Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hummus and Homicide by Tina Kashian--Cover Reveal!


When Lucy Berberian quits her Philadelphia law firm and heads home to Ocean Crest, she knows what she’s getting—the scent of funnel cake, the sight of the wooden roller coaster, and the tastes of her family’s Mediterranean restaurant. But murder wasn’t on the menu . . .   

Things are slow in the off-season in this Jersey Shore town, but Lucy doesn’t mind. She doesn’t even mind waitressing at the Kebab Kitchen. Her parents have put in a new hummus bar, with every flavor from lemon to roasted red pepper. It’s fun to see their calico cat again, and to catch up with her old BFF, who’s married to a cop now.

She could do without Heather Banks, though. The Gucci-toting ex-cheerleader is still as nasty as she was back in high school . . . and unfortunately, she’s just taken over as the local health inspector. Just minutes after eating at the Kebab Kitchen—where she’s tallied up a whole list of bogus violations—she falls down dead in the street. Word on the grapevine is it’s homicide, and Lucy’s the number one suspect . . .

Recipes included!












Coming February 27, 2018 from Kensington Books!!

You can pre-order your copy today!!

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Towers Falling
Author: Jewel Parker Rhodes
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co., 2016. 228 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

My Review: 
This deceptively simple book has some elements that are too predictable--any adult will know from the beginning what the trouble is with Deja's Pop, for example--but it does do what the author sets out to do: presents the story of 9-11 in a way that will be accessible to children born long after the rubble of the towers was cleared. Rhodes brings up issues of race and prejudice, and the children all have their own issues to deal with.

In fact, at times the relationships and circumstances feel a little too contrived. The friendship between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen is too instant and too smooth, and their three separate issues are a little too neatly complementary. Deja lives in a homeless shelter while Ben seems to have everything he could want, but of course his family is falling apart while hers sticks like glue no matter what. Sabeen has enough money and an extended family, but must deal with being Muslim in America.

In the end, the story reads well, and kept my interest despite the weaknesses, but I never really lost sight of the author's goal of making a book "that teachers could teach" about the attack on the World Trade Center.

My Recommendation:
I'd say that this is a book to use exactly as the author intends: as a supplement to explaining 9-11 to children. In fact, because of the subject matter, a child not familiar with the attack should probably not be turned loose to read it without some guidance, though the author does work hard to present the whole thing in a way that won't traumatize children, even while conveying the horror of it.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Towers Falling 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."  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#Fi50: Fiction in 50 Blog Hop

Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words). Then add a link to your post in the comments below. Check out some of the other offerings, and join the fun! You can post any time during the week, or the whole month--prompts are available on the Fi50 page through the end of the year. I will be adding more for 2018 soon, so please make some suggestions to help me out! 

The November prompt is

The Worst that Could Happen

I took the controls with a giant grin. Finally allowed to solo! 

I did all the rituals the old flyers insisted on with my tongue in my cheek: kissed the ground, all that. I had this. What could go wrong? 

I hit the power button and went to find out.


Now write your 50-word story and drop a link in the comments!

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Flashback Friday: What's for Dinner

It's the last Friday of the month, and that means time for FlashBack Friday! It's every blogger's chance to take a little break and re-run a post that you really like, or wish had gotten more attention. Join in! Just add the logo, and jump over to Jemima Pett's post where she's managing the hop and add your link in the comments. Then visit the other participants to see what else you might have missed!

I found this food-related flash fiction to share in honor of Thanksgiving. I might have used it before, but I still like it. The narrator does find in the end he has a lot to be grateful for.

What’s for Dinner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rats.  I’ll have to finish my homework after all.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

For those of us in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. In spite of everything that's happening in our country, there's a lot to be thankful for. Maybe it's mostly worries on the national scale, but there is plenty of room for gratitude on the personal front.

I like Thanksgiving. What's not to like about a holiday that focuses on food and people you love, with no religious issues to get between you and the pie? We should all be able to get behind the idea of showing a little gratitude for the good things we have.

Here are a few things I'm grateful for.
A few years out of date. We are overdue for a family portrait.
I'm especially grateful for my husband, who is my co-conspirator in travel to beautiful places. Plus: he supports my crazy writing habit.
Speaking of that writing thing, I'm really rather grateful to have been able to indulge my desire to write, and to have my books out there, available to readers.

