Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mystery Review: First Degree Mudder

Today we are participating in another Great Escapes Free Book Tour, taking us to Portland, Oregon.

Title: First Degree Mudder (A Pacific Northwest Mystery)
4th book in the series
Author: Kate Dyer-Seeley
Publisher: Kensington (November 29, 2016).  Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Source: ARC as participant in the free blog tour.

ISBN-13: 978-1496705099

Publisher's Synopsis:
When a mud marathon champion bites the dust, Meg Reed has to go the distance to make sure a killer comes clean . . .

Back home in Portland, Oregon, Meg is ready to take her career as an outdoor writer for Extreme magazine to the next level. Lesser journalists sling mud—Meg plans to run through it. To train hard for Mud, Sweat & Beers, an extreme 5K mud run, she’s signed on with the Mind Over Mudder team, run by ten-time mud marathon champ—and former drill sergeant—Billy the Tank. But when Meg finds her tenacious trainer dead in the locker room, she has a sinking feeling someone may have been pushed too far. Digging through the hidden secrets at Mind Over Mudder is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Meg will have to tread carefully, though—or she may soon be running for her life . . .

My Review:
This was an entertaining read, and brings the reader into the Portland scene. It doesn't hurt that since it's summer, Portland is a pretty nice place during the book! Meg is a well-drawn character, and though her best friends, Jill and Matt, aren't closely involved in this mystery, it is clear that they are important in the series. In fact, their presence in this book seems to be more about what may come in the next one than anything to do with this murder (not saying they don't belong--not everyone in an amateur sleuth's life must be involved in the case, and part of the point of cozy mysteries is our connection with the sleuth's life).

All that said, I had a couple of issues with this one. For one thing, the book opens with a very long  flash-forward to finding the body. That wasn't a huge problem (though it was slightly confused for a bit, when the story jumped back without warning to set up the event). It was a larger problem that when the story reached that point again, we had the whole thing again. Only it's not exactly the same. A few details are different, and it bothered me more than it probably should have. Of greater concern was that the mystery didn't really quite gel for me. Some of the red herrings were well constructed, and Meg does work her way close to the root of it all. But the final solution is just kind of handed her.

Kvetching aside, though, the book was a fun and fast read, and the author has a nice sense of humor. A few jabs at the Portland "scene" gave me a chuckle (the pretentious coffee shop maybe got a guffaw), and since I visited Portland a couple of years ago, it was fun to connect the story with real places. (Not that I was dropping in on brew-pubs, since I was there to visit colleges with my son!)

This is a decent entry in the cozy mystery genre, and I'm intrigued enough by Meg and some mysteries surrounding her life to want to read the earlier books in the series. And, of course, the author is fond of punning titles, which always get my attention.

About The Author
Kate Dyer-Seeley writes the Pacific Northwest Mystery Series for Kensington Publishing, featuring a young journalist, Meg Reed, who bills herself as an intrepid adventurer in order to land a gig writing for Northwest Extreme. Only Meg’s idea of sport is climbing onto the couch without spilling her latte.

Kate lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and son, where you can find her hitting the trail, at an artisan coffee shop, or at her favorite pub. Better yet—at all three.

Author Links
Purchase Links
Amazon  B&N  Target   IndieBound


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Participants
November 28 – Moonlight Rendezvous – REVIEW
November 28 – Grace. Gratitude. Life. by Marie McNary – REVIEW, SPOTLIGHT
November 28 – Queen of All She Reads – SPOTLIGHT
November 29 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW
November 29 – Books,Dreams,Life – SPOTLIGHT
November 30 – Girl with Book Lungs – REVIEW
November 30 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW
December 1 – Bibliophile Reviews –  REVIEW
December 1 – A Blue Million Books – INTERVIEW
December 2 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW
December 2 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST
December 3 – Island Confidential – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
December 4 – Community Bookstop – INTERVIEW
December 4 – StoreyBook Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 5 – MysteriesEtc – REVIEW
December 5 – A Holland Reads – SPOTLIGHT
December 6 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 7 – Brooke Blogs – GUEST POST

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of First Degree Mudder from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Release Day Party!

It's here at last!

Help yourself to the hors d'oeuvres, get a mug of hot cocoa (hey, this is a kids book! Stay out of the adult beverages!), and join the party.

I got the box the day before Thanksgiving. The excitement of opening a whole box of my books never grows old.

Stinky and Stinklet are excited there are now three books all about them. (Shh! I haven't told them that the books are mostly about the people of Skunk Corners).

In honor of the great occasion, the skunks are hosting a special giveaway--the new ebook for two lucky winners!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for today only--contact us to purchase ANY of our books directly (signed!) and we'll pick up the shipping costs.
Purchase links:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

NaNo Update Post #3

The end is near!

Well, the end of the official NaNo month, anyway. As we move into the final days, how are all of you NaNers doing? Still moaning with Thanksgiving excesses and too busy talking with relations to write, or picking up speed on the final sprint to 50,000 words and 3/4 of a draft? (Sorry to be a spoil sport, but unless you're writing middle grade fiction, 50K isn't a novel).

