Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Writer's Ramblings

I'm happy to report today that I'm making good progress on the revisions for Death By Library, the 4th book in my Pismawallops PTA mystery series. I had encouraging feedback from my editor (as in, no major plot issues!), and very helpful input from several beta readers on making the writing tighter and keeping the reader engaged in the story. So, after spending several weeks avoiding looking at the feedback I'd begged for, I finally got started and now am enjoying the process of polishing the words, trying to take the writing to another level.

For a bit of inspiration, I have been listening to books by Richard Peck and Ivan Doig, two masters in the art of making language stand up and perform. I'm asking something different of my words, and have neither the desire nor the ability to emulate those masters, but I do take inspiration from the recognition of what can be done, just how perfectly each word can be chosen so that it sounds inevitable.

That makes me think about the times when I'm reading and find myself re-writing a sentence or even a paragraph in a book. I hope that's something that mostly only writers are subject to, because it definitely disrupts the reading experience and isn't what a writer is hoping for! It does give me a goal: to prevent even my most word-loving readers from doing the same.

Wish me luck :)

On the moving front, progress has been made, but since we've reached the point of reasonably comfortable living with it, progress has also slowed pretty badly. I'm not sure when we'll get to hanging pictures, and the last few boxes of books and memories are waiting for me to know what to do with them.

On the up side, driven by the need to clear the garage for the installation of a new door yesterday, I did get at the tools. Even a rough semblance of order in my tools helps me feel more at home. Sorting through the sudden abundance of tools, not just the duplication of my collection and my father-in-law's, but added to that the decades of redundancy in his collection (okay, and mine), has been an absorbing task. The hardest thing for me there is when I see that something from my father-in-law is a better choice than something I inherited from my own father. I don't like giving up Dad's tools, but I'll admit some of those were his discards and probably date to the 1970s, and should be put kindly out to pasture!

Late-summer and fall travels start soon, but we may be doing less than planned. Unfortunately, that's because I've had a severe flare-up of my chronic plantar fasciitis, and at the moment can hardly walk, which makes it hard to train for backpacking trips (let alone actually take them). Time will tell how long I'm down, and in the meantime, I'm doing a lot of biking and swimming, which are better suited to the weather just now anyway.

Apologies for the long and rambling post!  I'll leave you with a couple of photos of warning signs I found entertaining!

I'm pretty sure this means you should avoid doing Zumba on mountaintops.
This one, on the other hand, cautions against just standing there while the world crumbles around you.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Middle-grade Monday: Here Lies the Librarian


Title: Here Lies the Librarian
Author: Richard Peck
Publication Info: Dial Books, 2006, 160 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:

Peewee idolizes Jake, a big brother whose dreams of auto mechanic glory are fueled by the hard road coming to link their Indiana town and futures with the twentieth century. And motoring down the road comes Irene Ridpath, a young librarian with plans to astonish them all and turn Peewee’s life upside down.This novel, with its quirky characters, folksy setting, classic cars, and hilariously larger-than-life moments, is vintage Richard Peck – an offbeat, deliciously wicked comedy that is also unexpectedly moving.

My Review: 

Richard Peck's historical fiction served in part as inspiration when I wrote my Ninja Librarian stories. I first read this one after I'd written at least the first book, which is maybe just as well, because if I'd read this first, I might have given up and left the librarians to Peck.

Actually, it's not the librarians that leave me in awe of Peck's writing. It's the way he makes the language stand up and do double service. Every word is spot on, for the story and the characters and the way he wants us to feel about them. I also love the way Peewee comes around from celebrating having been banned for life from the library to loving it and reading all sorts of books. Of course, when we find that the banishment was for--gasp!--wanting to take a book home, some things start to make more sense.

My only objection here might be the usual one, that Peewee is forced to grow up, which seems to require leaving certain dreams behind. But of course, we all *are* required to grow up--and in this case, Peewee at least makes the decisions about what dreams will go and what will stay, for the most part--the process doesn't feel as externally imposed as in some books (see my review of A Stitch in Time, for example.

