seeing the other questions. Eventually, I began asking really important questions, like "who are the red herrings?" "What is everyone lying about?" and also questions about the development of the relationships between characters.

When the questions had bloomed out to be a pretty good look at the whole shape of the book, I knew several things: I knew what I needed to research (cause of death, divorce in Washington State, etc.), and I had a list of scenes and events that needed to go into the story, roughly in order. That was probably key for the fast-writing approach of NaNo. I could look at the outline every morning and see where I was and what I needed to do next. And if a particular scene was a problem, I could jump ahead, knowing where something (probably) fit into the big picture.

The final outline was fairly sparse, but I still had those pages and pages of brainstorming notes, too. That notebook stayed by my computer, so that I could consult it for all sorts of questions. In the end, the process worked: I drafted about 80,000 words in under 6 weeks, and the story held together as it was written the first time.

One other tool that I am finding more and more important as I work through series: character charts. I use individual files on main characters, with everything I've learned about them. But I also have a quick-reference chart for Pismawallops Island, and another for Skunk Corners, listing every character I've put into the books, where they fit into the community, and anything really important about them. No more than one line per; if I need more, they get their own file. These files grow from book to book, though I'm wondering if I shouldn't maybe have saved separate versions for each book, so I could know at a glance when characters appeared. Maybe not.

I can't share the character chart for Pismawallops Island, because it has notes about who killed whom, etc. But Skunk Corners has fewer secrets. Here's a page from that list:
As you can see, in addition to people, I found it helpful to list all the places that I've brought up. What businesses and buildings are in town? What are the nearby towns? Geography is important, and I hate it when writers make mistakes or gratuitous changes in people or places from book to book. Growth and development of the community is natural, but if Endoline is up the mountain from Skunk Corners in Book I, it had better not be down the mountain in Book 3.

In the end, that's what outlines and notes are all about: making the best book I can, with the fewest headaches. Every writer has to find her own way; these are the things that have helped me.

Now to return to editing Death By Trombone, and outlining--brainstorming--the 3rd mystery.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Spotlight: Beeline to Murder

I missed Monday's post, thanks to a busy and tiring weekend, but I think I'm back on track now. With an easy one--a spotlight tour stop for a new mystery. I want to read this one, but it didn't work out to do it in time for the tour (note: I far prefer to read and review, in order to give my readers some input. But sometimes it just doesn't work out!).  So...take a look at...

cover beeline to murder A Beeline to Murder
(A Henny Penny Farmette Mystery)

New Cozy Mystery Series
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Kensington (September 29, 2015)
ISBN-13: 978-1617739095

From peacekeeper to beekeeper…
After an injury forced her to leave the police department, Abigail Mackenzie started a second career as a farmer. Raising chickens, harvesting honey from her bee colony, and growing heirloom vegetables on her farmette in the beautiful Bay Area town of Las Flores, Abby has embraced all the benefits of a peaceful life.
But when she attempts to deliver her trademark honey to local pastry chef Jean-Louis Bonheur and finds him dead in his shop, her old investigative instincts kick in. After the coroner rules the death a suicide, the chef’s handsome French-Canadian brother insists on hiring Abby to find out who really killed Jean-Louis.
With the patience of a farmer and the industriousness of a bee, Abby sorts through a swarm of suspects, including the chef’s landlord, his protégé, an eccentric homeless woman, loan sharks, and a brawny biker. But as she closes in on the truth, she’ll need more than her beekeeper suit to protect her from a killer’s sting…
Includes farming tips and delicious recipes!

About The Author –
Meera Lester is the author of nearly two dozen nonfiction books and the proprietress of the real Henny Penny Farmette, located in the San Francisco Bay area in Concord, California.  Meera co-founded Writers Connection, a Bay Area organization of writers and publishing professional.  Readers can visit her blog at

Purchase Links:
B&N   Shop Indie Bookstores

What the Critics are Saying:

Beeline to Murder
by Meera Lester

With a tight plot, and a strong cast of characters, A BEELINE TO MURDER held my attention and captured my imagination.
~Lisa K’s Book Reviews

I enjoy meeting a character for the first time who is strong and smart…Her strength shines throughout this story.~Socrates’ Book Reviews…
Lots of drama, romance, action and suspects.

