Thursday, March 29, 2018

Flashback Friday!

 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).

I wanted a Pismawallops PTA story for Flashback Friday again, since the newest book just came out this week, so I hunted a long way back through the archives and found this story from 2014. It was written while I was working on editing the second book in the series, Death By Trombone. If you want to know more, both Death By Ice Cream (the story alluded to at places in this story) and Death By Trombone are on sale through April for only 99 cents!

This one's a little longer than usual, at about 1150 words.

Haunted House

"Kitty, have you heard the rumors about the LeMoine house?" I asked my best friend the question over our weekly binge at the Have-a-Bite bakery.

"Rumors like what?"  Kitty's response was not so much an inquiry as a caution. I wasn't sure just how to answer, now I'd brought the matter up. Should I say anything? The kids hadn't known I was listening to their discussion of the place. Maybe that was all the more reason to share what I'd heard.

"I gathered from something Brian and Kat said that kids are daring one another to spend the night there. That something might get them if they do." Presumably the ghost of Letitia LeMoine, I didn't need to add. "In any case, they expect something scary to happen."

"As a parent," Kitty said with a dryness I would have been proud to own, "it sounds like something scary all right."

We considered teens for a moment while consuming espresso brownies a nibble at a time. I only allow myself one a month, so I wasn't going to miss any of this one.

The LeMoine house had stood empty since Kat's daughter and my son and their best friends had found the owner strangled where the Pismawallops PTA usually stored ice cream bars. To the best of my knowledge, the house was empty because the ownership was under dispute, not because no one would live there. Letitia's daughter had gone to the mainland to live with her mother's aunt and she couldn't even rent it out because no one knew if it was hers.

"You don't suppose there's someone squatting there?" Kitty finally suggested. "That might lead to lights in the windows or whatever started the stories. Once they get started, you know how stories like that grow."

"And a story like that might allow someone to stay a long time, if they make it convincing enough," I agreed.

"You should tell Ron." Kitty winked when she said it.  As if I needed reminding that I had... something... going with the Pismawallops Island chief of police. I refused to rise to the bait.

"I'm sure he already knows."

In the end, we shrugged it off. Kids like a scary story, and an empty house belonging to a murdered woman offered good material.  Our job was to make sure Brian and Kat were not among those who tested the ghost story. I wasn't too worried.

A week later I was less sanguine.  Not about the kids, who were behaving well, but about the LeMoine house.

"I drove by there again, and someone is definitely changing the curtains around and stuff," I told my best friend when we met for our weekly coffee.

"Maybe a real estate agent, trying to keep it from looking empty?"

"Nice try, Kitty. But everyone on the Island knows about it, so what's the point?" I took another bite of my low-fat blueberry scone and tried to convince myself it was as good as the brownie had been the week before.

Kitty shrugged. "Then we're back to squatters."

"Do you think we should have a look? If someone's broken in, we should do something.  Chantal LeMoine may be a piece of work, but that house is her only inheritance."

"The police, JJ.  Talk to Ron."

I'm not an idiot, despite some evidence to the contrary, and I was on good terms with Ron that week so I did what Kitty suggested. I did it at the police station, though. Neither of us could be trusted in private just then, and I didn't know what I wanted from the relationship. Ron knew all too well what he wanted. At the station he couldn't very well make a play for it.

"I've heard the rumors, JJ, but when one of us drives by, there's no sign of anything."

His department consisted of himself and a worse-than-useless deputy.  Leave it to a pair of guys to miss the changes in the curtains.

"Can I take you to dinner?" He changed the subject, asking his usual question. That was the trouble with Ron. He didn't care if the world knew how he felt about me. He'd have kissed me in front of the whole Island, so long as he wasn't in uniform.

"No." Until I resolved some of my existing issues, I wasn't taking on any more.

Really, Ron left me only one option. I'd have to investigate the LeMoine ghost myself. Or rather, with Kitty, because I wasn't going there alone.

"Oh, come on, Kitty," I wheedled. "It'll be a lark."

She reminded me of a couple of other things I'd talked her into that hadn't worked so well, and I winced. "We won't go at night. We can just stop in for a minute, look in the windows, and see if it looks like anyone is living there."

Kitty was still reluctant. "Your ideas always sound good," she began.

"Because they are," I insisted. We exchanged looks, her dubious, mine stubborn.

She gave in first. "Oh, fine. I'll go."

"After dinner tonight."

"That's not broad daylight."

"It's light until late, this time of year. It won't be later than 7:30."

