Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What I didn't finish, and why

Lately, I've found myself  not finishing some books, and while I don't like to write reviews of books I haven't finished, I thought it might be useful to talk about why I let them go. I'll say right here: it's not always because they are bad books. In fact, it's usually just because they aren't the right books and the right time. That said, here are a couple of books I let expire, and (to the best of my ability to suss out) the reasons why.

The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson
Yup, that's right: I DNF'd a book by the famously witty Bill Bryson. As a matter of fact, this didn't totally surprise me. I had a love-hate relationship with A Walk in the Woods (yes, he made me laugh, but he also made me want to throw the book across the room with his lack of knowledge and planning, utter ignorance of good hiker etiquette and Leave No Trace principals, etc.). I enjoyed his book about Australia, but then when I read the one on the US, I found that when he wrote about places I know well his version was often shallow, misguided, or just plain wrong.

So I did start Little Dribbling with some trepidation, and it was justified. There was much less than usual of interesting history and stories and description of places, and much more griping about things that have changed in 20 years (I get that; I break my heart over some things that have changed, and not for the better. But as a theme for the book? Not good). But the final straw was that his humor seems to have become mean-spirited. I almost quit when he recounted tormenting a McDonald's employee for doing his job. I did quit after his excoriation of a shop owner who didn't seem to care if Bryson stayed or went. Really, Bryson? He ends up sounding not only like a grumpy old man, but a grumpy rich old man who is kind of annoyed by all the common people around him.

(Credit where it's due: I've enjoyed Bryson's historical work, At Home: A Short History of Private Life and The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way. Regarding that latter, knowing he'd written it and done his research, I was surprised at his rant in this new book about...English spelling. You explained that to us, man).

The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries, by Emily Brightwell
This is a completely different case. The book is fine, really. Well-written and a bit humorous, and all that.'s not grabbing me, and after a bit of thought, I think I know why. Actually, it's the same problem as Bryson has, in a way: the humor comes at the expense of someone. I've had issues with this in other books I've read, where a character is presented as just kind of a comic bungler. When it's the main character in a mystery, it kind of works--after all, they manage to solve the crime. It works even better when the bumbling character is the narrator, because that's just humorous self-deprecation and we can take it for what it's worth. But in this case, I feel like the Inspector is just a patsy to allow Mrs. Jeffries to be the smart one. I get the plot device. The author has found a way to avoid the biggest problem of the amateur detective, their difficult position vis-a-vis the police. But.

My take-away: snark is a dangerous weapon. Self-directed snark by a 1st-person narrator is pretty safe, but beyond that, things get risky.

Note: I hesitated about putting this one on here, because for all I know the Inspector will get the last laugh and prove not to be an idiot after all. But I kind of doubt it. For now, I'm leaving the book on my MP3 player and may finish at some point. In which case, if I am more satisfied, I'll write a real review.

Other books
There have been some other books I've not finished, books that I won't name. Those have been books with deeper flaws, often: historical inaccuracies, poor writing or editing, etc. I don't need to reflect much to know why I drop a book with those problems. But I had to think about why I might dump a book with good prose, a strong plot, and a professional proof-reader. I hope it gives me food for thought for my own writing.

How about you? Do you leave books unfinished? If so, do you ever analyze why?

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mystery Review: The Black Thumb, By Frankie Bow

Title: The Black Thumb
Author: Frankie Bow
Publisher: Hawaiian Heritage Press, 2016. 270 pages.
Source: Electronic review copy

Publisher's Summary:
When a violent death disrupts the monthly meeting of the Pua Kala Garden society, Professor Molly Barda has no intention of playing amateur detective. But Molly’s not just a witness-the victim is Molly’s house guest and grad-school frenemy. And Molly quickly finds to her dismay that her interest in the murder of the stylish and self-centered Melanie Polewski is more than just…academic.

My Review:
This was a mystery that caught my attention and kept it from the start to the end. Maybe I was a little extra taken with the main character because I've spent most of my adult life in or around academia, but really the book has little to do with Molly's campus life, since it takes place during the summer vacation. It was just a good read in an interesting setting (Hawaii is just a bit exotic to me, since I've only ever been once, to the Big Island).

