Kids, Dogs, and Mysteries!

Long-time readers of this site know I like to support and promote other writers. Today’s post introduces Deborah Taylor-French and the first in her Dog Leader mystery series.  Deborah is an active arts educator, writer, and blogger.  Read on to learn more about this author and her mystery series.

What do you and your sleuth have in common?

Although I am not the protagonist of my book, there are a few similarities. Born and raised in Northern California I lived in a few small towns. My heroine, Nevada, lives in a small fictional town in that geographic area. The best part of my young life happened while living along the Avenue of the Giants. In my early teens, my Uncle Scott gave me a horse. Due to a need to exercise my mare, Mischief, I gained enormous freedom. We left our small town to explore trails beyond the Eel River. In comparison, Nevada’s grandmother gives her a rescued keeshond dog to raise. Due to the need to train and exercise her dog, Nevada also begins to revel in her able to roam farther and farther afield.

In contrast to Nevada, I had trouble keeping friendships in junior high. I needed strength to withstand the loneliness, and the social rejection of those years. Nevada fights for her friendships. So, I admire her loyalty and determination.

 

Tell us about Red Sky At Night.

This novel entertains, excites, and shows readers, realistic young teens. Nevada and friends, Lee and Amy, run their own investigation. Each one must find ways to gain freedom and take chances to be more independent. On the way, they find adults who can be trusted with secrets, plus adults who behave badly. Like children everywhere these friends try to keep his or her parent from freaking out as their take bigger risks.

On their way tracking a criminal, each fifth-grade student must hide their deeper resolve to stop the wildfires. The three friends also struggle to trust each other. Naturally, parents, school work, and other pressures add to their individual and group trials. Close calls plague all three kids as they dive deeper into the mystery of the fires.

What do reviewers say?

“Dogs, horses and a 12-year-old animal lover with justice in heart is the core of this engaging mystery.”

“Nevada…is independent, smart, and compassionate.”

“Fell in love with Nevada. She’s a smart cookie!”

“Fantastic book to give to middle schoolers and enjoy yourself!”

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To purchase a copy, click here.

 

Holiday Giveaway! Simply sign up for Deborah’s email list for the drawing held on December 31st. Win one of three paperback copies of her book.

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About the author:

Deborah Taylor-French, Photo by Cindy Pavlinac

Deborah Taylor-French is the author of Red Sky at Night: Dog Leader Mysteries. She blogs at Dog Leader Mysteries. Her stories brim with action, dogs, positive dog leadership, and animal rescue.  The true story of Sydney’s adoption, “Punk Rocker with A Poodle Brain” was published in “Vintage Voices Four Part Harmony.” Her fiction and memoir has been published in over a dozen volumes of the  Redwood Writers Anthology, Changing Hurt to Hope, and in the North Bay Business Journal.

As an arts educator, Deborah has led over a hundred residences and teacher workshops. An active member of Redwood Writers, Deborah continues to serve as Author Support Facilitator. Redwood Writers is the largest branch of the California Writers Club.

Read an excerpt:

I stood between Lee and Amy as we peered down the long driveway we believed led to Morton’s house. Enormous cypress trees lined the drive, the twisted trunks forming an opening to another world. Dead branches jutted over the dirt driveway, which seemed to go on forever. Thick dust cloaked everything as if no one had been here in ages. Dust slept on tangled tree roots and low branches. Dust clustered on top of the split-rail fence. The wood fencing stopped after four sections, giving way to rusted barbed wire strung between the trees, hammered into the aged trunks. The place had an eerie look. Broken branches like broken bones seemed to warn, Stay back—or you’ll be sorry.

“You’re wrong,” Lee grumbled. “Nobody lives here. We ran here for nothing.”

I muttered, “Um, we followed the map. Right?” I twisted the loop on Henry’s leash.

Hands on hips, Amy said, “It’s got to be the place.”

“Yep,” I said. “Lee, this matches the number on Morton’s envelope.” The numbers on the mailbox at 1505 Cider Springs had faded, and each missing numeral had left outlines in rust. That was not our problem.

On the way here, Amy had set a brisk pace. Complaining he didn’t like feeling sweaty, Lee had lagged behind the whole way. Now the three of us stood facing a sign: Private Property, No Trespassing. The freshly painted, all-caps letters had been underlined in red marker. A smaller Keep Out sign was tacked below, the letters sloppy and dripping.

In the dark cypress shade, I felt lost. Was there a house somewhere at the end of the drive? The driveway bent, leading out of sight. Then I spied tire tracks in the dirt, and my gut spun like a hamster on a wheel.

