Friday, November 30, 2018

Flashback Friday--Pismawallops PTA Xmas Part II

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


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

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

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

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I posted the first half of this story a couple of weeks ago because I was using parts of it in the new Pismawallops PTA mystery.  You can check that out if you don't remember or didn't read it, because this is part two, and needs the first half to make sense. In a quick summary, Kitty and JJ have been setting up the PTA holiday bazaar, and someone or something keeps messing up the display of hot pads and scrubbies. Just before time to open, Kitty finds out just what it was, and proposes a most unlikely person to adopt the cat: Arne Hancock, the somewhat fussy art teacher whose table the kitten has been disturbing.

Pismawallops Christmas, Part II


I put my hands on my hips and glared at Kitty. The kitty in her arms poked its furry little face toward me and mewed.

“How on earth do you intend to persuade Arne Hancock to adopt that creature?”

“It’s a kitten, JJ, not a ‘creature.’ And I have about three minutes to come up with the answer to that,” she added.

“While we tidy his table,” I pointed out. “I think it will go a lot better if he doesn’t see what the kitten did to his rainbows.” I left her trying to hold the cat in one arm while she moved potholders around with her free hand. Trotting across the gym, I flipped the switch that started the music, then scurried back the other way to open the door. Three PTA parents stood outside with trays and platters of baked goods.

I took the goodies, directed the one donor who was willing to stay to help Kitty, and tried to match the desserts with Patty Reilly’s signs. Fortunately, Patty came in before I could make too much of a mess of things, and I went back to directing people and coping with emergencies.

I spotted Arne at the door, and, a quick glance showing me that Kitty and her helper weren’t done with the table, set myself to delay him a minute or two.

“Oh, Arne. Glad to see you.” I clutched his arm, turning him so his back was to the scurry around his table. “Do you have the pricing tags for the art table?”

He looked at me, confused by the question, as well he might be. “I’m in charge of the crafts table, Ms. MacGregor, not the art.” He looked at my hand on his arm, and I got the message. I let him go.

“I’m sorry. I just thought that since you’re the art teacher… ” My words trailed off as he turned and saw what Kitty and Amy were doing.

“Why are they messing up my display?”

“Um, they’re just straightening up a bit. There was, ah, a bit of an accident.”

“Again?” His lips narrowed. “I fail to see why my table should be the one cast into disarray by every clumsy lout,” he began, then stopped. “I’m sorry. I suppose one of you bumped it while trying to do too much. No harm done,” he said without conviction as he hurried away to see to his goods.

I watched Kitty turn her back and trot off as he approached, the kitten now snuggled inside her gaudy Santa snowman sweater. I cut across the room at an angle to intercept her.

“I don’t know why Arne is so fussed about his perfect arrangement of potholders,” I murmured when I caught her. “The shoppers will reduce it to chaos in minutes in any case.”

She laughed. “And he’ll spend the whole time trying to restore it to order.”

“What are you going to do with the furball there?” I asked. “Even if Arne does adopt it, you have to do something with it for the day.”

“I’m not sure. I only know I have to keep her out of sight, because if Kat and Sarah see her, I’ll have another mouth to feed at my house.”

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “I’m allergic.”

Kitty didn’t believe me, but I was gone before she could challenge that, off to calm another crisis. I called back over my shoulder, “take it to the teachers’ room and give it some milk!” I’d have to get along without my partner for a while.

The bazaar had opened while I was running around, and shoppers were swarming over the tables, especially the treats. I checked to make sure Amy was at the cashier’s table, and had everything she needed, then went to get the lids for the cups of coffee and hot cider we were selling.

After that, I spent my day dashing from table to table, giving people a break where needed, fetching whatever had been forgotten, and trying to keep a smile pasted on my face so I wouldn’t scare off the customers. Patty slipped me a broken cookie or two, and my coffee cup stayed filled, or I wouldn’t have made it.

Eventually, Arne Hancock waved me over. “I need a break,” he announced. “The crowd is getting rather large and loud and I must go somewhere quiet for a time.”

How on earth did this guy survive teaching high school kids? I hid my smile, and told him I could give him ten minutes.

“I’m going to the teachers’ room,” he said, and was off before I remembered.

Kitty had left the kitten sleeping in a box in the teachers’ room. I hoped Furball would keep quiet.

