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These Boots Are Made For… (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane shrinks back into her corner, trying for invisibility. Office birthdays. She hates them.

She hides behind her slice of cake, eying the other women, each one wearing fashion boots with the onset of autumn. Ankle-high, calf-high, thigh-high, like who thinks those are appropriate unless your job title is Dominatrix? Black, brown, trimmed with fur, leopard pattern, silver work, buckles. All sleek, all stylish. All expensive.

She shoves her own feet back under her chair, hoping no one has noticed the clunky black Wellies she was fortunate enough to find at the thrift store.

Her luxury is dry feet.

StockSnap

Every week, Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge at the Ranch. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes boots. Whose boots are they, where do they go and what is their significance? Go where the prompt leads.”

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TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction, Rodeo Entry)

TUFF is tough. TUFF is wonderful.

TUFF – The Ultimate Flash Fiction – is a brilliant way to write. Whether it’s an entire story, a chapter, or a scene, it expands upon the strict formats I typically follow, either the 99 word challenges held weekly at Carrot Ranch, or the Six Sentence Stories blog hop hosted by Ivy at Uncharted each week.

This final contest in the Flash Fiction Rodeo consisted of five submissions total. The first was raw writing, timed writing for five minutes, total unedited draft. The second was distillation of that draft to the standard 99 words. The third challenge was to pare that down further, to 59 words. Fourth was essentially a blurb, a recap in nine words. Then we were free to stretch our legs and fill the story out in 599 words.

It was amazing. I am well used to the 99-word challenge, participating most weeks. This constraint (and that of the Six Sentence Stories) requires me to really practice the craft, learn to be concise where I can so I can get wordy when I really need to, to paint the lushest picture I can with as few brushstrokes as possible. The next part, 59 words, was hard. An entire story arc in 59 words? But I did it. Nine words wasn’t hard at all. Then back up to 599 words, Paring things down, I’m used to; expanding things out, not so much. 599 words took some work. I loved every syllable of it.

And it wasn’t just the five different submissions, oh no. Part of the challenge was to follow the archetypal hero’s story. Charli explains the hero’s journey and elixir of transformation:

  1. The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world.
  2. The test: the story develops conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies.
  3. The cave: the story leads to a crisis, the hero’s darkest hour in the abyss of ordeal.
  4. The transformation: survival transforms the hero who begins the journey home.
  5. The return: the hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir of knowing one’s own transformation.

Throughout the Flash Fiction Rodeo I’d tried to expand my horizons, to stretch myself beyond my homeless heroine, Jane Doe, and the people she shares her world with. But with the TUFF contest, Jane was irresistible. What an opportunity to flesh out her entire story arc, even I don’t intend to publish it in its entirety! So Jane is back, thinly disguised as Marlie. I have never personally experienced homelessness but it loomed in the windshield of my life not too long ago, and it terrified me. It is an epidemic in this country that breaks my heart. I donate toward ending homelessness when I can. (Nickelsville, appearing in the 599-word finished product, is a real place, a tent city named in karma-esque fashion after a heartless Seattle mayor who made life even harder for the homeless than it already was.)

I didn’t win this one either, and I don’t care. I had a ball just being there, for this final contest and the other six I entered. The winners were fantastic — you can read them here, including the prizewinning “The Sun Shines on the Half-Moon Cafe” by Liz Husebye Hartman.

keiblack
Photo: keiblack

TUFF Five-Minute Free-Write (No laughing! It’s hard to expose the initial writing process. Yes, I know I started with “Once upon a time.” At least it wasn’t “It was a dark and stormy night.”)

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was a talented paralegal. She worked for an attorney in a small town, for more than 15 years. But times got hard, and she was laid off from her job. She’d seen it coming, and had been looking for something new for more than a year, with her boss’ blessing. But nothing new had come her way in that time, and she had no replacement job waiting when the ax finally fell.

Casting her net wider, she soon got an offer for a position in another state. Expand her horizons, move up to the Big City, a new environment, a liberal community rich in the arts…what could be more wonderful? She happily spent money to relocate two states away, happy knowing family was a short flight away, happy for new opportunities.

The job was horrid. Miserable. She’d landed in a viper’s nest of emotional abuse and bullying, working for what she surmised was a true narcissist. After two months, she made an appointment with a job recruiter in her new city. After another month, she’d had no success. Fired. Far from home. Alone.

And the spiral downward began.

She applied for job after job, with no success. She was able to do temp work from time to time, but that wasn’t enough to keep her in rent money. She was evicted from her apartment, escaping with only a few possessions and the beat up old truck she’d intended to replace with her glittering new job.

TUFF 99-Word Challenge

“You don’t know what it’s like,” the man snarls. Fetid breath, brown teeth. “All your stupid paperwork, all smug, with your nice house to go to, your fancy clothes. But you’re clueless.”

Marlie recoils as if slapped. “You have no idea what I know,” she snaps back. “I used to make six figures a year. From there to unemployed, to suicide attempt, to the streets, until I finally got this job. And I’m grateful.” Deep breath. You’re not supposed to be mean to the clients. “I’m sorry, okay? Now let’s finish these forms, get you a place to live.”

TUFF 59-Word Challenge

Janine sips coffee. “I don’t get it. You used to have it all. Luxury apartment, Benz…now you’re in that sweathole, surrounded by deadbeats all day.”

Marlie cradles her own cup. “Ten years, I couldn’t get something at my old level. But I make a difference now. I get by.” She sips. “Sometimes you don’t make hay; you make do.”

TUFF 9-Word Challenge

Psych. I can’t find where I saved what I wrote for the 9-word part. Let’s say it was “I get knocked down, but I get up again,” with a nod to Chumbawumba.

TUFF 599-Word Challenge

“We’ve got the facts and figures for you, ladies and gentlemen, but I’ve also got the personal experience.”

