Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Bonus!

One more Halloween story from the archives, to celebrate the holiday. This one's from 2013, in 970 words.

Be Careful What you Read on Halloween

Don’t read fairy tales on Halloween.  Just don’t.  Trust me on this; I know what I’m talking about.

My name is Cara, I’m ten years old, and I like fairy tales. Correction: I used to like fairy tales. Mom is always saying fairy tales are good clean, safe reading for a kid like me, and things half the books out there are too violent, and half are too mushy. I kind of agree about the mushy part. Yuck. But none of the books she rants about is half so violent as Grimm’s fairy tales, and Mom ought to try reading them sometime.  But not on Halloween. Let me tell you.

It was while I was reading Cinderella that things began getting weird. I took a break to light my jack-o-lantern, and when I opened the lid a bunch of mice jumped out and took off, then sort of vanished. That was bad enough. I mean, mice are kind of cute, but not in my room, and not in my pumpkin. At least they hadn’t eaten it.  And if they vanished I wasn’t too likely to find them in my bed later.

But it was “Little Red Riding Hood” that pushed matters way beyond funny. Odd-funny, I mean. Even the mice weren’t laugh-until-you-wet-yourself funny. Just weird. I don’t really like scary stories, and I hated it last summer at camp when all the girls started telling ghost stories, even though they were mostly stupid. But I believed Mom about fairy tales being wholesome, and figured the Big Bad Wolf was scary enough for Halloween. And he was. Oh, yes. But he wasn’t all I got.

By the second page, when Little Red Riding Hood was walking through the dark and spooky forest to take her basket to her Granny, I could see—well, almost see—something out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to get a better look, it vanished. But long before we reached the cottage, I knew what it was. The wolf was there, watching.

I tried to stop reading. This was more spookiness than I wanted, especially on Halloween. But the book wouldn’t close. My eyes kept tracking the words, and the almost-seen wolf grew larger and more real. Then I got to the gory part. It would have been bad enough to watch the wolf swallow Granny whole. And if I’d stuck with the original Grimm tale where they kill the wolf and everyone stays dead, it might have been fine.

But Mom had decided that the Grimm fairy tales were too grim, and bought me a book of the prettied-up stories, where everyone lives happily ever after (except the wolf; he gets the axe either way). That was what I was reading, but the other story was in my mind, too. So I got it both ways.

By now I wasn’t even reading, anyway. I was just starting at the page and watching the story unfold in the corner of my eye. I wasn’t scared yet, not really. I thought it was some cool special effect they’d put in the book. They work so hard these days to make books compete with computer games.

I didn’t get really scared until Granny climbed out of the carcass of the wolf, which is what she does in the modern, non-scary version. They never talk about how that works. I mean, I’m pretty sure my book implies that the wolf swallowed her whole and she just sat in there alive until the woodsman let her out. Never mind how she managed to breathe in its stomach for a half hour or whatever. In Grimm, she doesn’t come back out.

Anyway, I should have known better, because that cleaned-up story doesn’t even make sense. No one could live in the belly of a wolf for a half hour, even if it swallowed her whole, and why would it? No, the reality was quite a bit different.  The wolf ate Granny. Not totally in little bits, but she was dead all right when she went down the gullet. Because he really was a giant wolf, totally unreal but there he was, or wasn’t, but I saw it, as long as I didn’t look.

He ate her. Tore out the throat, took a few bites here and there, and only then swallowed her mostly whole. So the Granny the woodsman set free shouldn’t have been alive, and she wasn’t. But she was awfully lively for a dead woman. An un-dead woman.

That was too much for me, and I finally managed to tear my eyes away from the book.

The images of Little Red Riding Hood and the woodsman vanished. But the body of the giant wolf stretched across my room, occupying most of the floor. And Granny stood there, bloody and undead.

Then she spoke.


I screamed. The zombie Granny and the wolf—who also seemed to be showing signs of un-life—were between me and the door, so I went out the window. It’s a good thing my room is on the ground floor, because I’d have done the same if it had been the tenth floor.

But I didn’t think to slam the window shut behind me. So now she’s out there somewhere, Zombie Granny and maybe the wolf-zombie too. I wonder if he’ll eat her again, or if now that they’re both zombies they’ll work together?

I ran like crazy, right to the kiddie Halloween Carnival at the church on the next block. If I’m not safe here, I’m safe nowhere. And no one will believe me, but I’m not leaving here until morning. If then.

I can hear a scratching at the door. Can zombies even enter a church? 

I am never reading fairy tales again.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2013
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Flashback Friday: A Halloween Story

I missed it last month, but here it is, Flashback Friday AND time for my Halloween story.
Which is cool, because I have some favorites that fit, and I'm happy to give one another airing! In fact, I found more than one, so I'll be  posting another Halloween re-run on Monday, since that's the actual day.

