Thursday, August 29, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: In the Valley of the Baleful Stones

Chuck Wendig is not a nice man.  This week he gave us a list of random words, ten of them, and told us to use them all in a story.  All ten!  That's just mean.  I was doing pretty well with the list and my fantasy setting until I got to the last one.  You'll know when you reach it.  I'll give you the whole list at the end of the story, just for fun.  Feel free to see how many you can guess without cheating.  Then visit Chuck's blog and check out how some others used them (warning: other bloggers may not be suitable for youngsters, or work, or polite company.  I can't make any promises).  990ish words.

In the Valley of the Baleful Stones

Gorg left the Iron Desert through a narrow canyon, a tight, stony gorge just too wide to be a slot.  Nothing grew there but stones.  After days crossing the unyielding iron of the desert, the stones represented life to Gorg the Troll.  Being stone himself, mostly, he grazed happily on chunks of granite and basalt as he strode along, with an occasional conglomerate for a relish.

The midday sun beat down, turning the canyon into an oven.  Had a human chosen that route, there wouldn't even have been a corpse left for the funeral.  They'd have been cooked to nothing and picked clean by the vultures that waited on the high cliffs.  Though even the vultures might have waited for night to cool things down a bit.  The troll just kept moving, even humming a little--a sound like a cross between a rockfall and an elephant in distress.

The canyon broadened and straightened just a bit.  In the distance Gorg could now see a lone willow--sure sign of water.  He didn't need water; trolls didn't drink except for fun.  But it told him he was nearing the end of his journey, and he picked up the pace.  He had a date to keep with Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted, and he didn’t want to be late.  Duke Bale had been responsible for several members of Gorg's family being turned back into the stone from which they'd been born, and his Uncle Grk had, in the next heavy rain, been dissolved back into the clay of his home mountains. Gorg had vowed that the Duke would pay.

A league beyond the lone willow, Gorg found the road to the Valley of Baleful Stones, Duke Bale's family holding.  The name held a charm that would captivate the ordinary troll, but Gorg knew that all he would find in the land of Bale would be deceit and disappointment.  Probably even the stones would be untrustworthy.  He turned west on the road, and switched his giant stone war hammer from his left shoulder to his right.

He knew he grew close when he began to smell rotten eggs.  The Baleful Stones of the valley's fame were the disfigured sulfurous mounds deposited by a volcanic vent that ran length of the north side, and the entire valley stunk of it.  Gorg thought it only fit, for the heart of Duke Bale stunk still worse.

Now he could see the castle in the distance, and he shifted his war hammer back to his left shoulder, and tried not to breathe too deeply.  Even trolls disliked the sulfurous brimstone, and would neither eat it nor live near the volcanic vents that produced it.  Only Duke Bale, banished nephew of King Celery the Half-Wit, would do so, and he, Gorg thought, only because he'd been sent there by royal decree.

In the depths of the ugly castle that crouched as far as it could from the sulfur vents, the Duke studied his plans for the thousandth time.  Soon, his fool of an uncle would know that Bale was plotting to dethrone him.  But by then, it would be too late.  He studied the device that the sorcerer Stenrick the Brilliant had made for him.  Soon, he would have Stenrick go out to meet the pesky troll, that persistent annoyance of a Gorg.

Bale hadn't meant it to work this way when he'd sent Mergle to kill the group of trolls that had stumbled into his secret mines.  But Gorg had proved useful.  Mergle thought too much of himself, and had attracted the attention of the swordswoman--what was her name?  And what had become of her?  She hadn't caught Mergle.  Gorg took care of that one.  But Mergle had drawn the attention of the King, and so had become a liability.  Gorg, poor stupid troll, had done him a favor, Bale reflected.

Now Gorg was coming here, and would meet with Stenrick.  One or both would be killed, and Bale rather hoped it would be both.  He would have to take care of whoever was left before he could take care of the King.  Ordinarily, Bale would have been no match for either a sorcerer or a troll, but Stenrick, the fool, had given Bale all he needed, and now Bale no longer needed Stenrick.