***
Arne didn’t return. I needed to leave the table and take care of business, like finding a bathroom to offload the four cups of coffee I’d drunk. Where was he?

I finally got someone over to take my place with the potholders, and found Kitty. “We need to find Arne. He went off to take his break and never came back.”

“Where’d he… oh, no!” Kitty said.

“Oh, yes. If that cat got out and made a mess in the teachers’ room, we will never hear the end of it.” We raced down the breezeway between the gym and the main school building, dreading what we might find. Opening the door of the teachers’ room, we came to a dead halt.

Arne sat on the floor, surrounded by wads of crumpled paper. As we watched, he tossed one to the kitten, who pounced on it and batted it back to him. The stressed-out art teacher had a blissful smile on his face as he reached out to stroke the soft kitten-fur.

When at last he noticed us, he looked up, unperturbed. “You’ll have to get on without me over there. Someone abandoned this poor animal, and I need to take care of her.” He frowned. “It’s not yours, is it?”

“No,” Kitty managed to answer. “I found her in the gym.”

“Excellent. Then I shall take her home and see that she is cared for properly.”

We closed the door before we turned to high five each other.

Mission accomplished: two fewer lonely creatures.


###

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Writer's Wednesday: How's Your NaNo?

It's November 28. The month is almost over, and I hope all of you have had a good one. If you've been participating in NaNoWriMo, whether as a "traditionalist" who's pounding out 50,000 words (or more), or a "rebel" who's been writing short stories or  revising something or trying to finish a book started years ago, here's to meeting your goals in the next two days!

And what about the Ninja Librarian? Well, in once sense, I met the goal: I've written nearly 60,000 words, and have a beginning, middle and end to the novel. But I don't have what I'd call a complete draft, and not just because it's about 20,000 words short of the target length. There are a lot of holes to fill in and red herrings to fry before I can call it a draft. So I've been working since Saturday to identify the missing bits and start filling them in, to give myself a complete draft to work with when I start editing in a few months.

So here's what kills me: I worked on this story. I worked hard before NaNo started, and I had an 8-page outline/story plan. And it wasn't enough. I still didn't know where to put the red herrings and how to make the reader hare off after the wrong suspects. I'm not even sure that can be done in advance, though my memory tells me I laid it out well for Death By Trombone and was able to cruise right through the draft. It's a safe bet my memory is playing me false, and this is the reality: first drafts are messy, and I will always write in too direct a line from the murder to the solution. I'll be working on fleshing it out for the next few weeks, before I leave it to simmer while I go hiking in New Zealand.

Here's to your writing going more smoothly than mine, and here's a toast to writing at all, whatever we have gotten done this month!

Monday, November 26, 2018

MIddle Grade Monday: Mandrake's Plot, by Helen Laycock

Oops! Missed my posting time again! Well, I can only promise... that it will get worse :D
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Title: Mandrake's Plot
Author: Helen Laycock
Publication Info: 2014, 198 pages.
Source: Downloaded on a "free day" for members of the GMGR Goodreads group

Publisher’s Blurb:
Evie and Mia meet on a train on their way to St. Agatha's Boarding School for Young Ladies. Dropped at a deserted station, with no one to meet them, they trek through the pelting rain and darkness for miles until they find a sign to St. Agatha's which points to an unlikely overgrown track leading up a mountain path.

A foreboding place, St. Agatha's School is surrounded by a sea of mist, and overlooks a loch. Coming face to face with the grotesque caretaker, Mandrake, is not the only thing to unsettle them.

What is the significance of the strange rings worn by Miss Blackthorn, the head teacher - and why does everyone behave so oddly?

The girls stumble across a forgotten burial chamber. Inside, lies the crumbling skeleton of Sister Beatrice, clutching a note which tells of a curse. Locked in the chamber as a punishment, the friends discover an old book within which is the antidote to the curse... but it is hidden in code.
 


My Review:
This book was the November group read for the Goodreads Great Middle Grade Reads group, and my thoughts on the book are undoubtedly influenced by the discussion on that forum. That said, I of course have my own thoughts on the book. 

