Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pinocchio's Sister, Another Great Vaudeville Story by Jan Slepian

Last week I shared my response to Jan Slepian’s novel for grades 4-6, The Mind Reader. This unique story was about a family whose popular vaudeville act involved mind reading. In a surprising twist, it turned out that the son actually could read minds, a talent that led to all sorts of problems, but finally to a happy ending. Slepian has written a second book about vaudeville, Pinocchio’s Sister. In both books Slepian draws on material from relatives in her family who actually performed in vaudeville. As in The Mind Reader, she convincingly depicts the hardships of being on the road in different theaters, staying at different boarding houses. A reader can identify with the anxiety about whether one’s act will stay or be dropped, the bullying by theater managers, the poor pay, the comradery andcompetition between performers of various acts.

But Pinocchio’s Sister, is a darker, more poignant tale than The Mind Reader. Like the latter, Pinocchio’s Sister was written in the 1990’s, but has the swift pace and vivid writing we expect from today’s writers. Theoretically it’s for 8-to-12-year-olds, but School Library Journal suggests it might be better for older audiences because of its underlying theme of emotional abuse. I found it a profoundly moving story that lingers in your mind long after the last page. This is literature at its finest.

The story: Ten-year-old Martha Rosedale travels with her father on the vaudeville circuit and is part of his act. The book opens at a new theater and a new boarding house. But someone else is ever present in the act—the puppet, Iris, who sits on Mr. Rosedale’s lap and says smart-aleck remarks the audience loves. Martha’s father does all the talking—and even singing—but he’s such an adept ventriloquist, he makes audiences suspend disbelief. Martha’s mother died when she was small. For a short time, her father remarried, but his new wife ran off with another actor, leaving Mr. Rosedale with only Martha and . . . Iris.

In the vaudeville act Mr. Rosedale created, Iris wears pretty dresses and has a blonde curly wig. Martha wears a tattered dress and implores him to come home to a family he seems to have abandoned, while Iris zings one-liners at Martha. Audiences love Iris and her smart mouth, although they feel for poor, tattered Martha and join in the plea for him to go home. Iris, meanwhile, has a punchline – “Help, help” – always said sarcastically. This punchline becomes significant later in the story in a way that is nothing short of heart-breaking. 

Since Iris is the family breadwinner, so to speak, Mr. Rosedale lavishes more attention on her than on his own daughter. Jealousy eats at Martha. Still, her life is brightened by another family in the show: a group of Polish acrobats. The twelve-year-old boy in the act, Stashu Pliska, becomes Martha’s friend. Unwittingly, Stashu is pulled into Martha’s desperate plan to deal with Iris. Meanwhile, the proprietress at the boarding house, Mrs. Pelosi, becomes sort of a surrogate mother to Martha. Mrs. Pelosi was a former vaudeville singer and is drawn so vividly, you feel she could actually be running a boarding house just down the street, even though those days have long vanished.  

This is wonderful story, grippingly told, with memorable highs and lows and both a sad ending and a happy ending. Jan Slepian was a brilliant writer. The two books I’ve read by her have sent me on a quest to find more of her books in hopes of learning more about how she works her magic. 

I can remember when I was a kid listening to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and being entranced by the idea of puppets and ventriloquism. How about you? Did you have favorite puppet shows? Did you ever hear or know a ventriloquist? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Look Into My Eyes — No, Don't!


Since my present WIP involves a character who was once in vaudeville, I’ve been doing a lot of research. I’ve read nonfiction histories of vaudeville and, more  recently, fictional 
works with characters in Vaudeville. Thus, I stumbled across this little gem of an MG novel about a family whose stage act takes a surprising turn: The Mind Reader, by Jan Slepian.              

The Amazing Leonders have a mind reading act – one with codes and gimmicks all worked out as cues to give Leo Leonder, the father and mind reader of the act, all the information he needs to give a reading. He has a problem with alcohol, although he’s never too drunk to perform. Clara, the mother, dressed in scarves and glitter, posing as Princess Shalimar, is the one who goes into the audience and elicits the information. On the particular night that kicks off the story, Connie’s father has passed out cold and can’t be revived enough to go on. 