As I expected, I slowed down a lot through the holidays as I was busy with cooking and talking, but I managed to write each day through our visit with relatives. I reduced my target to 1000 words, which is a little less than an hour's work if I've got a good idea where I'm going (that's getting harder--more on that in a moment). Currently my word count stands at 43,000. That's a little ahead of the amount needed to reach 50K by the 30th, at least if I bump my output back up to 2000 words daily.

Two things are going to make it harder to pound out the pages the way I'd like to. For one, I've run out of the part of the novel I had "outlined" (okay, that I had laid out in the Flash Fiction pieces I've been reworking into a novel), so I have to keep stopping to plan where I'm going and at least a hint of how I'm getting there. Some of that is on paper, and some is in my head. The other issue is that I've done far too little to plan and publicize the release of The Problem With Peggy tomorrow. It's probably a bit late to do much, but I'll be working on that for the next few days, hoping to make a few people aware of the new book, at any rate.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my progress. I think I can realistically expect to hit the 75 or 80K mark (what I consider a decent first draft for a genre paperback; I tend to need to do a fair bit of fleshing-out after I finish the first draft) before the Christmas holiday activities get too distracting.

So for those of you doing NaNo, here's a big shout-out for your efforts in the final days. You can do it! And for those of you who aren't, you still get a big cheering on for whatever project you have in hand. I know that the serious writers are always writing (or editing), so a bit of encouragement never goes amiss. Accept that holiday distractions will slow you down, but carve out whatever time you can to keep writing. It's  good way to stay sane (or to make your insanity legitimate: "I'm not crazy! It's genius burning!").

Naturally, with the book coming out tomorrow, you don't expect me to fail to say:
Grab your chance to join the Ninja Librarian in celebrating the release of The Problem With Peggy on Nov. 28! Preorder  from Amazon or Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site before midnight Monday (PST)--that's tomorrow!--and we'll pick up the shipping costs in the US!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Non-Fiction Review: Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom


Title: Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom
Author: Dr. Carin Bondar
Publisher: Pegasus Books, 2016. 365 pages.
Source: Library

Not a children's book! 

Publisher's Summary:
Birds do it, bees do it — every member of the animal kingdom does it, from fruit flies to blue whales. But if you think humans have a tough time dating, try having to do it while being hunted down by predators, against a backdrop of unpredictable and life-threatening conditions. The animal kingdom is a wild place – and it’s got mating habits to match. The sex lives of our animal cousins are fiendishly difficult, infinitely varied, often incredibly violent — and absolutely fascinating.

In Wild Sex, Dr. Carin Bondar takes readers on an enthralling tour of the animal kingdom as she explores the diverse world of sex in the wild. She looks at the evolution of sexual organs (and how they’ve shaped social hierarchies), tactics of seduction, and the mechanics of sex. She investigates a wide range of topics, from whether animals experience pleasure from sex to what happens when females hold the reproductive power. Along the way, she encounters razor-sharp penises, murderous carnal cannibals, and spontaneous chemical warfare in an epic battle between the sexes.

The resulting book is titillating, exhilarating, amusing, petrifying, alluring — and absolutely guaranteed to make you think about sex in a whole new way.

My Review: 
Well, there I was, sorting books at the library, and I found myself holding this book. I had to take it home and see what it had to say, especially given those obviously smitten polar bears on the cover. Besides, I've stumbled on interesting tidbits about amour among various creatures over the years, and wanted to see what I could learn, and if there was anything more unnerving than banana slugs, who mate for hours--sometimes with both parties serving as both male and female--and can get stuck so that they have to gnaw off their male parts in order to separate. It doesn't get any weirder than that, right? (Note: it does). All of which is to say, I had some idea what I was getting into with this book.

And did it deliver? I would have to say: yes, but. The book is jammed with interesting facts about all aspects of mating in many different species. But I at times felt like I was reading a whole lot of one or two paragraph "oh wow" pieces, not a single coherent work that was building to a greater understanding of something. And yet (how many other hands do I have?), in the end, the book does leave the reader with a greater understanding of the biological side of sex.

I think it also raises, but doesn't explore, the question of whether the human relationship to sex is unique (and possibly what sets us aside from other animals). It seems easy to say that we are the only animals who indulge in sex for fun, not for biology. But Dr. Bondar cites many cases where animals seem to do likewise--even though she then provides plausible evolutionary reasons for the behavior, which force me to ask if it's really for fun. Part of the problem is that she falls into the trap of referring to evolutionary forces as though they were deliberate choices, and vice versa.

At times in the middle of the book I felt it was a little less substantial than I would like, but in the end, it certainly left me with food for thought.

For adults (older teens at the youngest due to graphic descriptions of all kinds of sex) who are curious about the evolutionary history and biological efficacy of sexuality.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, November 21, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Crewnshaw, by Katherine Applegate


Title: Crenshaw
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Feiwel And Friends, 2015. 245 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

My Review:
As you might expect from the author of The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate plays with the boundaries between reality and imagination, and comes up with something unexpectedly moving. The book is written in Jackson's voice, a simple and spare style that nicely conveys the struggle between his head and his heart.