For today, in just over 900 words, from Halloween 2012:


It should have been just another day. Get up, get dressed, have breakfast and go to school. Malkina ran into the first snag as soon as she tried to pull on her underwear. Reaching behind herself, she felt the furry protuberance. Mystified, she moved to the mirror--a full-length mirror her mother insisted she have in her room, but which Malkina mostly ignored. Why should she even look, when she was so hopelessly ordinary? The most ordinary girl in the fifth grade.

Kicking aside a modest pile of books and dirty laundry so she could stand in front of the mirror, Malkina twisted and turned until she saw herself. Saw the long, striped, furry tail she held with her left hand. The tip of the tail twitched and she dropped it, jumping away from the mirror.

“I think I’d better wear a skirt today,” she muttered, turning back to the closet.

The next shock came when she began to brush her hair.

“Ouch!” The brush had hit something awfully sensitive. Again she explored with her fingers first, afraid to look. High up on the left side of her head, a furry wedge emerged from the tangled hair. She didn’t even have to look in the mirror to know there was a match for it on the other side.
Ears. Cat ears, and a cat’s tail. Suddenly panicked, Malkina shook off a slipper and checked her foot.  Still reassuringly human.  Dashing across the room, brush forgotten in her hand, she inspected every inch of herself in the suddenly-useful full-length mirror.

Everything seemed to be, well, ordinary. Everything except that tail, and the furry little ears. Watching carefully in the mirror, Malkina finished brushing her hair, mounding it over the ears and holding a big wave in place with hair gel.

At the breakfast table, Mom didn’t notice anything. She never did. Half asleep, interested mostly in her coffee and getting everyone fed and out the door to the bus, Mom never really fully opened her eyes until mid-morning.

Malkina’s older brother noticed, though.

“Whew!” Bob whistled. “Got a hot date or something?  I can’t remember the last time I saw you in a skirt.”

Bob could be so annoying. For one thing, he’d gotten a nice, normal name, not like Malkina. For another, he couldn’t seem to stop teasing her. He still thought she was a little girl, and that comments like that were funny.

“Just thought I needed...a change,” Malkina said. “In a rut, you know. Always the same.”

Walking to the bus stop Malkina found that the tail caused some trouble. She’d had to pick a fairly long skirt to cover it, but the tail, unable to wave the way a cat’s tail should properly wave, twisted around her legs and threatened to trip her.

When she got to school, things got both better and worse. Better, because her best friend was waiting just inside and grabbed her in a hug. Worse, because Adrianna was dressed much like Malkina.

Malkina whispered, “You too?”

Adrianna nodded, looking scared and excited at the same time. “It worked! Our incantation worked!”

“But that was just a joke! Magic doesn’t really work,” Malkina objected, evidence to the contrary twitching beneath her skirt.

Adrianna shrugged. “Guess maybe it does.”

“But what are we going to do?”

“Have the best Halloween costumes ever, for one thing!”

“But I can’t even sit right! The tail’s in the way, and when I brushed my hair, it hurt my ears.”

“We’ll work it out.”

During the math test that followed morning recess, Malkina began to find the advantages of being part cat. She always panicked a bit on a test, but when she put her hand up to her head, her fingers found an ear. She scratched lightly behind it, the way she did with the neighbor’s cat, and felt calmer at once. A twitch or two of her tail made her happy again when she got her Social Studies paper back with a lot of red marks. Maybe this wasn’t so bad.


It wasn’t until they were out trick-or-treating, dressed in black leotards with real tails and ears protruding, that the girls remembered they’d worked more than one incantation.

They were three streets over from Malkina’s house, trying to decide if they’d knock on the Burdocks’ door or skip it. They usually had good treats, but Max Burdock was the biggest pain in their class.  Such a big pain that. . .

“Uh-oh,” Adrianna muttered. “Do you suppose. . .?”

Malkina felt her tail expand as the fur stood on end. They had followed up the incantation that gave them cat features with one to turn the annoying Max into a pig. And he hadn’t been at school today. Was that because he had a curly tail and a snout? Would his parents guess who’d done it and get them into trouble?

Caution came too late. They were at the gate, and from behind it they heard a dreadful snorting and snuffling. Malkina remembered that they had called Max a big pig, when a huge boar, with tusks as long as her arm, burst from the yard. She had time to remember a few of the other things they’d included, giggling, in their incantation, as they girls turned to run from the giant, red-eyed, fire-breathing demon they had turned loose on the neighborhood.

This can’t end well! Malkina thought, despairing.

It didn’t.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2012
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Flashback Friday is a blog hop! Jump around and visit some of the other participants!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fiction Review: Girl at War, by Sara Novic


Title: Girl at War
Author: Sara Nović

Publisher: Random House, 2015. 316 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary: 
Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia's capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She's been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she's lost.