Near the edge of the valley, in a cleft well hidden from the road, the half-magical balloon swayed gently, its silk bag filled with the gasses from the vent it covered.  Bale would be high in the basket suspended below the balloon when Stenrick blasted Gorg into a pile of rubble with the spell he called the "Atomic Blaster," whatever he meant by that.

Gorg came on into the valley, and didn't falter when he saw the billowing robes of the sorcerer approaching.  Stenrick was a far greater sorcerer than Mergle had been on his best day, but Gorg knew what he could do.  Shifting the war hammer once again to his right shoulder, so as to leave his more powerful left hand free, Gorg scooped up a selection of stones.

The first stone to leave the sling struck the wand from Stenrick's hand.  The second slew the sorcerer as he stooped to retrieve it.  Gorg came on, stepping on the man just to be sure.  No one survived a troll walking over them.

Gorg's remaining stones were flung after the balloon which suddenly rose from the rocks nearby and soared into the sky, Bale leaning over the edge and jeering.  Those that hit the balloon bounced uselessly off.  Only one stone struck something solid, and Gorg didn't know of that.  The wind carried Bale out of sight before the Duke discovered that Gorg had put out of action the magical appliance that controlled the balloon's flight.

He was at the mercy of the winds.  Gorg had won another round.

Okay, here's the list: 
Funeral, Captivate, Deceit, Brimstone, Canyon, Balloon, Clay, Disfigured, Willow, and (I'm sure you guessed this one) Atomic

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Middle Grade Fiction: Giving Kids Autonomy

As I have mentioned (since it sparked several reviews), there's been some discussion lately about missing and dead parents in Middle Grade fiction. I also recently did a post on books about boarding schools, and all this together has made me think about the importance of giving kids autonomy, both in books and in reality.

So this week I'm going to start a discussion about ways that authors give kids autonomy.  Next week I'll continue it with a discussion of what we parents do or should do to help our kids achieve some fraction of the level of self-sufficiency that the heroes of their books have.

 An obvious literary approach to getting parents out of the way is the orphan story.  That's easy.  No parents, lots of need to fend for yourself, especially in a historical or fantasy setting where there's no state structure to step in and offer substitutes (though given what I know of the foster system in my state, anyway, any kid who comes out of that with their head on straight and going in the right direction has plenty of gumption and self-sufficiency).

So if you don't want to kill off the parents, how else do you get the kids on their own?  There's boarding school (see last week's discussion, to which I now suddenly realize I should add Tamora Pierce's Tortall novels of Alanna and Keladry going through page training--if that isn't boarding school, I don't know what is.  Complete with strict adults who must be circumvented).  In many of the books I loved as a kid, parents simply gave kids carte blanche to roam, and they then could fall into adventures (think of Enid Blighton's "Famous Five).  This wasn't so far off reality back then; my brothers and I ran around in the woods and on the beach for hours at a time without checking in with parents.  In essence, the author (and the kids) can then just ignore the parents.

Historical fiction often makes more room for kids to be proactive and self-sufficient, as well.  That seems to have been reality.  Even little kids had chores and had to learn fast to do them themselves.

In one of my works in progress, I just made the main characters 16 or so, and put them on their own. Old enough to make it plausible, young enough that they don't have to do the adult love stuff (which I don't seem to want to write, and certainly not in a book aimed at kids).

And, of course, ultimately every kid is to some degree on her own in working out life's issues.  The bigger the issues, the more likely kids seem to be to keep them inside and try to go it alone.  So the parents can be right there and still the kids have to deal on their own.

Can you come up with any more approaches that writers use to make it plausible to have kids doing major (often adult-like) things?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen


Book: Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen.  549 pages, including notes.
Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1996 (original publication 1814)
I read the ebook, borrowed from the library.

Summary: Fanny Price, oldest daughter of a woman who has married unwisely and had too many children, is sent to live with and be raised by her aunt and uncle, wealthy and noble, at Mansfield Park.  Fanny is shy, quiet, and not very strong and healthy, and is more or less ignored or imposed on by everyone at Mansfield except her cousin Edmund.  As they grow into adulthood, the usual assortment of trials and romances carry off the girl cousins, Maria and Julia.  Fanny herself is courted by an extremely "eligible" party, but is unable to accept his proposal, both because she considers him morally unstable and because she is, of course, in love with Edmund (who is, also of course, trying very hard to marry someone else).  In the end, things work out about as you'd expect, this being Austen.