Jackson is a boy who believes very firmly in science and the probable. Even when he was 7 and Crenshaw first appeared, he didn't believe in him. Now that he's ten and about to start 5th grade, he really doesn't believe in imaginary friends. To the delight of the reader, Crenshaw doesn't seem to let that stop him. After all, he's a cat. Cats do what they want, though some of what Crenshaw wants is none too cat-like (because, he explains to Jackson, he's the result of Jackson's own interests, which were by no means limited to cats). 

So Jackson himself knows that Crenshaw isn't real, and no one else can see him, and yet. Things happen that need an agent, and Crenshaw is the only available agent. Neither Jackson nor the reader can ever be 100% sure that there's no such thing as imaginary friends. What Jackson is sure of is that he needs all the friends he can get, and it takes a nudge from the cat to make him say what has to be said to keep his best human friend. Telling Marisol about their money problems and incipient homelessness doesn't fix anything, but it allows her to be his friend, and she helps him loosen his grip on facts just a little.

My Recommendation:
A nice read, not too challenging, but one that deals gently with both homelessness and friendship. For ages 8 up.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Crenshaw out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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." 

Join the Ninja Librarian in celebrating the release of The Problem With Peggy on Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #2

Something happened to my good intentions about weekly updates, and since my first update on Nov. 5, somehow an extra week slipped past.

I'm happy to report, though, that it didn't slip past my writing, and I can report progress good enough to probably carry me through the Thanksgiving weekend with its more limited writing opportunities. I caught up to par on the 14th (so it did take me almost half the month), and have been sailing on ahead since, continuing with 1800-2200 words most days.

I will confess that because I am turning a collection of flash fiction into a novel, I am able at times to lift a paragraph or two from the short stories (far less than I expected, though, and each of them needs careful consideration and reworking to fit the novel). I guess that means I can't claim a "legit" victory. News Flash: I'm not interested in playing by a set of arbitrary rules. I'm interested in writing a novel.

I think that's the text for the pep talk part of this post. The writing is the thing. Whether you are doing NaNo or not, it's not about rules. It's about finding the way that works for you to write and keep writing. Maybe that means locking yourself in a room for a month each year and writing like crazy (and then searching elsewhere for the much greater time commitment involved in revising it?). Maybe it means writing 350 words a day.

Or maybe you fall somewhere in between, like most of us do most of the time. The point is, you write, and then you edit. You don't sweat about anyone else's "rules" because there are no rules about this. You do whatever helps you and inspires you (so I play along with NaNo because it gives me artificial goals and deadlines, which works for me), and you ignore what doesn't. Let no one tell you at the end of this month that you aren't a "winner" if you don't have 50,000 words. If you write anything on any given day or in any given month, you're a winner in my book.

So go forth and write, whenever and however you can.


One week until release day! The Problem With Peggy goes live on Nov. 28, but you can preorder now from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. For the best deal, Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs--offer only lasts through November 30.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday (recycled) Flash: The Tomb of the Strange Feast

What with pounding away on my NaNo novel and finalizing the formatting and all for The Problem With Peggy (see below), there really was no time this week for a new story. So I dug into the archives, and as a way to get warmed up for Thanksgiving feasting (for my US readers!), I bring you again,

The Tomb of the Strange Feast

Mom never was a good cook, but that night she really outdid herself.  Her smile when she brought in dinner didn't convince even Lily, and she's only five.

"Brussels sprout-tofu casserole, with non-fat cheese," Mom announced, all bright and enthusiastic, the way grown-ups sound when they are trying to convince kids of the wonderfulness of something they really don't like it.  Totally fake.  Mom could pretend, but we all knew she didn't like the food she made any more than we did.  She didn't even put crumbled potato chips on top of the stuff, the way Nana does, which at least means there's some part of her “hot dishes” a kid can eat.

Trouble is, Mom's on a health-food kick.  Health food and bad cooking are a really awful combination.  When my buddy Lianne's mom cooks healthy food, it's things like grilled veggies and chicken breasts.  Kind of boring, but you can eat it.  Sometimes she gets these veggie-burger things that are really good, especially with plenty of ketchup and mustard.  You’d hardly know they were healthy.  But my mom makes Brussels sprout-tofu casserole, and tofu "cheesecake" for dessert.  Sometimes I think I should run away from home.

So that night Mom put the pan on the table, and we all just sat looking at it.  Lily looked like she was about to cry, and Dad swallowed hard.  The stuff looked nasty and smelled worse.  Mom was still trying to smile, and she served each of us a nice big heaping pile, but she had to work harder and harder to keep smiling as she went on.  She knew.  That’s the worst part: Mom knows she's a lousy cook.  She always has been.  Used to be, she just went ahead and made hot dogs and frozen pizza and stuff like that, which was fine.  When she was dieting, she’d get those “Lean and Mean” frozen dinners, and I got pretty used to them, too.

But last month she got hold of this book about fat kids and how bad eating and junk food was going to kill us all, and maybe that’s true.  But in our family, Mom’s attempts to cook her idea of healthy food are going to kill us all a whole lot sooner.  Like this casserole we were all staring at like gawkers at a traffic accident.  Horrified and fascinated at the same time.

