All in the Family

North East Scotland and the Northern Isles

As I move closer to retirement, I’m slowly disengaging myself from some of my academic obligations and making time for more personal interests and activities. One of those is genealogical research. Exploring family origins is a grand adventure!

According to my DNA results, nearly half of my ethnic roots can be traced to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, an area of northern Scotland that stretches west and northward to the Shetland Islands. Another third comes from Scandinavia, which many researchers and dog fanciers consider the origins of the modern-day Sheltie. Given that my home includes a Sheltie, I love the thought of having a shared history of place!

My Sheltie, by the way, is officially recognized by the AKC as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.  We chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a double play on that word. We included Summer because she has a warm, sunny spirit. And because she came to us with the call name Sasha, we included that as a bridge between her past and present. The word Highlands in her name has taken on even greater significance now that I’ve confirmed I have a close, personal connection to that region.

To learn more about the origins of the Shetland Sheepdog, I turned to information provided online by Pat Ferrell, Historian of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association (ASSA):

It has been long supposed that the beginnings of this breed could be traced to influence by a Northern Spitz type dog brought from Scandinavia by the early inhabitants, a King Charles Spaniel, the original Pomeranian and other dogs indigenous to the islands as well as the Scotch Collie. The actual mix of what went into developing this breed is shrouded in mystery and still debated.

Becky Casal, who runs the popular website Sheltie Planet, suggests “all modern Shelties, whether the American or English type, descend from common bloodlines first developed on the Shetland Islands in the 1700s.”  She goes on to say the imported dogs “were crossbred extensively with mainland working dogs” and in particular with the “Rough Collie and  Border Collie.”

The Emerging Breed

Whatever their origins,  records suggest the breed may have become a source of income for some farmers, as visitors to the Scottish Isles found the dog’s small stature appealing as companion dogs. As the breed became more widely known southward through Scotland into England, an interest in the breed and the increasing demand for small dogs may have contributed to the continued crossbreeding.

Through my research I discovered the breed had been registered as the Shetland Collie with the English Kennel Club, which might explain why some visitors to refer to the breed as Lilliputian Collies or Miniature Collies. From the ASSA’s Pat Ferrel I learned that other names included Toonie Dog, Peerie Dog, and Fairy Dog. (Who knew?) I also learned that the Shetland Collie name created controversy among established Collie fanciers; consequently, the breed name was changed from Shetland Collie to Shetland Sheepdog in 1909.

Sasha’s ready for a winter’s day adventure!

Today, the Shetland Sheepdog is recognized by the AKC as a member of the Herding Group (and the Pastoral Group in the UK). Still appreciated as a working breed, today’s Sheltie excels in agility, rally, and herding, as well as conformation and obedience. The Sheltie also thrives in performing therapy work and providing emotional support to those in need. No matter their role, a Sheltie is a loyal companion and a treasured member of the family.

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For a more in-depth study of the breed, visit Charlotte McGowan’s article on the ASSA website.

To learn more about today’s Sheltie, check out Jan Reisen’s article on the AKC website highlighting seven important things to know about a Sheltie.  

And to learn how to groom a Sheltie (an adventure in itself!) check out this excellent step-by-step guide at the Sheltie Planet website.

A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery

Dead Man’s Leap Virtual Book Tour May 1-31, 2022

Review:

As a writer and reader, one of the things I most enjoy is the “hook” that captures my imagination and draws me into a book. In the case of Tina deBellegarde’s novel Dead Man’s Leap¸ the hook was the title itself that called to me, pulling me into a landscape shadowed by intrigue and populated with characters bound in a complicated web of love, loss, desires, fears—and secrets.

I should confess here that I am usually the sort of reader who tends to speed through chapters, enjoying plot twists and turns in a sprint to the finish.

This is not that sort of book.

