Monday, November 30, 2015

Middle Grade Monday: Treasure, by S. Smith

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Title: Treasure (Seed Savers #1)
Author: S. Smith
Published: 2012, 221 pages
Source: I either purchase the 3-volume Seed Savers set or picked it up on a free day. Naturally, I can't recall because it sat on my Kindle for months before I read it. It is only right to disclose that the author and I are both members of the "BookElves" group, but my review is in any case my honest opinion.

Publisher's Summary:
It’s 2077. There’s no apocalypse, but some things are different. Things like the weather, the internet, and food. In twelve-year-old Clare’s world, blueberry is just a flavor and apples are found only in fairy tales.

Then one day Clare meets an old woman who teaches her about seeds and real food. The woman (Ana) tempts Clare with the notion that food exists other than the square, processed, packaged food she has always known. Under Ana’s tutelage, Clare and her friends learn about seeds and gardening despite suspicions that such actions are illegal.

When the authorities discover the children’s forbidden tomato plant and arrest their mother, Clare and her brother flee. Clare has heard of a place called "The Garden State," and with their bikes, a little money, and backpacks, the children begin a lonely cross-country journey that tests them both physically and spiritually. Will they succeed in their quest to find a place of food freedom?  And can they, only children, help change the world?

Treasure is a gentle dystopian, frightening only in the possibility that we may not be far from the future it paints.
 
 

My Review:
The entire concept of the Seed Savers series is a bit chilling, primarily because, as the publisher's blurb states, it paints a future we can easily see coming our way. But the story itself is not edge-of-the-seat frightening, and would be suitable for most children of 9-12. Clare is a likable heroine, and if she and her little brother get along a bit unbelievably well, they have good reason to stick together, especially once they are on the run. 

I found the beginning of the story a little slow. It takes time for Clare, Dante and their friend Lily to learn about the whole idea of seeds and growing plants, which is understandable, but the story might do better to move more quickly through this. For me, the story takes hold when the food police (as it were) arrest Clare & Dante's mother and the kids flee. Their view of the world has been pretty circumscribed, not just with regard to food, and we see them growing and expanding as their world does. I can't help liking that they make their escape to Canada by bicycle, nor do I miss that the heavy guard the border carries is to keep people IN the US, not out.

One thing which made me a little uncomfortable was the use of religion in the story. I kind of get it, but it doesn't seem necessary to have them be religious, nor does it seem necessary to the story to focus so on prayer and scripture (well, maybe the latter makes some sense, because it is partly the Bible's agrarian roots that sabotage the efforts to make everyone forget where food comes from; this works because while the government controls science education, they have apparently chosen to leave religion alone, a plausible development in today's world). I might like to see a more overt consideration of the implications of religion, not as a means for the children to pray and make things okay, but as something which seems to be simultaneously a controlling tool of the government--and the source of the rebellion. That might be asking a bit much of a children's book, though!

Recommendation:
This book and its premise are (pardon me) food for thought that everyone should consider. Those whose children are not Christian may need to talk about the religious aspects, but that doesn't seem so bad either (everyone should be willing to read about people of other religions). And everyone, of whatever age, would do well to ask themselves where their food comes from--and in the case of the vast bulk of processed foods in our stores, what it might be made of.  
Full Disclosure: I purchased the Seed Saver boxed set on a sale or free day, of my own will and desire, 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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http://www.amazon.com/dp/1495986861

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Flash: Dahlia's Doorstep

A month or so ago, the Wendig Challenge presented us with a whole lot of titles dreamed up by his followers. I wrote down a half a dozen I liked, just for times like this when I need a prompt. So, courtesy of s.c.kross (if I've read my own notes correctly), I present, in 792 words, my Thanksgiving tale, "Dahlia's Doorstep." Since I've used that name before, I tied this back to another story, from September of 2014, simply titled "Dahlia"

Dahlia’s Doorstep

The cat known to some as Dahlia sat on the doorstep and surveyed his world. Colorful leaves blew by, and a chill touched the air. It was fall. A general feeling of change ruffled his fur, as the scent of roasting fowls disturbed his magnificent complacency.

He did not, in fact, mind if the turkey was roasted or raw, nor did his friends.  But if The Woman wanted it roasted, that was fine with him. Even a cat known to his friends as James Dean could compromise for the sake of a big hunk of turkey.

Killer Instinct arrived first. The dog was looking a bit thin and seedy, and slunk out of the bushes with a wary look about him.

“Hey, Fluffy!” Dahlia/James Dean liked to tease his friend about the name his people had given him.

“Not flippin’ Fluffy any more, Dahlia,” KI growled. The cat ignored the jab at his own name, surveying his friend with a superior air.

“No, you aren’t looking so fluffy these days. What’s happened to you? Aren’t your people feeding you right?”

“They left.”

