Friday, December 28, 2018

Flashback Friday: New Year's with Xavier Xanthum

http://jemimapett.com/flashback-friday-meme/


 Flashback Friday is a monthly meme that takes place on the last Friday of the month.
The idea is to give a little more love to a post you’ve published on your blog before.  Maybe you just love it, maybe it’s appropriate for now, or maybe it just didn’t get the attention it deserved when you first published it.

Thanks to Michael d’Agostino, who started it all, there is a solution – join Flashback Friday! And thanks to Jemima Pett, who has kept it going--visit her blog to add your name to the list!

Just join in whenever you like, repost one of your own blog posts, including any copyright notices on text or media, on the last Friday of the month.

 ######


This month's Flashback post is a 650-word story I'd forgotten all about. I thought it was about time for some action from Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, and this in my opinion is on of the best of his tales.


Xavier Xanthum's New Year

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, gazed morosely at the fuel-level indicator of the starship Wanderlust. A voice interrupted his gloomy musings.

"Captain, we're going to have to put in at Haven for fuel," Larry announced.

"I can see that." Xavier let his irritation show. Larry wouldn't take offense. It was hard to offend even a self-willed AI. "I told you, I hate going there," Xavier continued. "Why didn't you remind me about fuel back in the D-36 System where we had some choices?"

"I did. But then there was that sweet little planet..."

Xavier sighed. It had been a lovely planet, with gleaming seas and perfect land-masses. It would have been worth just about anything to claim that one. Too bad about the Krrg who held it.

He'd been in such a hurry to get away from the Krrg--they didn't take kindly to interlopers--that he'd forgotten all about the fuel. Bad, but understandable. "Hey, wait a minute--yeah, I forgot, but you could have reminded me once we were away from those brutes."

"I forgot."

That silenced Xavier. After a long minute, he carefully pointed out, "You're an AI. You don't forget."

Another silence followed, despite the effectively instantaneous nature of Larry's thought processors.

"That is correct."

The two friends, man and AI, considered this. Larry appeared in his usual guise, as a pair of eyeballs, sans body. On this occasion, the eyes were green. An odd, pea-soup kind of green. "I am dismayed to learn this," Larry said, his computer voice drained of expression by his shock.

After a minute, Xavier decided he'd rather not think about it.

"Larry, set course for Haven. We need to refuel." The subject was closed.
###
Haven was wide open.  Xavier studied his viewer with distaste. Like most free-lance space explorers, Xavier Xanthum was an introvert, quite content with the company of Larry and their cat, Comet. It was a necessary condition of the employment; an extrovert would go mad or die, forced to spend months and even years alone between planets.

For Xavier, an entire planet engaged in a massive drunken party was a blast for about fifteen minutes. By now, he knew better than to even start. But there it was, clear on every channel he could open to Haven. Always a party planet at the best of times (the name referred to the planet being a haven from a repressive regime that didn't approve of festivities), every spaceport dirtside appeared to be enjoying some kind of wild celebration.

"What are they partying about, Larry?" It would be good to know. A party this huge might indicate the overthrow of a regime or survival of a plague.

"It appears to be an annual celebration of the recalibration of their local calendar."

Xavier thought about that. "Translate, please."

"Something they call 'New Year's Eve,'" Larry elucidated.

Xavier groaned. He now had a choice. He could try to get his fuel and leave without other contact, giving him nothing to distract him from Larry's surprising revelation. Or he could join in the party and drown the memory of Larry's forgetting in Carpintinarian rum, in hopes that by the time he sobered up he would have no recollection of Larry's descent into humanity.
###
About to drain his first tankard of rum, Xavier hesitated.

Always before, when he'd chosen to get sloshed dirtside, Larry had kept track--of him, of the ship of their Credits, and anything else that needed remembering.

What if Larry forgot?

Xavier slowly lowered the tankard, and slid off the barstool.

This was one New Year he'd skip celebrating.


###
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Blog news, author travels

Happy Boxing Day! And Merry Christmas to those who celebrate that, or pick your holiday of choice (heck, pick them all. How many feasts would that give us??!).

As I'm getting ready to leave for the Southern Hemisphere, here's the latest on what happens with the blog. First, the blog will be largely on hiatus for January, as we will be on the trail much of the time that month, with unknown internet access even when off the trail. I'll try to pop up a photo or two every now and then so you don't forget I exist.