"Fine." Odd. She sounded a lot like Brian at his most teenaged.

In fact it was a little later than 7:30, and a little duskier than I'd expected, when we approached the "haunted house." We hadn't told anyone where we were going, for fear of being laughed at. Suddenly, I wished we had. I ignored the unworthy thought.

I parked in front of the house and we stepped up on the porch with pointless caution. I peered in the front window and let slip a word I don't let Brian use.

"What?" Kitty squeaked.  She seemed jumpy.

"I can't see anything. Too dark." I moved to the door before she could say, "I told you so," and laid a hand on the knob. The door swung open with a small squeak, just like in the horror movies.

We exchanged looks. Then I went in, before Kitty could get reasonable and drag me away.

The front room was neat, and what I could see of it looked much as I'd last seen it.

Too much so. I realized that once again someone was sitting on the couch in the dusk, just as they had that day. . . . I screamed. I'm not proud of it, but the memory was too strong, and I'd nearly died that day.

The figure on the couch jumped up and turned into a teenaged girl. "Oh, my god, I'm sorry!"

I thought I knew who it was, and reached for the light, but of course the power was off.

"Hang on," said Chantal LeMoine, and a moment later a flashlight came on.

I glared at the dead woman's daughter. "You have some explaining to do."


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

Check out the review of A is for Alpine by picture-book author Elaine Kaye--just went live today!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Release Day! Death By Adverb


Death By Adverb

  Available today.

 Genre: Cozy mystery
Ebook: 85,000 words
Paperback:   approx. 285 pages

He murdered the language, but who murdered him?  

JJ McGregor’s not having her best summer. Her arm’s in a cast, her jeans are too tight, and her son’s in Texas with his dad. To make matters worse, she hasn’t spoken to Police Chief Ron Karlson since June. What’s more, she’s gotten fired by the biggest bully on Pismawallops Island. 

JJ thinks her boss's vile prose and grammar are poisonous, but he's the one who turns up dead, and against all odds her summer gets worse. Now there’s a killer on the loose, JJ's on the suspect list, and she'd better make her peace with Ron before someone decides she's gone too far in the defense of good writing!

Death By Adverb (Pismawallops PTA #3)

Purhase Links:

Paperback coming April 15

Hop on over and visit some of our launch-week bloggers!
Jemima Pett  March 26--Review
Natalie Aguierre  April 3
Ellen Jacobson  March 31--Review
Patricia Lynne  March 28
Chris Fey March 30 
Jessica Haight March 28 
C. D. Gallant King March 28 

And just for a teaser, here's the opening...
“What the—hey, watch that thing!” I yelled as the man in white brought his saw toward my immobilized arm.

Nurse Chu patted my shoulder comfortingly, but she didn’t loosen her grip on the casted limb she held against the table.

“Don’t worry, Ms. MacGregor,” she said, “The doctor hardly ever slips and cuts off anyone’s arm.”
I swallowed hard, reminding myself that these were medical professionals. Despite appearances, they weren’t planning to torture me, cut off my arm, or damage me in any way. I was in the Pismawallops Clinic getting the cast off my broken arm at last, a happy event.

I cringed anyway as the saw started to cut the plaster. “Easy there,” I said, trying to sound like I was joking. “My insurance runs out in a couple of months, and I need to be healthy when that happens!” In fact, I was doing plenty of worrying about insurance. Once my coverage under my ex-husband’s policy ran out, I was going to be scrambling to make payments on even the cheapest insurance. It was worth it, to be free of the man I thought of as pond scum, but I still worried. I fixed my gaze on the educational poster on the wall in front of me, and resolutely ignored the whining saw.

Dr. Salisbury finished cutting the cast loose and peeled the remains away. I stopped staring at the poster enjoining me to wash my hands and avoid the flu, and looked at the thing lying on the table.
The exposed arm looked white and dead, and I wasn’t sure it was attached to me. 

 To find out what happens when JJ walks out of the clinic, get your copy of the book today! If you're like me and you like to start at the beginning, the Pismawallops PTA mysteries 1 & 2 are just 99 cents through April!
 What do you serve when all you have in the freezer is an ice cold corpse?
No sleep, no coffee, and a teen-aged son. All JJ’s day needs is a corpse behind the gym.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

#Fi50 Beneath the Surface

It's time for the March Fiction in 50 blog hop! I'm posting up early so that it's ready for you Sunday no matter what time zone you're 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 or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back to my post so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

The March prompt is... 
Beneath the surface.

That's it. Pick your 50 words with care and post your link in the comments!  