A Beeline to Murder will have you buzzing with excitement as you open this debut story. The characters are charming , witty and fun and the story line is so strong that you will feel like you are part of it from the start. 
~Shelley’s Book Case​
This debut mystery novel has so many wonderful elements that keep cozy readers coming back for more.
~Laura’s Interests

This was an engaging read, giving us a realistic look at the day to day life of a farmer… 
~Musings and Ramblings

And, of course, a Rafflecopter Drawing for a free print copy of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Participants
October 7 – Lisa Ks Book Reviews –  Review
October 8 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – Review
October 9 – Griperang’s Bookmarks – Interview
October 9 – readalot – Review
October 10 – Laura’s Interests – Review
October 11 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review
October 12 – Musings and Ramblings – Review
October 13 – Kaisy Daisy’s Corner – Review
October 14 – The Ninja Librarian – Review
October 15 – StoreyBook Reviews – Review
October 16 – Brooke Blogs – Review, Interview
October 16 – Mystery Thrillers and Romantic Suspense Reviews – Spotlight
October 17 – Book Babble – Review
October 18 – LibriAmoriMiei – Review
October 19 – Sapphyria’s Book Reviews – Review
October 20 – Girl with Book Lungs – Review

Great Escapes tours

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Flash non-fiction

This week, Chuck Wendig challenged us to write, not fiction, but creative non-fiction. I certainly nailed the non-fiction, but this one is not so creative. It might even be a little flat. There's a reason for that.

In this story, I refer to my sons as Eldest Son (or ES) and Second Son (SS). From the beginning of my involvement in social media, I have declined to use their names, and it seems only fair that I give them that small token of privacy.

March, 2002

Spring break, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We have come, as we do most years, with our two sons and my husband’s parents, to do some camping and hiking and look for spring wildflowers. This time, the first thing we do nearly changes our family forever.

Sunday, 10 a.m. We join a ranger-led hike to explore an area with Native American artifacts. Eldest Son (4 ½) is being a little difficult, and won’t put on his sun shirt or sweatshirt. To avoid holding things up, we let it go, insisting only on his sun hat. The first stop for the group is yards from the parking lot, and next to our son’s favorite kind of playground—a giant pile of boulders. He starts climbing around, and I decide that he needs his sun shirt, and run back to the car to get it, calling to him to come back down.

When I return, there is no sign of ES. Leaving our 3-year-old with his grandparents, my husband and I search all through the pile of rocks. Did ES fall into a gap somewhere and get stuck? It is completely not like him to wander off. After 10 minutes, we tell the ranger and get more help. Immediately, the ranger calls off the hike, collects our best guesses as to where our son might have gone, and asks hike participants to search if they are willing. Everyone searches, but we do not find our son. The wind is blowing hard, so that shouts cannot be heard more than a few feet away. It has been a fairly wet winter, and the plants are tall—taller than a petite 4-year-old.

Somewhere in the next two hours the ranger calls in reinforcements, and the S&R team asks all the amateurs to come back in. We thank them, and begin the really hard part: sitting and waiting. My mother-in-law puts aside her own worries, and makes sure we all eat lunch, including Second Son, who behaves incredibly well through the entire day. Then we wait some more.

The crowd in the parking lot grows, with us on the edges, more observers than part of it all. A volunteer S&R team comes in with horses. An airplane and chopper fly over, but high winds soon ground them. S&R brings in a giant RV to use as HQ, and sets up a tent to provide shelter for the searchers. I find myself standing at the edge of the desert, peering into the brush in hopes of seeing…something. Someone comes to offer me comfort. I think it might be the Park Superintendent. He says nothing, just offers silent comfort. There must a hundred people involved, many of them volunteers who dropped everything on a Sunday afternoon to come to our aid.

Various members of the team come to us from time to time, to ask questions. What is ES wearing? We all know it’s a t-shirt with stripes, but no one can agree on which shirt and what color the stripes are. The blue sun hat is easier. They ask about anyone who might have left the parking lot while we were all out. They are starting to wonder if he’s out there at all, or if someone snatched him. That seems too far-fetched to worry us. No, he’s out there somewhere.

It is fairly late in the day when the Border Patrol dog team arrives. They ask for something with our son’s scent, and we have to hunt a bit to come up with something he wears and his brother doesn’t, since the two are the same size and share clothing.

Later, they tell us that the dogs and the trackers found and lost the trail repeatedly. ES wandered in loops and circles and twists, searching in the tall grass (over his head) for the way back to us, and a small boy doesn’t leave a lot of spoor. Teams of dogs come and go, and it seems like they are making no progress.

It is nearly 5:00—almost 7 hours from when we lost track of our son—when my husband see a group of Border Patrol trackers coming towards us across the desert, a bundle in the arms of the leader—a bundle wearing a bright blue hat. We leap from the camper where we have been waiting, and sprint across the desert, dodging cacti and ignoring calls to be careful.

My husband is faster, so he reaches the searcher first, grabbing our son. When I reach the group, I snatch ES from his father (mothers can get rather possessive at such times, I find!). We are immediately hustled into the S&R ambulance, where an MD checks him over. I stay there, hanging onto my son, while my husband stays with the searchers, to learn more, and to thank everyone.

