Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Middle-grade Monday: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

Today's post is late, and not entirely up to snuff, because I have been traveling and had limited opportunities to work on it. I'll try to do better in future!


Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher:  Wendy Lamb Books, 2009, 199 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

My Review:
This was a Goodreads Great Middle Grade Reads Book of the Month read, and I admit I might not have read it otherwise. Neither the cover nor the blurb totally appealed to me. As it turns out, I'm glad I did.

I'm not sure I'd class this among the best middle grade books I've read, but it was engaging and suspenseful, and I enjoyed the mystery, because although it starts at the end it doesn't give away exactly what happened and how we got there. The writing is good, and the narrator's voice fairly convincing for a 12-year-old (I think I got that about right; I don't have my copy with me as I'm writing).  The biggest issue I had with the book was a certain frustration in the first chapters over just what the time period setting is. It is eventually made completely clear, but I spent a good chunk of the book contemplating clues like the lack of cell phones.

Great reading for boys or girls 8 or 9 to 12--or anyone who likes a little mystery and a little playing with time and reality.

FTC Disclosure: I checked When You Reach Me 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."   

For summer reading for the grown-ups, check out the Pismawallops PTA mysteries, at summer sale prices!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Middle Grade Audiobook Review: Paperboy


Title: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter; read by Lincoln Hoppe
Publisher: Random House/Listening Library, 2013. 240 pages in hardcover.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary:
An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend's paper route for the month of July, he knows he'll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

My Review:
Paperboy is a good story, though at times it feels like it's taking on too much--coming of age and stuttering might be enough without the segregation issues. But that's the life the lead character gets (and, I gather from the Author's Note at the end, the life the author got), and the story doesn't try to resolve it all. In fact, about the only thing clearly resolved is that the main character--known as "Little Man" until the final pages where he at last manages to speak his own name--does some serious growing up, as is wont to be the case around age 12.

Most of the characters in this book, aside from the narrator himself, are a little flat. That, I think, is the result of the first person narrator. Adults have little reality for a kid, beyond what intersects with the kid. The ones that matter get just enough development for an attentive (and probably adult) reader to know more of what's going on than Little Man does.

This isn't a story about a disability or bullying, though both are here. It's a coming-of-age story that happens to center on a kid with a bit more to cope with than the average 12-year-old, and I found it both exciting at times (there are some perilous moments) and in general a well-tuned evocation of a time and place and age.

I'd say this is probably for 10 or 11 and up, due to a few situations that might take some explaining to younger kids. It's also a good  read for anyone who wants to feel what a Memphis summer was like in 1959. The author evokes the setting well enough that I found myself longing for the AC at times while listening--and temps at my house seldom topped 70!

FTC Disclosure: I checked Paperboy 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."   

For summer reading for the grown-ups, check out my mysteries, at summer sale prices!

Friday, June 24, 2016

#Flashback Friday


I recently (thanks, Jemima Pett!) stumbled on the Flashback Friday blog hop run by Michael G D'Agostino, and couldn't help thinking it would be a great help during the summer when I'm often on the road--or the trail--and can't post in the usual way. This is one of those weeks, plus Chuck didn't give us a prompt this week, so I've crawled around in the archives and hauled up and old story. A little dusting off, and here we go. From 11/31/2013:

The Cat Did It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2013
Oh, they look so innocent!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Musings on reading Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith


Title: Wintersmith
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperTempest, 2006. 323 pages.
Source: Library

I don't have the gall to review Terry Pratchett. But I'm happy to share the musings I've had while reading Wintersmith, the 3rd of the Tiffany Aching books. I'm happy to find there is one more. I shall savor the pleasure.

I am a huge fan of Pratchett and his Discworld, and like to think about how he does it, whatever "it" may be. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts engendered by Wintersmith.

1. Third Thoughts. Pratchett proved his genius when he came up with this one. We all know what Second Thoughts are. I'm going to eat a quart of ice cream. No, on second thoughts, that might not be a good idea. Third Thoughts stand outside the head and study it all, and probably argue with the first and second thoughts. Not everyone gets to have them, but I'm thinking that for a writer, Third Thoughts are the editor that can actually decide that the lovely passage I just wrote has got to go. Third Thoughts will tell me so, probably profanely.

2. Pratchett doesn't write kids books for kids. Some claim Tiffany Aching is for kids. After all, the protagonist is 9 in Wee Free Men, 11 in A Hat Full of Sky, and turned 13 halfway through Wintersmith. And she's even having some teenaged problems. Boy trouble. But no, this book isn't aimed at children, though teens could learn a lot from it. I can relate to this, too. The Ninja Librarian is about 1/2 a kids book, and I'm not kidding when I say it's for "10-year-olds of all ages."

