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The Rest of Us Just Live Here- Patrick Ness

I’ve been a fan of Patrick Ness since listening to a wonderful audio version of The Knife of Never Letting Go, long before the Chaos Walking trilogy started on the big screen. There is a quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, humour to Ness which is becoming addictive. I respect so many authors, but as a writer, Ness is now at the top of my list of writers who make me say, “Damn, I wish I wrote that!” So, I’m finally working my way through his back catalog and though I’m 6 years late, I am so excited to have lost myself in The Rest of Us Just Live here.

I don’t do summaries in reviews. But in brief, The Rest of Us is a bittersweet look at the entry into adulthood of a unique group of teens, who consider themselves at best average and at worst, broken. Their struggles are set in juxtaposition to “the indies”–– those cool, good-looking kids who are always off battling the forces of darkness. The homage and send-up of the New Moon series are so delightful, it continues to make me smile even now, days later.

The characters are well drawn, individual and unexpected. Mikey, the lead, is complicated and a little lost in the complexities of OCD. It was wonderful to feel both love for him and frustration in his narcissism… but that just means I felt what his friends do. Right in there with him.

Really, I am only say just go and read it so that we can talk!

Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath-Jacob Sager Weinsten Review

First of all, I love a book written by someone I know… or at least a friend of a friend! Then there is the setting, Hyacinth moves to London from the US to a house minutes from where we lived when we moved to London. But those are my own joys, not likely shared by you. The story is delightful on some many levels from the world below London (because there MUST be one) to the well spoken pig!

Nevermoor and the Trials of Morrigan Crow- Jessica Townsend Review

This one would have prompted me to say “for lovers of Harry Potter” but I think it hovers at the younger age of HP. If your kiddo has finished Potter right through Book 7, they might find this too young. In any case, it has the same delight in discovery of magic and the same tension of being tested in skills you didn’t know you have. I was surprised how much I liked it and I haven’t read the series only due to how many other books I am reading. Nevermoor is a place you should go!

The Mighty Miss Malone-Christopher Paul Curtis Review

This was another class recommendation and another that my daughter didn’t read! But that’s OK, because these are my reads, not hers! I think any kid who reads like it was air, would like to travel alongside Deza Malone and her brother Jimmie for a while. More importantly, the story paints of picture of the Depression-era south without cramming history down their throat. Certainly a conversation piece for the family or for school, but a charming story that need not be introduced as educational. It has a similar charm as Goodnight Mr. Tom, which is read by many school children in the UK as part of their WWII segments.

The Apothecary-Maile Meloy Review

This is an all-time favourite. I listed it as a “comp” in my book submittals, though I can only aspire to Meloy’s talents! You may see a theme, my dusty history major showing through. This tale is set in 1952 London, a grey time of ration and recovery. I love the magic-realism of the story and the very real relationship that grows between Janie and Benjamin. Your mid to upper-level MG reader will eat this one up, but you should definitely put it on your list too.

Keeper of the Lost Cities-Shannon Messenger Review

Is Shannon Messenger the JRR Martin of MG fantasy? Yes she is! You know early on, before HBO, when only the truest of nerds would have admitted to loving the books (yup, me). Messenger delivers the same exaggerated world of unparalleled beauty and splendour (Lanisters abound), daring, adventure, romance… But this is MG grade people, so get your minds out of the gutter. No breasts, no flaying, just good clean elfin fun!

The books really do have it all. You want to see the ogres defeated but really, you just want to know if its Fitz or Keefe! As noted before, mine is well past fantasy but she’s waiting with bated breath for the delivery of the latest tomorrow.

As for me, I definitely did not hold out reading the compendium to the last book because I was afraid the broken spine would give me away!

(protagonists are between 13-16, there is some violence and death and lots of heart pounding crushes… barely a kiss to be found though)

Read the series it and then you’ll know what I mean when I say “Glitter But.”

Flash Fiction: Writing Prompts

Prompt: The florist on the avenue maintains on our corner three life size wooden statues of standing bears, one adult, two cubs… Two weeks ago I noticed something different about them. I could not tell what.

The Bears on the Avenue

They had been there as long as she could remember. Certainly since she was a little kid, and next week she’d be eight. You do the math. At first they’d frightened her. Three bears, a momma and her two cubs hewn from dark, rough wood –the little ones a full head higher than she was.