The tale is told by ten-year-old Annie Ellinger, whose parents have a song-and-dance act in the same show. She hangs out with Connie (short for Conrad) and realizes he knows the whole mind-reading act forwards and backwards. She suggests that Connie take Mr. Leonder’s place. Hurriedly, Connie is hustled into the turban and robe and make-up that create the Amazing Leonder. Unlike his father, if Connie looks into the eyes of someone, he really can read that person’s mind. For this reason, he has always avoided people’s gazes. Annie has found that sweet. In fact she has a crush on him. 

In his fill-in-for-his-father performance, Connie makes the mistake of meeting the gaze of an audience member who is up to no good and yells, “No! Don’t do it!” The man runs out of the theater. The audience erupts in excitement. This is the kind of “show” they love, as does the theater manager. Connie becomes the new and even more popular “Amazing Leonder”. The family is making good money. But Connie is miserable because of what he sees in people’s hearts. The decision he takes next brings several surprises that lead to a dramatic (and heartwarming) conclusion. 

The characters in this book are endearingly quirky. The details about vaudeville life and performers ring true. Setting details for the acts and stage layouts are well-rendered. The book came out in the late ‘90s, but the writing is lively, fresh, and original. The author did a masterful job recreating the world these characters inhabit. I heartily recommend this book which achieves what the best vaudeville achieves: It entertains and leaves you wondering.

Do you like mind reading acts? Do you believe in mind reading?

Friday, July 13, 2018

A New Way to Enjoy Sherlock Holmes

It isn’t mandatory for a book about Sherlock to be a new mystery starring Sherlock. In this clever new series, Gemma Doyle, manager of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, uses Sherlockian logic to figure out a crime scene she reluctantly stumbles into.

In Elementary, She read, by Vicki Delany, Gemma has come to West London in Cape Cod for a fresh start after her divorce. She manages the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium for her great uncle, Arthur Doyle, a Sherlock Holmes aficionado (and maybe even a distant, distant relative of the famous author). Uncle Arthur bought the building for its address: 222 Baker Street. Next door (220 Baker Street) Jayne Wilson, who co-owns Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, has become Gemma’s best friend and confidant. The two shops are connected, benefiting both businesses. 

The story kick-off: While tidying up after twenty-four women on a bridge group holiday swept in, shopped, and left, Gemma comes across a bag wedged between some books. Inside the bag is what appears to be an original edition of a magazine containing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story. If not fake, it could be worth a fortune. Gemma finds a postcard in the bag with the name of the hotel where the magazine’s owner must be staying. After stashing the magazine in her great uncle’s safe at home, she and Jayne set out for the hotel to ask a few questions before returning the magazine. They find a dead body, and the game is afoot.

The characters are deftly drawn: Gemma isn’t the Sherlock Holmes fan both her great uncle and Jayne are, but her mind works, ironically, like the Great Detective’s. She can take every little detail and arrive at accurate conclusions in a way that disconcerts local police and even wrecked a fine romance. Jayne is her Doctor Watson, sensible, anchored, and yet secretly thrilling to the adventure Gemma drags her into. Other quirky characters move the plot along: great uncle Arthur who, despite being in his 90s, has wanderlust and is on a trip in this story. The author’s brushstrokes are just enough to make him vivid by his absence. (This reader hopes he pops up again in a future book.) Then there is Ruby, the grumpy clerk at the shop cash register; Irene Talbot, the journalist hungry for a story; two book collectors (one hunky, one boring), who take an interest in the magazine; Detective Louise Estrada, out to pin a murder rap on Gemma; a dysfunctional family of would-be heirs . . . and many minor characters breeze through the pages with life and humor. Gemma, as a matter of fact, has some very funny lines throughout. 

This is a mystery that is both satisfying in the puzzle sense and disarming to a reader who likes cozy mysteries with endearing sleuths.