3. Okay, I didn't see that ending coming. I should have, but I didn't. Is that me being dense, or is that the perfection of a great ending, that once you've read it, it seems inevitable, even though you couldn't have thought it up yourself in a month of Sundays?

4. I've looked and thought a lot lately about writing dialects and accents. Pratchett seems to pull it off marvelously, and he does it with vocabulary (though the Mac Nac Feegle need a little glossary for some of their vocabulary), not spelling. I will take lessons.

5. I want to grow up to be one of the Discworld witches. Somewhere between Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Which leads me to....

6. I never knew anyone (well, maybe I do) who can jam as many improper ideas and implications into language that will pass any censor. You don't have to write a single 4-letter word to get the ideas across.

That's enough rambling for now. If you've never read any of Terry Pratchett's books, run right out and start. I'm not sure where you should start; most people agree that the first book (The Color of Magic) isn't his best, though it was good enough to capture me. My favorites might be the ones about the witches, like Equal Rites, but I'm awfully fond of the Watch, too. And the sorcerers are good for a laugh...


 Still running my summer sale!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mystery Monday: Oliver Twisted Review and tour

Today I have the pleasure of hosting a stop on another Great Escapes tour and giveaway, for a fun sea-going mystery!

Title: Oliver Twisted (An Ivy Meadows Mystery)
Author: Cindy Brown
Publisher: Henry Press, 2016. 280 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1635110418

Publisher's Synopsis:

Orphans. Thieves. Murder. And an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet!
When Ivy Meadows lands a gig with the book-themed cruise line Get Lit!, she thinks she’s died and gone to Broadway. Not only has she snagged a starring role in a musical production of Oliver Twist, she’s making bank helping her PI uncle investigate a string of onboard thefts, all while sailing to Hawaii on the S.S. David Copperfield.

But Ivy is cruising for disaster. Her acting contract somehow skipped the part about aerial dancing forty feet above the stage, her uncle Bob is seriously sidetracked by a suspicious blonde, and—oh yeah—there’s a corpse in her closet.

Forget catching crooks. Ivy’s going to have a Dickens of a time just surviving.

Books in the Ivy Meadows Humorous Mystery Series:

My Review: 

I really enjoyed this book! It's been a while since I had a book grab me by the face and insist I read right through, but this one did it. It took only a few pages to get fully engaged, and I felt almost physical pain when I had to put it down 40 pages from the end and go to work. The funny thing: I can't really say just why this book got me, and not the last several I've read.  The writing, the characters, and the story just seemed to work for me. I liked Ivy, who shows a good balance of solid work as both detective and actress with just enough metaphorical face-plants to keep her human (more goofs as detective than actress, which makes sense as the former is her new profession).

I also liked the mystery. It was complex, and I was unsure who was the perp until very near the end (though there were earlier moments when I fingered the right person, I was always diverted off onto another suspect). The book does a nice job of making you think about family and relationships without making itself into any kind of treatise--these things just matter to the story.

The writing is strong and well-edited, though the discussion of "duct/duck tape" is going to send me off to do some research. The Dickens references throughout (well, it *is* a Dickens cruise) add an element of fun as well as forcing me to dredge up memories of books long past. I admit to remembering the musical Oliver! quite a lot better than the book Oliver Twist. In fact, the least real thing in this book, in my opinion, was Ivy's ability to skim quickly through a Dickens novel or two. That man used a lot of words!

Although this is the 3rd book in the series, it stands alone just fine. I will be going back and reading the first two!


A great summer read, not too demanding but not total fluff, either. If you are a Dickens fan you'll get some real bonuses out of it (I've read just enough Dickens to catch a lot of the references, but not all).

About the Author:

Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

Author Links

Website & Blog:
Twitter handle: @friendlybrown
Facebook :
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: Knock, Knock

I'm beginning to conclude I work best under pressure. Every week I read Chuck Wendig's writing prompt, and think I'll jump right on that, have the story written by Monday, and for once have time to post it early. And every week I realize Thursday morning that I've not quite finished a draft (if I've even begun it), and every Thursday evening I end up editing the story at 9 or 10 p.m., barely making my deadline.

This week is no exception. We were to start with a knock at the door. Here's the result, another bit of fun for JJ MacGregor of the Pismawallops PTA as she sits working upon a midnight dreary. I ran a few words over my 1000.

