Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Launch: Princelings of the North

It's here!


Princelings of the North

The Princelings of the North
Book 8 of the Princelings of the East series



by Jemima Pett

Genre: older middle grade mystery adventure – age 10 and upwards.
ebook: 47,000 words, ebook ASIN B0785RY891 / ISBN 9781370899159
paperback: 237 pages; ISBN 9781389104404

The Princelings of the North is the eighth in The Princelings of the East series.
Princelings Dylan and Dougall, who live in the far northwest of an island off the northwest coast of the Realms, rescue an exiled prince, and battle against the odds to restore him to his birthright.

Irrepressible Dylan and steady Dougall are inseparable denizens of the tiny castle of Haunn, so far away from the rest of civilisation that it’s almost off the map. And maps are one of the key elements of this intricate adventure. Dylan finds a treasure map inside a bottle washed up on the shore – and he reckons he knows where X is. Instead of treasure, he finds the exiled Prince Kevin of Castle Deeping, antagonist in the Talent Seekers, bit-player in Bravo Victor, and mystery prince in Willoughby the Narrator. Kevin has had time to realise what a fool he’s been, and now wants vengeance and his castle back, which is just the sort of adventurous challenge that Dylan craves.

Lovers of the series will devour this latest adventure, but newcomers may find it best to start with the box set of books 1-3 or book 5; book 7 links to Kevin’s disappearance. This is a mystery adventure in a world not quite like ours, suitable for age 10 and upwards. The series is set to conclude with book 10.

Excerpt

“It’s a map, look! A treasure map!”

Dougall looked at the scrap of paper his brother Dylan had smoothed out on their bed.

“How do you know it’s a map?”

Dylan sighed, and pointed out the lines. “There’s the outline of the island, and the rocky inlet where the boats go in, and the wiggly lines are where the creek goes into the marshes. And there’s an X for where the treasure is buried!” he finished, leaping off the bed. “Oh, why can’t we go now? It might rain tomorrow!”

“But where did you get it?” Dougall was not one to act without all the facts.

“It got washed into the tide pool down near the Ensay Burn. I fished it out. It was in a bottle. I saw it glinting green and bobbing about.  I thought it had a stick inside it, but it broke when I dropped it on the way back and I found the paper!”

“But why do you think it’s a treasure map?” Dougall had not yet caught his brother’s enthusiasm.

“It’s got an X on it, look!”

“It could mean anything, X.”

“Like what?”

Dougall thought for a bit. He wasn’t familiar with maps, except of the night sky, since he was one of the star-watching team at the castle.  He didn’t go out of the castle much, except onto the crags above to check the solar cells or the turbine flow. It was Dylan who went all over the island, running messages. He’d been most places.

“Have you been to this place?” he asked Dylan, wondering whether he really did know what he was talking about after all.

“Umm, not exactly.  It’s pretty much on the way to Tober Hold, but I usually go a bit further up the glen, and keep to the high ground.  This bit’s all wet.” He pointed to the network of lines he’d described as the creek.
 
“And there’s nothing there that could be marked as a cross?”

Dylan thought for a bit.  Then he looked at the map again and then at his feet. “There’s ruin on a rock. By the crossroads,” he mumbled.

Dougall looked closer at the map. “Well, nobody’s marked the roads going into and out of the cross. You might still be right. Is it the right place for the crossroads?”

It was Dylan’s turn to study the map closely. “Yes,” he concluded. He stared at it for a moment. “Why would anyone…”

“Mark a cross on a map and not the roads leading up to it?” finished Dougall, his eyes sparkling.  “How long will it take us to get there?”

© J M Pett 2018 The Princelings of the North ch 1

My Review:
Note: I may not be wholly objective, as Jemima Pett is a friend and a key member of my "writer's group" (which exists only in the ether). Nonetheless, I have tried to keep an open mind and give an accurate review.

I had the privilege of an advance reading of the manuscript of The Princelings of the North, as a beta reader/editor, and I'm delighted to report that this is a great addition to the series. I had already grown fond of Dylan and Dougall from the short stories in which they feature ("Dylan's Yuletide Journey" and "Dougall's Reindeer Adventure," appearing in the Bookelves Anthology vols. 1 and 2 respectively, as well as the story mentioned below), and they did not disappoint here.

Dylan and Dougall share billing with Kevin, and all three are perfect for a kids' story: a bit naive, but with a clear sense of justice and the courage to take big chances for it. Their adventures are exciting, but never gory; violence lurks around the corner but doesn't break out beyond the reasonable bounds of a children's book.

The story is definitely part of a series, and I recommend starting at the beginning, though the book will not be incomprehensible without doing so. Even though the northern princelings are unaware of much of what has been happening in the south, it helps if the reader knows, not to mention being more fun to feel like you know something the characters don't. And, while the adventure is completed at the end (no cliff-hangers!), it is clear that the world needs those last two books to get everything in order, and Dylan, Dougall, and Kevin may well have further roles to play. Part of me did want a tidier tie-up at the end, but I don't think the story suffers.

The writing is strong and clean, as I have come to expect from the author, and the chapter illustrations are charming:

old castle
Kevin's exile
Castle Haunn


Recommendation:
I have recommended the series before, and that hasn't changed. It's a great read for anyone from 10 up (like my own books, Jemima Pett's stories are in some ways children's books in name only, and have as great an appeal to adult lovers of fantasy and science fiction). The Princelings of the North is a worthy addition to the series.

Buying Links

iTunes ** B&N ** Kobo
Smashwords
Amazon.com ** Amazon.co.uk ** Amazon.ca ** Amazon.com.au ** Amazon.in
Paperback: Amazon.com ***  Book Depository

Raising money for the Ulva Buyout Appeal #UlvaBuyout

The little island of Ulva is just to the south of the area where Jemima has placed Castle Haunn, Dylan and Dougall’s home on the Isle of Mull.  The community of North West Mull have the opportunity to buy the island from the current landowner, and use it as a sustainable resource, securing their own futures. Jemima invites everyone to join in her part of the fundraising effort on her JustGiving page, where you can get more details.

Anyone donating on her page will get a copy of a new novella written especially for the appeal, Dylan and the Lights of Ulva, with Jemima’s thanks.
Please help to promote this massive appeal for the small number (in the tens rather than the hundreds) of islanders.