I liked Molly as a character. She's not too perfect, but she's not too flawed, either. I'm not sure she's too smart about men, but you can't have everything (time will tell, but I don't like her boyfriend). The author keeps the tone of the book generally light, without making light of the situation Molly finds herself in (the dead woman gets pretty short shrift, as is often the case in cozies, and I've no objection to that).

The mystery itself is well constructed. I did wander around among the red herrings some, though I did begin to suspect the perp well short of the end, and well before Molly did. I didn't really believe my suspicions, so I think the author wins on that one! There were some of the sub-plots that I felt got tied up a little too fast and unconvincingly, but overall, I give the book a high rating and have no significant complaints (except maybe about that man Molly's in love with).
This is a good read for fans of the cozy (light) mystery who don't want cutesy but appreciate humor. I will be reading the rest of the series.

FTC Disclosure: I received an electronic review copy of The Black Thumb from the publisher in exchange for my honest review, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher. 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."  

About the Author:
Like Molly Barda, Frankie Bow teaches at a public university. Unlike her protagonist, she is blessed with delightful students, sane colleagues, a loving family, and a perfectly nice office chair. She believes if life isn’t fair, at least it can be entertaining.
In addition to writing murder mysteries, she publishes in scholarly journals under her real name. Her experience with academic publishing has taught her to take nothing personally.
Author Links

Purchase Links
Amazon  – B&N

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flashback Friday: What's for Dinner?


It's Flashback Friday--a fun blog-hop that's a break for bloggers and a chance to give something from long ago another airing. Click on the image above to check out the hop and find the list of participants. I hunted through the archives for a story to re-share. I couldn't remember this one from May 2014, but it made me smile when I re-read it, so here you go. It's short--only about 700 words.

What’s for Dinner?

Mom’s acting weird.  Well, that’s kind of normal, if you follow me, because she’s always weird, but usually she’s weird like wearing strange clothes and working all night on one of those bizarre sculptures she makes.  I won’t ever tell her this, but I don’t like them.  They have too many jagged edges.  They’ll tear holes in you if you get too close.  I sometimes wonder if she’s out to destroy someone, or if she just sees the world that way, all jagged.  Either way: weird.

But what’s really weird is that she’s started cooking.  No more Swanson’s pot pies, and no more trips through the fast food drive-through window.  So now, I have to eat what she calls “real food,” which is sometimes pretty unreal, if you follow me.

The thing is, her idea of real food can get pretty disturbing.  And that’s why I am sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework, instead of in my room with my music.  I’m keeping an eye on the cooking, between algebra problems.  I’m watching for that moment that says she’s gone over the edge, so I can try to save the rest of us.

She’s put on a big pot of water to boil.  That seems pretty safe, so I turn back to my math book.  6x + 7y=23.  If y=2, what is x?  Okay, algebra’s weird, too.  What do I care what X equals?  I can see at a glance that it’s not going to be a nice round number.  I don’t like decimals.  They’re messy.  And I need some kind of motivation for X, if I’m going to care why it’s multiplying six.

Pasta.  She’s gotten out the spaghetti, which is good, and matches the pot of water.  But a lot depends on what she wants to put atop it.  My palms start to sweat as she begins pulling things off of shelves and muttering.  She’s got an awful pile of weird stuff: ginger and allspice and beans, and for some reason a bottle of pickled pigs feet.  And is that an incantation she’s muttering?  We have never in our lives eaten pickled pigs feet, and I do not intend to begin now.  I forget all about algebra and concentrate on willing the bottle to disappear.

She puts the first cupboard load back on the shelves, and I heave a sigh of relief when the pigs feet disappear.  Then the search starts all over, and I start to sweat again.  What is that green stuff?  And is it supposed to be green, or is that a very bad sign?