Knock, Knock

Rap-a-rap-a-rap! Thump!

I practically crawled out of my skin when the knock—more like a pounding—sounded on my door. I was working late, trying to finish a short story, and the house was both empty and dark, aside from the light over my desk. Brian was at Justin’s house for the night so I was alone.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been trying my hand at writing horror. But I was, so when the hammering on the door echoed down my front hall, I jumped about a yard in the air, and then sat a moment staring at the line I’d just typed: “Juliet opened the door and screamed.”

This wasn’t a horror story. This was Pismawallops Island, where a knock on the door at—I looked at the clock—one a.m. probably just meant…what? None of my friends would be out at that hour. The only thing open was The Club, a dive of a bar that still felt smoke-filled despite years of no-smoking laws. It was that kind of place. Not where you’d find members of the PTA in the wee small hours.

I got up and went to the door. What if it was Brian? Maybe he and Justin had been displaying the lack of good sense 16-year-old males were said to possess in excess. They never had before, but there’s always a first time.

There’d been enough disconcerting disruptions to my quiet Island life lately that I didn’t fling wide the door without looking. I peered through the peephole Ron insisted I install, but could see nothing in the darkness.

“Who’s there?” No answer. I called three times before opening the door cautiously, a foot planted to prevent it being pushed open wider. There was no one on the porch.

I rather belatedly turned on the light, but it didn’t change anything. There was no one on the porch, nor on what I could see of the yard and driveway. I shouted a few more times before retreating and locking the door. For good measure I checked the lock on the back door as well.

Then, insane as it may sound, I went back to my horror story. The hapless Juliet flung wide her door without fear or precaution, and was grabbed from behind. I realized she must have been grabbed by someone in the house, and was wondering how I’d resolve that, when the knocking began again.

“Jehoshaphat!” Juliet’s plight fresh in my mind, I considered barricading myself in the den and ignoring the pounding.

I also considered calling Ron. He was chief of police, and a friend, and I knew he’d want me to call. But our relationship was, as they say, “complicated” and asking him to come over in the middle of the night was more than I could handle.

Someone must be in trouble. The hammering was loud and desperate. Had something scared the person off the first time? I’d left the front porch light on, but now the visitor was at the back door.

This time I flipped on the light at the same instant as I pushed aside the curtain and peered out through the window. There was no one there. The knocking had stopped as I entered the back hall, and the knocker was gone. I’d more or less expected that.

As I saw it, there were three possibilities. The least likely was that someone I’d upset was looking for revenge, either by frightening me or by luring me out where they could do me actual harm. Unlikely, but frightening, and not beyond the realm of possibility.

The second most likely case was that someone was out there who needed my help. I’d gotten a bit of a reputation after helping to solve a couple of murders. I supposed that a person in trouble might think I could help.

But what I believed was that Brian and Justin, or a similar set of young people, were pranking me. They’d run me back and forth between the doors until I got visibly angry or frightened, and then there’d be laughter. I hated being made the butt of a joke.

I stood in the dark kitchen and thought. If it was either of the two less likely cases, calling the police made sense. But if it was a prank… I was still thinking when the knocking started up again at the front door.

I’d left the light on there. If I could get there fast and quiet enough, I might catch the miscreant. I slid out of my hard-soled slippers, and in my stocking feet ran tip-toed and silent down the length of the house.

It almost worked. They must have been counting seconds and judging how fast I could get there, because the knocking stopped just before I reached the door. I sprinted the last yard, plastered my eye to the peephole, and peered out.

They almost made it. I just caught a glimpse of a shadowed form disappearing around the corner of the house, the reflective stripes on their running shoes gleaming in the porch light.

I knew those shoes and that way of moving, and considered my options, grinning. I could go back to writing my story and let them hammer away until they gave up in disgust. I could call Ron and see if he could catch them and scare the devil out of them.

Or I could prank them in my own turn.

I slid out the door, closing it silently behind me. My porch offered no hiding place, being just a landing at the top of the steps, but the stairs made a deep shadow opposite the light. I crouched in that pool of darkness and waited.

The boys were back in a minute. I let them get within a few feet, then lunged to my feet, roaring like a madman.

Then I sat on the bottom step as the boys screamed and sprinted up the driveway, pursued by my cackling laughter.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book Review and Tour: A Golden Cage

a golden cage large banner448 

Publisher's Synopsis:
The author of A Gilded Grave returns to Newport, Rhode Island, at the close of the nineteenth century, where headstrong heiress Deanna Randolph must solve another murder among the social elite.