ES is dehydrated, and edging toward hypothermia, thanks to dropping temps and the chilling wind, but he perks up quickly as he sips rehydration fluids from his own sippy cup. Eventually, the doctor lets me carry ES outside, so that all the searchers can see that he really is okay. We have our pictures taken with the searchers, and with the dogs (I think I kissed the dogs. I may have kissed their handlers, too). Everyone needs to see him, to reassure themselves that this search has had the right outcome.

It is 7 p.m. before we return to our campsite and make dinner. We decide the next day to continue with our vacation as planned, since ES seems to have recovered fully. Over the next few days, we learn that he had tried to return to us, been unable to climb down the way he went up, and gotten lost in the tall brush, full of apparent trails that “went the wrong way.” He stopped to use a cat-hole, and tried to eat ants (which were NOT tasty). He rested a lot under bushes, out of the sun and wind. That made him harder to spot, but possibly saved him by slowing dehydration and chilling—as did the hat, which he never took off.

Some might wonder that we continued with the trip, and continued to let our sons test their limits and explore their world (though we kept a somewhat closer eye on them!). But to us, that was important. You prepare your child for the world, but you can’t keep them from the world. The incident left scars on us, but not on our sons. As it should be.
 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

I have blotted the names of family members. I am happy to print the names of rescuers, who deserve all the praise and love we can give them!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review/appreciation: Ivan Doig and The Last Bus to Wisdom


Title:  Last Bus to Wisdom
Author: Ivan Doig
Publisher: Riverhead Books, 2015. 464 pages.
Source: Library

In the summer of 1951, 11-year-old Donal Cameron lives with his grandmother on the Double-W ranch in Doig's favorite Two Medicine country. But when she needs to have an operation (for "female troubles" in the euphemism of the day), he is shipped off by Greyhound bus to the only relative they have--his great-aunt Kitty in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The bus ride is an education in itself, but Kitty is something else again. Stingy, bossy, and mean to Donal and her husband ("Herman the German") alike, in the end she throws the boy out. That's when he and Herman team up, and head out so Herman can experience the Wild West. 
It's pretty hard to do a real critical review of the last book of a favorite author. Ivan Doig died in April of this year, to my deep regret. It is clear, however, that unlike some cases where an author dies in the middle of working on a book and it's published as is, or finished up by someone else, Doig had in fact finished this book. The language is his usual brilliant and unique voice, and the story perhaps somewhat Gilbertian (that's as in Gilbert and Sullivan...), but with a stronger edge of harsh reality not far away. 
If Donal and Herman set off for a frolic to pass the summer, there are some very real consequences to it all: Herman has left his wife, and that turns out to be more problematic than it would be for most. And if reality catches up to Donal, he'll be sent to foster care or an orphanage--not fates he wants to face. If this is a coming-of-age novel (as some of Doig's later novels seem to be--I'm thinking of The Whistling Season and The Bartender's Tale in addition to this one), Donal grows up hard and fast and at a pretty tender age.

If I felt at times a bit at sea when the story left Doig's Montana, the land he can call to life in front of your eyes with his well-chosen words, so did Donal. Wisconsin lacks the same vivid reality Montana has for the reader, which I read at first as a flaw, but I'm not so sure it is, on reflection. Wisconsin is less vivid and real for Donal, as well. Some people shouldn't be taken from the place of their roots. Herman, on the other hand, seems to have his roots in a place he's never before been. The West of the pulp Western writer has his imagination in thrall, but he does okay when he meets the reality, too.

I would recommend this and any of Doig's work to anyone who loves a well-turned phrase and an evocative landscape. 
Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Last Bus to Wisdom from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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."  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Middle Grade Audio Book Review: Goose Girl


Title: The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern #1)
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Full Cast Audio, 2005 (Original: Bloomsbury Children's, 2005)
Source: Library (digital)

Publisher's Summary: 
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

A note on the production quality first: while the reader is very good, the recording itself has strange hesitations in it, as though the splices weren't quite smooth. I found this distracting, as it at times disrupted the meaning of a sentence, or made it seem we were starting a new paragraph or section when we were not. I am currently listening to the second book in the series, and it has the same quirk. I may shift to print. I have never encountered this in any other Full Cast Audio books I have listened to, so don't know what's up with that.

This book is the author's re-envisioning of the old fairy tale of the Brothers Grimm tale of the Goose Girl, a princess who is forced by her evil maid to trade places so the maid can marry the prince of a distant country. Hale looked at the obvious questions (like why the princess was so spineless as to let the maid force her that way) and came up with some very inventive answers.

I found the story a little slow at first, as we began with Ani's birth and a rather reportorial accounting of her early years. The story picks up, though, when Ani begins the journey to Bayern and we encounter her maid's treachery. I ended up enjoying a a great deal (aside from the problems with production values on the audio).

