Monday, June 29, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Ghost, by Jason Reynolds


Title: Ghost (Track #1)
Author: Jason Reynolds. Read by Guy Locknard
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster audio, 2016. Hardback by Atheneum, 2016. 192 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb (from Goodreads):
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

My Review:
This was another book from the GMGR list of books by Black authors. I'm not much into "sports books," but as a former runner I thought it looked intriguing, and it was. Ghost is a kid who clearly feels like he has long since been put in a pigeonhole and is pretty happy to stay there, though he never really intends to cause trouble... but he doesn't suffer bulllies and teasing with any patience, so trouble finds him. And he doesn't always make good decisions.

The author does a nice job of showing that Ghost is a kid who suffers as much from his own idea of how people are seeing him as from their actual perception of him, though he certainly gets picked on more than his share--and pushes back, hard. The middle school setting is key. I don't think at any other stage of life are kids so mean to other kids about stuff that is so unimportant. So Ghost has a load of anger to carry around, anger at his father and his classmates and the principal and the world. He also has PTSD from the terrifying experience of his dad trying to kill them. He's not on the way to any big trouble--yet--but he's not going anywhere else, either.

Will running track save Castle? We don't know. The author takes the story to the point where we know he has a chance. What he does with it--and how he runs when the pressure is on--are left for us to imagine (or maybe for the sequels, since Goodreads lists this as first in a series). The story is pretty strong, the characters a little bit running to "types," but generally clear, and the appeal to kids is clear. I wouldn't rate it as the best of what I've read, but for a sports book, this ranks pretty high with me.

The narration is good, and really brings Ghost (1st person narrator) to life.

My Recommendation:
A good read for the sports-minded, and one in which the race of the characters is significant, but isn't the point of the story--which to me is stronger story-telling. Ages 9-13 or 14, I think.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Ghost 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." 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Writer's Wednesday: #AmWriting

I am writing. At this point about 200 words at a sitting, once or twice in a day, and my story is growing. It's not a very good story; continuity is about what you'd expect. But that's not the point. I'm writing, and for 5 or 10 minutes at a time I am losing myself in the story, struggling to visualize a truly alien alien.

I have also made notes on two more chapters of Death By Donut, which brings me close to the end. I'm making notes on a part of the book I think will need a complete rewrite, but at least I'm getting clear on what I have and what will need to be kept, moved elsewhere, or otherwise modified.

I have also done routine maintenance on the blog, adding links to my posts from 2020 on the appropriate pages in the header. I'm still eying the mess those long lists are and thinking about organizing them--you know, reviews alphabetical by author, that sort of thing. The truth is, that's about a likely to happen as me color-coordinating my sock drawer (hint for those who don't know me: pigs may also fly).

My goals for the next couple of weeks: continue 1-2 paragraphs a day on the story, and finish the notes on the novel. And: make that LT edition of Death By Library. It really isn't that hard, and Mom's friends are waiting.

That's it. Plenty of goals for the next week or two. I'd like to promise more photos, but I can't make that a promise. I'm sharing when and how it feels okay.

One jagged, worn, but still beautiful iceberg:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: The Other Half of My Heart (audiobook review)

I'm not doing too well at reading real books right now. Mostly if it's words on paper (or e-ink), I'm re-reading comfortable old books. But I'm listening to a wider range of books. The Great Middle Grade Reads group on Goodreads was nominating books by Black authors for our July read, and I ended up adding most of the nominees to my TBR list. I've been listening to the ones that I can find at the library. The first was The Other Half of My Heart, by Sundee T. Frazier.

Title: The Other Half of My Heart
Author: Sundee T. Frazier
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2011. Hardback published 2010 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers, 304 pages
Source: Library digital resources
Publisher's Blurb:
When Minerva and Keira King were born, they made headlines: Keira is black like Mama, but Minni is white like Daddy. Together the family might look like part of a chessboard row, but they are first and foremost the close-knit Kings. Then Grandmother Johnson calls, to invite the twins down South to compete for the title of Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America.
Minni dreads the spotlight, but Keira assures her that together they'll get through their stay with Grandmother Johnson. But when grandmother's bias against Keira reveals itself, Keira pulls away from her twin. Minni has always believed that no matter how different she and Keira are, they share a deep bond of the heart. Now she'll find out the truth.