Dad’s a real hero.  He smiled at Mom and picked up his fork.  “I’m sure it’s marvelous, Dear,” he said, and plunged his fork into the heart of the steaming pile on his plate.  He didn’t take a bite, though.  I figure the telephone saved his life, because before he could lift the fork, his phone rang, and he got up to answer it.  Mom doesn’t allow our phones at the table, so he had to hunt for it, and when he found the right one, it was Mom’s phone that was ringing after all.  I don’t know why they don’t use different ringtones.  Maybe they haven’t figured out how.

Anyway, Mom got on the phone and came back a minute later with her purse in her hand.  “Poor old Mrs. Carruthers is sick, and she needs me to go pick up her medicines.  She uses that discount drug store on the other side of town, so I’ll be a while.  Don’t worry about saving dinner for me—I’ll grab something while I wait for her prescription.  Just clean up when you finish.”

Mom has a sort of business running errands for the old people in our neighborhood.  I’m not sure how many of them pay her, but she does it for all of them, regardless.  Mom’s a great person.  She just can’t cook.

When the door closed behind her, Dad, Lily and I looked at each other, then at the casserole.  Then Dad stood up.  “Karla, you get the shovel.  I’ll bring this stuff.”

“I’ll get that dessert thing,” Lily said.  We’d tasted that before and knew better than to do so again.  Of all the things to mess with, dessert is the cruelest.

Dad began scraping plates back into the dish, and I got the shovel from the shed.  By the time I’d picked a good place, Dad and Lily were outside, and I held the dish while Dad dug a hole with a few quick stomps on the shovel.  We scraped in the mess, shoved the dirt back over it, and sprinkled some leaves over it to make it less obvious.  Then we loaded the dishwasher and Dad took us to the Burger Prince and got us burgers and strawberry shakes.  They make their shakes with real fruit, so we decided that was close enough to health food for tonight.

That was hours ago.  When I looked out my window just now, with the moon lighting up the yard, I swear I could see that fresh pile of dirt and leaves moving.

I hope we really have seen the last of that strange feast.

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


Just ten days until release day! The Problem With Peggy goes live on Nov. 28, but you can preorder now from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. For the best deal, Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Audio Mystery Review: A Duty to the Dead, by Charles Todd


Title: A Duty to the Dead (Bess Crawford Mysteries #1)
Author: Charles Todd. Read by Rosalyn Landor
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America, 2009. Original publisher, William Morrow, 2009. 336 pages.
Source: Library digital collection.

Publisher's Summary:
Charles Todd, author of the resoundingly acclaimed Ian Rutledge crime novels (“One of the best historical series being written today” —Washington Post Book World) debuts an exceptional new protagonist, World War I nurse Bess Crawford, in A Duty to the Dead. A gripping tale of perilous obligations and dark family secrets in the shadows of a nightmarish time of global conflict, A Duty to the Dead is rich in suspense, surprise, and the impeccable period atmosphere that has become a Charles Todd trademark.  

My Review:
Note: I recently reviewed The Shattered Tree, the 8th book in the series. In that case, I was given an ARC in order to write my review. I enjoyed it enough to go back and start the series at the beginning, and found this one on my own initiative at my library.

Good stuff first: this is a smooth read, and I didn't want to quit listening and do anything more productive with my time. The authors did their research very well; I felt the period (WWI) was accurately and vividly portrayed. The story was gripping and largely satisfying, and Bess's character is well developed. It was interesting watching her come to grips with a hard lesson.

That said, I had a few caveats. I wondered at Bess's slowness to see some things that I guessed very early on. I was left wondering how much of her slowness to see the truth was realistic (after all, as the reader of a mystery I *expect* everyone to be lying, but she would not), and how much was stretching the bounds of credulity that she wouldn't question the coincidences. To some degree, the story became not so much a "whodunnit" as an observation of the way in which the truth revealed itself to Bess. That's not a bad story, but I was a little disappointed to see so much more clearly than she did. At times, too, I felt like I was jumping into the middle of Bess's story, so that I checked more than once to be sure it really was Book 1. That's just proof of how difficult it is to balance presenting the backstory with keeping the main story moving.

One thing I found a little odd was that there is a very similar incident at the heart of this as at the heart of The Shattered Tree: a murky case of a barely-adolescent boy having committed a gruesome murder. I probably wouldn't have noticed if I'd read the series in order over a couple of years or more (my usual style), but as it was, it seemed weird.

The narration was good, but not great. I felt the narrator tried too hard with male voices, so they all ended up sounding rather like gruff old men. After a while that got a bit irritating, as well as making it harder to tell the male characters apart.

Bottom line: not a perfect book, but it certainly didn't put me off the series. I'll be reading on.

My Recommendation:
Anyone who is a fan of the period (WWI) will enjoy this, and I think it doesn't hurt to start the series at the beginning (I always prefer that approach). I recall that I didn't think The Shattered Tree was strictly adhering to "whodunnit" form either, so that may be something to consider. If you must have a book that follows the rules, the series may not be for you. But if you want good character development and an interesting story, I suspect it's a good choice.

FTC Disclosure: I checked A Duty to the Dead out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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."  

Join the Ninja Librarian in celebrating the release of The Problem With Peggy on Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Middle Grade Monday: Connect the Stars


Title: Connect the Stars
Author: Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2015. 192 pages (Nook version)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
When thirteen-year-olds Aaron and Audrey meet at a wilderness camp in the desert, they think their quirks are enough to prevent them from ever having friends. But as they trek through the challenging and unforgiving landscape, they learn that they each have what it takes to make the other whole.