My Recommendation:

I will always recommend Richard Peck's work, for anyone from about age 9 up. His balance of humor and serious issues is pitch-perfect, in my opinion, and his books should encourage reluctant readers to keep turning pages.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Here Lies the Librarian out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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." 

The Smashwords Summer/Winter sale ends Wednesday, so head on over and get my books for bargain-basement prices.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Photo Friday: South Island Road Trip, Part II

Back in late February, we did a trip from Christchurch down the east coast of South Island all the way to Invercargill, then up to Te Anau, the launching point for our Milford Track tramp. I've picked a few highlights from the trip south, into an area that gets a lot less attention than many parts of the island. We weren't sure what we'd find, but we found more than enough to fill our 4 days! On this trip were my husband and me, Eldest Son, and our son's friend, whom I'll call Friend B.
Part I of the trip is here.

The Catlins (Cathedral Caves, McLean Falls, Petrified Forest, Slope Point)
The Catlins is the farthest-south region of South Island, encompassing both the Catlins Forest Park and some amazing coastline with a few hidden gems. We stayed two nights in Fortrose so we could spend an entire day exploring. Since at least two stops were dependent on the tides, we had to time things carefully.

I ended last week's post with Cathedral Caves, so we'll pick up with the rest of the Catlins.

The weather was scheduled to get extremely windy and wet for the time we were in the Catlins, so we booked an AirBnB in Fortrose, at the Pukeko Inn (the "inn" part was closed, but we were able to rent the whole house very reasonably). The storm didn't materialize, but the place was comfy, and provided a nice base for our Catlins adventures.
That's pretty much what a Pukeko looks like, only really big.

McLean Falls was a short hike from the trailhead, and a popular spot for that reason (also a very short drive from Cathedral Caves).
Everyone had to go up for a closer look
A little rain shower allowed us to get a photo without any people!
Of course, being in the neighborhood, we had to drop in on the southernmost point of the island. Not of the country--Stewart Island is just to the south. Still, that would be the closest I've gotten to the South Pole.

One last tidally-driven stop was the Petrified Forest. Unlike the one in Arizona (which I've also visited), this one is under water more often than not, as the trees have eroded out from a tide-washed bench.

Gemstone Beach and Clifden Cave
Eldest Son's "Friend B" really wanted to see the famous New Zealand glow worms. We looked at a tour of glow worm caves near Te Anau, and while they looked truly spectacular, they also looked expensive and constrained. A little research brought me to Clifden Cave, an undeveloped cave open to anyone who is willing to do a bit of crawling and clambering to follow the marked route through. And if the glow worms weren't as extensive as at Te Anau, they were free, and ours to discover with no guide. Here's a quick tour:
Eldest Son prepares to dive into the cave. Cool, damp temperatures underground had us wearing sweaters and rain jackets while the day outside was quite warm!
 No big challenges, except one pool we had to inch around, but you do have to be willing to crawl into places!
Down here? Oh, yeah, down here! Friend B disappears down a hole.
I didn't have the camera gear to get photos of the glow worms in the dark. This is what the sticky strands they use to capture their prey look like. The glow is at the top of the strand, and is meant to attract flying insects.

There were fantastic cave formations around every bend.
To my sorrow, we found that there are jerks everywhere. A fair number had left their mark in this beautiful cave. I can only say: Don't. Just don't. No natural feature is improved by the addition of your stinking graffiti!
Yeah, you guys. You're inconsiderate jerks.
This was the second, and much easier, puddle area. It was shallow enough to see the bottom, so those of us with already-wet feet waded in. Eldest Son managed the corner with grace and dry feet.

Friend B emerges into the light of day once more, totally happy with the experience. Also happy not to have to duck any more.

