Sunday, March 31, 2019

Middle Grade Audio Book: Almost Paradise, by Corabel Shofner

Title: Almost Paradise
Author: Corabel Shofner. Read by Eileen Stevens
Publication Info: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 288 pages in hardback. Audio edition by Blackstone Audio, 2017.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb: 
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor's home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.

Ruby believes that she's the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn't always mean going back to where you came from.

My Review:
Ruby Clyde is one of those characters who captures your heart from the opening lines. Her life has been challenging from the get-go, but waking up in the back seat of the car on her way to who knows where tells her things have just gotten worse. Building from event to event the author creates a story that shows the adults in Ruby Clyde’s life both failing spectacularly to do right by her—and going above and beyond to be sure she is okay.

After a lifetime of being the adult to her mother’s inability to function, Ruby Clyde meets up with something too big for her to handle. Her successes—rescuing Bunny, reaching out to her aunt—come from a combination of her own gumption and adult help, and don’t always work quite as planned. There is no illusion here: Ruby can’t go it alone. But neither can she sit back and do nothing in hopes that the adults will take care of matters.

The ending took me a bit by surprise, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. The book does leave the reader all too aware that the criminal justice system sometimes fails spectacularly, and sometimes drastic measures are necessary to fix it (more than that I won’t say, lest it be a spoiler).

The narrator is superb, capturing Ruby Clyde’s voice perfectly. As I listened I could see the whole thing, the result of a lovely combination of good writing and good reading.

My Recommendation:
I’d save this one for somewhat older kids, who are ready for the idea that “the system” is broken. Be prepared to discuss the ending with your young reader. I’ll say 10-12 years old for this, though aside from the difficult issues, the writing is quite accessible without talking down to the reader at all.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Almost Paradise 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, March 28, 2019

Photo Friday: Rees-Dart Track Part II

My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done! I’m posting photo reports on our major tramping trips. This is the second half of the Rees-Dart loop. For the first part, go here.

Rees-Dart Track, Days 3-5

We left you last week with a late-afternoon arrival at the Dart Hut. It is a fairly new and comfortable hut, which was nice, because we were to spend two nights there (as most trampers do). The purpose: an all-day side-trip to Cascade Saddle, with views of the Dart Glacier, and over the mountain range to Mt. Aspiring and surrounding peaks.

Knowing the hike would be long and hard, the senior members of our party got up at an ungodly hour in order to start hiking as soon as it was light (this being less than a month past mid-summer, light came very early indeed). Eldest Son decided to sleep an extra hour, fix his own breakfast, and catch up later.
Walking up the Dart River as the sun touches the high peaks.
My sister-in-law turned back when she’d gotten a good view and the track had deteriorated. The other three of us pushed on, the stunning views compensating for stretches of boulder fields or loose scree (glacial moraines).
My husband and his brother crossing one of the very few flat stretches of trail.
After a couple of hours walking up the valley, we approached the glacier, and saw the headwall we had to climb.
The saddle is just beyond the dip in the upper right of the photo. 
Even before we reached this point, Eldest Son caught up and zipped past us, having started two hours after we did.
Happily, there were lots of good excuses to stop as we climbed, with the views improving with every step.
The best views of the Dart Glacier were from below the summit, another excuse to stop.
The Dart Glacier. The lower part is covered in dirt.
After an eternity of climbing we can see the summit. How do we know it’s the top? Because Eldest Son is up there reading, of course!
Mt. Aspiring is leaning into the photo on the far left.
Of course, the hike down was just as long as the hike up, and the extremely steep descent wasn’t much fun! But we made it back in time for dinner, which is all that mattered.
Dart Glacier and alpine daisies
This is getting very long, but stick with me—Cascade Saddle was the high point of the trip, figuratively as well as literally. Our fourth day was overcast, and the hike down the valley felt a little dull by comparison with the previous day.
Dull is a matter of perspective. Still plenty of scenery!
We were glad the overcast wasn’t producing rain. Heavy rains could change little creek crossings into impassible barriers.
My crossing was less agile, but I don’t think I fell in that one.
The final hut was much less nice than the others, but the view from the windows was still fantastic.