“Left? And what, you wouldn’t go? Had enough of being Fluffy?”

“They didn’t give me the chance to go, did they? Up and left me sitting on the doorstep watching. Didn’t even wave goodbye.”

James Dean’s world reeled. The way he saw it, an animal could leave his people any time. He’d done it, for a while, when he’d tired of being called by that silly flower name. He’d come back, and The Woman even tried to remember not to call him that. She didn’t call him James Dean, because she didn’t know. She called him John Travolta because he liked to hang out at a dance club downtown. Anyway, he’d come back, and she fed him, because people didn’t leave their animals. People were there to serve the  animals, right?

“Need a meal, then?” he asked, when he recovered from the shock.

“Yup. It’s killing me, JD. Everyone’s cooking meat today for some reason, and I got nothin’ but half a burger from the bin behind the Dairy Prince.”

“Stick around. It’s Turkey Day, you know. Some human ceremony that requires they roast a turkey. Burnt offering to the gods or some such.” JD spoke indifferently. He didn’t care what the offerings were for as long as he got his cut. The Woman was good that way.

The little dog, white fur matted instead of fluffed, flopped down on the doorstep next to the big marmalade cat. “I kind of liked being fluffy,” he admitted. “Not the name, but the rest. Warm, fed, and clean. I mean, it’s great being Killer Instinct all the time,” he hastened to add. “A dog should be fierce and all that. But really, you know, I’m kind of small for it.”

JD nodded. He massed more than the little dog. They sat together on the porch and watched the leaves blow by.

A scrawny black cat slunk out of the shrubbery and eased himself onto the porch.

“Heya Tom,” JD greeted him.

“Hey yerself,” growled the feral cat. “What’s with the good smells?”

“Turkey Day. Stick around; I’ll share.”

Tom settled himself with the skill of long practice, nabbing the sunniest spot on the doorstep. They all settled down to nap while the scents grew more alluring. Over the course of the afternoon the group on the doorstep grew. Two neighborhood dogs—Snuffy, who preferred to be called Growler, and Wobbles, who couldn’t shake the name his people gave him because it fit him to perfection, stretched out next to KI. Another feral cat introduced herself as Cat and settled in next to Tom.

The afternoon was growing old when the door opened.

“Dahlia, here’s your—oh!” The Woman stopped abruptly, looking from the small dish of sliced meat in her hand to the crowd on the doorstep. “Just a moment, John Travolta,” she said, correcting herself. She sighed and went back into the house.

James Dean followed, and supervised while she cut a few more slices from the large roasted fowl on the counter, laying them on a plate with vegetables. Then she took up the rest of the bird, set it on a tray, and carried it out to the front stoop, JD following her every move.

“Here you are. Happy Thanksgiving, all of you,” said the Woman, laying the turkey down on the doorstep.

Dahlia’s doorstep, Dahlia’s feast…The Woman watched the animals gather around and begin eating, then went back into the empty house, to emerge a moment later, plate in hand. Stepping carefully over the feasting dogs and cats, The Woman seated herself on the steps.

“No one should eat Thanksgiving dinner alone,” she said, and smiled.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Here in the US, it's Thanksgiving. So instead of a book review today, I'm posting a few things I'm thankful for.

My family. A great bunch of guys (well, mostly guys. We women are in a woeful minority), from my husband and sons to my brothers and brothers-in-law and nephews and a few parents and sisters-in-law. I'm particularly grateful for a pair of boys who have never gotten into trouble, consistently get top grades, and are actually kind of sweet.

My husband, who is part of the family mentioned above, but gets a special listing for making my writing habit a possibility, among other things ;)

The personal computer. I am old enough to remember writing before the word processor. Believe me, it's much better now. I still carry a notebook everywhere, but I love my computer.

Good food, and the ability to eat it. There are too many people with too many allergies, for whatever reasons. I am grateful that I can eat anything (except parsnips. They aren't as awful as they were when I was a kid, but I still don't like them).

A bicycle and a beautiful place to ride it. As long as I'm not too scared of traffic. So I'm also grateful for a couple of lean years in Seattle when I worked as a messenger. After that, it's hard to get too scared of normal traffic.

Friends and fellow writers (like the BookElves!). What a joy to be able to do what I love, and share that with others who love it too!  The same goes for all my backpacking friends, whom I got to know through something else I'm grateful for:

The Internet. Yes, that thing we all bemoan for the way it shortens our attention spans and distracts us from our real work. It's also given me some friends, and I don't mean "friends." I mean people who would cross the country to help me out, and vice-versa. Not everything on the Internet is bad.

