Monday, April 30, 2018

Middle Grade Review: Bounce! by Megan Shull


Title: Bounce
Author: Megan Shull
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 373 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:

Seventh grader Frannie Hudson wonders what it would be like to trade in her family for a new one. Her big brother ignores her. Her mean older sister can’t stand her. And her parents have just announced they’re going on a last-minute vacation—without her.

When Frannie makes one desperate, crazy wish—BOOM!—she magically bounces into a whole new life, with a totally different family. And. It. Is. Amazing! There’s only one catch: waking up as someone else keeps happening. Plunged into lives and adventures she’s only imagined—from being a pop star to meeting one super-cute boy—Frannie finds courage in the unforgettable friends and families she meets along the way. But as her new life spins out of control, Frannie begins to worry if she’ll ever get back home.

A celebration of the power of love and connection, Megan Shull’s extraordinary new novel captures one girl’s journey to find her voice, heal her heart, and discover the joy of bouncing back.

My Review:  
I have mixed feelings about this one. The heart is definitely in the right place, but the message felt a bit blatant. On the other hand, the story was still pretty fun. On yet another hand (how many hands do I have? Good heavens, I've turned into an octopus!), the too-faithful reproduction of how kids speak got old in a hurry. Maybe that last one's only an issue for old folks like me.

I suspect kids won't be as hard on the book as I was about the over-the-top awful family that Frannie has to deal with when she's herself. I found it a bit facile, not to say unlikely, but it does serve the purpose of setting Frannie up for the level of heartfelt wishing that causes her to start "bouncing." We do need to understand that doesn't happen to just anyone (which begs the question of what's happening to the girls she becomes for the day, and why they would be wishing to be anyone else, since most of them have pretty great lives).

I also thought the loving families went a bit over the top, or at least the first one does. Just way too sweet and perfect to be believed for a second, and I would hate for kids to think that's what a really happy family would look like.

Here's the thing, though: I blasted through the book and really liked it in spite of all that. Maybe it was just the interest of seeing who Frannie would be next. Or wondering if there was going to be a wholly unbelievable ending (I'm happy to report there is not). For whatever reason, I liked the book more than my head tells me I should have, and I'll bet kids will like it more.

My Recommendation:
For kids from about 8-11, I think. Less appealing to the adults, but still readable, and the message about love and being yourself isn't a bad one for any of us, of any age.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Bounce 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." 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Writer's Wednesday: Large Print Books
At the request of my mother (and the librarian at the retirement home), I have created a large-print edition of Death By Ice Cream, with more to follow if this one flies. In case others are thinking of doing the same, I thought I'd share what it took.

Cover: In the best of all worlds, you'd probably do a new cover just for the LT book. Since I don't have the funds for that (the more so as I'm dubious about this making the money back), I opted to use my okay Photoshop skills to enlarge the regular cover. Why enlarge? Because to make a LT book work, you probably need to use a larger format, unless you are already at the 6x9" size. Even then you'll need a much wider spine--something I didn't adequately account for when doing this one (I decided it's good enough, though, and am not going to change it).

For the next book, I will probably try taking the separate pieces and enlarging them individually to assemble a proportional cover according to the specs for the size book. I think that will be only slightly more work, and will look more professional. One problem I had here was that there wasn't really space to put the words "Large Type Edition" on the cover, and I ended up having to stretch the bottom of the cover a bit to make room. That resulted in a less-than-optimal design, which a fresh cover design would avoid.

Interior: Here's where you really need to put in some effort. First, I chose to make the book 6x9", which seems to be a pretty standard size for the LT books at our library. That's a bit larger than my usual books, which means that I could get more words on a page. That's important: not only do POD books cost per page, but a super-thick book won't stay open well, and may be heavier and more awkward.

A note here on a limitation we author-publishers using POD printing have: a traditionally published LT book will use thinner, lighter paper to keep the bulk and weight down. We don't have that option.

So here's the nitty-gritty: a book counts as LT if the font is at least 14 points. I thought that wasn't enough (my test is to see if I can read it without my "cheaters"), and used 16 points. Of course, the font you use will make a difference, and here's the thing: a lot of the more popular typefaces aren't great for the visually impaired. The recommendations call for a sans-serif font (without the little extra lines at the bottoms or tops of many letters): APHont, Verdana, Arial, Helvetica (the first is not included with word processors, but is free. I didn't try it). I experimented and found that Arial gave me the lowest page count but still very clear and easy-to-read type.