In the early pages of Dead Man’s Leap, the pace invites the reader to linger within each scene, as if looking through a camera lens, framing the character before shifting to focus on the next. The overall effect is an impression of a series of character vignettes, woven into an intricate pattern that is slowly revealed as the plot progresses. This style of narrative, enhanced through the lens of multiple POVs, might be most appealing to readers who enjoy being immersed in detail.

The second in the Batavia-on-Hudson mystery series, Dead Man’s Leap is set against the backdrop of a small village nestled along the edge of the Hudson River. While some of the inhabitants were born and raised in the village, others—including writer and amateur sleuth Bianca St. Denis and Sheriff Mike Riley and his wife Maggie—were city dwellers before moving to Batavia-on-Hudson. Whatever their background, the villagers, and those living in the hills above are drawn together in support of a charity rummage sale and auction to raise money for the nearby children’s hospital. The event catches the attention of dealers and antique lovers from the city as well, including some who have other, more nefarious reasons for coming to Batavia-on-Hudson.

The author makes skillful use of weather to enhance the suspense as the storyline builds. When heavy rains threaten to push the river over its banks and flood the village, the villagers rush to collect essential belongings and their pets—which include a Golden Retriever, a Shiba Inu, a rescue skunk, and an orange tabby “with cuddling issues”—and seek refuge in the community center. From there, the pace of the story quickens, intensifying just as the weather does. And when volunteers stacking sandbags to reinforce the river bank discover a body in the shadow of Dead Man’s Leap, the resulting investigation brings Sheriff Mike Riley and Bianca together to solve the mystery. Along the way, long-buried secrets come to light which may forever alter life in the village of Batavia-on-Hudson.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Dead Man’s Leap as well as an excerpt with you. Read on to learn more!  

Synopsis:

DEAD MAN’S LEAP revisits Bianca St. Denis in Batavia-on-Hudson, New York

Rushing waters…dead bodies…secrets…

As Bianca St. Denis and her neighbors scour their attics for donations to the charity rummage sale, they unearth secrets as well as prized possessions. Leonard Marshall’s historic inn hosts the sale each year, but it is his basement that houses the key to his past. When an enigmatic antiques dealer arrives in town, he upends Leonard’s carefully reconstructed life with an impossible choice that harkens back to the past.

Meanwhile, when a storm forces the villagers of Batavia-on-Hudson to seek shelter, the river rises and so do tempers. Close quarters fuel simmering disputes, and Sheriff Mike Riley has his work cut out for him. When the floods wash up a corpse, Bianca once again finds herself teaming up with Sheriff Riley to solve a mystery. Are they investigating an accidental drowning or something more nefarious?

Dead Man’s Leap explores the burden of secrets, the relief of renunciation, and the danger of believing we can outpace our past.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional Mystery

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: April 5, 2022

Number of Pages: 254

ISBN: 1685120849 (ISBN-13: 978-1685120849)

Series: A Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery, #2

Purchase Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

He inched toward the precipice, his toes gripping the stone ledge as if they had a will of their own. He lifted his head and squinted into the sunlight still streaming through the blackening clouds. He took in the expanse of rushing water below. In all his eighteen years, Trevor had never seen the creek roil so ferociously.

A clap of thunder startled him. His toes relaxed, and he felt as if the slightest wind could take him over the edge. Lightheaded for a second, he regained his footing and his purpose.

He had no choice if he wanted all this to stop.

He needed to do it.

And do it now.

The downpour would break again soon. But for now, all he could hear was the rushing of Horseshoe Falls beneath him, the roar drowning out the noise of his past.

Of his father.

Of his mother.

Yes, his mother. He had expected his father to be weak, and wasn’t surprised at all after he left. But his mother? A mother’s love is supposed to be unconditional. At least that’s what she had always said before she had turned their world upside down. It was bad enough when she had played at being the sexiest woman in town. At least when his friends teased him then, it was meant to be fun. But this was worse, far worse. Now they wanted nothing to do with him. Now they used him as a punching bag.

