Friday, June 30, 2017

Flashback Friday:

It's Flashback Friday, and I have a piece from January of 2014 that I kind of enjoyed, so here it is. A little longer than usual, but hey, it's summer, so enjoy a little extra vacation reading!

The Bartender and the Pirate

Lira stood at ease behind the bar, wiping glasses and listening to the words flowing around her.  No one ever paid attention to the bartender, and you could learn an amazing amount that way.  What Lira was learning tonight was that the pirate ship was back in the local waters, and people were afraid. No one seemed to know who the pirate was, whose ship had been haunting their shores off and on for several months.  When there were no fat merchant vessels to take, the pirates would land and take what they wanted, from livestock to women.

She shrugged to herself.  Pirates had been raiding this coast for years.  Centuries, probably, ever since the first boats sailed in and out of the harbor.  Pirates were a part of life along the coast.  Then a bit of conversation caught her attention.

"Dead, he was, just a-lying in the field with his throat cut, I tell you!"

"Never!  And him saying he could outrun or outfight any man on this coast."

"Looks like he was wrong."

Lira glanced down the bar.  Two grizzled shepherds had their faces buried in their beers, but she was pretty sure they'd been the speakers.  She recognized them, of course.  She knew everyone, even those who never came into a bar, or who would never come into a bar run by a woman.  "Taint decent," was the verdict of most of the women, but the men didn't care.  They came for the best beer and the chance to be waited on by something female.

And they told her things.  Enough that she had a guess, looking around the bar, who might not have been as fast or as fierce as he'd thought.  If she was right, he was no loss to the community.  Basher Gaffen was a bully and a coward, and if the pirates had taken him out, so much the better.

"Funny, though," the older of the two elders said, coming up out of his beer as though he'd heard Lira's thoughts.  "Ol' Basher wasn't killed with a cutlass like the pirates usually do.  His throat was slit as neat as neat, like a butcher with a hog, it was."

Lira grimaced.  That wouldn't be very neat--blood all over, more like.  But throat slitting with a fine knife--it didn't sound like pirates, though they'd likely enough get the blame.  She sighed.  No doubt that was what the killer intended.  The only question was whether she'd put it right.

Two hours later, Lira knew she would let the pirates take the blame.  That was when she finally met the unknown pirate.  The unknown pirate was all too well known to her.   She would let the bastard hang and dance on his grave.

First she had to escape.

Lira had gone to look at the place where the dead man had been found, after the bar shut down.  It was the middle of the night, but since she didn’t expect to find anything there anyway, she figured a lantern would cast enough light to show her that any evidence had been trampled by those who came to take the corpse away.  She could then agree that whoever had done it, they’d done the village a favor, and could go get some sleep.

The lantern gave away her location to the pirates, who had come back and were in a nasty mood.  Lira knew she was in real trouble, but it might have been worse, at least in the short term, if the Pirate King himself hadn’t been there.  As a result, she was still alive and whole.  She was also bound, gagged, and parked in the bilges awaiting his decision about how to kill her, but that could be overcome.

The pirate king’s real name was Norman, though none of his men knew that.  Or none had known, until they’d taken Lira.  She’d recognized him at once, even though it had been years since they’d been in school together, and he’d grown a lot since then.  He’d been a victim back then, a scrawny kid struggling under the burden of a name that invited teasing.  He’d retaliated with underhanded plots that got other students in trouble for things he did, usually those with no one to defend them.  Just the way these pirates operated.

Now Norman was the fierce and feared Pirate King, and he would not forgive Lira for revealing his true name to the men he led.

She would never forgive him for getting her tossed out of school.

Lira cursed herself for a fool.  She knew better than to go roaming in the night when the pirates were on the loose.  The Pirate King had decided they were his personal supply house, and Lira stood in his way.  She figured she had at most an hour or so before he made up his mind whether to skin her, hang her, or just throw her overboard.  And that would almost certainly be after giving her to his crew for a while.

She had no intention of sticking around for any part of it.  Working off her right shoe, she bent down until she could hook a toe into the gag.  Fortunately it was a warm night, and she wasn’t wearing socks.  The gag wasn’t tight—Norman had only put it on to stop her telling the men about his past; she wouldn’t get anywhere by screaming in any case.  The ship was standing about a half mile off the shore.

With the gag removed, she could use her teeth on the bonds securing her hands.  It took a long time, but Norman had insisted on tying her up himself—probably to keep her from telling his men what he really was like—and he still wasn’t any better with knots than he had been as a boy.  If a real sailor had done it, she’d have been sunk.