Mom does the search three times, and I can’t tell what she’s selected.  By the third shelf of the third cupboard, I’m a nervous wreck, and algebra is a distant memory.  Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is the night she poisons us all, and I can only wonder if it will be on purpose or just because she let her artist’s imagination get loose.  But if I’m poisoned, I won’t have to turn in my homework, so I don’t hurry.

I start to pray.  I’m not religious, but when we studied world religions last fall, my best friend Griffin and I memorized prayers from every one of them, mostly in languages we don’t understand.  We made up a couple of our own, too, in the elf language J. R. R. Tolkien invented for The Lord of the Rings.  I repeat them all now.  Maybe at least one of the gods will appreciate the attention and save me.  And Dad and my sister, though by this time I’m thinking mostly of myself.

Mom plops the big pasta bowl onto the table, interrupting my prayers and scattering my algebra.

 I stare into the bowl, horrified.  It’s green.  Radioactive waste is green, isn’t it?  Or ectoplasm, or space aliens.  And mold.  Mold is green.

“Eat up,” Mom says.  “Come and get it,” she calls to Dad and Lily.

My hands are shaking.  We who are about to die. .  .

“It’s just pesto, for heaven’s sake Joseph!”

I sag in relief.  Pesto’s bad, but it’s better than interplanetary ecto-slime. 

Rats.  I’ll have to finish my homework after all.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Middle Grade Audio Review: The Green Glass Sea


Title: The Green Glass Sea
Author: Ellen Klages. Read by Julie Dretzin
Publisher: Original hardback Viking Books for Young Readers, 2006 (324 pages). Audio by Recorded Books, 2007.
Source: Library (digital resources)

Publisher's Summary: 
It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know how much "the gadget" is about to change their lives.
[Note: I'm not sure where the summary on Goodreads came from, but probably not the publisher--it is poorly written and has spelling errors! Don't let this put you off.]

My Review:
This is an excellent piece of historical fiction. There is, of course, a certain fascination to the setting and situation--it hasn't been that long since we were able to know much about what went on in Los Alamos, and few historical pieces I've seen have much about the lives of the children there. The author appears to have done her research well, and the town comes to life for the reader. But this is also a good story, about family, friendship, and fitting in, and the characters are the most important thing.

In fact, the book really ends up being the story of two people: of Dewey first, but also of the almost equally mis-fitting (is that a word?) Suze Gordon. Through these two characters the author gives us food for thought about the different ways kids think and grow--and how hard kids are on each other when they don't conform. [As an aside, I sometimes almost feel sorry for "normal" kids, because most of the books give them a bad time! True to form, the girls who are just interested in fun and boys and looking good come off pretty poorly here.]

The writing is good, with vivid descriptions of Los Alamos and the surrounding country. The author also seems to be experimenting a bit. The opening chapter, and one other later chapter, are written in the present tense, while the rest of the book is in the past tense. The effect, though it was odd at first, largely works (at least in the audio version). The use of present tense brings extra immediacy to a couple of key moments in Dewey's life, and makes the reader feel more a part of her feelings.

Julie Dretzin does an excellent job with the narration, voicing the characters in ways that sounded right to me, in keeping not only with age and gender, but with their natures. Production qualities are high, though I heard a little noise here and there.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and those interested in a little different view of WWII. Ages 10+, though younger kids may also appreciate it and they won't suffer any harm.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Green Glass Sea 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."  

For those who'd like to see more of what the area looks  like, I have visited Los Alamos (unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures there, but it's still very much a company town) and the nearby Bandelier National Monument. The monument isn't referred to by name in the book, for some reason (it was established in 1916, so it was a monument at the time of the book). But Dewey and her father do visit--they explore Frijoles Canyon and climb into one of the caves in the characteristic tuff.

The mesa area between Los Alamos and Frijoles Canyon.

Looking down into Frijoles Canyon. The road-like thing in the foreground is a trail; in the background you can see the road leading down into the canyon, which runs off down into the Rio Grande.

Ruins at the base of the tuff cliff.