With her mother in Europe, Deanna is staying with the Ballard family, who agree to chaperone her through the summer season and guide her toward an advantageous marriage proposal—or so her mother hopes. Relishing her new freedom, Deanna is more interested in buying one of the fashionable new bathing costumes, joining a ladies’ bicycling club, and befriending an actress named Amabelle Deeks, all of which would scandalize her mother.

Far more scandalous is the discovery of a young man bludgeoned to death on the conservatory floor at Bonheur, the Ballards’ sumptuous “cottage.” Deanna recognizes him as an actor who performed at the birthday fete for a prominent judge the night before. But why was he at Bonheur? And where is Amabelle?

Concerned her new friend may be in danger—or worse—Deanna enlists the help of her intrepid maid, Elspeth, and her former beau, Joe Ballard, to find Amabelle before the villain of this drama demands an encore.
My Review: 
This was a good read, with an intriguing setting and a mystery that took a little unraveling. The characters are complex and interesting, and I cared how they came out. Naturally, I did have some criticisms. At times, Deanna's indignation over the injustices she's just learning about gets too thick (or too often repeated), but I'm glad she's a thinking girl. A bigger objection is the usual problem for an amateur detective: too much keeping things to herself, when they should obviously be shared, and too few other people willing to give her credit for the brains she has.

What Shelley Freydont does with that standard problem is what made this book worthwhile in many ways, because she creates a society of unconventional women who basically carry on despite the men, and without their knowledge (or understanding). It does become a bit of a cliche that the women understand the men but not vice versa, though on reflection I realize that it's more a matter of the elders understanding most things better than our young people, Deanna and the rather hapless Joe Ballard. That young man has a lot to learn.

The writing is strong, smooth, and well-edited. It mostly falls into the category of "workmanlike," i.e. nothing to interfere with enjoying the story, but nothing to swoon over either. There is the occasional turn of phrase, however, that gave me real pleasure.

An excellent choice for those who like historical settings and strong-minded women. There is no easy romance here, but a real and complex childhood friendship that may or may not grow into something more. I loved that Deanna spent little time thinking about it, though she's not indifferent. A Gilded Grave is a nice light mystery for a summer read.

ShelleyNoble FinalV3 copy

About The Author 

Shelley Freydont is the author of the Liv Montgomery, Celebration Bay Festival Mysteries, (Silent Knife, Trick or Deceit),the Katie McDonald Sudoku Mysteries and the Lindy Haggerty dance company mystery series. Her Newport Gilded Age Mystery seires began in June 2015 with A Gilded Grave, followed in June 2016 with A Golden Cage.
Shelley loves puzzles of all kinds and when not writing or reading mysteries, she’s most likely working on a jigsaw, Sudoku, or crossword.

As Shelley Noble, she’s the author of the women’s fiction novels, Beach ColorsStargazey Point, and Breakwater Bay as well as several novellas.

She lives at New Jersey Shore and loves to hear from readers.

* Author Links
Website www.shelleyfreydont.comm
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Twitter –

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cozy Mystery: Mrs. Odboddy, Hometown Patriot

Today we are featuring a Great Escapes blog tour, for the cozy mystery
Mrs. Odboddy, Hometown Patriot
by Elaine Faber

Publisher: Elk Grove Publications, 2016. 258 pages. 
Source: I was given a copy of the ebook in exchange for my review as part of this blog tour.
Publisher's Summary:
Since the onset of WWII, Agnes Agatha Odboddy, hometown patriot and self-appointed scourge of the underworld, suspects conspiracies around every corner…stolen ration books, German spies running amuck, and a possible Japanese invasion off the California coast. This seventy-year-old, model citizen would set the world aright if she could get Chief Waddlemucker to pay attention to the town’s nefarious deeds on any given Meatless Monday.

Mrs. Odboddy vows to bring the villains, both foreign and domestic, to justice, all while keeping chickens in her bathroom, working at the Ration Stamp Office, and knitting argyles for the boys on the front lines.

Imagine the chaos when Agnes’s long-lost WWI lover returns, hoping to find a million dollars in missing Hawaiian money and rekindle their ancient romance. In the thrilling conclusion, Agnes’s predictions become all too real when Mrs. Roosevelt unexpectedly comes to town to attend a funeral and Agnes must prove that she is, indeed, a warrior on the home front.