Okay, and pumpkin pie. I really really like pumpkin pie. And turkey. And my mother-in-law's stuffing. I really really like that, too. Bathroom scales, not so much.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: Come Rain or Come Shine

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Title: Come Rain or Come Shine (A Mitford Novel)
Author: Jan Karon
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Son, 2015. 287 pages.
Source: Library

Summary:
This is the 11th of Jan Karon's Mitford books, 13th if you count the two she wrote as books strictly about Father Tim Kavanagh. In this book, which I'm guessing may be the last, we jump ahead a few years and enjoy the wedding of Dooley Kavanagh and Lace Harper, foreshadowed through the entire series. That's really the whole story, told in Ms. Karon's usual Mitford style of wandering in and out of the heads of different characters.

Review:
No pussy-footing around here. I loved this, and read straight through. But it's a sentimental treat, and not a great deal more. Of course, you could probably argue that about the entire series, so I won't quibble. It's still an engaging story, with a few mild twists and surprises. And Karon resists the urge to make everything right and tie up all the loose ends with a bow, so there is a sense of reality retained.

Recommendation:
This is no place to start the series. If you've never been to Mitford, go back and start at the beginning, or you'll be lost in all the characters (I was a bit lost at times anyway, since it's been a while). If you know and love the series, this will be a treat. If you are put off by religion you may want to give the series a pass, but I find that most atheists are able to let that just be part of the story and enjoy the people. Jan Karon's books are all about the characters.

Full Disclosure: I checked Come Rain or Come Shine 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."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday Flash: Helplessly Hoping

This week's challenge from Chuck Wendig was the Random Song Title Palooza. I took a few tries because I wanted a title for a song I didn't know. That's not a requirement, but I didn't want to be thinking about the lyrics, just using the title. I eventually got "Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Not sure why I don't know the song, but I don't. It took me to outer space, where things got very bad very fast, but no one is doing any helpless hoping. I used most of the 1000-word allotment.

Helplessly Hoping

When everything has already gone wrong and there’s nothing more to do, they say that all you have left is hope. At that point, “hope” is a four-letter word.

I had always thought hope meant you had guts. You didn’t give up, even though things looked bad. Turns out there’s a world of difference between looking bad and being hopeless. I knew that now. When you are helpless and there is no one to come save your ass, hope is for cowards.

I wasn’t going to die helplessly hoping. I’d die with my eyes wide open, grinning right back at Death.

***

Today started as a good day. “Day” is an artificial term in space, but our bodies create days wherever we are. My space days are 26.3 Earth hours. I work alone, so that’s how I set up everything in the ship. The computer tracks UT—Universal Time, the arbitrary clock that allows ships to communicate and coordinate. Since I avoid other ships, the only time I have to change my inner clock is when I go dirtside.

I hadn’t been dirtside for a long time when I reached the Shortcut. The Shortcut is the asteroid field surrounding Settlement Two on three sides. Settlement Two sounds like a frontier outpost, and it was, back when it got the name. It’s been the hub of galactic parties for a long time now.

I wasn't going there to party. I think I’ve made it clear I’m a loner. I did want to refuel and restock some crucial supplies. I was nearly out of Scotch, and completely out of what they still call “feminine hygiene products.” Most spacer women take the Pill and skip that whole mess if they aren’t trying to reproduce. I’m allergic, worse luck, so I needed those supplies.

I read history. I know that when we first went into space, some argued that women shouldn’t go because of our monthly cycles. Too hard to manage. I laughed when I read that, but I had no idea then that a an incipient period would kill me.

I needed tampons, so I took the Shortcut, and now I can die alone, helpless, and stubbornly not hoping.

***

I can see the asteroids out the view window of my EVA suit.  Beyond them, I can see the galaxy. I’ve always loved that view. Sometimes I go Outside just to admire it. I'll tether myself to my ship and lie back and enjoy the scenery.

There’s no ship now, and no tether. Just me and space, and no one to rescue me. I have 726 minutes of air left. One thing about this death: I don’t have to worry about dying of hunger or thirst. Though now that I can't have it, I’d like a good meal before I go.

***
The trip around the Shortcut would have taken two extra days. You can’t do it as a hyperspace jump; it’s too close to the planet, and too close to the asteroid field. Two days was too long. Even going through the Shortcut dead slow—and no one did it any other way unless they were committing suicide—it would be faster than that. I put the shields on maximum and drew a straight line for Settlement Two. Eight hours of hypervigilance would see me through, and then I could sleep.

The whole thing should have worked fine. Lots of ships did it. I’d done it myself, when I was younger and took risks for their own sake. One hour into the traverse, everything went to hell. It started with a glitch in my nav computer. That didn’t worry me too much; I pretty much had to drive this stretch myself anyway, and they could fix the problem when I landed.

Then I drove right into the tail of the comet that laid down the mess. I knew when it was where. But my internal clock killed me: I failed to translate to UT, and with the computer down there was no check on me. I missed my route by hours, because my ship wasn’t doing the thinking for me. The third substantial chunk of debris took out my shields. By that time I was already dressed for an emergency EVA, which is why I am not dead yet. Rather, I'm dead, but I'm still breathing.