This could have been Dewey, climbing into the cave :)
Bandelier Ruins


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Monday, August 22, 2016

Middle-Grade Monday: Far From Fair

(The Ninja Librarian knows this post is late. It's been that kind of summer in Skunk Corners).25897886

Title: Far From Fair
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016. 240 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Odette has a list: Things That Aren’t Fair. At the top of the list is her parents’ decision to take the family on the road in an ugly RV they’ve nicknamed the Coach. There’s nothing fair about leaving California and living in the Coach with her par­ents and exasperating brother. And there’s definitely nothing fair about Grandma Sissy’s failing health, and the painful realities and difficult decisions that come with it. Most days it seems as if everything in Odette’s life is far from fair but does it have to be?

With warmth and sensitivity Elana Arnold makes difficult topics such as terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers and apt for discussion.

My Review: 
At first, I didn't think I was going to like this book, because at first I really didn't like Odette. She is whiny and complaining about the changes in her life, with no interest in adventure and no sensitivity to what her parents are dealing with. As the story went on, though, I realized a) that she is a pretty typical 11-year-old (which is still pretty annoying), and b) she has a chance to redeem herself. So that saved the book, mostly, and in the end I didn't hate Odette.

That said, I wasn't wild about the book. Too much of it was taken up with Odette's self-absorbed complaints, and that got old. The issues of right to die and dealing with terminal illness, as the publisher says, are handled pretty well (again, from the perspective of an extremely self-centered 11-year-old; I have to say that I know many children that age who are a great deal more capable of thinking about people other than themselves). But the main focus of the story still feels like it's Odette's resentment about being uprooted, a single note that simply can't carry the story.

I give this one a lukewarm recommendation, and credit mostly for being an okay "issues book." That, and the road trip is kind of cool, or maybe just fun for me because they go up the West Coast, visiting places I know, some pretty well (including Orcas Island, where they end up).

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

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: When Pigs Fly

This story was inspired by a little ornament I saw atop a mailbox while out biking this week. It must have a story behind it, though given the neighborhood, I'm sure it's a very different story from the one I have chosen to give it. To me, the story feels like another nod to L.M. Montgomery. Slightly longer than usual at just under 1100 words.

When Pigs Fly

“I don’t think we’ll ever save enough.” Evelyn didn’t say it to be discouraging. It was a simple statement of fact. That made it worse.

Barry sighed, but said, “We’ll find a way.”

“I do hope so,” Evelyn said with a glance around their run-down apartment. Soot from the trains and factories marked everything, and the street outside was noisy and crowded. “But I really think pigs will fly before we save enough money for even a little farm.”

Barry grinned. “When I prove you wrong, I’ll name our place Flying Pig Farm.” They laughed, and sighed, and Barry took his lunch and went to work.

Barry and Evelyn Thomas were small-town people, but hard times had forced them into the city. After a month or more of doing odd jobs, Barry had landed a place at a factory, which gave him hope. Evelyn managed the household budget, and was less confident. They’d be lucky to save a few dollars a month. If she could find work, maybe they could get ahead, but the factory hired few women, and paid them next to nothing.

Evelyn fumed while she cleaned the apartment. Women were paid less, and given the most dangerous jobs, and that was just wrong. She could work as hard as any man, and often had.

It was while she was stewing over this injustice that Evelyn had an idea that took her breath away. She put down her futile dusting cloth and looked in the spotted mirror. If she cut her hair and wore men’s clothes, she could pass as a man, or at least a boy. She was strong and well-muscled for a woman, with a boyish figure that would take little disguising.

Should she tell Barry her idea? He was willing that she should work, if she could find work that wasn’t too dangerous and paid enough to be worth it.

“It’s wrong to pay women less, and I guess if can fool them I’ll prove it!” Evelyn told the cat. “But Barry might not approve of lying.” Evelyn was more pragmatic than her husband. If a lie could correct an injustice, then she would lie.  She looked again at her hair and sighed.

She wouldn’t mind getting rid of the great heavy rope of hair she braided every morning and pinned to her head. A bob would be a relief, and here in the city lots of girls were wearing them. Not many wives, but someone had to be first.