The final day included a fun climb to bypass the lake formed in 2014 when a huge landslide blocked the river. Ghost trees in the lake slowed our photographers.
The lake is doomed to a short life—it is filling rapidly with glacial sediment, and the river is cutting through the damming slide to create a drain.

   The hike went on longer than we wanted, but we knew the end was approaching as the valey opened up and we got new views of new peaks.
Dart River
 One final meadow, a turn of the river, and we found the car park! Plenty of time for a bath in the river (yes, in that glacial run-off!) before the last members of the party made it out.

To our relief, there had been no rain, and the half-dozen or more creeks we had to cross to retrieve both cars and return to the pavement hadn’t risen. We didn’t need our emergency food, but enjoyed the snacks we’d left ourselves. 

And what hiking trip would be complete without the feast on returning to town?

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Writer’s Wednesday

My big news for this week is that I really will have a draft of Death By Library ready for beta-readers  within the next few days. I have two readers lined up (I hope you remember who you are!) but would love to have some more. Please contact me or leave a comment if you would like to read a draft form of the 4th book in the Pismawallops PTA mystery series. I will warn that this is definitely a working read; there is quite a bit of work to be done yet. I am sending it out sooner than I might ordinarily do largely because I’ll be on the road for the next two months, so unable to do much on it myself.

If I were really organized, I’d have a blurb ready to entice you to want to beta-read. I’ve been too busy trying to get the draft done, though, so I’ll just have to say...

JJ has a new job at the library, where things turn deadly when a local news gadfly goes a bit too far...

Of course, her personal life is as chaotic as ever, as she prepares for Thanksgiving with her mother in her way, and an unexpected visitor complicating matters, all of which leaves her far too little time to spend with Ron Karlson!

Work has begun on the cover, as well, and I’m excited about the possibilties there. Danielle English promises to make another perfect cover!

In other news, we are down to our last few days in Christchurch, NZ. We hit the road again April 1, and won’t really stop moving until... June? So I’m not expecting a lot to happen with my

writing in that time, though I’ll take a shot at some short stories.

The blog will also go back to occasional and random postings, once I run out of the reviews, photos, and comments and getting queued up now!

So be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts, so you won’t miss any pictures of cool places or news about the new book!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

#Fi50: Whenever

It’s #FictionIn50 time again!  Please consider sharing your own 50-word creations, and join the hop.

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 below, with the day you post your Fi50 story. You can also add a link on the #Fi50 page. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

The prompt for March is “Whenever”.  Big thanks to Jemima Pett for the 2019 prompts.

My March offering turned out to be a sort of a poem. Or a wish. Probably mostly a wish, and a sigh, and not very original because we poor humans seem to keep making the wish necessary.


Whenever there is hatred, let there be more love.
Whenever there is violence, let there be healing.

I look forward to the day when hatred and violence end 
And people love to accept one another as human
And beautiful
And worthwhile.
Whenever it may happen.

Maybe now?

I wish.

©️ Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019. Use only with permission. Link-backs appreciated.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Photo Friday: The Rees-Dart Track, Part I

Before I start with the photos, just a reminded that this week (or next) is #Fi50–-Fiction in 50 (words). The March prompt is “Whenever.” Have at it, wordies!

Also: I apologize for the wonky fonts. I can’t seem to clear them out and make it good, at least not with the iPad. Skip the text and enjoy the pictures :)
Background: My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done! I’m posting photo reports on our major tramping trips.

Rees-Dart, Part 1 (Days 1-2)

In two trips to New Zealand, I’ve tramped at least 10 different tracks, if you count all the trips of at least one night. Out of them all, I have to say that the Rees-Dart loop is my favorite. The scenery is spectacular pretty much every step of the way, and while the track is busy, it is difficult enough to keep it from being overwhelmed as the famous walks (the Routeburn, Milford Track, etc.) are.

The trip also requires a roughly 20-km car shuttle, up a pair of dirt roads with stream crossings, which aren’t always passable.
We got lucky. The roads were good enough for the passenger car that was half our shuttle operation, and the weather remained good for our entire trip (darned near unheard of!). We did take the precaution of leaving a day or two worth of food in the vehicle at the end point, just in case. If we were going to be stranded there, we were NOT going to be hungry!