The story is a quick and easy read, with a fairly simple straight-line plot that made me feel it was good for kids at the younger end of the middle grades. The girls run into all sorts of problems, but they are fairly easily resolved, and moments of scary peril pass quickly with no harm done. As a result, I felt a little unsatisfied with what was otherwise a fun atmospheric story. There were many characters (and the whole school) that I would have liked to see developed more. It's hard for me to know if the book needs to be more fleshed out, or if I was expecting too much from a story for younger readers than what I usually read.

In contrast to most of the book's simple and non-threatening story line, there was a sub-plot regarding the death of one girl's parents (and I can't remember which, because I had trouble telling the two apart and keeping straight which was which) that I found both disturbing and inadequately justified. That is the only part that would make me hesitate about giving this to a child of 8 or younger.
 
My Recommendation:
This might be a good Halloween read for a younger child who is not quite up for the truly scary, but can enjoy an evocative landscape. The setting and plot were interesting enough to make me want to take a look at other of the writer's books, as she has set them in various parts of the UK and clearly works hard to make the setting part of the story.

Full Disclosure: I picked up a copy of Mandrake's Plot during a free promotion, and received nothing further 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, November 24, 2018

#Fi50: My Family is so Weird

I failed to do the heads-up this month, but feel free to link your own Fi50 post at any time!
Fiction in 50 is a regular feature in the last week of every month and I invite any interested composers of mini-narrative to join in!


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

The rules for participation are simple:

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

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

3. Add the nifty little picture above to your post (credit for which goes entirely to ideflex over at acrossthebored.com) or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.
 



If you are wondering what it's like to write a 50-word story, do check out Jemima Pett's offering this month, where she includes some thoughts on the challenges the form presents!



This month's prompt was:
My family is so weird

I'm not sure this qualifies as a whole story, but here it is. 

My Family is So Weird

I can remember normal, though it won’t be  back. I sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving with my fellow refugees. We are all grateful to be alive.

We were in transit when things went sideways. Now, human, Arcturian, Sirian, Alpha Centaurian, and the thing from Betelgeuse system are my wonderfully weird family.


###

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.
Feel free to join in at any time, and link your story here!



 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Photo Friday: Minuteman National Historical Park

Last week I had a couple of days to kill in the Boston area, and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to check out Concord and the Minuteman National Historical Park. This had the advantage of also offering me a chance to check out the home--and grave--of Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), the author of Little Women and about 30 other books. Alcott's home isn't part of the park, but since it's right next door, it might as well be. I'll start with Louisa, for the literary side of this blog :)
At the far left, you can see the "Hillside Chapel," built by Bronson Alcott and used for one of his schools. I believe it is once again being used for educational programs.
The Alcott family, as many of my readers may know, did a lot of moving around when Louisa was young. They kept returning to the Concord area, however, and in 1858 moved into Orchard House (the tour guide there implied that Emerson may have bought the house for them; I suspect that may be true, as Bronson Alcott had never before managed to keep up payments on a home). This was their home until 1877, and it was here that Louisa wrote Little Women and most of her other books.

Alcott used Orchard House as the setting for the March family, though when the girls were the ages of her characters, they lived next door in the home Hawthorne later named "Wayside."
Wayside. Hawthorne built the lookout on top as his writer shed. I'm envious!
I presume that leaving a pen will bring one luck as a writer.
I enjoyed the tour of Orchard House very much, but as photos are not allowed inside I can't share the experience! The house is, however, furnished with authentic period furnishings, and the web site says that about 75% of them actually did belong to the family. Many of May Alcott's paintings and drawings hang on the walls, or were in fact painted or drawn right on the walls and window frames (the painted wood obviously made a better canvas than the plastered and papered walls, though I wonder how "Marmee" felt about that, especially in the early days).

I also took a look in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (yes, it really is!) and located the graves of Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau.
I was intrigued by the way in which Louisa's and Henry's graves have been turned into shrines, or maybe wishing wells for writers.
Henry David Thoreau's final resting place

Being in need of a good walk, I also visited the two units of the Minuteman National Historical Park, starting with the Old North Bridge, the site of the first shot fired by the colonials at the British troops (who, I will note, fired first). At the centennial of that battle, a statue of the idealized Minuteman was installed across the creek from a monument installed in 1836. It was for the 1837 dedication of that obelisk that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his "Concord Hymn," the opening lines of which many of us learned off by heart in school, and were inscribed on the base of the 1875 statue:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.
The minuteman.
In 1910, a plaque was also installed honoring the British soldiers who died there, with a pointed lines from a poem by James Russell Lowell, written in 1849. 
Lowell said of the two militia men who died here, "’Twas for the Future that they fought," in contrast to the redcoats who fought for the past.
 The bridge is a modern restoration, but built to match the pictures of the original. That "rude bridge," being made for immediate use, didn't last the ages.

