Sunday, September 30, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Hattie Big Sky/Hattie Ever After

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Audio book reviews.

Title: Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After

Author: Kirby Larson. Read by Kristen Potter

Publication Info: 2007 and 2013 by Delacourt Press (hardback) and Listening Library (audio). 289 and 240 pages respectively.

Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurbs:
Hattie Big Sky:
After inheriting her uncle's homesteading claim in Montana, 16-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks travels from Iowa in 1917 to make a home for herself and encounters some unexpected problems related to the war being fought in Europe.

Hattie Ever After:
After leaving Uncle Chester's homestead claim, orphan Hattie Brooks throws a lasso around a new dream, even bigger than the Montana sky. She wants to be a reporter, knowing full well that a few pieces published in the Arlington News will not suffice. Real reporters must go to Grand Places, and do Grand Things, like Hattie's hero Nellie Bly. Another girl might be stymied by this, but Hattie has faced down a hungry wolf and stood up to a mob of angry men. Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper. A letter and love token from Uncle Chester's old flame in San Francisco fuels that desire and Hattie jumps at the opportunity to get there by working as a seamstress for a traveling acting troupe. This could be her chance to solve the mystery of her "scoundrel" uncle and, in the process, help her learn more about herself. But Hattie must first tell Charlie that she will not join him in Seattle. Even though her heart approves of Charlie's plan for their marriage, her mind fears that saying yes to him would be saying no to herself. Hattie holds her own in the big city, literally pitching her way to a byline, and a career that could be even bigger than Nellie Bly's. But can making headlines compensate for the pain of betrayal and lost love? Hattie must dig deep to find her own true place in the world. Kirby Larson once again creates a lovingly written novel about the remarkable and resilient young orphan, Hattie Inez Brooks.  

My Review:
By the age of the protagonist, these should be young adult novels, but they are rightly cataloged as middle grade. Hattie's struggles and the issues she faces are real and adult, but the author has written it in such a manner that the story will appeal to children, while still absorbing this undeniably non-juvenile reader.

I am of course fascinated by the whole process of settling the western US, and Hattie is the same age as my own grandmother, who also helped settle the west during that time of transition from the frontier to the 20th Century. Hattie has to face her life choices and struggles more or less alone, though I think that the important lesson she learns in each book (it takes a couple of times for her to get the lesson, and who among us hasn't had that problem, too?) is that she isn't alone, unless she chooses to be. In each book, she makes it through because others reach out to help her, and because eventually she reaches out to accept that help.

Since one of the big appeals is that Hattie is so strong-willed and independent, and determined to make a career for herself, I would love to see a 3rd book that shows how she manages her "work-life balance," as we say nowadays. Otherwise, we are left with the feeling that I so often get from books set in this era or earlier, a bit of disappointment that the female protagonist may be forced to compromise too much. So often the books fall on the side of love and marriage, as though somehow a year or so of independence was enough to last a lifetime. I'm in favor of more independent spinsters in books for girls, even though (or because?) I didn't choose that path!

I've wandered a bit from the point of the review, but suffice to say that I enjoyed the books a great deal, and checked out the second immediately on finishing the first, because I hadn't had enough of Hattie's humor, independence, and occasional blunders!

My Recommendation:
This is good for readers probably from about 8 up through adulthood. The view of the homesteading life is rich and realistic, and the intrusion of WWI into Hattie's dream adds an element that forces readers to think about prejudice and nationalism. The second book feels less weighty to me, but as mentioned, it touches on the very real issues of women's rights that were just coming into force after WWI.

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Flashback Friday: Dragonmistress

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

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

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

I dug into the archives and found this story from 2014. It started with a Chuck Wendig challenge, apparently (according to my notes) a given first line. It suggests a world to me that might be fun to enter more deeply.


She rode in on a dragon; or more accurately, clutched in its front claw.  It wasn’t exactly the entrance she’d planned, but it had turned out to be impossible to ride astride the dragon as Korrina believed the riders of old had done.  She achieved most of the desired effect anyway: the populace gaped in awe and wonder.

Of course, they could barely see beyond Skyborne, the dragon, and when they did spot the woman in the grip of the beast, many probably thought that Korrina was not Dragonmistress, but dragon dinner. 