About the Author

Jemima wrote her first book when she was eight years old. She was heavily into world-building, drawing maps, building railway timetables, and dreaming of being a champion show-jumper, until schoolwork got in the way. Then she went down the science path, writing research papers, manuals and reports, as well as editing the newsletters for her sports clubs. Forty years on she started writing stories about her guinea pigs and their adventures in a fantasy world where everything ran on strawberry juice. Eventually the Princelings of the East took shape, originally intended as a trilogy, but the characters just wouldn’t lie down.  The planned ending will now be with book ten.

Meanwhile, Jemima continues to enjoy the company of new guinea pigs in her home in Norfolk, UK. You can enjoy their blog George’s Guinea Pig World.

Connect with Jemima Pett:  Blog ** Amazon ** Goodreads ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Pinterest ** Smashwords


Giveaway Rafflecopter!

Giveaway prizes include copies of the new paperback and the ebook of the Box Set internationally, with an extra prize for a UK winner. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 
FTC Disclosure: I was given a pre-publication draft to proof-read, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for that work or for this 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, January 29, 2018

Cozy Review: Biscuits and Slashed Browns--with Guest Post by the Author!

http://www.escapewithdollycas.com



Title: Biscuits and Slashed Browns: A Country Store Mystery
Author: Maddie Day
Publisher: Kensington Publishing, 2018. 292 pages
Source: electronic ARC via Great Escapes Book Tours

Publisher's Blurb: 

For country-store owner Robbie Jordan, the National Maple Syrup Festival is a sweet escape from late-winter in South Lick, Indiana--until murder saps the life out of the celebration . . .

As Robbie arranges a breakfast-themed cook-off at Pans 'N Pancakes, visitors pour into Brown County for the annual maple extravaganza. Unfortunately, that includes Professor Connolly, a know-it-all academic from Boston who makes enemies everywhere he goes--and this time, bad manners prove deadly. Soon after clashing with several scientists at a maple tree panel, the professor is found dead outside a sugar shack, stabbed to death by a local restaurateur's knife. When an innocent woman gets dragged into the investigation and a biologist mysteriously disappears, Robbie drops her winning maple biscuits to search for answers. But can she help police crack the case before another victim is caught in a sticky situation with a killer?
 



Guest Post by Author Maddie Day!

(My review follows). Maddie Day has kindly agreed to drop by and share some of her secrets for being an amazingly productive writer!

How to Stay Productive

I write three mystery series, and people often ask me how I manage. So I thought I’d share my top ten tips for staying productive.

Ten - Make lists. Every day I jot down a list of the things I want to accomplish for today. The first thing (every day but Sunday) is always, Write. The long-term-goals list is on my white board: stuff I want to be sure I don’t forget but that I don’t have to do today.



Nine – Sprint. Every morning author and independent editor Ramona DeFelice Long posts a sprint thread on her Facebook page before seven AM. Bunches of us from all over grab our first, or next, cup of coffee and check in, then we all ignore each other, turn off the internet and the phone, and work steadily for an hour. It’s a writing club, a mutual support group, and a fabulous technique for working without interruption. I take a break at eight, and then do another sprint, and often another before I meet my word count goal for the day.



Eight – Work on one series at a time. I try my best to immerse myself in one setting, one set of characters, one story, whether I’m in first draft or revising said draft.



Seven – Finish what’s due first. Except #8 blows up sometimes. I’ll be in first draft mode on the Cape Cod and copyedits will come in from 1888. Or I’ll be revising a Rose Carroll mystery and page proofs will arrive from the country store series. So then I operate on the First Due principle. I knock off the proofs or the copy edits, because they are due in a week or two, so I can get back to the longer work. The problem with doing that, of course, is that I have to reread the whole work in progress up to where I left off so I can re-immerse myself in that world. But that’s a good exercise, anyway. 



Six – Take time away from the desk. By about eleven I’m toast for creative work, so I usually go for what I call my plotting walk, especially if I’m writing a first draft. I talk out loud to myself, ask questions about my characters, and soon enough the next scene or the plot problem has become clear. I happily dictate an email to myself and keep walking.



Five – Separate creative time from admin time. I’m most creative in the early morning, so I do my writing then. A corollary is, Keep creative time sacred. I don’t schedule anything else for mornings – not exercise classes, not doctor appointments, nothing. I try to keep writing blog posts, scheduling author events, book-keeping, and all the other businessy stuff for the afternoons.



Four – Work ahead. Per my comment about deadlines colliding: I work ahead. I’m always either in first draft mode or revision mode.



Three – Outsource what I can’t do. I’m miserable with art and graphics, so I barter with a friend who is an artist and has not only Photoshop but an eye for color. She makes my bookmarks, I give her a book. I hire someone to do my taxes. Why waste time on things it would take me forever to do and rob me of the hours I need to do what I’m good at – writing stories? And even though I love growing food, my little organic garden out back is getting smaller and smaller, and we have three fabulous farm stands within a couple of miles.



Two – Stay healthy. I always have a full Amesbury Police Department mug of water on my desk. Fluids in, fluids out makes me get up and move around every hour or even more often. I try to eat lean fresh foods, and I get regular exercise even if it isn’t the hearty gym workout I really need. And the exercise doubles as creative time - see #6!



One – Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. This is really the most important one. If I get distracted, schedule other things, or simply don’t do the writing, then...I’m not doing the writing. And that’s my job. Of all the varied jobs I’ve held (pump jock, teacher, farmer, doula, tech writer), I’m lucky and blessed to have this last one be the one I love the most (well, besides my favorite job – being a mom). And I am staying sane, mostly.

[Note: an earlier version of this post appeared on the Jungle Red Writers blog a couple of years ago.]


My web site, edithmaxwell.com, includes information about all my writing, including my historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries, my other contemporary series, and my award-winning short stories. Please stop by, and sign up for my newsletter, too. You can also find me at the following links:
Facebook: Maddie Day and Edith Maxwell
Twitter: @edithmaxwell and @MaddieDayAuthor
Pinterest: EdithMaxwell
Instagram: EdithMaxwellAuthor
Blog: Wicked Cozy Authors
Goodreads: Edith Maxwell

Bio:
Edith Maxwell is a 2017 Macavity and Agatha Award nominee and has also had several short stories nominated for an Agatha. She writes the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries set in Amesbury, and the Local Foods Mysteries. Under the pseudonym Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to serve as President of Sisters in Crime New England.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston with her beau and two cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

Thanks for visiting, and for some inspiring comments on how you manage to write so much. I completely agree about needing to put the butt in the chair, and keeping the writing time sacred (I don't do so well, but I completely agree!).