Evelyn looked in her purse and counted the few bills and coins there.
An hour later, she looked into a cleaner and clearer mirror, heart in her throat. It was perfect. The hairdresser had, as instructed, cut it as short as a woman might wear, and Evelyn’s head felt light and cool, and the short bob set off her face nicely, too.

"I don't know what my husband will say," Evelyn told the hairdresser as she paid. "But I think it's wonderful."

The woman, whose hair was cropped as short as Evelyn's, nodded. "He'll get used to it, you'll see. And it’s such a relief to be free of all that hair."

With a man's hat and the right clothes, Evelyn could now pass for a man, or at least a boy. A boy of 16 earned a man's wages, more than a woman of any age. She went from the hairdresser’s right to a shop that sold half-worn clothing, and went home to change. She couldn’t wait to go out and try her disguise.

It was a pleasure to stride along without the impediment of skirts. She was enjoying the sensation--and the way no one paid her any attention--when she became aware of a disturbance.

A cart had gotten stuck in an alley, and the carter was yelling and beating the animal instead of fixing the problem. When the horse screamed and reared she ran to it, not stopping at all to think. She yelled at the driver to drop the reins and his whip, as she reached for the horse's head.

"Easy, now," she crooned to the animal. She'd always been good with animals and in a moment the horse had calmed. The carter still sat on his seat and shook, while a better-dressed man cursed at him, then told him to get down and leave.

The owner of the cart looked at the mess, then turned on her. “You, boy! Can you drive a cart?”

Evelyn nodded, not trusting her voice.

“Then you’re hired. You start right now.”

“At what wage?” She’d never have asked that without her disguise. He named an hourly wage that took her breath away. It was nearly as much as Barry made, and far more than even the women who supervised the other factory women. She shook hands on the deal and went to work.
It didn’t take long for Barry to find her out, of course. Evelyn told him she’d cut her hair on account of the heat. He was sad, but admitted it must be more comfortable. She told him she’d found work, but not how, or exactly what.

For a few weeks Evelyn kept her secret, leaving the house after Barry did, so he never saw her in her man’s clothes. She finished her deliveries by late afternoon and was always home, dressed in her own clothes, before Barry arrived. If she smelled a bit horsey, he knew her job had something to do with the animals.

It wasn’t until there was a breakdown at the factory and the workers were sent home early that Barry learned Evelyn’s secret. He was waiting when she got home, and studied her a moment.

“Young Mister Thomas, I presume?” he asked, and swept her into a tight hug. “Now I know how my clever wife found a job that pays so well,” was the only comment he ever made about the deception.

“You aren’t angry?”

Barry laughed. “How could I be? I think I hear the flutter of pig wings!”
Even with Evelyn’s earnings, it took two years, but at last the day came when Evelyn and Barry Thomas walked in the front door of their own house, on their own land.

A few weeks later, Barry fastened a sign to the gate. Atop the gate he bolted an iron ornament he’d had the blacksmith forge specially.

Flying Pig Farm was complete.

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

If you enjoy my stories, please consider purchasing my books. Final week for the 99 cent special on Halitor the Hero!
For Amazon purchase link, click the cover image.

Or purchase in the format of your choice from Smashwords.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gone Fishin'

Well, actually, no. The Ninja Librarian doesn't fish. But I have been helping Mom move, and didn't get a post ready for today. So have a few flowers, instead.

Some alpine flowers from the Sierra Nevada:

Indian Paintbrush

A type of sunflower (DYC)

Leopard Lily or similar
And from one of our coastal communities, a bunch of naked ladies in a cemetary:

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Non-fiction review: As I Saw it in the Trenches

I apologize for the lack of a cover photo--I'm on the road and my antique laptop wouldn't cooperate!

Title: As I Saw it in the Trenches: Memoir of a Doughboy in World War I
Author: Dae Hinson
Publisher: McFarland & Company, 2015. 177 pages.
Source: Library

This is the memoir of a WWI soldier, written down by him sometime in the years after the war, and discovered and transcribed by his nephew decades later. Hinson's goal seems simply to have been the accurate description of his WWI experiences. It is full of details about the war as he lived it.