Lira dropped the last loop of rope into the stinking bilge water and stood up cautiously.  She felt around for her shoe and slid it back on, unwilling to risk stepping on something nasty in her bare feet.  The only question now was if she would expose Norman to his crew and let them take care of him, kill him herself, or play it safe and just dive overboard and swim for shore.  

The pirates decided it for her.  When she crept to the hatch and peered out, hoping to find the crew asleep and only perhaps a single watchman dozing by the wheel, she found instead that the entire crew was gathered around the Captain’s cabin, where Norman was engaged in a heated argument with someone she couldn’t see.

Lira stepped out of her shoes.  They would make a noise she couldn’t afford.   Moving silently from shadow to shadow, Lira got close enough to hear the discussion, and she smiled.

Norman was in trouble.  His crew wanted to know how a guy named “Norman” could make himself a Pirate King, and why they should follow him.  He was soft—too soft to even kill a troublesome female.

Lira was in trouble, too.  The crew was making it clear that if he wanted to remain a Pirate King, Norman was going to have to prove his bloodthirsty credentials.  On her.  And she had no doubt that he would.  Nothing she’d heard suggested that Norman had learned mercy since leaving school, and she was willing to bet he’d moved on from sneaking to murder.  He wasn’t a scrawny kid any more, and he’d never been soft.  

The knife he wore as his belt, as she’d noted earlier, was sharp and lethal.  Exactly the sort of knife that had ended the life of Basher Gaffen.  And Basher had been one of those who tormented Norman back in their school days.  He’d tormented everyone, right up until Norman had slit his throat in the field on the far side of the harbor.

“An’ let’s see you lead us in and clean out that stinking town once and for all!  We’ve had enough of sneaking.  Burn it, kill ‘em, take all the women.  Unless you’re some kind of sissy!”

Lira had heard enough.  She moved silently back away from the crowd toward the bow.  Shedding overshirt and skirt, she slid through the hole where the anchor chain ran, swung as low as she could over the water, and let go, pointing her toes to enter the water as cleanly as possible.

She wasn’t quite silent enough.  Some keen-eared pirate had heard the splash.  A yell and the sound of many bare feet crossing the deck warned Lira, once she’d resurfaced, that she’d been spotted.  She struck out for shore with a steady stroke, diving once or twice when she heard pistols fire.  The single-shot monsters were not terribly accurate, and she kept her course.  

It took the pirates several minutes to bring the vessel about to follow her.  Even as she swam for her life, Lira thought Norman must not be the seaman he imagined himself, or he’d have lowered a boat, rather than bringing the ship in so close to shore.  The men had their blood up too and no one was thinking.  Raising her head to orient herself, she saw she was directly off the headland to the south of the harbor.  There was enough moonlight to make out the form of the land, but not enough to see what lay in the water.

She glanced back.  The ship was coming after her.   The wind had picked up and the pirates came on at speed.

With a grim smile she set a faster stroke and made for the point.  She would pass over the rocks, mostly.

Lira stood dripping and half-naked on the shore, shivering even on this mild night after twenty minutes in the cold waters.  She was cut and bruised from a landing among the rocks through rough surf.  But she smiled as she watched the pirate ship, sails still set, wallow and break apart against the rocks that had lain hidden just below the waves.

She’d never finished school after he’d gotten her kicked out for lewd behavior.  But she’d done just fine.  Norman had finished school, and it had made him a Pirate King.  But he wouldn’t trouble anyone any longer.  Some of the men might make it to shore.  Norman would not be among them, even if he thought to shed sword, cutlass, knives and pistols before they dragged him to the bottom.

Norman couldn’t swim.  Basher had made sure of that.  It made a nice sort of circular revenge.

The case, thought Lira, was nicely wrapped up.  She turned toward the village, cursing a bit as she realized she had to walk a mile home barefoot.  Still, it was a small price to pay.
Image copyright Rebecca M. Douglass

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Middle Grade Fiction: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, by Firoozeh Dumas

Oops. I was on the road, and didn't get this one set to post automatically. So all of you who were holding your breaths for my next post, sorry about that :)


Title: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
Author: Firoozeh Dumas
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2016. 378 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can't distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home. A poignant yet lighthearted middle grade debut from the author of the best-selling Funny in Farsi. 