My Review:
This is an ambitious book, and for the most part, I think it does its job well. The author is writing historical fiction, but from a near-history that is still a part of the lives of most living people. She is also taking something that happened "over there" and bringing it home to the reader as you realize that the people in this war story aren't in any significant way different from us (they weren't "long ago" or in a 3rd-world country where we can convince ourselves that "things are different there"). That, combined with the fact that the main character is only a child during the war, brings it home to the reader in a powerful way. 

The structure is challenging for the author: roughly half the book is set during the war, when Ana is 10. The rest is a decade later, and Ana has a completely different life. The author resists the temptation to swap  back and forth constantly. Instead, the first 1/3rd to 1/2 of the book is set in the earlier period, with a few flashbacks in the second half as Ana slowly fills in the parts that are missing between her tragedy and her relocation to America. That works well, I think, and allows the reader to really engage with the young Ana (making the shock of the war all the greater), while also keeping us engaged as she slowly fills in the final links that help us understand Ana's trauma and inability to settle into her American life. The cognitive dissonance of her own life is reflected well in the contrast between New York and her return to Zagreb.

I didn't think this was a perfect book, but it was a very good one, and I think well worth reading for a clearer understanding of a war that was pretty distant to most of us.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Girl at War 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." 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mystery Review: Body on the Bayou

Title: Body on the Bayou
Author: Ellen Byron
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books, 2016. 320 pages
Source: Electronic ARC as part of the Great Escapes Tour
ISBN-13: 978-1629537689
E-Book – ASIN: B01H082DY

Publisher's Summary:
The Crozats feared that past murders at Crozat Plantation B&B might spell the death of their beloved estate, but they’ve managed to survive the scandal. Now there’s a très bigger story in Pelican, Louisiana: the upcoming nuptials between Maggie Crozat’s nemesis, Police Chief Rufus Durand, and her co-worker, Vanessa Fleer.

When everyone else refuses the job of being Vanessa’s Maid of Honor, Maggie reluctantly takes up the title and finds herself tasked with a long list of duties–the most important of which is entertaining Vanessa’s cousin, Ginger Fleer-Starke. But just days before the wedding, Ginger’s lifeless body is found on the bayou and the Pelican PD, as well as the Crozats, have another murder mystery on their hands.

There’s a gumbo-potful of suspects, including an ex-Marine with PTSD, an annoying local newspaper reporter, and Vanessa’s own sparkplug of a mother. But when it looks like the investigation is zeroing in on Vanessa as the prime suspect, Maggie reluctantly adds keeping the bride-to-be out of jail to her list of Maid of Honor responsibilities in Body on the Bayou.

My Review:
This was a good, fun read! I enjoyed the story, and was caught up in it from almost the beginning. Though this is the second book in the series, I didn't feel like I was missing anything or confused about characters--just enough was explained as we went along (and I can go read the first book without having had it spoiled for me, either).

The mystery is well constructed, though I had my suspicions about the guilty party early on. I lacked any idea of the motive, of course--that was a big part of what Maggie had to work out. And there were some other lovely suspects, including some that I wouldn't have minded seeing become the victims (see: Bridezilla and her mother. Deliciously awful!).

Relationships are as important in a cozy mystery as is the mystery, and Ms. Byron has done them well. I had to wonder a bit about why Maggie is even friends with Vanessa (a.k.a. Bridezilla), but most of the rest made sense, and people were fairly 3-dimensional. The romantic interest ran at about the right level for me--not the central feature of the story, but present. It might have been a little too fraught, but just when I wanted to shake Maggie and insist that she actually speak her worries aloud, she did that, thus saving herself from my wrath. (I lose patience with romantic angst that could be cured with a little honest conversation.)

Finally, the story is well-written and well edited (I think I found one error, so better than average). The author has a good ear for writing. I don't know anything about the Cajun country, and I didn't get a real complete feel for it from the book, but it had just enough of a setting to give a flavor.

For those who enjoy cozy mysteries that have a solid mystery as well as a lot of fun!

About the Author:
Ellen’s debut novel, PLANTATION SHUDDERS: A Cajun Country Mystery, has been nominated for an Agatha Best First Novel award, a Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery, and a Daphne Award for Best Mainstream Mystery. The second Cajun Country Mystery, BODY ON THE BAYOU, will be available in September 2016. Ellen’s TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep on the Wind. Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles and attributes her fascination with Louisiana to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University.

Webpage –
Blog –!blog/c1in0
Twitter –
Facebook –
GoodReads –
Purchase Links:
Amazon  B&N

There's a giveaway, too!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to see what others think? Check out the other stops on the tour!
October 21 – MysteriesEtc – REVIEW
October 21 – Island Confidential – INTERVIEW
October 22 – Books,Dreams,Life – SPOTLIGHT
October 22 – Shelley’s Book Case – REVIEW
October 23 – Bibliophile Reviews – REVIEW  
October 23 – Christa Reads and Writes – REVIEW
October 24 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW
October 24 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW
October 25 – Melina’s Book Blog – REVIEW
October 25 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT
October 26 – The Book’s the Thing – REVIEW, GUEST POST
October 26 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
October 27 – StoreyBook Reviews – REVIEW
October 27 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW
October 28 – T’s Stuff – SPOTLIGHT
October 28 – 3 Partners in Shopping. Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – SPOTLIGHT
October 29 – LibriAmoriMiei – REVIEW
October 29 – Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
October 30 – A Holland Reads – GUEST POST
October 30 – A Blue Million Books – INTERVIEW

FTC Disclosure: I received a free electronic review copy of Body on the Bayou. I 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."  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Photo Friday:Halloween

I have no stories in me today. about some more pictures? In honor of the approach of Halloween, I'll toss out some themed shots.