 “Damn-it Karen,” she’d heard her daddy complain to Mummy, “are we going to have to walk a block out of our way to avoid those bears forever?”

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Writing Prompts

Flash Fiction: Writing Prompts

Banana Split

Prompt: The never ending banana split

Her spoon crunched through the rubble of crushed walnuts, slightly toasted and thickly applied. The nuts occupied the space between the fluffy whipped cream, fresh and unsweetened, and the warm blanket of chocolate sauce. That’s right, chocolate, not hot fudge. To each her own. Then the ice cream, one scoop vanilla, one scoop cookies and cream and one salted caramel, all nestled in the cradling comfort of their banana boat. She liked to work for it, a little, so the banana should be just ripe— not a squishy travesty fit only for muffin making. 

“How’s that workin’ for you, Bethany?” asked the man behind the counter. He smiled broadly beneath a handlebar moustache and a perfectly crisp white paper hat, despite the heat. 

“It’s ideal. Perfect!” she sighed, scooping another bite with a perfect combination of flavours. “I’m in heaven.” 

“Well now,” said the man, whose name tag said ‘Nate’, “that’s an idea.”

Bethany nodded vaguely and turned her focus back to the split. In her enthusiasm, her hands had grown quite sticky despite the long handled spoon.

“Pardon, where’s the ladies’?” she asked Nate who, though apparently busy, was lingering around the counter across from her stool. 

He gestured to the end of the bar as he tossed a dish towel over his shoulder.  

Bethany rose and headed toward the door then hesitated, she turned and said, “I’m not quite done.” Her eyes fell on the split. All that remained was a bit of banana swimming in a swirling pool of chocolate and melted whipped cream. A few bites of bliss and she had every intention of savouring them.

“Copy that,” said Nate and he gave her a quick salute.

Why, thought Bethany, were all soda fountains stuck in the fifties? Not that she was really complaining, it all felt right. Perfect really.

Bethany returned to her place at the counter. The cut glass bowl at her place was full, the snow cap of glistening whipped cream a perfect swirl where the puddle had been. Nate was gone. This was a little crazy. Two banana splits? She could not in good conscious indulge in another.

Could she?

It’s not like it would kill her and the bowl looked so perfect. Some people liked the nuts sprinkled on top of the whipped cream. Not Bethany, not at all. She liked them in a thick carpet underneath letting the cream virtually bounce on top. She hadn’t even had to tell Nate that. And, to her delight he hadn’t even bothered to offer her a cherry. Gross. 

Bethany sighed and tucked in. As she reached the bottom she noticed Nate back across the counter though she’d not seen or heard him approach.

“How’s that workin’ for you, Bethany?” Nate asked.

“Oh, well, um,” Bethany fumbled for the right words. She suddenly felt embarrassed for having eaten another bowl and not sure if he was gong to charge her. Were there free refills here? Bethany turned to the back of her chair and fumbled in her purse for her wallet. She began to worry that she hadn’t brought enough money for the treats.

When she turned back to the counter a new, glistening banana split awaited. 

“I couldn’t…” began Bethany but then three things came to her mind. First, she realised she actually could, she could eat another one; her stomach did not feel in the least full. Then she thought, I’m not sure I want to. Finally, she realised that Nate, in his candy-striped shirt and bow tie, knew her name.  

“Oh, but you can,” said Nate with a smile, “you must.”

This was not Bethany’s strong suit. She really and truly loathed confrontation. He was such a nice man, and had made these splits for her. She didn’t want to be rude. 

“Oh my, well perhaps just a few bites,” she replied a little hesitantly, and then she ate.

When her napkin fluttered to the floor, Bethany stood on uncertain legs and bent to pick it up. When she rose there, at her place, was another banana split. It was time, she thought, to put and end to this. Maybe it was because the shop was empty, maybe the poor man just wanted something to do. Be she was beginning to look at the split with distaste.

“Aren’t you kind. The splits, they’re heaven but…”

“Oh no, Bethany” Nate interrupted, “heaven is an entirely different shoppe. You didn’t make it to that one, I’m afraid. Now, do sit. Eat.” He pushed a clean spoon toward her eyes dancing with pleasure, and a hint of red light she had not noticed before.

“Oh hell!” Bethany groaned, and scooped. 