His gang no longer looked to him as their leader. They ridiculed him for what his mother had done. From the beginning, he knew those kids were bad news. What choice did he have? In grade school he’d been bullied. Well, he had put a stop to that in high school. Can’t be bullied if you’re the biggest bully.

His mother was gone. His father was gone. And now his posse. First, it was the cold shoulder, and a few snide remarks. Then he was cornered in the locker room after the game one day. That was the hardest. He hadn’t taken a beating like that since the fifth grade. But the tables had been turned on him so fast that he never saw it coming. Trevor realized now that they were never friends. They were just a group of trouble makers who hung out together. Good riddance to them. He didn’t need them anymore.

Another thunderclap reminded him where he was. On the edge. Right on the edge. He either had to do this properly or he would be going over anyway.

Trevor looked over his shoulder one last time and heard a faint commotion in the background. Once they rounded the path, he closed his eyes and jumped.

Continue reading

Murder, Mayhem, and Missing Animals

Playing Possum

by Lois Schmitt

February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Long-term readers of this blog know I’m a fan of cozy mysteries–particularly those featuring dogs or other animals. Lois Schmitt is a new-to-me author, and after reading book #3 of her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series, I’m hooked!   

The classic elements of a cozy mystery are all here, framing a storyline that’s rich with suspense, misdirection, and intrigue. Our amateur sleuth, Kristy, is a journalist who writes articles for Animal Advocate Magazine. Her husband is a veterinarian, as is her daughter. Add in an assistant district attorney as her future son-law, and Kristy has a ready-made team of experts to supplement what she learns through her own research and hands-on investigation. 

The plot was paced in the style of a traditional cozy, with assorted characters introduced as multiple story lines emerge. In addition to investigating deaths and disappearances at a Long Island wildlife refuge–and butting heads with police along the way–Kristy searches for the truth about sick animals that were brought to her husband’s vet clinic. She takes a part-time job at the pet shop selling the sick dogs to unsuspecting customers and uncovers a puppy mill business and even more illegal activities. 

The author has a knack for writing short chapters that capture your interest and have you turning the page to see what happens next. She also does a great job of developing a protagonist with “forgivable” flaws–shortcomings we can identify with and may even have ourselves. Kristy could be described as direct, even forceful, when interviewing people. It’s fair to say subtlety isn’t her strong suit. She’s not deterred when suspects try to mislead her or withhold information. She’s relentless in chasing down clues, and isn’t easily discouraged when her efforts lead to dead ends.

Themes of family, politics, passion, and greed weave through the book and lead Kristy through a maze of motives in pursuit of the truth behind the crimes. 

This was an informative and interesting book. Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Playing Possum as well as an excerpt with you. Read on to learn more!

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Praise for Playing Possum:

Lois Schmitt’s Playing Possum does cozies proud. Fresh and traditional all at once.”
-Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepless City

“In her third book of the series, writer Lois Schmitt has crafted an intricately-plotted mystery full of twists and humor, with a cast of colorful characters, set in a wildlife refuge rehab center. Cozy fans, and especially followers of Schmitt’s animal lovers’ mysteries, will find great entertainment in Playing Possum.”
-Phyllis Gobbell, award-winning author of the Jordan Mayfair Mysteries

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Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Encircle Publications
Publication Date: December 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1645993051 (ISBN13‎ 978-1645993056)
Series: A Kristy Farrell Animal Lovers Mystery, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Synopsis: When animals mysteriously disappear from the Pendwell Wildlife Refuge, former English teacher turned magazine reporter Kristy Farrell is on the case. Days later, the body of the refuge’s director is found in a grassy clearing.

Kristy, assisted by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers strong motives among the suspects, including greed, infidelity, betrayal, and blackmail.

As Kristy delves further, she finds herself up against the powerful Pendwell family, especially matriarch Victoria Buckley Pendwell, chair of the refuge board of trustees, and Victoria’s son, Austin Pendwell, who is slated to run for the state senate.