My Review:
After all that, you still want my review? 

I found this book to be an engaging read, with all the cozy elements in good balance. My long-time blog followers will know that I don't like too much obsession over romance issues, and Robbie kept that under control. I liked that even when she couldn't help worrying, she has enough sense and confidence in her sweetheart not to go off the deep end and create unnecessary problem.

Because the book is #4 in the series, I did on a few occasions feel like I was missing some connections between characters, but for the most part I was impressed that it worked well even though I've not read any of the others. Characters are generally well-developed where they need to be, and the setting is pretty clear, though I had a little trouble picturing Robbie's store/restaurant, which does kind of matter.

Finally, the mystery: a satisfactory victim (don't we all love to see the hateful character get the bump!), followed by an abundance of possible perps and red herrings. In the end, I maybe did come down to the right person too soon, just because we seemed to be short of people we'd want to see be guilty (not every cozy mystery spares us the trauma of convicting someone we like, but most do, and I tend to look for someone there's a reason to dislike or distrust). Clues were present but not in your face, and Robbie worked pretty well with the police, though her determination to hunt out the killer for herself is a bit hard to justify at times (at others, like when she's sure the police are wrong, it makes more sense).

The writing is strong, and the story engaging, if sometimes a bit too focused on menus. I was a little slow to get into it, more for reasons having to do with me than with the story, because when I did pick it up I was enjoying it. An extra pleasure is the contemplation of some of the homey Indiana expressions some of the characters use, which are a source of mystification or delight to Robbie, who's from California.

My Recommendation:
Cozy fans of all sorts should enjoy this. I even thought some of the recipes included looked reasonable, which is not usually the case in books like this.

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

#Fi50: Snowglobe

fiction in 50   imageFiction in 50 NEW BUTTON


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). I post a theme for each month's Fi50 here.

The rules for participation are simple:

1. Create a piece of fictional writing in 50 words or less.
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 post on the last Sunday of the Month, but feel free to post anytime in that week or even earlier (you'll just have to wait until mine goes up to share your link).

Snowglobe


It sat on the shelf above the fireplace. No one dared touch it. Grandmother said it was magic, and she ought to know. They burned her as a witch, though that wasn’t supposed to happen anymore.

After that, no one could tune the magic globe to show anything but snow.

 ###

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

Friday, January 26, 2018

Flashback Friday!

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!

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.

Use the Flashback Friday logo above, as designed by Michael d’Agostino. Link it back to host Jemima Pett (there's a linky list!) and add a link to your post in the comments on Jemima's post (or mine, or any other participant's).

Since Friday is my flash fiction day, I've been sharing stories from the archives. This one dates back to May of 2015.

Garbage Cans

I knew we were in trouble when the garbage cans started moving about on their own.  It just turned out that it wasn’t exactly the trouble I thought we were in. I mean, I spotted them first, and made the usual resolve. You know, to swear off the moonshine, give up the mason jar, and dry out.

The first thing wrong with that reaction was that I don’t drink.

The second thing was that I wasn’t the only one who saw them. Oh, lots of people had noticed that their trashcans weren’t in the same place in the morning as they’d been the night before. There were lots of reasons for that. “It’s raccoons. Those things will do anything for a meal.” “Teenagers. They’re playing pranks again.” “Minor earthquakes are vibrating them so that they move about.”

Then there were the whacko reasons: “There are magical fields in this neighborhood.” “It’s the aliens again. I told you they’d be back.” “Poltergeists.” “Isn’t this on old Indian burial ground? Bet their spirits are angry.”

But when I saw the cans moving—actually saw them in motion—I had to discard the most reasonable theories. There were no raccoons or teenagers around. The USGS confirmed that there had been no earthquakes, however tiny and localized. That left me with the more unreasonable explanations.

Magic? I didn’t believe in magic. Every single supposedly magical happening ever had been proven to be caused by natural phenomena. Or illusion. Usually illusion, with a good dose of fakery.

Those garbage cans were no illusion. They stunk too much for that.

Ghosts and poltergeists were likewise out. No way to prove them, and no good grounds for believing they existed. That was when I took the step that led to all the trouble.

Well, that’s what they said. If I’d left well enough alone, there wouldn’t have been trouble. I’m not sure I believe that. Like I said, I knew that we were in trouble when I saw the cans moving, even before I started thinking through the possibilities. The one explanation I kept hearing, and that kept coming back to me, was the aliens.

But why, by all the green cheese on the moon, would aliens want to mess with our garbage cans?

You know how your Mom used to tell you that some questions just shouldn’t be asked? She was talking about how bologna was made or what makes members of the opposite sex tick, but she might as well have been talking about the motives of aliens visiting Earth.  Not only do you not want to know, but it’s not safe to know. Everyone would have been better off if I’d just let it go. But I couldn’t.

I set up cameras, the sort biologists use to take photos of wild animals at night in the wild. And I got my photos. Even that wouldn’t have caused much trouble if I’d not published them. But really—what would you have done? I’d been unemployed for a while, so the cash was awfully handy. I sold the pictures to a certain unnamed news agency. That started the panic, though I was too absorbed in the aliens to notice.

I spent the next few weeks watching the aliens, and gave up looking for work. I set up a video feed, and stared in fascination as the—forgive the cliché, but they were—little green men shifted garbage cans around like pawns in some kind of chess game. Though they might have been dance partners. I couldn’t tell for sure.

That was why I went outside: to ask. I knew better. Like I said at the start, I knew it was trouble from the start. But by this time I had visions of being the person who made first contact with people from space, and I couldn’t give that up.

I'm not an idiot, so I didn’t just go charging out there and hold up my hand and say “Take me to your leader.” I recorded every sound they made. Then I invited my friend Anita to join me. She’s unemployed too, and she’s a linguist, so I figured she’d have time and interest. I swore her to secrecy before I showed her the videos, and we spent another week working on their language.