We made one other stop en route to Te Anau, Fjordland, and the Mildford Track. Being in urgent need of a haircut (as Click and Clack would say), we pulled off somewhat randomly at Gemstone Beach. The stones weren't real gems, but they were polished by the Tasman Sea and beautiful. And we could see the mountains of Fjordland across the bay.
One of many. I tried to limit myself to photos, but a few rocks might have come home with me :D

Those mountains are among the most inaccessible in the world, I think. The very high rainfall of the SW corner of NZ means that the vegetation is thick, the mountainsides are steep, and the rivers can run fast and deep. Few trails and no roads penetrate the coastal range.
The wilderness beyond.
Next up: Milford Track!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Review: Rough Magic


Title: Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race
Author: Lara Prior-Palmer
Publication Info: May 2019, Catapult. 288 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
For fans of Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is the extraordinary debut memoir of a young woman who traveled to Mongolia to compete in the world’s longest, toughest horse race, and emerged as its youngest and first-ever female winner.

At the age of nineteen, Lara Prior-Palmer discovered a website devoted to “the world’s longest, toughest horse race”—an annual competition of endurance and skill that involves dozens of riders racing a series of twenty-five wild ponies across 1,000 kilometers of Mongolian grassland. On a whim, she decided to enter the race. As she boarded a plane to East Asia, she was utterly unprepared for what awaited her.

Riders often spend years preparing to compete in the Mongol Derby, a course that recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan, and many fail to finish. Prior-Palmer had no formal training. She was driven by her own restlessness, stubbornness, and a lifelong love of horses. She raced for ten days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could at the homes of nomadic families.

Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she decided she had nothing to lose. Each dawn she rode out again on a fresh horse, scrambling up mountains, swimming through rivers, crossing woodlands and wetlands, arid dunes and open steppe, as American television crews chased her in their Jeeps.

Told with terrific suspense and style, in a voice full of poetry and soul, Rough Magic captures the extraordinary story of one young woman who forged ahead, against all odds, to become the first female winner of this breathtaking race. goodreads

Note: some editions subtitle it the world's Wildest horse race. Probably the British version. They have a better cover, too. 

My Review: 
You have no idea how tempted I am just to send you to the review that made me want to read this book (thanks, Jemima!). Instead, I'm resisting the urge to even look back at it until I've written this. My own interest in the story came partly because of the horses, and partly because I'm interested in Mongolia (mostly because my younger son spent a month there in 2015).

Something to know about me is that even though I've never in my life owned a horse, and haven't ridden probably above a half-dozen times, I was so horse-crazy as a kid that I knew *everything* about horses and riding--in theory. This book felt like it tapped into that kid, though a careful reading shows that Lara had a great deal more experience riding than she at first makes it sound.

Nonetheless, this is a memoir of a crazy adventure that should never have turned out so well. Even the author agrees: she almost regrets winning, because it's such a cliche: the unprepared underdog beats all the well-trained experts. Really she and the reader would be just as happy if she hadn't won, though her transformation from just hoping to last a couple of days to trying to win is part of what gives the book some substance and meaning. The race, in fact, is so radically unlike any other horse race I know about that it's no wonder Lara has trouble remembering she's racing. Happily, that allows her to at least occasionally notice the land she's riding through.

So on one level, this is a great adventure story about going off and doing something really wild and crazy. On another, it's the memoir of a young woman about her even younger self, and that shows at times. The writing is often lyrical--to the point of contrivance, in my opinion. Yet somehow her authenticity keeps it from being either annoying or artificial. It is, after all, the way a 19-year-old thinks, though Lara isn't quite like most young women her age, I suspect. 

The saving grace of the story, both plot-wise and writing-wise, is that Lara never takes herself too seriously. Her self-deprecation is even deprecated as an excess of the standard British trait, but it is a constant reminder that she knows she's a teenager who has no business doing what she's doing.

My Recommendation:
I think the blurb is right: this is a good match for people who enjoyed H is for Hawk (I did, but didn't seem to review it). It's probably also a great read for any of us who longed for horses and adventure when young (note: I still long for adventure, but I'll skip the horses, and I know darned well my body wouldn't stand that abuse for a single day).