The Penderwicks-Jeanne Birdsall Review

I read a good deal of YA and more and more I have become numb to the themes of disaster, betrayal, annihilation, and sex that shape many of the stories. I’m not complaining, many of them are great reads but these next few books in the MG sphere delight in their simplicity and, if it doesn’t send you running, innocence. These are books where you are in it for the characters and the atmosphere, not the sitting on the edge of your seat quality.

The Penderwicks’s series is time less and has the quiet quality of the Little House series while being entirely contemporary. What I love, however, is the fact that the story could take place almost any time. When we started the series, years ago, I thought they were classics maybe from the 50s. I love that there is little to gives away when it takes place because and it doesn’t matter because you are drawn into the small movements of a charming family.

It’s best for lower MG readers, though admittedly, we listened to most of them on audio so I’m not absolutely sure of the reading difficulty. An 8-9 year old will fall in love and follow the Penderwicks right through to college… I kinda wish I was a Penderwick; you will too.

Flash Fiction: Writing Prompts

The Dog Swap

Owner and his dog swap places for a day

Danny rolled over on the rug in front of the fire and scratched his chin with his rear paw. It felt wonderful. What an amazing thing it was to reach his chin with his foot. He thought he might just miss that most of all. Well, that and behind the ear scratches. Bliss!

“I say Danny, I’m not sure I want this day to end,” said Buster as he stretched his legs on the foot stool and admired his green trainers. He reached for the sandwich on the plate next to him. Bacon, roast beef and cheese.   He’d made it himself in the kitchen even though he’d eaten a full box of Jaffa Cakes just before, all coated in forbidden chocolate. His voice broke slightly as he said it, a rough coughing sound following his words. 

“Is that right?” asked Danny, becoming aware that he could once again speak. The words felt strange coming out between the long teeth in his muzzle and vibrating on his long, pink tongue.

Was it only last night that he’d made the wish? The wish to change places with his dog for a day. Buster hadn’t really had a choice, but the day had clearly gone well for the dog inhabiting his body.

 “Well, woof, yes,” said Buster with a small bark, “I have very much enjoyed the kitchen, so much to see up there on the counter! And the thumbs, have you ever noticed how wonderful thumbs are?” he asked and crammed the rest of the meat with meat sandwich into his mouth. No one stopped him when he made it. No one bopped him on the nose and told him to get down. The mother did seem a bit cross about the Jaffa cakes, but he hadn’t even been sent outside to the cold.

 “Hmm, yes, the kitchen is good. But the walk in the park was amazing. Did you see when I went after that cheeky squirrel. Almost caught it, I did! Oh and the poo, that was….” Danny began with a smile.

 “Now, now, arf, let’s not be vulgar!” Buster reprimanded as he picked up a book from the seat beside him, “I wonder if I have time for a few more chapters?” he mused. Reading was an unexpected pleasure. He knew he’d like to be able to eat when he wanted, but he hadn’t known how lovely it would be to make pictures in his head from words on a page. He used to think these book-things were mostly good for a chew when the family was out.

 “Should you like to stay then, as me, as a boy?” Danny asked, stretching out and moving to sit by Buster’s feet–which incidentally smelled wonderful in his dirty old trainers, sweaty and damp!

 “Been thinking about that, it’s a good life you have up here. But, awoof,” he barked slightly again, “pardon, but no. There aren’t enough good smells in your boy-nose and the mother kept on about something called homework and I could tell I didn’t much care for that. No, I just think I’ll have my paws back if you please. I have a little thing going with that Bichon down the road, you know, can’t let her down! What about you?”

 “No homework to do is terrific,” said Danny, his temporary dog-lips beginning to ache with the effort of speaking, “but I’ve had a dreadful itch down there all day and I just can’t get it!” he looked sheepishly down by his tail.

 “You just have to bend your head down and…” began Buster.

 “Oh no!” Danny shouted, “I will NOT being doing that! No, old buddy, I think I’ll leave the itching and the Bichon to you. I miss Nintendo!”

 The two sat in silence for a long while until a voice called from down the hall, “Danny, you done your homework?”  The boy and the dog on the rug exchanged looks and Danny got up from the chair and turned to leave the room. At the last moment he walked back over and crouched down to scratch between Buster’s ears.

 “When I finish my maths, we’ll go to the park and see if you have better luck with that squirrel than me, OK?”

 Buster hung his head in bliss, this was better than bacon!