Sunday, April 28, 2019

Book Review: Women Heroes of World War I


Title: Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics
Author: Katheryn J. Atwood
Publication Info: Chicago Review Press, 2014. 256 pages (hardcover)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
In time for the 2014 centennial of the start of the Great War, this book brings to life the brave and often surprising exploits of 16 fascinating women from around the world who served their countries at a time when most of them didn’t even have the right to vote.

Readers meet 17-year-old Frenchwoman Emilienne Moreau, who assisted the Allies as a guide and set up a first-aid post in her home to attend to the wounded; Russian peasant Maria Bochkareva, who joined the Imperial Russian Army by securing the personal permission of Tsar Nicholas II, was twice wounded in battle and decorated for bravery, and created and led the all-women combat unit the “Women’s Battalion of Death” on the Eastern Front; and American journalist Madeleine Zabriskie Doty, who risked her life to travel twice to Germany during the war in order to report back the truth, whatever the cost. These and other suspense-filled stories of brave girls and women are told through the use of engaging narrative, dialogue, direct quotes, and document and diary excerpts to lend authenticity and immediacy.

Introductory material opens each section to provide solid historical context, and each profile includes informative sidebars and “Learn More” lists of relevant books and websites, making this a fabulous resource for students, teachers, parents, libraries, and homeschoolers.
My Review:
When I picked this book out on the library web site, I didn't see anything to indicate it is a kids' book (though if I'd looked at the reviews I could have figured it out,  since the only review there is from the School Library Journal). As a result, I was frustrated by the lack of depth in the biographical sketches. After the first two or three I looked harder, realized it wasn't meant for adults, and began to consider the information in a more realistic light.

The sidebars and explanations included in the text (some of which had a kind of "duh" feeling for an adult reader) give a lot of good information and background for students, providing the context they need to understand the really remarkable accomplishments of some of the women. In a few cases, it felt like a bit of a stretch to make heroes out of the women, but the majority of them did, in fact, act with courage under fire.

In all, despite the thin information in some areas, I found the book a nice supplement to my other reading on the war as well as on women's history. Further, it offered information about the war in a number of eastern European countries, which I haven't heard much about.

My Recommendation:
In the fine print the book is listed as for grades 6 and up (that's age 11 up, roughly). I would agree with that. The writing is only slightly noticeably simplified for younger readers, and the subject matter is, after all war, so I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers than that.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Women Heroes of World War 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."  

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Flashback Friday!

Flashback Friday:

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

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

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

I found this one from 2014 that seemed appropriate, given that we are definitely on the road, and will be starting across the country about the time this posts up!

This story is a merging of two Chuck Wendig challenges. A couple of weeks ago he ran a random title challenge that sparked the story, and I finished it off this week and retitled it for the color title challenge.  The second title is from the original challenge.

Singing the Highway Blues

or, What the Highway Prefers

LeAnn clutched the wheel of her ’78 Buick, and kept her eyes on the road. It had been a long drive from Ely, and traffic was growing thicker. US 50 wasn’t the Loneliest Road in America at this end, and there were on-coming cars every minute or two. She pulled off the road at Grimes Point, where the petroglyphs were, just outside Fallon. She knew it was the last convenient bathroom before Donner Pass.

LeAnn didn’t like to stop at Donner Pass. The thought of what had happened there so long ago (even though it hadn’t happened at the Pass at all, but down below, closer to Truckee) haunted her, and she always thought the water in the drinking fountains tasted . . . odd. She didn’t want to wait that long anyway.

LeAnn didn’t even know why she was making this trip. The ancient Skylark didn’t need this kind of abuse, in spite of what her late husband had always said about needing to get out on the highway now and again to blow the carbon out of the cylinders, or something like that. But she’d felt compelled to come. Just to get into the car and go, maybe not stop until she could see the Pacific, except she needed a bathroom, and she had to buy gas.

Meanwhile, the sun beat down on the dark lava rocks that surrounded the restrooms. She thought about walking the trail and looking at the petroglyphs. She liked to wonder about the long-ago people who must have struggled to live in this place but still had time to chip their art into the stones. People who must have really wanted to make art, or leave a mark, or something, because this was not like spray-painting your initials on a wall. This took work. She started toward the trail, but a blast of heat hit her like a blow, and the road called.

The car had air conditioning, miraculously still functional.

Reluctantly, LeAnn got back behind the wheel and turned the key. The first blast of air was even hotter than that among the rocks, but in a minute it began to cool.

She needed gas. There was the new station by the freeway. She’d get a tankful there and it would take her almost to the coast. Surely that was why she’d come—to see the ocean again.

First she had to get through Fallon. It used to be a small town, LeAnn thought as she idled at a stoplight. It was well suited back then as anchor to one end of the Loneliest Road. But now—now the place was growing in all directions, but mostly it was growing a slick strip-mall chain-store look along the highway that she hated. She had the odd thought that it must have offended the highway, too.

At the second light, LeAnn glanced at the gas gauge. Dang, she’d not make it to the freeway. She turned on her blinker and pulled into a station on the next block, scanned her credit card, and filled the tank. It took so much gas to fill, and gas cost so much these days. She really shouldn’t be doing this. She tried to recall why she was. Something about the ocean? She liked the ocean.