Day One
We began the day by driving from Queenstown and setting up the shuttle, which means it was lunchtime before we ever started hiking. Oh, did I mention that pretty much every day’s hike was 10 miles or more? Still, we figured we could manage the tramps in the average times posted, and generally did pretty well at it.

Right off the bat we had to cross a stream, and were delighted to do it with dry feet. Little did we know that soon we’d be crossing more streams, ones we couldn’t leap (well, I couldn’t. Eldest Son managed some spectacular leaps), then slogging through boggy fields for miles. Feet did not stay dry. 
Unsuspecting trampers, heading down to the bogs.

Some streams did have bridges, often very bouncy swing bridges! This one had a load limit of one person.

The river bottom was often boggy, but the scenery pulled us forward.

Finally, about a half hour after I wanted my dinner, we reached the hut. One of the pleasures of NZ tramping is the fantastic hut system, and we really liked having the refuge from cold, wind, and sandflies. Sometimes it was chilly even indoors, however, and everyone had her own way of dealing with it.

The next day was one of the real toughies—up and over the Rees Saddle, a serious climb and an even longer descent on the other side.
Somewhere up in there we knew there was a saddle we had to cross.
When we came to the final climb, it was about as steep as we thought a “trail” could be (we learned differently on a later tramp).

And when we got to the top, Eldest Son was waiting patiently.

We finally started seeing the really big mountains, and the glaciers we’d come for. We were also painfully aware that our hut was down beyond the bottom of the photo at the confluence of those valleys. 
Crossing Snow Creek—one river we were awfully glad had a bridge!
Dart Hut
Once again, we found our hut just about the time we didn’t want to go another step. Camp never looked so good! 

We’d be at the Dart Hut for two nights, in order to day-hike Cascade Saddle—stay tuned for some big glaciers!

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Writer’s Wednesday #amwriting

Plenty of distractions still in my life, but I’m here to say I’m still writing. In fact, progress on Death By Library has been good. I’ve completed the first read-through and made extensive editorial notes, and am about halfway through the MS trying to apply those notes.

That’s pretty much all the writing—even this blog has fallen a bit by the wayside—but I did manage to submit one short story last week, so that my March submissions so far are... 1.

Oh—and I wrote an opening line for the WriteClub19 contest. So maybe I’ll even manage to enter that!

That’s about it for writer activities. We had a few nice outings in the last couple of weeks, but Friday’s horrible shooting in Christchurch rather put me off of everything for a few days. In the end, I found that the best thing I could do for my own sanity was to crawl inside my MS and stay there, though today it all came out in a horrible all-day headache.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes you can’t tell the shadows from reality.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

By the way, I love this cover:

Title: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co, 2015. 315 pages (hardback)
Publisher’s Blurb:
Callie’s younger brother Travis keeps bringing home strays. And Callie has her hands full keeping the animals—Travis included—away from her mother’s critical eye.

When a storm blows change into town in the form of a visiting veterinarian, Callie discovers a life and a vocation she desperately wants. But with societal expectations as they are, she will need all her wits and courage to realize her dreams.

Whether it’s wrangling a rogue armadillo or stray dog, a guileless younger brother or standoffish cousin, the trials and tribulations of Callie Vee will have readers cheering for this most endearing heroine.

My Review:
As a sequel to a Newbery nominee and winner of multiple awards (see review), this book had quite a bit to live up to. To my mind, it did it, though it left me looking for another sequel, which I do hope Jacqueline Kelly will write. The story continues to show Calpurnia as a girl who has a sharp intellect and the kind of curiousity that leads to either trouble or a good education.

Calpurnia manages to do both. Thanks to her grandfather, who is almost as marginalized in the family as Callie Vee is, she is getting a solid scientific education. But there’s a lot to overcome, even besides the tendecy of her younger brother to try to make pets of the most inappropriate animals. No one besides Grandfather takes Callie’s desire for an education seriously, and I kept getting frustrated on her behalf (not that she needed my help—Callie is perhaps unrealistically aware of the unfairness of the social limitations of her position).