1. Reviews. I'm putting them on hold until I'm in a position to read and reflect. January won't be that time. I will eventually get back to sharing reviews of what I've read, and participating in blog tours with Great Escapes tours, but quite likely not until we finish traveling in late May.

2. Photos. Since we'll be producing a lot of photos, I'll concentrate on sharing them through the first half of the year. I guess that means I'm turning into a travel blog for the duration!

3. Flash fiction. I'll share it when I have it. I was going to shut down the Fiction in 50 feature, but since Jemima Pett gave me a set of prompts to use, I'll keep it going. Not sure about the WEP challenges in February and April. If inspiration strikes I'll get something up, if not, I'll try to read anyway.

4. IWSG. I'll keep participating, and try to read and comment on as many as I can. I may not be great at that, so please forgive me!

5. Novels. My first commitment to myself is to resume working on the latest novel in February. If that proves to be too hard, I'll work on short fiction for submission. We shall see.

That's pretty much the story! Since I love my on-line community, I'm not going away entirely. But our travel schedule will make it challenging!


See you in the new year!
--Rebecca/The Ninja Librarian


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Photo Friday: Baxter State Park, Maine

Still coming along weeks if not months behind on my photo posts from our fall excursions, so while Maine is getting covered in snow and we are all thinking of snowflakes and Christmas trees, I have some pictures of the fantastic fall colors to share! (And yes, I realize that my Friday post is posting on Sunday evening).

Way back at the start of October we took a trip into the Maine woods (see the post on the Gulf Hagas trail), including Baxter State Park. Baxter is one of the larger state parks around, and has an interesting history. Most of the park was the gift of Percival Baxter, when was governor of Maine in the 1920s. He bought up 6000 acres of land including Mt. Katahdin (now the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), and in 1931 donated it to the state as a land trust.

Baxter had some very specific rules and regs for the land he donated. Most importantly, it was to remain wild, with wilderness the first priority, and recreation second. As a result, the park has a very limited road system, and none of the roads are paved. The visitor is meant to discover and explore the park on foot. The campgrounds also reflect this rule: they have lean-tos and even cabins and bunkhouses, but no water faucets, let alone showers (campers can haul water in or treat that in the streams).

We had no problem with any of that. Nor did we mind the trails being rather steep and rough, though that can make things hurt :)
You can tell it's a trail, because there's a blue blaze on the rock.

We spent three nights in the park. The first, we camped near the south entrance, at Roaring Brook campground, and did couple of short hikes, one in the evening (hoping for moose; we revisited the lake in the early morning with the same hope, but no luck either way).

With or without moose, the lakes and ponds were beautiful.

The next morning, with rain on the way, we hiked a couple of miles up a trail toward Katahdin itself, enjoying the fall colors and eventually views of the great massif.
Roaring Brook, near the Basin Ponds trailhead

From Roaring Brook to the South Branch Campground is only 13 miles by trail, but a bit more of an expedition by road. We made it longer by taking a rainy-day drive through northern Maine, and arrived to take possession of the bunkhouse about bedtime. Though it could hold 8, we were the only occupants on that rainy Thursday night.
South Branch Bunkhouse.
Next morning the storm had moved on, and we launched early for a strenuous hike recommended by a friend of our Maine friends, the Traveler Mountain loop. This 10.5 mile hike isn't for the faint of heart, as you hit three summits and gain (and lose) about 3600' of elevation.
Fall colors on the trail
The hike started innocently enough with a flat walk through the woods along South Branch ponds. We came back to this point the next day and followed Howe Brook to the falls, but first we needed to find that Center Ridge trail.
Add caption
About an hour along and a fair way up we began to get open spaces and see the views.
The campground and trailhead are at the end of the lake on the far right.
After an absurdly long climb, we reached our first summit. Which was just a flat spot on the ridge on the way up to the first real summit (1.2 miles by that sign). Being bold and strong, I sat down and ate a snack.
We began to appreciate the expansive fall colors. We could also see the whole curve of the mountain we were going to climb, traverse, and descend (not pictured, but we were beginning to get the message).
From the main summit, we began to realize that it wasn't just climbing--we had a significant drop from one summit to the next.
Dropping from Traveler Summit to Traveler Ridge
From the bald knobs to the thick forest. Having a trail here was a good thing.
Trees have to grow where they land. This one might mean trouble for the rock in the long term.
 After North Traveler, it was pretty much straight down to the end.