Marlie pauses, takes a deep breath and a sip of water, plunges ahead before she can lose her nerve. She’s never excelled at public speaking.

“Seven years ago, I was in the same position our clients are, the same position homeless people are in all over this country. Businesses were downsizing everywhere, people being laid off. They lost their homes, their retirements, everything, through no fault of their own. I’m one of them.

“I relocated across the country when I couldn’t find something at home. And then I lost the job here. And then I lost another. I lived off my savings, and I didn’t worry. I was confident in my skills and my experience. The mantra in America is that if you’re willing to work hard, you can have anything, be anything, isn’t it? But it’s not true.”

Another breath, another sip.

“Over the next ten years, I submitted half a million resumes and applications. I’ve worked with countless different recruiters. I’ve been awarded a few temporary contract positions, but nothing went permanent like they’d promised. The long-term contracts were canceled before they ran to the end. It only took a couple of times before I learned to live frugally even though I was making six figures, because I had no guarantees. None. Why didn’t anyone want me? Why couldn’t I get anyone to hire me permanently?” Marlie shrugs. “I still don’t know.

“I hit a real down four years ago, when I’d run completely out of money again, been turned down for another sure thing yet again, and I attempted suicide. This wasn’t a ‘cry for help.’ Four hundred pills—I meant it. But I wasn’t as secretive as I thought, because a friend figured it out from across the country, called the police. I was found and saved.” She laughs, short and dry. “I couldn’t figure out saved for what, though. Things only got worse from there.”

Marlie pauses again, looks around at the legislative committee, seated with their water bottles and laptops, paying attention, unbelievably enough, to what she’s saying. Her eyes light on her boss, who nods encouragingly.

“While I was in the hospital and rehab, I was evicted from my apartment. No job, no rent. My things were put into storage and I eventually lost all of them. A friend took me in for a little while but then she moved out of town and I was left with nowhere again. And that’s when I ended up on the streets.”

“I didn’t stop trying, though. I got a very little money leftover from Pell grants by going back to school. I sold homeless-benefit  newspapers. I squatted in an empty house, until I moved to a tent in Nickelsville.”

More water, more air. Almost done. “Through all of this I kept applying, kept interviewing. Finally I landed this more or less permanent job, general office help at the homeless exchange. I earn a fifth of what I used to. I can’t even afford a whole apartment, but that’s okay, because I can’t furnish it, either.” Laughter. “I take the bus everywhere and I rent a single room from a nice family in Koreatown.

“It’s all okay. Sometimes you don’t make hay. You make do. I’m making do, and I’m making a difference to people who really need it, not just lining corporate America’s pockets. If the committee will approve our proposal, these funds can give real, solid help to people like me all over the state…”

FF Rodeo

A huge thank-you to Charli Mills, blogger extraordinaire at Carrot Ranch Literary Community and lead buckaroo of the Congress of Rough Writers. I had a blast.

 

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Murder, She Wrote (Flash Fiction Rodeo Entry)

Sherri Matthews led the Rodeo’s Contest #7, Murderous Musings, inspired by true crime stories, intrigued by the “why” behind it all. I am fond of true crime as well. I do believe that the right tumbling of dominoes could lead any of us to dastardly deeds and the workings of the mind and heart behind such things are fascinating to me. Contrary to what it’s easy to believe, most killers are not serial killers or mass murderers, dangerous to no one but their single victim, brewed up by a set of circumstances that are just so. According to both NPR and a Scripps Howard News Service review of FBI records, approximately one-third of murders in America go unsolved. I’ve often considered how easy it would be to get away with murder if I did it right, and I’m not even the smartest cookie on the sheet. One of my NaNoWriMo novel drafts was about exactly that. As much as most killings are one-time crimes of drunkenness or passion, it’s easy to ponder how many could be carefully planned, meticulously carried out, and successfully covered up.

This contest was simpler than some of the previous ones: “Write a flash fiction in 109 words, no more, no less and weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.”

Reading back over my own entry, I didn’t do much weaving, didn’t turn up quite enough heat. And that’s okay. Perhaps the main reason I write flash fiction, and participate in flash fiction linkups and blog hops, is to practice my own wordsmithing and to watch how others do it–watch and learn. Other writers let their murderous musings run free and took their characters far enough, and they were fantastic. I think I would do very well not to cross some of these characters, or their creators!

I am now of a mind to reread Arsenic and Old Lace.

body Free-Photos
Free-Photos

“Why would I know where he is? We’ve been divorced fifteen years. That was a happy day, being rid of that abusive piece of –”

“I’m just following up, Mrs. Burg. I’ve got two clients he owes child support to. He’s disappeared.”

“It’s Ms., and it’s Smith. I dumped his name when I left the state to get away from him. Try asking your clients.”

I’m asking you. Any ideas?”

Macie’s shrug can almost be heard over the phone. “There’s old abandoned mine shafts all over the place down there. And if he’s in one, I hope one of those exes had the pleasure of putting him there.”

FF Rodeo

 

 

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Book Review)

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, here’s the thing. I didn’t care all that much for the 80’s, with the exception of Mario, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and MTV actually playing music videos. I had thin, flat hair that wouldn’t go big no matter how much hair spray I used. I don’t care for loud colors, can’t stand sitcoms in general, and I never got into hair band music. I lived my teenage years in the 70’s, playing Dungeons and Dragons and listening to better music and wearing cooler clothes, although I will admit that avocado green appliances were fuuuugly.