I’d been thinking in terms of going EVA to do repairs, once I was clear of the worst of the debris. I couldn’t turn back—there was more behind me than ahead, by my calculations.

I was still working on those calculations when the big one hit. After that, it was too late to activate an SOS, and I was already EVA. By which I mean I had no ship. Gone. Pretty much vaporized; I think maybe there are some bits floating nearby, but nothing bigger than my head.

Curse the effectiveness of these suits! By all rights, I should have been pulverized along with my ship. Then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of dying by inches, without hope or help. I’m using my suit jets to start me in the direction of Settlement Two, if I have the direction right. But even if I could live long enough to drift that far, if my guess is wrong by even a hair, this far out, I’ll drift right past the planet. If I get close enough and I'm still alive, I could activate my suit beacon and there would be a one in 2.37 million chance that someone would pick it up and sort it out from all the noise that surrounds a planet like that.

Hitting those jets and turning on the beacon are the last things I can do for myself. Those done, my state is the definition of helpless.

When I’m ready, I will defy the urge to hope, and remove my helmet. This is one spacer who won’t die helplessly hoping, an inch at a time.
***

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Middle Grade mysteries: 2 New Frankie Dupont Books!

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Participating in a Book Review Blast with Mother-Daughter Book Reviews.

About the Books

Title: Frankie Dupont and The Science Fair Sabotage  
Author: Julie Anne Grasso | Illustrator: Alexander Avellino
Publication Date: May 11, 2015  
Publisher: Independent  
Pages: 134 
Recommended Ages: 8 to 12  
Publisher's Summary: Frankie Dupont is less than impressed when he has to attend the Sustainable Science Fair with Kat and Amy. Upon his arrival, he learns that Amy's brothers have had their robotics chip stolen. Keen to recover the chip, Frankie questions the kids in the competition, but everyone seems to have a motive. When baffling clues start rolling in via ͞ Snap-Goss ͟instant messages, Frankie realizes it will take all of his detective muscles to solve this case. An illustrated mystery for ages 8- 12.

My Review: 
I found the mystery and solution in this story perhaps the most satisfying so far of the Frankie Dupont Mysteries, but admit that as it has been many months since reading the first two, I found that I had lost track of some characters whom I was clearly expected to know. This is frustrating at first, but soon enough the story picks up speed on its own. A quick and easy read, it is nevertheless a good mystery, with a solution that holds up, and it is even plausible that young Frankie can solve it more or less on his own, with some reasoning.



Amazon * Goodreads


Title: Frankie Dupont and High Seas Heist
Author: Julie Anne Grasso | Illustrator: Alexander Avellino
Publication Date: July 6, 2015 
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 148 
Recommended Ages: 8 to 12
Publisher's Summary: Frankie Dupont seems to catch odd-ball cases in the most unlikely places. You would think he would be used to it by now. When his next case lands him on a luxury cruise liner full of devious chocolatiers with ulterior motives, Frankie will be expected to solve the crime, even before it's committed. Although his mind is certainly up for the challenge, Frankie realizes his stomach has yet to find its sea legs. An illustrated mystery for ages 8- 12

My Review:
Frankie's all at sea this time. He has gone on an Antarctic Cruise with his father, his dog, and his two sidekicks Kat & Amy, on a mission to find a thief and stop a theft before it happens. This time Frankie is working alongside both his father and Inspector Cluesome, who up to now has felt more like a nemesis or at least an arch-rival. 

It wasn't until they took off from Tasmania that I remembered that Frankie lives in Australia. That helps make the cruise a little more plausible, but the whole thing still feels maybe a little too far from realism, or maybe Antarctica feels that accessible from Australia (a cruise to Antarctica to reveal a new chocolate does feel a little absurd; maybe it's supposed to). The mystery is still good, though the denouement was visible from fairly far off, and this time Frankie is maybe a bit too dependent on his gadgetry rather than his brains. 

Recommendation:
I enjoy Frankie, and find that in most of his stories he has a nice blend of unusual smarts--and some lovely flaws, including too much belief in his own skills.The books aren't terribly realistic, and aren't trying to be--there's a hint of SF/Fantasy in most of them, from the super-advanced detective gadgets Frankie uses to the mysterious behavior of Enderby Manor (Book 1). That means that I have to change my mind-set a bit to read them, but most children will have no trouble with it. 

I can recommend the Frankie Dupont books to any child who likes mystery. I would say it's for fans of the Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown, but these books probably come before those in terms of reading level. The publisher lists the age range as 8-12; I would probably say the audience tends to the lower end of that span.

