Sunday, December 16, 2018

#Fi50 heads up!

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 or create your own Fi50 meme pic….
and 4. Link back here so others can jump on the mini-fic bandwagon.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 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 December Prompt is:
The Worst Gift

Note: I had been planning to let this drop entirely after the new year, but since Jemima Pett provided a list of prompts, I will keep it going, though possibly in a rather automated way (I will not be available in January, at least, to respond actively).

Here are the 2019 prompts, courtesy Jemima:

January - Icy Fingers
Feb - No more hearts and flowers
March - Whenever
April - Exactly
May - Sweet home, Alabama
June - Countdown
July - Taking it to the …. (Complete with your own word)
August - One drop too many
September - Taking turns
October - Wolf at the door
November - Forging ahead
December - Behind the curtain 

Friday, December 14, 2018

WEP: Ribbons and Candles


Time for the December WEP/IWSG 'writing together' competition.
 The challenge is Ribbons and Candles. 
Perfect for the festival/festive season. Perfect also for flashes not themed around festivities or holidays. All prompts here work year-round and are pan-global. Genre, themes, settings, mood, no bar. Only the word count counts. And you could ignore that too and come in with a photo-essay or art, minimal words required.

A party. A power-cut. Gift-giving. Hair braids. Ribbons of roads, rivers, paper, love, hope. Candles in the room. Candles in the church. Candles in the wind. And any combo thereof. It could go in a thousand different directions, choose yours and step outside the square!

The WEP admins are asking that we post as soon as we can, so there's more time to read the stories before the holidays hit. So I've managed to get mine up a few days early, anyway. And, since this is clearly the perfect time for a Christmas/winter theme story, I've written a fantasy set in no particular season, with no reference to holidays at all :D

998 words
Critique guidelines: FCA

In the Cave

“We have to go in!” Marcus turned away from his best friends to kick at a rock, so they wouldn’t see the desperation in his face.

“Why?” Jeremy asked. He was the tallest of the three, freckled and red-haired where the others were dark.

“Because that’s where his parents went, you dolt.” Beth liked Jeremy, but that didn’t earn him a pass for being stupid. “Come on.” She tossed her braids over her shoulders, settled her bow and quiver on her back, and prepared to lead the way into the cave.

“Wait, Beth.” Marcus held her back pulling three candles from his belt pouch. “Not much point in going in if we can’t see anything.” He managed a grin that might have convinced Beth he wasn’t worried—if she’d been blind and deaf.

Jeremy was easier to fool. “Oh, good. Say, this will be an adventure.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “The gods protect me from idiot boys.” Marcus and Jeremy made the sign, seconding her prayer before realizing what she’d said.

“Look, I know it’s dangerous. You don’t have to come,” Marcus began.

“Not you, idiot. We have to do this, I know that. But Jeremy—could you for one minute stop thinking about adventures? You know what an adventure is? It’s a plan that’s gone wrong.”

While Beth spoke, Marcus struck flint to steel and lit a candle. Handing it to Beth, he lit the other two from it. Then he stowed the flint and steel back in his pouch, along with three spare candles.

He had come prepared. Beth decided this wasn’t the time to tell him she could conjure a light far faster than he could light a candle, and brighter, though it tired her. She’d save that for an emergency.

“Let’s go, then.” Marcus picked up his spear. “Do you have your sling, Jeremy?”

The taller boy searched his clothes before pulling the sling from the back of his belt. “I’m good,” he announced, stowing it in his belt pouch. “Let’s go!”

Beth looked at Marcus. “Lead on. It’s your quest.” Naming it for a quest seemed to give Marcus courage. He took a deep breath and ducked his head to enter the cave. The entrance wasn’t low enough that he needed to duck, but doing so made him feel larger—and braver.

Last to enter, Beth unwrapped the ribbon on one of her braids, cut off a piece, and tied it tightly again. Then she hung the loose piece from a root at the top of the entrance.

“Just in case,” she said when she saw the boys watching. She didn’t say in case of what, or how it would help.

Marcus stood in the center of the cavern. They couldn’t see to the edges, but moving currents of air suggested several passages opened off the room. He tilted his head back and sniffed, turning and snuffing until his tension melted into triumph. “This way!”

Jeremy hesitated. “Did you just… smell your way?”

Marcus shrugged. “Sure. I can smell Mother and Father down that way.”