Luminous and clever, Connect the Stars has Marisa de los Santos and David Teague’s trademark beautiful prose, delicate humor, swooping emotions, and keen middle grade friendships. This novel takes on the hefty topics of the day—bullying, understanding where you fit in, and learning to live with physical and mental challenges—all in a joyous adventure kids will love!

My Review: 
First, that's a lovely cover. Just wanted to say that, because once again that's what caught my eye while randomly browsing for a distraction. Now for the review.

The book is told in first person, alternating chapter-by-chapter between the voices of Audrey and Aaron, which actually works well. Sometimes I had to check back to see who we were following, but I think that was about me being tired, not the voices being clear (actually, the voices aren't so very different, but the things they notice and comment on are, if that makes any sense). We start with several chapters of the kids' lives at home, which sets the backstory for why they are going on the wilderness camp and why each struggles with friendship. Of course, knowing that, we know from the start that the two will become friends during this camp experience. And we know that the wilderness camp will test them in unexpected ways.

The story lies in how those things happen. The one drawback, for me, is that the story relies in part on an unbelievable setup for the wilderness trek. The idea that any commercial operation could or would take 15 kids into the desert with only one adult was almost laughable (but probably wouldn't trouble juvenile readers). That adult then exercises a lot of bad judgement and endangers his charges more than once, which is also probably more believable to young readers. For a time, however, the unbelievable elements made me think I might not be able to enjoy the book. And the book does rather depend on there being just the one adult present.

Fortunately, as the kids begin to bond and discover their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, I was more able to engage in the story. I liked that Aaron and Audrey aren't "troubled youths," in the typical sense. This isn't a camp meant to whip kids into shape before they end up in jail. It's "La Viaje a la Confianza," the Journey to Confidence, and while some of the kids are dealing with some major issues, those issues aren't trouble with the law.

And even though things don't exactly go according to plan, they do gain confidence. Audrey and Aaron also come to realize that they can learn to live with their issues, be honest with each other (and the other two friends who are part of what becomes a foursome), and be best friends anyway. In the end, this gets a positive review despite the unrealistic elements, because the message is great without being preached at the reader. Instead, it is wrapped in a mild adventure. The ending gives it a bit of a marking down, for excessive sentiment.

I think this is a good read for any kid who wonders if he or she has what it takes to have friends (which I'm guessing is most junior high kids). But beware: whether or not the reader already loves the outdoors, they are apt to feel at the end as though they could maybe love the desert, and they'll want to go find out. My answer: go . The desert is an amazing place--all our different deserts.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Connect the Stars out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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."   

Join the Ninja Librarian in celebrating the release of The Problem With Peggy on Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Photo Friday: Serenity

In honor of Veteran's Day and in hopes of helping us heal from a pretty divisive election, today instead of flash fiction, I'm having Photo Friday, and sharing pictures of calm waters, reflections, and the beautiful things light can do.

Flagstaff Lake, Maine, at sunrise.

Moon and grass reflected in Flagstaff Lake, ME

Sunset serenity. Flagstaff Lake, ME

 Big Five Lakes, Sequoia National Park

Vanishing Storm Clouds, Big Five Lakes, Sequoia National Park

Misty Evening. Columbine Lake, Sequoia National Park

Tarn reflections, Kings Canyon National Park

Lupine after the storm. Kings Canyon NP

After the storm. Kings Canyon NP

Sunset. Columbine Lake, Sequoia NP
And finally, take a good look at the sunset and sleep well.
Sequoia NP

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Middle Grade Review: Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen


Title: Petey
Author: Ben Mikaelsen
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, 1998. 280 pages
Source: School district book giveaway. (Book was leftover and is en route to other young readers, lest anyone think I was snatching books meant for our children).

Publisher's Summary:
In 1922, at the age of two, Petey's distraught parents commit him to the state's insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. Bound by his wheelchair and struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new "home." Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.

That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time. Trevor, new to town and a bit of a loner, is at first wary of the old man in the wheelchair. But after hearing more of his story, Trevor learns that there is much more to Petey than meets the eye.

Petey is a touching story of friendship, discovery, and the uplifting power of the human spirit.

My Review:
I zipped through this in pretty much two sittings. That's partly because it's not a terribly long book, but is more because it is a gripping (and heartbreaking) book. Reading of the conditions of Petey's life really did hurt. The author uses an almost reportorial style for that section of the book, with bits told from the perspective of a few caregivers who come to know Petey (and gradually to see that he is not "retarded," but is in fact intelligent, though barely able to speak due to his CP). We get glimpses, as well, into Petey's own mind, and gradually (as he ages and matures) get more and more of that. The result is a wrenching recognition of the pain of being trapped inside a body that will do nothing he asks of it, even communicate, in a world that for the most part doesn't think he's even capable of thinking.

In the second half, the point of view shifts to Trevor, in 1990. It is similar to the glimpses we got of caregivers through the years, but we have a more complete understanding of Trevor, as he does become the focus of the book. The second half is more about the boy than the man, as Petey becomes, instead of a figure of helplessness with people coming and going out of his control, an active participant in his own life--and Trevor's.