My Review:
This one is simultaneously a book about the difficulty of making it through middle school, especially as the new kid, and the far greater issues of racism in our country. Based on the author's own experience, the book opens in 1978, with "Cindy" and her parents moving to a new home in Newport Beach, CA. That's hard enough, since she is the only member of the family who's fluent in English, and even Zomorod doesn't get a lot of what goes on. 

That would make for an okay book, no doubt useful to kids who feel like outsiders. But things get more complex when Zomorod and her parents first watch the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomenhi, and then the taking of the American hostages. Now she's not a weird kid from a country no one has heard of. She's a weird kid from a country that everyone seems to hate. 

What this book has to say about racism and hatred is powerful. Sadly, if not for the cultural references that keep you aware of the setting, we could be talking about any Middle-Eastern family today. Bumper stickers and t-shirts that tout intolerance and hatred hit Zomorod like a fist in the stomach, and do the same to children around America today. Probably the hardest part to read is when Zomorod discovers that even adults can do hateful, hurtful things. It would be so much easier to believe that only middle-school kids are that mean.

This goes on my list of "books everyone should read to get their prejudices shaken up." Kids' books are good at that, and this one has the ring of authenticity. Good for everyone over about the age of 8 or so.

FTC Disclosure: I checked It Ain't So Awful, Falafel 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, June 26, 2017

Fin50: A Change in the Weather


A Change in the Weather is this month’s prompt from Bruce Gargoyle in his Fiction in Fifty (Fi50) meme.  You can join in this fun communal story-telling any time you like, and post any time during the month. Bruce posts his today, and you can drop in and link to your own.

A Change in the Weather

We got along well for most of the voyage; it was a shame to ruin it. But 7 months of just us two and I had permanent tooth marks in my tongue.

I could only offer a warning: “There’ll be a change in the weather before we make port, partner.”

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: Sweeping Up the Ashes

I drew for today's flash from a list of random titles Chuck Wendig shared a couple of weeks ago, and modified it to suit my own needs. It's 997 words, including the title.

Sweeping Up the Ashes of a Dream

It was a lousy farm. We believed everything the promoters told us, and we got our 160 acres, which felt like a dream come true.

No one told us that our farm would nearly kill our mules, breaking the rocky ground to plant seeds that would only sprout if we hauled water ten miles from the creek, and then would struggle to a stunted life if they didn’t shrivel and die under the hot winds.

We were among those too late for the rich prairie lands. We were trying to prove up on 160 acres of desert as though it was a bit of prime land in the Ohio river bottoms. It wasn’t possible, and we knew it the first season, but what choice did we have? There was nothing to go back to, even had we the money and equipment to make the trip. The best we could do was struggle on.

And we did struggle. Some who saw us on our rare trips to town, our clothes faded and patched and our mules looking as beat down as we did, probably thought we were lazy and shiftless, to be so poor. But most looked at us with understanding, if they were farmers, or with the far more painful pity of the few townsfolk who were doing better. When the farms a town serves are starving, the only merchants who do well are the ones who sell essentials—and the ones who sell oblivion.

Even at that, we didn’t let the dream die. The second and third years we got slightly larger crops, enough to lay in supplies for the winter, and the children lost the worst of the hungry look, though I know our Ned never got enough to match his growth. He took to hunting and trapping, and brought in enough rabbits and such to help out. He learned from the Indians, too, and managed to persuade me to learn to cook lizards.

I never got used to it, but I’ll not deny they were the one source of meat that never seemed to run short, and the little ones could catch them, too.

So by the fourth year, I thought we were going to make it. In August, we had a good crop ripening in the fields, watered from the pond we built to catch run-off. I’d learned to cook everything edible that grew on or around our land, and Ned had started tanning and selling the rabbit skins and whatnot.

It was thunderstorm season, which meant rain, and that made us happy, too. Only, the storms that day did a lot of rumbling, but no rain fell. I was starting to feel uneasy about a low cloud over the hill to the west, when Ned came running.

“Fire!” He was yelling so his voice broke, and when I looked, the cloud was dark and brown.

Ned was up to the house now, panting and still trying to talk. “Fire—headed up—hill—coming—this way.” With no rain, there’d be no stopping a brush fire.

I needed no more telling, nor did my husband. Carl had seen the smoke, and came at a run from the field where he’d been checking the crops.

“Ned—harness the mules. Not the wagon—the cart.”