And how about feasts of good things, and the health to be able to indulge a bit?
Health, food, family, and the freedom to be my creative self. There's a lot to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia


Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad, 2010. 217 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

My Review:  
Before I start my review, I'm going to share the list of awards this book has received: 

With that much confirmation that it is a good book, what can I say? I read this because I stumbled on the sequel, P.S.: Be Eleven and was intrigued by the characters, the setting, and a view into a different world from my own. Of course, being me, I had to read the books in order, so I sent for this one through the library.

So do I think it's worth all those awards? Probably maybe. I like the description above, of "the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers," because it does have some of that feel. There is a huge potential weight in this book, but it is kept at bay by a good grip on humor, and maybe the absurd (did the Black Panthers run summer camps for kids? I am not completely sure about that, but they did invent the free breakfast program). It's good to be shown another side of something that the media painted with a pretty broad brush at the time, and maybe ever since.

Like many children's books, this is also about family, and what it means. I think Delphine and her sisters get some lessons there, but not as big a lesson as their mother does.

My Recommendation:
Definitely worth reading, for both an engaging story and an historical education. I will be reading the sequel(s) soon.

FTC Disclosure: I checked One Crazy Summer 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, November 17, 2017

Friday Flash: Time Was

This week's Wendig Challenge was to use your smartphone's predictive text feature and, starting from "Once upon a time," pick words until you had a story, or at least an opening line. My own efforts were pretty boring, but follow the link and see what some people came up with. Since I didn't like what I got, I picked one to use to start my story. I stole the line, "Once upon a time, I could change time," and got something from someone else mixed in, which gave me a story to write. I even hit 1000 words spot on.

And maybe I have another flash-fiction anthology to put together sometime: the end of the world. I think I've destroyed it quite a few times on this blog.

Time Was

Once upon a time, when there was time, I could change time. I could speed it up or slow it down, even stop it altogether for…a time. 

The only thing I could not do was the one thing I wanted to do. I could not turn time back. But I had to.

It’s not that time is a river, the way they say. You literally cannot turn a river back, unless you are a really major earthquake, I guess. It’s more that time is a one-way street: you can go the wrong way, but you had better be prepared to be run down by a semi. Or I could put it stronger: it’s like those old-fashioned clocks with chimes, the mechanical kind from way before they invented electronics. You could put them forward, but if you tried to set them back, they broke. 

I tried to turn time back.
It happened a long time ago. Or maybe it was yesterday. I told you I broke time.

I was in charge of my little brother, and I failed.

Mom threw us out of the house that morning, told us not to come back until dinnertime. She'd had about enough of summer vacation, and didn't want us underfoot. "Adam, you take care of Benji. Make sure he doesn't go anywhere near the quarry."

Of course, all I wanted that day was to go to the old quarry. My friends were headed there to go swimming, and I didn't want a little brother tagging along, even if Mom hadn’t forbidden it. He'd rat on me if I took him, anyway.

Don't ask me why I didn't think he'd rat on me for leaving him behind, but I was only 14, so my brain didn't work so well.

Long story short, I ditched him, he tried to follow me, got hit by a car, and died three days later.

Later, when I found out that I could change time, can you wonder that the first thing I wanted to do was go back and change that day?

I first learned I could change time during an incredibly boring Western Civ lecture in college. I know, you’re thinking that everyone has found that time takes twice as long to pass when you are bored out of your mind. But when I got to wishing the end of the class would come faster…it did. Of course, I missed the rest of the lecture, and all that stuff was on the test. I got my first “D” ever, but I was too excited by what I’d discovered to care.

A few days later, I found myself doing a bio lab with the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and I just didn’t want the class to end. I managed to stretch that 3-hour class over about 3 days, judging by how my beard grew. No one else seemed to notice, which was weird, but I was too happy to care.

I spent the next several years trying to figure out how the whole thing worked. From the first, I knew what I was going to do once I had learned enough. To help me get there, I changed my major to physics, and then started a graduate degree in theoretical physics.

After five years of study and experimentation, I decided I was ready.

I spent weeks making my plan and preparing for the project. There were some things I couldn’t figure out. I had no idea if, when I got back to that fateful day eleven years before, I would be 14 or 25. I didn’t think that mattered, but I worried what would happen if, having saved Benji, I lost the ability to manipulate time, or the drive to perfect the skill, or…you can see the sort of dilemma I was considering. Or should have been considering.