Thinking about cool sea breezes and waves breaking on sandy beaches, LeAnn didn’t realize at first that she’d turned east, not west. When she noticed, she thought about turning around, but the urge to go west seemed to have faded. Besides, she was on the causeway and couldn’t do a U-turn there. She thought about home and kept driving.

The car and the road settled down together smoothly, and LeAnn relaxed. Maybe this was just what the highway wanted—a single car, driving the breadth of Nevada. The road was, after all, lonely. A little company was all it had needed.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Writer’s Wednesday

The big news: we are back in the USA, and on the same day as my family!

Since we have been on the road so much this month, I haven’t been posting regularly. Nor have I been writing much besides my journal. But I have been thinking about a couple of things. One is a short story that I will probably pop out in a week or two, and the other is what it is I need to do with Gorg the Troll. I was re-inspired by seeing quite a lot of rocks lately that are what I think of as Gorg and his kinfolk!

I think at some point I’ll run a contest for the best photo of a face in a rock—when I am ready to start promoting the Gorg book :)

A final note: I could still use another reader or two for the beta draft of Death By Library. I unfortunately forgot to mention this with my WEP post, but I’ll be sharing that need for the next severeal posts. Just drop me a note in the comments if you want to read for me, or send an email through the “Contact Me” page of this blog.

This one might not be Gorg so much as Gorg’s dog.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

#Fi50: Exactly

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.

This month’s prompt is Exactly.


What did we think we were doing, anyway? A few minutes of delusion, and you pay with your life. Simon convinced me we could do the climb and be back before the weather went bad. 

“I never would have thought it could change so fast,” he muttered.

Never thought. Exactly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

WEP: Jewel Box

Apologies for a lack of polish and all the usual info about the amazing WEP (Write, Edit, Publish) Challenge! And I’m on the road again, so I’ll be commenting as I can on the everyone else’s posts. If you are a participant, I’ll be around to see you before June :).  If you aren’t, consider joining in!

I originally mixed this up with last April’s challenge (the road less traveled), which made me want to do a photo essay. Even though that’s not what the challenge is, I could see the jewel box working for some of my photos, so here goes...

New Zealand itself is a jewel box of fantastic scenery, so I had to narrow this down. I decide to share photos of... some beautiful rocks I’ve found here! We have spent most of our time in the mountains, but we did get to the beach a few times. When we did, I wanted to pick up and take home every stone and shell I saw. Mostly I took photos and put them back. Here are some of the “jewels” I left behind.

“I left my heart in New Zealand”

 And a few shells, too.

Some of the best rocks you just can’t haul home.
Harris Lake/Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Photo Friday: Gillespie Pass/Siberia Valley

My husband and I 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 our 21-year-old son, Dave’s brother, and his wife. February and March we spend largely based in Christchurch with our son, and now we are on the road for a final 3 weeks to visit the North Island. But I’m still catching up with January. This was the last of our four major multi-night tramps in that month.

Gillespie Pass/Siberia Valley semi-loop

This was a rugged tramp with some seriously steep ups and downs, and some poor weather in the forecast. My sister-in-law wisely decided to sit this one out, but the other four of us headed out boldly. The trip began with a five-minute jet-boat ride across and up the river, thus saving us either a potentially dangerous ford or an extra 2 or 3 miles of hiking (from the nearest bridge).

It was interesting to see how they handled the jet boats. The river is too erratic to allow for any permanent dock, so they trailer the boats across the road, and back a mobile dock into the river!
Launching the dock. He then drove the boat around and moored it to the dock.
It was forecast to be a wet day, but the early morning had only a few sprinkles and things started off promisingly. The trail mostly followed the river, with an occasional detour through a meadow to cut off a curve. Later the detours were up and over steep bluffs.
Hopeful—or deluded—trampers hit the trail.
By late morning the rain had begun, and the ponchos came out. We were following the Young River upstream; at this point the river split (actually, of course, two branches came together). We had to cross one, but happily there was a bridge.
That strange blob isn’t an alien—it’s my son!
Lunch—the only time we got to sit down on the whole hike, since it was so wet out. Note the rather small size of dry area under the shelter!
The tank on the right is water collected from the roof, to provide drinking water. This is untreated but generally safe—we never bothered treating any of the water provided. 
The next morning the weather was better, and kept improving. We enjoyed the first part of the hike, up to the upper valley where we turned to go over the pass. The stream was a beauty.

Things got more interesting when we started up.
Yes, that’s the track, and yes, it really is that steep.
The view from the summit was stunning—both for the beauty and wildness of what we could see, and because I realized how far down we had to go—and the trail on that side was nearly as steep, and a lot longer.
The hut is around to the left on that lowest meadow. Ow ow ow.
The views were in all directions, though, and many of them I didn’t have to climb (or descend).