The other section of the park, on the other side of town, is a narrow strip surrounding 5 miles of the "Battle Road," the 16 mile road by which the British retreated to Boston, harassed and attacked by the colonists the whole way. Had the rifles of the time not been so unwieldy to load and shoot, and so inaccurate, they would have probably all died.
The stone walls that lined the fields along the way provided excellent cover for the colonials, who practiced the guerilla warfare they'd learned from their battles with the Indians. The British, trained to march upright and in order, didn't make much use of them.
The Park Service has created a path that alternately follows the "Battle Road" (now mostly Rte 2A from Concord to Lexington) and the route through the fields and forests that the colonial militia took in their guerilla-style attacks. Periodic placards tell of the history of that day, which also represents an impressive day's hike: the British troops left Boston on the night of the 18th of April, marched through the night to arrive in Lexington at 5 a.m. and kill 8 militia men. The "shot heard round the world" was fired about 9:30 a.m., and the retreat began about 12:30 p.m. The surviving British (saved and reinforced by troops in Lexington) arrived back at Boston Harbor about dark, having hiked 16 miles in about 5 hours, while fighting a running battle.

Today, the path is disconcertingly peaceful, winding between fields and over wooded hills, past several historical homes and the Hartwell Tavern. It takes a great deal of imagination to hear the shots, shouts, and the cries of the mortally wounded. But many of the rock walls that line the path are the very walls behind which colonial soldiers took shelter to fire on the British, and several more gravestones remind us that men died there, 243 years ago.
The deceptive peace of the location is reflected in the still pools of water on a late-autumn afternoon.
 The Hartwell Tavern "witnessed" the fight, though there is no record (oddly, to my thinking) of soldiers from either side using it for shelter or refuge. It was lived in continuously from its construction in 1732 until the Park Service bought it in 1967. They restored it in large degree to the 1775 look (though retaining some early 19th-Century additions to the house), and in the summer season it's set up as a museum.
The figure on the sign makes me think of Chaucer on the road to Canterbury. I wonder if that's my medievalist mind or if the sign painter--whether historic or modern--had that historic journey in mind when painting it?
 Since it was the off-season, I could only peek through the windows.
The kitchen. Note the massive fireplace--which was all the "kitchen range" they had to work with.
In the end, I could only enjoy my beautiful day, and meditate on the march for their lives made by the British soldiers

Pine needles and leaves frozen into the surface of a vernal pool near the Hartwell Tavern.

Thanks for coming on an historical walk with me! And apologies to my British friends for all the musket balls. Rebellious teens can be a real pain :)

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Cozy Mystery Spotlight: Killalot

Note: This was meant to be a review, but I failed to get the book read (too busy with the own writing this month). But I love the series—I’ve read and reviewed at least two others in the series, and thought both were top-notch. So even though I only read the first few chapters so far, I’m willing to give this a recommendation.

http://www.escapewithdollycas.om


Killalot (An Ivy Meadows Mystery)  
Cozy Mystery 6th in Series  
Henery Press (November 15, 2018) Hardcover: 282 pages  
ISBN-10: 1635114330  
ISBN-13: 978-1635114331  
Paperback: 282 pages
ISBN-10: 1635114306  
ISBN-13: 978-1635114300  
Digital ASIN: B07H3CH4RH
 
 Publisher's Blurb:
A jouster, a playwright, and a detective walk into a faire…but it’s no joke when one ends up dead. Actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows is thrilled when she learns that the famous playwright behind Hello Dolly Madison is in Arizona. Not so much when she realizes he’s a suspect in the murder of a Renaissance faire jouster. As is her friend Riley. And about a thousand other people, all disguised in Renaissance costume during the fatal jousting match. When Ivy is hired to investigate the killing, she goes undercover as a Cockney belly dancer at the faire and finagles her way into the playwright’s Kennedy-inspired version of Camelot—as Marilyn Monroe, no less. Then, in the midst of her toughest case ever, Ivy has to solve another dilemma: Will she follow her lifelong dream of being an actor or settle down with the love of her life? The murder investigation, the play, and real life come together in a twist that begs the question: Is there a happily-ever-after for anyone?
Books in the Ivy Meadows Humorous Mystery Series: MACDEATH (#1) THE SOUND OF MURDER (#2) OLIVER TWISTED (#3) IVY GET YOUR GUN (#4) The Phantom of Oz (#5) KILLALOT (#6)