None of that mattered to me. I wanted Benji back and I was willing to risk anything to get him.

The one thing I didn’t consider was that I might not just rip the fabric of time, but destroy it.

I did it all with my mind. I didn’t need a time machine or anything like that. Not even a TARDIS, though that would have been way cooler. I just had to re-work my entire consciousness, while leaving my body free to do whatever needed doing.

If I’d been as smart as I thought I was, I’d have done a dry run—gone back to yesterday and ordered the shrimp taco instead of the chicken, or something like that. But I was so sure of myself, and so eager to see my brother again and fix what I’d done, that I jumped right in.

I knew as soon as I began that going back in time was different from slowing or stopping it. I could have scrubbed the experiment, but I was too excited. I pushed on.

I mean that more or less literally. That whole “time like an ever-rolling stream” thing works here. I was swimming against a stream, and it wasn’t a gentle brook. This was a flood. Not the 60-mph debris-filled flash flood of the desert, but more like the Mississippi in flood: much faster than it looks, and about a million tons of force pushing against you.

I struggled on against the flood of time, and the farther back I went, the harder it pushed, and the faster it seemed to move. I was nowhere near my goal when I began to get glimmers that something bad was happening. I thought it was just happening to me, and I was willing to do or suffer anything for Benji, so I kept on.

I’ve tried two or three metaphors for what happened, and none of them is right. That semi on the wrong-way street didn’t crush me. The clock didn’t break into pieces. The river didn’t turn backwards.

They all fragmented.

Time fragmented.

Chaos consumed the universe.

And Benji was still dead.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Audio-book review: The Last of the Doughboys


Title: The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and their Forgotten World War
Author: Richard Rubin; read by Grover Gardner
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2013. Hardcover by Houghton Mifflen, 2013. 528 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. But then, he found another. And another. Eventually he managed to find dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now.

A decade-long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their Great War led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, and battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German aeroplane; an 18-year-old Bronx girl “drafted” to work for the War Department; a machine-gunner from Montana; a Marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the 16-year-old who became America’s last WWI veteran; and many, many more.

They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment, so that they, and the World War they won – the trauma that created our modern world – might at last be remembered. You will never forget them.

My Review:  
I have read and listened to a lot of books about WWI, or fiction set during that war. This is arguably the best. The publisher's blurb gives some idea of why. I will go further to say that Rubin skillfully interweaves the historical events before, during, and after the war into the accounts of the 30+ veterans he interviewed. The result is a book that not only gives a deep personal insight into what it was to be there (though most of the men Rubin interviewed downplayed the death and danger), but also helps clarify what the US did in the war--and why. For me, there was another side-effect: since much of my knowledge of the war comes from fiction written in Canada or the UK, I had a different set of battles in mind as the important ones. The book gave me a new set of names to remember. (By the way, I would dearly love to read any similar book in which someone interviewed British or Canadian veterans of that war).

The book is not a comprehensive history of the war, for all that. It does not try to understand the political mess that dragged the world into the war, nor even to lay out all the battles in an orderly fashion. What it does, and I would say does well, is personalize the war. And the fact that Rubin could find veterans of that war in 2003 helped to bring back to me that this was my grandparents' war. Both of my grandfathers were involved in the war; I have to regret that I lost them before I was old enough to know how much I wanted to ask them about it. Listening to the accounts of the men (and woman) Rubin interviewed helps bring their lives into focus for me.

My only regret with this book is that it needs visuals--maps and photos. It occurs to me that the print edition very likely has these things, and that this is a drawback of listening to history rather than reading it. I may pick up a print copy, in part also because there were things I learned that I'm already having trouble remembering.

My Recommendation:
A must-read for anyone interested in WWI, or anyone who hardly knows we fought in the First World War. I'll go out on a limb and recommend the print edition, unless it turns out not to have any images, in which case, Grover Gardner does an impressive job of reading, especially voicing the men Rubin interviewed.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Last of the Doughboys 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 13, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Stepping on the Cracks. An Audio-book Review.


Title: Stepping on the Cracks
Author: Mary Downing Hahn; read by Rachel Dulude
Publisher: Audio-Go, 2013. Original publication 1991 by Clarion Books.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:

Margaret and her best friend Elizabeth both have brothers fighting the war against Hitler; like everyone else they know, they are filled with feelings of patriotism. Margaret and Elizabeth support everything about the war: the troops, the reasons for going to war, even the food rations. After all, this is the good war and the Americans are the good guys.