At least one recommendation I read suggested block type with double-spaces between paragraphs (as this blog post has), but I don't see that in most of the books I looked at, and I didn't do it. But what I *did* do was increase the space between lines, setting it to "at least 20 pts." That really helped readability by creating a little more white space between lines of type so the eye isn't so easily confused.

To reduce the overall length, I took out "extras" in the book, combining a couple of the front-matter pages into one, and adding the "other books" list to the "About the Author" page. I also moved the chapter headers up to just a couple of lines below the top of the page (instead of 1/3 of the way down), and removed the headers so the top margin could be a little higher.

The end result is a book that I think can be much more easily read by someone with limited vision, without being too large and heavy to hold. The page count increased from 291 to 435 for my 82,000 word novel, which still allows me to price it under $20.

Is it worth it? I won't know this for a while. In financial terms, my only investment was time (plus the cost of purchasing a few copies so I have them available for sale when I do talks). So I'm not really out anything if it doesn't sell. But if no one buys it, I may not think it worthwhile to do the other books. On the other hand, maybe I can do some direct marketing to other retirement homes and build a market. With cozy mysteries, older women are a significant part of the market, so taking a little thought for their needs seems worthwhile.


In other news: Check out this great trailer for Tick Tock A Stitch in Crime, which will be out on Tuesday!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Lucky Broken Girl


Title: Lucky Broken Girl
Author: Ruth Behar
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. 243 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
Based on the author's childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.

Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro's Cuba to New York City. Just when she's finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood's hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie's world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

My Review: 
This was a lovely story, and I think the blurb leaves out the biggest part of what it is about: Ruthie learns that she has to be strong and determined if she's going to do anything. Yes, she learns about those things that make her confinement bearable, while she also learns that parents are human and the demands her injuries make on her mother are a strain. But she also learns that she can only recover if she is willing to work hard, bite the bullet, and push herself. The book shows us her journey from sullen resentment of her situation to an embrace of her helplessness, to a place where, finally, she can fully recover because she's willing to try.
It is particularly important, I think, that Ruthie's journey isn't a straight line, and isn't always in the same direction. She gets angry and frustrated and gives up and then tries again, then backslides... In short, she is remarkably human (maybe because the author is writing from her own experience, she seems to have a better than usual grip on the reality of how a person processes something like the accident that changes Ruthie's life). The story is compelling precisely because it's sometimes challenging.

My Recommendation:
This is good for kids from about 8 up. Older children will probably get more out of Ruthie's journey, but younger ones can enjoy her struggles and successes. I have to also say: I had no idea there were Jewish Cubans, families who migrated there as WWII was heating up in Europe (maybe because the US wasn't too open? The author doesn't go into that). It gives Ruthie's family some interesting twists, and makes for a good reminder that people aren't always just what they seem, or what you expect.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Lucky Broken Girl 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."  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

#Fi50: Hours of Fun

It's time for the April 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. Bonus points for hitting 50 words exactly.
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 April prompt is... 
Hours of Fun

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

Hours of Fun

Fluffy gets bored and shreds the furniture. I spent most of Saturday searching for a good toy to distract her while I work.

My son raises lab rats, small furry white scurrying creatures. When I got home, somehow they had gotten out of their cage.

Fluffy found her own entertainment.

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Photo Friday: The Hana Highway

Running a little late today! 

Do you have any idea how many photos you can shoot trying to catch the crashing surf at just the right moment? Editing the photos from our trip to Maui last month has been a challenge, to say the least. I'm still working on the crater, but today we'll drive the Hana Highway... in the rain (because it is a rain forest. Which has that word "rain" in the name for a reason).

For those who missed it, the first part of our trip (a day spent biking around West Maui; did I mention that we don't go on vacation to lie on the beach?) is here. The drive to Hana (and actually on beyond to the coastal part of Haleakala National Park at Kipahulu) was meant to be a recovery day.

We got an early start to beat most of the traffic. The narrow, sort-of-two-lane road to Hana has become a tourist destination, which is too bad, because the road would be perfect for biking if there were no cars! We knew starting out that the day would be wet, and while that made for some discomforts, our first waterfall stop, at Twin Falls, showed us one advantage. The falls were running fast and full (of mud).
Nature hard at work turning the smooth slopes of Haleakala into the deep fins of the West Maui mountains.
The rain only picked up from there, so our stop to explore the bamboo forest (and look for another waterfall) required full rain gear.
There's actually a trail there. Right by the pole.
 Our trail soon dead-ended in a swollen stream, but we found other routes through the bamboo (with some part of my mind wondering if we'd find our way back out).
A botanical garden was the next stop, where we were a little disappointed to find the focus was exclusively on plants from *other* parts of the tropics. Still, the Painted Gums (eucalyptus) were beautiful.

