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There are bad things in the woods. Grabbers. Lose one of your things? It might have been taken by a grabber. Once it has something of yours, you know it’s coming back. For you.

Kestrel is twelve. She hunts and kills grabbers, usually after they’ve taken their prey. She’s been trained well by her grandmother, someone from outside the woods. Her father is a wolf trapper. Hunting is in her blood.

She might be a hunter of grabbers, but that hasn’t endeared her to the villagers who dislike her as much as they fear her mother. They want to get rid of her as bad as Kestrel wants to leave the woods, especially now that a grabber is after her.

 

Monster story. Fantasy. Adventure. I was rooting through the whole book for Kestrel as she faces grabbers and other nightmarish creatures (face painters, the briny witch, bonebirds, and her own really creepy mother). I rooted for her as she fought to get out of the woods.

The monsters in the book are well fleshed out (figuratively) . Her mother is tied to the house with strands of twisted wool that’s knotted around furniture, the floor and even through holes in soup bowls. The Briny Witch is made of floating rags and small fish dart around and through his head. What a wonderful image.

There are twists and turns in the story and surprises. All make it a good read.

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When my sister came to South Carolina, Penny, the cat, accompanied her. In Texas, she was an indoor/outdoor cat. Now she’s indoor. We were worried how she’d adjust as she’s an active kitty. I wasn’t quite prepared for it. It means dangling her favorite toy and me running around the house. It means having her chomp on cardboard boxes and drizzle bits of it around the carpet. It means have a squirt bottle handy to thwart the sharpening claws on carpets.

We are learning to adjust.

And Penny is adjusting too.

We got her to stop using the couch as a scratching post. She knows when we shake the squirt bottle, to stop whatever she’s doing. She’s okay, so far, with staying indoors. Being still a young kitty, we can’t expect her to stop playing so we’ve gotten used to dangling toys, throwing toys, and shining a red light on the floor.

One day, I was talking with some neighbors who live with a young beagle. What a handful he used to be, always barking. Now he walks along placidly. We discussing training pets, getting them to behave. I told them about Penny’s Playland, i.e. our house. They understood.

I’m hoping that playland will be eventually downsized, but so far it doesn’t look like it will. Penny’s now appropriated my favorite sitting spot.

I finally managed to get back to Charleston, this time after my story was in its final stages and edits. I wanted to, needed to, walk where my characters did. I wanted to get a better feel for the time and place. Of course with the story set in the 1800’s, it’s not exactly what it was. The cars kind of ruined it. Still, I still got a good feel.

Besides the presence of modern conveniences, fires and wars and progress have decimated a number of buildings featured in the novel. Luckily there’s enough left of historic downtown to soak in the ambience and pretend, a little, it was the 1880’s.

I was amazed at some of the places still standing, such as the Old Jail. I was certain it was long gone and yet there it is, half boarded up. I mourned the loss of the old Charleston Hotel, demolished in the 1960’s or thereabouts. Whoever designed the bank building replacing it, did a marvelous job. While modern, it has elements of the hotel such as the columns.

I strolled through Marion Park and Washington Park where, after the earthquake struck, townspeople camped. The latter is so tiny. How did all those people fit in it?

The train station complex is difficult to envision. Yes, part remains as the visitor center and museums (A replica of ‘The Best of Charleston’, America’s first train is here, free to see), I was hard pressed to get a vibe of how it was back then. There’s surprising, so little information of this particular area.

Of course, the churches are the same and residences and commercial still stand, many with ‘earthquake bolts’ to keep them together. At some sites, such as the Agricultural Hall and the ruins of St. Finbar, I could only gaze and mentally replace what’s there with what was.

All in all, I got what I came for and left Charleston knowing I’ll have to visit again.

Holly is dead. Her death weighs heavy on her sister, Emily, and her parents. With Holly’s death, Bluey is gone too, and so is the world Emily made up, the land of Smockeroon. Only writing memories about the teddy bear, Bluey, helps Emily cope.

Then, one night, Emily dreams of Bluey and it’s like he’s trying to send her a message. But that’s crazy, except weird things start to happen and soon she’s not the only one seeing soft toys come to life.