But the girls are also involved in their own personal war at home. Gordy Smith, the worst bully in the sixth grade, teases and torments them, and Margaret is scared to death of him. But when Gordy and his pals Toad and Doug grow bolder than ever, Margaret and Elizabeth come up with a daring plan to get even. That’s when the girls discover a shocking secret about Gordy that turns their lives upside-down and draws them into a startling confrontation with family, friends, and their own strongly held ideas.

My Review: 

Though it is in many ways a typical kid's book about the WWII era (younger sister at home, older brother off in the army, everyone stressed), this book takes some interesting turns and saved itself from being so-so by delving into several less obvious issues. (This no doubt explains why it got about half a dozen awards). Questions of courage and cowardice come up repeatedly, as does to what extent a child can make adult decisions. Likewise, we can watch while Margaret discovers that adults aren't always right, and don't always even know what's right.

The events that unfold over the 8 or 9 months of the story lead Margaret to see that she does not always have to agree with her parents, and she begins to question many things that they have taken for granted (including the right of a husband and father to "discipline" his family as he sees fit). I think it is for these things that the book received the awards, as the author doesn't take the common path of having the child grow up enough to see that her parents are right. In this case, she grows up enough to see that her parents may well be wrong.

The audio book is well-produced, and the narration is good, with characters voiced distinctly and appropriately.

My Recommendation:
A good read for upper-elementary (11-12) kids ready to consider some difficult issues, including the fallibility of parents. Listening to the audio with your child might provide some chances for discussion.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Stepping on the Cracks 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, November 10, 2017

Friday Flash: The Center Does Not Hold

Two weeks ago Chuck Wendig was having a blue fit or something, and issued a flash fiction challenge based on William Butler Yeats' poem, The Second Coming. In particular, around that key line, "Things fall apart; the center does not hold." Work on Death By Adverb is keeping me from putting as much into my flash fiction this month as I might, but I played around with the theme (a week late), and ended up with more of a dystopian vignette than a story, and only about 625 words. But here it is, for what it's worth. It might appear to contain some political commentary.

The Center Does Not Hold

Things fall apart; the center does not hold.

Was it better when everything stayed in its place, and the magnetic pull of the god kept everyone in tight orbit around their station? My grandfather says it was, but I think Grandmother is less certain. Maybe that’s because she says that her place used to be a bit cramped and uncomfortable. I used to think she meant she had to live in a little box. Now that I understand metaphors, I think that her box is only a little bigger.

Grandfather says there didn’t used to be violence and fighting, because everyone knew his place and was content. But I have learned how to get into the records, and I think maybe it wasn’t so simple. Grandmother says it never is, and that I should think long and hard about what I’m doing.

I have thought. And what I think is that I’ll take my chances on what the world will be without that center Grandfather likes so much. Sooner or later everyone is going to have to either line up on the side of the old ways or on the side of freedom. I know where I’m going to be, and I’m not going to wait until the fight comes to my street. I think Grandmother is secretly proud, for all she’s cautious. We aren’t telling Grandfather.

My parents don’t get a say, because they vanished a long time ago. Now I know why, and I think they’d like me to fight the death-grip of the god, or those who claim to speak for the god.

The first thing I learned when I joined the rebels, is that there’s always a center, or things really do fall apart. We have leaders and rule and a command structure, just like the army on the other side. That’s fine. You do have to have someone in charge. What we don’t have is anyone born into her place and stuck there.

We’re mostly young. The older people have something to lose, but under the god’s regime most of us would be looking at a long empty life of doing what we are told. Or maybe we would be quietly ‘disappeared’ if we didn’t prove useful enough. For all Grandfather says the old times are gone, they really aren’t. It’s just that some of us are fighting the old ways, and that threatens a lot of people.

The funny thing is, I’m still doing what I’m told. But—and it’s not a difference to ignore—I helped decide the purpose to which I’m being directed. We all voted on how, where, and when to make our move, and then our leaders set to planning.

Grandfather would say that everyone deciding that way is chaos, but he’s wrong. It’s something called democracy. Some of the men argued that letting leaders make the detailed plans was giving our power away, but most of us think we should let people do what they are best at. And no plan will be set in motion without the approval of us all. It’s kind of messy, to be honest.