Dragons were big.  Far bigger than any remembered or imagined.  So much dragon lore had been lost in the centuries since the last Dragonmistress rode a dragon through the skies over their village.  No one even knew what made a woman become a Dragonmistress—Korrina only knew that, from birth, she had been pulled to the land of the dragons, and at last she had gone.

Now she had returned, in the grip of an immense dragon.  It wasn’t just the size that had prevented mounting it, however.  The neck ridge was impossibly sharp, and spiked.  Skyborne had not known, any more than Korrina, how the Riders of old had done it.  They had tried no end of ideas, with no end of unhelpful suggestions from the younger dragons—there were none older—but ended up with Skyborne picking Korrina up in her huge claw and flying her back to the village.

It wasn’t ideal, but Korrina told herself that didn’t matter.  She was, at least, alive, and had succeeded in partnering a dragon, just the way the old songs told it.  Though the old songs made the creatures seem more war-like and less . . . prickly.  The songs had definitely said nothing about prickles.

For all that, here she came with a dragon to save the village.  It would have been easier had the villagers not screamed and fled as they approached.  Skyborne circled the village lazily a time or two before landing in the square.  People scattered in all directions as they came down, and did not approach even when Korrina hopped down from the claw and shook out her tunic, which had become a bit rumpled on the flight.

“You stay here,” she instructed the dragon unnecessarily.  There was no place for her to go.  “I’m going to gather the leaders and make a plan.”

She was also going to send old Tomin into the oldest archives in search of the answer to how a Dragonmistress properly rode a dragon, and what kind of saddle she used.

Skyborne lowered her huge head and licked Korrina’s face.  “Stop that!” the girl sputtered, half drowned.  A dragon had a big tongue.  A very big, very wet, tongue.

But I love you, Skyborne protested.  It is how a dragon shows love.

“We’ll have to work on that,” Korrina said.  “I could have drowned.”  But her mind had moved on, thinking about what they had seen from the air.  What was drawing ever nearer over the hills to the south.  The barbarian army.

If she and Skyborne did not find a way to defeat them, the village was doomed.  And a dragon might not be enough.  To Korrina’s surprise, she’d learned that dragons, beyond claws and teeth meant for hunting deer and sheep, were short on weaponry.  Especially, she had found the whole fire-breathing thing to be a myth.  The gods knew how that had begun, but it was a pity it wasn’t true.  They could have used some fire-breathing.

But one thing Skyborne had given to Korrina: the respect of the Elders.  They listened to her warning, and they listened to her plan.  She gave them no chance to do anything else.  Then she held her breath.

“We must do what?” protested the Headman, a supercilious man with too much nose.  “Will you not lead a flock of dragons to burn our enemies out of existence?”

“No.  I will not.”  Korrina didn’t explain that there were no other dragons old enough to come, or that none would come without riders.  Nor did she say that they didn’t breathe fire in any case.  She just said, “We’ll do it this way or not at all.  If you don’t want my help, and that of Skyborne, we can leave.”  That got their attention, and within an hour every able-bodied man or woman was at work, digging pits across the neck of open land that led to the village.

Korrina had Skyborne take her up again to view the situation, though old Tomin hadn’t yet found out how the Dragonmistresses of old had ridden.  The claw was not uncomfortable, though it put her too far from the dragon’s ear to make for easy conversation.  That is, Skyborne could not hear her, unless she shouted.  She heard the dragon inside her own head, no matter where they were.

By the end of the second day, the pits were dug, spiked, and covered.  And Tomin had found an ancient drawing of a rider perched high on the neck of a dragon.  It didn’t show exactly what the saddle was like, but Korrina knew it must be well-padded and thick, to conform to and smooth out the spikes.  She set the women to work making one.

By the fourth evening, the barbarians spread their camp across the open land before them, and the light of a hundred fires made the hills glow.  The villagers blessed the cliffs that surrounded them on three sides, but worried as fire after fire sprang to life.

Korrina refused to fly out with Skyborne that night to survey the camps.  They would do what they must, she said, when the time came.  Also, when she had a saddle, though she didn’t mention that.  It was nearly ready.

The village would be saved.

The Dragonmistress would see to that. Of course she would.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Writer's Wednedsday: Planning and Plotting

I've been playing with making Wednesday posts more about writing and being a writer, and posting fewer reviews (partly because I'm busy and can't read as many books, and partly to keep reminding myself and you that I'm a writer). I can't do updates on my progress every week, though, so I'm going to share thoughts on my writing process. I can't claim it's wisdom; I can't even claim any of it will be applicable to anyone but me. But maybe someone will get something useful out of it.