My Review:
Since I only sign up for tours for books that I expect to like, I went into this with high hopes. Those hopes met with mixed results. I will state that by the end I was fully engaged and enjoyed the story, for the most part. That said, it was not an unalloyed pleasure. 
It took me quite a long time to get engaged with the book, for reasons that aren't necessarily entirely the book's fault (my own busy life sometimes sidetracks a good book). I think the opening is flawed, as the opening incident and character are never referred to again, but it does plunge us right into the time and place, and gives a good view of Mrs. Odboddy's character. In fact, her character was part of my problem--her tendency to self-dramatization was, for me, a bit off-putting. I think I was hoping for someone a bit more like Mrs. Pollifax! But in the end, Mrs. Odboddy is vindicated, for both the town and the reader, and I was pleased that she got the chance to be a hero in reality, not just in her own mind.

For the most part, the historical setting is well-researched and well rendered, and the writing is strong. I had no trouble following the story or keeping the characters straight. The mystery is not terribly difficult to solve, and I was frustrated that Mrs. Odboddy gives up on her own suspicions just at the point where, to me, they are obviously correct. Despite that, I became much more engaged after the mid-point, and read on quickly to see how certain relationships would work out, and what she would get to do in the end.

Read this for a strong setting, off-the-wall characters, and humor of the pratfall/bumbling sleuth variety.

Author Elaine Faber has kindly agreed to come by and talk about writing.
Elaine is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers and Cat Writers Association. She lives in No. Calif with her husband and four house cats (the inspiration for her three humorous cozy cat mysteries, Black Cat’s Legacy, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, and Black Cat and the Accidental Angel).

Mrs. Odboddy’s character is based in no way on Elaine’s quirky personality. Two more Mrs. Odboddy adventures will publish in the near future. Many of Elaine’s short stories have appeared in magazines and multiple anthologies.

Elaine Faber – Guest Post: How to Write a Best Seller

Reviewing the Plot
A great novel jumps off page one with a hook that keep the reader turning pages. Is it about a hard-boiled detective, bringing the killer to justice, or a romance with the boy next door? A good plot sucks you in and takes you willingly along an adventure. During the journey, you laugh or cry, are scared or surprised, along with the hero. At the end, you wish the story wouldn’t end and you look for the sequel so you can spend more time with these characters that have become friends.

Creating Conflict
A good story must have conflict or it isn’t a story. The girl next story must have a rival for her boyfriend. The CIA agent must have a villain to pursue. The puppy is lost. All these examples create conflict; something that prevents the main character from easily fulfilling his goal. If the CIA agent catches the villain on page one, where is the adventure? If the girl’s boyfriend doesn’t flirt around and break up with her, where is the romance? If the puppy isn’t lost, he’s just a puppy.

Supporting Characters
Besides the intriguing main characters, a good story has interesting supporting characters. They are the friends, relatives, or even the protagonist’s pets. They provide the main character someone to interact with. Often they lead to the conflict or help bring about the solution.

A good book has an exciting beginning, a middle that holds your attention, and a satisfying end. The beginning jumps out with an event that convinces the reader to travel this journey with the main character. A mystery to solve, a romantic conflict or a specific goal must be revealed within the first few pages to keep the reader’s interest.

The middle is the crux of the story, where the character struggles to overcome the obstacles, but events go from bad to worse, and when all seems lost, we come to the end. The reader leaves laundry in the dryer and dishes in the sink to see what happens next.

The ending must tie up all the loose strings, solve all the puzzles and reach a conclusion that is acceptable to the reader. Did you ever read a 300 page novel and the main character dies on the last page? You want to heave the book against the wall!

And the Satisfying Conclusion
In a satisfying conclusion, the hero gets the girl, the killer is revealed, the interplanetary six-headed monster is vanquished, or the puppy finds a new home. A satisfying ending leaves the reader wanting to spend more time with the characters. The author’s challenge is to create stories that satisfy the reader and keep him wanting to buy the sequel.

The Right Editor
Now, the nuts and bolts. To be successful, the author needs a good editor to go through a manuscript to look for spelling errors, poor punctuation, poorly written sentences or scenes that don’t make sense. She inspires the author to help the reader reach a deeper connection with the hero, suggesting corrections in a constructive manner. Her suggestions move the manuscript from a story to a journey, where the reader becomes one with the protagonist.

The Book Cover
At last the book moves through publication and to the store. A potential buyer sees the snappy, good looking, brightly colored cover with an easily read title and intriguing picture, suggesting the story line. The appealing cover tempts the potential buyer to turn over the book to read the plot summary with a hook, and it compels him to buy the book. Mission accomplished.