Review: This doesn't feel quite like the Austen of Pride and Prejudice.  I will leave it to the scholars to debate the more serious issues of change and stability she may have been addressing, and consider the book solely from the perspective of the reader looking for entertainment.  While I missed the more obvious humor and general lightness of P & P, I did find Mansfield Park worth reading, and even stayed up past my bedtime to finish.

Although Fanny could be merely a pathetic creature--too sickly and humble to assert herself--she manages to be more than that.  Austen doesn't work on us to feel bad for the way she is used or raised (always to be second to the actual daughters of the house, though not precisely the "poor cousin" who is treated as a hired companion, either).  Instead, the reader recognizes that somehow, out of all this, she has developed an understanding of human nature (her own and others') that far exceeds that of the other characters in the novel.  This gives her, and us, an interesting view of the society in which she moves, though I'm left wondering how she manages to develop this.  Maybe it comes of always being an observer, rather than a participant. 

As always, Austen writes with a delightful precision and clarity that makes reading a pleasure.  I did find myself at times wanting to tell Fanny to grow a spine, but in the end she proves that, though she's a frustratingly feeble creature in a literal sense, she has plenty of backbone metaphorically speaking.  My main complaint is that Austen seemed to rather punt at the end of the novel.  I was reading eagerly on for the big romantic scene, and instead in the end, she tells us what happened, rather than showing it, summing up some to me crucial changes in people's attitudes to Fanny in a few pages of reporting, without ever showing anyone actually behaving in the new ways.  Coming at the end of a novel as good as this, I admit to disappointment.

Critics can argue (and will, ad infinitem if not ad nauseum)  that this is Austen's most substantive and meaningful novel.  I will say that it is not, however, her most enjoyable (perhaps because of the substance and meaning she was trying to put into it?).  Worth reading?  Yes.  As much fun as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility? No.

Full Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Mansfield Park from my library and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: The Tomb of the Strange Feast

Since I posted the Wendig flash fiction piece for this week back on Tuesday, I decided to avoid actual work by writing another story to go with the titles the random title generator gave me a couple of weeks ago.   This time, I decided to take it totally middle-grade.  Despite the title, nothing creepy or horror-like (well, except the tofu-cheesecake. . . that's a shameful bit out of my own past, and believe me, it's horrific).

The Tomb of the Strange Feast

Mom never was a good cook, but that night she really outdid herself.  Her smile when she brought in dinner didn't convince even Lily, and she's only five.

"Brussels sprout-tofu casserole, with non-fat cheese," Mom announced, all bright and enthusiastic, the way grown-ups sound when they are trying to convince kids of the wonderfulness of something they really don't like it.  Totally fake.  Mom could pretend, but we all knew she didn't like the food she made any more than we did.  She didn't even put crumbled potato chips on top of the stuff, the way Nana does, which at least means there's some part of her “hot dishes” a kid can eat.

Trouble is, Mom's on a health-food kick.  Health food and bad cooking are a really awful combination.  When my buddy Lianne's mom cooks healthy food, it's things like grilled veggies and chicken breasts.  Kind of boring, but you can eat it.  Sometimes she gets these veggie-burger things that are really good, especially with plenty of ketchup and mustard.  You’d hardly know they were healthy.  But my mom makes Brussels sprout-tofu casserole, and tofu "cheesecake" for dessert.  Sometimes I think I should run away from home.

So that night Mom put the pan on the table, and we all just sat looking at it.  Lily looked like she was about to cry, and Dad swallowed hard.  The stuff looked nasty and smelled worse.  Mom was still trying to smile, and she served each of us a nice big heaping pile, but she had to work harder and harder to keep smiling as she went on.  She knew.  That’s the worst part: Mom knows she's a lousy cook.  She always has been.  Used to be, she just went ahead and made hot dogs and frozen pizza and stuff like that, which was fine.  When she was dieting, she’d get those “Lean and Mean” frozen dinners, and I got pretty used to them, too.