Lee ended our silence. “Too desolate. I say we go back.” He squinted at me from behind his rectangular glasses, which perched askew on his nose. “Race to the park gate?”

I snorted. “You think you might beat Amy? Or me?” I choked back a laugh because I needed his help. “Lee, aren’t you a tiny bit interested to see if Morton lives here?” I bent and gave Henry a splash of water from my bottle. “You said you wanted to have him arrested for animal abuse.”

Once I’d straightened, I smiled. “Don’t you think a no-trespassing sign is an invitation to adventure? Grand has ignored no-trespassing signs dozens of times to save abandoned pets.” Listening for any sign of interest, I noticed Amy standing motionless, squarely facing the gate. At least she was game.

Lee slouched on a gatepost. “Aw, you just made that up. No grown-up thinks that.”

I said with forced confidence, “Come on. Have a look.”

“Let’s not,” he said, flattening his stand-up hair.

Amy hissed, “Sure, stay here.” Then she ducked under the bar of the gate. “Nevada, let’s go.”

“No way am I going to stay behind,” he said hotly. “Here’s a plan: we keep to the trees and dodge out of sight if … if needed.”

“Okay, Professor. Let’s be invisible,” I said, sliding sideways under the bar of the locked gate. On leash, Henry followed under the bottom rail. Then Lee ducked low. All of us walked by the no-trespassing sign and into the trees.

I shivered in the chilly shadows as pinpricks of blue-green light dappled our faces. We wove our way around trees, over roots and dead branches. Then Amy said, “It’s odd that whoever lived or lives here didn’t take care of these …” I nodded, helping Henry around fallen tree trunks and low, sharp branches. A thicket of deadwood under old trees was a huge fire hazard. Even the fields to our left had not been mown as a fire-prevention precaution. The summer-dried grasses were as tall as Amy.

At last, the long drive ended the way I had hoped. “Hey, this is the place I told you about. Remember, I saw it from the cliff? A box-shaped house, a shed, and busted trucks. But where are the horses?” I didn’t see the starving dog or the blue van either.

Lee froze. “Did you hear that?”

“Sure,” Amy said, angling her chin toward a trickle of water that was slowly filling an old bathtub. The trickle built into a small stream and cut a gully through the pasture. As I listened to the spring, a short blowing noise made me jump.

“Ouch!” Lee yelped as I landed on his foot.

“Since when, Nevada, are you scared of horses?”

“Oh.” I turned and saw a skinny white horse. Ears pointed, riveted in our direction, the colt stood alert among the trees as if he were keeping out of sight too. After a minute, his ears flicked, and he relaxed, chewing a mouthful of grass. I gave a long exhale, relaxing too. Then I turned to my friends. They were studying the rundown house. A dense vine hung dangerously low over the front steps. I could only see the bottom of the doorway. Walls of cracked brown stucco and peeling trim boards made me think no one had been here for half a year.

Someone must have been here, though, because someone had slapped turquoise paint on a section of house trim and then left the paintbrush to stiffen. The bright color stuck out on the dead grass.

Fresh-cut firewood was stacked between the house and the shed. The shed’s door jutted open. Inside, a jumble of gas cans, stacks of junk, rags, and piles of newspaper made me gasp. “Those things—there—fire setters use them.” I pointed. “See? Right there.”

I brought Henry as I walked toward the shed to investigate.

When a dog snarled, Henry and I whipped around. Morton’s starving dog slunk out of the trees not far from the skinny white colt. The dog!

“We found the dog!” I cried.

The dog dashed toward the open front door. He made a pitiful spectacle, snarling and cringing. After circling Henry and me, he cowered. Too afraid.

Henry’s ears pricked. His nose pointed behind us.

A man charged out of the house. “What the hell?”

Morton.

For a long moment, we froze in place.

Morton yelled, “Hell and damnation!” Hobbling toward the dog, he unleashed a string of swear words.

Henry burst into intense barking. The starving dog ran from Morton, cowering behind the woodpile. As the poor dog stood frozen in fear, Henry and I sprinted toward him. As we charged, I reminded myself that running at a scared dog was a stupidly dangerous thing to do. The hair on the dog’s back rose as he bared his fangs. Three feet from the woodpile we stopped. My heart banged a crazed rhythm.

Instead of biting, the starving dog flipped on his back. Whimpering, belly up, he seemed to say, Don’t hurt me.

“You can’t starve him anymore!” I yelled at Morton. “I’m rescuing him.”

Instead of answering, Morton hurried stiff-legged into the shed. When he strutted back out, he was carrying a shotgun. Red and purple lines spread over his shrunken apple of a face.

“Now I’ve got you, you little witch.” Pointing the shotgun at me, he laughed.