I'm currently in the process of planning my next mystery, and I've talked about that process before (see below). But something I'm thinking about this time around is the structure of the novel. My last book got a comment from an editor about there being too much that happens before the murder, and that got me thinking about the right place for a corpse. Of course, when I looked hard at the draft of that book (and got feedback from another editor), what was really wrong was that there was too much *unimportant* stuff before the murder--too much detail of every move JJ made. But the fact that the first reader argued that the corpse should show up in the first chapter gave me pause.

Of course, a quick look at the cozy mysteries I read tells me that the rule is nothing like that hard and fast. I've seen books that started with the body on page one, and others that take half a book to get there (I'll admit that those usually frustrate me a bit; it is supposed to be a mystery, after all; the sweet spot may lie somewhere in between, and I'll bet it's in a different place for every book).

There's another issue, too: we are expected to open with some event significant and exciting/dramatic enough to grab the reader and make them need to keep reading. A corpse is a pretty good way to do that. But lots of things are important to the main character, so maybe a broken coffee-maker spewing grounds all over the counter is a good dramatic opening, too.

As you can see, I'm rambling, trying to sort out some ideas and see what flies. Let me know what you think: must a cozy mystery open with a major dramatic event, and at what point should/must the corpse show?

I had originally though I'd write this about outlining/plotting, since that's what I'm doing right now. I was bemused to see that I have written posts on this subject 3 times. My approach has evolved.

The first time was in Feb. 2013.  This post refers to a novel called "Murder Stalks the PTA." That evolved into Death By Ice Cream, the first of the Pismawallops PTA novels. That evolution was one of the things that convinced me the process I discussed in this post needed work. Up to that point, I'd been an unthinking pantser, taking the nugget of an idea and just jumping in and writing.

The second time was in September that same year, and I was starting to develop the outlining approach that I have more or less stuck to since, having struggled with the revisions of that novel.

The third time was in October 2015, as I was preparing to write Death By Trombone. Reviewing that was good--it reminds me of some things I'll want to do on the way to getting ready to write Death By Library.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: First-Class Murder

Middle Grade Monday and Mystery Monday merge at last, with this 3rd installment in the fantastic Wells and Wong series! 
I don't think this was the cover that came with the kindle book, but I like this one better :)

Title: First Class Murder (Wells and Wong/Murder Most Unladylike #3)
Author: Robin Stevens
Publication Info: RHCP Digital, 2015 (Kindle); Hardback 2015 by Corgi Children's, 336 pages.
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it's clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen - almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery - and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

My Review:
I've been delighted with this series from the start, and can't imagine why it took me so long to get back for book #3. This was a worthy addition to the series, with the relationship between Daisy and Hazel developing nicely (I'm happy to see Hazel gaining self-confidence and starting to hold her own more with Daisy). Other characters were fun and interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the girls work through their reluctance to work with any other sleuths (as well as their well-founded contempt for the adult in charge of the investigation).

I continue to be amazed that Ms. Stevens can actually write murder mysteries for children, and makes it work. In many ways, it's not much different from cozy mysteries for any age--keep the focus on the mystery, not the murder, and use a touch of humor to avoid being weighed down by the corpse. One thing I realized with this was that, unlike with most cozy mysteries where I am unimpressed with the amateur sleuth's motives for sleuthing, with the girls no excuse is needed. They are kids, and having decided that they are detectives, they just don't need an excuse or permission to solve the crime. As they say, it's what they do.

The mystery is well put together, too. I ran through much the same set of suspects they did, discarding each in turn mostly because the girls settled on him/her too early in the book for that to be the whole story. I did get part of the answer right--the killer isn't a big surprise--but it took the girls to figure out how it was done. That was a clever bit of plotting (and detecting). 

The book is also, of course, a tribute to Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, and I can't help wondering if there's a nod to Lord Peter Wimsey in there, too! These will mean more to adults than to most juvenile readers, but readers of all ages can appreciate that Stevens is also dealing with issues of race, racism, and belonging.