Jeremy’s regret was visible even by candle light. “I don’t have the magical gift, you know.”

Beth had to cheer him up. “You have a sling and the skill to use it. If the ogres who took Marcus’s parents know what’s good for them, they’ll turn them loose right now!”

Marcus almost smiled. “Right! Let’s go find them and let the ogres know what they’re up against!”

He led them down the passage, stumbling some in the flickering candle-light. Still Beth didn’t make a magical light. It was enough to have Marcus using his gift to follow the way. She had a feeling that too much magic was a bad idea. Ogres were said to be sensitive to it. She trailed behind the boys, slicing bits off her hair ribbons and sticking them up wherever she could.

Marcus stopped. “They’re close. I can smell them,” he whispered.

Beth strung her bow. Jeremy pulled out his sling and picked a few good stones out of the wall of the cave. Marcus looked sick.

“Dead quiet now,” Beth whispered, then wished she’d not said that. Marcus looked sicker.

Approaching a corner, they heard noises and saw a light. Peering around the edge of an opening, they saw Marcus’s mother and father, backs against the wall, throwing globs of light at a group of angry-looking ogres. As if there were any other kind, Beth thought before she heard the man shout, “More light, Lena!”

“I—I don’t think I can, Owen,” Lena gasped.

“Light or fire or be eaten for dinner,” he answered, voice ragged.

Marcus jabbed the end of his spear into his candle and held it aloft. “Burn, you rotten ogres!” His feeble flame distracted only a few of the monsters.

Jeremy’s stones and Beth’s arrows did more, but they had too few. The ogres kept coming.

Beth took a deep breath, held up the raveled ends of her ribbons, and willed the light into being.

The ribbon shone with an intense, white light. Marcus’s parents broke into a run as the ogres cowered away from the lights. Reaching the children, they swept Marcus and Jeremy along with them.

“Hurry, before they recover!” Lena cried, stumbling in her exhaustion. She and Owen leaned on Marcus as they staggered up the passage.

Beth’s bits of ribbon glowed and burned on the walls, lighting their way, and building a wall of light behind them.

Beth turned and followed the others, her knees wobbly. Jeremy looked back, saw her falter, and turned to grab her hand. “Don’t stop now!”

 “I don’t know how long I can—” she gasped.

Jeremy crouched. “On my back,” he ordered.

Moments later they burst from the cave into the afternoon sunlight.

Beth could feel the last of her magic draining from her as she set the light as firmly as she could into the ribbon at the entrance. That would hold them a good long time.

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

Check out all the stories--they usually make for some great reading!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Non-fiction Review: The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald 

Title: The Egg and I
Author: Betty MacDonald. Read by Heather Henderson
Publication Info: Audio book 2015 by Post Hypnotic Press, Inc. Originally published 1945
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher’s Blurb:
When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall—through chaos and catastrophe—this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

An immortal, hilarious and heartwarming classic about working a chicken farm in the Northwest, a part of which first appeared in a condensed serialization in the Atlantic monthly.

My Review:
Following their time on the chicken farm, Betty MacDonald and her family moved to Vashon Island, in Washington state. I therefore knew about her most of my life, being a Vashon kid myself (my mother in fact went to school with Betty's kids). I never much cared for her Mrs. Pigglewiggle books, but I admit to a deep and lasting fondness for Nancy and Plum, despite the fact that it's really a rather dreadful book from a literary perspective. For one reason and another, though, I'd never read The Egg and I. When I came across it while looking for something light to listen to, I decided it was time.
MacDonald's book reads as a deliberately, and at times desperately, light-hearted account of a difficult time. On the one hand, I was interested in her upbringing and the ways in which it didn't prepare her for the frontier life (she seems often rather incapable in ways that astonish me). On the other, I was at times aggravated by her exaggerated tone, as I felt that her humor sometimes degenerated into something remarkably close to whining. After all, she wasn't the only woman working on a hard-scrabble farm in the 1920s, and not everything that terrified her in the "wilderness" was all that big a deal. It felt to me like she was trying too hard both to be funny and to prove that the farm was an exceptional undertaking.
I won't go into her rather racist comments on the local Native Americans near the farm. For that, I can only say that she was a product of her time, and probably couldn't help it. Her commentary on the other local farmers was both more entertaining and less justifiable. That is, her humor sometimes slipped over the edge to become not a gentle laugh along with people, but a jabbing laugh at them (granted, some of her neighbors might have deserved it, or maybe they were just low-hanging fruit). I wonder if any of those people would have recognized themselves in her descriptions.
All in all, it was an entertaining read (listen), but, knowing some of the ways she played fast and loose with reality in her book about life on Vashon (Onions in the Stew), I won't take this as a terribly accurate historical rendering of life in Chimacum in the 20s. 
The narrator is good, and there is an introduction written by the author's daughters that might be as interesting as the book itself.