A part of me left my body, flying into the blue sky. This was crazy. Would Morton kill me? Over a dog? I wanted to run, but my legs wouldn’t budge.

“Get back,” he snapped, swinging his weapon toward Lee and Amy. Jerking the gun muzzle back at me, he said, “Get over there with them.”

“Okay.” Amy’s voice rang high-pitched. “We’ll leave now.”

“Too late. Can’t any of you morons read? This is private property.” Morton walked toward me. “Dammit. Move back, back with them.”

As he advanced, I walked backward, matching each of his steps with one of my own. Never taking my eyes from his weapon, I steadily pulled Henry’s leash. Henry was straining against the leash so much that he was suspended from his harness, his front paws hanging in the air, his muzzle fixed on Morton. My face flushed, and I stopped. Henry had the right idea.

I started walking toward Morton. “You won’t shoot.”

“Nevada,” Amy warned, “d-d-don’t be reckless.”

Morton grunted. I grunted back. Risking a sideways glance, I stumbled. Lee’s eyes stayed fixed on the shotgun. Before I knew what to do, Morton fired. The pellets hit the woodpile, sending pieces flying.

Morton chuckled as I raced to Amy and Lee. I urged, “Quick, into the woods.”

My ankle twisted, and I fell headlong into Amy and Lee. We all hit the ground together. My head landed on Lee’s arm, and my knee hit the hard pasture between Amy’s sprawled legs. The leash, looped over my wrist, dragged Henry on top of us.

Lee moaned, “Oh no, you broke my arm.” His face contorted in pain.

Again, a blast hit something. Not such a long way off.

Don’t shoot!” I yelled. “Don’t shoot anymore.”

Amy untangled her leg from mine. Henry kept pulling tighter, struggling to get free. My ankles buckled. At last, I broke free, the leash stretched tight around my knees. Two seconds later, Morton walked out of the house, holding his weapon low in one arm. With the other hand, he pressed a phone to his ear. “Yes, I’ll wait for the officer,” he said with a crooked smirk.

***

Excerpt from Red Sky At Night by Deborah Taylor-French. Copyright © 2018 by Deborah Taylor- with permission of author. All rights reserved.

Great reads at terrific prices!

“Cozy fans who love dogs are in for a treat!” (Publishers Weekly)

Sale Alert: Digital editions of the first 20 books in the Melanie Travis canine mystery series are on sale for just a few more days. Get your copies here.

Image may contain: dog and text

This is a fabulous series from one of the best authors in the business. She’s an Agatha and Macavity Nominee, winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, and four-time winner of the prestigious Maxwell Award presented by the Dog Writers Association of America.

Learn all about the Laurien’s work at her website. You can also follow her on Facebook and on Twitter ‎@LaurienBerenson. These are perfect gifts for dog lovers who are fans of mysteries written with wit and style!

Breed and Behavior

Photo courtesy of PetPlace.com

In Dangerous Deeds, residents are divided by a proposed ordinance to ban what some consider “dangerous dogs” in the county. Those in favor of the ordinance believe some breeds can never be trusted, while others disagree and refuse to endorse the proposal. When asked her opinion, dog trainer and owner of Waterside Kennels Maggie Porter has this to say:

“Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only breeds on somebody’s banned list that can be dangerous. Any dog that’s not properly trained or supervised or exercised regularly is capable of harming others. The answer isn’t a ban. The answer lies in better training for dogs and education for everyone in the community.”

Maggie’s stance on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is similar to the positions held by the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s published position statement argues that “breed does not predict behavior” and offers a thoughtful and comprehensive review of BSL and offers cogent alternatives.

And while some people think bans are limited to what they consider dangerous breeds, research by groups such as the Responsible Dog Owners of The Western States suggests at least 75 breeds are listed as either banned or restricted. You might be surprised to learn that two of the most popular breeds—the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever—are included on the list. Even more troubling, many bans extend beyond named breeds and instead rely on physical descriptions. Consider this excerpt from the article Why Breed Bans Affect You published by the AKC this year:

Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.

The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed.  However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?

Whether you support or oppose breed bans, I hope you’ll agree that responsible ownership can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for people and dogs alike.

Responsibilities evolve over the lifespan of your dog. Check out the AKC’s 75 Ways to Be a Responsible Dog Owner for a comprehensive overview. A great read for anyone new to sharing their life with a dog, and a great reminder for all of us!

Photo courtesy of AVMA.ORG

It’s a Great Book Giveaway!