My Recommendation:
This is a great series, for older children and for any lovers of cozy mysteries, and this is a good addition to the series. I do recommend reading in order--there are minor spoilers in this book for the preceding books. My only objection is that I'm pretty sure that vocabulary has been changed for the American edition. I really wish publishers wouldn't do that--let American kids learn that not everyone speaks exactly as they do! On the other hand, the author deals well with things that are both British and dated (the setting is the 1930s) by having Daisy provide a glossary at the end, so confused readers can look up unfamiliar words.
Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of First Class Murder from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#Fi50: Empty Nest

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

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words).

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 here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.

This month's prompt is Empty Nest
At this time, I'm only planning to continue the hop through the end of the year, as it doesn't seem to have gotten any momentum.  

Empty Nest

Joan watched the moving van leave, and walked through the house one last time. Her suitcase stood by the door. A plane ticket was tucked into her purse.

“It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime!” Her words echoed in the empty house. Empty as the heart missing the grown children.

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Photo Friday: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

I was going to have this post cover our visits to both the North and South Units of TRNP, but there turn out to be a lot of photos, so I'm breaking it in two.

Let's start with a quick overview of the park. Theodore Roosevelt NP is located in western North Dakota (you have no idea how tempted I was to write "southwestern North Dakota," which is actually kind of true). It is in 2 pieces, the imaginatively named South Unit and North Unit. Each contains a chunk of the Little Missouri River with bluffs overlooking same, and some badlands. The South Unit is somewhat larger, and includes both a looping scenic drive and a chunk of designated wilderness (the North Unit has an out-and-back scenic drive and aside from the corridor around that, is all wilderness). Highlights of the park are the terrain and the wildlife. The latter includes (in the South Unit, at least), bison, elk, deer, pronghorns, feral horses, and prairie dogs. We saw all but the elk.

Arriving in the park on the 27th of August we might have expected to be cooking in the sun, but in fact it was raining (as it had been most of the way from Seattle). We actually considered a motel room, but high prices for low value decided us to stick with camping. With my husband's National Parks "geezer pass" we paid $7/night for our campsites, with flush toilets but no showers or other amenities (standard national park campground). The rain let up enough for us to make dinner and to attend an interesting and educational "ranger talk" on managing the wildlife in the park. That was interesting, in light of the greeter who met us as we entered the park.
Wonder how much they pay him to hang out by the road and entertain the tourists?
Later, we visited the Painted Canyon Visitor's Center, where the staff mow the lawn by eating it, and wander about reminding modest sedans that they are very, very small. 
We were hiding behind a picnic table at this point.
The next morning saw us determined to hike, regardless of the weather. Besides, it wasn't raining, mostly, and wasn't cold even in the drizzle.
Pretty much the first thing we had to do was wade the river. It looked daunting, but proved to be less than knee deep, or a little over when I stepped in a bison track.
We were hiking the Big Plateau loop, and began by hiking south between the river and the bluffs. We also began by losing the trail somehow, and pushing through the soggy grasses, but it led us to some pretty spots.
Sunflowers and clay bluffs--pure midwestern beauty
When we found the trail again, it had a guardian. The Park seems to employ a lot of these single bulls. We gave him a wide berth and picked up the trail well beyond his post.
Rutting season was just ending, and the bulls were out on their own again. The cows stay in herds, so lone bison tend to be bulls. They are big, and can be cranky, so we kept at least the recommended 25 yards away.
Eventually the trail took us to the tops of the bluffs. In many places they have eroded out into badlands, made of clay soils that shift and erode too much to allow plants to get a toehold. When it rains, that clay turns to muck.
It got heavy enough on the boots to change my stride.
The trail came down here. The clay soil, when wet, is not only sticky but slicker than snot.
Proof that it got slick:
Did I also have mud on my backside? I'm not telling!
Hiked a long way across the aptly-named Big Plateau before descending to the river again. Saw pronghorns in the distance, and prairie dogs up close, as well as the ubiquitous buffalo droppings. I began to see how the settlers were able to use dried buffalo pats for fuel--they produce a lot of it.
The Big Plateau. Big: check. Flat: check. Yup, that's the Big Plateau!
Always alert, but not terribly scared of us.
Later, when we'd recovered from the hike (read: scraped the mud off ourselves and put our boots out to dry), we drove the scenic loop road.
I've seen more colorful soils--most of Utah, for example. But the vegetation made these badlands different and interesting.
A real treat on the drive was encountering a small bad of feral horses (what most of us grew up calling "wild horses". There have been no true wild horses in the Americas since before the last ice age. All our "wild horses" are descended from escaped or abandoned domesticated horses). These are some of the animals the park has to manage, to prevent overpopulation and overgrazing. Captured animals are adopted, and they are carefully monitoring for excessive in-breeding (also a problem in the bison herd).
No fierce stallion, but this beautiful mare seemed to be the leader.
We had trouble picking our place to enjoy the sunset. In the end, we managed to get great evening light at two spots.
The author likes a kitchen with a view.
Once we'd eaten and enjoyed the low light, we raced a few miles down the road to watch the sun set over the river.
Back in camp, we got an extra treat as the color that had been missing from the sky at the river finally showed up.
Cottonwood Campground. Despite the rain it was nearly full, with only walk-in (tent only) sites left when we got there the first night. At least that put us on the edge of the campground, with views.
Every beautiful evening deserves a good morning, as well. Dawn on the prairie is worth getting up for.
We saw this because it was so cold when we got up that we decided to drive a bit before making breakfast!
Despite spending two nights in the South Unit, it felt more like a scouting trip than an adequate visit. There were several great-looking hikes we didn't do, including to a collection of petrified wood on the outer corner of the park. The scenic loop would be great for biking as well, at least in the off season when there isn't too much traffic on it. We may never get back to this park, but if we do, we'll have some ideas what to visit.