Of course, no exploration of the coast would be much good without shooting 1000 photos trying to capture the crashing surf.

Coasts like this are part of why we weren't lying on beaches and swimming in the Pacific. That, and the rain.
The route was also littered with little fruit-and-snack stands, and we had to try some of the fruits we'd never seen before. To our surprise (we are fruit people), we didn't like the star apples we bought here.
It might be the back of beyond, but credit cards are accepted!
After rounding the corner past Hana (the easternmost point of the island), the rain tapered off, and shortly after we got to the Kipahulu campground the sun came out, changing the feel of everything.
It's not easy to dry the footgear in a rainforest.
The next day was another waterfall day, including the 4 mile hike to a series of waterfalls in the park.

Start with the Ohe'o pools, and the falls between.
Still kind of damp and grey, but the rain here was obviously lighter, and the water is running pretty clear.
Up the mountain on a generally well-built trail.
The spouse heads up the trail.
Partway up, you pass the falls of Makahiku. Above those, another series of beautiful pools in the dark volcanic rock entices the hiker, but the signs warn you these are not safe places to wade, since the 200' falls are just below.

This is not a tree we would see at home. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm pretty sure it's sentient.

End of the trail--Waimoku Falls. 400' tall, and a very popular destination. We managed to enjoy it in solitude thanks to a very early start, but as we went down, we met a lot of people sweating their way up in the increasingly warm day.

I can't go anywhere without some flower photos.

Back to the coast, and all packed up, we went looking for one more waterfall. This time it was sunny, warm, and the water--unlike our Sierra streams--was cool, not cold. The route to the falls wasn't completely obvious, but we found it, and were able to get go for a little swim, and even to get dry, not something we'd been much for the last 3 days.
Alelele Falls
Back through Hana--and back into the rain, leading us to buy lunch from a food truck purely because that one had covered tables--and on to Waianapanapa State Park. Camping here felt odd at first--the camping area is sort of in the middle of everything, and during the day, people are everywhere so it felt a bit like setting up camp in Grand Central Station.  But we staked our claim, and I have to say the view was great, especially as the rain gave up and visibility improved some.

The intrepid author prepares dinner.
This was the place to go for mesmerizing surf.

The spouse, the son, and a random stranger try for the perfect surf photo.
Surf sequence.

Finally, it wouldn't be right to go without a photo of the sadly abundant mongoose. The mongoose is an invasive animal, brought (I think) in a misguided attempt to control the destructive rats that the ships had brought. Naturally, they find the native birds an easier target, especially the eggs of those that nest on the ground.
They don't hold still much to get a good shot.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Posting today at Tick Tock!

 First, some newsy bits. A huge thanks to all the bloggers who helped with the launch of Death By Adverb. It's really taking off, and I'm grateful!

Second, I have just released a new Large Type version of Death By Ice Cream. This is perfect for your mom, or anyone with vision issues. If this one sells at all, I'll work my way through the rest of the books to create large type editions of each. If it doesn't sell, I may do it anyway :)

Now for the day's post:
I'm appearing today at the Tick Tock blog--please jump on over and take a look at what I have to say about some of the characters in my story!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fiction Revew: The Tuscan Child


Title: The Tuscan Child
Author: Rhys Bowen
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing, 2018. 352 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now…

My Review: 
Although this is billed as "a novel," Ms. Bowen's roots in the mystery genre are showing. The difference is that no one is setting herself up as a sleuth, and the questions we want answered go beyond the solving of a single crime. Still, Joanna can't let go of her desire to know more than some people would like her to, and her part of the story could easily be framed as a mystery.

The book belongs mostly to Joanna, but the nature of the story is changed some by chapters that follow Hugo after his 1944 crash. In those chapters, the reader sees some things that Joanna will never be able to know, removing the story from the ranks of whodunnits, in my opinion. That isn't a loss--Bowen can write a decent novel beyond the genre fiction for which she is best known (I'm a big fan of her Evan Evans and Royal Spyness mysteries, though I've been unable to really engage with the Molly Murphy books).

The pace of the book, overall, is deliberate. This isn't a hold-your-breath thriller, even when Joanna stirs up the hornets nest. It's really about Joanna and her search for who she is (even when she thinks she's searching for her father's past), and the pace and tone reflects that. I don't consider that a bad thing. I had no trouble keeping on turning pages, it just wasn't a thriller. In fact, my only real complaint was that there was a bit too much internal repetition of Joanna's fears, and a romance that felt a little too symmetrical to me. Those are small complaints against the backdrop of a satisfying story.