My Review: 
This book is about race and blackness and the difficulties of a white person understanding the experience of a black person. But what makes it a good book is that it's also about the complexities of sibling relationships, the world of beauty pageants (oops--"Programs," as the organizers keep insisting: "It's not a pageant!"), and maybe even regional differences in the US.

What the blurb doesn't mention is that Minni and Keira live in Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State--about as far from the South as you can get, and not far from where I grew up. And I liked that what Minni sees as the most interesting thing about them isn't that they are a pair of bi-racial twins, but that they were born in their dad's airplane.

The story is narrated in the 3rd person, from Minni's perspective, and it is her uncertainly about where she fits that in many ways drives the narrative, because she looks white, but identifies as black--except... does she? That's the underlying uncertainly she feels, and the trip to the South clarifies a lot of things for her. In Port Townsend, she "fits in" and Keira is the odd one, the only black child in their classes, or their community. Minni thinks that the teasing she gets for her red hair and freckles (I identify with that, too!) allows her to understand her sister's experience, but she's forced to see that it really isn't the same.

And the pageant? The author isn't too hard on that, but she does poke fun (deservedly so, to this tomboy) at the culture of pageants, with the inevitable artificiality of at least some of the participants, and the over-involvement of too many of parents. Grandmother Johnson is another shallow (grand)mother, just wanting them to succeed to prove something for her... or is she? One of the many things Minni and Keira have to learn is that people are more complicated than they look from the outside.

My Recommendation:
This is a very good read, and is particularly timely right now. I wouldn't have minded a little more discussion from a feminist perspective of the whole pageant thing--the twins' mother sees it from there, but not much is made of it. But the questions of race, and of being an "ally," are very well presented, in my opinion. There are no easy answers, but the sisters' love is the thing that stands out.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Other Half of My Heart 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, June 19, 2020

Walking in the park

I am fortunate to live in a town with one of the best "city parks" anywhere. Bidwell Park offers tranquil walks along the creek in town, and "real" hikes in the upper park, up Chico Creek's scenic volcanic canyon. I've been spending a lot of time through the COVID lockdown hiking and biking the park, and occasionally stop for a photo or two.

Here's a sampling of photos from both the lower and upper parks.

In April, it was still green and lush, especially in the lower park.

Water and reflections are a great source of tranquility.

I'm particularly fond of the abstractions formed as water moves smoothly over and past obstructions.

The upper park is better for wildflowers, especially in April.
I sometimes take my cheap, heavy mountain bike (bought for hauling groceries, not biking trails!) into the upper park. It's a great workout, riding a heavy bike up very rough trails and roads.

The best is when thunderstorms come down from the mountains.

Storm clouds AND fractal trees!

The view up-canyon into the storm.

Wishing you all someplace as beautiful and comforting to hike and explore in these hard times.


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, June 17, 2020

WEP--Flash Fiction with a theme

Today is the Write, Edit, Publish flash fiction challenge. The June theme is...

urban nightmare

I'm not participating this month, but I'll encourage my readers to head on over to the sign-up list and check out the stories. The WEP authors always have some inventive takes on the prompts!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Voyagers

I have begun reading Voyagers: The Third Ghost, and I'm excited about the stories--the ones I've read so far are great! Voyagers  is the 2019 IWSG short-story anthology, and of course I'm extra excited because my story, "A World of Trouble," is in there.
Our Latest!

This isn't a review, but there have been some reviews, and posts about and by the authors, that I want to share now that I'm reading the book and thinking about it!

From the authors:

Reviews of Voyagers: The Third Ghost:

1. Check out lots of reviews and ratings at Goodreads and Amazon.

2. Roland Clarke's Bookshelf Review at his website Writing Wings features Voyagers:  
The Third Ghost.

3. Erin Kahn at The Wood Between the Worlds

Interviews with Authors:

1. Yvonne Ventresca with Stacy Horan at The Bookshop at the End of the Internet

2.  Sherry Ellis with June McCrary Jacobs at Reading, Writing & Stitch-Metic 

3. Roland Clarke with Laura Wolfe at The Sustainable Writer

Blog Features:

1. Voyager Authors with Mason Canyon at Thoughts in Progress (Part 1)

2. Voyager Authors with Mason Canyon at Thoughts in Progress (Part 2)

Thanks for your support!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Photo Friday: Antarctica #6

I have struggled a bit with looking at and selecting photos to continue sharing with you all. Not because I don't want to share them--I do. Photos are meant to be shared. It's just kind of hard right now to look at that other life. But I decided I could do it, with less commentary, but remembering the good times. It helps in a way that on most of these outings Dave and I were in separate groups. (For those who wonder, it's because I got ready much faster, and once dressed for outdoors in Antarctica, staying in the ship wasn't an option!)