Coming soon: biking and hiking in the North Unit.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Writer's Update

Another week has gone by! I am ever so gradually finding a routine (sort of), and getting back to writing. You may have noticed I managed a bit of flash fiction for Friday's post last week, a triumph in itself. Work on the next WEP story has begun as well, though I've mostly been making words without a clear idea where they are going. I'm waffling about a story for the new IWSG  anthology contest, since the theme is YA romance--not something I either read or write. I might experiment, but I'm putting some other things first.

Number one on the things I'm putting first is preparing to draft the Pismawallops PTA Mystery #4. Death By Library is up to several pages of notes and thoughts, and I'm aiming for a draft during November, taking advantage of the extra momentum provided by NaNo. I'm also prioritizing blog work (getting back to regular posting and visiting), and that WEP story.

A word on my process. When I'm planning a mystery, I start by asking myself the key questions: who's dead, why, how, by whom? I'm learning to also ask "who else might JJ think is guilty?" I keep asking until things start to work out in my head, and I can see the way forward (each question tends to lead to more questions, which is a great way to grow a story). When I drafted Death By Adverb, I didn't give that process enough time, and started writing before I was really ready. As a result, I made a mess. That took an extra half a year to straighten out, so I'd like to avoid a repeat. The thing is, there's no hurrying this process. I can speed it up some by making a point of sitting down regularly and going over what I have, tinkering, playing with new ideas. But I can't guarantee I'll be able to make any real progress on any given day, so I need to maximize the number of days I'm thinking between now and November 1!

Of course, a bit of rain would help. That would keep me from doing things like what we did Sunday and Monday:
Baldface Mountain Loop, White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
 Hiking out above the morning valley fog was a great feeling, though descending kind of hurt  :)
We hiked over that summit and down that ridge, for a total of 9.7 miles
Spent Sunday night in a campground nearby so we could make an early start, and were home by dinnertime Monday. I even managed a little work on my photos, if not my writing! Because yeah, the drive across the country means a lot of photos--I still have 650 even after a first cut, and need to reduce that by about 1/3 as I process the pictures. #keepingbusyinretirement :D

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Memoir Review: Lab Girl (audio book)


Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren (Audio read by the author)
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2016. Hardcover by Knopf, 2016 (290 pages)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl
is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

My Review:
I'm not always a fan of authors reading their own works. Most aren't professional readers, and all too often it shows. Hope Jahren isn't a professional reader, but she does a beautiful job with her book, and  by reading it herself she is able to bring a depth to the story that I don't think can be found any other way. Although I haven't read the print version of the book, I listened to this with my husband while we drove across the country. He did read the book last year, and I think was more impressed with the quality of the writing after hearing her read it (he had made some criticisms about her style that he recanted to a large extent). I recommend listening to the book, and possibly reading it as well (I will probably do both, as the ebook is sitting on my e-reader).