Vicki Delany obviously loves writing mysteries and has several series out, as well as stand-alones. You can learn more about her at her website HERE

How about you? Are you excited to find a new series? If so, is it the location or the characters that grab you and make you want to read more?   Do you prefer stand alone novels  or series?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and a Quantity of Debt — Book Review

I have been "missing in action" for almost a month since we came back from Spain and Portugal. (No this picture is not me; it's the cover of a good book I read and am reviewing below.) On return from our trip, we immediately needed to go vote in the California primary. Then Rajan had cataract surgery (which went well). And ever since then I've been catching up on gardening, cleaning, and politics. (Marching this Saturday on behalf of asylum seekers on the border.)

I also wrote a new post about the Braga Romana festival in Portugal on my Fourth Wish blog HEREif you want to check it out.

But I've also found time to read.  I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, and although the discovery of pastiches came late to me, now I'm hooked. When they are well done, they are as satisfying as the original stories. I just finished a most satisfying mystery by David Marcum: Sherlock Holmes and a Quantity of Debt. 

Here is my review below:

David Marcum’s new mystery once again presents Sherlock Holmes and John Watson with just the right “voice” to make this novel seem as if it is part of “the Canon”. The title pays homage to a line from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations,and its layers of meaning unfold with the story.

The story opens with Dr. Watson in the doldrums over the death of his beloved first wife, Constance. He has moved back in with Holmes for company and for some direction to his now purposeless life. It is a cold, stormy day in April. Enter Inspector Alec McDonald with a troubling case in Bedfordshire: Workmen who were replacing an antiquated pipe drainage system on an estate uncovered a body hidden under the pipe fifty years earlier. The corpse has been well-preserved with physical details that play a large part in the story. McDonald asks for help from Sherlock, and off the three go to Bedfordshire to investigate further.

The cast of characters are wonderfully “Victorian Gothic”: Martin Briley, the estate owner, is an old man in his sixties. He’s highly thought of by all the villagers for his many good works throughout his life, but now he’s chair-bound and on the brink of death. His housekeeper, Mrs. Lynch, is as freezing as the inclement weather outside. On the other hand, his estate agent, George Burton, is a popular villager who has worked his way up to his current position. Burton, soon to inherit the estate, enjoys only antipathy from the forbidding Mrs. Lynch. Minor characters are quirky enough to be memorable without detracting from the main cast. Interiors, landscapes, and weather are so well described it’s easy for a reader to visualize and navigate all sites in the story and feel immersed in Victorian England. The clues scattered along the twists and turns of this puzzle mystery lead to a satisfying conclusion. 

All in all, a pleasurable read, and I certainly hope more from this author are in the works. 

Author, David Marcum


David Marcum is also the author of several Sherlock Holmes adventures as well as the editor of several Sherlock Holmes story collections. You can read more about him and all of his writing ventures on his Author Page HERE.

How about you? Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? Are you a mystery fan? Do you prefer novels or stories? Have you ever written a pastiche?

You can contact David Marcum at 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

An Evening in Apúlia That Began with Pessoa

My husband and I returned Sunday from a five-day trip to Braga, Portugal. We went for the Braga Romana Festival, which I'll be posting about soon, with pictures.  Here is a little "taster" until then. But today our last evening in Braga is fresh in my mind, because friends we've been privileged to know — Carla Pereira, her husband, Armando Coelho, and their daughter, Beatriz — made it magical.  
To begin with, I am a fan of Pessoa, the mysterious Portuguese poet whose poems were never discovered until after his death. He's considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, and one of Portugal's two greatest poets. The fact that I'm a fan doesn't mean I've read a lot of his work: But I do have two books of his translated poems that I dip into from time to time. And when I do, there is something about his use of words, even translated, that etch the heart and linger on.
So the evening we were to go out to dinner, Carla invited us to their flat for snacks first, and gave us this marvelous present: A hand-crafted book of some of his poems. You can see what a marvel the book is: The cover is wood, as it the spine, all lovingly assembled into a masterpiece of workmanship. The poems are in Portuguese, alas, but I will make it my Portuguese language lesson to start translating them one by one — probably for the next 30 years! 😊 She also gave us a bottle of Dona Carla wine, which we are saving for a special occasion. (Maybe when my new book comes out in October)

Those were the first two surprises.