But ferreting out the murderer and finding the missing animals aren’t Kristy only challenges. While researching a story on puppy mills, she uncovers criminal activity that reaches far beyond the neighborhood pet store.

Meanwhile, strange things are happening back at the refuge, and soon a second murder occurs. Kristy is thwarted in her attempts to discover the murderer by her old nemesis, the blustery Detective Wolfe.

Kristy perseveres and as she unearths shady deals and dark secrets, Kristy slowly draws the killer out of the shadows.

Read an excerpt:

I waited until a man and a woman emerged from the county medical examiner’s van. I followed them into the wildlife preserve, maintaining a discreet distance while wondering what happened. Did a jogger succumb to a heart attack? Did a child fall into a pond and drown? I inhaled deeply, hoping to steady my nerves.

I passed the clearing on the right where the administration building was located. I continued trailing the two members of the medical examiner’s staff until another clearing came into view—this one bordered by yellow crime scene tape.

I gasped.

Not far from where I stood, spread out in full view was a female body with blood covering much of the head. The body was face down, but I recognized the small build, sandy colored hair, and jade green shirt.

I tasted bile. I wanted to scream, but I slapped my hand in front of my mouth.

After regaining my composure, I surveyed my surroundings. Three people wearing jackets emblazoned in the back with the words Crime Scene Investigator were near the front of the clearing. One was bent over the body and the other two appeared to be examining the nearby ground. When the medical examiner’s team approached, the investigator next to the body rose up and started talking. I couldn’t make it all out, but I did hear him say “Blow to the head.”

“Oh, no,” I mumbled when I spied two homicide detectives I knew.

Detective Adrian Fox, a thirty something African American, stood on the side of the clearing, near a small pond. He was talking to a woman who yesterday had been arguing with the preserve’s director.

The director had called this woman Elena, so I assumed this was Elena Salazar, the education coordinator. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to the detective, but she was gesturing wildly with her arms.

The other detective, Steve Wolfe, had marched over to the body and was now barking orders to the medical examiner’s staff, who didn’t seem pleased. As Wolfe turned around, the woman in the medical examiner’s jacket shook her head.

I sighed. Wolfe and I had a history. He was a bully who had gone to school with my younger brother Tim, constantly picking on him. Granted Tim was the classic nerd who might as well have worn the sign “Kick Me” on his back. I had recently solved two of Wolfe’s murder cases, which only irritated him more.

Wolfe spied me and headed in my direction, his face turning the color of a beet. His gray pants hung below his pot belly, his glacier blue eyes as cold as ever, and he wore the same annoying grin as when he was a kid that made me want to slap his face.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m here about a dead squirrel,” he said. “I’m a homicide detective. What do you think happened?”

“I know the victim,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know her?”

“I’m doing a story on the wildlife refuge and—”

“How come whenever you do a story people die?”

Not really a nice way to put it.

“Who found the body?” I asked.

“Three hikers.”

“What caused—”

“This is none of your business. This is a crime scene.” He pointed a fat finger at me. “You need to leave.”

“I’m behind the yellow tape,” I argued.

I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did. “Stay out of my way.” He spun around and stomped off toward the side where Detective Fox appeared to be jotting something in a notepad. Elena Salazar was no longer there. I had no idea where she went.

I had lots of questions, but I wasn’t getting answers from Wolfe. The crime scene investigators were packing up. Maybe I’d have better luck with them.

“When was she killed” I asked the one investigator, who looked young enough to appear on an acne remedy commercial.

“We need to wait for the autopsy.”

“Do you have an approximate time of death?”

“Sorry. We can’t talk to the public.”

I sighed. I’d have to get the answers somewhere else.

I wondered why the victim had been at the clearing. I glanced at the pond, guessing this was where the rehabilitated turtle would be released. Did she come here early to check things out before the release? But what would she be checking?

My thoughts were interrupted as the medical examiner’s team passed by me carrying a stretcher with the covered body. I figured I might learn something if I listened to their conversation. Eavesdropping was one of my talents.

