Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Writer's Wednesday: Doing what we can

Well what do you know? Here it is, Wednesday again, and time for another writer's update.

I have sadly little progress to report, on either my writing or editing my photos (and I haven't done my taxes yet, either). I think there's no getting away from the truth: I'm goofing off, procrastinating, and not working very hard at much of anything.

I've not been completely idle, though. I *have* been working on my book. I'm not sure it's productive, but I've been producing a very lovely multi-colored outline of the book, tracing the clues leading to the perp, all the red herrings, the distractions, and the secondary mystery. Why? Well, for one thing, it's pretty :D  For another, I'm hoping that seeing how all the bits fit in will help me see where to fit in the bits that got left out. It might even be working.

Meanwhile, I'm 1/3 of the way through one of me 2 beta reads, with the second queued up. In fact, I've decided that it's probably more to the point to work on other peoples' books right now. I feel more responsibility to them, for one thing. For another, I can actually do it. And finally, I have found in the past that editing for others helps me get my brain going to edit my own work.

So that's how the Ninja Librarian is coping. That, and chocolate.

How's your Corona life going? Share your triumphs and frustrations!

Oh, yeah. And pretty pictures, because I can. Today's bonus is atmospheric water and bergs. But first--I finally found the (obvious) way to add a video. So here's one of a penguin.

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, April 27, 2020

YA Classic: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith. Narrated by Kate Burton
Publication info: 2005 Harper Audio. Original publication 1943 by Harper & Brothers, 443 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Goodreads Blurb:
The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

My Review:
At first I wondered if I even wanted to finish this book. The style is definitely dated, and the there was a sense of distance that put me off as much as the grim reality of Francie's world did. But I kept on, the story and the style grew on me, and pretty soon instead of wondering if I even cared about the main character, I couldn't stop listening to see how she would manage to escape the life she could have been doomed to.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a fantastic coming-of-age story. As we watch Francie grow and mature, we feel her struggle with her love for her ne'er-do-well father and her resentment of the mother who holds the family together, but can't hide her preference for her son over her daughter. With her own growing responsibilities Francie gains a greater appreciation of what her mother has done. They never stop struggling with each other, but there is one thing that holds them together: the determination that the Nolan children will be educated. That is the guiding force of Francie's life, and she sacrifices from an early age to achieve her goal.

Usually when I read a book that has been protested or banned, I'm hard put to understand why. In this case, I do get it. The author pulls no punches when it comes to the grittier aspects of life in 1900s Brooklyn, and that includes a level of frankness about sex that must have been disturbing in 1943 when it was first published. In fact, though the act of sex is never described here, I found some of the discussions of it a bit hair-raising myself. I'm not in favor of any book-banning, and kids see worse on TV, but there was something about this book that felt more real than any movie, so readers should be forewarned.

The audio book is very well done. Musical cues indicate text breaks, and Kate Burton does the Brooklyn accent very nicely, as well as assorted ethnic and regional accents Francie encounters. I felt the narration enhances the story.

My Recommendation:
A classic for a very good reason, and one to read if you never have. It is probably most suited for older teens and up. Some aspects of the book--including issues of racism and class prejudice as well as sexuality--may need discussing with young adults who read it.

I do classify this as historical fiction: it was written in the early 1940s, and set in the first 2 decades of the Twentieth Century.

FTC Disclosure: I checked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 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." 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Photo Friday: Penguins all the way

Before I get started on today's penguin extravaganza, I want to report that we got word today that the Plancius has reached her home port (in the Netherlands), and all aboard are healthy (of course, now they have to enter the real world, where it's harder to stay that way). So glad for our staff and crew!

Our 3rd day along the Antarctic Peninsula, the weather was pretty icky--rain at just above freezing is never a favorite of anyone. But we boldly headed ashore, and the gentoo penguins welcomed us with open arms.

In fact, the greeting party was fairly large.

Of course, they are not without their suspicions. The secret service was hard at work, watching in all directions.
Or it might have been Larry, Curly, and Moe
Gentoos are notoriously curious birds, and while we were not to approach them, they were not prevented from approaching us.
One of our shipmates, demonstrating that you only had to hold still and they would come.
I decided to try the "hold still and see if they come" approach, and got the most amazing up close and very personal encounter with a pair of curious birds.

First I looked down and realized I had company.

Squatting made me less intimidating, and Bird One was soon joined by Bird Two.

Shipmate Jen Devries got some good shots of my close encounter as well.

The penguins nabbed whatever they could in their beaks, just testing them. Maybe the way a human would handle stuff? After all, they have no hands to pick up an interesting object.

At this point I handed my phone over to a shipmate to shoot a bit. I was busy wondering just how to react to a rather personal inspection!

I've never posted video before, so I hope this works: just a short clip of the penguins checking me out, shot by the same helpful shipmate.