My Recommendation:
Entertaining, and well-read, but it only gets a so-so recommendation from me. I did appreciate her evocation of the PNW winters, which are dark and wet and wet and dark, and are most of why I don't live there any more.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Egg and I 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."  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Publication Info: Henry Holt & Co., 2009. 344 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.
My Review:
I liked this book a lot. The title character is someone I can relate to--more interested in science and exploring her world than in learning the domestic arts and how to become a lady (I would like to point out to her that since we all have to eat, learning to cook is a good idea. I would like to point out to her mother that males have to eat, too, and her sons should learn to cook as well, but--that was 1899).
The book is half standard coming-of-age (ouch. I mis-typed that as "coming-of-cage," which is particularly resonant of the life Callie's mother has planned for her) and half a book about the fascination of science. What Callie and her grandfather learn and discover is less important than the search and discovery themselves. Callie learns about the scientific method, but also about the importance of being careful and accurate, including when thinking about your own feelings.

The author has a good touch--serious where it needs to be, light overall (love the accounts of the piano recital and the county fair!). The setting and characters are well-rendered, and the editing is good.
I picked this up because it was mentioned in a discussion of middle-grade books where girls are doing science. I think it's a great read for encouraging girls, as well as just a good fun read. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and learning more about what Callie does, as this one does leave us a bit up in the air in some ways.
My Recommendation:
Check it out.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate 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."  

Friday, December 7, 2018

Photo Friday: Gulf Hagas

I have fallen far behind in my photo reports (and then I forgot to make this live, so it's late, too), so this week we are going way back to the end of September to give you all a blast of fall color from what I gather is an iconic Maine hike (okay, we'd never heard of it before, but it really is spectacular, if a bit remote). The roads to the area are private, and the trails are maintained by the Maine Appalachian Mountain Club. We accessed the gorge from the AMC's lodge at Little Lyford Pond (which was lovely).

Although we thought that calling the gorge the "Grand Canyon of the East" was a bit over the top, there is no denying that the 3 miles of gorge, with walls up to about 130' high and a series of non-trivial waterfalls was worth the price of admission. (Note: there is a literal price of admission, as the roads that lead to the trails are privately owned and maintained. Our entrance was covered in the cost of our stay at the lodge. The figurative "price of admission" was a 10-mile hike).

The afternoon before our Gulf Hagas hike we climbed a hill near the lodge and got a sense of the landscape. But we couldn't tell at all that just off to the right of this photo there's a good hole in a earth.
Our first big view of fall color
Next day we started right after breakfast, aware that daylight was limited and the weather might be changeable. Before we even reached the creek, we were amazed at the way the trees change color.
We reached the river/creek before it entered the gorge.
The mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees made for some striking contrasts.
At the first falls we were unimpressed with the 'gorge' but enjoyed the craggy rocks about the the creek. Evidence on the rocks also told us that at times the water ran a great deal higher and faster than the autumn flow.
Stair Falls (Note: I've done my best to match the photos with the named falls. I'm probably not always right).
The falls grew more impressive, the gorge deeper and less accessible as we followed the trail downstream. On a hot day, it would be worthwhile climbing down there and taking a dip. Temps while we were there were not cold, but not "let's swim," either.
Billings Falls
Buttermilk Falls
Between falls, there were still places with pools and calm water.
The dark line on the rocks shows that the water is usually higher.
The pock-marked rock indicates how powerful, and probably debris-laden, the flow can be.
Not all the beauty was in the river.

Yellow leaves and black water
Finally left the gorge--I think we could have gone on, but were already looking at 10+ miles round trip. The stream that we followed up from the gorge had it's own falls.
The return to camp on a higher trail, away from the river, was less scenic, but much easier hiking. The gorge trail is rough, crossed with endless roots and rocks, and at times offers dizzying views off the cliff. It was a relief to get on a wide, relatively smooth trail and pound out the miles back to the lodge, where dinner awaited us. We don't usually indulge in that kind of luxury (indoor beds and meals laid on--even our sack lunches)--but I have to say it was a treat that night!
Just in case we didn't know we'd been hiking somewhere special.