Amazon * Goodreads

About the Author: Julie Anne Grasso

Julie Anne Grasso
With a background in paediatric nursing, Julie Anne Grasso spent many years literally wrapping children in cotton wool. Every day she witnessed courage and resilience from the tiny people she cared for, which inspired her to write stories to entertain them. A science fiction nerd (she even owns a TARDIS), cupcake enthusiast and lover of all things mystery, she lives in Melbourne with her husband Danny and their little girl Giselle. Most days she can be found sipping chai tea and dreaming up wonderful worlds that often involve consumption of cupcakes.





And it's time for the Kid Lit Blog hop, now hopping once a month. Follow the link and join the hop, or just hop around to check out lots of great kids books.
http://www.whenigrowupiwannawriteakidsbook.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mystery Monday: A Rule Against Murder

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Title: A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4)
Author: Louise Penny; read by Ralph Cosham
Publishing Info: Blackstone Audio, 2009 (original by Minotaur, 2008, 322 pages)
Source: Digital library

Publisher's Summary:
It is the height of summer, and Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache are celebrating their wedding anniversary at Manoir Bellechasse, an isolated, luxurious inn not far from the village of Three Pines. But they're not alone. The Finney family -- rich, cultured, and respectable -- has also arrived for a celebration of their own.
 
The beautiful Manoir Bellechasse might be surrounded by nature, but there is something unnatural looming. As the heat rises and the humidity closes in, some surprising guests turn up at the family reunion, and a terrible summer storm leaves behind a dead body. It is up to Chief Inspector Gamache to unearth secrets long buried and hatreds hidden behind polite smiles. The chase takes him to Three Pines, into the dark corners of his own life, and finally to a harrowing climax.

My Review:
This may be the most satisfying yet of the Inspector Gamache series, at least after the first. While the last two books have bothered me with the amount of plotting against Gamache that goes on, that has vanished from this book. We are still treated to some views of the dark interiors of people--this series really doesn't qualify as "cozy," not because it's a police procedural (though it is, for the most part), but because Penny doesn't flinch from exploring the dark bits in everyone. In fact, I could wish she did, because I'm not sure I believe everyone has so many dark bits, and a few of the characters who are supposed to be sympathetic end up not being very much so. (Ask me about Peter and Clara Morrow and their relationship and I'll probably start ranting).

On the other hand, the mystery kept me guessing, and both the puzzle and the clues were well-constructed. The gradual revealing of Gamache's own history always pull me in, and there was just about the right amount of action for me. The writing remains top-notch, the settings deeply evocative, and I remain ambivalent about the series. I'll keep going, but probably only in small doses.

Recommendation:
If you like your mysteries a bit more meaty than cozy, and don't mind feeling at times like everyone is a bit unpleasant underneath, this is a series you don't want to miss, because they are incredibly well-written. If, on the other hand, you prefer to stay on the lighter side of the mystery genre, you might want to think twice.
Full Disclosure: I checked A Rule Against Murder 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."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Flash

Still on our own, with Flashmaster Chuck Wendig distracted by his own writing and trying to spare all the NaNers and so not providing writing prompts. I took a random title from a Random Title Generator, and wrote just under 700 words about the too-long-neglected Gorg the Troll. If you haven't met Gorg, you can find links to his backstory here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

It had also been my intention to include feast in each story this month, but Gorg proved too busy to eat much.

Grey Magic: A Tale of Gorg the Troll

Gorg awoke slowly in a chill, dark cave, and remembered. He remembered first that he’d been hiding from a storm. He had been trapped somehow. Then he remembered trying to free himself from the trap created by yet another sorcerer bent on killing him. A sorcerer in the employ of Gorg’s arch-enemy Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted. Gorg remembered he had found a way out.  And then he had lain down and gone to sleep before completing the easy, but tedious, task of crumbling his way out.

Why?

He strained to remember. It had been night, and cold. A blizzard. Yes, there had been a blizzard, too cold, windy and fierce for him to go out. It had made sense to wait. It had made sense to take a nap.

Why did it feel now as though it had been a bad idea to take a nap? Gorg’s mind cleared itself of the stone crystals of sleep, and he got to his feet, shaking his huge stone head which felt stuffed with something soft and bland. Light poured into the cave through the small opening he had made before retreating from the storm. He peered out, and knew he’d been right. It had been a very bad idea to go to sleep.

Sleep hadn’t been his idea, it had been a grey coat of magic, which blunted everything and turned his mind to fuzz. It had not been his sleep, but the sorcerer’s. A sorcerer who wielded grey magic, magic which so seldom was seen, not because it wasn't used, but because it wasn't visible.

The storm was gone. Long gone, by the evidence. He reached out his stone fingers and crumbled the edges of the opening until he could put his head out for a good look.

Right. A bad idea. He ate a chunk of the stone, and more of the sleep crystals and the grey fuzz cleared.