This was Day 4 along the Antarctic Peninsula, where we spent the morning doing both a landing and a zodiac cruise at Portal Point. This was a whales, seals, and snow morning! I was in the group that landed first, then cruised, and it started snowing shortly after we landed. By the time the zodiac cruise ended, it was raining, and the weather worsened enough we didn't have an afternoon outing. I'll just share the photos with minimal captions and let you enjoy the amazing world that is still out there, somewhere beyond the COVID Curtain.

These guys were the welcome crew by the landing--a pair of crab eater seals, IIRC.

Seals on land are pretty funny!

Big wet snowflakes

As we approached the landing.

X marks the spot... for something? The pattern is from wave erosion suggesting several roll-overs.
We'd seen whales swimming and breaching from the shore, and it didn't take long for a closer look.
My best shot of a breaching whale--a little fuzzy due to excitement and a wobbly boat.
As photos go, this is awful--but I wanted to show the huge splash when the whale came back down!
Today's gratuitous penguins. If we'd returned to Ushuaia as intended, I might have bought one of these!

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, June 10, 2020

Writer's Update

Just a quick note today to say it's working: I have progressed from forcing myself to write a sentence a day, however hard, to writing multiple paragraphs. As a result, my story for the 2020 IWSG Anthology contest is now up to over 1200 words. Many of those words, I have no doubt, will need to be removed again. But the point is that the words are coming, the story is taking shape both in my mind and on the page, and I can even lose myself in that other world for a time.

Encouraged by that progress, I've resumed editing on my novel in a small way, though that's much more sporadic. I'm not doing the heavy lifting: I'm making notes of what I have and what needs to be changed and rewritten. I'm not trying yet to actually rewrite it. Baby steps.

What is most encouraging is simply that I can work on these projects, even if only for a short time each day. It gives me hope that I can once again start enjoying creating new worlds and losing myself in them.

Thanks again for all the encouraging words you've been leaving me. I've had some pretty bad days, but when I keep very busy I find I can make it through. Some extra challenges are coming up this week, so keep me in your thoughts.

Here are a couple of things that help me every day.
My garden. Growing things is good for the soul, and especially growing things to eat. Finding a fuzzy bug head down in a squash blossom pollinating for all it's worth is a bonus.

Hiking. I am blessed to have this park within walking or biking distance of my home. A thunderstorm over the mountains was a bonus last weekend.

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, June 8, 2020

Book Blast: Bad Fairy, by Elaine Kaye

Title: Bad Fairy
Series: A Bad Fairy Adventure (Book One)
Author: Elaine Kaye
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, 2020. 66 pages
Genre: Fantasy Middle Grade
Age Range: 8-12

Publisher's Blurb:
Thistle Greenbud is not a bad fairy. She simply doesn't like rules, and it's just her luck that her homework is to create a new rule for the fairy handbook. But first, she has more important things to do. Like figure out how to get back at Dusty and Moss for playing tricks on her.

Before she can carry out her plan, though, disaster strikes and she finds herself working alongside the very fairies she wanted revenge on. Can they work together and trust each other, or will things go from bad to worse?


As we watch the boys, the wind picks up, making the fern lay flat, exposing us. We gasp and make a dash for the closest tree. Behind it, we huddle together.

“Boogles! A branch just hit me,” Weedy says.

The sky turns black. Wind swirls dust and leaves, and spits pebbles at us. This is not good. We have to get going now or else our payback will get blown away.

“Let’s go!” I scream and lead the group from behind the tree, but the wind makes it hard for us to move forward.

Rose and Lilly grab hands as they run, screaming, toward the creek. Lacey stumbles over a fallen twig, landing flat and hitting her face hard on the ground. When she doesn’t move, I race to her as sand and pine needles prick my skin.

I help Lacey to her feet. Luckily, she only has a few cuts on her face. A tiny bit of blood streaks down her forehead. She looks at me. Fear is bright in her eyes. She needs help. We all need help. I peer toward the creek. The boys are still there, frantically trying to lift the bag full of stones.

Shouting a warning and waving my arms, I hurry to the creek, trying to get their attention. Finally, Dusty sees me. He looks as if he’s been caught with his hand in the pixie jar.

