Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Fizz and Peppers at the Bottom of the World

Title: Fizz and Peppers at the Bottom of the World
Author M. G. King
Publisher: Kingscape Books, 2013. 240 pages (ebook).
Source: Purchase? Free Day? Maybe won it as a prize? I really should take notes!

Colin Colbeck is having a very bad day. He had to miss the baseball game to make cupcakes, and now those cupcakes have been stolen by trolls. So has his grandmother, and his little brother. He's forced to team up with his mortal enemy, ex-best-friend Pepper to rescue them and save the world from trolls. Because all it took to wake them up and start trouble was one careless drop of fizzy soda pop in just the wrong place...

What a galloping mad romp! I picked the book up expecting goofiness, and I got it. But I also got a tightly-written adventure that adheres to its own rules, however crazy they may be. Colin is a wonderful hero, in part because he's no hero at all. He's a lame, tame taco, just like Pepper says. So he's never surprised when his plans go astray, just terribly disappointed in himself and unhappy at losing Grand, then his little brother Sid, and then maybe the whole town. Yet every time he falls down (or is squished by a troll or attacked by a giant poisonous centipede), he manages to get up and come up with a new plan. I love his perseverance and occasional insights (he does eventually figure out why Pepper is so contrary to everyone).

I also loved the adventure, especially the slightly goofy side to it all. The trolls are so beautifully trollish--a bit stupid, but most of them also cruel and heartless (well, how can something that's basically stone have a soft heart?). This very well-written and impeccably edited romp through the troll lands that may be underneath all our homes is a joy to read, and I didn't want to put it down.

For kids who like fantasy and humor and unlikely heroes. Also for adults who like the same. I'm pretty sure Gorg the Troll would like it, too, though he would be appalled at the bad behavior of these trolls.

Full Disclosure: I don't know just how I got my copy of Fizz and Peppers at the Bottom of the World, but I know I received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, January 26, 2015

This and that, and some gratuitous photos....

I had it on my calendar to make today my announcement of my A to Z theme. Naturally, having written that down, I proceeded to not think of a theme. I have some ideas glimmering around the edge of my mind. I might focus on a character from a favorite book (surely I can find on for every letter of the alphabet--I have a lot of favorite books!). I'd like to do more with photos, but I already did the outdoor adventure theme last year, so that's out. A story every day for the month would be cool, but might be tough to pull off. I might even like to generate a random word for each letter of the alphabet, and create something--story, photo essay, book review--around that letter.

If I do any of those things--or come up with something else totally brilliant--you'll know when A to Z starts!  And if you want to steal any of those ideas, help yourself. Even if I end up doing the same one, the beauty of the human mind is that we would end up doing totally different things!

In other business: work continues on the edits for Death By Trombone, book 2 in the Pismawallops PTA murder series. Progress on the 3rd Ninja Librarian book has been less visible. Other ideas are percolating--I hope they don't shove Skunk Corners aside, because I know a lot of people want to see what happens next there!

I have also committed once again to ride the Chico Wildflower Century at the end of April. That means I'm back to serious training on my bike. And that gives me what I think I'll throw in for my gratuitous photos--shots of some of the places we rode during our training last year, and will be riding again before we're done. I am very fortunate to live in a place with an excess of beautiful places to ride, and plenty of hills to train on (yes, that is a positive thing--at least if I insist on riding centuries with 5 or 6 thousand feet of climbing!). Since I let the spouse handle the camera on these rides, the photos are his, not mine (copyright info embedded).

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the Marin Headlands. On a perfect day--they don't all look like this!
Me and the tule elk at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The sun was setting, and we had miles to go--we finished that ride in the dark for sure, and it was cold!

Me with the beacon atop Mt. Diablo (3849'), in the East Bay. This beacon is maybe 30 miles inland, but high enough that it could be seen 100 miles out at sea, though it was meant for aviation. Built in 1928, it was shut down during WWII and since has been lit only once a year, to commemorate the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Biking among the California Poppies can be pretty breath-taking.