But this book is still just awesome. Willy Wonka meets The Matrix is right. It’s not the writing, which sometimes falls a little flat and is prone to telling rather than showing. It’s not the characters, who are standard (80’s) issue hero-cleverly-disguised-as-poor-geeky-orphan-kid, staunch-and-funny-best-friend, and super-hot-wicked-smart-love-interest. It’s obviously not the absolute saturation of 80’s pop culture with constant references to movies I’ve never watched and video games I’ve never played and comic books I’ve never read. What it is, is a grim dystopia, the year 2044, the world suffering a 30-year great depression due to damage from climate change, various nuclear altercations, and the widespread, abject poverty caused by unchecked capitalism. This dismal life is saved only by the OASIS, a virtual reality consisting of thousands of worlds and any type of magic and technology you could dream up, free for anyone to access, a gamer’s paradise and general escape from the desolation of real reality, and I can totally be down for that. If I had a billion dollars, one of the first things I’d get is a holodeck.

All of this makes a rollicking good tale, the worldwide free-for-all hunt for an Easter egg inside an incomprehensibly huge virtual reality/MMO game that will give the winner the entire Bill-Gates-ian fortune of the man who invented it. It’s a page-turning romp that may not be literary brilliance but is still written competently enough to get you there. I couldn’t put it down.

(It’s worth noting that I almost didn’t read this book, as it’s adored by a lot of the same people who love Ender’s Game, which pretty much nauseated me with its utterly unlikable Gary-Stu-little-shit of a main character and its disturbing number of scenes centered around naked prepubescent boys in the group shower. What is wrong with you, Orson Scott Card? Fellow bookaholics, if you’ve been avoiding Ready Player One because you threw Ender’s Game into the wall as hard as I did, trust me. They don’t compare.)

Bookshelves: cyberpunk, my-dystopia-utopia, nerdgasm, sci-fi, fantasy, ya, coming-of-age, reading-in-airports, futuristic, five-stars-means-i’ll-read-it-again, defying-gender-roles, lgbt-inclusion

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Wet Ink (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“…to hold you in shadow and light, in doubt and certainty, when times are hard and when they are easy…”

Richard’s sister may have legally taken his earthly possessions, but this single page covered with scribbled bits of the vows he was writing are worth more than his computer equipment and manga art collection could ever be. Vows for the wedding they would never have. Becca gives in and allows herself to weep for a minute, then flings the pages away in horror at her carelessness. She can’t even read his words now, his pages smeared with her tears.

Sonorax
Photo: Sonorax

Every week at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about wet ink. It can be artistic, writerly, or completely off the wall. Go where the prompt leads.”

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Wages of Sin (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

With a slam of the stairwell door, Michelle and Becca are gone. No invitation for Jane to join them, but as much as she dislikes them and can think of no one she’d want to eat lunch with less than those two, it still rankles, all the snapping orders and barking at her like she’s a dog and general condescension, no acknowledgement that she’s their co-worker and is human and might actually have a feeling or two. Not being invited to lunch, again, is really the least of it.

But then Jane sees it, shining like her own personal grail on the desktop of Becca’s Mac — the file Becca has been laboring over for the last two weeks, the electronic reams of police reports and witness statements and diagrams and photographs and medical records and deposition transcripts needed to prove their case, meticulously indexed and cross-indexed and Bates-stamped, ready for final approval and transmission to opposing counsel and the court.

It takes Jane only three clicks of the mouse before the magic words display on the screen: Delete file permanently – are you sure?

“Wages of sin, payback’s a mother, karma’s a bitch, and all that,” she mutters, and clicks Becca’s mouse once more.

WikiImages
Photo: WikiImages

Every week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop and linkup. This week’s cue was “wage.” Fun sixes from other writers are here. Join us! It’s fun!

 

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Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey (Book Review)

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: sci-fi, space-opera, giant-interstellar-battle-cruisers-playing-chicken, outer-space, futuristic, action-with-a-body-count, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, hot-off-the-press, multiple-povs

From now on, I will be referring to my phone as a “hand terminal.”

These books are so good.

If you’re just tuning in, this is the seventh book in the Expanse series. The first is Leviathan Wakes. Start there, and read them all. You’ll be glad you did.

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Sleeping Deacon (Flash Fiction Rodeo Entry)

Contest #6 was the most challenging for me, the Bucking Bull Go-Round, embodying the Professional Bull Riders concept of what makes a good, high-scoring bucking bull ride:

“A contest of strength, balance, endurance, and effort between the world’s best bull riders and the world’s best bucking bulls. A rider must ride for 8 seconds with one hand in the bull rope and one in the air in order to earn a score. The clock starts when the bull’s shoulder or hip breaks the plane of the gate. It stops when the rider’s hand comes out of the rope – voluntarily or not.”

Without real bulls (thank all the gods there are!) the challenge shifted to writing. In real bull-riding, a rider’s arm may not touch himself, the bull, or the ground before the 8 seconds are up. For this challenge, no touching meant sticking to fiction; entries must be entirely fictional, with no first person narration. In real bull riding, the bull is scored for its difficulty to ride, including body rolls, bucking, and changes in direction; in this contest, the prompt words and the writer’s use of them to shift and change direction within the story while remaining in control were scored. Finally, style was judged, perhaps the most difficult. As lead buckaroo of this contest, D. Avery wrote: “Style is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Style is when the rider has mastered the moves of the bull and now is showing moves of her own. Style is when the whole ride looks easy and smooth.”

  1. Stories are to be 107 words in long in eight sentences.
  2. Stories are to include the two words drawn as your prompt (you may change the order of the words and they do not need to be adjacent).
  3. Write a fictional story that involves facing a challenge or fear.
  4. Stories are to be fiction only; no personal narrative, memoir, or non-fiction of any persuasion. Spur on a story!
  5. Go where the prompts lead, or buck, or twist. Hang on to your hat!

Entrants put their names in for a bucking bull and were each given the name of an actual bull on the PBR circuit; I drew Sleeping Deacon. That’s where it got tough for me. How on earth to include both the words “sleeping” and “deacon” in one story about staring down fear? Why couldn’t I have got an easier bull, like Panic Attack or Prime Time? But then, it wouldn’t be a challenge. You take what’s hard, and you run with it the best you can.

brimstone skeeze
Photo: skeeze

SLEEPING DEACON

“What do you mean, you’re not coming to church? It’s the Deacon, back in town, gonna light everyone’s fire.”