The book itself has a structure that was at first disconcerting. Chapters of natural history (primarily regarding the trees that are the main object of her study) alternate with the longer chapters that form the memoir. Once I figured out what was going on, though, I enjoyed the natural history for its own sake, as well as contemplating how it fit with the personal story she was telling. People with no interest in what makes trees tick might find it off-putting, but I think most readers can enjoy it. Jahren's training in writing academic prose is in most danger of showing up in these sections, but she controls it well.

The author's personal story is powerful and at times painful. Jahren's struggle for acceptance in the scientific and academic world is all too familiar, though as she went through graduate school in the 1990s one might have hoped matters had improved over the days when women had to sue to be given tenure. The story of her lab tech, who remains both a mystery and a fascinating character, as well as the author's best friend in a weird kind of way (I think that when she sees the pair of them as siblings--maybe twins--she might come the closest), is equally important and equally interesting. I never quite got a grip on Bill's character, and I think that Jahren never does, either--which is part of why she is writing the book.

There is another side to the book as well. Jahren suffered from bi-polar disorder, and for many years "suffered" is the right word. She was far older than she should have been before she was diagnosed correctly and got the help she needed. That, however, led to the most painful part of the story for me to listen to, which was the account of her pregnancy, which had to be endured without her medications--and she had to quit them cold turkey. The result was ugly, and culminated in a delivery, described with a little too much detail, that was all too much like my own first baby (though thank goodness I didn't share her other issues). I think both of us can only be grateful for modern obstetric science.

The book felt to me like it lost a little bit of it's direction when things finally began to go well for the author. The real story was how she (and Bill) got to that point, and that was a story worth contemplating.

My Recommendation:
Read it. If you have any interest in science, or in what it's like to be a woman in science, or for that matter in what makes oddball scientific characters tick, read it. Also, read it if you like trees. If possible, listen to the audio version.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

#Fi50 Headsup!

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

What is #Fi50? In the words of founder Bruce Gargoyle, "Fiction in 50: think of it as the anti-NaNoWriMo experience!" Pack a beginning, middle and end of story into 50 words or less (bonus points for hitting exactly 50 words).

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 here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.
At this time, I haven't been able to find a source for a free linky-list, so it's just comments. I recommend posting your basic blog link on my Fi50 page, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the next-to-last Sunday (or Saturday) of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

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

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

The September Prompt is:
Empty Nest 
Interpret it however you want--the more creative the better! I look forward to seeing your stories next week.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Flash—The Boyfriend of Truth

It's been a long time, so I thought I'd take an hour or so to give you some flash fiction. This one's more like half a flash, or maybe half-flashed, because it's just over 500 words, and I wrote it in a hurry. I went to the random title generators (about 4 of them) and collected a pretty good list of titles that might interest me at some point, but weren't right for a fast and barely-edited flash. This one did it. Enjoy the flash fiction, and enjoy your weekend!

The Boyfriend of Truth

It was all due to a simple misunderstanding. If my ears hadn’t been full of water from swimming, I’d have heard her name correctly, and I’d never have gone near her. 

But my ears were blocked, and when Hilary introduced us I thought the girl’s name was Ruth. That’s what I called her the whole time we were going out, and she never corrected me. Which, when I think about it, is kind of weird, because she wasn’t Ruth, which means sorrow or pity. She was Truth, which can be rather pitiless. 

I don’t mean that was just her name, which would have been an affliction to any girl but not the end of the world for her boyfriend. She WAS Truth, and once we got that straightened out, it explained a lot.

Unfortunately, by that time it was too late. I was fathoms deep, because she was beautiful. Come to think of it, that’s odd, too, because the truth may set you free, as they say, but it isn’t always pretty. It wasn’t in my case.

I fell in love hard and fast. When I told “Ruth” that I loved her and asked if she loved me, she said “no,” but I understood. I was moving too fast. I didn’t ask again. I realize now that things went on so long because I didn’t ask much of anything of her. I was too absorbed in my own feelings and desires, and that was what I talked about. If I’d asked her more about herself things mightn’t have gone on so long.

It was later, when I settled down a little and began to think, that I realized her reactions to me weren’t always what I’d hoped. I began to ask questions.

“Am I coming on too strong?”


“Do you want me to leave you alone?”