We were tired enough after that hike that we nabbed one of the last campsites for the night. That allowed us to do a hike next day, a calm frosty morning.
Calm water and water-color reflection.
After nearly 11 miles the previous day, I was surprised to find I was able to do the 6 miles RT to the falls on Howe Creek. They proved to be worth the effort.

After that, we felt like we had really gotten the feel of the fall color thing, and with a holiday weekend bringing crowds into the park, we headed for home.

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, December 21, 2018

#Fi50: The Worst Gift

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).

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less, ideally using the prompt as title or theme or inspiration.
That’s it!  But for those who wish to challenge themselves further, here’s an additional rule:

2. Post your piece of flash fiction on your blog or (for those poor blog-less souls) add it as a comment on the Ninja Librarian’s post for everyone to enjoy.  
And for those thrill-seekers who really like to go the extra mile (ie: perfectionists):

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at acrossthebored.com) or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.I recommend posting your basic blog link on my Fi50 page, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the last Sunday (or Saturday) of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

Posts can go up any time during the last week of the month (or any other time – we’re not fussy! My post will go up next Saturday, so it will be there when you are ready to add your link.

You’re welcome to pick your own topics or go along with the monthly prompt.

The December Prompt is:
The Worst Gift


Note: I had been planning to let this drop entirely after the new year, but since Jemima Pett provided a list of prompts, I will keep it going, though possibly in a rather automated way (I will not be available in January, at least, to respond actively).

Here are the 2019 prompts, courtesy Jemima:

January - Icy Fingers
Feb - No more hearts and flowers
March - Whenever
April - Exactly
May - Sweet home, Alabama
June - Countdown
July - Taking it to the …. (Complete with your own word)
August - One drop too many
September - Taking turns
October - Wolf at the door
November - Forging ahead
December - Behind the curtain 
And now for my story!

The Worst Gift

Everyone gets a gift of magic their tenth Christmas. My best friend can levitate. I can weave all day with no mistakes. 

I hate weaving. 

When the killers came, we hid under my coverlet and they said the bed was empty. 


Now we’re all alone, and I still hate weaving.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Writer's Update and WEP reminder

First things first: today is the official December WEP day.
Click on the image to go to the list of fantastic WEP stories from this month, including mine. We all posted up early to make sure there would be time to read the stories before the holidays sweep us all up.

Writer’s Update:
Well, we survived NaNo, and while it was (and is) hard to maintain the momentum after the end of the month, I did manage to hang on and bring my word count up to just under 70k, with a pretty good draft of the story (not too many missing bits). I’m also considering it a positive thing that, unlike my usual process, I don’t feel the need to dump the story for 6-12 months before I look at it again. I am actually ready to continue chipping away at the big issues and working on getting the draft to the point where I can give it to beta readers, hopefully before summer (northern hemisphere summer). Apropos of that, if you are interested in beta-reading Death By Library once it’s ready, let me know. It’s book 4 of the Pismawallops PTA mysteries, but is meant to stand alone if necessary (part of what I will need to know is what else needs explaining that I’ve taken for granted).

Of course, the other reality lies in that reference to the Southern Hemisphere, because the Ninja Librarian family is off to New Zealand right after Christmas, for some pretty extensive travel. I know that nothing, and I mean nothing, will happen writing-wise during January, as we will be tramping and traveling non-stop. We’ll see after that.

Which brings us to...

Blog update:
The Ninja Librarian’s blog will be going on hiatus during January. There may be some random posts (including, of course, the IWSG post on the first Wednesday), but I don’t expect to be reading and responding to others’ posts, for which I hope you all will forgive me! I simply won’t have enough time or internet connections to do anything consistent. I hope you won’t all forget me while I’m off playing—keep coming back to check for photos, which I will post as and when I can!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Non-fiction Review: My Year of Running Dangerously

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Title: My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, A Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan
Author: Tom Foreman. Read by the author.
Publication Info: Tantor Audio, 2015. Originally Blue Rider Press, 2015
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
As a journalist whose career spans three decades, CNN correspondent Tom Foreman has reported from the heart of war zones, riots, and natural disasters. He has interviewed serial killers and been in the line of fire. But the most terrifying moment of his life didn't occur on the job-it occurred at home, when his eighteen-year-old daughter asked, "How would you feel about running a marathon with me?" My Year of Running Dangerously is Foreman's journey through four half-marathons, three marathons, and one fifty-five-mile race. What started as an innocent request from his daughter quickly turned into a rekindled passion for long-distance running-for the training, the camaraderie, the defeats, and the victories. Told with honesty and humor, Foreman's account captures the universal fears of aging and failure alongside the hard-won moments of triumph, tenacity, and going further than you ever thought possible. 