Alicia sets her mug down with a snap and snugs her bathrobe tighter.  “That’s the issue. All I hear is damnation, eternal burning, we’re all sinners and always will be, and it follows me even when I’m sleeping, visions of never being good enough and burning forever, and that’s supposed to be comforting?”

“See, your problem is–”

“My problem is solved. I decided there’s no God, and now there’s no hellfire, no eternal damnation, and no early-morning preacher shouting at me, so I get to sleep late.”

~~~

Nope, didn’t win. But that’s okay. It was a real challenge, and damned if it wasn’t fun. The winners were wonderful, and you can read them here.

FF Rodeo

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Copper Country (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“And it took me forever to clean the damn kitchen! If that man would learn I’d prefer a reservation to his cooking, I’d be so happy…” Michelle’s voice trails off as her office door snicks shut.

Jane pauses her filing, transported back in time to her mother’s kitchen, her child self scrubbing those hated copper-bottomed pans with steel wool until they gleamed. What she wouldn’t give for a meal home-cooked just for her! For her own kitchen to clean!

Her mother’s kitchen, closed to her since their estrangement. It seems a lifetime ago now, in a country now foreign.

stux
Photo: stux

Every week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills hosts the 99-word flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Copper Country. It can be any place, fictional, historical, or on another planet. Go where the copper leads.”

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Don’t Start (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Oh, what a glorious day,” Jane chirps, shoving her backpack under her side of the cubicle counter. “Blue sky, walking uphill I got so warm I had to take my jacket off. The Mountain is out in all her glory and I swear it feels like spring already.”

Becca feels her shoulders pointing up near her ears as if she’s trying to hide her head inside them. Before she knows what she’s said, she snaps, “Oh, don’t even start this morning, okay?”

She’s not sure whether to cringe or revel in the silence that actually feels like a physical thing, suspended around them like a shroud.

jnusch
Photo: jnusch

OK, now I’m confused. I swear I read this morning that this week’s cue was “start,” but when I clicked the link just now for the blog hop and link-up, it says “suspend.” I daresay one of them was actually last week’s, reverberating around in my brain. So I edited a bit and used both cue words. It’s a twofer Six Sentence Story! You can read fun sixes from other writers here. Join us! It’s fun!

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Scars (Flash Fiction Rodeo Honorable Mention)

Still catching up with the Flash Fiction Rodeo over at Carrot Ranch – a series of eight different flash fiction events. Contest #4 was Scars.

Writer and event buckaroo Irene Waters gave the guidelines: “The topic – Scars – was inspired by a quote by Stephen King – whose book on writing should be read, I believe, by all aspiring writers. He wrote ‘Writers remember everything … especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.’ Entries were to show a remembered scar using any genre the writer chose in 198 words.”

I myself have come to believe this is true. As I write about Jane Doe and the cast of characters that make up the world she lives in, I draw on personal experience. I don’t limit it to that, though, because that would be a boring monologue about my own life, but it’s fun to take a small incident and blow it up, make it into a major event, personality trait, or obsession for various characters. It’s fun, and it’s cathartic, and sometimes good for a little revenge. You know what they say about writers – be nice to them, or they’ll put you in a book. It’s true that writing, or any art, heals.

When the winners were posted over on Carrot Ranch, I was thrilled to receive an honorable mention. The winners were fantastic, and the winner of this contest, D. Wallace Peach for “Galatea,” also took the All-Around Best of Show prize. You can read them here.

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She hadn’t ended up homeless on purpose. Who does? A simple layoff, when the bubble burst in the two-thousand-oughts. She hadn’t been worried–at first. But it stretched, stuck. Unemployed or underemployed or temporarily employed for the next seven years. Her fault? Really? She’d tallied it one year: half a million applications and resume submissions. Thousands of call-backs, hundreds of referrals, dozens of interviews. But nothing permanent, nothing at her earning level, or simply nothing. A temporary job won’t get you an apartment. She’d felt cursed, marked, by the time she finally landed her present position three years ago.

And after three years, she’s still trying to unpack it. If her login fails on her company’s time card website, her heart pounds. A downward trend in the business for a month leads to sleepless nights about the company going under. FedEx loses her package with $24,000 worth of billable documents, and she’s convinced she’ll be blamed and fired. The slightest hiccup looms in nightmares as a security guard standing over her while she clears out her desk, then showing her the door to the street. Once you’ve landed on the street, you never forget how easy it was.

FF Rodeo

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The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (Book Review)

The LeftoversThe Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What if you were going about your day, a day like any other, when the Rapture happened?

Bookshelves: popular-fiction, suburbia, satire, religion-sort-of, what-is-it-all-for-anyway, literary-fiction, multiple-povs, end-of-the-world, love-the-cover

The Leftovers is the story of those left behind after what is officially called the Sudden Departure, for the purposes of PC and especially looking at who was taken and who was left behind and the fact that Jesus does not seem to have made an actual appearance. And it’s a lot to deal with. It’s more than a little disconcerting when the friend beside you on the sofa watching YouTube videos is just not there. Just gone. Vanished. In, literally, the blink of an eye.

So, how to deal? If you didn’t lose your own spouse or child or parent or sibling, then you know plenty of people who did, or, perhaps most traumatically, you were an actual Eyewitness. What do you do? Maybe you drown yourself in booze and weed and sex. Maybe you bury yourself in work, or you leave your spouse and children to join a wonky stalker-ish cult, or you drop out of school and follow a so-called messiah who collects a harem’s worth of child brides in an effort to father The One as quickly as possible. Maybe you hide away from the world in your shock and grief. Or maybe you get righteously pissed and start a poison-pen mimeograph-type crap newsletter that you hand out on street corners to blast everyone else you’re stuck here with, because why the hell would the Rapture take that Muslim and that brown person and that goddamn hommaseckshual, and leave you behind when everybody knows you’re the best Christian in the entire world and you should have been hand-picked and first.