Here's my offering. I usually use the prompt as a title, but you can use it however you like.

Beneath the Surface

The rain-swollen river ran deep and smooth. Byron looked at the surface and saw only the reflection of the sky.

It was beautiful.

He adjusted his scuba gear, ran through the safety checklist, and entered the water.

The body was caught in a strainer. The world beneath the surface hurt.


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

Friday, March 23, 2018

Photo Friday! Hawaii... last time.

Still posting on auto, but since I'm on Maui, I thought I'd share some pictures from the one other time I was in the Islands, on the Big Island.

That trip was mostly about volcanoes:

Kiluea Volcano. It wasn't real active when we were there--no lava into the sea, but there was steam and a glow.

 One of the amazing things is how the plants manage to colonize the new lava fields. Lots of rain probably helps!
I have no idea what this is, but it's cool.

Leave those lava fields long enough, and they turn into this:

How cool are the giant ferns?
Of course, a trip to Hawai'i wouldn't be complete without some time on the beach.
Even teens like building castles for the waves to destroy.
Beautiful water at the Place of Refuge. We snorkled near here.
Because we don't do things like most people, this was one of our Hawai'ian condos...

And all that time at the beach, you can't forget the realities of the coastline...
The sign as you go the other way shows someone running toward the giant killer wave...
A sobering reminder.
Sunset from Mauna Kea.
See you next week!

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Today's Wanderings are a bit more literal than usual... the Ninja Librarian is on vacation, collecting new photos to share, but probably not writing.

As I write this a few days before my departure for Hawai'i, I just want to throw out a few thoughts about the end-game on bringing out a book (for self-publishers). Death By Adverb is on track for release next Wednesday, and here are some of the details I needed to get in order before leaving for my trip:
--Final versions of Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace (paper) books. This includes the last-minute proofing corrections and all the formatting and separate extra bits for each version.
--Making sure the cover is the right size for the final page count.
--Uploading all those files and sending for a proof copy of the paperback.
--Lining up some release-day bloggers and getting them all the info (I'll post a schedule and links next week!). If you want to get in on this, let me know and I'll send you the info on Monday.
--Actually, I think that about covered it, aside from marketing.

Marketing. I'm not so hot at that. I'll need to do FB posts, Tweets, and... oh, hey, I'm more than overdue for a newsletter! Maybe with a discount code...

What with all that, it's not surprising that I'm not really up on a couple of other things--like any new writing, or deciding about the April A to Z Challenge. It's addictive--I was sure I wasn't going to do it, but with a master sign-up list once again in the offing, it promises to be better this year. Maybe I'll do something simple. I want to talk about writing and my books and find a way to make my usual reviews fit (I have at least 2 scheduled for next month already).

That's about it for my musings, wanderings, and general house-keeping. Any thoughts about A to Z? About releasing books? About whether I should have my head examined for doing either?

Monday, March 19, 2018

YA Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce


Tempests and Slaughter
Author: Tamora Pierce
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018. 464 pages.  Audio: Listening Library, 2018. Read by Ariadne Meyers.
Source: Library.

Publisher's Summary:
Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

My Review: 

Let's just get this out of the way at once: we've waited long enough for this book! I hope that's because Tamora Pierce has the whole series on the way, and we won't wait another 5 years for the next book, because this is very much the opening shot of a series, and essentially nothing is resolved at the end. In my opinion, it's all there to set up the real conflict which must start soon, and which the reader versed in the world of Tortall knows is coming.

So, knowing that this is the opening salvo and not a complete story, how is it? In short, absorbing. I'm not sure I could even say for sure why, but it's fascinating to see the instruction of a young mage, as well as to see how Tamora Pierce creates  the young versions of characters we already know in their adult forms. Her writing, as always, propels the reader forward, and enough happens along the way to keep you reading and to make you feel that it's a book. Still, I think this would be a poor place to start with the world of Tortall, due to the unfinished feeling it gave me. Or maybe that's just knowing what's ahead? I don't think so, because that blurb above goes beyond where this volume takes us.

On another note, I was so anxious to get this that I place library holds on both the hardback and the audio book. I got the latter first, and began greedily listening, but when the hardback came in I switched (and skimmed back through the part I'd listened to). It's a complex enough story that I liked reading better than listening, though the audio was very good.

My Recommendation:
If you are a fan of Pierce's, you've been waiting ages for this book--for any new novel. So jump in and go for it, unless you have the inhuman patience to wait for the next book so you can have the whole story at once! If you are new to Tortall, than I'd suggest starting where the author did, with the Alanna books.