It’s not that so much really happens in the story. It’s that every step of the way she is getting closer to needing to break out and insist on having her own way, and the process is fascinating to watch. I hope that there will be more books, and that Callie will get to go to school in defiance of everything that her parents assume about her future.

My Recommendation: 
This is a worthy sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and a good book to remind us that the “normal” thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do, and social expectations can be a prison.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Curious World 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."   

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Photo Friday: The Hollyford Track

Time for another photo essay! This time, we're heading out on the Hollyford Track, in the second week of January. 

Background: My husband and I and our 21-year-old son are spending several months traveling and tramping in New Zealand. We arrived on the South Island Dec. 28, 2018, and spent January hiking like crazy with Dave’s brother and his wife, before sending them home and settling into a home base in Christchurch, allowing me a bit more time between adventures to get some blogging and writing done!

The Hollyford is an interesting track, because you have two choices: you can do an out-and-back, including a 10-mile stretch along Lake McKerrow which is reported to be awful, with no views to redeem it, or you can get a flight in to Martin's Beach from Milford Sound and hike one way (there's another cheat, which we used, as you will see). Naturally, we chose the flight, and as we had two cars, we managed to set up a shuttle, leaving one at the Hollyford Trailhead and driving the other to Milford Sound

We had to make an early start to meet the pilot's schedule. We were on the tarmack on schedule, ready to board... that little thing? We thought it was tough getting five people, our packs and food into one car, but the plane looked even smaller! Fortunately, it was bigger than it looked, and we all fit, including the pilot.
Even at the airport, Mitre Peak is an ever-present feature.
The flight was fantastic, even if it was just "transport," not a "scenic flight." We flew the length of Milford Sound, then north along the coast several miles to Martin's Bay.

Once deposited--very smoothly--on the grass runway, we had to find the track (harder than you'd think) and walk about 3 miles to the Martin's Bay hut, in and out of beech forests.
Creek beds were the only open spaces, and we had to be glad it hadn't been raining the last couple of days.
The hut gave us access to the beach, where we spent the afternoon exploring quite happily.
Millions of shells! I resisted the urge to collect any, knowing I'd have to carry them.
One of the major attractions was the seal colony a half mile away. The rocks were crowded with seals, including many adorable babies.
All alone. The mothers leave the babies to go hunt, and with so many seals around, it seems to be a safe practice. We kept our distance, but occasionally drew their attention anyway.
The second day we had several miles to hike--but first cheat #2: a jet boat that took us up the 10-mile lake, plus a few miles up the river, saving us 2 full days of slogging. It was also both a scenic ride and a fun one, as the wind was brisk and by the upper end of the lake, we were slapping through a substantial chop while admiring the towering peaks.
Our driver, or maybe his assistant, who got out at the entrance to the river and settled in to fish for an hour or so.
For the next two days, we walked a wide and easy path up the Hollyford River, which at this point was a pretty flat stream. There was only one point where we had to climb a bluff to deal with a narrow part of the river valley. The forest is pure Fiordland--rain forest, beech trees, giant tree ferns, moss, and birds.*
I really like tree ferns :)
Big or little, ferns make fiddleheads.
We overnighted at the scenic Hidden Falls Hut, where there were only 3 other people (there had been a half a dozen besides us at Martin's Bay). 
Messing around outside requires either diligent slapping at sand flies, or a good application of DEET. The sand flies aren't a problem when hiking, but they love to hang around the huts!
After a long day hiking, we enjoyed sitting indoors, looking out at the view while reading and writing (thanks to my husband, Dave, for the photo of me, our son, and our sister-in-law [hiding under a hood]).

The hut sat in one of the few large clearings we saw on the hike, and we appreciated the views of the peaks that offered us.

We didn't hike long the next morning before finding the hidden falls that gave the hut their name. The creek makes a 90-degree turn at the bottom of the falls, and it took a bit of prying to get a view!
The author, enjoying the cool mist from the falls.
There were no creeks to ford on this tramp, but not every bridge gave the fullest sense of confidence. It seemed stable, but the angled support, not to mention the rocks on top of it, made me think the thing had seen some fierce high water.