I knew what that meant. We were going to have to move fast. I turned back into the house. “Mary, put all the clothes you can on the bed and wrap them in the quilt. Teddy, you hold Anna’s hand and don’t let go.”  God help me, I was setting a 5-year-old to protect a toddler, but I had no choice, as I ran about the house grabbing what I could.

Would the house burn? It was a soddy, and half buried in the bank, but if the fire came through hot enough it would burn anything that could burn, and the roof would fall in. Aside from the family Bible, we hadn’t anything of value, so I grabbed up all the food I could, and we raced together to the cart Ned had drawn up by the door.

By now the fire was over the hill and coming our way. I threw the supplies into the cart, lifted the children in, and climbed onto the seat. To my surprise, Ned and his father didn’t join us.

“Drive for the creek, Mattie! As fast as you can, and don’t look back.” Then they both began to run, and I understood. The cart was too heavy. The mules might not be fast enough even without the weight of the men. I whipped up the poor animals, though they needed little encouragement. Mules are smart enough to run from fire.

Carl yelled, and I looked back. He had fallen, tripped by some hole or other. Ned turned to help him, as I dared not, but Carl screamed for him to run. The flames were only yards away when Ned fled. I saw just enough from my seat behind the mules to know, and could only scream to the children to hide their faces.

“Don’t look back!”

The mules and my boy put on a burst of speed, and we drove right into the creek before the fire died against the dampness of the watercourse. A few of the little cottonwoods burned, but the big ones just singed.

As soon as the flames passed, I commanded Ned to watch the other children, and to stay put, while I ran back to where I had last seen Carl.

We buried him on the hill overlooking the farm, Ned and I. My son was suddenly much older than his 13 years, and I leaned on him as we walked back to our smoky and reeking home. The crop was gone, and my husband was gone. I took up a broom and began sweeping the ashes and dust from the house. The dream was gone, but we were not.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review: In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen


Title: In Farleigh Field
Author: Rhys Bowen
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing, 2017. 378 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.

As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?

Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal.

My Review:  

I'm a big fan of Rhys Bowen, especially her light-hearted "Royal Spyness" mysteries. This book for the most part lacks the lightness of that series, but it shares with all Bowen's books meticulous research and an ability to write so that the reader feels a part of the setting. Characters are well-developed and well presented, and if the solution to the mystery seemed a little plain to me, the intricacies of how it was all worked out were well worth reading on for (and it's only fair to note that this doesn't advertise itself as a mystery, but as "a novel"). I also greatly enjoyed the close look at the conflicts that arose between the birth of the modern age and the traditions of the aristocracy during that period.

Though this book doesn't advertise itself as a mystery, it is just that, at least in part. That the main characters trying to sort out what's up with the dead parachutist can't even tell each other where they work or what they are up to does add a nice twist. As I say, the mystery wasn't terribly difficult to guess, but the progression of the story still offered a lot of suspense and interest. I read through it fast, not wanting to put it down or quit. Bowen's pretty good at doing that to me (though I'm not so keen on her Molly Murphy mysteries, her other books have all really hit the spot).

My Recommendation:
This is well-researched and well-written, and should interest any fan of WWII or of period mysteries.

FTC Disclosure: I checked In Farleigh Field 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, June 19, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill


Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

My Review: 

This book wasn't what I expected from the blurb, and that's a good thing. I looked at it, and sort of thought it would be a typical children's fantasy, fun maybe but nothing special. In fact, the book is  truly original, and maybe not a children's book at all. I'll have to think about that. But I know that once I started, it was hard to put down

The writing style is understated, at times almost reportorial, but at the same time there is an undercurrent of feeling so strong that you almost are the characters. Nor is young Luna the only main character. That young man from the Protectorate (who is really an adult, not a child at all, even in the beginning), plays a central role and we spend time with him, with a madwoman, with the ancient witch Xan, and even with Glerk and Fyrian. (We even get to see a bit into the heads of the bad guys). All of that might sound like it gets confusing, but it doesn't. It just makes the story full and rich.

So much of this story is about people just doing the best they can with the limited skills and knowledge they have--and that, to me, is what makes it a good children's book, even while I think it could quite well pass in the adult section of the library, too. For the latter, seeing how the evil and sorrow of the Protectorate is created (and later destroyed), provides a level of story interest beyond what a child might understand.