FTC Disclosure: I checked Rough Magic out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, July 22, 2019

Mystery Monday: Out of Options review

Note: I shared a Spotlight for this novella during the Great Escapes blog tour, but thought it best to wait on my review, as I would probably not give this the requisite 3 stars, if I gave star, which I don't :D

Title: Out of Options (Century Cottage Mysteries prequel novella)
Author: Dianne Ascroft
Publication Info: April 2019, 126 pages. Contains novella and bonus short story "City Sunsets."
Source: Great Escapes Blog Tours

Publisher's Blurb:

Out of Options is a prequel novella to the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, and introduces Lois Stone and her companions, Raggs and Ribbons, a pair of perceptive calico cats.

A dry district, a shocking secret, a missing person. When Lois Stone’s friend, Beth Darrow, arranges to meet her to reveal an astonishing discovery, Lois’s curiosity is piqued. Then Beth doesn’t keep their lunch date and Lois becomes worried. What has happened to her friend?

Middle-aged widow Lois is settling into life on her own in her neighbourhood and in the library where she works, and she is just about coping with her fear of strangers after her husband was mugged and died in the park at the end of their street. But her quiet existence is rocked when her friend and fellow local historical society researcher, Beth, arranges to meet her to reveal an exciting and shocking discovery she has made about the history of prohibition in West Toronto Junction, the last dry area in Toronto, and then goes missing before she can share her secret with Lois. There isn’t any proof that Beth is missing so the police won’t actively search for her. Only Lois and Beth’s niece Amy are convinced that Beth’s disappearance is very out of character, and they are worried about her. Where has Beth gone? Is she in danger? And, if she is, who might want to harm her and why? Lois knows she must find the answers to these questions fast if she wants to help and protect her friend.

And so begins a weekend of skulking in the park, apple and cinnamon pancakes, familiar faces staring out of old newspapers, calico cats, shadows on the windowpane, and more than one person who might want Beth to disappear from the quiet, leafy streets of the historic and staunchly dry West Toronto Junction neighbourhood.

A tale for fans of Cindy Bell, Leighann Dobbs, Dianne Harman and Kathi Daley.

My Review:
The novella, Out of Options, comes with a bonus short story ("City Sunsets"), and between the two of them, they provide the background for the Century Cottage series, explaining why Lois moves to a small town. I enjoyed the clearly evoked sense of place in the descriptions of Toronto, though I understand why Lois wants to leave. The author's interest in history also sets a positive note.

The short story ("City Sunsets") isn't intended to be a mystery, and is a well-put-together story fleshing out some of what we already learned from the novella. Out of Options, however, is a mystery and demonstrates the challenges of writing mysteries in the short form. The problem is well designed and we have both an appropriate sense of urgency and a good reason why the police aren't solving the problem (which, come to think of it, is an advantage of having a mystery without a murder--less need for the police). The snag is that I found the answer a bit obvious, and felt like the main character had to willfully ignore obvious clues to avoid a too-easy solution to the crime. Nor was the motive wholly creditable.

Despite that negative, and a couple of inconsistencies (Lois has been depicted as enjoying her walks to and from work, but in the final chapter she talks about how unsafe she feels in the city since her husband was killed, how she is unable even to go certain places), the book is an engaging read, and will answer a lot of questions for readers of A Timeless Celebration. The writing was generally sound, and as noted, the author does a good job of evoking the setting.

My Recommendation:
I'll give this a "maybe" recommendation for a summer read. I'm not sure if it's the best way into the series, or if it's better to read A Timeless Celebration and approach this one when you want to know more of Lois's history. 

FTC Disclosure: I received an ARC of Out of Options from Great Escapes Free Book Tours, and received nothing further from the writer or 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."  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

#Fi50: Fiction in 50 words: Taking it to the...

I think this post was supposed to go up several days ago... once again lost track of 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! I didn't do a heads-up post this month, but feel free to jump in at any time.
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.

And here's the Linky List so you can add your post!
This is a Blog Hop!