Final note: Pierce's books waffle on the edge between juvvy and YA. There's nothing about this that rules out readers of, say, 11 and up. But there's enough violence and enough of maturing young people to make me feel it's more appropriate for those over 13.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Tempests and Slaughter 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, March 18, 2018

Heads up! #Fi50 coming!

It's next week! Get your post ready for the March Fiction in 50 blog hop!

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 or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back to my post next Sunday so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

The March prompt is... 
Beneath the surface.

That's it. Pick your 50 words with care and see you next Sunday!  

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Friday Flash: A Match Made in Heaven

This week's Wendig Challenge sent us to this marvelous website, which gives you a pair of unlikely partners in crime fighting. Chuck said we could make them do anything, not just fight crime, so I made a few changes, and got...

A Match Made in Heaven

Domestic bliss wasn't what they got, but Anita and Olga did well enough. That is, if you take 'well enough' to mean they hadn't killed each other. Mixed marriages have their own special challenges, and even the happy couple had to admit that theirs was about as mixed as they came. Still, neither one would have given up.

They'd met in a bar, as though it was the start of a joke. "A vagrant matador and a belly-dancing day-care provider walk into a bar... " Only it wasn't a joke. It was love at first sight, and a whole lot more than met the eye.

Anita entered the bar in Pamplona with nothing on her mind but a drink. Bullfighting was dry work, and she'd had a tough evening. The last bull had ripped her best jacket from shoulder to tail, which was how close he'd come to removing her kidneys with a horn. Anita was no hand at sewing, and she didn't have another, so she'd put it back together with safety pins before heading for the bar.

She stepped into the smoky room, let her eyes adjust to the dimness, and found herself a little too close to the most voluptuous woman she'd ever seen.

"Oh, excuse me!" Anita took a step back, her face reddening, but the woman just laughed.

"Don't worry about that."

Her voice was as lovely as her body, so Anita took a closer look. Large, blonde, buxom, and dressed in the costume of an Egyptian belly dancer. A costume with, Anita couldn't help noticing, a few small handprints around the hem.

"I'm Olga," the beauty said. "Let me buy you a drink to apologize for nearly running you down."

Anita was a little confused by this, since she thought she'd been the one doing the running down, but it was true that in a collision she would come off much the worse, being so much smaller. She stammered an acceptance, then belatedly remembered to add, "Anita. I'm a matador."

Olga laughed again. "I guessed."

The drinks were procured and consumed mostly in silence. They were nearly gone, and Anita was studying Olga and trying to figure out how to prolong the encounter, when the blonde caught her at it. She glanced down at her costume and blushed. Anita thought it was on account of being in costume when she wasn't performing.

"Oh, dear," Olga said, looking at her hem. "Those kids! I wish I'd seen that, but really, no one notices what I have on anyway." Seeing Anita still looked confused, she added, "I have a little day-care business."

"Where?" Anita was trying to make conversation.

"Um, around." Olga waved vaguely. "Oh, look! Your poor jacket! Don't you have needle and thread?"

Anita blushed. Really, the women of this space-time were hard to keep up with. "I, ah, I never learned to sew. And the bull got a little close this morning."

"You poor thing!" Olga said. "I say, I've a marvelous idea. Why don't you come on over to my place and I'll mend it for you?"

That was how Anita found herself following Olga through the dark streets of Pamplona, hoping the question of her own home wouldn't come up.

"So Anita," Olga asked while she sewed, "how did you manage to become a matador? I thought they only let men do that."

"Oh, women do it where I come from. I just put my hair up and let them think I'm a man."

"Well, there's a solution I couldn't manage!" Olga threw her head back and laughed. Anita laughed too, but it wasn't easy, because her visceral reaction to that laugh and the truth of the statement distracted her from everything else.

Anita was the first to wake the next morning. The sun was well up the sky. "Oh, no! You'll be late to your day care!"

"I can fix that," Olga muttered, only half awake. Then she sat up, her hand over her mouth (that being the only part of her that was covered, Anita was temporarily distracted from what she had said).

Only temporarily. Anita backed off, and met Olga's eyes. "You time-travel."

Olga, equally surprised, said, "You aren't freaked out by that. And what is your home, where women fight bulls with swords, which they don't allow here anymore."

Anita glanced at the weapon she had carefully laid aside when she tossed the matador's costume to the floor. "Um, elsewhere."

"As in *really* elsewhere." Olga didn't ask it.

"Yeah." Anita sucked in a deep breath. "Another dimension. Not sure how I ended up here."