Where it all begins, perhaps? Being beamed down by the mother ship.

Other nasty creatures come along:

But the aliens look happy and normal under a blue sky. And why not? We all know that horror stories happen on dark and stormy nights, right? Just pretty pumpkins and innocent children in the sun.

But soon the alien creatures are eviscerating innocent squash.

And the next thing you know, your home is taken over by this:

Or this:

And it takes a sinister turn:

Who knows what mayhem the aliens will wreak?

And in the end, it all comes to this, as the aliens move on, leaving their mark behind them.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mystery Review: Journey to Munich, by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Journey to Munich
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2016. 285 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .

My Review:
Winspear has been moving this series more and more toward suspense/international intrigue and away from classic mystery. That's not necessarily good or bad, but it does change things, and I personally kind of miss the feel of the early books. 

That said, it's fascinating to watch Maisie grow and mature as she approaches (dare I say it?) middle age. I'm not sure I approve of everything Winspear has done to our hero, but there's no denying it keeps her interesting. So Maisie, having taking the unlikely leap away from her career to be a wife and mother, gets that ripped from her, and has to figure out how to go back to being happy in a career. As it turns out, part of that question will be seeing how she handles espionage.
I have to say that I'm not sure Maisie handles it well. Some parts are excellent, but she seems to make--and get away with--some very dubious choices. She creates a case map in her Munich hotel room. Fine. That's how she thinks. But she doesn't destroy it, and as far as I can tell leaves it in the room when she potentially is not coming back. She has also carried with her at least one object that would, if discovered, blow her cover. And, despite the scrutiny she's under, this doesn't happen. No one searches her room. It stretches belief a bit.

But: I have to admit that I noticed those things in retrospect, not at the time (well, okay, the case map worried me at the time. I expected it to turn up again in the story, as something that put her in great danger). For the most part, Winspear's writing is good and keeps the reader engaged and buying into the story as you go, despite the weaknesses.

Finally, I wanted to note that the books have moved from one era to another. It's still "between the wars," but in 1938 it is much more about the approach of WWII (the rise of the Nazis) than about the aftermath of WWI. That doesn't really matter, other than that I like the earlier period of history. It does present Winspear with new challenges, as she needs to track the changes in the world during that period!


If you are reading the series, you won't want to miss this. But this is a series to read in order. There is a lot of background and character development you won't want to miss as we follow Masie over the years. And if you prefer your mysteries classic, this one might disappoint, though there *is* a mystery she has to solve.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Journey to Munich 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." 

Monday, October 17, 2016

YA Review: The Falcon's Malteser, by Anthony Horowitz


Title: The Falcon's Malteser: A Diamond Brothers Mystery
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Philomel Books, 1986
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
When the vertically-challenged Johnny Naples entrusts Tim Diamond with a package worth over three million pounds, he’s making a big mistake. Tim Diamond is the worst detective in the world. Next day, Johnny’s dead, Tim feels the heat, and his smart younger brother, Nick, gets the package—and every crook in town on his back!

My Review:
This is a pretty good mystery/thriller, with one foot in comedy and one foot in mayhem. The body count is high, making it definitely YA, not children's, and if it weren't for the somewhat cartoonish nature of the whole thing it would have been too violent for my taste. It might be, anyway. What's awkward is that the writing level feels more like it's for 10- or 11-year-olds. Maybe today's kids are used to corpses from the video games?

Nick Diamond is a pretty sharp kid, unlike his brother. He's pretty convinced of his brilliance, too, which makes him an entertaining narrator, in a way. At least, it's sort of entertaining to see him discover that he's not as smart as he thinks he is. Horowitz's tongue-in-cheek version of the hard-boiled detective-story style is more fun, as is the play on names that starts with the title and doesn't stop. The story is fast-moving, the writing clever and smooth, and after the half-way point I just sat back and read to see where it would go.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the book, and I almost stopped reading halfway through. I think that the style simply felt too adolescent to me, and the combination of the absurd with the corpse on every third page wasn't my thing. I really did feel torn--fun one minute, disturbing the next.