 

Talking teddies are right down my alley so I had to read this book and am glad I did. Not only did I like the talking toy aspects, but I enjoyed how Ms. Saunders treated the death of the older sister, Holley, who was disabled. One could really feel the love Emily had for her sister and the heartache of children losing siblings and parents losing children. It was gently done.

I felt a kinship in Ruth, an adult, who sometimes takes care of Emily after school. She has a love for old toys too. I am not ashamed to say that I have my teddy bear family prominently displayed and, of course, there is Pawnee Kitty and Angus who live smack dab in the living area.

At times the book was laugh aloud funny. Two Barbies are nuns. Sister Pretty has a bad word written on her forehead and Sister Troop became a nun to keep Pretty company. Another humorous moment is when Ruth first sees the toys comes alive and thinks she’s gone crazy.

Mark your calendars and get the engines reving. It’s that time of year – Comic Book Day! Get your free special issue comic book at the local dealer.

Not sure where that is? Look it up on the Free Comic Book Day website:

https://www.freecomicbookday.com/

While your there, on the website, check out what else might be going on. Do I what do and pick out what comic book or books you want the most. Most places will let you have three. Dr. Who is always good, if you like Dr. Who. It all depends on your favorite artists and title. I’m thinking of getting the Dr. Who, Little Lulu, and the one with the British comics. Or may the Avengers one since the new Avengers movie is out.

Luckily there are several shops in Columbia and two are holding events. Others around the country are as well. If you’re lucky, perhaps there you’ll be able to meet a comic book artist.

Dear Hamish,

Thank you for the prompt reply in regards to the bagpipes. I have them. And no, I will not be learning how to play them. More on that in a bit. I was sorry to hear the twins practiced their first aide skills on your and put a potent glue in the plaster mix. I hope you’ve been able to chip your hooves out it by now. Thankfully they only did your hind hooves. I told them there’d be no prezzies for their birthdays if they continue to abuse you.

Back to the bagpipes.

I got them. Pawnee was all nosy when they arrive. She wanted to blow into the canter. I took it away and stomped on a paw. Sometimes one has to be harsh.

“Nay,” I said. “‘Tis me security system.”

“How?” she asked as that dreadful Penny crept closer.

It’s because of the kitty, the nonPawnee Kitty kitty, I got this you know. She loves me wool and sees me as a toy. She doesn’t even listen to Pawnee and all the cats around here does what she says. These Texan kitties are bold.

“I’ll show you.” With that I primed up the bagpipes. Gave a few good squeezes, music spiraling out. Pawnee winced. Penny skipped back a few hops.

I blew. Then, marching, and playing what I remember from school, I headed out to the middle of the room. Penny ran away. Pawnee ran away. It was lovely.

Now I can go wherever I want. Now all I have to do is reach a hoof to me bagpipes and Penny runs off, ears low while Pawnee cringes and squishes her ears and eyes shut. I really should have thought of this sooner.

Thank you again,

your friend in the colonies,

Angus. McSheep.

Highways of Hell

My sister is moving. She’s texting me updates. The last text said she was twenty miles west of Slidell on I10, close to Mississippi. It made me think of US84/US98 in Mississippi, a road I’ve traveled twice and put on my list of Highways of Hell. It’s not really bad, but it’s so long and boring and in some stretches you don’t see another car for miles.

Driving those roads is like you’ve been transported into the Twilight Zone. It feels as if you’ll be driving along the road forever, until you die. It’s different kind of feeling than US378 in South Carolina, the road I refuse to take to Myrtle Beach. Every single time I’ve driven on it, my eyes start closing and I start fearing I’ll fall asleep. I’ll go thirty-forty miles out of my to avoid that one.

Some Highways of Hell are pretty interesting. Lake Ontario State Parkway is like driving through post apoctolyptic America. Weeds grow out of cracks in the highway and there was no one, serious, no one, on the road except me. The highway in Mississippi just stretched forever and forever and forever… you get the picture.

There’s a bit on I10, in Louisiana, that feels like it, on the bridges. My sister said thunderstorms raged when she drove it. Anyone who’s familiar with that area, knows there’s no place to stop and wait out the rain. It’s miles of bridges over the swamps. It’s even worse for her because she hates to drive over bridges.