As always, Ms. Bowen is meticulous with her historical research, and her settings (both 1944 and the 1970s) feel well-painted and real. I didn't know much about the war in Italy, and the book does a little to fill in the gaps, though it's not really a book about the war.

My Recommendation:

Fans of Bowen's work will probably like this, especially if you liked her other recent foray into general fiction, In Farleigh Field (another book I classify as at least in part a mystery). The book lacks the lightness of the Royal Spyness series, but there are moments of humor and it reads quickly and easily.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Tuscan Child 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, April 15, 2018

#Fi50 is coming!

It's next week! Get your post ready for the April 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….
4. Link back to my post next Sunday (or whenever your post goes up) so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

The April prompt is... 
Hours of Fun

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Friday Flash: Under the Dome

This week Chuck Wendig's challenge was to take a title from Stephen King... and write a completely different story. Since I don't read horror, I don't know much about any of the books he listed, but this one I hadn't even heard of. I'm pretty sure this isn't what King did with it, and I'm doubly sure he never turned it into humor so I'll claim the bonus points he offered for changing genre. In 870 words, I give you...

Under the Dome

It sat on the table like an overgrown metal mushroom, and we all tried to pretend we didn't see it.

It wasn't easy. Smooth, rounded, silver... it drew the eye, and our desire grew with the passage of time. Not so much a desire for what lay under the dome, as a desire to know.

I could lift the dome, end the suspense. I wasn't a child anymore. I didn't take orders from anyone, nor did any of us gathered there.

But she said not to touch it, and she commanded our obedience, if not our respect.

No one touched the gleaming dome. We waited for her to come.

No one mentioned the dome, or what lay under it. We acted as though it weren't there, as though we weren't all thinking about it all the time. We were a bunch of adults feeling like naughty children and trying to pretend we were far too mature to even care what was under the dome.

Every one of us was a damned liar. That huge, ugly silver dome had all our attention, and the conversation skittered over and around it without ever touching it.

The sheer size of the thing was part of the pull. It was probably the largest such dome anywhere. And the ugliest. The silver was etched all over with designs that confused the eye and, if looked at long enough, could induce nausea. The knob on the top was in the shape of a gargoyle or something similarly hideous. And yet that dome had so often covered things that were truly beautiful and amazing. Also a few that had made us sick, and that was part of the suspense we felt: which would it be this time? Good, or ill?

We went on chatting politely, pretending that everything we said didn't relate to it.

"And how was the tea at the vicarage, dear? Did they serve anything special this time?" Mrs. Werther ask Angelique.

What do you think she made this time? I interpreted to myself.

"Do you think it will rain?" Robby asked Colin.

Do you think there will be chocolate?

Robby almost gave in to the desire to know. I saw him watching the dome as though it might bite him, and his hand crept out towards it. He kept his head turned away as though he didn't notice what his hand was doing.

"Ahem." Grandmother stood in the doorway, clearing her throat with a meaning that escaped no one. Robby pulled his hand back as though the dome had burned him. Grandmother could make you believe just about anything, including that the dome was hot, so maybe it had burned. My hands stayed in my pockets. I wasn't going to test the theory.

None of us would test it now, not with Grandmother in the room. In any case, her arrival meant we'd soon be put out of our misery.

Out of our misery one way or another, I thought.

I tried to ease my way toward the French windows that led onto the terrace. If it was bad this time, perhaps I could make my escape outside. Only, of course, Grandmother spotted me the moment I moved.

"Clarinda! Where do you think you are going?"

I pasted a watery smile on my face and came back toward the table. "Nowhere, Grandmother. I was just standing near the window for a bit of air. I felt it was a bit warm in here."

She fixed me with a scowl that curled my hair. "Stuffy? Girl, it is January. There is a foot of snow on the ground, and this room is only slightly warmer than the ice box." She went on in that vein for several minutes, the main theme being that I was a young fool who would probably die of pneumonia because I didn't know what was good for me.

I refrained from rolling my eyes. Grandmother insists on using the old terms, even though we've had a proper refrigerator since before I was born. But if I rolled my eyes, Grandmother would be all over me about how young people these days have no manners. Instead, I stood quietly by the table while she laid out her instruments.

We all drew closer, despite the trepidation we felt when she laid her hand on the gruesome knob atop that silver dome. It was that way every time. If it was good, you didn't want to miss out. And if Grandmother caught you hanging back, you got to listen to a lecture much worse than what I got. So you didn't dare hang back in case it was bad.