My Review:
I'll admit this was an easy sell for me, since I like running (I can't do it anymore, but that doesn't change the fact that I liked it, and was starting to break into longer distances when my body informed me that wasn't a good plan). I also like stories of people doing challenging things, and having a father and daughter doesn't hurt, either.
So I went into this book expecting to enjoy it... and I did. Foreman's style is easy and light, with room for serious reflection alongside self-deprecating humor. He pays attention to the stress his running obsession (as it ends up becoming) puts on his family, and acknowledges their support. He also makes no attempt to make himself into something he isn't (a super-jock). He's doing some amazing running, but he's quite clear that he's still a (extremely fit) middle-aged guy.
Even though I will never run anything like the races he's done, I got to have my tiny moment of superiority when he first realizes that the ultra-marathon will be largely on trails--a kind of running he's never done and sorely underestimated at first. I was actually surprised, because for the decade + that I was a runner, I was in love with trail running--so I knew what he was in for when he left the pavement!

I do wonder a bit about some of the wisdom that seems to come from his daughters, who are in high school and college. If the thoughtful and insightful comments he attributes to them are all accurate, he has raised a pair of exceptional young women. Even if he polished it up a bit, it's nice to see a happy family.

My Recommendation:
I enjoyed this immensely. Even if you aren't a runner and never expect to do anything more strenuous than write your next novel, you can enjoy this book, which is as much about finding one's limits (of all sorts) and learning to know yourself as it is about running. If you are a runner, though, beware: it *will* make you want to start running long distances!

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of My Year of Running Dangerously from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, December 16, 2018

#Fi50 heads up!

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).

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less, ideally using the prompt as title or theme or inspiration.
That’s it!  But for those who wish to challenge themselves further, here’s an additional rule:

2. Post your piece of flash fiction on your blog or (for those poor blog-less souls) add it as a comment on the Ninja Librarian’s post for everyone to enjoy. 
And for those thrill-seekers who really like to go the extra mile (ie: perfectionists):

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at acrossthebored.com) or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.I recommend posting your basic blog link on my Fi50 page, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the last Sunday (or Saturday) of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

Posts can go up any time during the last week of the month (or any other time – we’re not fussy! My post will go up next Saturday, so it will be there when you are ready to add your link.

You’re welcome to pick your own topics or go along with the monthly prompt.

The December Prompt is:
The Worst Gift


Note: I had been planning to let this drop entirely after the new year, but since Jemima Pett provided a list of prompts, I will keep it going, though possibly in a rather automated way (I will not be available in January, at least, to respond actively).

Here are the 2019 prompts, courtesy Jemima:

January - Icy Fingers
Feb - No more hearts and flowers
March - Whenever
April - Exactly
May - Sweet home, Alabama
June - Countdown
July - Taking it to the …. (Complete with your own word)
August - One drop too many
September - Taking turns
October - Wolf at the door
November - Forging ahead
December - Behind the curtain 
 

Friday, December 14, 2018

WEP: Ribbons and Candles

candles 

Time for the December WEP/IWSG 'writing together' competition.
 The challenge is Ribbons and Candles. 
Perfect for the festival/festive season. Perfect also for flashes not themed around festivities or holidays. All prompts here work year-round and are pan-global. Genre, themes, settings, mood, no bar. Only the word count counts. And you could ignore that too and come in with a photo-essay or art, minimal words required.

A party. A power-cut. Gift-giving. Hair braids. Ribbons of roads, rivers, paper, love, hope. Candles in the room. Candles in the church. Candles in the wind. And any combo thereof. It could go in a thousand different directions, choose yours and step outside the square!

The WEP admins are asking that we post as soon as we can, so there's more time to read the stories before the holidays hit. So I've managed to get mine up a few days early, anyway. And, since this is clearly the perfect time for a Christmas/winter theme story, I've written a fantasy set in no particular season, with no reference to holidays at all :D

998 words
Critique guidelines: FCA
STATE YOUR FEEDBACK PREFERENCES

In the Cave

“We have to go in!” Marcus turned away from his best friends to kick at a rock, so they wouldn’t see the desperation in his face.