By mid-day on the last day, I was looking at the end of the trail. Nice to see the cars and cross one last bridge to get to a clean shirt and some potato chips!
Swing bridges are a super-common thing around New Zealand. I have yet to encounter the minimalist version found on some less-developed tracks, the 3-wire bridge, which is just what it sounds like.
*About the birds of New Zealand. New Zealand birds evolved with no land-based predators--no land-based mammals, in fact. As a result, many are flightless, and nest on the ground, or in holes in trees. Unfortunately, when humans came, first the Maori brought rats, then the Europeans brought more rats, then rabbits, possums and various deer-like critters in order to have things to hunt. When the rabbits got out of control (duh!), against all advice, stoats, ferrets and weasels were imported. As a result, in the last hundred years many endemic species have gone extinct, and many more are endangered. The forests that were deafening to Captain Cook are nearly silent. Even the difference between our 1996 visit and now is noticeable.

The good news is that a nation-wide campaign to eradicate the predators is underway, and in some areas, including the Hollyford Valley, the progress is audible. Extensive trapping has reduced the number of predators enough to allow fantails, riflemen, tuis, and bell birds to come back to the the forests, though other, rarer birds are confined to certain off-shore islands that have no predators.We are grateful to those--including Air New Zealand--who come up with the funds and put in the hard work to make this happen.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cozy Mystery Review: Murder Between the Pages

Time for another review with Great Escapes Tours!

Murder Between the Pages (The Nina Foster Mystery Series)
Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
The Wild Rose Press, Inc. (Crimson Rose) (December 19, 2018)
Paperback: 264 pages
ISBN-10: 1509223673
ISBN-13: 978-1509223671
Digital Print Length: 190 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
It’s a sad day for librarian Nina Foster when she discovers her good friend, bookstore owner Wildeen Bergman, dead on her office floor. Worse yet, another friend, romance writer Zelma Duke, becomes the police’s prime suspect. Nina knows Wildeen had something on Zelma. Was it enough to warrant murder? Handsome Stephen Kraslow, owner of the local newspaper, joins forces with Nina to find out the truth. The quest takes them on a dangerous journey of twists and turns before they reach the final outcome.

My Review: 
This was a quick, fun beach read, perfect for my southern-hemisphere summer holiday. It starts off strong, catching the reader’s attention without being over-dramatic, though the line-up of suspects is a little obvious. I can forgive that in a book that makes it easy to zip right through in 2 days!

Nina, the main character, is the head librarian in her fictional town just north of Seattle, WA, and I loved the library details. She seems like a good boss, too, which I can appreciate. In general, the author does a great job of creating a sense of place, and I enjoyed trying to line up her fictional places with the real thing.

I was somewhat less impressed by some of the details of the writing. I felt at times like another edit was needed to make the prose a little smoother, the dialogue a little more real. These issues, however, never rose to the level of preventing me from enjoying the story. At times I thought the romance element was working too easily, and the author forgetting Nina’s issues, but she fixed that complaint within pages of me thinking it!

A few other things I greatly appreciated about the book were that Nina is given a compelling reason to do her sleuthing, and that she doesn’t withhold evidence from the police. She cooperates with the investigating officer as much as she can, and accepts that the flow of information is pretty much one-way. I really appreciate that, as I get twitchy about stories where the sleuth hides things from the cops, something that can get you in real trouble!

My Recommendation: 

While I wouldn’t call this one of the best I’ve read, I will say that it was no chore at all to read it, and I can recommend it for times when you just want an easy read.

About the Author:
Linda Hope Lee has written contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and mysteries. Other pursuits include watercolor painting, photography, collecting children’s books and anything to do with wire-haired fox terriers. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest.
Author Links
Twitter: @lindahopelee
Purchase Links
Amazon    B&N
There's a give-away, too! Enter the Rafflecopter to win a $10 Amazon gift card. But if you want a copy of the e-book, I have one to give away on my terms. My terms are: leave a comment, and I'll enter you in a random drawing for it unless you say you don't don't it.