It has to work, though. If we fail, things will be worse than ever. The so-called priests of the so-called god will go back to openly “liquidating” people who don’t stay in the places they are born into. The color of you skin or hair will determine what you can do all your life, and shut up if you don’t like it, because if you don’t match the priests’ looks you must have an inferior brain.

There’s a word for what we want, you know.


I’m willing to take my chances to make that our center, even if everything else falls apart.

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sexism and the Writer of the Purple Prose

 I had a yen the other day for a western to read, and grabbed up a copy of Zane Grey's The Call of the Canyon. This isn't a proper review of the book, but more a rant about it.


The Call of the Canyon, by Zane Grey, originally published 1924.

I like Zane Grey. Some of his books have very strong female characters, even if they are all destined for matrimony (he was, after all, writing romances, in both senses of the word). I also expect his novels to focus on the male protagonist, and may at times feel impatient with this. So it was kind of exciting to realize that this book stuck pretty well to the viewpoint of the female protagonist.

So far so good. But after he paints Carley as a rather modern young woman, independent (in part because she's lucky enough to be independently wealthy), he starts repositioning her as selfish and self-indulgent. Fine. But what's not fine is the reason why: she doesn't want to "fulfill her destiny" as a wife and mother, subsuming her own desires to those of her man and making her be-all and end-all the raising of children and keeping house.

About the point it becomes clear that this is the hero's ideal, if I'd been writing the book Carley would have gone back to New York, set herself up in business, and proved she could have a successful and fulfilling life without any pesky men. But no: Zane Grey has to spend the rest of the book making her more and more miserable until she lashes out with a diatribe against her peers so mind-blowing I have to reproduce it here. She begins by ranting against their trivial lives while the soldiers who have come back from WWI are suffering, homeless, and neglected (I don't know how this measures up against reality as an indictment of the US in the early 1920s, but Grey uses the damaged soldier in more than one book, leading me to think that either it was a real problem that upset him, or that it was a great emotional hook). She then rants about the wasted opportunity of the vote they have just been granted, and I'm ready to cheer when she says, "Nothing wrong when there are not enough schools and teachers to educate our boys and girls, when those teachers are shamefully underpaid?" The saddest bit about that is that it's still true.

Then Grey goes off the rails, as Carley rants on:
"Nothing wrong when the mothers of this great country let their youngsters go to the dark motion-picture halls and night after night in thousands of towns over all this broad land see pictures that the juvenile court and the educators and keepers of reform schools say make burglars, crooks, and murderers of our boys and vampires of our girls? Nothing wrong when these young adolescent girls ape you and wear stockings rolled under their knees below their skirts and use a lip stick and paint their faces and darken their eyes and pluck their eyebrows and absolutely do not know what shame is?" Okay, I get that it was a different time and different morals, but this is getting uncomfortable. And she doesn't stop:
"Nothing wrong when you may find in any city women standing at street corners distributing booklets on birth control?" Well, that sounds like a good idea to me, but again, I suppose at the time his popular audience would have been shocked. Obviously, since there were women working hard to advocate for birth control, it was not a universal condemnation, however.

It gets better: after ranting about the automobile (presumably because it's a good place to lose that all-important virginity), magazines full of sex-appeal, and the over-fondness for money that she's probably right is at the root of evil, she makes a criticism of jazz that made me laugh: "Nothing wrong with jazz--where the lights go out in the dance hall and the dancers jibble and toddle and wiggle in a frenzy?" (I wonder what Zane Grey would have thought of twerking. Never mind--if the thought didn't kill him, the actual sight of it would have).

Then things get ugly: "Nothing wrong in a country where the greatest college cannot report birth of one child to each graduate in ten years? Nothing wrong with race suicide and the incoming horde of foreigners? . . . Nothing wrong with you women who cannot or will not stand childbirth? Nothing wrong with most of you, when if you did  have a child, yuou could not nurse it? . . . Oh, my God, there's nothing wrong with America except that she staggers under a Titanic burden that only mothers of sons can remove!" All I could think as I read that was that it's a source of shame for our country that this sounds like it could have come from the pen of the Head Tweeter. The sexism is bad enough (American needs sons, and to hell with the daughters), the xenophobia as understandable and unacceptable then as now.