Olga gradually began to smile. "Well, good. Thanks to that, you may actually believe me when I tell you that I'm a Valkyrie."

"A time-traveling Valkyrie who runs a day care?"

Olga nodded. "I do a little belly dancing on the side when the children get a bit much."

Anita eyed her, surprisingly unnerved for someone who had managed to adjust to inter-dimensional travel. "And just where is this day care?"

"Um, Valhalla?" Olga's own nervousness showed in the way her smile flickered.


"Please, Anita! Don't run away. I'm not scary, really, I'm not, but no one--no one from this dimension, anyway," she corrected herself, "is willing to stay with me. And I hate all those big gods." She shuddered.

"We're in Valhalla now, aren't we?"

"Well, Toto, it isn't Pamplona," Olga allowed herself a small joke, since Anita was making no move to leave.

Anita thought some more, glanced out the window, looked back at Olga. "The weather's nice here, and so's the scenery," she said not at all irrelevantly. "I can't get back to my own dimension, you know."

"I can't think why you'd need to," Olga said.

Their first fight caused a weather system to dump hail a foot deep on Cleveland, but Olga and Anita emerged from it happier than ever. The second time they set off a volcano. They did better when Anita went back to bull fighting. Olga could always make sure she got out of the way in time, and Anita could get even Thor's kids to behave, so they made a good team.


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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mystery review: Two Heads are Deader than One

Title: Two Heads Are Deader Than One
Author: Elena Hartwell
Publisher: Camel Press, 2017. 274 pages (Kindle)
Source:  purchased

Publisher's Summary:

Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She’s less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry. Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane. Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie’s business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims? The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie’s shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons. Book 2 in the Eddie Shoes Mystery series.  
My Review: 

When I read and reviewed the first book in this series, One Dead, Two to Go, I resolved to read the rest of the series. Of course, it slipped my mind until the tour sign-ups for the 3rd book came around. So I went out and bought this one in order to keep reading them in sequence. I'm not entirely sure that matters (each book so far could stand on its own), but I do like to see the relationships develop, and that gets all messed up if you skip around.

I have no regrets for the modest sum I spent buying the ebook! Ms Hartwell is living up to her promise, and so is Eddie Shoes. What's more, Eddie's mom seems to be growing up nicely, something that was a bit delayed in her case, and the interactions between Eddie and Chava are a delight, to say nothing of the furry giant, Franklin.

I did have my moments of wondering if I was going to like this as well as the first book, mostly because it was clear that Eddie was being played, and I hate it when that happens (to me. And so by extension I squirm a bit when it happens to characters in a book). But of course Eddie's no dummy, and neither is Chava, so the story works out well, and takes us places I never expected. The mystery is just complex enough to keep you guessing, with the resolution both surprising and believable. There's a serious note about mental illness, as well, and it never hurts to get a little real insight in a pleasant read.

My Recommendation:
This is a series worth following, and has the added advantage of taking place in Bellingham, WA--not a place where I see many mysteries set, and just across the water from my own Pismawallops Island (yes, that gives me a sense of kinship with Eddie and with Ms Hartwell!). There is humor, excitement, and limited gore/violence. The cozy balance of puzzle, people, and death is excellent, with that little whiff of romance that adds color but doesn't overwhelm the mystery.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased Two Heads are Deader Than One, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Non-fiction audio: Olympic Wonders

I've listened to a couple of books lately that were about the Olympics in the 1920s and 30s, so I'll comment on both of them here.

The first was:
Title: Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women
Author: Roseanne Montillo
Publisher: Random House Audio, 2017. Original published by Crown Publishing Group, 2017. 304 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:
When Betty Robinson assumed the starting position at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, she was participating in what was only her fourth-ever organized track meet. She crossed the finish line as a gold medalist and the fastest woman in the world. This improbable athletic phenom was an ordinary high school student, discovered running for a train in rural Illinois mere months before her Olympic debut. Amsterdam made her a star.

But at the top of her game, her career (and life) almost came to a tragic end when a plane she and her cousin were piloting crashed. So dire was Betty's condition that she was taken to the local morgue; only upon the undertaker's inspection was it determined she was still breathing. Betty, once a natural runner who always coasted to victory, soon found herself fighting to walk.

While Betty was recovering, the other women of Track and Field were given the chance to shine in the Los Angeles Games, building on Betty's pioneering role as the first female Olympic champion in the sport. These athletes became more visible and more accepted, as stars like Babe Didrikson and Stella Walsh showed the world what women could do. And--miraculously--through grit and countless hours of training, Betty earned her way onto the 1936 Olympic team, again locking her sights on gold as she and her American teammates went up against the German favorites in Hitler's Berlin.