Going north instead of east takes us into the redwood groves on Mt. Tamalpais.
And the big day--a typical rest-stop scene at the Wildflower Century. Well, typical except for the rain. Last year it rained, and instead of losing riders to heat exhaustion, they were in danger of losing some (me included) to hypothermia. The previous year, I had to stop a pour ice water over my head. Last year, I had to eat lunch in a super-heated room and still couldn't get warm!
The real appeal of a ride like this is the food. Not only do you get to stuff yourself at 4 rest stops plus lunch, but when you finish the ride, there's a dinner at the fairgrounds. With about 6 different ride-lengths, the event draws 4000 riders of all ages and abilities.
Just in case you live in northern California and this looks like your kind of insanity, I'm going to toss in a link to the Chico Velo Web page where you can sign up!

And one final picture, because I stumbled on it in my photo albums and it's just cool. A seaside Lego village, designed and built by my sons last year:
Waiting for the pirates to come, I suspect.

See you on Wednesday, for a book review!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Friday Flash: Call me Nails...

What a great challenge this week from Chuck Wendig! Playing off the cliche of describing one's work as "such and thus meets such and thus" ("Superman meets My Little Pony!"), he gave us two lists of well-known stories and types. It only took me 3 rolls of the dice to get a combo I couldn't resist: James Bond meets Alice in Wonderland. I very nearly made that one literal (and maybe I will yet--what a wild story that would be!). Here's what happens when a tough-guy agent finds himself down the rabbit hole. He gave us 2000 words, but I stopped short of that.

The Name’s Nails…Rusty Nails

Call me Nails. Rusty Nails. Everyone at the Service does, because I’m tough as nails and unpolished as old iron. There’s nothing out there can surprise me. Not any more.

I'd been saying that for years when I found out it wasn't true. I was behind enemy lines, way behind. Never mind where; nothing ever came from loose talk about stuff like that except dead agents, and I’m not that sort.

The thing is, everything was going well. I located the secret hideout of the folks we were after, and I got the papers. No one knew I was even there, except a couple of dames. They were something else, those dames. Hair down to here, and legs up to there, and all parts in working order, if you know what I mean. I probably shouldn’t have stopped to make sure, but that’s what we do, you know? It’s part of the job. If one of our agents left a place like that one without stopping to check out at least one blonde, we’d know he was a plant, see?

Anyway, that slowed me down a bit, and I missed my pick-up, which left me having to find my own way out. The dame gave me directions to a secret exit, but it turned out she wasn’t the only one who knew about it. Or maybe I wasn’t the only one she told, though that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. We only seduce those babes so that they’ll be on our side, after all.

So I’m headed for the exit, and a half a dozen goons in black suits pop up between me and the way out. I’d have taken them all out with a few good kicks and jabs, and maybe that special gadget HQ gave me to try out this time, but they had some big guns, and Rusty Nails isn’t an idiot. There was only one place to go, and I went. Without breaking stride, I turned and dove out the window, hoping like galloping blue thunder that I’d land in the water below, not on the rocks.

The thing was, once I was through that window I couldn’t see either water or rocks. The good news was that the goons stopped shooting at me. The bad news was, I couldn't see either Howie's hideout or the ground.

I fell for a long time, and landed with a thump, rather than the splat I should have made, in the middle of a grassy field. Given the climate around Howie's place, that didn’t seem likely. I admit my first thought was that either I’d been shot and  I was dead—though an empty grassy field wasn’t exactly my idea of heaven, if you know what I mean—or I’d been shot and I was hallucinating. Though why grass I don’t know. I never was assigned to the War on Drugs, and a good thing, too.

I’ve nothing against grass. It just never entered much into my consciousness. I’m a city boy, and I do gadgets and high tech weapons and a bit of direct action. I’m no tree-hugger.

When I hit ground and looked around, I began to think I might want to find a tree to hug, or at least to hide behind. The landscape looked a lot like my Uncle Cal’s farm, except not quite. I never saw plants in quite those colors. They weren’t neon purple and orange like a bad trip, just…different. Out of this world in some way I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Out of this world…the thought gradually penetrated my brain, and I didn’t like where it was leading. I liked it even less when a troop of armed rats popped up and I found myself surrounded. Their swords could only reach about to my waist, but there was nothing down there I wanted to risk. I could have kicked quite a few of them into the middle of next week, but there were hundreds of them. Nothing doing.

I went where they pointed me. That meant hiking a long way across the meadow until we reached some trees. Like I say, I’m a city boy, but I’m pretty sure no trees should look like that. Nor do rats run around with swords, not even in New York.

Those rats were starting to poke me with those swords, because I didn’t like to enter the forest. First rule is not to get yourself where you can’t see what’s coming at you, and those trees were thick. The second rule was not to let the bad guys take you anywhere private. I wouldn’t stand a chance in those trees, not from the rats and not from Howie's goons, if they were somehow behind this.