This book reads very much as what it is: the account of a person who was not a professional writer, but a good observer and who obviously put a lot of effort into his narration. The editors have had the sense to leave it alone and not try to polish it up, and there are some places where errors slipped in or bits are missing, but the whole makes sense and it maintains the author's voice. The result is a very personal narrative and one that takes the reader right into the chaos of the First World War.

Hinson was just an ordinary young man, not particularly excited to be going to war, but also not willing to be slow to step up to do it (he enlisted as soon as the US entered the war). Because of how late the US was to the party (as it were) and the length of his training, Hinson in fact only spent a short time--a period of weeks as far as I could tell--on the front lines. The carnage he witnessed and the number of times he was nearly killed in those few weeks makes one wonder how any soldier came through that war alive and in his right mind. We will remember that while the US was in the war for less than a year, the whole thing went on for four years, and French, British, and Commonwealth soldiers were in France for that whole time. Some soldiers were there the whole time, on and off the front lines.

One of the things that most struck me about Hinson's account was not only the futility of their desperate and deadly efforts to capture some minor hill or single bunker, but the constant chaos. That chaos included a lack of any "bigger picture," and the sense you get from reading his account was that not only did the rank and file not know what they were doing or why, but most of the officers were in much the same state, just trying to carry out orders as they came through. Some of this confusion extended to the question of why they were there at all. Many Americans inevitably questioned the reasons why they had become involved in a war that seemed to most to be an issue for people far from their homes, and Hinson doesn't hesitate to share that doubt with the reader.

This is an unpolished, at times rough, narrative of one man's war-time experiences. If, like me, you are fascinated by this war that is so nearly forgotten 100 years later, it's an invaluable resource and I recommend reading it. I hope that I can find other similar documents from the men who were on the lines longer and perhaps had a greater stake in the outcome, because this book gives a sense of what it was like that no third-person account can provide.

FTC Disclosure: I checked As I Saw it in the Trenches 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."  

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Note: the author is aware of the irony of selling a book about a boy who wants to go fight at the end of a review about a boy who did go fight.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Friday Flash: Some Heroics Required

Chuck Wendig gave us a sub-genre mashup this week, and the dice gave me "creature feature" and "sword & sorcery." That's almost too easy a fit, but I was pressed for time, so that was a good thing. In 998 words, I give you:

Some Heroics Required

“You have to, Eeyla. You’re our last hope.”

The knight shifted uncomfortably. She was the last hope? To go after a monster that had destroyed how many knights?

“It’s defeated every other knight in the realm?”

“Well, no.” Lord Altain looked uncomfortable in his turn. “But you have what none of them do. You have magic.”

Eeyla sighed. She might have known. “So some fool of a wizard created a golem that’s run out of control. Why me? Let him fix his own mess.”

The Lord Chancellor grimaced. “The monster ate him for breakfast, minutes after it was created. It had most of the village for elevenses.”

It was the knight’s turn to grimace. It didn’t look like there was any way out. With a small groan for the joints that had been sprained too often, she rose and began gathering her weapons. “Where will I find this...creature?”

Lord Altain gave her an incredulous look, but refrained from comment. “Just follow the trail of death and devastation.”

She didn’t like the sound of that. She hoped the reports of destruction were exaggerated.

Two hours later, Eeyla was forced to admit that the reports were, if anything, an understatement. She rode her light mount, keeping to a canter as she approached the village where the creature was last reported. Her heavy warhorse followed on a lead rein. He’d be needed soon enough, and needed as fresh as could be, too. She drew up at the edge of the village.

She could only tell it had been a village by the bodies strewn about. Every structure had been reduced to rubble—kindling and gravel, she thought, looking at the ruins of the wattle-and-daub buildings. The dead had been flung about, many missing limbs.

“Playing with its food,” Eeyla muttered. The creature, sated, continued to kill. Lord Altain was right. She had to do this, and she needed to move fast. How many more villages had it devastated in the hours since leaving this one?