That’s all there is to writing a best seller. Easy-peasy, right?

Thanks Elaine, for coming by and sharing about the writing process! Easy-peasy, indeed!

Here's all the other info:
Purchase Links
Don't take my word for it! Check out what other Tour Participants have to say!
June 9 – Back Porchervations
June 9 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!
June 9 – Socrates’ Book Reviews
June 10 – Babs Book Bistro
June 11 – Brooke Blogs
June 12 –  Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book
June 12 – Shelley’s Book Case
June 13 – Books Direct
June 13 – Queen of All She Reads
June 14 – I Read What You Write
June 14 – The Ninja Librarian
June 15 – Island Confidential
June 15 – T’s Stuff
June 16 – Reading Is My SuperPower
June 16 – LibriAmoriMiei
June 17 – Community Bookstop
June 17 – Laura’s Interests
June 17 – Melina’s Book Blog 


FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of Mrs. Odboddy, Hometown Patriot as a participant in this blog tour, and received nothing further 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."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bonus Flash fiction, and a book sale

It's summer, it's Monday, and the Ninja Librarian has nothing new to say. Instead, enjoy this repost of a little Pismawallops PTA mystery, to kick off a sale on the books. For the rest of June, Death By Ice Cream will be just 99 cents for the ebook, and Death By Trombone just $2.99. Get a jump start on the series, as I contemplate returning to work on Book 3 (while Book 3 of the Ninja Librarian is with the beta readers).

The Baffling Case of the Missing Socks

A Minor Domestic Mystery

“Mom!  I can’t find my socks!”

There are few words more chilling to the heart of a mother on a schedule.  No use ignoring him, though.  I’ve known Brian almost 16 years, and he doesn’t give up.

With a sigh, I hit “save” and turned from the computer to call up the stairs, “There were a dozen pairs in your sock drawer yesterday.”

“I mean my new running socks.  The ones Coach brought me from Seattle.”

I began the standard litany.  “Are they in your gym bag?”


“Did you leave them in your locker?”

“No!  Mom, this is important.  We have a meet today in Sedro-Woolly!”

Brian runs the 1500 meter race for the Orcaville High track team.  His socks bear a life-and-death importance to him on meet days.  This was serious.

I stood up, preparing myself for a desperate search for the truth even as I made one last effort to avoid the crisis.  “Don’t you have any others?”

“Not like these.  I need the new ones for the meet!”

I hauled myself up the stairs, muttering to myself about useless males.  Brian stood in the middle of his room, gym bag in one hand and book bag in the other, looking frantically about him.

I looked at my watch.  We had about three minutes before we had to leave for school.  I’d meant to spend those minutes finishing an article I was writing for the new “Rural Urbanites” magazine, but this took precedence.

“Finish getting ready.  I’ll look.”

Brian dropped both bags and looked around frantically .  “What? I've got my uniform.”

“Hair.” I pointed.  “And teeth.  And shoes would probably be good.”

He clutched at his head and disappeared into the bathroom.

A few years ago I’d have wasted my time quizzing him about where he’d last seen the socks.  I’m wiser now.  It’s one of the mercifully few ways Brian resembles his father: Allen can’t find things either, but he’s not my problem anymore.  Brian is.

I began with the sock drawer, rummaging hastily through the jumble of socks and underwear to see if Brian had really looked, or just glanced at the mess and given up.  The new socks were neon green, which made it unlikely that even a guy could miss them.  Still, it was the most reasonable place to find a pair of socks.  Ninety percent of the time, when a male can’t find something, it is right where it should be, only under something else.

I made that statistic up, but it’s true.

From the sock drawer I turned to the other drawers.  Nothing.  Then the desk.  I was starting to feel the pressure of time slipping away, and I left an even worse mess than I’d found, and still no socks.
Moving to the bed as the clocked ticked down to doom, I vowed Brian would clean his room that very day.  Or maybe the next.  He’d be late coming home from the track meet.  Any time the team ran anywhere but at home, it was a major expedition for the same reason I couldn’t just run out and buy Brian new socks: tiny Pismawallops Island is a 40-minute ferry ride from everything.

No, the honor of Orcaville hung on the keen detective abilities of JJ MacGregor, and I wasn’t going to let the team down.

I grabbed the bedcovers, yanked them back to expose the interior, and shook.  Brian needed clean sheets, but he wasn’t sleeping with the new socks.  A few garments fell to the floor as I shook out the covers, but not the socks.