Or maybe you realize some things cannot be made sense of so you pick up the pieces and keep living your life as best you can, however that happens to be.

Perrotta writes with humor and heart, and without straying into the overly Biblical or the mawkish. Thoroughly enjoyable read, recommended.

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Practical Magic (Flash Fiction Rodeo Winner)

I won! I won! I couldn’t believe it, really. I don’t know how many entries there were, but I was thrilled to get the email announcing I’d won. This was my entry for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #3 (I didn’t enter #2; its rules included that it had to be funny, and I’m generally best at humor when I’m being snarky, which didn’t feel right for a contest). I’m still amazed. The best part of the prize was a small collection of rocks from Lake Superior. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I love rocks. These will now be my special Writing Rocks.

The rules for this contest were to include a septolet as a magic spell, total word count 200-300. The Septolet is a poem consisting of seven lines containing fourteen words with a break in between the two parts. Both parts deal with the same thought and create a picture.

BWSavannah
Photo: BWSavannah

Jane pauses in the vestibule by the elevator outside the law firm doors. Beyond the window the sky looms gray over twenty-five stories of air filled with drizzle.

Another interview over. For better or worse.

No. For better, this time.

She examines the cuffs of her blouse, new-to-her from the thrift store, not frayed, nicely white. Her slacks bag a bit; she’s lost weight. She hopes nobody looked closely at her shoes. She showered right before coming here, in the college locker room after her fitness class, the shower being the only thing a college fitness class could possibly be useful for. Her core aches pleasantly. Her hair is clean and tidy; her makeup easily understated. Leftover Pell grant money and ten hours a week work-study don’t exactly take a girl to Sephora.

Her good-luck portfolio, holding paper copies of her résumé and her passport – a nice touch, along with her slender purse. This is not the look of a woman living in a tent. She hopes.

Homeless for not much longer, if she pulled this off. It felt like it went well, but then, it always feels like it went well. Every time for the last five years, it’s felt like it went well.

She composes her mind, focusing as she pulls a small cloth bag from her purse, and from that a generous pinch of chamomile buds. “I attract you, prosperity,” she whispers, sprinkling it in the soil of the potted polyscias outside the firm’s door. Into the dirt she tucks an aventurine crystal: “For good luck.” She closes her eyes and chants quietly, with force:

My skills,

Your needs,

Perfect match.

I need

This job,

You need me.

*

Hired.

 

“So mote it be,” she whispers, and calls the elevator.

***

I’m still thrilled and amazed that my entry actually won, especially after I read the other entries liked by the judges. They are wonderful, and you can read them here. Pure magic.

FF Rodeo

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Book Review and a Small Rant)

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a beef with people who throw around “I’m so OCD” because they dislike the stapler being on the wrong side of the pencil cup. That is not what OCD is. OCD is an often crippling anxiety disorder that can make your life a living hell by way of intrusive, obsessive, terrifying thoughts that take over every single thing you try to do, every day of your life.

Example 1: As the result of a brutal attack, a woman now views the numbers 2 and 6, when adjacent, as a sign that something terrible is going to happen. If her total at the cash register comes to $8.26, she has to put something back or buy something else to get rid of the 26, while others in line shuffle their feet and mutter impatiently and she knows she’s inconveniencing them but she can’t help it, she has to get rid of that 26 or she’ll die. She always finagles a way not to leave the house, or even her bed on the 26th of the month and refuses to own a digital clock because somehow it’s always 26 minutes past the hour when she looks at it. She was fired from her job cleaning motel rooms because she could not even walk past, let alone clean, room 26 without hyperventilating and throwing up and management would not take her seriously enough to simply assign her a different block of rooms. She began crying uncontrollably in DMV when her new car was issued plates with a “626” and the clerk refused to simply skip that plate and issue her the next one, while letting her know she was being unreasonable and hysterical instead of being nice and humoring her, and had police remove her from the premises and cite her for disturbing the peace, but of course she can’t pay the citation because she just got fired from her fucking job and soon there will be a warrant for her arrest. Probably with a 26 in it somewhere, which will certainly kill her, because even though none of the other 26’s have killed her doesn’t mean this one won’t, and it will. She knows this.

Example 2: After losing her father, a high school student cannot walk down the “wrong” side of the street or sit in the “wrong” seat or her mother will die. She has to select the “right” item from the store display of identical items, always wear the “right” underwear with the “right” shirt, and needs her mother to check in throughout her daily movements to reassure her daughter that she wasn’t in an accident. If any of these rituals cannot be conducted, the girl is in agony, suffering crippling headaches and stomachaches, convinced with every moment that no matter how careful she has been, she has still inadvertently just managed to cause her mother’s death and equally convinced that even if she didn’t do it this time, she’ll surely do it next time, because you can’t watch everything, you can’t think of everything, and how long can anyone keep this up? What about all the things she could have done wrong that she didn’t even think of, because she was too busy choosing exactly the right Ibuprofen out of the bottle while trying not to throw up, and now she’s going to be late for first period again, that will be probably be detention, oh fuck it, just stay home sick again. But wait, they’ll haul my mom into court for me being a truant, and what if the stress makes her have a heart attack and kills her? Aaaand now I’m puking.

Now, picture those two scenarios, and knowing, with every fiber of your being, that the number 26 will kill you, or that not picking the right package of underwear off the rack will kill your mother, all while the rest of the world is telling you that you’re a nutcase, to just knock it off already, look, people are staring, no wonder nobody likes you. Imagine making your way through every single waking moment with the knowledge that disaster will fall at any moment, the constant pressure to make no mistakes because the resulting tragedy will be your fault, all while holding down a job and going to classes and doing homework and washing laundry and cooking dinner and taking medication and paying bills and trying to be social because the one thing you’re supposed to do beyond anything else in this life is just be goddamned normal, and maybe, just maybe, you could meet someone who gets you and wants to be a part of your life, all the while judging and weighing every single action because the tiniest mistake will summon doom, and ultimately knowing that you have no social life, no money, no success, because you’re batshit crazy and you can’t stop it.