Told in vivid detail with novelistic flair, Fire on the Track is an unforgettable portrait of these trailblazers in action.

My Review: 
The basic story of Betty Robinson is an amazing and inspiring story. That's not so much for the first Olympic victory, because really, she ran that one on native talent and naivete.  My respect for her is for the fight back after her accident. It was only after that event that Betty learned what real work was, and began to take her running seriously.

If the book had stuck with Betty's story, it would have been an interesting biography, and given a hint of what the early days of track competition for women were like. Bringing in the stories of other runners allowed us to see the amazing changes and growth in the competition, providing a much more complete view.

Unfortunately, from my perspective as a listener to the audio book at least, there were too many stories, and too intertwined. I had trouble keeping track of who was when and where--there did seem to be some playing fast and loose with chronology--which made it a little hard to follow and cost some of my attention.

My Recommendation:
If you are interested in the history of women's athletics (particularly track), this is an important work. And it did make a nice pairing with the book below, as they overlapped at the 1936 Olympics. There's a lot to be learned here about the sexism that kept women down in that era, and the assumptions about what women could do which Betty and her fellow Olympians blasted to pieces. For those of us who grew up (mostly) in the post-Title 9 era, it's a good reminder that not that long ago, it was assumed that women not only couldn't do much athletically, but that it was unhealthy for them to try. Tell it to the women who competed last month in South Korea.

The second book was:

Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold and the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Author: Daniel James Brown; read by Edward Herrmann
Publisher: Penguin Audio, 2013. Original by Viking, 2013. 416 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Summary:

 Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs.

My Review: 
This book was a bit hard to get from the library, as everyone is reading it due to the movie that came out in 2016. But it's also being read a lot because it is good. Where I felt like Fire on the Track was a bit all over the place and hard to sort out at times, this one laid out a compelling story in a way that led me right through. I didn't want to turn off the audio and get anything else done!

The book focuses on Joe Rantz, and we learn of the other rowers in much less detail. That might seem unfair, but Joe's story is both amazing for the obstacles he overcame, and at the same time a good stand-in for the entire crew. If ever we wanted to root for the underdog, it's when Joe is trying to find his place--on the team, at the University, in life. What he does to get to the university and to make the team is an arguably greater accomplishment than what the team does to get to and win the Olympics. But it's also no coincidence that the team that pulled together and won was made up of working-class boys (it appeared that the more well-to-do rowers at the UW didn't have quite the same fire, or maybe they didn't get the same chances to build muscle working during vacations). In fact, there was a comment that made it all completely reasonable to me: that the English had never allowed crews of working-class rowers to compete at Henley, because they would naturally have more muscle, having had to work for a living, so it would be unfair to the Oxford and Cambridge men!

I was completely riveted by the accounts of several races, most notably of course the gold medal race at the 1936 Olympics. Daniel Brown knows how to write an exciting narrative, and Edward Herrmann delivered it marvelously (as he did the entire book, though, alas, they should have given him some lessons in the pronunciation of Seattle-area place names. Always jarring to hear familiar names mangled!). It's interesting to see, too, a glimpse of the days when Olympic athletes really were amateurs--when college teams competed to see which could represent the nation (and when the Ivy League was surprised to discover they weren't always the best).

The only thing I didn't much like was the time spent following certain Nazis who had significant roles in the 1936 Olympics happening. But it's history, and it matters. In fact, the author does a great deal to show how and why most Americans--and even Europeans--were lulled into thinking that the Third Reich wasn't really a threat, and that the tales that were starting to leak out of Germany even by 1936 must be rumors and lies (spoiler: they weren't).

My Recommendation:
Read it! The audio is great, but Mom said I had to get the book and see the photos, so I did, and it does add a lot (this is always the drawback of non-fiction audio--you miss the visuals, which are often fascinating and/or helpful). If you love sports, it's a great story of training and competing. If you love the human-interest stories the networks always like to pull out about the Olympians, this book has those beat all hollow, too.

FTC Disclosure: I checked the above books out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Friday Flash: The Princess' Game

We got no new flash fiction challenge from Chuck this week, so I went back to the last one and picked another title from the list. I'd already decided to write another story for Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, so I just used the title to give me an idea where to take it. Larry makes reference to a couple of Xavier's previous attempts at a little R&R, so I threw in the links to those stories.

The Princess’ Game

“Larry, I’ve signed us up for a week’s R&R on G37-X.”