I point to the sky and wave them to come our way. Rain starts to fall. Dusty pulls Moss from the creek. Fat drops of water pelt my head and wings as I wait for the boys to reach me.

“It must be a twisty!” Dusty screams. “We better find shelter.”

3 Signed Paperback Picture Books –
Pea Soup Disaster, Doctor Mom, The Missing Alphabet

a Rafflecopter giveaway Eligibility: International
Number of Winners: One
Giveaway Ends: July 1, 2020 12:00am Eastern Standard Time

Elaine Kaye is the author of A Gregory Green Adventure series. She first created Gregory Green after her son, who loved her homemade pea soup, thus inspiring the story Pea Soup Disaster. Bad Fairy is her middle grade debut and the first of A Bad Fairy Adventure series.

Kaye has worked as a library assistant and teacher’s assistant in elementary schools in the Sunshine State. She currently lives in Florida, but she has called Michigan; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Okinawa, Japan home. She is a grandmother of three boys.

Amazon / Goodreads / BookBub / Instagram / Facebook Twitter / LinkedIn / Blog

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

IWSG June Post

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 this 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 to change it as Google+ is going away in January. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.   
The next posting day is June 3rd. 

Sign up here.
Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.
Remember, the question is optional!!! 

June 3 question - Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work? 
The awesome co-hosts for the June 3 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre!

It's been a tough month (see here and here for more information), and I don't have much to say about writing, though I am making an effort to get back to working at least a little. I even submitted some flash fiction stories, thanks to a tip from Jemima Pett. I want to give a huge thank-you to all of you who have been sending messages of strength and support. This is uncharted territory, and the support of friends is a huge help, and this is an amazing group that reaches far beyond encouraging comments about writing.

For this month, I'm setting only one writer goal for myself: to write at least a few words, most days. For now, I'm trying to write a few blog posts and even bits of a short story. Writing is hard, but it is also a comforting activity, because as much as I'm often an insecure writer, I also know where I am with a keyboard under my fingers.


I can't think of anything to say in answer to this month's optional question, but I would love to hear your secrets! Leave a comment and tell me about your secret identity!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Talking Leaves, by Joseph Bruchac (audio book)


Title: Talking Leaves
Author: Joseph Bruchac. Read by the author
Publication Info: 2016, Random House Audio. Original 2016 by Dial Books, 256 pages
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:

Thirteen-year-old Uwohali has not seen his father, Sequoyah, for many years. So when Sequoyah returns to the village, Uwohali is eager to reconnect. But Sequoyah’s new obsession with making strange markings causes friends and neighbors in their tribe to wonder whether he is crazy, or worse—practicing witchcraft. What they don’t know, and what Uwohali discovers, is that Sequoyah is a genius and his strange markings are actually an alphabet representing the sounds of the Cherokee language. 

The story of one of the most important figures in Native American history is brought to life for middle grade readers.

My Review:  

This is both a story of a boy coming of age and learning to understand his father, and a story of something very important in Native American history. As with his Code Talker, Bruchac is the writer to tackle it.

The brilliance of the story in fact lies in telling it from the perspective of the estranged son, not that of Sequoyah himself. In this way we, like Uwohali, gradually come to understand the importance of what Sequoyah is doing. Even though the reader knows from the start (unlike Uwohali) that Sequoyah isn't crazy, but is making an alphabet for the Cherokee language, we share the boy's uncertainty as he tries to figure it out--and his excitement when he finally understands. 

What took me a while to get was why Sequoyah needed to make a new alphabet, rather than using the sounds of the English alphabet to create the sounds of Cherokee. I think that listening to Bruchac reading, with the many Cherokee words in the book, helped me to see that the ABCs simply can't capture the sounds. For this reason, I would recommend the audio book.

There was one aspect of the writing that bothered me some, probably mostly in the audio as I'd be less likely to notice it in print: the slightly stilted diction of the narrator (Uwohali). It is the diction of someone for whom English isn't the native language, but at times I wondered if it wasn't a bit of a stereotype. I honestly don't know; it certainly wouldn't seem right to have him using idiomatic modern English, and the lack of contractions would, I think, be historically accurate. In any case, it was a small thing. The story is more than worth the read, or the listen.

Blended in with the story of the language is a great deal of history of the Cherokee people, some of it fairly painful. This, too, is important to know. But always I came back to appreciating a book about the importance of language.

My Recommendation:

Read it, or listen to it, and learn about an important bit of American history.

FTC Disclosure: I checked Talking Leaves 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."