But last month she got hold of this book about fat kids and how bad eating and junk food was going to kill us all, and maybe that’s true.  But in our family, Mom’s attempts to cook her idea of healthy food are going to kill us all a whole lot sooner.  Like this casserole we were all staring at like gawkers at a traffic accident.  Horrified and fascinated at the same time.

Dad’s a real hero.  He smiled at Mom and picked up his fork.  “I’m sure it’s marvelous, Dear,” he said, and plunged his fork into the heart of the steaming pile on his plate.  He didn’t take a bite, though.  I figure the telephone saved his life, because before he could lift the fork, his phone rang, and he got up to answer it.  Mom doesn’t allow our phones at the table, so he had to hunt for it, and when he found the right one, it was Mom’s phone that was ringing after all.  I don’t know why they don’t use different ringtones.  Maybe they haven’t figured out how.

Anyway, Mom got on the phone and came back a minute later with her purse in her hand.  “Poor old Mrs. Carruthers is sick, and she needs me to go pick up her medicines.  She uses that discount drug store on the other side of town, so I’ll be a while.  Don’t worry about saving dinner for me—I’ll grab something while I wait for her prescription.  Just clean up when you finish.”

Mom has a sort of business running errands for the old people in our neighborhood.  I’m not sure how many of them pay her, but she does it for all of them, regardless.  Mom’s a great person.  She just can’t cook.

When the door closed behind her, Dad, Lily and I looked at each other, then at the casserole.  Then Dad stood up.  “Karla, you get the shovel.  I’ll bring this stuff.”

“I’ll get that dessert thing,” Lily said.  We’d tasted that before and knew better than to do so again.  Of all the things to mess with, dessert is the cruelest.

Dad began scraping plates back into the dish, and I got the shovel from the shed.  By the time I’d picked a good place, Dad and Lily were outside, and I held the dish while Dad dug a hole with a few quick stomps on the shovel.  We scraped in the mess, shoved the dirt back over it, and sprinkled some leaves over it to make it less obvious.  Then we loaded the dishwasher and Dad took us to the Burger Prince and got us burgers and strawberry shakes.  They make their shakes with real fruit, so we decided that was close enough to health food for tonight.

That was hours ago.  When I looked out my window just now, with the moon lighting up the yard, I swear I could see that fresh pile of dirt and leaves moving.

I really hope we’ve seen the last of that strange feast.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kid LIt Blog Hop: Back to School!

School starts today in our district (for the little kids; the high school my boys attend started a week ago, which is evil).  So I was thinking about a list of the best books about school.  Or at least a list of books I like which are all or in part about school.

A lot of kids' books of course center around life at school.  But as a kid I had a particularly soft spot for books about boarding school.  Probably a kind of horrified fascination, since I couldn't imagine being sent away from home that way!  (As a parent, despite sundry temptations to leave the boys on the side of the road somewhere, I still can't imagine boarding school as a realistic option).

Of course, the ultimate boarding school story is Harry Potter.  But I'm reaching back to some others I loved.

Starting way back:

I can't find a match for the cover of my copy, which was given to my grandmother for Christmas in 1910.

This one is if anything even more outdated, and not precisely boarding school, but a huge childhood favorite of mine:
 Madeleine L'Engle wrote some stories of truly miserable boarding schools:

And school features largely in such other favorites as Little Town on the Prairie, and even A Wizard of Earthsea.

And, because this is my blog and I can, I will say that 
18168137 and 18302884  are actually school stories in many ways.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mystery Monday: Death of a Peer by Ngaio Marsh

Death of a Peer (Roderick Alleyn, #10)
A review of a far-from-new murder mystery by one of the greats.

Death of a Peer, by Ngaio Marsh.  303 pages, paperback.
Originally published by Little, Brown & Co. in 1940
I sourced my copy from the local library.

An early entry in Marsh's impressive collection of mysteries featuring Roderick Alleyn, of Scotland Yard, the book begins with a prelude set in New Zealand.  We are introduced to the central characters (exclusive of Alleyn), Roberta Grey and the Lamprey family.  She a local NZ kid, they a modestly noble family out from England to await a better turn in their finances.  Fast forward ten years, and a 20-ish Roberta arrives in England to live with an aunt, but instead goes to the Lamprey's in time to be there when their wealthy kinsman the Marquis of Wutherwood is murdered in their home.  Enter Alleyn, to solve this classic locked-door mystery.