I scratched my theory about arriving early to check on conditions for the turtle release when one of the attendants said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would be in these woods at midnight.”

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Excerpt from Playing Possum by Lois Schmitt. Copyright 2021 by Lois Schmitt. Reproduced with permission from Lois Schmitt. All rights reserved.

 

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About the Author:

Lois Schmitt

A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring animal magazine reporter Kristy Farrell. Lois is member of several wildlife conservation and humane organizations, as well as Mystery Writers of America. She received 2nd runner-up for the Killer Nashville Claymore award for her second book in the series entitled Something Fishy, She previously served as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at a community college. Lois lives in Massapequa, Long Island with her family, which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series.

Catch Up With Lois Schmitt:

LoisSchmitt.com
Goodreads
Instagram: @loisschmittmysteries
Twitter: @schmittmystery
Facebook: @LoisSchmittAuthor

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New Adventures

I’m back after a long hiatus, the result of my website having mysteriously disappeared while I was offline dealing with other matters. The site fell into a technological black hole and seemed lost. (And before you ask, the site and its contents are backed up regularly. The back-ups proved irretrievable. But that’s a story for another day.) Faced with the options of starting over or abandoning the site altogether, I decided to consider the experience a cue from the universe to focus my energies on other projects. Since then, I’ve been writing, teaching, and planning for change. And while I was busy with all that, my website decided to return from its interstellar walkabout. So, with fingers crossed that the site stays around for a while, I’ll do my best to “catch you up” as an English writing colleague likes to say.

I’ve lived in the Ozarks for 27 years, and every season still holds surprises. Fall dawdled its way through December and the early weeks of winter, teasing us with record high temps, bright sunshine, and gentle breezes. Green shoots appeared long after the garden should have gone dormant. People and dogs crowded the trails and parks through long sunny days reminiscent of early spring. Sasha added tracking (the “I’ll teach myself” version) to her hobby list and learned to sniff her way across the meadows in pursuit of the wildlife that left tantalizing scents through the grass and the woods.

Then came winter.

After spending hours in the yard each warm day (he’s not allowed to go beyond the fence), Buddy the Wonder Cat did not appreciate the wicked winds that brought us freezing temps, and sulked because he couldn’t go out and play. He spends his days watching the squirrels scurry in search of acorns or raiding the bird feeders that hang from the lower branches of the oaks in front of my home office. Most of the time, though, he naps while I write.

“Wake me when it’s spring!”

In contrast, Sasha is showing her Shetland Islands roots by wandering outside for long stretches of time, seemingly impervious to the bone-chilling temps. Convincing her to wear a warm coat is a struggle, but she gives in with a grumble of agreement when I tell her “Wear the coat or stay inside.”

That doesn’t last long, though. Despite straps, buckles, and buttons, Sasha–who seems to have Houdini genes–manages to wiggle her way out of the coat and leave it behind as she zooms around the park. Fortunately, she hadn’t been to the groomer recently, which left her with a super-thick double coat to block the wind.

Then came freezing rain and snow, with single-digit temps and wind chills falling below zero. The street became an impromptu skating rink for the neighborhood kids and our sloping drive looked like a bobsled run. Even the covered patio was layered in ice, causing Sasha to lose her footing and fall while trying to reach the snow-covered grass. We hauled out carpet remnants to give her safe passage.

Smartest command I ever taught Sasha: “Foot.” I tap the leg I’m drying, say “Foot” and she patiently leans against me and stands on three legs while I remove the ice and snow packed between her toes. And since she loves to plunge through the snow (including the drifts) there’s usually ice and snow on her belly and chest as well. So she gets her exercise running around the back yard and I get mine drying her off. After that, it’s treats for her and tea for me.
There are more wacky weather swings in the forecast. We’ll take advantage of the warmer days and set up “zoom” games in the yard before the next round of snow and/or freezing rain arrives. In the Ozarks, every day is an adventure!
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