Murder, Power & Intrigue

I love a well-written mystery (with and without dogs), and I’m a big fan of compelling fiction that pushes the boundaries of traditionally recognized genres. I’m fascinated by authors who can take that “What if...” question and create something that keeps me reading far into the night.  And when the author is another writer who calls the Ozarks home, I want others to know there’s a great book waiting to be savored.

Most of us know the basic story of the Roman Empire’s near-unstoppable march through northern and western Europe. But did you ever wonder what might have happened if the Roman army came upon a place where the people dared to hold fast to their way of life? What if during the 5th century they came upon a place where Celtic traditions and religious practices would not yield to the ways of the mighty Roman Empire?

Imagine a valley serving as a buffer between the Celtlands to the west and the Roman Empire to the east. Imagine a place of small villages linked by rough roads and river barges, with narrow footpaths winding their way up the mountainsides to isolated homesteads. Law and order was ostensibly the charge of the soldiers stationed at the Roman garrisons in the valley, but it was the Celtic magistrates who kept the tenuous peace. Inevitably, it becomes the story of two cultures on a collision course. And there you have the premise of the Mystery of the Death Hearth, first in the Runevision novel series by the author Jack R. Cotner. From the back cover:

In a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, the Great Cross—made of Celtic gold and amber now claimed by the Roman church—goes missing along with a fortune in coins and precious gems. Murder soon follows, igniting tensions when church leaders, maneuvering for political gain, are implicated in the violent plot. When the news reaches the Grand Prefect in Rome, Enforcers are sent to identify the thieves and recover the missing treasure.

The trail leads to the Brendan Valley, where it falls to deputy magistrate Weylyn de Gort to work with those whose ways are alien to his Elder Faith beliefs. Along the way, he must find an elusive young Celt girl and her missing grandfather, unravel the mystery of an Elder’s runevision, and avoid death at the hands of an assassin as he faces the greatest challenge of his life.

mysteryofthedeathhearthThis story fascinated me from the beginning. It’s not historical fact and doesn’t purport to be. It’s a well-crafted mystery that’s set in a fictional world that might seem both familiar and foreign. Some of that familiarity, at least for me, stems from my own studies and the author’s research of Celtic and Roman lore. (Check the Author’s Note at the start of the book for reading recommendations; you’ll find some wonderful suggestions there to include the work of Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green.) I learned a great deal about ancient traditions and religious practices without feeling I was being lectured or that one culture was more significant than another. Add in a cleverly constructed plot, a vivid landscape, and characters I could love or hate, and I was hooked!

Each chapter is preceded by an original poem penned by the author. After I’d read the whole story I found myself going back and browsing the poems again. There were several “Aha!” moments as I re-read the poems and thought about the chapter and events that followed.

Mystery of the Death Hearth is available in Kindle and paperback editions (US customers: http://tinyurl.com/lwsmy59; UK: http://tinyurl.com/ly9cehc).  Jack is currently working on the second in the series; you can find teasers and tidbits on his website and on his Facebook page.

And for those of you who enjoy mixed-genre short stories, check out Jack’s Storytellin: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas (US customers: http://tinyurl.com/poen7ts; UK: http://tinyurl.com/qh3ab7c).  From Amazon:

Inspired by generations of Cotner storytellers (all colorful characters in their own right) the author has crafted a unique collection of short stories set in Arkansas in the early 1900s and spanning half a century. Each story is preceded by recollections of family events that inspired the fictional tales.

Set against the rugged backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains, Storytellin’ brings you ageless tales of hope, fear, laughter, kindness, and retribution.

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Whether your preference is for short stories or novels, funny or sad, straightforward or complex, I think you’ll find something to enjoy when reading Jack’s work. I hope you’ll give it a try!

It’s National Love Your Pet Day!

Canon USA Imaging (@CanonUSAimaging) is celebrating “Love Your Pet Day” by inviting Twitter fans to share their photos of favorite pets. If you’re not on Twitter, you can share your photo via their Facebook page. Even better–post a comment and share your favorite photos here!