That’s just one day. Now do that every day. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That is OCD. Not annoyance at an off-center picture on the wall. Please stop saying that.

These are real people, by the way. I personally know both of them.

I usually don’t care for Nicholas Cage, but he portrays OCD brilliantly in the movie “Matchstick Men,” which is worth the watch. It’s amazing that I would say that about a Nicholas Cage movie, but it was an amazing performance.

OK, so. Yes. This is supposed to be a book review. Turtles all the Way Down. Also a brilliant rendering of OCD. As he usually manages, John Green tackles a hard subject, kids dealing with the hard parts of life, and maybe they don’t do it entirely well but they do it entirely humanly, with grace and wisdom we don’t remember having at that age, but maybe we did. One of his characters, as you might suppose, has a pretty bad case of OCD, the real thing, and it is written realistically, with angst and compassion and a little bit of humor, too.

Turtles All the Way Down is every bit as good as you’d expect a John Green book to be, which is pretty damn good.

“Spirals grow infinitely small the farther you follow them inward, but they also grow infinitely large the farther you follow them out.”

And once again, just so we’re clear: This is NOT OCD:

2d2d2d2d22d2d2d2d2d

THIS is OCD:

Bilder_meines_Lebens
Photo: Bilder_meines_Lebens

Thank you.

Bookshelves: hot-off-the-press, coming-of-age, ya, mental-health-issues, popular-fiction, thank-you-for-getting-it-right, this-is-the-stuff-right-here

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Promise (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane unzips her tent, peering out. Her breath mists in front of her, and the ground crunches under the feet of another Tent City resident, picking between canvas and nylon. Hard frost, again. Not snow, true, but still too cold for living in a tent.

She shrugs into her coat and grabs the backpack she’d loaded the night before, shuddering her way to the bus stop six blocks away. This is the stage of winter that feels eternal. If spring hasn’t come by now, it never will.

Until she spots them, tiny, delicate, white heads peeking through the frost.

Imbolc cover

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), include white flowers in your story.

 

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Star (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“Why so down, Jane, I mean, it’s Christmas, you know the rule, you’re supposed to be happy on Christmas.”

Jane shrugs, head down. “I’d wanted to have a job by the end of the year, but here I am, still unemployed, still broke, still scrounging, still homeless and living in a tent and not getting my teeth fixed because who has a gazillion dollars for fillings when you can barely come up with a dollar for McDonald’s coffee?”
“You’re also still HERE, hon, still doing resumes and going on interviews, selling newspapers for pocket cash, going to school, spending Christmas helping here at the shelter because you still help people who have even less than you do.” A quick, sharp hug. “You’re tough and you’re still here and you’re a rock star, Jane.”
elicesp
Photo: elicesp

Every week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction challenge and blog hop. This week’s cue was “star.” Fun sixes from other authors are at the link. Join us! It’s fun.

 

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Chocolat by Joanne Harris (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Chocolat (Chocolat #1)Chocolat by Joanne Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s typical for me to like the book vs the movie in inverse proportions — the more I love the book, the less I’ll like the movie. Sometimes it’s the other way around, as with Terms of Endearment, with the movie so fantastically wonderful and the book so fantastically atrocious. It happens sometimes.

I first saw the movie Chocolat years ago and loved it, and was pleasantly surprised when I loved the book as well, although there are some noticeable differences. The book is set in the 1990’s while the movie is post-war, perhaps to better capture the provincial feel of the setting. In the movie, Vianne’s nemesis was the mayor rather than the village priest, perhaps to soften what many in the reading audience felt was a shot at the Catholic church itself.

I can understand it, though. I once had a pastor similar to Reynaud, and in a similar situation. I sought advice and guidance with my own marriage, an abusive one, and found about as much comfort as Josephine got from her priest – you’re violating your vow of marriage, the solemnity of the marriage promise, a good wife is supposed to…blah blah fuckity blah. Excuse me? What about my husband’s vow of marriage, the solemnity of his marriage promise, how a good husband is supposed to behave? I felt betrayed, and when God betrays you, that’s serious. I fled that church and fled the marriage not long after, and have had nothing to do with organized religion since. I decided, as Vianne told the priest in the book, that I did not need an intermediary to connect with God/the Universe/the Divine/the Great Mother/the Force/whatever you want to call it. I have explored several different religious paths since then, stitched bits and pieces of many of them into my own warm heathen patchwork quilt, and have settled into a direct-line relationship with Whatever Name You Like for Your Invisible Man in the Sky that is far more spiritually aware than any relationship I’ve ever had with a brick-and-mortar church. And there you have it.

So I can see why some reviewers felt this book was attacking the entire Catholic Church. And maybe it kind of has that coming, if only for the contemptible offense of hiding pedophiles within its ranks. But the fictional Curé Reynaud is no more representative of the entire Catholic Church than that one shitty pastor I encountered was representative of all of Christianity, and smart, discerning people can figure that out. And there are two sides to that coin. Decades ago, when I was very young, working at a university library, I regularly helped the college’s priest with book and audio-visual (that’s how long ago this was; it was still called audio-visual) stuff. I adored Father Simon. He kept telling me I needed to get back to church, and I’d say, “But I’m not Catholic, Father,” and he’d say, “It doesn’t matter, God is God, I don’t care what church and God doesn’t care either,” and I actually did attend one time, at his little college chapel. That’s the one and only time I went to a Catholic ceremony and I felt out of place, not because of Father Simon who was wonderful as always, but because I’ve always felt a little squirmy in any church except the great outdoors, and when I told Father Simon that, he agreed that was all right too.