I'm not sure what age the book is meant for (I notice that our library puts it in Young Adult, not juvvy, probably because of the body count). I'd say it's for somewhat older kids (high school) who want a fun, easy read that doesn't feel like a kiddie book but dodges the romance that seems to be a part of most YA novels. I wouldn't give it to little kids--to me, the cartoon violence is worse than the real violence that is in many kids' books (especially some of the historical fiction set in troubled times). Adults familiar with Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler will probably enjoy the parody.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Falcon's Malteser 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."  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Flash: Witching Weather

Continuing with my theme of spooky stories for October (or at least a bit out of the world stories), I present a bit of harmless Halloween fun. Or is it?  You be the judge.

This story stands alone, but Chuck Wendig has a challenge this week to write the start of a story, for others to finish. And it occurs to me that this could also be just the beginning, so I'll link it in there and see if anyone bites. And if not...there it stands.

Witching Weather

“Fog’s rising.” Jack made the observation in a detached sort of way, not sure if it mattered.

“More fun that way,” Jill answered. If he was unsure about the weather, she was not. She straightened the tall, pointed hat that kept threatening to tumble from her head. “It sets the right sort of mood.”

The boy and girl grinned at each other. Both wore sweeping black robes, rather in the fashion of the students of Hogwarts. A close observer might have even thought they had come from the costume shop, but with the fog settling in and the daylight gone, no one could be sure. Jack wore a silver circlet around his forehead, while Jill sported the afore-mentioned pointed hat.

“At least half the kids will be spooked before we even begin,” Jill went on.

Jack nodded, seeing her point. “And the other half will be spooked soon enough after,” he boasted. “Let’s get started.”

“Where should we do it?”

“Over by the old Hadley house, of course,” Jack answered. “That’s the best place for spooks and magic.”

Jill frowned, a little. When Jack mentioned the Hadley house, she thought she felt a chill draft on her back, though she wore a warm sweater under the admittedly lightweight robe. The night wasn’t cold, for all it was foggy. It was October 31st, but there wasn’t a hint of frost. Jill shivered. Then she shrugged and dismissed her momentary discomfort as a bit of stage fright.

The friends scampered off in the direction of the abandoned house that most of the locals figured was haunted, ready to have some fun at the expense of the other children.

They moved a little less eagerly when they neared the Hadley house. The house dated from an extravagant era when ceilings were high and the wealthy adorned their homes with wooden lace and decorative towers. All of that and more had made the Hadley house the town’s showpiece until an earthquake had cracked the foundation, leaving it uninhabitable.

It had stood empty for decades, slowly decaying. The wood lace broke and drooped, and shutters tore loose. The garden grew wild, until the showpiece of the town became “the old Hadley house.” Most people were happy to believe it was haunted. The town’s elders saw it as haunted with memories of another age, but the children believed there were ghosts. On a foggy night, they believed it with a greater force than on a sunny day.

Jack and Jill ran a bit slower as they neared their destination. Somehow, they felt a little reluctant to play their tricks after all.

“Suppose old Hadley will get upset if we pretend to be him?” Jack didn’t know who the ghosts were, but supposed there must have been an old Mr. Hadley sometime.

“You aren’t going all sissy and worrying about ghosts, are you?” Jill demanded. She tried to ignore her own sense of foreboding. This was going to be fun! She ignored a voice that suggested she shouldn’t have to work so hard to believe that.

“Not me,” Jack vowed. “I’m no sissy and you know it!” He ruined the effect some by checking over his shoulder for whatever might be there. There wasn’t much to see. The fog was thick enough now, and the streetlights poor enough, that they couldn’t really see the house. They only knew it was there.

Jack thought of a new problem. “No one’s going to come by here,” he said. “It’s just the house on this side and the park on the other.” It felt awfully lonely to him, and he couldn’t see the other children poking around the haunted house on Halloween night.

“They have to,” Jill said. “To get down there.” She pointed to the three houses that formed a cul-de-sac beyond the park. They were large, new, expensive houses, and every kid in town knew that they gave out the best candy—full sized Snickers bars and slabs of chocolate.

“Fine.” Jack gave in, and handed Jill one of the pairs of home-made stilts he’d been carrying. The pair had been practicing for weeks, until they could stand and walk as well as if they were on their own two feet. Setting her stilts aside, Jill pulled out a jar of something.

“What’s that?” Jack asked, suspicious.

“White-face make-up. I liberated it from the drama club.” She began smearing the gooey stuff on Jack’s face before he could protest. “Now you do my face.”

He rubbed the white make-up onto his friend’s face, and grinned through his own mask. “You’re right. This is perfect. Now let’s mount up. I hear voices.”

Stalking out of the shadows of the over-grown Hadley garden, black robes billowing around their towering forms and faces inhumanly white in the dim light of fog-shrouded streetlights, they had just the effect they had been hoping for. Children shrieked and ran, and more than one dropped his candy bag.

Jack and Jill repeated the trick twice more, despite a growing feeling of unease.

“Maybe we should get out of here,” Jill suggested. The effort of using the stilts had her sweating a little under her robe, but there was a cold patch between her shoulder blades, as though an icy hand lay there.