My Recommendation:
Read it.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Girl Who Drank the Moon 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." 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Photo Friday: The Sierra with Children

Not your typical family portrait.
My guest post last week at CoachDaddy has inspired me to do some more photo posts from trips long gone by. This one is from 2009, and was the first time we took our boys on a significant piece of off-trail hiking. They were 10 and 11. The route was challenging, starting with a truly nasty climb from the trailhead to the first camp, and we splurged on a packer to haul our stuff that far (this is also a good way to allow for some heavy food the first night!).  The route was from Pine Creek (near Bishop, CA), over French Creek Pass, then off trail to Miriam Lake, and farther off trail to the Bear Lakes and Italy Pass, where we picked up the trail again back down Pine Creek Canyon.

The initial climb is long, hot, and not so pretty, as you climb above the mining operations in the bottom of the canyon. I was glad to have only a daypack, enabling me to make a faster climb, though the higher we got the better the views.
By lunch time we had climbed out of the canyon, into the John Muir Wilderness, and reached our camp at the Upper Pine Lakes.
Day Two was a climb up and over Pine Creek Pass, which was beautiful and stark and very windy, making in no place our boys wanted to linger. Down the other side in French Creek Canyon, however, we encountered meadows of wildflowers.
Those of you with copies of "A is for Alpine" will recognize this from the back cover.
We made the kids happy by dropping all the way down into the trees for camp--the last forested camp of our trip. While I rested in the afternoon, the boys played in the creek. At one point they returned, Eldest Son soaking wet, to announce that he had fallen head first over "the waterfall of no return." Happily, it was only a waterfall for stick boats, and the bleeding was superficial. I mopped it up and sent him to put on dry clothes.
Typical camp scene. Mom and Dad carry the chairs, and the little people steal them.
Day Three we headed up the side of the canyon for Miriam Lake. The weather began to deteriorate, too, with clouds and wind moving in. This made for unhappy children, stressed by weather and not getting their choice of campsite. Dinner had to adjust for this, giving the kids what they wanted, not what we expected to feed them. Shelf-stable bacon saves the day!

Next morning we left the lake and all trails to climb out of that basin and over a 12,400' pass, with the weather threatening most of the way. Unhappy kids gradually got over it, though, as they mastered the terrain, met a ptarmigan with chicks, and ate snacks.
Still a ways to go. I think the pass was over to the left.
As is so often the case, the boys got happy about the time I got unhappy, with the scrambling descent from the unnamed pass toward the Bear Lakes.
Funny how the little people were better at that stuff than I was!
We eventually made it to a beautiful camp by Bear Paw lake, surrounded by granite walls. Eldest Son had issues that night with altitude sickness--possibly because in his snits the day before and that morning, he had failed to drink enough water. It was a reminder that we had to be prepared to fix things for the little people, because they can't fix themselves.
That night was cold--into the teens--so no one was anxious to get up in the morning. Eventually the sun hit, and we were happy to see a visitor in camp.
A bold marmot, looking for treats.
Our fifth day was another amazing scramble through little-traveled country, past lakes that few people visit, before climbing into the barren lands of the high alpine. As always, water was a kid magnet.

An alpine lunch. Crackers, cheese, summer sausage, and lemonade. The boys managed their own candy bags, doling out just the right amount each day.
Father and sons, crossing the moonscape toward Italy Pass.
For those into gear, the boys' packs are the Deuter Fox 30. Rain/wind jackets were from LandsEnd, and a great bargain.
 One section with a snowfield that made us glad to have trekking poles, though it wasn't too steep. It was still pretty icy after the cold night.

We reached Italy Pass in the mid-afternoon, and contemplated the descent. We'd be looking for a camp above tree line, as this was the renowned Granite Park, a significant part of what we'd come to see.
Hanging out in our final camp.
 What we came for: sunrise on the peaks surrounding Granite Park.
If you look very closely, you'll see the figure of a photographer in black--my husband.
I have to end with the classic "puzzle" photo--I am always amazed that we manage to get all the gear back in the car. In this case, we'd been away from home all summer, so there wasn't just our backpacking gear along. We got there, though, and found our way back to civilization for burgers and ice cream, an important part of taking kids hiking.

Hope you enjoyed this historical post!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Escapes Tour: The Trouble With Harriet by Dorothy Cannell

The Trouble with Harriet: An Ellie Haskell Mystery
Cozy Mystery
8th in Series
Alibi (June 13, 2017)
Print Length 288 Pages

Publisher's Blurb:
 Ellie Haskell and her husband, Ben, haven’t taken a vacation in years. Now their suitcases are packed, their tickets are booked, and they’re ready for a romantic getaway in France. But everything goes awry after a chain-smoking fortune teller makes a dire prediction: “Take that trip at your peril!” Those ominous words ring true when Ellie’s prodigal father, Morley, suddenly appears with the remains of his ladylove, Harriet, whose untimely death in a car accident has left him bereft.