Maybe we should have spent longer. I thought we really had it, at least enough to make a greeting. After all, it was what they said every time they met in their garbage-can dance.

We flipped a coin to see who would go out and talk to them, and who would stay in and monitor it all on the cameras. I won. Or maybe, as it turned out, I lost. Either way, I was the one who headed out the door with my phrase book.

I don’t suppose I could have changed things by having better linguistic skills, but the row that started when I spoke to them was something else. I was lucky to escape with my life, which I did by climbing up the downspout.

And when it was all over, and trash was scattered up and down the streets, the aliens took me away anyway, luring me down from my perch with—well, never mind that. They took me with them when they Earth, and left the garbage cans to get on with the take-over. They’ve been teaching me their language, starting with the instruction not to use their greeting in polite company. I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with beings who like to reproduce with inanimate objects. Which is what they were doing, except…

If Anita and I had waited another week, we would have seen the sudden proliferation of small garbage cans. Then we might have acted differently. Though we could have done worse. Those little garbage cans are cute. Cuter than an awful lot of humans, and they don’t really smell any worse.

Anyway, it’s their world now.
###
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: Historical Fiction



I have long had a love affair with children's historical fiction. It probably began with The Little House in the Big Woods, which I first read when I was what? maybe 6 or 7 years old? Looking back at it, nothing much happens in the book, but it didn't matter, because everything the Ingalls family did was strange and exciting to me. In the years since, I have read children's books set in periods from ancient Greece to the 1970s (anything since then hardly feels "historical" to me!). The vast majority of these books were interesting, apparently well-researched, and added something to my random pool of knowledge. Of course, you do need to bring some critical judgement to it--the Little House books, for example, are rife with the racial prejudices of the author's time  (something that more contemporary writers do a better job of addressing, since they are usually conscious, at the least, that such prejudices aren't acceptable. When Laura asks awkward questions about how the Indians might feel about the settlers in Indian Territory, she is told to be quiet, suggesting Wilder had her own concerns about justice, if not racism).

I have also read a somewhat smaller selection of adult fiction set in historical periods, and had a much more varied experience of the books. Of course, all those Louis L'Amour westerns I read in middle and high school are historical fiction, and probably could be used as a textbook example of the ways the genre (historical fiction, not "westerns," which is a sub-genre and plays by different rules) can go wrong. Hastily-written and often poorly edited, rife with stereotypes and misconceptions about the time and place (though L'Amour claimed that his books were, if nothing else, geographically correct--he wrote about real places and said that "if [he] wrote about a spring, that spring is there." I've never tested that claim), those westerns did little to increase either knowledge or understanding.

I've had better success with a few writers of mysteries with historical settings. Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs) researched the dickens out of the between-the-wars period in England, and her books match up to the best of the children's books: they entertain and educate in one go. Gretel Ehrlich's Heart Mountain was both good history (and more nuanced than most) and a good read, and the works of Ivan Doig rank among the best books I've read.

But you may have read my review of Goodbye Picadilly last week. This was historical fiction erring on the side of trying too hard with the history, at the expense of story and character both. Other books (think romances) play fast and loose with history for the sake of a thrilling setting for a story. And many others, the more serious "literary" works, may do the history well, but I often find heavy going.

The result of all this is, though there are undoubtedly many high-quality works of (non-genre) historical fiction in the library's adult section, I approach a new author with caution and a lot of doubt, while I continue to read my way through any I find in the kids' room (some of which are definitely better than others). It makes me sad that apparently historical fiction is out of fashion with kids right now, with the result that little of it is being published. Too few kids (sadly, my own included) seem to understand that you can learn so much without having to sweat for it, just by reading a good story.

I've spent years researching to write a book based on my Grandmother's childhood, and in fact have drafted it a couple of times. It's still not what I want, but the research has been fascinating (involving, in part, reading all the women's and children's accounts of the Oregon Trail I can find), and I still want to publish that story. I hope that someday the market will swing back toward an appreciation of these glimpses of our history.



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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Audiobook review: The Wright Brothers

22668947

Title: The Wright Brothers
Author: David McCullough. Read by the author.
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio, 2015. First published 2015 by Simon and Schuster.
Source:  Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb: 
Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard. The Age of Flight had begun. How did they do it? And why? David McCullough tells the extraordinary and truly American story of the two brothers who changed the world.

Sons of an itinerant preacher and a mother who died young, Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in a small side street in Dayton, Ohio, in a house that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity but was filled with books and a love of learning. The brothers ran a bicycle shop that allowed them to earn enough money to pursue their mission in life: flight. In the 1890s flying was beginning to advance beyond the glider stage, but there were major technical challenges that the Wrights were determined to solve. They traveled to North Carolina’s remote Outer Banks to test their plane because there they found three indispensable conditions: constant winds, soft surfaces for landings, and privacy.

Flying was exceedingly dangerous; the Wrights risked their lives every time they flew in the years that followed. Orville nearly died in a crash in 1908, before he was nursed back to health by his sister, Katharine, an unsung and important part of the brothers’ success and of McCullough’s book. Despite their achievement, the Wrights could not convince the US government to take an interest in their plane until after they demonstrated its success in France, where the government instantly understood the importance of their achievement. Now, in this revelatory book, master historian David McCullough draws on nearly 1,000 letters of family correspondence—plus diaries, notebooks, and family scrapbooks in the Library of Congress—to tell the full story of the Wright brothers and their heroic achievement.

My Review:
As so often happens with the audio books I listen to while exercising or doing housework, I didn't know I was interested in this until I checked this out from the library. But I quickly realized that while I'd have said that I knew all about Wilbur and Orville Wright being the first to have a successful powered flight, I didn't actually know much of anything. David McCullough fixed that.

Another thing McCullough fixed was the controversy (of which I was vaguely aware) about some counter claims to the title of "first to fly." I can see where these came from--the Wrights were very private (secretive, if you wish) during the development of their craft, so others did in fact do well-publicized flights before they did. But the private records confirm it: Orville and Wilbur were first.

I enjoyed the book for the detail it provided about the whole process (how many of us assume that they managed that one famous flight at Kitty Hawk and that was it--flight was invented?), the many iterations and adjustments and the constant drive for more, recognizing that their early attempts hadn't produced practical flight. I was also interested in the struggle they had convincing anyone (like the US government) that what they had was worthwhile (no wonder they had to keep working!), and was intrigued by the fact that they were the only ones working on the problem who were self-funded (and they did it all for a tiny fraction of what most others spent).