About the Author


Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

 Author Links  
Website & Blog: www.cindybrownwriter.com  
Twitter handle: @friendlybrown  
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cindy-Brown-author/288210721356802?ref=hl

 Purchase Links
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Monday, November 19, 2018

Picture Book Review: Pea Soup Disaster, by Elaine Kaye

I don't review picture books very often, but I won this in a giveaway, and it's awfully cute, so here it is.
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Title: Pea Soup Disaster: A Gregory Green Adventure
Author: Elaine Kaye
Publication Info: 2018; 25 pages
Source: I won this in a giveaway

Publisher’s Blurb:
Gregory Green loves his mom’s pea soup, but when he eats it at school, all of his friends make fun of how it looks. He doesn’t think it looks like bugs, and it tastes good! Then at recess, his friends run from him, screaming, “He’s a monster!” Gregory doesn’t know why his friends are being mean until he sees his skin is green. The teasing gets worse until an unlikely friend comes to the rescue—his teddy bear, Sammy. Sammy usually only comes to life for Gregory and his family, but Sammy has an important lesson to teach Gregory and his classmates.

**For kids ages 5-8**

My Review:
This is a simple, cute story to help children understand how much bullying hurts--and how important it is to stand up to it. All readers will understand that Gregory's little problem (so what's a bit of turning green among friends?) isn't his fault, and that his friends and classmates are mean to make fun. Many will also see the hurt done by making fun of what he eats for lunch, and may be able to draw some connections to their own behaviors.
The lesson here isn't subtle, but it is presented in a fun way, with the odd curse of the Greens, and the absurdity of everyone's calm acceptance of Gregory's color change. I also loved that the arrival of a walking and talking teddy bear didn't bother the kids at all. I guess they all knew that beloved bears and stuffies can come to their rescue!

The writing is very simple, and at times feels a little unpolished. But the story really works, and the plain narrative is right for the story, so I didn't feel that was a significant issue. I doubt any children will notice!

My Recommendation:
I think this is perfect for the target age range, kids from 5 to 8. They are old enough to understand the message and, sadly, old enough to need it, either for comfort from their own experiences as the victims of bullying and mockery, or as a reminder why they shouldn't bully.

Full Disclosure: I won a copy of Pea Soup Disaster in a giveaway, with no expectations or obligations attached for a positive or any other kind of review. The opinions expressed in this review 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, November 16, 2018

Friday Flash: Pismawallops PTA Christmas revisited

I'm neck deep in NaNo, so no new stories right now. But this one I wrote last year is now finding its way into the new novel (bits and pieces of it, anyway). So this week and next I'll share the two-part story. Sorry about making a jump on the season, but you know those holiday bazaars have to be done early!

A Pismawallops PTA Christmas

“JJ, we need another table for the baked goods!”

“JJ, the tree won’t light up!”

“JJ, the—”

I tuned out the last voice. Arne Hancock always had a crisis for me to fix. I dispatched two kids to get the table Patty Reilly needed for the brownies, and went to help Kitty Padgett with the lights that didn’t light. Kitty’s the PTA president, so she was getting her own share of people demanding instant fixes.

“It’s plugged in?” I asked.

Kitty gave that the eye-roll it deserved, so I added, “In an outlet that actually works?” The Pismawallops High gym needed some upgrades, no question.

“I tried three outlets,” Kitty said. “It’s got to be a burned out bulb.”

I eyed the antique string of lights on our decidedly fake tree. There was no good way to find the defective bulb, unless the principal had someone in detention he really wanted to punish. Each bulb would have to be replaced, one at a time, and the string tested after each one. I made the sort of executive decision expected of a VP, even of a small-town PTA.

“Toss ’em. Buy a new set at McMullens when we get done here, and we can string them in the morning.”