It was spring. He’d gone into the cave for shelter from a mid-winter blizzard, and now it was spring, if not summer. It was warm outside, and there were flowers. Spring, then. By summer, flowers in the Iron Desert were burnt to dust and blown away.

He remembered the laughter of the sorcerer who’d caged him, and Gorg Trollheim began to get angry. He ripped the opening wider, pausing only to crunch down more of the creamy limestone and sate his hunger.

His hunger for revenge remained unsated. Was there no killing Bale, and no end of mages willing to serve his nefarious ends?

Probably not. Gorg didn’t care. Bale had killed Gorg’s family. He had commanded them to be turned to stone and dropped into a raging river, where they were ground to powder, until there was no hope of reanimating them. Gorg had to give up the stones of his fathers, but he would not give up his revenge.

Duke Bale wanted the throne of King Celery the Half-Witted, but Gorg no longer cared about that. He had done what he could for the king, but human kings, he now understood, were a human problem. Troll-killers were a troll problem.

Gorg wanted Duke Bale to get dead and stay dead. It was that latter task that was hard, it seemed. Gorg had killed Bale twice. That was once more than should have been necessary.

Gorg strode across the Iron Desert toward the Valley of the Baleful Stones, the home of Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted. In midwinter, Gorg had left the Duke buried under the rubble of his collapsed tower. He might still be there. He might have stayed dead this time.

Gorg didn’t believe it.

He would go back to the Valley, and track down Bale wherever he might be now. And he would find a way to make him stay dead. Perhaps grind him to mush, perhaps toss him into one of the stinking sulfur vents that gave the valley its name. Grey magic was tricky. It could be turned on the one who used it, and grey, Gorg thought, was his native color.

Trolls weren’t fast thinkers, as a rule (though Gorg knew how to change that rule, if need be). But they did tend to stick to an idea until it was finished. Gorg stuck to his revenge with the immobility of a pile of stone. Trolls were stone. It was their weakness—and their strength.

Stone never gives up.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

My favorite portrait of Gorg, spotted in Badlands National Park, South Dakota



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day

November 11 is honored in the US as Veteran's Day, but as I am fairly fascinated by WWI and have been researching the period for years, I'm taking it back several decades to talk about Armistice Day. I am fascinated by the histories of our wars, and horrified that these things happened, and continue to happen.

Today, at 11:11 a.m. on 11/11, we mark the end of WWI. The treaty negotiated to end the war stipulated that hour, and though many stopped fighting once the treaty was signed, there were shots exchanged, and men killed, up until the minute. I know that the hour was on European time, but I will mark it where I am.

Of course, this is now a day to mark the efforts and sacrifices of everyone who fought and labored in all our wars, good, bad and indifferent (make your own judgements as to which were which. It often depended on where you were standing). And let's not forget the non-combatants.

In WWI, my grandfather was rejected from the army because he had a faulty heart. He nonetheless dropped out of college and served as a chaplain through the YMCA. (This sacrifice of a few years allowed him to return to college just in time to meet my Grandmother, whom he would otherwise never have known...).

 In WWII, members of the US Merchant Marine (i.e. sailors on commercial cargo vessels) had casualty rates exceeded only by those of the US Marine Corps. With limited to non-existent ability to shoot back, they braved hostile seas to carry supplies where they were needed.

In every war, people left behind are also making sacrifices, of pieces of their lives, of the lives of their loved ones. On this day, we can honor them all. Then we can work to put an end to the wars. After all, Armistice Day was meant to celebrate the end of the War to End All Wars.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cover Reveal: Pismawallops PTA #2 is coming soon!

Coming January 2016!

After months of fussing about, the second entry in the Pismawallops PTA mystery series is nearly ready...and I'm giving the first look at the new cover for....
Death By Ice Cream, by Rebecca M. Douglass (That's me)
(Cover by Danielle English)

JJ MacGregor's very bad day has just gotten a lot worse.

JJ thought starting the day without coffee was a disaster, but now there's a dead musician behind the Pismawallops High School gym. His trombone is missing, and something about the scene is off key. JJ and Police Chief Ron Karlson are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, but will they be able to work harmoniously or will discord ruin the investigation? With the music teacher as the prime suspect, JJ could be left to conduct the band, and then Graduation might truly end in a death by trombone, or at least the murder of Pomp and Circumstance!


Haven't read Book 1? Purchase links for Death By Ice Cream (and all the others) are here.
And for the rest of November, it's available at special sale prices--$.99 for the ebook (Amazon and Smashwords direct). Or use coupon code RQZLV6EA for 30% off at the Createspace store.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Just a reminder...#MGBookElves

Don't forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for the BookElves Anthology Volume Two!