Marsh is definitely not a modern writer (in the lower-case sense of "modern," i.e. writing now).  The style of the book is somewhat formal, and the story is more of an exercise in the use of the "little grey cells" (to borrow from her contemporary) than an exciting adventure.  But if the careful tracing of the alibis and effort to spot the holes before Alleyn does is your kind of game, it's very well done.

I also found it interesting that the story is much more about Roberta Grey and the Lampreys than it is about the author's famous detective.  We spend a great deal more time inside Roberta's head than Alleyn's, and in fact care more about her outcome.  This is good and bad--good, because she does it well and I found myself caring about these people, but bad because it reduces the possible outcomes--you are pretty confident that the chap she falls in love with will not be the guilty party (not from this era, or this genre.  In other books, I might have been less confident).  That may, in fact, be the biggest weakness in this well-assembled puzzle.

I think that some of Ngaio Marsh's later books are more appealing today.  But this is well-written and the mystery is worked out well, with characters we care about enough to want it solved.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed this copy of Death of a Peer from the library, and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: Iron Desert

This week Chuck Wendig gave us a random title generator.  Our mission: to roll the dice (as it were), and select a title from the five random choices.  I cannot tell a lie: the titles were such fun I did it a whole bunch of times.  Then I picked about 6 favorites, and made a note because who can't use an occasional title?   But for today's story I selected "Iron Desert," and it was immediately clear to me that was the desert that Gorg the Troll was crossing when he found the skull of the swordswoman's horse (see Revenge of Gorg).  And maybe an iron desert is just what it seems. . .

This one's  a bit shorter than usual, at just 560 words.

Iron Desert

Three days ago Gorg had found the skeleton of a horse he'd known and liked--and the swordswoman who'd ridden him.  What was her name?  Gorg didn't care, though he mourned the horse in his slow, trollish way as he trudged along.

Gorg had bigger problems than that now.  He had set out to cross the Iron Desert because it was the quickest way from Mosternestine City to the Valley of Baleful Stones.  There he expected to find the Duke Bale the Artichoke-Hearted, nephew of King Celery the Half-Wit.  The Duke, Gorg had reason to believe, had givent he order that he led the now-dead sorcerer Mergle to petrify various members of Gorg's family.  It had been a cruel and unnecessary act, given that trolls are nine-tenths stone in any case.  When Gorg scratched his head, he scattered rock dust and flakes of shale.

But now, in the middle of the Iron Desert, it was dawning on Gorg that he was in trouble.  Thing was, a troll could cross an ordinary desert with no worries.  Rock everywhere?  It was the stuff of life.  A troll is born of rock, and eats the stuff.  And they don't need to drink, since there is very little water in their make-up.

Gorg hadn't known that "Iron Desert" wasn't a metaphor.

For an entire day Gorg had been crossing a flat pan of iron.  No stone.  Just iron.  As though forged by the hand of a divine smith, and utterly without sustenance for a troll (or anyone else; but Gorg didn't care about anyone else just then, because they weren't there and he was).  If he didn't get out of this soon, Gorg could see he wouldn't get out at all.

He was starting to stagger.  A vision of that poor horse crossed his mind as he slowed for another rest.  He unslung his massive stone warhammer--as a last resort he would eat that, though it was worn and tasteless--to take it's weight from his back.  It narrowly missed his foot as it slipped from his now-stiff and weakened grip and crashed to the iron ground.

Iron is brittle.  Gorg gaped at the crack that opened in the smooth surface.  Trying hard to think, he picked up the hammer and dropped it again.  The ground shattered.  Gorg pushed aside the shards of broken iron, his face breaking into a smile.  He ignored the chips that flew from his cheeks as they creased, reaching for the stone that lay under the iron.

Gorg chipped off a few savory bits and nibbled them slowly, recovering his strength.  The blazing sun didn't bother him.  The absence of water didn't matter.  But somewhere in his earthen troll-brain, Gorg was realizing that smooth-cast iron was not a natural coating for a desert floor.