The impact of fame on their lives was interesting, as well. The essentially private Wilbur was very nearly tempted out of his industrious path and came close, I think, to succumbing to vanity. His own native good sense seemed to pull him up just in time, though he did become a bit of a dandy for a time. And both the men were, I think, a bit out of their depth in the business end of things, and were lucky not to have been truly taken to the cleaners.

The only aspect of the book that bothered me was the reading. It wasn't bad, but I think the author would have done well to let someone else read it. His delivery is just a bit "flat," rather like reading a news report. That does avoid unnecessary and inappropriate drama, but it doesn't make for good listening. [As a note, he did way better than another misguided author-narrator I started at the same time and had to abandon. Someone should tell Sarah Vowell to stick to writing and let someone else read, because I found her voice unlistenable, a bit like the silent movie star in Singing in the Rain.]

My Recommendation:
An interesting piece of history, and like most of the non-fiction I listen to, it would probably be better read as a paper book. (Which raises the question of why I listen to so many NF books, even knowing they are usually better read. I don't have a good answer, except I do get through more of them this way, and a partial grasp of the subject is better than none.)  Anyone interested in the history of aviation has probably already read it, but if you haven't, nab a copy.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Wright Brothers 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, January 21, 2018

#fi50 Heads-up


http://www.ninjalibrarian.com/p/fiction-in-50.html

Just a reminder to anyone who wants to participate, that next week (week of 1/28) is Fiction in 50 week! This month's theme is "Snowglobe." Use it as a title, or just as a starting point, or ignore it completely, but write your 50-word story and post up your link next Sunday when I post my story!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Non-Fiction Review: The Reason I Jump

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Title: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Author: Naoki Higashida; translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell
Publisher: (US) Random House, 2013. Originally published by Escor Publishers, Japan, 2007. 135 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one, at last, have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.

Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.
 


My Review: 

I grabbed this book at the library because it sounded like a really interesting way of getting some insight into autism. And in a way, it is. I was a little way in when something about it began to bother me, making me wonder if it was really what it claimed. Sometimes the voice didn't seem quite believable. I looked at reviews, and found a lot of food for thought there. After reading reviews and finishing the book, I saw two issues: the author is trying to speak for all people with autism, and the question of whether his ideas could have come from a 13-year-old. 

Most people who know anything about autism spectrum disorders know that you can almost never say "all people with autism..." and not make a fool of yourself. Naoki Higashida, being only 13, can be forgiven for thinking his experience is universal, but I made a mental adjustment and replaced all his "we" statements with "I" statements, because in the end, he's only telling us how he feels (though that insight into his behavior may help to understand other people with autism). To me, it's a non-issue. Most 13-year-olds would probably make the same error.

The bigger issue seems to be whether these are really the author's own ideas. I admit to feeling some doubt on reading some passages that seemed both strange and sophisticated. Higashida also makes a lot of rather odd statements about motivations for odd behaviors. By the time I got to the end of the book, I decided that the author's odd statements are probably his own, the result of spending too much time inside his own head, if you will. I'm impressed that he was able to articulate them, and unsurprised that some answers are bizarre while he was unable to answer other questions at all.

Many reviewers focus their doubt on the bit where he explains autism, or rather his own metaphor for being autistic: "I think that people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization...we are more like travelers from the distant, distant past." I saw reviewers wondering how much of that somewhat poetic language was the work of the translator (I'll never know, but I'm sure there are some bilingual folks who could check), as well as people who didn't believe a kid could come up with the ideas. To me, it sounds exactly like something a kid would come up with, especially a kid with plenty of brains and not much ability to connect and communicate with others. Doesn't every early teen think he/she is an alien from another world, at least occasionally?

In the end, this book bothered me less than it did many people, though I didn't find it all that readable (it's 135 short pages and still took me weeks to get through) for some reason. I saw some things in what he says that make sense, and resonate with my experience with family members on the spectrum. I read other things that I had to shrug and say "well, that's his experience."

My Recommendation:
This book does fill a gap, since most books on autism are either written by adults, either neurotypical or on the spectrum. This one is the kid's view, and is written from a place where he has not yet found a way to function fully in the world, but is old enough to wonder and worry about the need to do so. It's a good reminder that just because a person cannot speak, or speak well, it doesn't mean he does not think, or have plenty of words inside. It's flawed, it's not brilliant, but it is probably worth a look.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Reason I Jump 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, January 19, 2018

Friday Flash: Thieves of Soveriegnty

A quick job of producing a story more or less to the theme Chuck proposed two weeks ago ("the danger of undeserved power," and I can't imagine what made him think of that). I had trouble getting inspired (which is why I didn't write the story last week, when it was due), but I managed to come up with something that I devoutly hope is not prophetic. I'm not wild about it, but I did manage to write it.

Thieves of Sovereignty

The faces on those gathered around the king’s bed were grim. The ruler of the small nation was young and he should have shrugged off his illness. But he didn’t. He had grown more and more ill, until now there was nothing to be done but keep a death watch.

Among the grim faces in the death chamber were some whose grief was a false mask. These were the men and women who had managed to make themselves favorites of the prince, a boy of only ten years, and more spoiled than boded well for the nation. His pet courtiers made sure he remained that way, showering him with gifts and flattering him at every turn.

When the king died, the boy would be king, but utterly unfit to rule. He would have a council of regents, of course, but the hidden smiles told the tale of who would sit on the council, and who would rule.

In the small hours of the night, the inevitable happened. The king breathed his last, and a sob broke from more than one throat, either from grief at the personal loss of husband, father, and friend, or from fear of what would become of the kingdom in the hands of Prince—now King—Lewan.

The senior noble present, Duke Merrin, laid the king’s hand gently on his breast and closed the unseeing eyes. Turning, he laid a hand on the shoulder of the half-sleeping Lewan, and said, “The king is dead. Long live the king!”

The courtiers echoed the wish, and Lewan began to cry.