“Why?” Jeremy asked. He was the tallest of the three, freckled and red-haired where the others were dark.

“Because that’s where his parents went, you dolt.” Beth liked Jeremy, but that didn’t earn him a pass for being stupid. “Come on.” She tossed her braids over her shoulders, settled her bow and quiver on her back, and prepared to lead the way into the cave.

“Wait, Beth.” Marcus held her back pulling three candles from his belt pouch. “Not much point in going in if we can’t see anything.” He managed a grin that might have convinced Beth he wasn’t worried—if she’d been blind and deaf.

Jeremy was easier to fool. “Oh, good. Say, this will be an adventure.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “The gods protect me from idiot boys.” Marcus and Jeremy made the sign, seconding her prayer before realizing what she’d said.

“Look, I know it’s dangerous. You don’t have to come,” Marcus began.

“Not you, idiot. We have to do this, I know that. But Jeremy—could you for one minute stop thinking about adventures? You know what an adventure is? It’s a plan that’s gone wrong.”

While Beth spoke, Marcus struck flint to steel and lit a candle. Handing it to Beth, he lit the other two from it. Then he stowed the flint and steel back in his pouch, along with three spare candles.

He had come prepared. Beth decided this wasn’t the time to tell him she could conjure a light far faster than he could light a candle, and brighter, though it tired her. She’d save that for an emergency.

“Let’s go, then.” Marcus picked up his spear. “Do you have your sling, Jeremy?”

The taller boy searched his clothes before pulling the sling from the back of his belt. “I’m good,” he announced, stowing it in his belt pouch. “Let’s go!”

Beth looked at Marcus. “Lead on. It’s your quest.” Naming it for a quest seemed to give Marcus courage. He took a deep breath and ducked his head to enter the cave. The entrance wasn’t low enough that he needed to duck, but doing so made him feel larger—and braver.

Last to enter, Beth unwrapped the ribbon on one of her braids, cut off a piece, and tied it tightly again. Then she hung the loose piece from a root at the top of the entrance.

“Just in case,” she said when she saw the boys watching. She didn’t say in case of what, or how it would help.

Marcus stood in the center of the cavern. They couldn’t see to the edges, but moving currents of air suggested several passages opened off the room. He tilted his head back and sniffed, turning and snuffing until his tension melted into triumph. “This way!”

Jeremy hesitated. “Did you just… smell your way?”

Marcus shrugged. “Sure. I can smell Mother and Father down that way.”

Jeremy’s regret was visible even by candle light. “I don’t have the magical gift, you know.”

Beth had to cheer him up. “You have a sling and the skill to use it. If the ogres who took Marcus’s parents know what’s good for them, they’ll turn them loose right now!”

Marcus almost smiled. “Right! Let’s go find them and let the ogres know what they’re up against!”

He led them down the passage, stumbling some in the flickering candle-light. Still Beth didn’t make a magical light. It was enough to have Marcus using his gift to follow the way. She had a feeling that too much magic was a bad idea. Ogres were said to be sensitive to it. She trailed behind the boys, slicing bits off her hair ribbons and sticking them up wherever she could.

Marcus stopped. “They’re close. I can smell them,” he whispered.

Beth strung her bow. Jeremy pulled out his sling and picked a few good stones out of the wall of the cave. Marcus looked sick.

“Dead quiet now,” Beth whispered, then wished she’d not said that. Marcus looked sicker.

Approaching a corner, they heard noises and saw a light. Peering around the edge of an opening, they saw Marcus’s mother and father, backs against the wall, throwing globs of light at a group of angry-looking ogres. As if there were any other kind, Beth thought before she heard the man shout, “More light, Lena!”

“I—I don’t think I can, Owen,” Lena gasped.

“Light or fire or be eaten for dinner,” he answered, voice ragged.

Marcus jabbed the end of his spear into his candle and held it aloft. “Burn, you rotten ogres!” His feeble flame distracted only a few of the monsters.

Jeremy’s stones and Beth’s arrows did more, but they had too few. The ogres kept coming.

Beth took a deep breath, held up the raveled ends of her ribbons, and willed the light into being.

The ribbon shone with an intense, white light. Marcus’s parents broke into a run as the ogres cowered away from the lights. Reaching the children, they swept Marcus and Jeremy along with them.