In spite of everything (including a gratuitous 500’ climbout of the upper valley adding to the total descent!) we made it to the Siberia Hut, which is very nice and fairly new, having burned in the last 10 years or so and been rebuilt.
My husband (right) and his brother relaxing in front of the famous view.
Next day, not having damaged our knees enough, we did a day-hike to Crucible Lake, which involved a similar sort of no-nonsense trail. First we had to cross the Siberia River. Brrr!
Happily only knee deep
Then we started up.
Tree roots make a good staircase. 
 It took another wet stream crossing, but we finally reached the lake. It is tucked so deeply into a south-facing (dark side) cirque that it never fully melts out.
My feet didn’t thaw, either.
Lunch always helps.

Fortunately, the final day was fairly easy. It began with some beautiful clouds.

Then it was farewell to the valley. Though it started with an easy valley walk, the trail did climb about 600’ before dropping to the Wilkins River. In 1996, my husband and I explored well up that river, then hiked 2 days to get out. This time we picked up a jet boat after lunch, at the point where we started our second day of walking down the river last time. As that hike ended in a nearly disasterous river crossing, we were glad to have the ride.
High winds added to the speed of the boat made it a *very* breezy ride!
This was our last major hike with the group, and we were delighted to be met by Carol, who had dinner for us in a warm, dry cabin out of the wind. We were glad not to be tenting as the wind was fierce all night!

Still lots more NZ adventures to come!

Text and photo copyright Rebecca M. Douglass. Please do not use without permission. Link-backs are always appreciated!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate

Another beautiful blue cover!

Title: Wishtree
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publication Info: Feiwel And Friends, 2017. 254 pages (hardback)
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood "wishtree"—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this "wishtree" watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

My Review: 
Wishtree was the selection for the March book of the month for the Great Middle Grade Reads group on Goodreads. I was a little hesitant as I started it, both because a few people who’d gotten an earlier start on it didn’t entirely like it, and because of the timing. It’s a book that deals, in part, with anti-Muslim hatred—and I started it just before the Friday attacks on the mosques in Christchurch (where we are spending February and March). I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about more hatred.

I should have known better. Katherine Applegate addresses some tough issues in her books (see, for example, The One and Only Ivan), but she does it in ways that lead the reader to hope and understanding, not sorrow and frustration. A rather whimsical tale of love and community, the book might be described as magical realism—the situation is all too real, but the sentient tree who narrates it provides a unique perspective.

While some readers disliked the use of a patently unrealistic element (talking tree) in an otherwise realistic story, I found that it was easy to engage Wordsworth’s “willing suspension of disbelief” and accept the insider-outsider perspective the tree provides, and I think children will generally be happy with it as well.

Applegate’s writing is smooth and easy to read, without talking down to the children. There are some good giggles provided by the critters that inhabit Red (the tree), which will appeal to readers of all ages.

My Recommendation:

I think this is a good book for a gentle introduction to the issues, as well as being an enjoyable story with a generally happy ending. It’s suitable for kids perhaps as young as 7, as the writing is simple and straight-forward without being simplistic (thus maintaining the appeal for older children).

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Wishtree 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."   

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

IWSG: On the Road Again

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.

 This month's fantastic co-hosts:  J.H. Moncrieff, Natalie Aguirre, Patsy Collins, and Chemist Ken! 
IWSG: On the Road Again

OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

Before I get to the IWSG question—which is kind of a fun one—let’s play catch-up on the news. First and beyond all expectations (though I hoped for it), I have beaten the draft of Death By Library into a shape I’m willing to share with beta readers.
If you’d like to give the book a read, let me know! It is Book 4 of the series, but will stand alone (and it’s always good to have readers who haven’t read the previous books). I really need at least 2 more readers, and the schedule is lax—I don’t even want to see it again until June!
Here’s the gist of the matter, since that effort hasn’t left me time to polish a blurb:

JJ has a new job at the library, and everything is looking peachy. But when things in the stacks turn deadly, she has to figure out who might have killed the local gadfly. It’s not like she has a lot of spare time. Her personal life just keeps getting more chaotic, and there’s never enough time to spend with her sweetheart, police chief Ron Karlson. That’s especially true with Thanksgiving on the horizon and her mother coming to visit!

This is unquestionably the fastest turn-around I’ve ever done from first draft to something I can share (of course, that’s because usually I alternate, and in January I edit the book drafted a full year earlier; this time I ploughed straight through). I like the continuity this provides, and may try to keep it up.

On other fronts: after 2 months of semi-settled life in Christchurch, NZ, we have gone back on the road/trail. In fact, this is posting automatically while we are kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park. I’ll respond to comments and make visits as soon as I can! This is kicking off 2 full months of travel—I don’t expect to be settled again until  June. The thought is kind of daunting—especially when I consider that we aren’t 100% sure how things will work when we finally get back to California.

Now for the question: if I could use a wish to help me write just one scene (of the book just finished, I’ll say), I’d pick the one where we unravel the mystery. That gave me trouble, and I’m hoping my beta-readers won’t tell me I failed :) That’s a good scene to pick anyway, since so much depends on that moment being convincing and reasonable, but not visible from a mile away.

How about you? Share your news, or tell me what part of a story is the hardest for you to write!