Sure, I was beginning to think Howie’s goons were the least of my worries, but it felt better to fret about them than to wonder just where in blazes I’d ended up. This was no place I’d ever been or heard about. Even the Medocino Coast wasn’t this weird. I knew I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything at Howie’s hideout, but could someone have shot me full of something? It’s an occupational hazard, getting drugged with all sorts of strange stuff, experimental things that the baddies want to try out, you know. It had to have been a dart, unless the dames did it while I was distracted.

This didn’t feel like a trip. This felt 100% real, except for the part where it was totally impossible.

Eventually I found myself in front of a laughably royal-looking couple. I mean, they looked like the king and queen out of a bad fairy tale illustration. But they weren’t laughing, and I wasn’t laughing either after the rats kicked the backs of my knees until I went down.

“Kneel before royalty, you fool,” the head rat commanded.

“I don’t believe in kings and queens, rat,” I snarled, trying to stand up. Never let them get you on the ground. The rats swarmed me, knocking me to my face and sitting on me to hold me there.  I decided maybe it wasn’t time for a lesson in democracy.

“What,” asked a voice like sandpaper on sheet metal, “is this?”

“An interloper, Majesty,” answered the lead Rat. “We found it in the Great Meadow.”

It? I was offended. I sure as blazes wasn’t any “it,” and I’d happily prove it…I bit my tongue. The hardest lesson in my business is to learn when to be cocky and when to shut up. I was pretty sure that staying shut up until I figured out where I was and why would be a pretty good idea.

Since I wouldn’t talk, after a long time they hauled me off again, and tied me to one of those weird trees. Bits of purple fluff drifted down and made me sneeze. Then they left me there, and I got to try to piece it all together.

The questions they asked me had told me a few things. I sure enough was down the rabbit hole, through the wardrobe, and over the river and through the woods to boot.  I was going to need everything I’d learned from my childhood reading to get out of this one. I only wished I’d read more of those fantasy stories and fewer westerns and spy stories. I didn’t think that I’d get home by being the fastest shot in the West, nor the fastest martini, either.

For the time being, I wasn’t going anywhere. Those rats knew their knots, and I could barely twitch, they’d trussed me up so tight. Of course, all us agents know how to get out of a situation like that, so as soon as they left me alone, I set to work to get loose.

It took a long time. When I at last had the ropes off, it was dark. Also, my feet were asleep, and I almost fell over when I stood up. That slowed me down enough to make me think.

Where was I going? I sure as god made little green horse apples couldn’t find the pickup point from here.

First things first. I’d had nothing to eat or drink at Howie’s, and nothing since arriving in this place. I needed to get something, and soon. My mouth was so dry you could start a forest fire in there, and my stomach though my throat had been cut.

At least this place seemed to have a moon, just like home. Though as a city boy I’d never paid the moon much attention, I was realizing now that a big light in the sky had it's uses. I could see my way back to where the king and queen had been seated earlier, and I could see when I got there that they had been feasting. No one had cleared the tables, and no one was around. I hesitated for just an instant before I picked up a pitcher of something that smelled like juice. The rule against eating and drinking in enemy strongholds was beaten into us, but circumstances, I told myself, had changed.

I drank.

I swallowed the last of the juice and wiped my mouth. It was good, and I almost didn’t care what it did to me.

Or maybe I did care, a little. I didn’t get huge or shrink or drop dead, but things got even weirder from that point. It must have been some kind of psychedelic drug, because everything turned the most incredible colors. Trust me, nothing in nature looks like that, yet I had the feeling that I wasn’t hallucinating, but that I was only now seeing the place as it really was. I mean, I’d known that the colors were all wrong, but this was something else again. I wandered off a bit, and saw a green light through the trees.

That led me to the party. All kinds of animals were there, all wearing clothes and the most amazing array of hats. They were eating, drinking and dancing like wild. It seemed perfectly natural, and I forgot that these where the guys who’d tied me to the tree. I joined the dancers, working my way toward the tables of food.

It was three days before I remembered Howie, my mission, and my boss. They’d all figure I was dead. Maybe I was. Did it matter? I took a look around at the softly fluorescing purple and orange trees, and the tables full of food.

“Pass me some more of that cake, will ya, pal?”


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015