Duke Bale had found another sorcerer.  A powerful one, to spread such a surface over the desert.  Or maybe it had been an illusion.  No matter, it took power either way, and a deadly intent.  Rock is slow to anger, but when it grows hot, it is a force to reckon with.  Gorg was growing hot.  Battle was rejoined, and he had won the first round.

Taking up his warhammer and another handful of light, tasty rock, Gorg turned his stony face toward the Valley of Baleful Rocks.  He'd be pickling artichoke hearts before he finished.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's HERE!

Yes, it has happened at last!  I have finished messing with it, and
Return to Skunk Corners 
has gone live! 

To celebrate, I am doing giveaways of BOTH books.  Follow the links below to enter before August 31, and you could win a paperback copy of either book (or, if you are the kind of person who wins the Lottery twice, you might win both!).

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Return to Skunk Corners by Rebecca Douglass

Return to Skunk Corners

by Rebecca Douglass

Giveaway ends August 31, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Ninja Librarian by Rebecca Douglass

The Ninja Librarian

by Rebecca Douglass

Giveaway ends August 31, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win 

Not willing to wait?  Can't stand to take your chances?  Go right to the source and buy a paperback today from my Createspace store or from Amazon.  Or head on over to Smashwords for an ebook in any format you can imagine (and a few you can't). Get it for your Kindle, too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kids grow faster than books

Well, maybe it only seems that way.  I don't usually write about my family, but this morning, my baby started high school.  That's enough to give any mom a funny feeling.  I'm not sorry.  I'm not a mom who wishes the kids would remain babies forever (2 a.m. feedings?  Ugh!  And diapers were never my favorite, either.  Nor having to haul a couple of toddlers with me everywhere I went).  Still.  High school.  Definitely big kids now.

Both guys went off together this morning.  For the first time in four years they are in the same school (same PTO!  Same Open House and Back to School Nights!).  And Second Son is no dummy.  He knows that he can count on his brother to fill him in on what he needs to know, see to it that he gets to the right place.  No nerves about the first bus ride, because he's got his brother.  At some point no doubt that will become a bit grating.  But meanwhile, he knows that he's got a good deal going.  Eldest Son even primed the teachers to like him (their Jr. High math teacher went so far as to tell me how sorry he was that I'd had only the two).

It's going to be fun watching these two in the next phase of their life as brothers.  Then in two years, Eldest Son gets to go off and pioneer a new place again.  And when it comes to college, who knows if they'll be together.  I hope they treasure this time.

Here are the boys on their first "self-propelled" pack trip, when they were 3 and 4 years old:

And this summer in the Canadian Rockies.  Snowball fights in summer!  Yeah! Boys grow up fast, but some things don't change.
These guys spent a month this summer sharing trails, a tent, and the back seat of our car, with remarkably few battles.  I think they'll go far.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cover Reveal!

It's almost here!
Return to Skunk Corners: The Ninja Librarian, Book 2

The Ninja Librarian is back, and he's better than ever!
Release date: August 15 on Amazon, Smashwords, and right here at the Ninja Librarian's own web site.

And YOU can get a free look at the cover, right here.  Right now.  

Are you ready?  

I want to give a shout-out to Danielle English for the cover illustrations, and to Steven Tse for the cover design.  We know we're headed back to Skunk Corners!

What's more--pop on over to and join the giveaway for a free copy!   

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Return to Skunk Corners by Rebecca Douglass

Return to Skunk Corners

by Rebecca Douglass

Giveaway ends August 31, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, August 9, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday

(Warning: probably nothing in today's blog is meant for kids). 

Okay, I had two possible writing challenges here, and I really am not going anywhere with the "somethingpunk" challenge from Chuck Wendig (others are, so check it out).  I'll see if I can get back to that later.

Meanwhile, I had this challenge from Scott Roche: write 250-750 words of fiction on corn, and enter a drawing to win an e-copy of Wendig's latest book, an intriguing dystopian YA bit of cornpunk (which brings us back to Wendig's challenge).  This one worked out better, maybe because with the nice, low wordcount, I didn't get all wiggy about not having a plot (the other story has a -punk, i.e. a wonky source of power for the dystopia; it just doesn't have a story yet).