The third surprise was where we went for dinner — a small fishing village about 32 kilometers away from Braga. It's called Apúlia, which is also the name of a town in Italy, and it is thought that perhaps there is a connection, due to Roman-style original folk costumes that may go back to the Roman Empire. The name of the restaurant was A Cabana (The Beach Hut). More about that later, but first we walked along the beach, enjoying the fresh breeze, the susurro of waves, the peacefulness that always comes near the ocean.


Carla took the picture of me on the beach looking up at Rajan. The reason I like this picture so much is that a few minutes earlier, a man came along singing loudly and with high spirits. I think he was gypsy because of the melody of his song and the wonderful "warbling" effect that you often hear in gypsy music. He stopped and leaned on the rail above, looking out to sea, with his arms wide open toward the water. Rajan was beside him at that point and gave him a couple of coins, and, in Spanish he spoke at length, thanking Rajan, blessing him, blessing his wife (with a nod to me where I was looking up from the sand), and then he went on his way, singing. I had my camera and would have loved to take a picture, but it would have made him self-conscious. And it would have destroyed the moment. But it's an experience I will always remember. 

Before we got back in the car to go to A Cabana, we posed for two group photos. And then we went on to the restaurant which was another great experience.

The restaurant was one of several in a line, but it was absolutely packed. Obviously a popular place. Wonderful artifacts of the sea and of fishing. Waiters who loved to joke — and who were some of the fastest I'd ever seen! And the food was just delicious. We had grilled salmon, but it came with potatoes and vegetables, and the meal was served with a very tasty table wine in a carafe the water kept refilling. Everyone at every table seemed to be having a wonderful time. (WE certainly were!) 

Finally, it was time to go. But the evening wasn't over! You might call this surprise #4: Armando drove us from beach area to beach area as twilight fell. It was a beautiful night. The sky was that lovely blue that always seems so mystical. The moon wasn't visible from inside the car, but Venus was — a planet, but also known as the evening star and the morning star, and always shining brightly. That's the epitome of Portugal for me: always shining brightly. 

How about you? What is the most magical trip you can remember? What is the most magical evening? Does twilight affect you? Do you love to wander along the beach?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Late Celebration of My Husband's Birthday.

My husband's birthday was last Thursday, but we've been too busy to post anything. Here is a photo of where we had our birthday dinner Thursday (O Grelo), a wonderful restaurant in Monforte de Lemos that cooked some of the best fish we've ever tasted.

The next day we had lunch with a friend, and she brought us a beautiful white rose, which has been unfolding by degrees each day in our galleria. 

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Lots more has been going on before and after, visits with friends and sightseeing, but frankly, we've been too busy for me to download anything until this morning. And all my posting about other pictures will have to wait because we are on the go again, visiting friend today and going to Braga, Portugal tomorrow (for 5 days). I hope to bring back lots of pictures and do lots of posting on return. Till then, best wishes for a good week and wonderful week-end.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Today I'm Posting Next Door at Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish

My post today about a recent trip to an ancient castro is next door at my Fourth Wish Blog. You can read it HERE. Please do visit, and I'll be back at Victorian Scribbles later this week.

Have a great day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Mystery Anthology is Launched!

I'm not a member of the ISWG, but I'm a mystery fan, and the prospect of a collection of mystery short stories was too good to pass up. I've ordered my print copy that will be waiting for me when I get back from my vacation. Go visit the site HERE and grab a copy for yourself: It's in both print format and ebook format.