*
In the weeks that followed, the fears of Merrin and the others proved well-founded. Lewan showed little interest in learning the job he now faced, and he listened only to a few of his favorites, none of whom Merrin trusted. The Council was too heavily weighted toward those who preferred to keep the boy weak and ignorant.

A meeting took place in a very private room indeed, where Merrin and the few nobles he trusted could be confident they would not be overheard.

“Arlan and Roscina seem to be the only people to whom Lewan will listen now,” the queen whispered. “He openly defies me when I attempt to make him do what he must. He seldom sits through and entire Council meeting, and he neglects his studies. He says that as King he doesn’t have to do any of that himself.”

Merrin looked at Queen Kaia with pity. She was reaping a bitter harvest for the over-indulgence that had, after all, been not so very different from that shown to most wealthy children. Only Kaia, too often ill to oversee her son’s upbringing closely, had not known to just what extent his love and loyalty had been stolen by the courtiers who had provided him with the toys, ponies, and sweets he wanted in excess.

“Arlan and Roscina are but two members of the Regency Council,” Merrin pointed out. “They cannot rule.”

“Not now,” she whispered. “But what of the future? And what of the others who have come to their side, knowing who will be in favor in four years?”

Lewan would rule in his own right from the age of 14, a thought which made his tender years seem too close to adulthood for comfort, when Merrin thought about the manner in which the young king was being corrupted.

“There are but we five on the Council who hold true loyalty to the king and the nation.” Ewin, the younger brother of the dead king, and uncle to the current ruler, knew the danger to the kingdom better than any. “If we cannot do something, I have little faith in our surviving to see Lewan crowned in his own right.”

*
Ewin’s words proved prophetic. One of the loyal nobles was thrown from his horse and killed. An accident, of course, but no one was fooled. When rumors began to circulate that Ewin plotted to take the throne himself—a solution that in fact the secret group had considered, and he himself rejected—he was forced to flee the country, escaping from the castle minutes ahead of the King’s Guard. Another of the nobles vanished without a trace, possibly choosing exile over death.

Merrin hung on to his place on the Council, as did Kaia, but their voices were drowned in those of the many nobles who echoed whatever Arlan and Roscina proposed, including suggesting with increasing frequency that Lewan need not suffer through the long meetings.

Kaia fought to make him better than he was. “Lewan! You are king. Your duty is with your kingdom, and you cannot leave the rule of your people to others.”

“But I can’t really rule until I’m 14, Mama. I’d rather go riding now, and this meeting is boring.”

Merrin took a risk. “If you do not pay attention now, young man, and listen and learn and make what decisions you may, you will not be fit to rule in three more years.”

Lewan grew angry. Arlan and Roscina egged him on. In the end, to save his life, Merrin resigned from the Council.

*
In the second year of the Regency of King Lewan, the Duchy to the north took advantage of the weakened state of the kingdom. The last of Lewan’s loyal nobles were killed in the battle.

Some said that Arlan and Roscina had led the invading army. No one by then, however, dared to remember that they had come from the borderlands, and no one questioned why or how they continued to hold authority in the kingdom, let alone how it was that they alone of the Council survived the fighting.

They had had stolen their power inch by inch, and now it was all theirs, and the people would bow to their will.


Lewan and his mother fled in the night, though she had to drug him to make him come. The young king still believed that his favorite courtiers were his friends.

It might not matter, Kaia thought as she rode for the far border, her unconscious son draped over her saddle. But it might. It might be worth the effort to keep herself and her son alive. Maybe someday she would see her errors corrected, and the kingdom restored. But not until Lewan had learned what it was to work for his living. The thought gave her a certain pleasure.

***

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cover Reveal: Tick Tock, A Stitch in Crime

I'm a day late, but I'm excited to reveal the cover the the IWSG anthology, and announce the publication date! I'll be sure to share when it's available for pre-orders.



The clock is ticking...

Can a dead child’s cross-stitch pendant find a missing nun? Is revenge possible in just 48 minutes? Can a killer be stopped before the rescuers are engulfed by a city ablaze? Who killed what the tide brought in? Can a soliloquizing gumshoe stay out of jail?

Exploring the facets of time, eleven authors delve into mysteries and crimes that linger in both dark corners and plain sight. Featuring the talents of Gwen Gardner, Rebecca M. Douglass, Tara Tyler, S. R. Betler, C.D. Gallant-King, Jemi Fraser, J. R. Ferguson, Yolanda Renée, C. Lee McKenzie, Christine Clemetson, and Mary Aalgaard.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these eleven tales will take you on a thrilling ride into jeopardy and secrecy. Trail along, find the clues, and stay out of danger. Time is wasting...

Release date - May 1, 2018
Mystery & Detective/Crime/Thrillers
Print ISBN 9781939844545 eBook ISBN 9781939844552


What's your favorite kind of mystery? 
 



Monday, January 15, 2018

Fiction Review: All the Light We Cannot See

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Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner, 2014, 531 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
 

My Review: 
I don't usually review big best-sellers. In fact, I don't usually read them, probably due to a not very admirable stubbornness that refuses to jump on the bandwagon. In this case, the general story (and that cover) kept catching my eye at the library, and I initially made an attempt to listen to the audio book. I think that there was something wrong with the recording, though (this sometimes happens with my ancient MP3; files get a little scrambled), and it just didn't seem to make sense or grab my attention. I gave up. [As noted, this is not a condemnation of the audio book, since I think that the problem lay in problems I was having with my device.]

But I kept talking to people who really liked it, so I finally took the hardback out of the library, and read it during the holidays. To my surprise, I quickly became engaged with the book and ended up liking it very much. (Okay, I can hear you saying that I shouldn't be surprised to like a book with so many literary prizes, but that's me. Literary prizes make me suspicious.)

What makes the book work? For one thing, the characters are unusual but not unbelievable. Werner, in particular, is no hero. He has a particular kind of genius, but that doesn't translate to any ability to stand up to injustice and wrongs through most of his boyhood. A hard life has taught him, instead, to keep his head down and obey orders, which he does through most of his life. But he is human, and so what his orders lead to sickens him, and creates in him a growing tension that I expected to break out in a different way than it did. (I only now see that what happens to him in the end is an expression of this).