After all that, back to the ship, with no complaints though I was soggy wet and cold!

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Writer's Wednesday: Goals? What goals?

Two weeks ago I shared some writing goals, which I then didn't look at again until yesterday. Somehow, the whole business of settling down and working has been very slow to ramp up since our return home.

But--some good news: while I didn't do everything I said I would (I forgot about editing that second story about the cruise), I have managed to finish the current trip through my MS for Death By Donut. Granted, that trip was really just a quick read with a few notes to refresh my memory about the story and what needs doing, but I did do that. I'm ready now to print it out and get serious about the structural changes needed.

My last novel I was able to edit completely digitally, without ever printing it. I think that's only possible when things are pretty well organized to start with, because this time I really need to be able to lay things out on the floor and draw arrows and scribble notes. I apologize to the trees.

All of this has been made harder by the fact that I'm not sleeping well, for reasons I can't quite pin down.
Me, even after that first cup of coffee.
I have a couple of other editing tasks besides the novel I need to deal with, and I'll be prioritizing a beta read for a fellow sufferer, and the short story written aboard the Plancius while we wondered if we'd ever be allowed ashore.

In the next couple of weeks I also need to do our taxes (so glad we  got a reprieve on those!), and create the large-type edition of Death By Library. (If anyone has an old mum who likes "real" books and needs big print, I have released the first three books in the series in large type, suitable for libraries in senior residences).

Finally, we're getting closer to the release date for Voyagers. I got my bookmarks today, and they are beautiful. I look forward to getting my copies of the book soon!

Like an iceberg, a lot of writing happens below the surface. I hope.
Also: Visit this week's IWSG Anthology blog, discussing the power of words. I'll be offering my thoughts next week.


All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Mystery Monday: All We Buried, by Elena Taylor

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Title: All We Buried
Author: Elena Taylor
Publication Info: Crooked Lane Books, 2020. 304 pages
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Publisher's Blurb:
Deep in the woods surrounding the Cascade mountain range, a canvas-wrapped body floats in a lake, right in Elizabeth "Bet" Rivers's jurisdiction. Bet has been sitting as interim sheriff of Collier after her father's--the previous sheriff's--death six months ago. Everyone knows everyone in a town like Collier. She has made it her duty to protect the people she's come to see as family. And she intends to hold her title in the upcoming election, but she's never worked a murder investigation on her own before and her opponent and deputy, Dale Kovac, isn't going down without a fight.

Upon unwrapping the corpse, Bet discovers the woman is from out of town. Without an identification, the case grows that much more puzzling. Determined to prove herself worthy, however, Bet must confront the warped history of Collier. The more she learns, the more she realizes she doesn't know the townspeople of Collier as well as she thought, and nothing can prepare her for what she is about to discover.


My Review:
I've been greatly enjoying the Eddie Shoes series written by Elena Taylor under the name Elena Hartwell (see reviews here, here, and here), so I couldn't resist the chance for another mystery series set in Washington state and written by someone I already knew could put together a good story. The gorgeous cover didn't hurt, either :)

Elena Taylor didn't disappoint. A little more of a police procedural and less of a lark than the Eddie Shoes stories, All We Buried is a great addition to what I think of as "small town sheriff" books: Craig Johnson, Steven F. Havill, etc. I particularly appreciated that it's the story of a young, female sheriff, one who has the usual store of personal issues to work through but as a young woman, not an aging male. Maybe she's more like Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon, but without the dark twist and the baggage, which honestly makes her more appealing to me.

The mystery is well put together, and while I dallied a bit over the opening chapters, that was because I wasn't really in the mood for murder, not because they weren't good. I let the character seep into my mind, and then I reached the tipping point... and lost a few hours of sleep. I did at one point guess the right killer, but I was ready to believe in any of several others, and the twists and turns of the story were satisfying. I'll be watching for more from Sheriff Bet Rivers.

A plus for me: the story is set in a part of the Cascade Mountains I have hiked and can easily visualize. The town is fictional, but the towns and roads that surround it are not, and I recognized them all. 

My Recommendation:
A great semi-cozy mystery (I think it has more cozy elements than procedural, but it's not quite so fluffy and light as most cozies) for social distancing. Come to think of it, maybe murder mysteries are what's needed right now: read enough about normal-seeming people who've just killed someone and you'll WANT to avoid your neighbors!


I don't usually add this sort of stuff to my standard reviews, but since this is the last day of Ms. Taylor's blog tour (which I missed signing up for, probably because I was off hiking), and because it was an ARC given with the intention of getting advance reviews which I failed to do, I'm adding author bio and purchase links.