Kitty nodded agreement and we moved on to the next set of crises. Arne was at my shoulder, so this time I had to pay attention.

“Someone has been playing with the hot pads and scrubbers. I left them perfectly arranged, and now look at them!”

I could see his point. The colorful clothes and crocheted plastic pot scrubbers were jumbled in disarray on the table. I thought it looked fine—a cheerful chaos—but Arne liked order.

“I suppose someone must have bumped the table or something,” I said. “It won’t take long to fix it. Get some of the kids to help.”

He pursed his lips and regarded the teens who swarmed over the gym, hanging decorations and creating a joyful chaos. At length he selected Kat and Brian—Kitty’s daughter and my son—and set them to work lining up the handicrafts.

By bedtime, the gym looked pretty good. Swags of greenery covered at least some of the cinder-block walls, and the tables lining those walls were heaped with seasonal goods. Our Holiday Bazaar was as ready as it would ever be, aside from the lights. Arne’s table was a perfect rainbow again, and Patty had the food tables organized with pricing signs to show were everything would go when the goodies rolled in in the morning. A fair number of sealed containers were already in place.

I checked to make sure none of the containers could be opened or nibbled through. We’d been known to have a pest or two in the school. Convinced everything was tight, I doused the lights, the last one out, and locked up.

#

I was the first one back at the gym Saturday morning, with Kitty right behind me hauling new strings of colorful lights. It was two hours until the holiday bazaar opened its doors, and we had some work to do.

I hit the lights, and scanned the room. Everything looked like we’d left it…until my eye reached the hot pads. Arne’s fastidious rainbow had been scrambled into a chaotic swirl once again.

“Oh, no! Arne’s going to have a coronary!”

Kitty, coming up behind me, said, “What?”

I pointed.

“We’ll have to get it back in order, fast.”

“But how could it have happened?” I wanted to know. “I was the last one out. It was fine then, and I locked the door. No one’s been here.” Except someone obviously had been there.

Carlos, the custodian and our PTA secretary, had keys, but he swore he hadn’t been near the place, and I believed him. That left burglars, who I assumed would at least have stolen some brownies, not just messed up one table; students, who would have no way to get in; or ghosts.

“Poltergeist. That has to be it,” I told Kitty.

“The Ghost of Christmas Presents?” she suggested.

“Let’s get these lights strung, then we can do something about the table.”

I checked the other tables, but as far as I could see, no one had touched anything else. I did eye one well-sealed pan of brownies, which seemed to have some scratches on the cover, but nothing had gotten in. We shared a brownie before we started, just to be sure they were okay.

We strung the tree in record time. Expecting volunteers and food donations to begin arriving at any moment, I crossed the room to turn on the music, though I’d been enjoying the silence. Kitty headed for the hot pads.

I was about to flip the switch when Kitty gasped.

“What?” I turned around, not sure what to expect. That talk of ghosts had been a joke, but maybe we were a little jumpy, or just punchy.

Kitty was crouching by the table, hand extended. She made a little kissing noise and said, “Kitty!”

“Why are you calling yourself?” Now I wondered if there’d been something odd in those brownies we’d tested.

“Not me—kitty as in cat.”

“Kat? What’s she doing under there?” And Kat couldn’t hide in that heap of hot pads.

“Not Kat. Cat.”

I still wasn’t getting it, and became convinced the brownies had been laced with something. That would be a fiasco, we’d have to…

“C-A-T. There’s a cat in here!” Kitty was laughing, at the same time as she tried to keep still and not scare the animal.

A little, scared, scrawny kitten crawled out from under the hot pads, where it had obviously made a warm nest for the night. Kitty scooped it up, cuddling it. “Here’s our Christmas ghost!”

“A Christmas present for Arne, for sure,” I laughed. “But how on earth did it get in here?”

“Santa?” Kitty guessed.

“And what do we do with it?”

“Her,” Kitty corrected, having taken a look. “She’s for Arne, of course.”

“You don’t think he’s going to adopt a cat, do you?” I looked at the ruin of his perfect rainbow. “Fussy, tidy people do not like kittens.”

Kitty smiled. “Wait and see.”
###
 

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Writer's Update: How's Your NaNo?