And here's the cool part: Scott needs a few more stories before he'll even do the drawing, so YOU can write something and enter too!  By the way, Scott is the author of Ginnie Dare: Crimson Sands, which I reviewed way back sometime.  Check it out.

Without further ado

Death by Corn

It seemed innocuous at first, even sweet.  A sick child who languished in an inner-city hospital longed for just one more taste of the sweet corn he’d once sampled at his Aunt Julia’s house in a little town somewhere.  His family was poor.  It was the only time he’d been outside the city, probably the only time he’d tasted corn, except in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.

And now it was too late.  The aunt was dead, and, totally dependent on the machines at the hospital, the boy would never leave the city, never see another cornfield.

Somehow, an elderly couple from somewhere we might as well call Cornville learned of his story.  They appeared at the hospital one afternoon, disheveled and terrified, having lost their car and their wallets, but clutching a half a dozen ears of sweet corn, “for that poor little boy.”

A reporter picked up the story and ran it as a fluff piece, a bit of heart-warming filler for the morning paper.  Within days the hospital was overwhelmed with fresh corn.  The story had been picked up by the AP, and once on the Internet had morphed into a belief that if a million ears of corn could be collected, the boy would live.  It didn’t have to make sense.  It was the Internet.

Corn poured in from every corner of the planet, or at least every corner that could be forced to grow anything remotely resembling an ear of sweet corn.  Pleas from the hospital administrators, and insistence by the boy’s doctor that not only would corn not save the child, but that he couldn’t even eat it, had no effect.  Determined to make the nearly effortless gesture that could contribute to the salvation of one poor child and so save their own souls, people continued to send their corn.

Unfortunately, the hospital (which, thanks to a series of escalating bribes, had never faced a single building inspection) collapsed when the postman—who certainly wasn’t going to take responsibility for failing to deliver a package—added the 839,898th and 839,899th ears of corn to the pile on the second floor.  The boy died in the rubble.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Kid-Lit Blog Hop (Better late than never. . .)

Kid Lit Blog Hop Button 145 x 145 
Today's Kid Lit Blog Hop post is a return to the delightful guinea pigs we met in The Princelings of the East.


The Princelings and the Pirates,by Jemima Pett. 
113 pages, Smashwords edition, read on my Nook in black and white.
Middle-grade fiction.
I received this book last spring in a giveaway.  A giveaway does imply some commitment to provide a review, but in no way dictates the nature of said review.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and no one else.

Our friends Fred and George of Marsh Castle are back.  They've been living with Prince Lupin, and working on the development of strawberry juice power.  But a wine shortage has darkened the horizon, and Fred and George join with their old friend Victor to visit Chateau Dimerie and find out what's going on.  Along the way, they are pressed into service by pirates, meet a ghost, and are plunged into battle alongside an army that actually knows what it is doing.  Fred and George are no soldiers, but they have guts and brains, and come out okay in the end.  Realism is preserved (if one can speak of realism in a world run by guinea pigs and powered on strawberry juice) as no one escapes unscathed before making their way to the happy ending.

I am delighted to report that Ms. Pett has returned in this second volume of the Princelings trilogy even stronger than she was in the first.  Subtle changes have made me more comfortable with the idea that these decidedly anthropomorphic characters are, nonetheless, guinea pigs, much as we accept Ratty and Mole of The Wind in the Willows.  The world of the Castles is becoming more clear to me, and the story is fast-paced.  The action seems to me just right for middle grade children (say, ages 9-12, as the writing is not simplistic at all).  Dangers faced are real, and there is some suspense, but violence is minimal and the ending happy.  Fred and George are, as they should be, different men (er, guinea pigs) than they were at the beginning.  There is just a whiff of romance, and a little bit of legal/political business at the end which may not be as exciting to young readers, though it is clearly  important to the development of the series.

Ms. Pett's writing is clear and strong, the book well-edited, with very few awkward moments and no typos that I noticed.  Her illustrations are, as always, delightful, if too small on my Nook.

I am looking forward to reading the next installment in the series, and will reserve that final 1/2 star so that there's room to go up if the next book, as I confidently expect, is even better.  4.5 stars.

Full Disclosure: I won this copy of The Princelings and the Pirates in a 3rd-party giveaway, and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.

Saturday, August 3, 2013