I swept the bedding back into place as I heard the bathroom door open.  It was crunch time, and I had to come through.

As Brian’s footsteps sounded in the hall, I dropped to my stomach on the hardwood floor and stuck my head under the bed.

“Mom!  Have you found them?  We’ve got to go!”

I jerked when he yelled, banging my head on the underside of the bed, so hard the bed moved.  “Unspeakable excrescence of a cursed hunk of furniture,” I began, then stopped.

 I reached out an arm, grabbed the glowing bundle that dropped from behind the bed, and back out from under before accepting Brian’s hand up.

Of course, when he saw the socks, he dropped my hand and grabbed them like a drowning man clutching a life ring.  Or a lover clutching his true love.  For a moment I saw red, which went well with the stars I was still seeing from cracking my head.  Self-centered little beast, just like his father!

While Brian stowed the socks and gathered his belongings, I climbed more slowly to my feet.

Then he turned again.  “You’re the greatest, Mom!  A real Sherlock Holmes.”  And not a hint of irony in his tone.

I could almost feel my deerstalker hat and Inverness Cape as I followed him down the stairs.  Not so much like his dad, after all.  Brian had an actual sense of gratitude, and a sense of humor.

“Come on, Mom!”  Brian called again.  He already had the car keys and was leading the way out the door.

The last misty hints of the deerstalker faded away as I climbed into the passenger seat, and the greatest sleuth on Pismawallops Island became once again a driver training instructor.  I tightened my seat belt and crossed myself, muttered three “om manis” and followed it up with “Now I lay me down to sleep,” just to cover all my bases.

A real sleuth can face any danger, but not always without blanching.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2013
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Now grab your copies of the books and find out what JJ can do with a real mystery!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: For Want of a Map

Our Chuck Wendig challenge this week was simply that the story must contain a map.  That fit nicely with a story I began writing (in my head) while on a hike a couple of years ago. You may draw whatever conclusions you like. 990 words.

For Want of a Map

“You said you knew the route. You said you didn’t need a map.” Rosa’s tone was deceptively calm, and Hal swallowed. After 27 years of marriage he knew when he was in trouble.

“I, ah, must have missed the junction. It can’t be far back, though.” He tried to picture it, but he’d been thinking about a problem at work, and had really no idea where the junction had been.

Rosa looked at her husband a moment, hands on hips, and let him squirm. Then she dropped her pack, opened the top pocket, and extracted a map. Unfolding it, she turned her back to the wind—and to her spouse. The effect was somewhat ruined when she had to dig in the pack again to extract her reading glasses. They never listed those in the “10 Essentials,” but after a certain age a hiker might as well leave the map and compass at home without the pesky things.

Hal watched, not sure if he should get closer or not, while she traced their route with a finger. After a minute Rosa looked up.

“I think we’re about here. That junction was at least two miles back.” She sounded like she’d forgotten she was angry, but Hal knew better than to believe it. He did come closer to peer at the map.

Rosa was correct. Not that there’d been any doubt. “We can double back and add 4 or 5 miles to that ‘easy 8-miler’ you promised, or we can go on to this trail,” her finger jabbed the map, “and follow that on back to here, then cut back over on this one, which will add…” She paused to calculate the distance.

“Four or 5 miles,” Hal said, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt.

“It is too early in the season for a 12-miler, let alone 13,” Rosa said.

There was no answer to make to that, so Hal made none. Twenty-seven years had taught him some wisdom, though obviously not enough. Both of them knew they had to walk it, so there was no point in saying so.

“Do you have any more chocolate?”

He knew the answer to that question. “Yes. Let me give it to you.” If they’d gotten lost together, she might have shared it with him. As it was, he was just glad he hadn’t eaten his share yet. When they talked about wilderness survival, they never mentioned dealing with a pissed-off wife with sore feet and an empty stomach, or the life-saving properties of chocolate, distributed in the right quarter. He dug a little deeper and found a bag of peanuts, which he also handed over to his wife.

Rosa took the offerings, knowing she was being hard on her husband, and needing the food to keep herself from still worse behaviors. Her mood was not improved by knowing that she could read a map, had been carrying a map, and had chosen instead to blindly follow Hal.

“Which way?” she asked when the food had been eaten. She hadn’t given Hal any of the chocolate, but had shared a small handful of the peanuts.

Hal studied the map. This was a trick question, as he well knew. If he made the decision and it turned out badly, or proved longer than they thought, it would be his fault. That was why she’d asked him.