It's almost the halfway point in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I'm well past the 25,000-word midpoint of the standard NaNo target. I'm hoping to have 34,000 or even 35,000 by the time you are reading this, and to hit the actual midpoint of my draft by the end of tomorrow (the middle of the month). Death By Library is growing fast, and I'm having fun tormenting JJ, especially with teen drama.

I think I hit a good balance between planning and letting things develop as they will, and I'm having fun with my characters. I know I'm writing too much daily detail, but I've made my peace with that: I seem to need to write those details to get to what's important. I just have to be ready to deal with the mess of deleting them when the time comes (I think that also means I should probably aim for closer to 90K words than 80K for a full draft, but I'll just see how the story arcs).

November can be a difficult month for the NaNo project (I have wondered if that's why they chose it: if you can write every day through the holiday season, you can do it absolutely any time). But for me this year, it's actually working well. The New England weather is closing in, with more rain and cold weather, curbing our tendency to travel. And we are far from family, so there won't be an extended Thanksgiving gathering to distract me (I'm not totally happy about that, but if we have to be away from the family, I'm willing to find the good in it).

The main thing my writing is missing this month is regular contact with my California writing pals. I keep feeling like I want to bounce ideas off someone, to have them check me if I'm going the wrong way. I'm not sure if anyone can do that, but it's what I want, and Lisa's usually my favorite victim. I'll just have to do it later, when there's time to slow down and take a look at what I've done.

How about you? If you are doing NaNo, are you hanging on? Writing every day, or nearly so? Or are you up to something else this month?

And which do you prefer: Thanksgiving dinner, or the leftovers?


LATE ADDITION: If you are having trouble with comment and use Safari, please read Jemima Pett's post on how to fix your privacy settings! It works for Blogger though I am still having trouble with her blog (which is Word Press based).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cozy Mystery Review &Tour: Thread Herrings, by Lea Wait


 

http://www.escapewithdollycas.com 


Title: Thread Herrings
Author: Lea Wait
Cozy Mystery, 7th in Series 
Kensington (October 30, 2018) Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages  
ISBN-10: 149671671X 
ISBN-13: 978-1496716712  
Digital ASIN: B079KSZ92D
 
Publisher's Blurb: 
Angie's first auction may turn out to be her last—when she bids on a coat of arms that someone would literally kill to possess . . .

Tagging along to an estate sale with her fellow Needlepointer, antiques shop owner Sarah Byrne, Angie Curtis impulsively bids on a tattered embroidery of a coat of arms. When she gets her prize back home to Haven Harbor, she discovers a document from 1757 behind the framed needlework—a claim for a child from a foundling hospital. Intrigued, Angie is determined to find the common thread between the child and the coat of arms.

Accepting her reporter friend Clem Walker's invitation to talk about her find on the local TV news, Angie makes an appeal to anyone who might have information. Instead, both women receive death threats. When Clem is found shot to death in a parking lot, Angie fears her own life may be in jeopardy. She has to unravel this historical mystery—or she may be the next one going, going . . . gone . . .

My Review: 
I was attracted to this mystery because it's set in Maine, where we are currently living. I was entertained to find the characters visiting our town in the first chapter, and dining at an establishment just down the street! (Note: this is a small town in Maine. *Everything* is just down the street). As usual with themed cozies, I wasn't much interested in the featured craft (needlepoint), but that doesn't really matter. No knowledge of needlepoint is needed to enjoy this mystery.

As a story, this is engaging, though I definitely felt the lack of back-story as I was jumping into the series at #7. Still, I cared about the characters and wanted to know what happens to them (and the author's carefully dropped hints about past adventures made me want to go back and start from the beginning). I very much enjoyed the setting, including the comments about how little is open in town during the winter--we have already encountered that reality on some of our excursions out and about! 

I felt that the mystery was only adequately developed and challenging. I could guess fairly early who might have done the crime, in part because there were so few suspects. What I did appreciate was the far more realistic than usual degree to which Angie cooperates with the police. She's trying to figure things out, but she doesn't go off on a lone-wolf search or deliberately put herself in danger. Kudos to the author for finding a good balance on the amateur detective vs. police scale! 

One grammatical niggle annoyed me, and I can't decide if it's an editorial failure or a deliberate move to make the first person narrator sound more natural. She consistently uses "I" instead of "me" where it should be the other way ("He'll meet Sarah and I at the shop..."), an error that I admit is common but which bothers me. Aside from that, the book is well-edited, and well-written.