But after Morley loses the urn in a bizarre series of events, Harriet’s family is furious. Now a bewildered Ellie finds herself asks some probing questions: Who or what was in that urn? Could her father be a pawn in a deadly game? And what exactly is the meaning of that darn prophecy? Ellie just hopes she lives to find out whether the answers are worth the trouble.

My Review:
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. It's a light-hearted romp in many ways, with over-the-top characters and situations. Note that I don't consider that a bad thing at all. So I'm not sure just why this one didn't sit so well with me. Maybe there were too many characters who were too absurd (the vicar rather bothered me). Maybe it was just being the wrong book at the wrong time. Because really, it was kind of a fun read in spite of my moments of irritation.

So is this a positive review? Well, it's not a negative review. I think the book would make a decent beach read, as long as you go into it knowing that much of it is a celebration of absurdity. My only real objection was that I found the ending a bit contrived, and the lengthy explanation of who everyone was and what happened bothered me--I like the sleuth to actually figure out more of the truth on her own. Other than that, I rather enjoyed the mess and Ellie's efforts to find a thread of sanity in the midst of it all.

My Recommendation:
Like I say, this is a promising read for a time when you are ready to embrace the absurd and enjoy some mystification. I appreciated that, with the sleuth happily married, the romance elements were minimal (if you are tired of young women who can't make up their minds who they love, this is refreshing, for sure!). Since I'm a bit obsessive about such, I'd probably want to start the series with the first book, but have to say that this seemed to stand on its own very well, though maybe some history with some of the characters would have made me less impatient.

About The Author
Dorothy was born in Nottingham, England and came to the U.S. in 1963. She married Julian Cannell and they lived in Peoria, Illinois, from 1965 to 2004. They then moved to Maine where they now reside with their two dogs, Teddy and Watson.

Dorothy became an aspiring writer after taking English 110 at Illinois Central College and being encouraged to write for publication by the class teacher. Seven years later she sold her first short story.

Her first novel, The Thin Woman published in 1984 has been selected as one of the 100 favorite mysteries of the Twentieth Century by the Mystery Book Sellers of America. In 2014, Dorothy received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic. Dorothy has published eighteen novels and a collection of short stories.
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Monday, June 12, 2017

Middle Grade Fiction Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm


Title: The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House, 2014. 194 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

My Review: 
I wasn't quite sure what I thought of this at first. The premise is a little silly, and it kind of put me off by a combination of realistic middle-school issues and this over-the-top science-fiction element. And works. Halfway through, I just sat down and read the rest, because I did want to know how the characters would cope with what I was seeing as a problematic discovery. Ellie's grandfather is so certain that he has found something that is going to revolutionize the world--and it might. He has to do some growing up to figure out whether that's a good thing or not.

That's right: the character that I saw as needing to grow up and come to a better understanding of the world wasn't so much Ellie--who seems pretty on-track for middle school, though she does get to grow up some and learn some new things--as her 70-something grandfather. Holm has a lot of fun with Melvin's actual and apparent ages, and how he manages to be both a teen and and old man at the same time. And that leaves this possibility that he can learn as much from Ellie as she can from him.

In the end, the book convinced me. It was a fast, fun read, with maybe a bit of food for thought. Though one part of that thinking involves the question of scientific discoveries and the impossibility of stuffing toothpaste back in the tube, as it were. Can a scientist control his own discoveries, and the uses made of them? And should he? Holm doesn't really address those questions, and I doubt many kids will, either, but they are there, lurking under the surface.

My Recommendation:
A fast and easy read for boys and girls from about 9-12. Those with an interest in science might be more attracted, but it's a story that might also generate some interest among those who think science is boring. It might even generate some interesting discussions.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Fourteenth Goldfish 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."  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Friday Flash: The Body in the Brambles

Chuck Wendig gave us a challenge this week to write something about something invasive (in celebration of the release of the paperback of his book by that title). I decided to make the invasive Himalayan blackberries that nearly ate my childhood home part of a murder plot. I went just a hair over my usual 1000-word limit.