“Let’s do one more,” Jack urged. “We can wait to get them when they come back from the rich people’s houses this time. We’ve been doing it wrong.”

“Fine.” Jill wasn’t going to be the chicken if she could help it.

They took up their position and waited. The fog thickened. Jack couldn’t hear any other children now, and a cold wind swirled around his ankles. He couldn’t see his partner.

“Jill, let’s get out of here.”

No answer.


He couldn't see the streetlights now. The fog was too thick.

Witching weather, he thought, just before an icy wind tangled his robe and his stilts, toppling him with a shout that brought only the dimmest echo from Jill.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver


It feels a bit presumptuous of me to critique a book by an author as amazing as Barbara Kingsolver, but...I do have some thoughts I want to share.

Title: Flight Behavior
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2012. 436 pages.
Source:  Library

Publisher's Summary:
Flight Behavior is a brilliant and suspenseful novel set in present day Appalachia; a breathtaking parable of catastrophe and denial that explores how the complexities we inevitably encounter in life lead us to believe in our particular chosen truths. Kingsolver's riveting story concerns a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain, and how her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world. Flight Behavior is arguably Kingsolver's most thrilling and accessible novel to date, and like so many other of her acclaimed works, represents contemporary American fiction at its finest.

My Review:
Barbara Kingsolver is an amazing writer, no question about it. And this novel is good. Just at first, I didn't think I could relate to the main character, but she soon proved to have the depth needed to work as someone completely unlike myself (I think that if a character is a lot like ourselves, it's easy to let thinness in their development slide, but if they are nothing like the reader, it takes mastery to make them real and believable--and someone we care about).

The opening chapters have an element of the mystical that I also found off-putting, but that turns out to be all part of Kingsolver's plan, and I am glad I stuck it out. The whole story is unfolding through the eyes of Dellarobia Turnbow, who is poorly educated but by no means dumb. It's kind of fun to watch her develop and blossom as her intellect is awakened from a 10-year sleep, and I think that is the real heart and strength of the book.

My main concern, as the book went on, is that the story at times gets lost in the message. I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I think Kingsolver is working too hard at getting the message of conservation and climate change across. Heaven knows I think it's a vital message. I just didn't like it when the book skewed into the realm of a screed, rather than a story. It's not fatal, and it's not throughout, but the author is clearly struggling a bit with balance.

In the end, the story wins. It's no easy resolution, but I think Kingsolver found the only way forward for Dellarobia that the reader can accept as workable.

This is a book for readers who want to engage and think a bit, as well as those who just like a good story about complex people.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Flight Behavior 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." 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: A Solitary Blue. Audio book review


Title: A Solitary Blue
Author: Cynthia Voigt; Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Publisher: Recorded Books, 2011. Original: Atheneum, 1983. 204 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
Jeff Greene was only seven when Melody, his mother, left him with his reserved, undemonstrative father, the Professor. So when she reenters his life years later with an invitation to spend the summer with her in Charleston, Jeff is captivated by her free spirit and warmth, and he eagerly looks forward to returning for another visit the following year.

But Jeff's second summer in Charleston ends with a devastating betrayal, and he returns to his father wounded almost beyond bearing. But out of Jeff's pain grows a deepening awareness of the unexpected and complicated ways of love and loss and of family and friendship -- and the strength to understand his father, his mother, and especially himself.

My Review: 
I struggled with this review, because I both really liked the book and felt like there is a deep flaw. More on that in a bit.
This is the 3rd book in the Tillerman series, and at first I didn't think it was much connected, though Jeff is a minor character in Dicey's Song. It looked like this was just his story, but it does connect to the Tillerman's story and moves it forward, as well. But the main character and the focus of the book is Jeff, and the strange childhood that makes him the boy he is when Dicey meets him. I found Jeff a compelling character, and the narrative style of both the writer and the reader--it's a powerful audio book--makes him distinctive and unforgettable.

The book takes us from the time Jeff's mother leaves--at age 7--until he's nearly through high school, and we see all the relationships through Jeff's eyes. So we have his naive belief in his mother's dedication to "causes," his fierce love of her and obsession with her when she returns to his life (a bit oedipal, but it kind of makes sense), and then the equally fierce anger and even hatred when he realized that she isn't at all what he believed. And we watch him turn to the one thing that he never knew could help make up for missing parents: nature, and especially the sea.

The flaw in the story comes with Jeff's relationship to his father, which feels a little unbelievable on both ends. That is, through most of Jeff's childhood, his father is beyond "distant." He's completely disconnected and unbelievably willing to believe that the boy can manage without him. And then...when Jeff has a crisis and the depths of his disturbance are forcibly brought home to the Professor, they are somehow able to connect in a way that seems to erase all the years of neglect. I guess I'm not wholly a believer that age 13 (or so) is one where that kind of miracle can happen so easily. Why doesn't Jeff have any resentment of his father's neglect and emotional absence? It's hard to buy.