You are next... Click here to enter
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You can also add a link in the comments on my story, posted the next-to-last Sunday of the month. Feel free to Tweet using the #Fi50, though I'll not lie: the Ninja Librarian is a lousy tweeter.

The July prompt is...
Taking it to the... 

They told me to take it to my priest, but he was no help.

Then they told me to take it to the doctor, who sent me to therapy.

At last I took it to the police. They took it further. Whatever the outcome, I’ll take it to my grave.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated! 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Photo Friday: South Island Road trip, Part I

Still working my way through the photos from our time in New Zealand! Back in late February, we did a trip from Christchurch down the east coast of South Island all the way to Invercargill, then up to Te Anau, the launching point for our Milford Track tramp. I've picked a few highlights from the trip south, into an area that gets a lot less attention than many parts of the island. We weren't sure what we'd find, but we found more than enough to fill our 4 days

Oamaru: Steampunk HQ
This trip included not only our 21-y.o. son, but a friend of his as well (I'll call him Friend B). It was in part with the boys in mind that we planned a visit to Steampunk Headquarters. We didn't regret it.
At the entrance. Kind of a Mad Max feel.
 Out back there were a lot of interesting machines welded together from stray parts and a lot of imagination.
Definitely a Mad Max feel.
 One of the fun things was the Metagalactic pipe organ, which played sounds picked up from around the universe when the keys were pressed.
Friend B playing the organ. In a way, I was sorry the pipes weren't hooked up!

Moeraki Boulders
These spherical rocks are concretions of Paleolithic mudstone. I'll let you look it up yourself if you want more specifics about how that worked, but the result is fascinating spheres that have eroded out along the beach by Moeraki, like giant dragon eggs.
As you can see, they are near to hatching. 
This one hatched, but the baby dragon was long gone.

Dunedin--the Otago Peninsula
Dunedin town was mostly a place to spend the night, though it's an attractive setting and if we'd had more time, a bit of an explore of NZ's most Scottish city would have been fun! The real attraction for us was the Otago Peninsula, renowned for wildlife and spectacular beaches.

Allen's Beach was justly renowned for being a glorious expanse of beach. We had to walk wide around the occasional seal or sea lion.
Eldest Son looking small in the vast expanse of sky and sand.
In other places, the kelp clings like a hula skirt to the rocks.
Sandfly Beach was another noted for the sand, surf, and seals.
A nice breeze kept the namesake insects from being nasty.
We drove up Sandymount, between Allen's Beach and Sandfly Beach, for great views of the area.

A two or three mile hike around the Sandymount took us to various scenic features, like this arch dubbed "Lovers' Leap."

We eventually continued our journey south, stopping not far along to admire the Nugget Point lighthouse.

It's fully automated now, but I'd assume someone still needs to polish the lenses.

The Catlins (Cathedral Caves, McLean Falls, Petrified Forest, Slope Point)
The Catlins is the farthest-south region of South Island, encompassing both the Catlins Forest Park and some amazing coastline with a few hidden gems. We stayed two nights in Fortrose so we could spend an entire day exploring. Since at least two stops were dependent on the tides, we had to time things carefully.

Cathedral Caves are aptly named, as the sea-caves have vast vaulted ceilings. Openings are accessible only for a couple hour each side of low tide, so visitation is concentrated.
Openings of two of the caves, which connect farther back in.
 The cliffs are limestone, which lends itself well to cave formation.
Eldest Son and Friend B rounding the point to look for more caves (they found them).
Some of the cracks didn't look promising, but led far back under the cliffs.
Eldest Son disappears into the depths.
Go toward the light!
As this post has become terribly long, I am going to break it here and continue next week!

Patterns in a beach stream
 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Writer's Wednesday: #amwriting

Yep, you read that correctly! I have actually resumed work on my MS, and while the first thing I did was get distracted and went down a rabbit hole (or maybe a wormhole) of fixing some issues with an earlier book, I HAVE started! I have also started my story for the IWSG anthology. Unfortunately, I've started that 4 times (maybe 5. About 2 for the story I dropped because it's fantasy and adventure but not necessarily historical, and 3 starts on the story I want to write, a pure historical adventure). So I can't say the writing is going well, but the very fact that it's happening at all is huge.