Marie-Laure is perhaps even more amazing--the blind girl who learns to do so much, and goes through so much, without giving up. Her story is a more conventional coming-of-age tale, in many ways. Certainly she grows up through the terrible events that are the crux of the book. She is a more likable character than Werner, but I think that the brilliance of the book lies not with her ability to overcome obstacles, but in the development of Werner as a human and humane individual who is nonetheless not a hero who stands up to the Third Reich. He humanizes the German side of things, without being the kind of desperate rebel we prefer to glorify. At first, I was put off by this failure on his part, but in the end, I saw him as a way of understanding how so many basically good people ended up going along with the Nazi regime.

The writing style makes this a much faster read than the page  count would suggest. Short chapters alternate between Werner and Marie-Laure, and sections switch back and forth between the crucial final days in Saint-Malo and the years leading up to that point (this may have been part of my problem with the audio book, as it is harder to track switches like that on audio, without visual cues). The settings and voices are clear and easy to track.

My Recommendation:
Read it. It's not perfect; there are some things about the ending that I wasn't wild about. But it's a good read, and it helps us see two sides of something in this time when empathy seems to be in danger of extinction.

FTC Disclosure: I checked All the Light We Cannot See 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, January 12, 2018

Photo Friday: Water and Light

No flash fiction this week, due primarily to procrastination. Instead, I'll share some photos I took over the holidays, mostly of water and light (with a few trees thrown in). I have a feeling that until I get some kind of grip on the edits to Death By Adverb I'll be burrowing into the archives for photos on more Fridays that this. [Note: progress is happening on DBA. I have figured out, I hope, most of what needs to be done. Doing it, of course, is always another matter.]

Leaves under the surface, their own world.
 Mirrors.


Treetops
I sat on the ground to photograph the twinkling lights in the pussywillow tree. Still trying to figure out why the lights flared that way.

Fairy lights
I think this is my favorite abstract for the year.





Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Goodbye Piccadilly

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Title:
Goodbye Piccadilly
Author: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Publisher: Sphere, 2014. 392 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

In 1914, Britain faces a new kind of war. For Edward and Beatrice Hunter, their children, servants and neighbours, life will never be the same again. For David, the eldest, war means a chance to do something noble; but enlisting will break his mother's heart. His sister Diana, nineteen and beautiful, longs for marriage. She has her heart set on Charles Wroughton, son of Earl Wroughton, but Charles will never be allowed to marry a banker's daughter. Below stairs, Cook and Ada, the head housemaid, grow more terrified of German invasion with every newspaper atrocity story. Ethel, under housemaid, can't help herself when it comes to men and now soldiers add to the temptation; yet there's more to this flighty girl than meets the eye.

The once-tranquil village of Northcote reels under an influx of khaki volunteers, wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees. The war is becoming more dangerous and everyone must find a way to adapt to this rapidly changing world. Goodbye Piccadilly is the first book in the War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, author of the much-loved Morland Dynasty novels.

Set against the real events of 1914, Goodbye Piccadilly is extraordinary in scope and imagination and is a compelling introduction to the Hunter family.

My Review:  

A later book in the series caught my eye on the New Book shelf at the library, and I'm a sucker for WWI stories, so I decided to take a chance and start the series. Certainly lots of the reviews raved about it, though a few gave me pause.

I should have paid more attention to the negative reviews, because they were right. It's not that this is an awful book. I didn't struggle to finish it. But I never fully engaged with it, either, for several reasons.

The biggest flaw in the book, in my opinion, is that it is trying too hard to do too much. This is the opening salvo of an epic saga, doing its best to do what Downton Abbey does. We are going to track the movements and moods of the extended Hunter family plus a number of their neighbors, their servants...and we do. Unfortunately, not only are there so many characters that it is hard to keep track, but we spend so little time with each in many, many short scenes, that I never developed a lot of feeling for any of them (with the possible exception of Laura, the spinster sister, and Sadie, the 16-year-old who doesn't want to grow up and stop playing with horses).

Those quick glimpses into each person's life may work in Downton Abbey, but in my opinion, they don't here. I would probably have been much more engaged, and still able to get a feeling for the whole community, if the author had kept the focus on two or three characters, and let us see the rest through their eyes. As it is, no one is developed enough to be interesting, and the omniscient narrator tells us too much--no one is going to surprise us. At the same time, I have no real sense of anyone's interior. How does Diana know she's in love, not just fortune-hunting? Nothing that happens or that we see of her makes me believe that she loves her suitor, yet Diana insists she does, and the narrator seems to go along with that. I need to be convinced.

Further, much of the historical setting is trying too hard. We get summaries of the causes and progress of the war that read more like a textbook than part of a novel, and while I recognize that some of that is needed for a generation that doesn't know anything about WWI, from a narrative perspective it doesn't work.

In a strange way, I think I've been spoiled by reading children's historical fiction. Those tend to stick to a tight story and a tight view of the main character, whose youth allows the reader to see things she/he can't.  Or maybe I just don't have the patience for a sweeping saga.

My Recommendation:
If you like the period and the style, you may be one of the vast majority of readers who seem to like the books. If you really want to see into the period, though, I think there are better options, though I did learn a thing or two from the historical bits. If you like to see into and understand a few characters well, rather than a sweeping view of a whole village, you may react as I did, with a resounding "meh." (Note: It's not awful. I'll give it 2 stars ["it was ok"] on Goodreads, or even 2.5).

FTC Disclosure: I checked Goodbye Piccadilly 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, January 8, 2018

Middle Grade Fiction: When Santa Fell to Earth


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Title: When Santa Fell to Earth

Author: Cornelia Funke. Trans. Oliver Latsch

Publisher: Scholastic ebook, 2011. 90 pages. Original by Dressler, 1994 (in German).

Source: Library digital resources


Publisher's Summary:
What would happen if Santa fell to Earth? Christmas through the eyes of Cornelia Funke: quirky, funny, ultimately heartwarming, and packaged in a collectible format. A new holiday classic! Scared by a storm, Twinklestar, the least reliable reindeer, bolts--causing Santa and his sleigh to crash-land. And though Santa has dropped into a friendly neighborhood, he's not safe: Jeremiah Goblynch, the ruthless new leader of the Council of Yuleland, is determind to put an end to children's wishes and turn the holiday season into his own personal moneymaking scheme. As the last REAL St. Nick around, only Santa stands between Goblynch and his grinchlike plan. With the help and hope of kids Charlotte and Ben, Santa must face Goblynch and his Nutcracker goons to save Christmas!
 