That said, I'm glad he doesn't, because the two seem to have worked out an interesting life that makes Jeff a good fit with the Tillerman family!

Read this, but read the books in order, and be prepared to be frustrated with a couple of pretty bad parents. The reader, even a middle-grade reader, will be aware that people are not what they appear, long before Jeff is, and will feel some pain and discomfort while waiting for him to see the truth. Melody's character makes this book tend a bit more toward YA than middle grade, so I'd say ages 12 and up, even though there is no sex or violence. 
FTC Disclosure: I checked A Solitary Blue 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." 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: The Silent Girl

I picked up the prompt for this one from a random title generator several weeks ago. It took a number of false starts before I managed to get something like a story. Enjoy a little venture into the unknown, or maybe just a love story.

The Silent Girl

No one could say just when the girl came to the village. She appeared silently among the other children one day, attended the school without ever making a sound, and vanished at the end of the day. People couldn’t remember when she first came, only realizing that she was there after she had become a part of the scenery. Silence does create a sort of invisibility.
None knew who she was or where she came from. Eventually they stopped wondering and just accepted her. They gave her a name, because she would not—or could not—say what she wished to be called. So “Lily” went on, moving silently among the people, and grew to be a young woman. And still no one knew—as they suddenly realized—even so much as where she lived, where she went at night when she left the other young ones. Most shrugged and let it be. They had lives to live.
One villager, however, wasn’t satisfied. The young man Kerlin had watched Lily grow, and watched, and wondered.
Kerlin was a bit different himself. He and his father—a man almost as silent as Lily—lived in a hut well back in the forest, and the villagers left them alone. That suited Kerlin most of the time, and his father all the time. But for all that, Kerlin couldn’t let Lily alone.
Not that he pestered the girl. He just...watched.
As Lily grew older, she grew beautiful. Kerlin wasn’t the only young man to notice this, but he was the only one who cared enough for her beauty not to be put off by her silence. He began to follow her, to try to learn where she lived. He knew she was aware of him, because she became ever more elusive, vanishing into the woods at odd points, darting behind a tree or into a dense thicket without a trace.
Kerlin began to wonder at Lily’s ability to vanish. He tried again and again to track her through the forest, but she left no tracks for him to follow.
“Leave it,” advised the village elders. “Some things should not be known.”
Kerlin was a young man in love. Leaving it be was not an option. He continued to pursue Lily in his own way, as silent as she was. What would be the use of trying to talk to a girl who could not, or would not, talk? But however much he followed her, he never discovered so much as what direction she went to her home.
If she had a home.
Kerlin knew what some of the villagers said: that Lily was a witch, or even a spirit of some sort. In his heart, he feared that someday soon, when they realized she was no longer a child, there would be trouble. Someone would suffer some misfortune and blame it on the girl, because a witch was always a way to avoid admitting to bad luck or bad management.
He became desperate to discover who she was, where she came from, to find her family and prove that the girl was no witch. Or, at the worst, he could help her to go far from the village and start a new life, somewhere safe.
So it was that on a dusky winter afternoon Kerlin followed Lily far into the forest. For once she made no effort to disappear or to lose him, nor did she ever look back to see if she followed. He supposed she knew he was there; he was no ghost to move through the forest without so much as a sound. His heart leapt at the thought that at last she was going to allow him to see her home.
They walked a long way, the girl in front, the young man always trailing just close enough to keep her in sight, never noticing that the afternoon turned to evening. Only when he found himself tripping, unable to see the ground beneath his feet, did he realize that it had grown dark, and yet he could still clearly see the girl, always in front of him, always too far off to reach.
Now he knew that Lily was, indeed, a witch or a sprite or something unhuman. And he didn’t care. He loved her, and he wanted her. He kept following.
Kerlin had long since stopped thinking and merely followed, when Lily stepped into a clearing and stopped. He hurried to catch her, and, rushing into the clearing, he found himself in a great hall, lit by a thousand candles and peopled with hundreds of men and women with the same beauty as drew him to Lily.
The crowd of beautiful people parted, and there, on a low dais, stood his father…hand in hand with the mother who had died when Kerlin was small
“Am I in the land of the dead?” he asked, bewildered.
“No, my son,” his mother said, coming toward him. “You are in the land of your own people.”
He could only look his questions. To his amazement, it was Lily who turned to him and explained.
“You are the prince of the faerie realm. But you had to live among the humans to learn what the prince must know, and you had to come back to faerie of your own accord.”
Kerlin couldn’t open his mouth or make a sound.
His father smiled, and it was the first time Kerlin had seen the man smile since his mother died—or didn’t die. “Lily was sent to lure you to us, as your mother brought me long ago.”

At that, Kerlin turned, and the young woman smiled, holding out a hand. Dazed, he took the hand, and found his tongue.
“For you, I would have gone anywhere.”
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

The Problem of Peggy is scheduled for release Nov. 28. Watch for advance sales information!