The Body in the Brambles

“How the hell are we going to get him out of there?” Police sergeant Priddy contemplated the mass of blackberry bushes, scratching his head.

“And how did he get there?” asked Officer O’Smythe. He and Priddy comprised half the police department of Pinehaven.

Detective Inspector Marsha Harrigan grimaced. “I’m more worried about who put him there, and why.”

Her subordinates nodded. “Looks like we’ll have to get him out to find any answers, though,” Priddy pointed out.

“I’ve sent for a chopper. No doubt he got there from the air, too.”

An hour later a bloodied rescue crew deposited the body on the trampled lawn of the Mordred Mansion, behind which the clump of blackberries held sway. The three police officers studied the corpse.

“That’s Dudley,” O’Smythe pronounced.

“And who,” Marsha asked, “is Dudley?”

“He’s the town drunk.”

Naturally. Every town drunk found a way to fall out of an airplane into a blackberry jungle.

“Who would want to kill Mr. Dudley. Or is it Dudley something?”

Sergeant Priddy shrugged. “I’m sure I don’t know. Dudley’s the only name I’ve ever heard used of him.”

“Haven’t you had to book him for D&D occasionally?”

“Well, sure, but we just went with the one name. Everyone knows who he is.”

Marsha sighed. Small towns. “Fine. What about enemies?”

“No one would want to hurt Dudley,” Officer O’Smythe said. Marsha looked pointedly at the body, and O’Smythe blushed. “Well, I wouldn’t have thought so. Maybe it was an accident. He fell out of the airplane because he was drunk. He’s always drunk.”

Marsha Harrigan contemplated that possibility. “And what was he doing in an airplane, and why didn’t anyone report the accident, if it was one?”

The local officers thought it over. 

“Only person I know with a small plane,” Priddy said, “is Archibald Mordred.”

“And his wife,” O’Smythe added. “Mehitabel Mordred got her pilot’s license last February.”

“Maybe you should start by interviewing them. It’s their lawn we’re standing on, is it not?”

“It is.” Sergeant Priddy looked around as though he was just realizing this. “And it does seem a bit odd that they haven’t come out to see what the commotion is.”

“Perhaps they aren’t home.” Accepting the inevitable, Marsha began doing her job. “O’Smythe, please see if anyone is home, and if not, find out where they are. Priddy, you check if the airplane has been taken out recently. I shall interview the neighbors.”

“Well, dearie, those people at the Mansion have been that worried about the blackberries. They can’t seem to get them off the lawn. And,” Mrs. Grandleigh leaned closer and confided, “I think they are in a bit of trouble with their money.”

Marsha asked a number of questions, but it was clear that Mrs. Grandleigh was just repeating gossip from the beauty parlor. 

Marsha didn’t fare any better with the neighbor on the other side, Mr. Jones. He just grunted, and said the neighbors weren’t his business. Knowing something of small towns, Marsha didn’t believe him.

The couple across the street were more interesting. They confided that the property behind the Mansion was owned by someone who wanted to build condos on it. The Mordreds, not surprisingly, were opposed to the idea, and they had been lobbying the town council not to issue the permits.

“I guess I’d say it rises to the level of a feud, though I’ve never laid eyes on the developer. I suppose he lives off in some city and doesn’t give a hoot what happens to Pinehaven.” Mrs. Riddle sniffed her opinion of out-of-town developers.

Marsha went away, thinking. She couldn’t see what the feud would have to do with Dudley. Had the man overheard something he shouldn’t? Was the developer trying to frame the Mordreds, or vice-versa? She needed to interview them.

The couple in question were at the police station when Marsha returned. 

“Detective Harrigan, Mr. and Mrs. Mordred,” Priddy offered by way of introduction. “They’ve just returned from visiting their daughter in Spokane.”

“Did you take your plane?” Marsha asked.

“Heavens, no!” Mehitabel Mordred had a soft voice, rather like a timid rabbit. “Our little plane wouldn’t make it over the mountains.”

“Sure it would,” boomed Archibald Mordred. “But the wife doesn’t believe it. Deuced long drive but what can you do?”

Priddy caught her eye, and Marsha excused herself to step into the hall with the Sergeant.

“Their plane was out yesterday for about four hours,” he said. “If they were really in Spokane, who took it up?”

“Good question. Find out.” 

She returned to the interview room, and asked about the battle over the condos. Archibald Mordred was forthcoming.  