I'm not sure that the relationship between Trevor and Petey, or the transformation of the boy, is 100% believable, but it works, and the result is a story that made me cry.

My Recommendation:
I waffled a bit about putting this in juvvy or YA. I went with the library's category, but there are some things to be aware of. The first half of the book is set from the 1920s to the 1970s, and both depicts all too grimly the conditions in which a severely handicapped person lived in that era, and the language with which they were described (including words we no longer use). But the overarching message of the story is very good, and any questions about terms can be discussed with young readers.

FTC Disclosure: I picked up a copy of Petey at a book give-away event (see above), 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, November 7, 2016

Mystery Review: The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer

Today we are participating in another Great Escapes Free Book Tour, and we have the honor of having author Cathy Ace here with a guest post. But first, let's get the business out of the way:

Title: The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer
Author: Cathy Ace
Publisher: Severn House (November 1, 2016) Paperback: 224 pages
Source: digital ARC provided by the publisher for the purposes of this free tour.

ISBN-13: 978-1847516633

Publisher's Summary:
The Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency are back in a witty and intriguing new mystery.
The Anwen Morris Dancers are to play a pivotal role in the imminent nuptials of Henry, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth. But it looks as though the wedding plans might go awry unless Mavis, Annie, Carol and Christine can help Althea, the Dowager Duchess, by finding a missing Morris man and a set of ancient and valuable artefacts in time for her son’s wedding.

Anwen-by-Wye might look like an idyllic Welsh village where family values reign and traditions still mean something in a modern world, but what will the WISE women find when they peer behind the respectable net curtains?

My Review:
The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer brings the reader right into the Welsh village of Anwen-by-Wye, and my sense is that in this series the setting is one of the characters. For me, that goes a long way toward making up for any flaws. The human characters are also well drawn, though here we touch on my main problem with the book.

I was particularly intrigued by the author's use of multiple main characters (the WISE Enquiries Agency has four sleuths, and they are all Main Characters, with us spending time with and in the heads of each. I wanted to see how this works in part because I've toyed with the idea of writing a book with at least two main characters. I think the book (and, in fact, the author's guest post below) reveals just how difficult this is. The multiple main characters made it harder to keep track of things, especially at the start of the book, where all the characters were strangers to me, and I think four protagonists tests the limits of a reader's ability to identify with the heroine.

That said, I still think this is a very well-written book, and the mystery plot is kept central even while the characters' lives are developed. That mystery, I need to note, isn't quite classic: there's no murder here. There is a mystery, though, and one with enough gravitas to make it matter. I did find it odd that the WISE women were restricted in what they could do by having to play by the rules (or risk losign their license)--and then thought it odd that something so realistic seemed odd! Still, it made a problem in that the main characters are shut out of the conclusion of the case, though they provide the police with the key to it.

My Recommendation:
This is an excellent choice for a reader who likes vivid settings for their mysteries, and who is not troubled by the lack of a corpse. The structure isn't quite classic Cozy, but it's a good story and well-written for those who keep an open mind about the rules of the genre.

And now--before we get to the nitty gritty (i.e., how to order your copy), here's the author, who has generously offered to stop by and talk about that very point that worried me: writing so many main characters!

cathyThanks for having me along today, it’s a great chance for me to be able to share my thoughts with your followers who – I am guessing – share your interest in not only books, but writing. The launch of a new book is always an exciting time, and I’m delighted that the second WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries is now available in paperback.

I’ve signed a contract for two more books in this series; book #3 (THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS COOK) will be published in the UK on November 30th 2016 and I’m currently working on book #4. With this in mind, I thought I’d focus on an aspect of my writing I hope your followers will find interesting – how I try to build depth in characters throughout a series of books.

The WISE Enquiries Agency is staffed by four women and they are “helped” by a fifth; these are my core protagonists. If I focus on them – leaving aside for one moment the other recurring characters who populate Chellingworth Hall (upstairs, and downstairs) as well as the village of Anwen-by-Wye – it’s plain to see they cannot each have a great depth of personal or character background within each book, otherwise there wouldn’t be room for the details of the case, or cases, they are investigating. This poses a dilemma not only for the first book in a series, but for subsequent stories too; how to give enough insight into the multi-dimensional characters I have in my head, without attempting to – or being able to – tell readers everything I “know” about them in a sort of “character trait dump”. I often write great chunks about a character, then end up editing it out, noting I need to make sure I weave it into a later chapter, or book.

I work hard to allow my characters to display their true colors not only through what they say, but also through what they do and how they do it. One thing I am keen to do with this series is to show how these women can, and do, work successfully as a team; each one has their strengths, and weaknesses, and the others allow them to play their role in cases which need a team approach. Given the women’s varied backgrounds, they are well-suited to play off each other’s abilities and differences. I want to show how a group of women can enjoy banter, sisterhood, friendship – and cups of tea – in spite of their differences, and while they are pursuing a professional life which they all see as valuable to the community, as well as providing a living for them.

The toughest aspect is to employ character “sketches” in each book that build from volume to volume, allowing readers to learn more about the women as they read more books, and to allow that increased insight to be a natural progression. I hope readers feel much the same way about my characters as they do about people they meet on several occasions, refining and shifting their understanding of that person as they discover more about them.