Although this book is pretty universally shelves with children's books, I would have to say that some aspects of it push it closer to YA (though I think the romance is not central enough for many YA readers). I would recommend for 5th or 6th grade, at least.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Goose Girl from my library, and received nothing from the author or the 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."  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Flash Fiction: Weather Permitting

Last week, the Wendig Challenge gave us a whole lot of titles to choose from (several hundred, provided by the readers of his Terrible Minds blog. I picked on early, and last Friday published a story called "How the Rain Gets In."  Go read it if you haven't (oh, quit whining. The two together are still less than 2000 words!), because this week, I spotted Jemima Pett's contribution to the title tsunami, and it screamed to be added onto that story. So, for a bit more adventure in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, here is...

Weather Permitting

When we plan a late-season hike, we always say we’ll do this or that, weather permitting. It’s a reasonable precaution, but we don’t expect the weather to take us up on it.

It is cold and damp in our tent. It has been raining for two days, and the water has insinuated itself into everything, including into our hearts and souls. Down bags lie limply on pads that are less soft and a great deal less warm than they were a few days before. The weather isn’t permitting much, including a hot meal. Cheese and crackers in the tent aren’t a satisfying dinner.

By night we are snappish, willing to argue over whose idea this trip was, and why we didn’t see this coming on the weather report. Arguing is a warming activity, so we keep it up in a half-hearted way until the drumming rain on the tent lulls us into stupor, if not sleep.

In the morning, weather permitting, we’ll hike the 15 miles to the road and hitch a ride home.

Weather permitting. It’s late September in the North Cascades. The weather is the tyrant.

Sometime in the night we wake up and the sound of the rain is gone. We imagine a bright sunny morning as we huddle deeper into our damp bags, happier at the prospect. It’s cold, but it does that when the clouds clear off. We are wearing everything that isn’t wet, and the cheese and crackers have worn off. Empty bellies are cold bellies, but we manage to drift off again.

We expect to wake early to bright sun, but we awaken more slowly, and all is still dim, though less grey than the previous day. Is it still early? Icy fingers fumble for a watch. Eight a.m.? The dimness says that the clouds haven’t gone, not completely. At least it’s quiet—no rain. A bit of a breeze stirs the trees and fingers its way into the tent.

About then we notice the white crust on our bags, on the inside of the fly.


One of us musters the courage to look outside, fumbling with zippers, and a light shower of ice floats down from a roof that no longer drips. We know what we’ll see out there, but we have to look.


It’s several inches deep, and still coming down from a grim sky. This is no blizzard, but visibility is limited, and the trail is already more covered than we’d like. The road suddenly seems a great deal farther away, and “weather permitting” a more sinister phrase.

One thing the weather now permits. Working under a tree where the snow hasn’t accumulated, we boil water and make a hot breakfast, boil it again and make extra coffee we drink while we pack up.

The tent is drier now, since the snow and ice shake off. Our fingers ache with the cold, though, and toes are numb inside now-frozen boots . Hot food and drink help, but the temperature has dropped, a lot. We start hiking. Movement will warm us.

We do get warm as we follow the trail, under its dusting of snow. The white stuff is still coming down, harder and faster than we like. Nerves are buzzing, keeping us on edge, scanning constantly to be sure we don’t lose the route. At least it’s not too windy. Weather permitting, we may still make the trailhead today.

The wind picks up. We exchange looks, but say nothing. We know. “Weather permitting” isn’t just a phrase, not here, not now. We pick up our pace, balancing the need for speed against the risk of slipping, of losing the trail in open places where the snow covers it.

Sometime around noon we stop, needing more food, and try to figure out where we are. If we could see more than a dozen yards, it would be easy to track our progress, but with no visible landmarks, we can only try to follow the twists and turns, ups and downs, of the trail on the map.

Four or five miles. Conditions are slowing us down too much, but we can’t go any faster. The weather doesn’t permit it.

It’s not a big deal, we remind ourselves. We were planning to be another night or even two out here. We have plenty of food.

It’s cold, and the wind has picked up some more. Maybe that’s just because we’re on a ridge. We trace the route on the map, and see we should be dropping soon, back into the trees. The shelter will help, and with luck the trail will be bare, or close to it. Even up here, the wind offers one benefit: the snow isn’t getting any deeper. It’s blowing off to drift in the lee of trees and boulders.

Somewhere in the afternoon we suddenly relax. We aren’t going to get out today. We know that. But we have decent equipment, experience, and a camera. When we stop worrying, the land is beautiful. We slow down, take some photos. We even build a small snowman, just because we can.

Fear lingers in the back of the mind. What if the snow is so deep by morning that we can’t get through, or can’t find the trail? What if our damp gear isn’t good enough to keep us warm? What if, what if? We ask it, then look at each other and shrug. We are here now. We can worry, or we can enjoy a world no other hikers are sharing.

We choose to smile.

Weather permitting, we’ll get home in a day or so.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015