“Hurry, before they recover!” Lena cried, stumbling in her exhaustion. She and Owen leaned on Marcus as they staggered up the passage.

Beth’s bits of ribbon glowed and burned on the walls, lighting their way, and building a wall of light behind them.

Beth turned and followed the others, her knees wobbly. Jeremy looked back, saw her falter, and turned to grab her hand. “Don’t stop now!”

 “I don’t know how long I can—” she gasped.

Jeremy crouched. “On my back,” he ordered.

Moments later they burst from the cave into the afternoon sunlight.

Beth could feel the last of her magic draining from her as she set the light as firmly as she could into the ribbon at the entrance. That would hold them a good long time.

###
 
 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.


Check out all the stories--they usually make for some great reading!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Non-fiction Review: The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1460673144l/29917845.jpg 

Title: The Egg and I
Author: Betty MacDonald. Read by Heather Henderson
Publication Info: Audio book 2015 by Post Hypnotic Press, Inc. Originally published 1945
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall—through chaos and catastrophe—this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

An immortal, hilarious and heartwarming classic about working a chicken farm in the Northwest, a part of which first appeared in a condensed serialization in the Atlantic monthly.

My Review:
Following their time on the chicken farm, Betty MacDonald and her family moved to Vashon Island, in Washington state. I therefore knew about her most of my life, being a Vashon kid myself (my mother in fact went to school with Betty's kids). I never much cared for her Mrs. Pigglewiggle books, but I admit to a deep and lasting fondness for Nancy and Plum, despite the fact that it's really a rather dreadful book from a literary perspective. For one reason and another, though, I'd never read The Egg and I. When I came across it while looking for something light to listen to, I decided it was time.
 
MacDonald's book reads as a deliberately, and at times desperately, light-hearted account of a difficult time. On the one hand, I was interested in her upbringing and the ways in which it didn't prepare her for the frontier life (she seems often rather incapable in ways that astonish me). On the other, I was at times aggravated by her exaggerated tone, as I felt that her humor sometimes degenerated into something remarkably close to whining. After all, she wasn't the only woman working on a hard-scrabble farm in the 1920s, and not everything that terrified her in the "wilderness" was all that big a deal. It felt to me like she was trying too hard both to be funny and to prove that the farm was an exceptional undertaking.
 
I won't go into her rather racist comments on the local Native Americans near the farm. For that, I can only say that she was a product of her time, and probably couldn't help it. Her commentary on the other local farmers was both more entertaining and less justifiable. That is, her humor sometimes slipped over the edge to become not a gentle laugh along with people, but a jabbing laugh at them (granted, some of her neighbors might have deserved it, or maybe they were just low-hanging fruit). I wonder if any of those people would have recognized themselves in her descriptions.
 
All in all, it was an entertaining read (listen), but, knowing some of the ways she played fast and loose with reality in her book about life on Vashon (Onions in the Stew), I won't take this as a terribly accurate historical rendering of life in Chimacum in the 20s. 
 
The narrator is good, and there is an introduction written by the author's daughters that might be as interesting as the book itself.

My Recommendation:
Entertaining, and well-read, but it only gets a so-so recommendation from me. I did appreciate her evocation of the PNW winters, which are dark and wet and wet and dark, and are most of why I don't live there any more.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Egg and I from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Publication Info: Henry Holt & Co., 2009. 344 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.
My Review:
I liked this book a lot. The title character is someone I can relate to--more interested in science and exploring her world than in learning the domestic arts and how to become a lady (I would like to point out to her that since we all have to eat, learning to cook is a good idea. I would like to point out to her mother that males have to eat, too, and her sons should learn to cook as well, but--that was 1899).
The book is half standard coming-of-age (ouch. I mis-typed that as "coming-of-cage," which is particularly resonant of the life Callie's mother has planned for her) and half a book about the fascination of science. What Callie and her grandfather learn and discover is less important than the search and discovery themselves. Callie learns about the scientific method, but also about the importance of being careful and accurate, including when thinking about your own feelings.

The author has a good touch--serious where it needs to be, light overall (love the accounts of the piano recital and the county fair!). The setting and characters are well-rendered, and the editing is good.
I picked this up because it was mentioned in a discussion of middle-grade books where girls are doing science. I think it's a great read for encouraging girls, as well as just a good fun read. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and learning more about what Callie does, as this one does leave us a bit up in the air in some ways.
My Recommendation:
Check it out.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."