And I think that’s ultimately what Harris was writing about, by way of one power-drunk priest and another, utterly heathen sort of a fallen-woman character who gave the comfort and support the people needed and who better embodied the teachings of Christ than did the man of the cloth. The many different paths to God, if you will. And I still won’t go to church.

Anyway, this book is great stuff. Harris’ writing is lyrical, I felt I was right there in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, I loved the townspeople I was supposed to love and did not love – actually felt sorry for, rather than hating — the ones I was not supposed to love. My only complaint is that Roux was not written nearly as delicious as Johnny Depp made him – but that would be hard to do without pictures.

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You’re welcome.

This book was ## on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book about food.

Bookshelves: chick-lit, france, literary-fiction, women, magic, mysticism, religion-sort-of, misogyny-rules, popular-fiction, social-commentary, reading-challenge

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Only in America (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“I’m here for my foreign language credit,” Rico says when it’s his turn.

Rico,” another student says. “Isn’t your name Latino?”

“We came here when I was a baby. I ignored my parents’ Spanish so I could fit in. Americans speak English.”

“Does the backlash against DACA affect you?” the teacher asks.

Rico spreads his arms: ta-daaah. “Only wetback you know who doesn’t speak Spanish. Paperwork and fees always on time. No arrests. Support myself, no Medicaid, no welfare, no student aid. Pay taxes, health insurance, college tuition. They still want to deport me.” Arms drop. “Only in America.”

skeeze liberty
Photo: skeeze

Every week, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more,  no less) write a story using the phrase “only in…” Great flashes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

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The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Władysław Szpilman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.”

That quote isn’t from Szpilman himself; it’s from the diary of Wilm Hosenfeld, the German officer who helped Szpilman, excerpts of which are included after the memoir itself. And I would agree with it. This book is about nothing less than humanity’s own consistent failure to live up to its own ideals.

This book really whapped me in the head, and not because of any spectacular writing. As a matter of fact, not far into the book I mused that the writing was a bit dispassionate, all things considered. I was okay with that, because the man was a musician, not a writer. It’s still competently written. And then I got it, that this was written in 1945 by a man who had just endured endless years of the most inhumane treatment, had lost his entire family to the world’s most infamous genocide, and I realized that I may have been reading stalwart detachment, but it also may have been an attempt to hold on to some dignity in the face of unutterable shock and loss.

One part of me thinks I have to stop reading books like this, that try to decimate what faith in humanity I have while also displaying the resilience of the human spirit, and another part thinks no, this stuff needs to stay in the front of our minds, to remind us to be vigilant. You only have to follow the news to know we haven’t fucking learned, and to suspect we probably never will. This is a deeply moving book that gets four very depressing stars and not five, only because I’m sure I cannot bear to ever read it again. It’s no surprise that Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor seems to sound even more melancholy now.

This was #17 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book set during wartime.

Bookshelves: memoir, jewish-history, nazi-hate, world-war-ii, translated-to-english, banned-and-challenged, grittiest-reality, non-fiction, reading-challenge

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When I Grow Up (Flash Fiction Rodeo Entry)

I mentioned a while back that I’d been writing, just not publishing, because I was entering a lot of events at the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo and judging was to be blind. Judging is in for Contest #1, led by Rough Writer Norah Colvin: When I grow up. Cast yourself back to six years of age, knowing what you do of life in the present; what would you want to be when you grow up and how would you go about achieving that goal? Tell us in 100 words, no more no less. It can be real or imaginary, serious or light-hearted. Extra points for comparing it to your childhood choice, if you remember it.

I wrote this piece over a month ago, but just last week, Dream Girl and I had a conversation.  I was talking about all I want out of life, saying all I need is enough to meet our needs, and maybe a little extra for a treat once in a while, like a trip home or a road trip somewhere else once in a while, but what I want on a daily basis are health; a job that I like, that I’m good at, and that pays enough for us to live on; and good book and peace and quiet to read it in. She replied that I’ve really scaled back on the “all I want,” and she’s right. She can remember me saying I wanted to go back to school, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted a big house with a wraparound porch smack in the middle of wooded ten acres…oh, well. You get older, and things become less attainable. The odds of my fortunes changing so I can afford any of those things are slim and none. That’s just how it is. I’m all right with it.

WHEN I GROW UP

“I had a dream last night, Mommy.”

“Oh?”

“It was me, only old like you. Talking to me.”

“Really.”

“I told me that I’m going to want to be something when I grow up. And I’m going to tell everybody, and they’ll say no. They’ll say get a job like in an office, so I can reti–reti–something. And insurance. Like that man was selling the other day?”

“‘Retire,’ maybe?”

“Maybe. And old-me said I’m not ‘posed to listen to that. I’m supposed to do what I want. Because I’ll be happier.”

“You’re smarter than grownups?”

“That’s what old-me told me-me.”

kellepics
Photo: kellepics

I didn’t exactly incorporate what I wanted to be when I grew up.  From when I was young, I wanted to entertain as others entertained me. I’d hear a song I liked and I wanted to sing it; I’d want to be able to act like so-and-so did in that movie I loved; I wanted to write something like Harriet the Spy or A Wrinkle in Time. Any masterful performance could inspire me. After I discovered the joy of making music, that morphed into a desire to be a session musician. My hero was sax man Bobby Keys, known mostly for his work with the Rolling Stones but who did so much more; I wanted to be just like him only without the heroin. (And if you like a rollicking autobiography, check his out: Every Night’s a Saturday Night. RIP, Bobby.)  I let myself be talked out of it, though, by my blue-collar, practical, and absolutely well-meaning father, who advised me to let such foolishness be the stuff of dreams and secure my future with a “job I could retire from.” I still regret listening to him on that one.