“Indeed.” The AI materialized in front of Xavier Xanthum (in his standard form, a pair of glowing eyeballs). His tone sent a clear message to the human half of the partnership that ran the Wanderlust.

“Do you have some objection?”

“Not at all, Captain.”

Xavier sighed. Larry only called him “captain” when he disapproved of something Xavier was about to do. This was probably about Xavier’s choice of a rustic retreat for his holiday. Larry liked vacation in high-tech centers where he could find new toys for Xavier to install in the ship.

That was the problem, of course: Xavier was a space explorer, which meant he made money by discovering valuable new planets. He hadn’t had much luck lately. He couldn’t afford a holiday in the Silicon System, or even at Sunset Strip in the Viridian System.

“I want a quiet holiday,” was the way he phrased it to Larry.

Larry's eyes turned a funny color. "Are you sure, Captain?"

Xavier scowled. Larry only called him "captain" when he thought Xavier was making a mistake. "Of course I'm sure. A nice vacation on a quiet planet is just what the banker ordered."

Larry sighed. For a moment Xavier was distracted. How could an AI sigh?

"What?" The double problem of Larry’s disapproval and his human reaction made Xavier’s tone sharp.

"There have been problems with some of the vacation rentals, Captain."

"Like what?"

"Well, there was that time on SLVD 3246," Larry began.

"That was a perfectly lovely island, and everything worked out fine," Xavier said. "I fixed your retro-thrusters!"

"Just a minor annoyance."

"And the planet claimed by the Krrg."

Xavier sighed. "I still regret that one. It was so lovely."

They were silent a few minutes.

"Still," Xavier said, "I need some time dirtside, and I've no credits for a resort planet. It's a rustic retreat or nothing."

Larry gave up, but he expressed his feelings by maintaining a chilly silence for hours.


DVST 5489 looked perfect. Best of all, the beach villa came practically free with a tank of fuel. Essential ship’s maintenance done, Xavier settled into the villa, the Wanderlust parked beside it. Some spacers left their ships in the spaceport, but Xavier liked to keep his close. 

It didn't look like he'd need to make a fast exit this time, though. The only other sentients around were a bunch of children, females of the local species. They spoke just enough Universal to tell Xavier they were sisters, daughters of the local ruler. Princesses. Xavier watched them play from his beachside lounge, an indulgent smile on his face.

When he woke up he was securely bound on his chaise longue. The princesses surrounded him, dancing in a wild sort of way. He had a bad feeling about this.

"Not worry!" Shouted the lead princess when she saw he was awake. "Is game!"

Xavier relaxed some, but he would have preferred it if their game didn't involve tying him up. The only being who knew where he was and might come to his rescue was Larry—but a ship's AI had no body, Larry's eyeballs notwithstanding. Larry had no hands to cut him loose from his bonds.

Xavier squirmed some as the princesses danced around him, and liked what he saw even less. Beyond the rather cylindrical creatures in pink lace--that seemed to be a universal requirement for very young females of almost any species--he saw a larger and older local kindling a fire on the beach. That wouldn't have been so distressing, but the large—really large—pot next to it made him wonder.

"Hey," he called, hoping Larry would hear, too, even if he couldn't do anything.
He could call for help. "This isn't funny any more. Can you let me go now?"

The head princess danced up to him again. "Oh, no. Must finish game. You good game." This time when she smiled, he saw that she had very sharp-looking teeth.

That was when he remembered that "game" had more than one meaning.

"LARRY!" Xavier would be embarrassed later by his plaintive wail, but right now, he just wanted someone to rescue him. "Get me out of here!

When the princess went back to the dance—which now looked distinctly sinister—Xavier set to work at the cords on his ankles. He could just reach them with the hands tied behind his back, thanks to the yoga exercises Larry had insisted he learn when he'd complained of being stiff after their last planetary adventure. It had been something to do in space, and he'd gotten pretty good at it. Now it allowed him to bend his heels up to meet his hands, and he picked at the knots. 

He was so absorbed in that task that he failed to notice that the fire was now blazing, and the circle of princesses starting to close in. All of them bared their teeth, and he saw no trace of the cute youngsters he'd watched with such pleasure before his nap. "Larry!" he wailed one last time as the creatures closed in.

A great shadow covered them all, and Wanderlust descended. The princesses scattered with shrieks and tears. Xavier kicked off the last of the ropes around his ankles and dove for the ramp that Larry had let down. Larry raised the ramp before the princesses could recover and come after them, tumbling Xavier the last few feet into the ship. 