My Recommendation:
This is a good read for a winter's day by the fire, I think--engaging enough to keep you turning the pages, and light enough to combat the winter darkness. I think it would be even better to start at the beginning of the series and see how Angie got to this point!

About the Author
Lea Wait lives on the coast of Maine. A fourth-generation antique dealer and the author of the Agatha-nominated Antique Print Mystery series, she loves all things antiques and Maine. She also writes historical novels for young people set in (where else?) nineteenth-century Maine. Visit her at leawait.com.
Follow Lea on Facebook and GoodReads Purchase Links - Amazon - B&N - Kobo

 And... we have a giveaway!
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Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of  Thread Herrings as part of a Great Escapes free blog tour, in exchange for my honest review, not for a positive review. I also purchased a copy when I had issues with my ereader. 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, November 9, 2018

Photo Friday: Baldface Mountain, New Hampshire

As we move into November, it's hard to cast my mind back to mid-September, when it was still quite warm, and the trees were mostly still green. It's nice to think about being warm, anyway, as I'm trying now to hone my cycling wardrobe to allow for at least short rides in temperatures down into the 30s!

We spent the night of Sept. 14 at the Basin Pond campground in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in order to make a very early start on the Bald Mountain Loop, since all the accounts we'd read suggested it was a long and strenuous--and the weather forecast said there'd be rain before the end of the afternoon.

We drove past the trailhead on our way to camp Sunday afternoon, and the cars were parked for quite a ways either side of the lot. But at 7 on Monday morning, we had the place to ourselves.

The sun was up--somewhere. We started our hike under a low layer of clouds.
It took a little looking to find the trail, but we eventually got started in the right direction.

Just over an hour of hiking took us up past the South Baldface hut, and at last to some open views. That also marked the beginning of "the slabs," which reports warned were a fun scramble.
We had hoped to climb above the clouds--and we did.
Turning around revealed the cloud shield below us.
Looking more or less towards Maine, which isn't far off--the hike is very near the border.
I wouldn't much want to do this in the rain, let alone the snow, but on a sunny dry day, the slabs were a lot of fun.
The route was well marked, for the most part, with blue blazes painted on rocks and trees.
As we neared the top, a long line of truly massive cairns over the bald shoulder of the mountain suggested the possibility of white-out conditions where you might need a giant guidepost every 50 feet.
Still going up.
Nearly three hours in, we hit the first, and highest, summit, South Baldface. We had a modest drop and climb to North Baldface, then a descending traverse to the point, behind and to the left of my husband, where we would descend the Bicknell Ridge trail back toward our starting point.
Still enjoying being above the clouds.
We took time for lunch--and to dry our sweat-soaked shirts--atop North Baldface. Even as we enjoyed the sun and food, we kept an eye on the gathering clouds, which never stopped swirling around the summit of Mt. Washington, a ridge to our west.
I don't have a lot to say about the descent. As advertised, it was steep and rough, and exactly the sort of conditions to make my knees very unhappy. But we enjoyed what we saw along the way.
Lichen growing in rings on the rock. In some places, the "colonies" of lichen had covered a dozen square feet or more in these geometric patterns.
This one looked to me like a miniature zen garden.
Leaves had begun turning here and there, and were still a novelty.
I hadn't known that turning color could be so... splotchy.

Halfway down we stopped to enjoy the Eagle Creek Cascades, in a green world.

By the time we reached the Emerald Pool, less than a mile from the trailhead, we'd been on the go for over 7 hours. It took some strength of will to detour a quarter mile or so each way, but it was worth it, for a pool that really was as emerald green as I could imagine.
If anything, it was greener than this.

In case anyone's reading this with a thought to doing the hike (in another season--I wouldn't recommend it at this time of year, though some do manage winter ascents), our stats were about 7.5 hours for the loop, which is about 9 3/4 miles. We are reasonably strong, but not so young any more, and as you can see, easily distracted by photography, so we are on the slower end of times reported by other hikers. On our day, we saw only one, possibly two other parties doing the full loop, and they might have caught us had we not taken the less-used option on the descent (Bicknell Ridge, rather than Eagle Crag and the north side of the loop). We saw two other parties near the end doing short hikes; obviously a weekday after Labor Day turns this often-crowded hike into a chance for some solitude!

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