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


Purchase links here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Flash: The Second Dragon

This week's flash fiction comes from a couple of places. Fellow BookElf Jemima Pett sent a list of 5 random words for me to use in a story. I'd already decided to make food or feasting a significant part, or at least a visible part, of each story this month, in honor of Thanksgiving, our national day of overeating. Then I thought about a recent story, One Dragon at a Time, and decided to go back and investigate that world a little more. I failed to incorporate one of my words--sorry Jemima, but I'm pretty sure it's a landlocked kingdom, so no dolphins. And another of the words is there in meaning, but not literally. The list of words is at the end of the story, which is just over 900 words.

The Second Dragon

Calla shoved open the door of the Crown and Jug and stepped inside. Her clothes were torn, her mail filthy. “But I’m alive,” she said aloud.

Head swiveled to stare.

“Miss?” The innkeeper said. “Might you be in the wrong place? The ladies—”

“Can you sell me a strong drink and a bite to eat?” Calla interrupted.

“But, Miss—ladies don’t—” He shut up as Calla laid a hand on her sword hilt. This young woman was confusing him. Calla took pity.

“I’m no lady.” A murmur in the room prompted her to raise her voice and clarify the statement. “I am the Dragon Emissary, and I’ve had a trying day.” The murmur got louder, but no one was asking what her prices might be. The innkeeper poured something in a glass and shoved it at her while he shouted to someone in the kitchen to bring out a pasty and a few slices of beef.

Calla took the glass, smiling, and sank into a seat at the closest table. A minute later she was tearing into a pile of food as though she’d not eaten in days. Maybe she hadn’t. She’d rather lost track.

She was on her second round when a messenger arrived, breathless. He managed t deliver his message between gasps. “Is the Dragon Emissary here?”

Calla swore. Years of training with the soldiers had given her an extensive vocabulary, and several men expressed admiration. Some of the younger ones appeared to be taking notes.

“Here.” She didn’t stop shoveling food into herself.

“The king says you must come at once, Emissary. There’s been something terrible on the Dragon Border.”

Calla sighed. Of course there had. She picked up a final pasty to eat on the way out, and threw some coins on the table to pay for it all. “Very well. Take me to him.”

The messenger gaped. “Like that?” He gestured at her clothes, which not only bore the signs, but also the smells, of battle.

“Do you think His Majesty would rather wait while I bathe? I do not.”

***
“You must go at once to settle this,” the king said at the end of the report on the trouble. The courtier who had told the tale bowed and stepped back into the midst of his companions.

Calla glanced at the high windows that slashed three sides of the hall. It was long past night, and with no moon was black out as the vestments of the DeadMen who cleared away corpses. “I will go in the morning, Majesty.” Or maybe in the afternoon, she thought. It had been a very long day, and she would need to sleep.

“What?” The king wasn’t accustomed to anything but instant obedience. Calla was unimpressed, and firm.

“I must go into my library and learn more of this dragon and this case.” She’d raced off to her first case without any preparation, and had to fight her way to a solution. Calla preferred not to repeat that mistake. Fights with dragons too seldom ended well for a human. She and her liege lord locked gazes. The contest went on long enough that the courtiers began to fidget. No one defied a king. This young woman made them very uncomfortable.

Female or not, Calla was the Dragon Emissary, without whom the kingdom could not survive. The king broke the gaze and nodded. “I will have food and drink sent to you there.”

“I thank you.” Now that she had made her point, Calla could afford to be gracious. Aware of her armor and filthy clothes, she said, “I shall bathe first. Send the food in one bell’s time.” A sigh passed like a breeze among the courtiers. Whether for the resolution of the contest or her promise to bathe, Calla didn’t know.

***
An hour later, clean and robed and nibbling idly at the fancy cakes a servant had brought, Calla began to learn what she could of the dragon WindDancer, accused in the latest attack. Her Da’s words, “Take it one dragon at a time,” had come back to her, and she thought that might not only mean to divide and conquer, but to know your enemy. Dragons were no more all alike than humans were. Knowing how the opponent thought was a kind of weapon.

She read on, not stopping with all that was known of WindDancer. She needed to know her job, too, and her reading at last yielded another clue. Taking up a hammer and chisel she had found in the Emissary’s desk, she approached the back wall of the small library. Knowing now what to look for, it was easy to spot the right place, and it took only one blow. The chisel shattered the loose mortar, and she removed a stone.

Ever cautious—her Da hadn’t had time to teach her the specifics of her job, but he had taught her well in a general sense—she prodded the space with the tools, and pulled out the sharpened rat trap that clung to the end of the chisel. Another sweep with her sword allowed her to pull an envelope to the edge of the hole without risking her fingers in any additional traps.

Calla opened the envelope without eagerness. This would tell her what her job was, beyond the keeping of peace with the dragons. She gently pulled a piece of ancient parchment from its casing and unfolded it. The message made her raise her eyebrows.