“Son-of-a-gun developer doesn’t just want to ruin the neighborhood with his cheap condos. He wants to buy the Mansion and ruin it too.”

“You aren’t selling.”


Mrs. Mordred looked scared. “But those blackberries, Archibald. We just don’t seem to be able to keep them from growing on our lawn,” she explained. “I’m starting to have nightmares that they move up and cover the house.”

“Perfectly normal, I’m sure,” Marsha said. Blackberries could do that. 

“I don’t want to use herbicides,” Archibald said. “But it’s starting to look like I’ll need to. It’s either that or give in and let that bastard plough it all up and build. I think he’s fertilizing them. Hopes we’ll run away. Not happening.”

Marsha considered that, then thanked the Mordreds for their time. When they were gone, she turned to Priddy. 

“Bring in that developer. See if he has a pilot’s license, and where he was yesterday. He’s our man.”

Priddy looked at her in confusion. “Why would he kill a harmless drunk?”

“He chose Dudley because he was available. It’s what Mordred said about feeding the blackberries, Priddy. I think he might be right.”

Priddy paled. “There have been a lot of pets gone missing lately. And now they got human blood.”

“Tell Mordred to get out the Round-Up. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Three days later, confronted with the skeletons of five dogs and three cats, as well as his prints all over the Mordred’s plane, Mr. Jones, the anonymous developer, confessed. Something about the briars’ insidious invasion had brought him to something like worship. He was screaming about a blood sacrifice as they led him away.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#IWSG: On Not Quitting

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 (click on the badge above for the list) and connect with your fellow writers - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
This month's question is: Did you ever say "I quit"? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

Before I get to the question of the month, I need to share my current insecurities. See, what with one thing and another, the edit I'd expected to finish by mid-May at the latest is still far from done. And that's not because it's bigger than I'd hoped (which, alas, it is), but because I've just not been working on it. Life got in the way again. Every time it does that, I wonder what the heck is wrong with me. Worse, I have trouble getting my momentum back. Now it's worse, because the kid is out of school, and that means he's sharing the den with me in all but the earliest-morning hours. And without having to get up and get him off to school, I'm missing those early-morning hours! 

Someone please apply a firm kick in the seat of my pants?

Okay, now for the question. Did I ever quit? A better question might be "how often?" I have left my writing to molder for months and years at a time, up until I published my first book in 2012 (and even since then, well, see above...). I finished and shopped around 3 novels over about 20 years, and got nowhere. Each of them took years tot write because I kept leaving them behind, and each time I couldn't find an agent, I figured I might just give up. 

Why did I come back, or not give up? I'm not completely sure, but I think it's because the stories just keep bubbling up in me, and I have to do something with them. If they didn't, it would be easier just to let it all go and go hiking or something. But instead, I keep planning and writing another.

What about you? What keeps you coming back when logic says to quit?

P.S. Check out my guest appearance today at the Coach Daddy Blog, talking about kids and hiking.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Middle grade fiction: Moo, by Sharon Creech


Title: Moo: a Novel
Author: Sharon Creech
Publisher: Joanna Cotler Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 278 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.

My Review:  I hadn't actually expected this to be in verse. I grabbed it from the new book shelf because the blurb looked interesting, and Sharon Creech is a pretty safe bet for an interesting read. I didn't even look at the interior, so I was taken a bit by surprise. The publisher's blurb says it's a mix of poetry and prose, but I think it's all poetry, of various sorts. Some poetic "lines" run toward paragraph length, but never really feel like ordinary prose. Other parts are what I learned to call "concrete poetry" way back when: where the shape of the words and lay-out on the page are part of the meaning. 

The poetry, and the story, works well. Despite the spare style, I had no trouble feeling in the middle of the story, and getting to know the characters quite well. At times, the book feels like a love-song to small-town Maine (a feeling I can understand, after only a couple of visits to the area), but the plot doesn't get lost. And the language is lovely. One thing about writing in verse: an author has to weigh each word, and be sure they are all the right ones. Creech, to no one's surprise, does this well.

My Recommendation:
For children or adults. The publisher markets it as a "tween novel," which pretty well hits my "middle grade" category of upper elementary, or ages 9-12. But the beauty of the language makes it a pleasure for a reader of any age. I'm thinking that a reluctant reader would enjoy the speed with which the pages turn, since the verse form keeps the words-per-page count low. And for the rest of us...definitely reminds me of One Morning in Maine (remember that one?), totally in a good way.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Moo 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."