It’s a fine balance, and can lead to some difficult decisions during the editing process, but I hope readers feel they want to come back to the next book to find out more about the characters I’ve created. I also hope they enjoy working their way through cases with the WISE women who, after all, have to solve knotty problems requiring them to use their skills and abilities, while still living lives that have significant personal dimensions.

Thanks for coming by and sharing that with us! It's a great insight into the challenges of writing both a series and multiple main characters!

About The Author

Cathy Ace loves crime! It’s true – she discovered Nancy Drew in her local library, then found Agatha Christie on her Mum’s bookshelves, and she never looked back. Cathy happily admits that the characters she met between the book-covers as a child have influenced her writing. “Nancy Drew was plucky, strong and independent, and Agatha Christie’s puzzles engaged me every time. I love the sort of book that mixes intricate plotting with a dash of danger, and that’s what I’ve tried to create with my Cait Morgan Mystery Series. Beginning my new series, featuring the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency, I have been able to indulge my love of stately homes, village life and the interplay between characters that can take place in that sort of setting.”
Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, and worked in marketing communications for decades across Europe. Having migrated to Canada in 2000, she now lives in beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband (and two chocolate Labradors) ensure she’s able to write full-time. Bestselling author Ace writes two series of mystery books: the Cait Morgan Mysteries, and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair, won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.

Author Links:

Twitter: @AceCathy

 Purchase Links:


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FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Join the Ninja Librarian in celebrating the release of The Problem With Peggy on Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #1

It's November, and that mean National Novel Writing Month--a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo. It's a national challenge to all the writers and would-be writers to put the backside in the chair and write 50,000 words in a month (that's a decent juvvy novel, but well short of an actual adult novel, even a trade-paperback mystery. It's still a good start and a great accomplishment).

I've done it, twice. The first time, the result was Death By Trombone. The second time, I produced a mess of words that's supposed to be the 3rd Pismawallops PTA mystery (and it will be. I'll start revisions on rewriting that in December. But it went so far awry that I can't even use the working title). This time, I'm probably cheating a bit, but I'm working on converting a collection of flash fiction about Gorg the Troll into a novel. So, like Halitor the Hero, it's back to the world of fantasy that can't quite keep a straight face.

I thought I'd throw in a weekly report, along with a bit of cheer leading, each Sunday.

So: Week One.
I got off to a slow start, since I didn't get my final revisions on The Problem With Peggy (release date Nov. 28; preorders available now!) out the door until Wednesday. Then I spent a day pulling together some notes I made last summer and creating the first part of an outline. Of course, the existing stories provide something of an outline, but there is so much more to Gorg's story than is in the 8 or 9 pieces of flash fiction I've written over the last 3 or 4 years.

Since I didn't really start writing until Nov., 3rd, and late in the day at that, the word count as of Saturday night stands at 4759. That's a bit behind the curve, but I'll not have any trouble catching up. Gorg is a delight to work with, and I can write around 2000 words most days. It's so much fun to dive into this stage of the writing journey--always my favorite!

How about you? Participating in NaNo? Tell me about it!

In case anyone's forgotten, here's my favorite portrait of Gorg:

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Flash: Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer

For this month, while I'm very busy trying to juggle a NaNo project and the release of The Problem With Peggy (Book 3 of the Ninja Librarian series), my Friday posts may be either short, photographic, or re-runs. Just a warning :)

Today, however, I got inspired and we have a full length (990 words) flash--another voyage with Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer.

Xavier Xanthum and the Alien

“Comet, we need some excitement.” Xavier Xanthum addressed the comment to the large black-and-white cat that lay, weightless, on his lap.

“I do not think it is wise to wish for excitement.” The answer didn’t come from the cat; to the best of Xavier’s knowledge, the animal couldn’t speak. The only other voice in his one-man spacecraft was that of Larry, the AI.

Xavier looked around for the floating eyeballs that Larry liked to use as his physical manifestation. “Why not? We’ve been in transit for a month, and I’m bored out of my mind. We need to do something to break up the trip!” He and Larry had been entertaining themselves by learning an ancient code he’d found in a book, one that worked by long and short flashes. That kept them occupied for a tiny part of each day. Managing the ship took another few minutes. Boredom was killing him.

“It is not wise, because you do have a tendency to stumble into more excitement than you enjoy.”

That was true. Xavier thought about some of his adventures. He’d not enjoyed them all. But time, distance, and boredom gave them a certain nostalgic luster.

“What could go wrong out here?”

At those ill-considered words, Larry sucked in an imaginary breath, and Kitty Comet shoved off Xavier’s lap and disappeared into the ductwork. Seconds later, the com unit crackled to life. First there was a noise they had to take as speech, then an image appeared on the screen. A being with four visible appendages, and two of what Xavier took to be heads, showed against the unmistakable—though very alien—backdrop of spaceship’s control center.

Finally the translator began to translate.

“Alien ship you are in our territory. Why should we not to vaporize you at once?”

Xavier thought. Mostly he thought that it was weird that the alien claimed empty space as its territory. Then he thought that he didn’t care to be vaporized.