See, what sickened me about this book wasn't that it ends in marriage and they-all-lived-happily-ever-after. We expect that in a romance. What sickened me was that, in 1924 when this was published, the same man who could rhapsodize for pages about the healing beauty of the West and the independence it brought to men, could explicitly write that women were worse than failures--that they were downright evil--if they chose any path but marriage and motherhood. Not even that marriage was the unexamined ideal outcome (that's kind of assumed in the genre), but that any other choice was a moral failure.

That was carrying the romance genre beyond the pale.

Apologies for the rather long rant!

How about you? Have you ever been sadly disappointed by an author's apparent views?

Monday, November 6, 2017

YA Audio: The Children of Willesden Lane


Title: The Children of Willesden Lane. Beyond the Kinderstransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival.
Author: Mona Golabek; read by Lee Cohen
Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2016. Originally by Times Warner, Int., 2007. 288 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
With the raw emotion of The Diary of Anne Frank, Mona Golabek's powerful memoir is a poignant story of tragedy and triumph in a time of war. Famed concert pianist Mona Golabek shares the inspirational true story of her mother's escape from pre-World War II Vienna to an orphanage in London--243 Willesden Lane. 'The music will give you will be your best friend in life.' With these words--the last she would ever hear from her mother--ringing in her ears, young piano prodigy Lisa Jura boarded the Kindertransport and headed for safety. Amidst the dozens of Jewish refugees trying to make their way in war-torn London, Lisa forms indelible friendships, finds romance, and, against all odds, wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy of London. This is a stunning testament to the power of music to lift the human spirit and to grant the soul endurance, patience, and peace.

My Review: 

The Children of Willsden Lane is what I might call a novelized biography of the author's mother. That is, it doesn't stick exactly to what is known, but instead provides us with both imagined dialogue and Lisa's thoughts as she faces difficult circumstances. It's hard to know exactly how much Lisa would have remembered and told her daughter later, but I'm pretty sure not the amount of detail the book contains. The result works, however. Mona Golabek has created a book that is incredibly moving, as well as revealing a great deal about the lives of the children who were sent to England on the Kindertransport.

The youngest children were, of course, fostered to people who no doubt treated them in a variety of ways from the wonderful to the awful. But for those, like 14-year-old Lisa, who were old enough to work, work was required (to my 21st-Century mind, the idea that you'd require 14-year-old refugees to get a job is a bit mind-boggling, but it wasn't so unusual then).

Lisa's first post, as a servant in a country house, wasn't terrible. The people were kind, and the work not overly hard. But it was excruciatingly lonely, because no one seemed to recognize that a child of 14 might like to have some people around her who shared her religion, if nothing else. She was horribly homesick and isolated.

That s what made 243 Willesden Lane a home for Lisa and the other "kinder" who lived there all through the war: they were together, all refugees who had lost everything they knew. She still had to work hard, didn't always get enough to eat, and came very near to being killed by a German bomb during the Blitz. But she had her music, and she had her friends, and that was enough to keep her soul alive.

Because this is not exactly a novel, not everything works out as neatly as we might like. But one thing does, almost unbelievably: Lisa gets that scholarship, and is able to continue to study music (even as she has to continue working to earn a living, too).

My review of the audio aspect of the book is mixed. Lee Cohen reads well, and does a good job with the different characters. However--and this bothered me quite a bit--her English accents are hopeless. They end up sounding almost as German as the characters with German accents. And in the end, that didn't matter to me at all, because the audio book has something that makes it a must-listen: the use of the author's own piano music to enhance the story. Because the piano is so important to Lisa and to the story, having the music there as the narration describes Lisa's playing is amazing.

My Recommendation:
This is a must-read, and because of the use of the piano music, the audio book is a clear winner. It isn't a book for young children, and I'm not really sure if it was even meant for YA (as opposed to adults), but my feeling is that young adult readers might relate, and any child over about 13 or 14 should be able to cope with the story; there is no sex and the violence is what we read of in our history books, only made more personal because we care about Lisa.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Children of Willesden Lane 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, November 3, 2017

Photo Friday: Hanging with the Elephant Seals

Last weekend we did a little excursion to Año Nuevo State Park to see what the Elephant Seals were up to. Turns out it's "juvenile haul-out" season, and there were a lot of youngsters on the beaches. It was also just a kind of cool day for a hike. The fog was sitting right on the coastline, so that we walked in and out of the sun and fog. Not much of a story here, but some photos.