The Ninja Librarian’s back in town, school’s out, and all’s right with the world…or is it? Big Al may be looking forward to spending her time swimming in the creek and wandering the hills, but Peggy’s looking forward to a life of drudgery. If Al can’t find a way to sway her pa, the brightest kid in Skunk Corners is going to take drastic action.
With a mystery from the past haunting one of the houses and creating the biggest threat yet to the town, Big Al’s going to be kept busy this summer, and not just with practicing her moves for the Ninja Librarian.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


This month's question: How do you know your story is ready?

This is a great question for me just now, since I'm in the final stages of editing, revising, re-editing, and cover design for my next book, the 3rd Ninja Librarian book (see below...).

Whether you are an author-publisher or have gone the traditional route, this is a question you have to address somewhere along the line. Whether the question is "is it ready to publish?" or "is it ready to send to agents?" you get to edit and revise and second-guess yourself more or less endlessly (having an editor and a contract might be helpful here, since someone will be telling you to finish it already). So how do you know when it's done?

I have no idea how you know when your book is done. For me, it's a gradual process and a fuzzy decision. I gather my feedback, do everything I can, get a little more feedback...and when I reach the point that I really don't think I can make it any better, I give it to my proof-reader, which puts an absolute end to my chances to make changes. But even then...when I re-read my first book, I want to make more changes. I'm never really satisfied, and so in some ways, it's a totally arbitrary line. I remember when I wrote my dissertation, and my director sent it back to me again and again until I drew a line and told her "this is as good as I can/am willing to make it. Take it or leave it" (there may have been some profanity involved there, at least in my mind). You never achieve perfection, but you want to come as close as you can, and then stop.

I think, with the endless possibilities for revision offered by ebooks and print-on-demand publishing, a more interesting question might be: when do you know you should unpublish and revise again? I haven't done that--yet--with any of my books, though I did have to re-proof one book after I released it, when early readers found more typos than I was comfortable with. (That was my fault--I didn't use my usual proof-reader, shame on me!). But I have considered pulling The Ninja Librarian--not for any big changes, but just to tinker some more with the language, smooth out some bits, and remove my efforts to show the characters' speech through idiosyncratic spelling.

What about you? Have you considered--or done--a revision on an already-published book? I realize this is only an option if you are your own publisher, but even if you aren't--have you wished you could?

The Problem of Peggy is scheduled for release Nov. 28. Watch for advance sales information!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Cover Reveal! The Problem With Peggy (Ninja Librarian 3)

We've been puttering around with this for ages, and it's time. The third book of the Ninja Librarian series is getting close, and we have a cover to share!

(Insert trumpet fanfare and a troupe of acrobats here)

And don't forget--The price for The Ninja Librarian has dropped to 99 cents for the ebook, at Amazon or Smashwords. So get a copy and discover the world of Skunk Corners for yourself!

Be sure to take a look at Book 2, Return to Skunk Corners, as well!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Rain Reign

(May I mention that I love this cover?)

Title: Rain Reign
Author: Ann M. Martin
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2014, 226 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Rose Howard has Asperger’s Syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter.

Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.

My Review: 
I've hit a lot of books lately with characters who have, or appear to have, Asperger's Syndrome. This one is explicit, and Rose's AS is central to the story, because her obsessions, struggles with social relations, and love of routine and rules, are what drive the action. I'm not saying it well, but in some books, it seems like a character is given a touch of Asperger's to make him or her* a little more interesting. In this case, there would basically be no story if Rose didn't have AS. I'm not completely sure how I feel about this, but the story ended up being a heartwarming story.

The first-person narration is a little challenging in this case, as Rose's obsession with homonyms is given voice by the use of parentheses to show the homonyms whenever one is used. As in "Rain (reign, rein) met me at the door." It certainly conveys the challenge of conversing with Rose, but at the cost of making the book, in my opinion, harder to read. For me, at least, every one of those parenthetical bits was a stumbling block that broke the rhythm of the reading.

The story, however, is good. Rain is in the 5th grade, so about 10, and at an age when her differences start to really matter, and her father just can't cope. Rain's father is given just enough background story to make him a real person, rather than a stick-figure bad guy. He's got a lot to struggle with, and it probably doesn't help that his brother, Rose's Uncle Weldon, seems to have weathered their traumatic childhood better than he did, and certainly copes better with Rose's issues. Only in the end does he pull it together to do what seems to be the best for Rain--and I'm still not sure if it was the right thing to do, though the author sets it up well.

I guess if the book left me thinking about that, it probably did what it set out to do.

*I'm a little surprised how often it is a girl, given that Asperger's is much more common, and more likely to be severe, in boys.

This is suitable for kids from 10 up. It might help a kid with Asperger's to think about the need to move beyond the comfort of routines, and it might be more likely to help neurotypical kids feel a little more empathy toward the "weird kid."

FTC Disclosure: I checked Rain Reign 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."