It didn’t take long to get an answer to that question. The trail of destruction required no wood-craft to follow. Eeyla rode through the remains of three villages, and found half a dozen crofts or small farms that had suffered likewise.

She had drawn up to listen more closely to the distant sounds of battle when the first man ran past her, fleeing back up the trail of destruction. Terror contorted his face, and he didn’t seem to notice the knight and two horses in his path.

He wasn’t the only villager to flee, only the fastest. Others soon followed in a thickening stream, most too focused on their flight to respond to Eeyla’s presence. A few called to her to turn back, to fly while she could.

Eeyla didn’t turn back. She set her spear, loosened her sword in its sheath, and ran through all the spells she could think of that might be of use. She didn’t think the thing would listen to a command to, “Begone, fiend!” Instead, she concentrated on spells that would give her weapons greater force and accuracy. Which knights had been killed? Yes, at least one was stronger and faster than she was. She would need her magic.

Maybe she could combine the double-force spell with some lightning.

When screams and crashing told her she was very close, Eeyla switched mounts. She could do it while in motion, not in full armor, but in the leather and chainmail she wore for this battle. Armor would be more protection, but she thought the speed and agility of the lighter garb would be more needed. She turned loose the lighter horse.

Eeyla rounded a final bend in the road and took in the scene at a glance. This village might recover, if she stopped the creature soon enough. There were a lot of dead, but more had somehow escaped alive.

A moment later she saw how. A dozen men had attacked the creature—a giant, almost featureless golem—with pikes and ropes, and their efforts slowed the thing enough to allow the people to flee.

She was planning her attack when she saw the children cowering behind a chicken coop almost at the monster’s feet. If she drove it back, it might well crush them. She had to draw it forward, away from them.

The creature knew what a knight was. It lunged toward her, tearing the ropes from the grips of the villages.

“Fly!” Eeyla commanded.

They fled. One man chanced a dash behind the monster, swept up the children, and escaped by crashing right through the fence that had trapped the children. Eeyla was left alone to face the monster.

She didn’t waste her breath with taunts, threats, or entreaties for the creature to just stop. She lowered her spear, shouted the words of the empowerment spell, and charged.

The spear shattered. The creature seemed to have a hide of steel. It stumbled toward her, clumsy but deadly, and Eeyla pulled her sword from the sheath. Her mount, terrified though it was, held its ground, and the added height put Eeyla on a level with the creature’s chest. What on earth had the wizard been thinking, to make something so huge? She had time for just the one thought before her sword met leathery flesh.

The golem used its own arm as a shield, deflecting the blow, and reached for the knight with the other arm. Eeyla was saved only by her horse dancing back out of reach. The creature screamed rage.

Enough. As she swung the heavy sword again, Eeyla spoke the words of the lightning spell. Power poured through her, and from her. A bolt from the clear sky met lightning from the sword in the middle of the golem.

Bits of the creature flew everywhere. Eeyla was knocked from the saddle by either a piece of monster or her own magical power, she didn’t know which.

It didn’t matter. Her battle was won.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings: Ansel Adams Wilderness

Two weeks ago I returned from a week of backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (California; just south of Yosemite) with my husband and oldest son. It's hard to capture a week's worth in a single blog post, but I'll take a shot at the highlights.

It started with the drive from San Francisco, through Yosemite, and on to Lee Vining, where we treated ourselves to dinner at the Mono Cone, an old-school burger joint. After a night camped in an unnamed location, we picked up a backcountry permit and hit the trail about 10 a.m.

A typical preparation scene.
The trail heads right up the wall, though unfortunately it leads to a trio of lakes that were dammed before the wilderness area was created. We thought the tramway was no longer in use, but when we got to the top we found that it's still the way workers commute to the job site when the dams need attention.
I'm sure they actually ride the brakes hard, but it looks like a roller coaster to me!
Eventually we found a tranquil campsite (though somewhat over-built by other campers; we don't build furniture in the wilderness, but we're not above using it when someone else does).
Mosquitoes were just bearable, especially with a bit of smoke.
More to our taste was the beautiful stream by camp, full of trout.