My Review: 
This was a delightful short read! I loved the glimpses of a magical world of Santas, as well as the mild adventure story. There is a grave peril to Santa and thus to Christmas as we (well, of a select set of first-world countries, but that's a different discussion) know it. But the peril is never too frightening or too disillusioning for the very young, making this a good family read-aloud for the holidays.

At only about 90 pages, it doesn't take long to read. I enjoyed it enough to sit down and read straight through in one go, and I liked the balance in the end of giving the children what they needed, and being Santa, who maintains a certain distance and has important things to go do (well, after Christmas that important thing is to sleep on a tropical beach for a while, but hey, he works hard in the weeks leading up to the holiday!).

And after reading this, I will never eat another chocolate Santa (easy vow: I like high-quality chocolate, and they usually aren't!).

My Recommendation:
Read it aloud to the family next Christmas. Taken in small doses, you might be able to make it last the week before Christmas, or at least the time after school lets out. It offers just enough to be kind of fun for the grown-ups, too, though this really is a book for the kids up to about age 9 or 10. It won't disillusion the ones who still believe in the big guy, either.

FTC Disclosure: I checked When Santa Fell to Earth 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, January 5, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: The 13th Keeper

Friday looming ahead of me, I pulled another title from Jemima Pett's flash fiction prompts late Thursday afternoon. That gave me "The Thirteenth Keeper," and I decided that a little romance might be in order. This one's about 950 words.

The 13th Keeper

"He's cute." Jill giggled, a sound disturbing incongruous with the evidence of decades past that marked her eyes, if not her skin.

Sandra nodded. "It's worth investigating. You never know."

"The last one didn't turn out so well."

"You won't know unless you try."

The two women leaned their determinedly dark heads together, whispering, before sitting back and taking long, thoughtful sips from the glasses they held. The gentleman in question, unaware of their scrutiny, continued to sip his own drink, apparently lost in thought.

"So how do you go about it?" Sandra wondered. “You’ve no one to introduce you.”

"It's an art," Jill said with a smirk. She was much better at this than her friend, who hadn't needed to practice for many years. "I'll show you." She touched up her hair, pulled out a compact and tidied her lipstick, then pushed back her chair and stood up. Her stumble as she passed the target's seat was completely convincing.

He leapt to his feet, putting out a hand to steady her, and Jill smiled at him with all the dazzling power her dentist and plastic surgeon could impart upon her.

"Oh, thank you!" Jill's eyelashes, the full unbelievable inch of them, flew up and down as she clutched the stabilizing arm. "I might have hurt myself if you hadn't been there, so strong and gallant!"

The gentleman made a small bow, smiled, and said, "Oh, not at all. I'm sure such a graceful lady could never stumble and fall."

Jill beamed at him. "You are too kind, my dear Mr., ah?" She let the question hang, the eyelashes hard at work.

Again the gentleman bowed. "Smith. James Smith." He patted her hand and made to let go, but Jill clutched the tighter.

"And I am Jillian Cartwright. You must let me buy you a drink to thank you for saving my life."

Mr. Smith allowed himself a slight smile at this exaggeration, but he also allowed Jill to buy the drink, gracefully ensconcing herself at his table.

When she left the restaurant an hour later, Jill picked up Sandra, who was reading a book in her own corner of the bar, and linked arms gaily as they went out, pausing only to give a flirtatious little wave in the direction of Mr. James Smith.

"So," Sandra asked, amused, "is he a keeper?"

"Oh, very definitely." Jill winked. "A most eligible gentleman. We will be dining on Tuesday, and I most certainly intend to keep him."

"What does that make?" Sandra inquired idly. "An even dozen?"

Jill paused to count on her fingers. "He's the thirteenth. The Thirteenth Keeper, and I've kept them all."

"For a little while," Sandra noted dryly.

"For a little while," Jill echoed, satisfied.

*
The flirtation developed nicely over the weeks that followed. Jill made sure that the dinner on Tuesday led to a sunset walk on Friday, and that to more time spent together over the weekend. Before the month was out, she was able to tell Sandra with confidence that “he’s in the net, dear. You see how it’s done? Just dangle the goods in front of a man and he’ll fall right in line.” The seductive smile wasn’t in use now; they were private, enjoying coffee at Jill’s apartment. Neither woman had put on her war paint, and the years were more obvious in the harsh light of morning than they needed to be.

“Do you ever worry you’re pushing your luck?” Sandra asked.

Jill shrugged. “Numbers one through twelve went quietly, and never a sniff of worry. I just need James Smith, and my retirement portfolio will be complete. I can quit, then.”

*
The wedding took place two months later. The previous twelve husbands had found that Jill’s attractions wore them out faster than expected, and each had died in a different manner, except two. Those two she had divorced without fanfare, claiming infidelity and accepting generous payments to keep the matter out of the courts and the press.

Mr. Smith seemed to be of a stronger fiber. Not only had he written the pre-nup himself, in a manner that made Jill vaguely uneasy in the moments she allowed herself to think of it, but he seemed to be disgustingly healthy.

Too healthy. Her best efforts had no effect, and she was beginning to worry.

The end came when she prepared his morning coffee, carefully stirring a spoonful of sugar into the cup, just as he liked it. She turned to get the second cup. She took her coffee black.

“What are you doing this morning, Darling?” Appearances had to be maintained until she was done with him, after all. “Will you be going to the office?”

“No, I believe I’ll be staying in. I have business here, my dear.”

It wasn’t until she had taken a hearty swig of the coffee that Jill realized it was sweet. Somehow, she had gotten hold of his cup? How could that have happened?! In a panic, she ran to the bathroom, willing herself to vomit, but nothing came up. Her new husband, the 13th, followed her, but he seemed to lack the concern she expected.

“You needn’t worry, my dear. You’ll be sick enough soon.”

Jill paled, and cursed. “How did--?”

“It really wasn’t hard. You should have made sure the cups didn’t match. In a little while, I’ll call the doctor, terribly worried over your illness. It will, of course, be too late.”

James Smith shut and locked the bathroom door, and walked away as Jill began to vomit.

Thirteen, he mused, had always been his lucky number.

***
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
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