She raised the dome, and we all held our breaths.

She lifted the silver monstrosity clear of the contents beneath it and laid it aside. We all drew in our breaths, gazing.

I let my breath back out slowly. There, on the cake plate, stood the most beautiful chocolate cake I'd ever seen.

We were doomed.

Grandmother's cakes had always been edible in inverse proportion to how they looked. She firmly took up the cake knife, and we braced ourselves to face our doom as we must, with stiff upper lips.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Cozy Review & Interview: Three Strikes, You're Dead

Title: Three Strikes, You're Dead (Eddie Shoes #3)
Author: Elena Hartwell
Publisher: Camel Press (April 1, 2018)  Paperback: 288 pages
Source: Great Escapes tours ARC
ISBN-13: 978-1603817271
Digital 13: 9781603817288

Publisher's Blurb:
Private investigator Eddie Shoes heads to a resort outside Leavenworth, Washington, for a mother-daughter getaway weekend. Eddie’s mother Chava wants to celebrate her new job at a casino by footing the bill for the two of them, and who is Eddie to say no?

On the first morning, Eddie goes on an easy solo hike, and a few hours later, stumbles upon a makeshift campsite and a gravely injured man. A forest fire breaks out and she struggles to save him before the flames overcome them both. Before succumbing to his injuries, the man hands her a valuable rosary. He tells her his daughter is missing and begs for her help. Is Eddie now working for a dead man?

Barely escaping the fire, Eddie wakes in the hospital to find both her parents have arrived on the scene. Will Eddie’s card-counting mother and mob-connected father help or hinder the investigation? The police search in vain for a body. How will Eddie find the missing girl with only Eddie’s memory of the man’s face and a photo of his daughter to go on?

My Review: 
This third volume of the Eddie Shoes mystery series more than lives up to the standard set by the first two (One Dead, Two to Go and Two Heads Are Deader Than One). Right from the beginning we see the relationship between Eddie and Chava (a.k.a. “Mom,” a word Eddie is gradually learning to use) developing and maturing as they find themselves more able to enjoy each other without trying to change each other. But lest the relationships be all the book is about, we also dive quickly into a hair-raising bit of adventure and a murder.

The change of setting (from Bellingham to a resort on the other side of the Cascades, by chance very near the area where we backpacked last summer!) made me think that we’d not be making much progress on the issues with either Eddie’s father, Eduardo, or her former lover Chance, but I should have known better. Eduardo shows up when Eddie gets herself into trouble, and the trio (Eddie, Chava, and Eduardo) make a great team, one I hope we will get to see more of. Each has his or her own strengths, and the tensions among the three are deftly written and believably managed.

On a side note, I appreciated that Eddie didn’t do a complete idiot when she went off to go for a hike. She clearly demonstrated she’s a novice, but she took food and water, and even a little extra clothing, and tried to let someone know where she was going. More importantly, she is aware of her mistakes as one thing leads to another and she finds herself lost in the woods. Frankly, I think any of us might have had similar troubles if fleeing from a fast-moving fire. Kudos to Ms. Hartwell for not having her be totally stupid and getting away with it. (Just a personal issue here, since I really hate it when stories have people doing either totally stupid things in the woods, or totally unrealistic ones--yes! Our hero hiked 47 miles in 3 hours to rescue the puppy!).

The main focus of the book is the complex relations between Eddie, Chava, and Eduardo, but the romantic at heart will be glad to hear that Chance is not forgotten. I, for one, eagerly await Book 4 to find out more about how all the connections work out, as Eddie is learning to open herself up and let other people matter to her at last.

And what about the mystery itself? That definitely took me places I didn't expect to go. I don't want to give anything away, so no specifics, but let's just say that I had it all figured out and was totally wrong. Clues are dropped in the right amounts and right places, and the careful reader *may* avoid going wrong where I did.

My Recommendation:
This is a series for any fans of the cozy-but-not-too-cozy mystery. You won't find recipes and heavy romance here, just some fascinating characters with a lot to work on, all the while they are solving a nasty sort of murder and taking a hard look at some realities of our society. I recommend it to anyone who likes Nevada Barr and Dana Stabenow (especially the earlier works of those writers), or Rhys Bowen's "Royal Spyness" series.

About the Author:
After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines, I’DTale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”

In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.
When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.