“Can I kiss you?”

“Yes.” But she didn’t kiss me back.

I didn’t get that one until Hilary pointed out, later, the difference between “can” and “may.” 

I’d been kissing her for a week when I asked the worst question. “Why won’t you let me do more than kiss you once in a while?”

“Because you do it so poorly, and you smell bad.”

“How can you say that?” That really hurt, because I’d spent a lot on a new cologne when I started seeing her. I wanted to impress her with my sophisticated taste, and she thought I stank?

“What do you mean, how can I say it? You asked a question. You get the true answer, because I am Truth.”

“Wait—what? I thought your name was Ruth. I’ve been calling you Ruth.”

“You can call me anything. I’ve told you what I am. I am Truth. If you want to hear only things you like, you should join all the other men hanging around Flattery.”

“Flattery?” I couldn’t remember any girl by that name. I looked where Truth was pointing, and saw a group of men clustered around a gorgeous blonde, whom I vaguely recognized from the same party where I met Truth. “I thought her name was Hattie.”

“You should get your hearing checked.”

It was the truth. Of course.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: Author’s update

The Ninja Librarian is back in civilization! Well, more or less. We have arrived in Maine, and I have a reliable internet connection, so I’m expecting to get back to regular posting soon. I haven’t been reading or writing much the last few weeks. That’s no surprise, since we were driving across the country, with various stops for hikes and bike rides. We did listen to a couple of good audio books (those are a life-saver when you are driving across eastern Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, though there are parts of all of those that are gorgeous).

During that time, of course, there wasn’t any writing going on, but I have been thinking about the new Pismawallops PTA book, which at this point has a title (Death By Library), a corpse, and a list of suspects. I’m ready to get serious about the plot and outline, and intend to do a draft during the NaNo frenzy in November.

Meanwhile, I’ll have more photos soon, with highlights from Teddy Roosevelt National Park, places along Lake Superior, and Acadia National Park. For now, here are just a few from my phone (I need to get the computer set up so I can download and edit the real photos).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has official greeters near the entrance. This one looked good, but he couldn't answer any of our questions.
Theodore Roosevelt NP
We carry our camp kit wherever we go, so we can fix dinner whenever it's convenient. You don't often get a kitchen stove with a view like this.
Roadside meal while waiting for the light to get perfect.
Somewhere out in eastern North Dakota we realized that the overcast wasn't solid. These are "cloud streets," properly called horizontal convective rolls. They form from just the right combination of convection and wind, but more than that I can't say :)

 On to Minnesota, where we encountered Paul Bunyan on the side of the road.
Paul appears to be soliciting donations.
On to Michigan and Lake Superior! I did take a dip in the lake, which wasn't a bad temperature close in to shore, though I gather the overall average temp is colder than Puget Sound, so I wouldn't want to swim far!
Sunset on the shore of the world's largest body of fresh water.
After some time in Algonquin Provencial Park and a night with friends in Montreal, we finally reached Maine, some 18 days after leaving our home in California for the last time.
Maine sunset
We spent our first weekend in Maine at Acadia National Park (and I hope that may be about the last time we go out on a weekend) to take in the Acadia Night Sky Festival #AcadiaNightSky. We mixed hiking, biking, and educational events, but the phone didn't go on that many of the outings.

Our first night there we saw an amazing live music/multi-media show with Dava Sobel and Galileo's Daughters, "Perpetual Motion: Galileo and his Revolutions."
#acadianightsky #galileosdaughters
We followed the performance with star viewing through telescopes (Acadia is celebrating being one of the few dark places on the eastern seaboard, so on a moonless night the viewing is very good, though I've seen much clearer and darker skies out west), scopes and assistance provided by about 30 amateur astronomers. I was delighted to find that someone had donated a good scope to the local high school, and a couple of enthusiastic and competent young women were running it. Seeing the rings of Saturn with my own eyes was pretty special.

Our second night we took a star-gazing cruise. That was kind of fun, and we learned some, but it wasn't as worthwhile as the previous night's combo, though the sunset was beautiful. We did a fantastic hike on Sunday morning, climbing the aptly named Precipice Trail, before heading back to our Maine home.
Ready to go on board. Music, lectures, and serious stars.
That's all I have for you today! I'd like to think I'll manage some very short fiction for Friday. We'll see!

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