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Here is the blurb: "The clock is ticking...
Can a dead child's cross-stitch pendant find a missing nun? Is revenge possible in just 48 minutes? Can a killer be stopped before the rescuers are engulfed by a city ablaze? Who killed what the tide brought in? Can a soliloquizing gumshoe stay out of jail?
Exploring the facets of time, eleven authors delve into mysteries and crimes that linger in both dark corners and plain sight. Featuring the talents of Gwen Gardner, Rebecca M. Douglass, Tara Tyler, S. R. Betler, C.D. Gallant-King, Jemi Fraser, J. R. Ferguson, Yolanda Renée, C. Lee McKenzie, Christine Clemetson, and Mary Aalgaard.
Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these eleven tales will take you on a thrilling ride into jeopardy and secrecy. Trail along, find the clues, and stay out of danger. Time is wasting…"


Are you a mystery fan? Do you belong to the ISWG? Do you like story collections? 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Back in Galicia, Spain!

Today I'm celebrating being back in Galicia Spain. It's hard to believe we left Sacramento two weeks ago, arriving on Saturday evening, April 14th (Spain time). Since arrival, we've had intermittent cold, warmth, bright sunny days, thunderstorms, sun again, wind . . .. Each day is an adventure in weather.

It's great to be back! We've been busy ever since, having lunches with friends, snacks with neighbors, visiting our closest neighbors Eva & Manolo often, walking to a nearby pueblo (about a mile or two away), going into Monforte de Lemos (the closest bigger town) to walk around and stop for a glass of wine at our favorite cafe-bar on the main plaza.

Above is a picture of our field that one of our neighbors, Miguel-Angel plants each year with potatoes. It was plowed like this last week with plans to plant on Monday, but a fierce thunderstorm struck on Sunday, so he had to wait until Wednesday. Here are some scenes from a walk we took to El Barrio, a small village that fringes the larger village of Tuiriz.

This is outside a small village
 called Santalla, taken from the road.
Nearing El Barrio. 
Somewhere along the way.

Meanwhile, below is a picture of the plaza in Monforte. It's like this all the time, filled with families enjoying coffee, lunch, beer or wine, pastries. Kids running about everywhere in glee. Babies being cooed over. And the rise and fall of voices in the beautiful Spanish language.
Outside a cafe-bar we like, Lienzo.

Because we have come here so often and for so long, we keep running into people we know in Monforte. It's almost like a homecoming. Our Spanish is decent enough that we can limp through conversations without too much trouble. In no way can I say we are fluent—we aren't by a long shot—but it's encouraging to at least understand most things and to be understood. (And the Spanish are encouraging. They patiently wait out our word searches.)

More pictures will be coming. Meanwhile, do you like to walk out in the country? In the park? What are some of your favorite walks?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Two Great Books by Steve Richardson

Today I want to share two wonderful books for children, both written by Steve Richardson. They are inspiring and uplifting picture story books/early chapter books, and each one is beautifully illustrated. Both are picture books for kids of any age, since the pictures tell each story visually. They are the kind of books that belong in libraries—public, school, and personal—because they beg to be read more than once. The first is Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest, which came out last month. The second is Billy's Mountain. (My neighbor read it to her two-year-old grandson, and he has been building mountains in her back garden ever since.) Without further ado:

Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest,
written by Steve Richardson, illustrated by Chris Dunn

When Jimmy Squirrel announces that his dad can build the biggest, best treehouse in the world, he stirs up competition among his friends—and not the best kind. Everyone says their dad can build bigger and better ones. Only Paisley Rabbit is silent, but she is the one to suggest a contest: Everyone will build a treehouse and then vote on the best one. 
            They all get to work on building their treehouses—except Paisley. She gets to work on research instead. Her main priority is her little brother, Davy, who needs a kidney transplant. She promises him she will have a special project for him and then plots out her master plan. 
            There is so much to like about this book. No spoilers here, but Paisley shows how vision, perseverance, caring for others, and working together can achieve much more than brash ego. Her ultimate treehouse benefits others in a way no one would have foreseen. This is an inspiring story with a strong female protagonist. The ending is both surprising and deeply satisfying.
            Chris Dunn's illustrations are gorgeous, with incredible details. Page by page, they tell the story as a feast for the eyes. This is a book for every home or school library, and it’s a layered story one will read again and again.