About the Author

Elena Taylor spent several years working in theater as a playwright, director, designer, and educator before turning her storytelling skills to fiction. Her first series, the Eddie Shoes Mysteries, written under the name Elena Hartwell, introduced a quirky mother/daughter crime-fighting duo. With All We Buried, Elena returns to her dramatic roots and brings readers a much more serious and atmospheric novel. Located in her beloved Washington State, Elena uses her connection to the environment to produce a forbidding story of small-town secrets and things that won’t stay buried. 

Elena is also a senior editor with Allegory Editing, a developmental editing house, where she works one-on-one with writers to shape and polish manuscripts, short stories, and plays. If you’d like to work with Elena, visit she’s not writing or coaching writing, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their cats, Coal Train and Cocoa. 

Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.

Author Links
Twitter: Goodreads:  

Purchase Links:
Amazon:   Barnes& Noble  Books-A-Million  IndieBound

FTC Disclosure: I got a digital ARC of All We Buried from Netgalley, 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."  

Friday, April 17, 2020

Photo Friday: Antarctica #3

Glacier Walking and More Penguins!

Gratuitous penguin to start the post
Our second day in Antarctica, and we are finally going to set foot on it! Many of our shipmates had done so the previous day, while we were kayaking, but Dave and I hadn't yet been off the water. And we were going to start right off with a glacier walk, the longest shore excursion on offer (which mostly filled me with regret that I'd had coffee with breakfast, as one is to leave nothing, and they mean nothing, on shore. Nor is a pee bottle much help when you are in the middle of a rope team).

It didn't seem completely certain the night before that we'd be able to do this. While we cruised through the night (more or less in circles, as it turned out), the weather had been... imperfect.
Yep. That's snow in the beam of the bridge searchlight.
Despite the snowy night, the morning was beautiful. Since we needed the most time for our outing we were the first to leave the ship. Looking back from across the bay it appeared very small!

We disembarked on a little rock ledge below the glacier, where we could leave our life vests and pick up our snowshoes.
Okay, this was actually us waiting to get picked up. Same idea, though.

Eventually we were all ready: snowshoes (the spiked variety) on, a little practice walking in them, and roped up and ready to go.
I was next to last in the second rope of 6.
We started up a fairly steep snow/ice slope, with little idea what was beyond. I was pretty impressed when we topped out!
Our rope leader, giving instructions for crossing crevasses.
The snow looked innocuous, which is why we had expert leaders--because they knew there were crevasses around, and knew how to spot them, even when covered, or mostly covered, with snow. With their guidance we moved safely over the ice and out until we really did have a feel for being in the wilds of Antarctica!
Big land, little people.

 We had the pleasure of just poking around and taking in the scene some.

Looking across Port Lockroy (a research station, closed for the season) and Damoy Point (our afternoon landing is on the other side of that), to some really big peaks that I'm sure have names.

We enjoyed the fantastic weather, but the memory of the snow in the night kept me looking around. In the Antarctic, a change in the weather is always lurking about.

Back to the ship for lunch, then we were out again for a landing among the penguins, and an historic station. You can see why we all wore our ship-provided tall muck-boots every time!
Coming ashore. Note the greeter, far left :)

The first thing I did was to check out the buildings. Since even the summers there (the only time such a station would have been manned) are pretty cold, it didn't seem terribly adequate, but way better than the earliest explorers had! This was used from 1974 until about 1994, as a stop for supply flights to research stations farther south. Note the huge urn atop the barrel stove--that would be for melting snow to make drinking water.
I think it is actually stocked so it can be used in case of emergency.
 Then I went and enjoyed the penguins :)

Not mange, just the molting season! You can see the smooth adult feathers starting to show.
This one was pretty far through the molt, but still not ready for the water.
Note the fluffy bits on the head and neck.
"Whatchu lookin' at? Like you never had a bad hair day?"

I managed to be at the farthest possible spot when word came through to our leaders: the captain was ordering everyone back aboard, as the wind was picking up with dangerous gusts expected. I was in a good position to watch everyone stream back to the shore. The two buildings in the distance on the right are the old station, and the planes landed up on the ice on top of the ridge.
The pink snow is algae, not penguin poo, though the latter may help the former to grow.
I think he was racing to catch the last zodiac.

That's enough photos for today! Hope you enjoyed them, and see you next Friday for the next installment. My apologies to anyone who visited and found broken photo links. I have no idea what went wrong.


All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Middle Grade Classics: Gone-Away Lake


Title: Gone-Away Lake
Author: Elizabeth Enright; read by Colleen Delany
Publication Info: 2005, Listen and Live Audio. Originally published in 1957 by Harcourt, Brace & World, 180 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:

Portia always expects summer to be a special time. But she couldn't imagine the adventure she and her cousin Julian would share this summer. It all starts when they discover Gone-Away Lake--a village of deserted old houses on a muddy overgrown swamp.

"It's a ghost town" Julian says. But the cousins are in for a bigger surprise. Someone is living in one of those spooky-looking old houses.