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of many writers, my own entry into the world of publishing has been a joyful experience. Bestselling author Laurien Berenson is one of those authors, and I’m delighted to recommend her books to anyone who loves amateur sleuths and dogs in mystery fiction. Laurien has been nominated for the Agatha Award (recognizing the best in the cozy mystery genre) and the Mystery Readers International’s Macavity Award. She’s earned the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Maxwell Award, presented by the Dog Writers Association of America. And in the totally unofficial but equally important (to me) category, Laurien’s books were a longstanding favorite of my mother, who loved the entire series.

Laurien has entertained readers for many years with her canine mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Melanie Travis and her beloved Poodles. The cast of supporting characters is equally engaging, and each book’s mystery is a well crafted, downright delightful read. Some series fizzle out over time, but not this one! And today you have the chance to win an advance copy of Ruff JusticeThis new addition to the series comes out in June and is available for pre-order now. Even better, Melanie has 2 advance reading copies of RUFF JUSTICE to give away! To be eligible to win all you have to do is comment on Laurien’s FB page and share the news. The contest ends today 4/25 at 5 pm with winners announced Thursday morning 4/26/2018. U.S. addresses only please. 

Here’s a look at Ruff Justice:

As owner of prize-winning Poodles, Melanie Travis knows how to handle fierce competition. But when a conformation show turns deadly, it’ll take every trick in the book to outsmart a murderer who refuses to lose . . .

With the excitement of the spring dog show season sweeping Connecticut, Melanie is determined to help her son finally lead his Standard Poodle toward a championship title. Aunt Peg even skips the judging panel to exhibit a pup of her own, and she’s set on standing out from the pack with a handmade leash from Jasmine Crane, a talented canine portrait artist who also crafts stunning accessories for discriminating show-goers. Jasmine’s handiwork is to die for—but Aunt Peg didn’t expect to discover the woman murdered behind the concession booth, strangled by one of her dazzling custom creations . . .

Another shockwave ripples through the close-knit show community when Amanda, Aunt Peg’s longtime dog sitter and a renter on Jasmine’s property, ominously vanishes that same day. While nosing around for clues, Melanie suspects a dangerous connection between Amanda’s disappearance and the homicide case—a hunch that grows as her investigation reveals sketchy secrets about the late artist. Juggling a demanding teaching job, the pressures of the show ring, and a daunting suspect list, Melanie finds herself entangled in a mindboggling murder mystery . . . and hot on the trail of a desperate killer . . .

If you want a chance to win one of those advance copies, remember to comment today on Laurien’s FB page.  But don’t fret if you miss the giveaway; you can pre-order your own copy now. For details on this book and all the books in the Melanie Travis series, be sure to visit Laurien’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter.

A cat with a dog of his own

Two years ago, we introduced Buddy The Wonder Cat to Sasha. We’d been a one-cat household since Katie, our 14-year-old Calico, passed away, and without a dog for 17 years since losing our beloved spaniel Alix. It’s fair to say we were a bit nervous about bringing home a rescue with an unknown history but we hoped Buddy, being the (mostly) mellow kitty he is, would eventually accept the newcomer.

Those early weeks were a challenge for everyone involved. It helped, I think, that we let Buddy stake out his preferred territory—which included the bed, the upstairs guest rooms, my lap, and the office. Buddy make it clear, right from the start, that the office was his domain, as evidenced here the day after we brought Sasha home:

The backyard became neutral territory, and as the days warmed into spring the two of them slowly became comfortable together:

They grew so comfortable with each other that Buddy supervises all the training sessions and joins in play time:

And when Sasha injured her leg and had to be confined to her crate, Buddy first tried to unzip the screen to help her escape. When that didn’t work, he stayed as close as he could:

They share most of the water bowls scattered through the house, although Sasha tends to ignore the bowl in the laundry room where Buddy is prone to wash his paws. Sasha also ignores the water bowl next to her food dish at the end of the kitchen island. That, too, is Buddy’s territory, where he likes to fish for ice cubes (really!) while he watches Sasha eat. I feed him first, having discovered that Sasha won’t start eating until Buddy comes to keep her company. Between his enthusiastic splashing and Sasha’s habit of drinking at the edge of the bowl and dribbling water in the process, all the water bowls have catch plates under them. The kitchen bowl is currently Buddy’s preferred place to dunk strings, grass, and miscellaneous things he drags in from the yard, so he has plenty to keep him occupied while Sasha eats.

I generally feed them early mornings and late afternoons, with the water bowls picked up before meals for cleaning. Yesterday, I gave Sasha a snack of cucumbers (her favorite treat) mixed with her kibble, hoping to help her calm down after yet another dog charged us during our afternoon walk. I’d intended to feed Buddy next, but he’d apparently decided food came second to offering sympathy and support for Sasha:

A cat with a dog of his own.