Oh, and I've been working over the blurb for the new book, because my cover artist gave me a nudge...

Yeah, there's some hope that I might be a writer.

On the happy dance list:
--started to work on the MS
--started on my IWSG story
--enjoying tons of garden produce--canned 7 quarts of tomatoes on Friday, and made a peach pie for Sunday dinner with the family
--working out daily and starting to feel the difference (in something besides pain)
--installed a new light and ceiling fan in my work space, making it much more livable

On the er, um list:
--still haven't finished unpacking the boxes of books
--still haven't got the garage sorted and the tools/workshop set up
--no one has vacuumed or mowed the lawn anytime recently (not my job!)
--haven't touched my NZ photos in weeks, and they won't edit themselves... (this is changing, thanks to scheduling a photo post for Friday!)
--the watering system is acting up and I'm a bit out of my depth with it

Okay, you get the picture! It's a mixed bag. I'm trying hard to hang onto the successes and not beat myself up about the failures.

An inspirational quote to keep me writing!
And, finally--if I'm writing, I need readers! So take advantage of the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale and get my books for bargain-basement prices.

Monday, July 15, 2019

YA Audiobook Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes


Title: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
Author: Chris Crutcher. Read by Johnny Heller
Publication Info: Recorded Books LLC, 2007.  Original: Greenwillow Books, 1993. 224 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:

Sarah Byrnes and Eric Calhoune have been friends for years. When they were children, his weight and her scars made them both outcasts. Now Sarah Byrnes—the smartest, toughest person Eric has ever known—sits silent in a hospital. Eric must uncover the terrible secret she’s hiding before its dark current pulls them both under. Will appeal to fans of Marieke Nijkamp, Andrew Smith, and John Corey Whaley.

My Review:  

I'd heard about this book for a while, though I can't now recall why or where. I was vaguely under the impression that it was a middle grade book (for the 8-12 crowd), but in spite of having gotten it from the Kids' section of the library's Overdrive collection, it is definitely YA. The book deals with some pretty heavy issues (including child abuse, suicide, abortion, and sex), and does so frankly.

Now that's out of the way, on to the review. 

I was totally gripped by this book. I had no idea what to expect, and in fact I didn't really even read the blurb. I was just looking for something to listen to while I do chores, and thought "oh, I've heard of that. It's supposed to be good." So I wasn't prepared for the emotional power of the story, which was expertly balanced with humor and a lot of insight into the teenaged mind. The story is narrated by Eric Calhoune, and I liked that he doesn't totally justify all the sometimes hurtful things he's done over the years. Instead, Sarah's crisis triggers him to make a step forward closer to adulthood, and to consider himself and his actions a little more carefully.

Some tense moments round out the story, some just plain adventure-story tense and some tense with importance and emotional power. I might offer a critique that the danger-tense part felt a little contrived, though it's consistent with characters' actions throughout. On the other hand, it is also told in Eric's note-perfect self-deprecating style, so that even while I held my breath about the outcome I was also close to laughter at the process. A larger criticism might be that the author's political position and opinions come through perhaps a bit too loudly at times. That didn't bother me, because I largely agreed with them, and because Eric isn't rabid, but rather is trying to understand things. In fact, the strongest stance, in my opinion, is against those who think they know all the answers.

My Recommendation:

This book has both won awards and been banned about as much as any YA book. I get why both have happened. I come down on the "awards" side, because the book offers teens an avenue to start thinking critically about important issues. That it also offers a strong argument for backing away from dogmatic beliefs will make some parents and teens uncomfortable. My recommendation is that they read it anyway, and keep an open mind. I don't recommend it for kids under at least age 12. 

FTC Disclosure: I checked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher 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, July 12, 2019

Friday Flash:

No, I haven't been writing enough to have a new flash for you today. But no fear--I have plenty of re-runs you probably didn't see or don't remember!