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And now,  a real treat--author Elena Hartwell dropped by for an interview.
NL: When did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or did you stumble into it later in life?
EH: I have always been a writer. What I stumbled on later in life was to be a novelist. I started out writing stories as a kid, as far back as I can remember, but in college I got interested in theater and spent twenty years working as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator. All along, however, I knew I wanted to write a novel. I wrote my first manuscript back in 2007. It had promise, but it also had a lot of problems. I went on to write a few more manuscripts, until my fourth, the first of the Eddie Shoes series, landed a book deal with my current press. I learned a lot on those practice manuscripts and a lot more writing three books for a series. I'm still stumbling around, but I'm definitely doing what I want.

NL:  Bellingham is pretty close to where I set my own mysteries. What made you choose that town?
I wanted to locate the series in a Western Washington town, but I didn't want to use Seattle. Though I've lived in and around Seattle for over twenty years, it felt "iconic" to me. People believe they "know" Seattle through music or film or television, I wanted a community with more mystique. Bellingham is a fabulous place to set a mystery series. It's on the water, close to the border, has great architecture and a youthful feel with Western Washington University on the hill above downtown. It only has about one murder a year, however, so before I turned it into the Cabot Cove of the Pacific Northwest, I sent Eddie and her mother, Chava, on vacation for book three. I now live in North Bend, the little town off I-90 where Twin Peaks was filmed. My town might just show up in future novels.

NL: Great reasons for choosing the town! I had no idea the murder rate was so low there. For the next question, we'll move on to technique:  do you draft your books longhand or compose at the keyboard?
I write the first draft on the computer. Then I start rewriting. Once I have a solid first draft, I print it out and do notes and edits in longhand on the printout. I see many different things on a hard copy than I do on a computer screen. If I have a longer scene to write or add, I write it out on the back of the pages, and type it in when I go back to the computer. 

NL: That's a lot like my process. I wonder if the younger generation is more comfortable doing the whole thing on screen. Do you use a detailed outline before you start writing, or... ?
I like to say I'm an "organic" writer. I do not outline, but I have thought a lot about characters, events, even specific scenes, before I start to write. I write what I've already imagined, and let that process bring me to what happens next. I often write the beginning, then the end, then the middle. Once in awhile I outline after I've written a first draft, as a way to see where I might have holes in my plot or scenes in the wrong order.

NL: That just goes to prove my feeling that everyone has a process that works for them! I can see where getting the beginning and end nailed down could make it easier to write the middle, though.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being a writer?
Doing interviews :-). Besides that, I love having a creative life, where I'm constantly surprised by what happens on the page. I also love working from home and getting to hang out with my animals all day. And my husband, my animals and my husband.

NL: Don't forget wearing sweats to work :) 
Writing mysteries can lead to looking up all sorts of odd things. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve had to research for one of your books?
This is such a great question. I look up a lot of basic murder mystery stuff - blood spatter patterns, poisons that don't leave traces, types of handguns. I've also looked up random things, like interior colors on a specific car, make and model. I recently researched if any FBI agents had gotten arrested for breaking the law, that was interesting, if not exactly weird. I will tell you, my favorite type of research is to interview experts. One of the coolest experiences I had with that was doing research on firefighting. I got to ride in a firetruck on a call - helmet, headset, the whole deal. Total, childhood dream. Plus, I got to hang out with cute fire fighters.  

NL: Well, that's a good advertisement for research! And my final question... If there’s a spider in the corner of the room, do you a) panic, b) have to drop everything until it is removed, or c) hope it’s planning on eating the more annoying bugs that get in? 
I'm going to go with d) I quickly get a cup, which I gently place over the spider. Then I slide a piece of paper under that and carry the spider outside before my dog, cat, or husband can come and kill it.

By the way, I love your blog - I looked through many of your backpacking photos. I backpacked and camped in a lot of those places, especially when I was younger. Makes me want to get back to Evolution Valley.
Thanks for having me!

Thanks for coming by, Elena, and for your kind words about the blog! I suspected you had some experience hiking and backpacking, by the way you treated Eddie's little adventure in the woods. Hope you get to head out and do some more! (And I love North Bend, too. My Seattle roots are showing!).

Check out some of the other stops on the tour and see what other bloggers are saying about the book!

April 1 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too! – REVIEW, GIVEAWAY
April 1 – Island Confidential – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
April 3 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
April 3 – Mysteries with Character – GUEST POST
April 4 – Books Direct – GUEST POST, GIVEAWAY
April 5 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – INTERVIEW
April 6 – Readeropolis – SPOTLIGHT
April 6 – Ruff Drafts – GUEST POST
April 7 – A Blue Million Books – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
April 8 – Cozy Up With Kathy – CHARACTER GUEST POST
April 11 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW, INTERVIEW
April 12 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW
April 12 – StoreyBook Reviews – GUEST POST
April 13 – Maureen’s Musings – REVIEW
April 14 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW, INTERVIEW
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FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Three Strikes, You're Dead through 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."   