Billy's Mountain, written by Steve Richardson, illustrated by Herb Leonard

            For Billy, life on a Kansas Prairie has only offered an unchanging landscape of flat prairie. His favorite book shows snow-capped mountains, forests, waterfalls. One day an idea comes to him: he’ll build a mountain like the ones in his beloved book. It will bring all the wildlife in those pictures: bears, deer, elk, beavers. At first, Billy enlists the help of his friends, but the going is slow, and they give up after they’ve built a forty-foot hill. 

But Billy is determined. He contacts a family friend who is also a reporter. The reporter writes an article about Billy’s dream. The story makes national news. The news reaches an old man who remembershisearly dreams. He, too has a determined spirit. He decides to work with Billy. And when young and old work together with determination—well, miracles can happen. 

The author takes time with the miracles that unfold in this book. Young readers will develop an understanding of ecology and wildlife while seeing, too, the result of collective effort and commitment. None of this is didactic or preachy. It’s easy to get involved in Billy’s plans and root for them, and it’s interesting to wait for what comes next.

Herb Leonard’s illustrations have the same, comfortable feel that drives the story. Kansas prairies, mountain meadows, snow caps and streams, Billy’s hopeful face as he thinks of his mountain—all these have a glow to them that make a reader feel they are in each scene.  

You can learn more about Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest HERE
You can learn more about Billy's Mountain HERE

How about you? Do you have favorite books that keep resonating with you because of both the wonderful story and the wonderful illustrations? Any titles, authors, or illustrates  to share?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Entering Contests — At Last


These pictures may look familiar to you. This is how my desk usually looks when I        
 haven't tidied it up, and I seldom think to take a picture of it looking neat. This is how it looks again, because I've been insanely busy, and a mess doesn't seem to call for new photos.

Between this week and last, I have submitted 2 stories, 3 flash fictions, and 12 poems to contests. Yup. I'm celebrating that. And this is why I did it: I'm staring work on part two of an old book that bogged down when I got stuck. It's an MG novel, and you know how long a novel can take! Now I'm on fire with this WIP again, but I have learned from experience: 

When I work on a novel, everything else just sits in the filing cabinet: stories, flash fictions, poems. And they nag at me. Besides, my copy of Poets & Writers was giving me the accusing stare. I'm always interested in thumbing through the magazine's links for general submission deadlines — that I often don't do anything about — but this issue (March/April) is chock full of contests with  deadlines in March, April, and May. 

 So. I decided, get those little rascals out of the cabinet and into the cybersphere so they aren't hanging over my head, interfering with the present novel I want to work on in peace. It was a matter of clearing the slate. It isn't too late to get your own copy of Poets & Writers, even go to your local library, and check out deadlines you can still make. There's quite a few in April & May.

Now I can even clean house (way overdue, since I was doing research for the novel.) Yup, it's clearing out time in general.

How about you? Have you taken on any "clean sweep" type projects? Have you taken the plunge to submit to contests? What are you celebrating this week?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Last Saturday's Art Show at University Art Supplies Store

I'm celebrating two days early or five days late, depending on how you look at it. Here are the art pieces from the South Natomas Community Center's Art Club Show. The reception was last Saturday, from 1:00pm to 3:00pm and students served punch and cookies. The timing was because in Sacramento, Second Saturday each month is when art receptions are held, although with adult artists receptions are in the evening, and munchies and wine are usually served.

 I had to clamber around in the window to take these photos, so they aren't as tidy as I would wish. The pieces are mounted on a wallpaper trim background, then mounted again on a mat the has complementary coloring. These last 3 are different angles of the complete show.

The little tags hanging below each art piece are the artistic statements of the student artists. They are always so interesting to read.

Enjoy the show! And have a nice day.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)