The next day was the real entry to the wilderness. We started up from camp, and kept going up. We blew past the final dammed lake, and used a mile of the Pacific Crest/John Muir trail to take us to the Marie Lakes trail. Then we followed that up. Through some beautiful meadows and up some more over a ridge to drop DOWN to the lake at last, at well over 10,000'.
I'd had some hopes this meadow was where our lake was, but we had to go on.
You do what you have to do to get that room with a view, after all.
Marie Lake, the lower of two (!) Yes, above tree line. It was too windy for mosquitoes.
Above tree line doesn't mean no plants. There were a lot of flowers.
If you're wondering, yes, there were snow banks melting into the lake. And yes, we bathed in it anyway.
The third day was a short but interesting cross-country trek to the next major lake basin to the south, Davis Lakes.
The spouse and son consider if there is a way down. There is.
Davis Lake was also beautiful and tranquil, and had a few trees around for a bit of shade, too. There is a trail, and signs people camp there, but no one else was around when we were.
 We found the most amazing meadows full of Indian Paintbrush in a number of places, including the upper end of Davis Lake.

Day Four saw a return to the PCT/JMT for another mile, over Islands Pass, where small tarns provide iconic reflections of Banner Peak. They also marked the point where we abandoned the trail again, cutting cross country directly for North Glacier Pass, half visible in this photo to the right of the peak and behind the trees.
And why, you ask? For Lake Catherine.
Banner Peak on the left, Ritter on the right. 
Our beautiful campsite on a tarn just below Catherine was home base for the next 2 nights. Yup, we even bathed with the ice bergs. I like to backpack, but I like to be clean, too!
Okay, bathing here meant splashing oneself well with the water and then getting out.
Day Five was dayhiking. We headed out early from camp to climb Davis Peak, 12,309'.
It's not the biggest thing around (which was admittedly part of the reason we chose to climb it), but views were pretty much 360 degrees. Far below the guys is 1000 Island Lake, and Nevada off in the distance.
Just below the horizon on the left side you can catch a glimpse of Mono Lake.

After dinner some of us explored a little further, to see more of the Ritter Lakes.

Day Six was another short day, dropping down to 1000 Island Lake, where we found a camp near a perfect beach and went for a swim, took naps, and lazed away the afternoon.
I called it Balcony Camp for the granite balcony.
 A note on that granite: much of the Sierra has it. It's the stuff that Yosemite is famous for. But all that stuff up around Banner Peak is something else, and instead of making nice slabs that are easy to walk on, it makes big blocks. I got very tired of hopping over big blocks, and was very happy to see granite again.
Sunset with Banner Peak. Due to a lack of clouds, sunsets were understated.
Our final day was 7 or 8 trail miles, but we made an early start and we were motivated--we wanted lunch at the Mono Cone.  At this point, we have about 5 miles to go--and 3000' to descend. But there's a burger and shake at the end of it, and we made it.
That's Mono Lake again in the background.
That's all, folks!
Last view of Banner.

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

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday Mystery for Kids: Murder is Bad Manners, by Robin Stevens


Title: Murder is Bad Manners
Author: Robin Stevens
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. 307 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

My Review: 
I was tipped off to this series by a  review from Jemima Pett. She got hold of the most recent book in the series, but I went off and found the first one, because that's the kind of person I am. I'm glad to have discovered them, though the idea of murder mysteries for children is an odd one. 

In fact, there is nothing (aside from a corpse) to make this unsuited for older children, though in my opinion the book is just as suited to adult readers, despite the youth of the main characters. The plot was interesting, the characters (the main characters, Wells and Wong) are well-developed and their friendship has more complexity than might be expected. 

The story had an interesting feel--which probably would match what the kids would feel--of being mostly a lark, right up until things get serious and the girls realize they could be in danger. Of course Hazel Wong, the narrator and the worrier of the pair, sees this first, while her friend is still wrapped up in the joy of having a real mystery to solve.

My Recommendation:
For ages 11 and up, I think. And perfect for adult mystery fans with a soft spot for those old British boarding school stories.

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

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