“I really think it’s a crap-shoot for distance. Let’s keep going on this trail. That’s better than back-tracking.” Maybe they’d see something interesting enough or scenic enough to make up for the extra hiking, and Rosa’s sore feet.

Rosa nodded. She knew what he was thinking, and had to agree, though she’d still blame him for her pains. She stood up and slung her pack back into place, shoving the map and her glasses into the deep side pocket on her pants so they’d be handy.

For a mile or so, they even walked together, and Hal recognized a truce. By the third mile, though, Rosa’s feet were hurting worse than ever. She really did need to work up more slowly to these distances, and it had been no part of the plan to push like this.

As she often did when uncomfortable, Rosa picked up the pace. She didn’t wait when Hal stopped to take a photo, and he, feeling it might be safer to give her space, didn’t push to catch up. She’d long since stopped talking to him anyway.

Rosa was charging down the trail at her top speed, hungry and tired, with the pain from the feet working its way into her knees. The spousal truce was over, and she was grumbling with every step about idiot males who didn’t pay attention where they were going. Didn’t he have any consideration for her at all?

She came around the corner and halted.

A bear stood in the trail, looking as foolish and startled as Rosa felt. She scanned for cubs, found none, and fear was replaced by the irritation that was the only thing keeping her going.

“Get the freaking hell out of my way, you hulking idiot!” A part of her mind was surprised at what came out of her mouth. Another part wasn’t. When she had a full head of angry steam on, a bear was small stuff in comparison.

The bear reached the same conclusion. It took one look at the dirty, sweaty, and irate human charging down the trail, and turned tail. A loud crashing told where it had broken a new route through the underbrush in the effort to put distance between them.

Rosa watched for just a moment, hands on hips. “Right. Good plan, bear.” She set herself in motion again.

Hal, coming into sight just in time to see the last of the bear, nodded sympathetically. Rosa could be a force of nature.

He took care not to catch up.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

The best grumpy-hiker photo I could find. My husband is too smart to save the really bad ones!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Non-fiction Review: Where You Go is not Who You'll Be


Title: Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania
Author: Frank Bruni
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2015. 218 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary: 
Over the last few decades, Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying and occasionally devastating process, preceded by test prep, tutors, all sorts of stratagems, all kinds of rankings, and a conviction among too many young people that their futures will be determined and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no.

That belief is wrong. It's cruel. And in WHERE YOU GO IS NOT WHO YOU'LL BE, Frank Bruni explains why, giving students and their parents a new perspective on this brutal, deeply flawed competition and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes.

My Review:
Every parent of a kid finishing high school needs to read this book, or at least the blurb. Bruni's message is important, whether you are one of the parents getting caught up in the whole Ivy League prestige thing or a parent (or kid) who has more modest ambitions (or means) and occasionally worries this will mean your kid can never be president. It just ain't so. You get out of college (shocking spoiler!) pretty much what you put in, at Yale or Arizona State (or presumably San Francisco State or Whitworth University).

Bruni is a good writer, and his arguments are presented with an impressive mix of statistics and anecdotes (which I realize mean little in some ways, though any tale of an ordinary kid making it big by working hard should be a good reminder of what's possible). My main objection to the book, which was entertaining as well as a good lesson, was that in a lot of ways the whole book is contained in that blurb above. You don't have to read the book, if you're willing to just take his word that finding the right college for you/your kid is more important than just *which* college you find (and yes, "right" can sometimes mean "affordable"). I read the whole thing, but I don't really think anyone needs to. It definitely felt repetitious by the end.

One thing very worthwhile is Bruni's utter blasting of the U.S. News college rankings. Which are, as you might guess, meaningless reinforcements of baseless beliefs. I also appreciated what he had to say about diversity--and the limiting effects of the lack of economic/social diversity at the Ivies (something of some concern to us with the small private school our son is attending; we did have to recognize that no college, even SFSU, would match the diversity of his public grade school and high school). It's worth thinking about.

(Something Bruni didn't address, but which I can vouch for, is the effect on the lower-income kid who gets into a school full of rich kids. It ain't easy being the only one who can't afford to go out for mud pie after midterms. It's another thing to think about when considering the elite schools: do you want to hang out with the elites?)

As I said, every parent and probably a lot of the teens who are starting the college selection and application frenzy should read this, and mellow out (my boys are naturally mellow, so we've had little stress over the process, though some concerns about finding a good fit).

FTC Disclosure: I checked Where You Go is not Who You'll Be 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."