My Review:  

Just for fun, I have to start by sharing some of the historic covers for this one (one of the delights of old kids' books is seeing how the covers changed through the publication history).

This one was the original. It feels very 1950s to me--much like the covers of books I got in school a decade later.

1989 saw a bit of an update:

Another publisher in 1990 went for a different look:

Okay, enough of that! Just wanted to share. What about the story?

Gone-Away Lake surprised me at first with how equal the two kids seem. For most of the book, Portia is a tomboy after my own heart, and the inequalities in the relationship come from an age difference, not gender. That was how it was for my brothers and me growing up: what I couldn't or didn't do had little to do with being a girl, and a lot to do with being a lot smaller (only 3.5 years younger, but a lot smaller). Sadly, when other boys are girls are added to the mix, all of the kids fall right into standard gender roles. That might make sense in one way, but I would have expected Portia to feel some regret or resentment. Not a deal-breaker, but just a reflection of my own bias :)

Many kids reading today might be surprised by the freedom the kids have, but I remember doing that kind of roaming as a kid, so I think it's in keeping with the period. It certainly solves the problem sometimes referred to as the "Dead Parents Society"--the need to get parents out of the way so kids can have agency, that leads to so many books with dead or disfunctional parents. These kids can have their adventures without parental interference because they are allowed to.

What about the story? Well, in some ways the story doesn't really go anywhere. It's a tale of a rather delightful summer that's a bit more special than most. There's a bit of an arc, in the discovery and development of the abandoned community and the surprising residents, but really--I felt like it was primarily a celebration of a summer of freedom to explore the world and do what kids (should) do. It also contains a certain nostalgia for a still older time, the early 1900s when the lake was a lake and the summer homes were full of families.

The point of view is mostly Portia's, but does shift at times to Julian, and a few times to Portia's little brother Foster and even to some of the adults. I guess that makes it a classic omniscient viewpoint. The shifts are not head-hopping and happen appropriately.

And the audio? Very good. I remember almost nothing of it, which means the narrator achieved the transparency that is probably one step down from the very best (when the narration can really add value).

My Recommendation:

Honestly, I don't know if today's kids would like this or not. I'd say it's aimed at the 10-12 range, around Portia's age, and equally appealing to boys and girls. City kids might be mystified, or might become very dissatisfied with their own constrained lives. So watch out!

FTC Disclosure: I checked Gone-Away Lake 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, April 10, 2020

Photo Friday: Antarctica #2, Kayaking with the ice

Last week I began the account of our cruise to Antarctica with the crossing of the Drake Passage and our first morning's zodiac cruise. Today, I have photos from the first afternoon, kayaking with the icebergs. Unlike kayakers on some other days, we didn't have any close encounters with whales, but we did have beautiful weather and water conditions.

Our ship, the Plancius, provided all the necessary gear, including wet suits and paddling jackets. It felt like a lot of clothes as we layered them on over long underwear, but actually kayaking was a warmer activity that sitting in a zodiac (and had less wind chill). 
What the fashionable Antarctic paddler wears (though the camera bag wasn't a common accessory).

Since I don't much care for being cold and wet, I was glad to see the glassy calm of the Errera Channel around Danco Island, our kayaking area.
The shore-landing party headed out before us.

We had our own zodiac ride to bring us closer to where we wanted to paddle, and all managed to make the transfer from zodiac to kayak without mishaps, thanks to the excellent assistance of Adam, our kayak guide, and Ferdinand, our zodiac driver.
A successful launch! As usual, I take the rear so Dave can focus on photography.

The landscape (waterscape? Some of each) was fantastic--we were in no doubt that we weren't in California!
Even Ferdinand took the chance to get some photos of the massive icebergs and the jumbled glacier

The first thing we did was cruise close to shore to get a look at the gentoo penguins. 
Very calm water meant we could come in close to shore--though never less than 5 meters, to avoid disturbing the birds. Even at 5 meters the smell is impressive!

 Once we'd had our fill of penguins, we enjoyed the scenery.
We got used to seeing glaciers everywhere, creeping down the hills and into the water.

We started with sunshine and blue skies, but of course in a land like Antarctica, weather changes. Happily, though we got darkening skies, the wind remained calm.

Paddling through the thick coat of floating ice bits was fun, if more difficult than expected (even a small piece of ice in the water puts up a lot of resistance when you hit it with your paddle).

All good things come to an end, however, and we had to crawl back into the zodiac (a less graceful procedure than the other direction) and return to the ship, dragging the string of kayaks behind us.

Once everyone was aboard, we sailed on through the Errera Channel, past a lot of ice, as the day waned.
Looking back as we left our playground.
Possibly the most perfect iceberg I saw.

Stay tuned for more penguins, a glacier walk, and more ice bergs next week!

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!