“Uh, just passing through. My apologies if I interfered. Didn’t see the No Trespassing signs; we’ll move right along.”

The alien waited for its own translator to handle this, then the two heads swiveled to look at each other. First one head and then the other spoke. He didn’t think the thing had meant for this conversation to get translated, but computers did exactly what they were told, and theirs had been told to translate.

“We are commanded to destroy all threats.”

“This puny craft is no threat.”

“We can’t know that.”

“They appear harmless.”

“We must follow orders.”

“Uh, fellows? Mister?” Xavier cleared his throat and tried to figure out if he was addressing one alien or two. “I must say, I’m not a threat. No sir, not any kind of threat.”

“It is sentient. We do not destroy sentient beings without cause.”

“It is sentient. Therefore it is a threat. That is sufficient cause.”

Xavier listened, fascinated. He’d never heard anyone play good cop/bad cop with himself. The two heads went on arguing. Xavier muted his own com unit and asked Larry if they could get away from the alien ship.

“No, Captain. It is not even clear where the ship is, but we appear to be firmly held by an unknown force field.”

Xavier swallowed. It was never good when Larry started calling him “Captain.” He listened to the on-going argument. It seemed to have shifted from whether to destroy him to how to destroy him.

“Larry? Do your best to break that field, okay? I think we might be in trouble here.”

Just then, Comet shot back out of the duct. The cat had mastered zero-G movement, mostly. She over-shot Xavier, bounced gently off the com unit, and drifted, drawn by the motion on the screen. She swiveled her own head, following the argument. Then she began batting gently at the moving heads. Xavier reached out and put her back where she could pat the screen. Someone should enjoy this encounter.

The heated discussion of vaporization vs. laser broiling broke off. Both heads zeroed in on the cat. Four arms lifted as though to reach through the screen.

“What is this creature? Is it your leader?”

“It’s a cat,” Xavier said. “She’s a pet.” Screeches from their translator told him the aliens had no word for either cat or pet. “A non-sentient animal that offers comfort to a human companion,” he defined for them.

“This ‘cat’ offers you comfort?”

“I told you the alien is perverted,” the second head said.

“I would like such a ‘pet.’”

“You betray your duty.”

“You have no feelings.”

“Correct. The locus of sentiment is in your head. That is why I am the stronger.”

Xavier watched, fascinated, as the heads argued about the virtues of feelings vs. logic, all the while with their gazes locked on Comet.

The sentimental head addressed Xavier again. “Give us your ‘cat’ and we will release you.”

Xavier stiffened. He couldn’t do that to the creature that had arrived in a Christmas stocking two years back. Comet had been a tiny kitten then, a bundle of fur that stole his heart in seconds. But maybe Larry could use the demand to make an opening for escape. Xavier said something vague to the aliens, and looked around for the eyeballs. Larry hovered just out of sight of the com unit, blinking in the ancient Morse code.

Larry wanted him to agree? Xavier opened his mouth to argue. Larry blinked some more, and the space explorer stifled a smile.

Xavier interrupted the alien’s argument. “Very well. I will beam the cat over to you. You will need to lower the field that immobilizes me.”

And before the logical head could argue, an arm reached out, punched a button, and Larry blasted the Wanderlust out of range.

The last they saw of the alien, it looked like they’d be arguing for a long, long time.


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

Like my stories? Please consider buying one of my books.
 In particular, Book 3 of the Ninja Librarian series is coming out Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

IWSG: Fretting about book releases!

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! (Click on the badge above to see the whole story).

Our question for the month is "What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?" I'll get to that in a minute. First, I have to unload my neurotic insecurities, as well as a few that are all-too-reasonable.

I have a book coming out at the end of the month. That gives me lots of opportunities to freak out display insecurities: What if no one buys it? What if no one likes it? What if someone writes a really horrid review of it? What if I miss my deadlines and it doesn't come out?? What if I totally blow the publicity part and no one even knows? (A fairly reasonable fear, given my track record).

To add to the fun, I have a local live event scheduled for December 10, which gives me a whole other area to be insecure about: What if no one comes? (Alas, another not wholly groundless fear, given turnout at some other events). What if I say something stupid? What if I make a joke and no one laughs? Of course, this event is far enough in the future that I can *really* freak out about it at the December IWSG.

On the up side, I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT AT THE END OF THE MONTH! Cue triumphant march music. Despite all my distractions and time spent not working, I managed to pull it together and spend the time necessary to do the revisions, the polishing, to assemble the cover (saving money on the pro...some assembly required). This not only feels like a huge accomplishment, but I'll be glad to get this book off my plate and move the next one into place.

Because, oh, yeah, I'm going to harness the NaNo momentum and try to get another draft together for the next book but one (always seem to have more lined up for revisions than I can get through).

So what's the best thing about being a writer? Aside from wearing sweatpants and a fuzzy sweatshirt to work, you mean? It's got to be getting recognized by little kids as the author of The Ninja Librarian. It only happens locally, where I visit the schools, but still--totally cool.

And here it is: Book 3 of the Ninja Librarian series, due out Nov. 28! Preorders are now available from Amazon and Smashwords for the ebook. Preorder the paperback directly from this site and we'll pick up the shipping costs!