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Cozy Mystery Review: The Advice Column Murders

Yup, it's another great cozy on tour!

Title: The Advice Column Murders
Author: Leslie Nagel
Publisher: Alibi, 2018.  250 pages
Source: Great Escapes Book Tours electronic ARC

Publisher's Summary:  
What’s the couple next door really hiding? Vintage fashionista and amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter finds out in this engrossing cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Book Club Murders.

In a small town like Oakwood, Ohio, everyone knows everyone else’s business—except for Charley Carpenter’s standoffish new neighbors, who tend to keep to themselves. But behind closed doors, Paxton Sharpe’s habit of screaming bloody murder at all hours of the day keeps Charley awake all night. Coupled with the stress of the increasingly delayed expansion of her shop, Old Hat Vintage Fashions, the insomnia is driving Charley crazy. Her only distraction? The local paper’s irreverent new advice column, “Ask Jackie.”

Jackie’s biting commentary usually leaves Charley and her employees rolling on the floor, but her latest column is no laughing matter. An oddly phrased query hinting at a child in peril immediately puts Charley on high alert. After arriving home to a bloodcurdling scream next door, she follows the noise into the basement and makes a grisly discovery: the body of Judith Sharpe’s adult daughter.

With Detective Marcus Trenault off in Chicago, Charley decides to take matters into her own hands. Convinced that the murder is connected to the desperate plea for help in “Ask Jackie,” she embarks on a twisted investigation that has her keeping up with the Sharpes—before a killer strikes again.

My Review: 
This was a sharp read, with a compelling mystery and a lot of interesting human dynamics. I admit that I was a little lost at times with all the characters, though--I felt that I might have done better to have read the first two books in the series first, or maybe I just needed a paper copy so I could flip back to see who people were.

Despite that flaw (or was the challenge due to my tired brain?), I was immediately grabbed by the story and read it through very quickly, in a hurry to see what came next. The hint that a child is in danger definitely adds to the sense of urgency in the book, and as each turn of events reveals more secrets of the Sharpe family it becomes hard to pick which person you prefer to be guilty. A police detective who is ripe for hating adds the frosting on the cake (I wouldn't have minded pinning the murder on him!), and gives the perfect excuse for Charley and her pals to investigate on their own.

The love interest progresses with some tension and conflict, but no unnecessary drama. The issues Charley has to work through are believable, though again I felt that perhaps I had missed something that I'd know if I'd read the other books. I thought the romance/mystery balance was about right (as regular readers will know, that means there is more mystery than romance, and as noted, no drama that could be fixed by simply being honest) (in the relationship, I mean. The mystery is riddled with people lying all over the place, which is good).

The final reveal was a surprise, and fairly dramatic, but did run to a little too much talk. And the author definitely withheld some of the steps along the way so that the reader could be surprised, which made me feel just a hair cheated. Still, it wasn't enough to turn me off, and I enjoyed the book enough to want to go back and start at the beginning of the series.

My Recommendation:

A good modern village cozy--a small town (or small city, really) mystery with lots of interconnected characters. I recommend this if you like your mysteries intricate and light to moderate on romance (the boyfriend is unquestionably a hunk. That is not a bad thing).

About The Author
Leslie Nagel is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, “The Book Club Murders”, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series. Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son, and daughter, hiking, tennis and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

Author Links
Website –
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Purchase Links
Amazon – B&N – Kobo –  Google Play

April 2 – The Pulp and Mystery Shelf – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
April 2 – Babs Book Bistro – SPOTLIGHT
April 3 – Varietats – REVIEW
April 4 – Ruff Drafts – GUEST POST
April 5 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW
April 6 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – REVIEW  
April 6 – Nadaness In Motion – REVIEW, GUEST POST
April 7 – Ms. Cat’s Honest World – REVIEW
April 8 – The Montana Bookaholic – SPOTLIGHT
April 9 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW
April 10 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
April 11 – A Blue Million Books – GUEST POST
April 12 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW
April 13 – Girl with Book Lungs – INTERVIEW 
April 14 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT
April 15 – Cozy Up With Kathy – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Advice Column Murders though 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." 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Photo Friday: Biking Maui

Leaving SF and all those clouds

To arrive in Maui with all those clouds...