As a little encouragement to myself as I get back to work (at last!) on Death By Library, I have a short story from Pismawallops Island. Unlike the books, this is from the perspective of the town's police chief, Ron Karlson. I picked it in part because it features a character who plays a larger role in the new book.

In the Line of Duty

When his radio disturbed him, Ron Karlson was sitting in his police cruiser staring out to sea and thinking.

“Chief? You out there?” The Pismawallops Island police force, having precisely 2.5 officers, could be informal.

He reached for the handset. “Karlson here.”

“Homer’s lost his car again.” The dispatcher sounded like she was rolling her eyes.

Homer Roller. The biggest disaster ever to grace a cop car. He had a tendency to leave the car in odd places, forget where he’d parked, and hit the panic button, sure the car had been stolen. So far, it hadn’t been, but there was a first time for everything. Ron put the cruiser in gear and backed out of the overlook, not entirely sorry to leave his thoughts.

He picked up the deputy on the side of the road near old Mrs. Halsey’s place.

“Where did you leave it this time?” Ron asked, trying and failing to be patient.

“Right here. Honest, chief. I parked here, and was investigating a disturbance in the woods over there,” he gestured at the opposite side of the road from the ancient farmhouse where Mrs. Halsey refused to be removed. “There were some kids building a treehouse. I was my duty to ensure they weren’t trespassing.” Homer memorized a lot of his dialog in advance.

“Were they?” Ron pretended an interest.

“Naw. They said it was their old man’s property.”

Ron wondered if that were true, but didn’t press. He didn’t really want to know.

“And I came back here, and the car was gone. That’s all I know!”

“You left the keys in it?”

Homer kept his eyes on the floormat. “Yeah.”

Ron sighed. “So anyone could have taken it. Including one of those kids.”

“I don’t think so. They were little kids. Unless,” Homer conceded, “they had an older brother hiding somewhere. I didn’t hear any cars on the road,” he added before Ron could ask.

Ron drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, thinking. He knew what JJ would say about what he was about to do, but she’d lost the right to nag since she wasn’t talking to him. “We need to go ask Mrs. Halsey about this. She might have seen something.”

Homer turned pale. “The crazy lady? No way!”

“She’s not crazy. She’s old.” And suffering from dementia, which Ron knew very well was next door to crazy, at least by Homer’s standards. Ron wasn’t totally happy going in there himself. Mrs. Halsey had shot at him in the past. “I confiscated her shotgun last spring, so it should be safe.”

Homer sunk low in the seat as his boss drove them into the old woman’s yard.

“Huh. She’s not on the porch. Wonder where…” Ron had a sudden idea where the woman was, and he didn’t like it. They had to be sure, though, so he unbuckled and got out. He couldn’t help it; he twitched a little as he approached the front porch, but no one shot him, even after he hammered on the door.  He turned back to the car, where Homer continued to cower. “I’m going in—welfare check.”

“I’ve got you covered,” Homer quavered.

They needn’t have worried. No one was in the house. His suspicions confirmed, Ron went back out to the car. “I think I know who has your car,” he told Homer.

It took the deputy a minute, but he got it eventually. “Mrs. Halsey?!” His voice broke a little. “She can keep it!”

“No, she can’t,” Ron said, not that either of them needed telling. “She doesn’t have a license anymore.” Which was the least of it. He reached for the radio. “Tacy, we have a problem.”

They eventually found the car—and Mrs. Halsey—at the overlook. There were sometimes teens there necking, but they would have fled, not from the police car, but from Mrs. Halsey. She was in the car, grinning and playing with the lights and siren. Ron was happy to see that she hadn’t figured out how to remove the gun from its locked rack.

Even so, he approached with some caution. “Mrs. Halsey?” he called from a few feet away. She turned to greet him, still smiling. The car had made her happy, which made his task both harder and easier.

“It’s time to let Homer have his car back, Mrs. Halsey,” he said. “I’ll give you a ride home.”

The smile left her face. “I found this car. It’s mine.”