So that was her job. No wonder Da had said so little.

The king would be surprised.

###

My 5 words were library, chisel, undertaker (repurposed as the DeadMen), dolphin (skipped), and envelope. It probably wasn't really an envelope, either--more likely an oilcloth packet, but never mind.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

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If you liked that story...consider purchasing a whole collection of holiday-themed stories by 7 fine writers of children's books (yeah, I'm one of them), The BookElves Anthology Vol. 2

Or, for even more fun--enter the Giveaway!


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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Insecure Writer's Support Group

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Yup, I've finally done it: I've joined the IWSG, the Insecure Writer's Support Group, a large blog-hop group that airs our fears and insecurities around writing, in hope that we can help each other get over it and keep writing.

And what a great time to join: just as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) kicks off. Nothing like being challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days to bring out our insecurities. At least, my insecurities, at least this year. Because frankly, I've not been a very convincing author this year. I've taken pretty much the whole year to do a couple of rounds of edits on Death By Trombone, Book 2 in the Pismawallops PTA murder mystery series. And that from an MS (written during NaNo two years ago) that really wasn't THAT bad. [I suppose my next post will need to be about the agonies of editing. Or else about my utter failure as a marketing genius. Lots to be insecure about, now that I think about it.]

During that same period I managed to draft less than 40,000 words of a 3rd Ninja Librarian book, too. Not a very impressive output.

I have lots of excuses. I can sit around and make excuses. Or I could sit here and beat myself up: "You call yourself a writer? Writers write, you fool!"

Or I could sit down and enjoy the process of producing another draft in 45 days (I give myself 15 extra for the extra 25-30,000 words it takes to make a full-length novel).  I can also remind myself that since the beginning of the year I've posted 34 flash fiction pieces (for another 34,000+ words) and a bunch of photo essays. Sometimes you have to back away from what you think you should be or do, and appreciate what you did do.

I think I'll ignore my insecurities and enjoy NaNo. If you want to join me on the ride, I'm Nanning (I just made that up) under the highly imaginative name of Rebecca Douglass.

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***
Watch this site for news about Death By Ice Cream, because I'm going to reveal the cover here this week! Or just sign up for my newsletter and be the first to know all the details!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

BookElves Giveaway!

The new BookElves Anthology (Volume 2!) is out, and we are doing a Goodreads Giveaway! Be sure to check out the new book, and enter the giveaway by following the link below.


And if you can't wait for the giveaway, order a copy now:

Paperbacks: 
Paperbacks will be available on Amazon soon!


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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Children's Classic Series: Sue Barton

9786432 9786347 578871  1653359

The Sue Barton nursing series, by Helen Dore Boylston

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved the Sue Barton books. They were already horribly dated even then; the first book in the series was published in 1936. That apparently only increased their mystique, because when Sue talks about the wonders of the old operating theater in the hospital where she trains, it is a room that harks back to the Civil War era or thereabouts--truly medicine in a different era. Even as a child I knew that neither medicine nor a nurse's training were like Sue experienced, but the stories remained, for some reason, utterly engaging.

Not that they made me want to become a nurse (though I know more than one woman who was influenced in career choice by Sue and by Cherry Ames, another nursing student whose books I never read but may yet). I think I was just fascinated by the historical setting (which of course wasn't "historical" when written) and possibly the sense of Sue as both grown-up and yet somehow easily related to by a kid.

That creates space for more thoughts on the age of protagonists in children's books. For the most part, we do expect the heroes and heroines of middle-grade fiction to be children themselves. Yet there are plenty of stories like these, including some being written today, that feature older protagonists. In some cases (think Harry Potter), the character begins a series as an 11-year-old and grows up. In other cases--as with Sue Barton or the more recent Boston Jane books by Jennifer L. Holm--the main character is at least on the cusp of adulthood when the series begins. Clearly it can be done, and I think it's not just the adults who enjoy the stories that trace and entire life.

But the move can be tricky, too, and in today's world such books often end up being more "YA" than "middle grade." Tamora Pierce's wonderful fantasies begin in many cases with children, but end with grown women, or mostly grown, who are making decisions and acting on them in adult ways, if you know what I mean. Yet because the series begin with books about 11-year-olds, they remain in the children's section at the library (Sue Barton gets married and bears several children, but does it, like Anne Shirley, without ever, apparently, having sex).

What are your thoughts on book series for kids that follow the main character on into adulthood? Which do you love now? What did you read as a kid that featured adult characters?

If that question doesn't do it for you, there is another whole area for thought about gender roles in classic children's books--maybe I'll ask that question tomorrow!

I have been re-reading the series by finding the books in the library, physical or digital (plus one that is on my shelf, picked up at some long-ago book sale). Neither the publisher nor the author really gives a hoot about my review, as the author died in 1987 and the books are out of print.