Around this house, every day is Love Your Pet day!  I’ll celebrate today by sharing a few photos of our rescue kitty, Buddy. The first was taken shortly after he joined the household in 2011, when strange noises tended to send him scurrying under the covers:

Buddy August 2012He eventually grew out of that and became quite a charmer when guests arrived. Here he is a year later:

Buddy

And here he is in Fall 2014, surveying his kingdom. (The statue is of our beloved dog Alix, who was the inspiration for Sweet Pea in my Waterside Kennels mystery series):

Buddy and Alix

And for those of you wondering why http://dogmysteries.com is featuring a cat, I’ll just say we’re equal-opportunity pet lovers here! There’s one cat already in the mystery series:

“That’s Momma Cat. She came with the house,” Maggie explained. “She has the run of the place. She doesn’t have much use for people, but she likes being out here with the dogs.” — (page 9 of Deadly Ties)

Buddy has a role in the second book of the series, Dangerous Deeds (coming later this year). It’s only fair to include him; after all, he’s my writing mascot and never far from my side when I’m at the keyboard!

 

Play Time: Teach Your Dog “Find it!”

Today I’m sharing a terrific game for you and your dog, courtesy of Elaine Bryant and her blog Chasing Dog Tales.  That’s a great blog, by the way. You’ll find excellent information about breeds, training, behavior issues, and much more. Definitely worth following!

teach-your-dog-to-play-find-it

Here’s Elaine’s post in full. To read more great articles, visit http://chasingdogtales.com/.

If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to entertain your dog on a cold winter afternoon, why not teach your dog to play Find It? Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and they love to use their noses to hunt and track things, especially yummy things! We humans use sight as our primary sense, but dogs primarily rely on their sense of smell to explore the world around them, which is why this is a very exciting game for dogs. By simply hiding a few treats around a room, your dog will learn to track the treats using his spectacular sense of smell and he’ll work off some of that excess energy in the process.

Here’s how it works!
  • Have someone hold your dog while you show him a tasty treat in your hand.
  • Allow your dog to watch while you hide the treat somewhere close by.
  • Give the “Find It” command as your assistant releases the dog.
  • Praise your dog when he finds the treat.
    (Repeat the steps above several times, then proceed)
  • Have your dog wait in another room while you hide a few treats around the room.
  • Hide the treats where your dog can easily find them.
  • Call your dog into the room and give him the “Find It” command.
  • While your dog is learning, you may have to help him along by pointing to the general area of a treat while repeating the command.
  • Praise your dog each time he finds a treat and give the command again to let him know there are more treats hiding in the room.
  • After the last treat is found, tell him “All Gone” and leave the room to let him know the game is over.

Some dogs, such as scent hounds, master this game right away, but almost all dogs will pick up on the concept fairly quickly. Once your dog understands that “Find It” means to start looking around for hidden treats, you can challenge your dog to become a master Find It gamer by using the tips below.

Tips to Help Your Dog Become a Master Find It Player
  • Play the game when your dog’s hungry to help motivate him even more.
  • Hide treats in different locations each time you play the game.
  • Hide treats in different rooms of the house or play the game outside.
  • Play the game with different types of treats.
  • Gradually make the hiding places more challenging.
  • Be sneaky, put treats inside of items and up higher.
  • If a treat is placed out of reach, make your dog sit once he locates it with his nose, then hand the treat to him.
  • Avoid giving hints if your dog looks at you for a clue. Trust me, they will try to recruit you to help find the difficult treats.
  • Bonus Tip! By making your dog wait in another room, then calling him in, you’re also reinforcing the Stay and Come commands.

Elaine Bryant & Haley

 

This is one of Haley’s favorite games and it’s also fun for me to find challenging hiding spots and watch her search for the treats. She always starts off searching with her nose, making lots of noise as she sucksin additional air to try to locate the treats. If she’s unable to find it by scent alone, she switches to using her sense of sight and her nose becomes quiet as she starts looking for it with her eyes. As a last resort, she’ll use her brain to remember where treats had been hidden in the past in a particular room. It’s interesting to watch her different senses in action and it’s funny how she always performs one last scan of the room after I’ve told her “All Gone”, just in case.

Once your dog catches on to this intriguing game, you can build upon it by teaching him to find objects or toys, which is something I’ve been wanting to do with Haley.

So, the next time your dog begs for a treat, make him work off a few calories and have some fun in the process, teach your dog to play Find It! And don’t forget to share some tips with us if you’ve trained your dog to find toys or other objects. Are smelly socks the best object to start with?

Here’s Haley in action…