“No, it’s not. That’s not how it works. You know that.”

Her face fell. “I like it.” She showed no signs of moving.

Cursing the woman’s family, who dealt with her increasing dementia by staying as far away as they could, Ron tried another tack. “Come on with me, and you can run the lights and siren on my car, without the trouble of driving.” Creating a disturbance on the sparsely inhabited roads between the overlook and the Halsey home was a minor price to pay to get her out of the car.

“I like to drive.”

“Well, yes, but you know, it’s getting dark, and you don’t see so well in the dark. Better to let me drive and you have fun. Besides, the deputy needs the car. His mother’s expecting him home for dinner.”

“Fool kids,” the old woman muttered. Ron wasn’t sure to whom she referred—him, Homer, Homer’s mother, or all of them—but it didn’t matter. She climbed slowly out of the car, and followed him back to his cruiser.

Homer, seeing them coming, bolted. He was in his own car with the doors locked before Ron had helped Mrs. Halsey into the passenger seat. He made sure her seat belt was fastened.

Siren blaring, lights flashing, they headed back to the Halsey home.

The only thing the old woman said the whole way was, “Faster!”

Ron sighed. He liked happy endings.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Release Promo and Review: Poisoned By the Pier

I missed release day by a couple of weeks, but I'm here at last with a review the latest in Ellen Jacobson's delightful Mollie McGhie mystery series. I just finished a binge-read of the whole book!

Title: Poisoned by the Pier (Mollie McGhie Sailing Mysteries #3)
Author: Ellen Jacobson
Publication Info: June 2019, 242 pages
Source: I was given an ARC by the author in exchange for my honest review

Publisher's Blurb:

When Mollie's husband signs the two of them up for an extreme diet, she's not amused. When someone ends up poisoned by a cake, things get even worse.

While she tries to identify the killer, Coconut Cove’s annual boating festival is in full swing. In between getting ready for her first sailing race and cheating on her diet, Mollie and her cat, Mrs. Moto, uncover clues, interview suspects, and do their best to avoid rutabagas.

Can Mollie nab the killer before someone else is poisoned?

If you like quirky characters, adorable cats, and plenty of chocolate, you'll love this cozy mystery. Pick up a copy of Poisoned by the Pier and laugh out loud from the first page to the last.

My Review:  

First, though this is my honest review of the book, I can't claim to be wholly unbiased. I didn't beta read this one, but have been a beta reader for the first two books in the series, Murder at the Marina and Bodies in the Boatyard (which I apparently didn't review). Still--it's the third in the series, and no one paid me to read it (in case you're wondering, I don't take money to read books), so you know I'm enjoying the adventures of the somewhat scatter-brained Mollie McGhie.

In fact, I think this is the strongest of the series so far. Ms. Jacobson has hit her stride, and her experience shows in the tight writing, and the more believable characters and situations. Mollie and her husband, in particular, have more depth to them and the book retains the signature humor and touch of absurdity without going over the top. I admit I had a pretty good idea who did it, and why, from about the mid-point, the author does a nice job of tracking Mollie's process of getting there. There's no question her route to the truth is more interesting than mine!

My Recommendation:

Summer's here and it's the perfect time to nab a copy for some vacation reading. Like the others in the series, it's a perfect beach read--nothing too substantial, and gripping enough to keep your attention. I do recommend reading the series in order, though there are no spoilers here--it's just more fun to watch the story unfold in order.

FTC Disclosure: I was given an ARC of Poisoned by the Pier, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher 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." 

Here's the info on the author, and where to pick up the book on sale.

Poisoned by the Pier, the third book in the Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery series, is now available in ebook, paperback, and large print.

New to the Series?

If you're new to the series, you might want to start with Murder at the Marina. Now is the perfect opportunity as the ebook is on sale for 99c/99p for a limited time.

About the Author

Ellen Jacobson lives on a sailboat with her husband and an imaginary cat named Simon. When she isn't working on boat projects or seeking out deserted islands, she writes cozy mysteries and sci-fi/fantasy stories.

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