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

IWSG: Writing space

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to the IWSG page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure your blog is listed there. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
This month's amazing co-hosts are  J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey!
And this month's optional IWSG Question: 
 What are five objects we'd find in your writing space? 
I'm going to run with this question as a break from talking about my NaNo project. It's kind of fun to think about, because with us having sold our home and gone walkabout, my space is down to the minimum. I'm looking at my desk and I see: a small pile of paper and notebooks relating to my novel or writing, and my laptop. That's it, for actual writing stuff, though much of the time there's also a coffee cup (which is, as you know, essential writing gear).
Because I need to do some housekeeping, there is also a pair of insulated biking gloves, a Nook, and two books I need to take to the library, or down the street to the Little Free Library. Before we moved, I also had a shelf or two of reference books within reach, and when we settle again, most of those will come back.
So the 5 objects I need are:
1. Computer and mouse (I'll count those as one)
2. My computer glasses
3. Notes and notebooks
4. Pen
5. Coffee
Anything else is a distraction, which isn't to say it's not there :)
Do you keep anything in your writing space that's not really necessary, but makes you feel good? A mascot? Something to fiddle with when your brain isn't working? Let me know in the comments, or link to your own IWSG post (or both). 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Blast & Review: Tandem Demise

Tandem Demise: A Cycle Path Mystery by Duffy Brown

About the Book

Tandem Demise: A Cycle Path Mystery  
Cozy Mystery 3rd in Series
Independently Published (October 28, 2018)  
Paperback: 298 pages  
ISBN-10: 1729374786
ISBN-13: 978-1729374788  
Kindle ASIN: B07JRB373X

Publisher's Blurb:
Smugglers on the hunt, a police chief on the run, lost loot and a dead wedding planner have the Mackinac Island regulars riding in circles.

After solving two murders, bike shop owner Evie Bloomfield thought life on Mackinac Island would settle into boredom until she finds out Nate Sutter, island police chief and once-upon-a-time under cover cop is on the run. Some badass guys from Nate’s Detroit days think he stole money from them in a champagne smuggling operation and now they’re headed to the island to get their loot. Evie is determined to help Nate because he’s a good cop, Nate is determined to keep interfering Evie and island locals out of harms way, and the crooks are determined to get their money. To add to the island’s problems there’s a dead guy on the dock and the new wedding planner is more interested in playing bedroom bingo than ordering bridal bouquets.

With the help of Fiona, Evie’s BFF and local newspaper editor, Evie is determined to prove Nate innocent, figure out how champagne smuggling, bodies on the dock and a bad wedding planner are tied together and not wind up taking a long walk off a short pier herself.

My Review:
I only signed up for a spotlight, but since I finished the book, I'll throw in my review as a bonus.

This was a really fast and fun read! I loved the special island setting, and Evie's struggles with her inability to ride a bike on an island with no cars kept me smiling (even though really, how hard can it be? asks the woman who rides Centuries). The love interest was at a nice level for a cozy--definitely central, but not dominating and with no graphic sex. Subordinate characters were well developed, and Bridezilla was worth the price of admission all on her own.

The mystery itself is good. I was sure I had it all figured out at least twice, and only once had the slightest moment of suspicion about the actual culprit, though I did have a little trouble following the big reveal (maybe because I didn't sleep well and was reading it in a somewhat dim state). Honestly, the only issue I had with the book was that it needed more careful proof-reading. This is something that unquestionably bugs me more than about 99% of other people out there, but there were enough issues to make me a bit annoyed, so draw your own conclusions.

My Recommendation:
"Rollicking" is the word that keeps coming to mind for me, and that's exactly the sort of story you get. If you like a fun, fast-paced but not at all dark story, this is a good choice. I will take a look at the others in the series, but I didn't feel that I was missing out by not having read the--the book stands alone very well.

About the Author

Duffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She is a National Bestselling author and now conjures up who-done-it stories of her very own. She has two series the Consignment Shop Mysteries set in Savannah along with rescue pup Bruce Willis and the Cycle Path Mysteries set on Mackinac Island with judgmental cats Cleveland and Bambino.

Author Links:  
Website -  
Facebook -  
Purchase Link - Amazon

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