Xavier lay panting as the ship lifted into near-planet orbit. 

"Do you wish to return to the rental office?" Larry asked as Xavier stretched and bent and squirmed to get his hands around front, where he could attack the knots with his teeth.

“No.” They could keep the rent.

"Where would you wish to go?"

Xavier gave a deep sigh. He knew what Larry wanted, and he owed it to him. "To Paradise. We'll get you those new sensors." Xavier didn't really even mind. They clearly needed better sensors, or better sense, and he didn't seem to be providing it.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

IWSG: Treading Water

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

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

March 7 question - How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/ finish a story?

The awesome co-hosts for the March 7 posting of the IWSG are Mary Aalgaard, Bish Denham, Jennifer Hawes, Diane Burton, and Gwen Gardner!


Before I get to the question, I need to get to my neuroses. That is to say, I need to confess that I've been making painfully slow progress on much that needs doing. I can blame part of that on a visit from my mom--it's always worth it to drop my work for a bit when we have our rare chances to be together. But I'm also doing what always happens when I'm at gaps in a project. See, Death By Adverb has gone to my proofreader, so I'm just waiting to hear from her. But of course, that would be the perfect time to get my promotional materials together, and maybe even to submit some short stories. Have I done all that? Maybe almost?

Hey, speaking of that promotion, if you want to help out with release day (which I announced last month but had to reschedule because I failed to notice I'll be out of town), the big day is March 28. Drop me a note in the comments, and I'll share the materials. If you want a pre-proofing ARC to review, let me know that, too.
Isn't it a lovely cover?
So... in a way I guess my first paragraph answered the question of the month. When I reach a goal, I drop everything and look dazedly about me for a week. Then I beat myself up for a few days because I'm getting nothing done. Then, and only then, do I start thinking about what still needs to be done, and get to doing it.

I guess that's not much of a celebration. So I'll throw in some chocolate. I eat chocolate when I reach a goal. I also eat chocolate when I don't reach a goal, but never mind about that!

How about it? Can you suggest some better ways for me to mark the goals and accomplishments?



Monday, March 5, 2018

Middle Grade Review: Shirley Link and the Treasure Chest


Title: Shirley Link and the Treasure Chest (Shirley Link #3)
Author: Ben Zackheim
Publisher: Independent. 2013, 120 pages
Source:  Purchase

Publisher's Summary:

Shirley Link loves pirates. Well, she loves the idea of them. She wouldn't like them if they were running up the street stealing bikes. But digging for treasure and swashbuckling adventure are on the top of her to-do list. So when a clue pops up that there's a hidden pirate treasure under her hometown, Shirley gets to work.

In Shirley Link & The Treasure Chest, the third volume in the critically-acclaimed Middle-Grade Mystery series, our heroine takes on her biggest challenge yet. But this time the stakes are higher than ever. If she fails to find the treasure, or if it ends up being a hoax, then Shirley's elderly neighbor, Mrs. Smiley, will lose her home to the bank.

My Review:  

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I have an on-line acquaintance with author Ben Zackheim, and have shared space in the BookElves Anthologies with him. As always when reviewing the work of people I know, I have tried very hard to be objective and honest.

This is the third volume of the Shirley Link series (see reviews of The Safe Case and The Hot Comic), and I continue to be impressed with the series. This book runs a little longer than the first two, but it's still a quick and easy read for kids who are good readers and ready for a more sophisticated story, but don't want to be at it for weeks.

In the first couple of volumes, I found my only real criticism was that Shirley's ego can get a bit much. In this book, while she continues to value herself and her ability at least as highly as is deserved, she seems also to have discovered a bit of humility and humanity. It's a good addition to her personality. The interactions between Shirley and her friends Wiley and Marie are good, with the trio moving into slightly more mature interests and tastes--and conflicts.

This book also left me feeling as though Shirley is learning to care more about other people than herself. Her work has always been for the good of the community, but this time I felt like she really cared about the people, not just "winning."

The mystery is sound for the age range (it ends up being more puzzle than mystery, which is fine), and the writing is clean, strong, and impeccably edited.

My Recommendation:

This series continues to provide great reads. Shirley is the spiritual heir of Nancy Drew, but in many ways more like Cam Jansen--and is a great choice for kids aging out of that series. The books are written for older elementary school children, and don't talk down, but they are short, quick, and without violence. Reluctant readers will find the book easy to get into and through, and accomplished readers may enjoy the break from longer books.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased Shirley Link and the Treasure Chest, 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."