Recently the Ninja Librarian and spouse traveled to Maui for a bit of a vacation. Being the people we are, it didn't involve a whole lot of lying around and relaxing. First thing we did on arriving was rent a pair of bikes for the next day, with a plan to ride around West Maui (58+ miles and 4400' of climbing, for those who want to know--actually a little easier than the ride we might have done had we been at home).

I'm going to give a shout-out to Krank Cycles of Makawao, because we didn't really get how the whole bike rental thing works, and showed up at 4:30 Saturday afternoon, figuring it would be easy to pick up a couple of bikes and be on our way. In fact, the place was busy, and the lone salesclerk/mechanic, Josh, ended up staying about an hour and a half past closing to ready a couple of bikes for us. So they get top ratings from us.

This guy was on the sidewalk in front of the bike shop. Definitely not an SF thing.

With bikes in hand, we were able to start about 7:30 the next morning from our hostel in Wialuku. The typical weather pattern gave us a good shower early in the morning, which stopped before we left.
Ready to start, atop a bike worth more than the whole trip cost. For three of us. Yow.
It sprinkled on us a bit early on the ride but the sun soon came out, though for the most part temperatures were mild. That was good, because I don't handle heat and humidity well at all.

The road the first several miles ran through what you might call the suburbs, and had a good shoulder but light traffic (at that hour on a Sunday morning, anyway). The straight road soon gave way to curves, then at 6 1/2 miles, the road became more or less a one-lane strip of pavement clinging to the side of the mountains high above the Pacific. With even less traffic, this was the marvelous part! None of the hills was steep enough or long enough to give us any trouble, and the rain had gone so we could see views of the coast, if not much of the mountains (they remained covered in clouds for most of our visit to the island).
Not California, either.
NE coast with a hint of Molokai in the distance.
No ride is complete without a stop for something we shouldn't be eating, so at 14 miles we stopped at Kahakuloa and bought banana bread at Lorraine's Shave Ice (we didn't have shave ice, since breakfast was too recent).
I guess it's a town.
The intrepid cyclists.

We ate the bread 6 miles on at the Nakalele Blowhole, which was the first place we suddenly saw lots of cars.

Nakalele Blowhole; like a geyser or a whale spouting, you never know just when it will perform.
People were just as fascinated by the nearby heart-shaped rock. Which isn't accurate, because the heart shape is the part that isn't rock.
The blowhole in fact represented the end of the really tranquil part of the ride, though the road remained narrow, winding, and not too heavily traveled until about mile 26, when we began to approach Kapalua. I have to say that the giant resorts there, seen after several hours in the jungle, looked like something dropped in from outer space. The people who stay there are not like us (for one thing, they are way more willing to spend money).

Though we were only about halfway, that point also marked the end of the really good riding. We turned south along Highway 30 and began sailing south, pushed by a brisk north wind. Even at that, it took far too long to reach Lahaina and find a place to get lunch. I was getting pretty cranky before we stopped! Salads and smoothies at the Bamboo Fresh Cafe, which was about pretty much a parody of itself with everything natural, organic, local, and careful to say so.
We had the Starburst, because it looked the least like anything we'd find at home.
After lunch, we found the wind a little less cooperative, and at times the sun a bit much. For just one short stretch we found ourselves climbing a hill in intense sun, with no breeze, and had a moment of doubt that we might be in trouble (and a reminder of what it might have been like if the weather hadn't been cool and rainy in places). Fortunately, the wind came up, and while it was no fun to fight that, it was better than cooking in the hot sun. Much of the way was right along the shore, where hundreds of people lined the beaches, baking themselves or playing in the mild waves (that stretch of the island is sheltered by Lanai and has little surf). It was something to look at while riding, and I like the ocean, so not bad. We didn't stop for photos, since the sun was high and the light awful.

At 51 miles, we turned north to cross the island back to Wailuku, and the wind's efforts to cool us were suddenly assisted by rain, which persisted for those last 7 miles (so absolutely no photos, as cameras were wrapped in plastic for protection). Drowned rats would be the apt description of us by the end, but unlike cycling at home in the rain, we were not at all cold. So we finished in style, dripping wet but happy. A shower, a drive to return the bikes and pick up dinner (and ice cream), and a night's sleep had us ready for the next adventure (which fortunately involved a lot of sitting in the car).

On the road back to the bike shop. Rain begets rainbows!

Stay tuned for more--rainforest explorations, waterfalls, and backpacking the volcano (I told you we don't relax on vacation).

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