Looking back through the fringes of mist.
We passed a really pretty pond on our way to the beach.
Pelicans were almost as numerous as elephant seals. The birds and the marine mammals ignored each other, occupying neighboring spaces but not competing.
After a walk of about 1 1/2 miles, we reached North Point, where the seals congregated on the beach.
From a distance you could think it was driftwood, if not for the sound effects. Seals on the beach, pelicans on a low rock just offshore.
For the safety of all concerned--even a yearling elephant seal outweighs an adult human by a fair margin--you can't get very close. My telephoto made up some of the difference. These guys (and they are mostly guys) come in a wide range of sizes. The males take about 7 or 8 years to mature, and get very, very large. Females are sexually mature after 1-2 years, so you don't see many of them here in the "teen zone." They are much smaller than males at maturity, but still bigger than you and me. Combined.
We visited during the mating season in 2014, so I thought I'd throw in a couple of shots to show both how big the males get and the noses that give them their name.
No one is quite sure what the droopy nose is for. Maybe for retaining moisture during the long mating period on land (but then why do the males have it and not the females? They spend as long or longer ashore). Maybe for noise-making, but the docent told us that last winter, a male got his nose ripped off in a fight--and it made no difference to his call.
This shot gives some idea of the relative size of male and female elephant seals. For the record, a mature male will run about 16' long and weigh 6000 pounds. A female will be up to 10' long and weigh 2-3000 pounds before she starts nursing her pup (which is done on land, with no eating or drinking on the mother's part).
Just hanging with his harem. Maybe the chicks dig the proboscis?

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

IWSG: It's NaNo Time, and I'm Not

It's the first Wednesday of the month, and that means IWSG time!
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!

Be sure to drop in on our awesome co-hosts for October: Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and, well, me! 

This month's question: Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

Since today is the kick-off for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for anyone who wonders), it seems only right to talk about that novel-in-a-month project. First, I'll answer the question: yes, and yes. I think I've done NaNo 4 times, once for a revision rather than drafting a new novel. Each time I hit the 50K-word target before the end of the month, and each time had to go on for 1-5 weeks to actually finish a draft, since (outside of kid lit), 50,000 words is not a novel.

So far, one of those novels has been published. Death By Trombone was my first NaNo project in 2013, and it worked very well. I had the book well outlined in advance, and as a result I managed to produce a complete draft by mid-December that didn't require major rewriting to become a  novel. Even so, I had to use a bit of NaNo nudging in 2014 to get on the revisions and finish it.  I published it (the second in the Pismawallops PTA mystery series) in 2015. For NaNo in 2015, I drafted Death By Adverb, the 3rd in that series, and let it sit while I worked on the 3rd Ninja Librarian book, The Problem With Peggy (which I might have worked on as an April Camp NaNo project. I know I did something with that one year).

Now, I dove into Death By Adverb with less of a plan, and as a result, I had more of a mess, including an ending that didn't quite cut it. That probably was part of why that book sat for over a year before I got back to it. But I did get back to it, and expect to have it out by Christmas, or by Easter at the latest...

My 2016 project was a little different, since I was working to take a collection of flash fiction and turn it into a novel. That would be the stories about Gorg the Troll, and I'd hoped to be back at it before now, but DBA is taking a lot longer than intended, partly because it's been a busy year. But when I do get there, I have a nominally complete draft to start from.

All this means that though I'm itching to start my next project, I won't be a NaNer this year. For one thing, I need to deal with the projects in the pipeline, at least a little. And for another, I just don't have time to plan and plot the way I'd like to before I start a new book. I've done it both ways enough to know: pantsing is tempting because once the general idea is there, the urge to dive in is huge. But it costs in the long run (especially when writing a mystery!), and I'm resolved not to leap before I look any more (I am also 100% sure I'll break that vow, since I've already made and broken it more than once). I'll even go so far as to urge you, if you are participating in NaNo and don't have an outline, to take a few days and create one, of whatever variety feels right to you. I'm betting you'll increase your odds of both "winning" (i.e., hitting 50k by Nov. 30) and actually finishing the book--and even of publishing. (I have written several times on this topic, but the most recent and most helpful is this).

So...all that said...go forth and NaNo, Nanners!

Oh--and best of luck to everyone (okay, including me) who submitted stories to the IWSG Anthology!

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