My entry didn’t win, and that’s okay. I had fun just the same. It’s one thing to let your writing see the light of day; it’s a little bit harder to enter it where it will actually be judged on its merits. I’m glad I entered. The winning entries are wonderful; you can read them here.

FF Rodeo

 

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Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben (Book Review)

Don't Let GoDon’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“She said she was in danger, but that she’d be okay.”

So, I’m reading along and I notice, out of nowhere, that books are the only place I see people refer to being in danger. Movies, too.

https://giphy.com/embed/7NbNXY0hXaBWw

via GIPHY

 

And in case there’s a blank space with a link in it, it’s supposed to an embedded gif of Whoopi Goldberg warning Demi Moore that she’s in danger. They don’t always work; WordPress pisses me off sometimes.

So anyway. In danger is an exalted place to be, like being in a state of grace, being in love, being in a family way. It’s special to be in danger. Being in danger leads to metamorphosis: From being in danger, you walk through fire and come out the other side forever changed. Or maybe it’s just a plot device; you go from being in danger to being dead and the end of your journey becomes the reason for the protagonist’s journey. Either way, being in danger is serious stuff.

But nobody says they’re in danger in real life. We say we’re up shit creek, or we’re in an evacuation area, or we’re waiting for the ax to fall, or if my ex doesn’t quit stalking me I’m buying a gun and capping his ass, but we never say we’re in danger. At least, I’ve never heard a real person say it.

But, back to the book. I was quite disappointed in the first Harlan Coben book I read, The Stranger (ha ha, that rhymes with danger, and now my head is going to be replaying yooou-oooh, stranger danger from that Cure song for the rest of the day, thank you very much), which I got accidentally because my fingers hit the wrong button on my touch screen when I was trying to check out the same title by Albert Camus. Coben’s effort under that title was unsatisfactory (although I liked the Camus book; both are reviewed here) but other reviewers said it was a poor effort from an author they usually like, so I gave him another chance.

All of which is my roundabout way of saying that Don’t Let Go was worth the read, so Coben redeems himself. I’m sure he was quite worried about it, too.

Bookshelves: mystery, detective, suspense, hot-off-the-press

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Command Performance (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane wipes her palms down her jeans, picks up the blue marker. Since when do grownups have to do class exercises on the board? The professor smiles encouragingly but she can feel all the eyes boring into her back, her sentences wandering uphill and downhill while every nuance of Spanish sentence structure goes out of her head. What is the word for “T-shirt?” She settles for “blouse.”

Back in her seat, her hands are still shaking as the man next to her…Rico?…leans in. “Grand performance. I’ve been noticing you. May I buy you a coffee after class?”

PIRO4D
Photo: PIRO4D

Every week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli hosts the flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a performance. Join us!

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Every Night’s a Saturday Night by Bobby Keys (Book Review)

Every Night's A Saturday Night: The Rock 'n' Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby KeysEvery Night’s A Saturday Night: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Legendary Sax Man Bobby Keys by Bobby Keys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: americana, memoir, party-like-a-rock-star, non-fiction

Don’t expect any deep insights, but this is still a very enjoyable read, the story of a rock and roll life peopled by everybody who was anybody in the heyday of rock n roll, the British Invasion, and beyond. Awesome stories, like first meeting Keith Moon as he was chasing his chauffeur with a hovercraft. Phil Spector is a prick – who knew? Hook a drive into Keith Richards’ breakfast as he eats by the fairway, and he will shoot your golf ball – who knew? There are some substance-hazed lapses in memory, like his estimation of how long he lived with George Harrison: “…a month or so. Several weeks anyway, probably a month. More than a week, less than a year.” It’s okay, though, because the entire book reads like it was dictated and transcribed, so you get Bobby Keys himself, like you’re sitting around drinking beers and shooting the shit, an utterly conversational voice that brings everything to life.

Keys pulls off being self-effacing, acknowledging that his success was due in large part to being in the right place at the right time over and over again, while at the same time being able to blow his own horn – heh – for his accomplishments. And you only have to listen to the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” or “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” or John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” to know the man had a gift. A ten-year-old kid happened to hear Buddy Holly playing on the back of a cotton truck in Lubbock, Texas, and the saxophone was the only instrument left at school when he wanted to learn to play something, anything, just to be a part of that music, and — something wonderful happened.

I felt a bit let down at the lack of deep feeling beyond that which Bobby clearly had for the music. He refers more than once to “my wife at the time” or “my kid” but goes no further into those personal relationships, and talks about being a heroin-infused mess but offers no real insight. Just, he was a junkie for a while, and now he’s not. I suppose I can understand the desire for privacy but it did leave me wanting more. Still, fair enough. This book is about the music, and making the music, and high times that were had while making the music. It’s a rollicking tale of a rollicking life that’s got one hell of a soundtrack, from his earliest solos on Dion and Elvis recordings through his career with the Stones and beyond.

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Meditation/Medication (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“I wish you’d seen the doctor, gotten some Valium or something.”

Torrey edges up the security line, pulling her wheelie, Lesley moving beside her on the other side of the rubber stanchion. “Don’t worry about it, Lesley. I’ll be fine once I get up to the concourse. It’s like a great big mall up there.”

“Oh! That reminds me! I heard there’s a new place you can get a pre-flight massage, aromatherapy…self-care, soothing. Meditate your anxiety away.”

Torrey barks a shaky laugh. “Or there’s booze, because flying sucks. The world’s most sincere drinking is done in airport bars.”

Carisma-Training
Photo: Carisma-Training

Each week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes self-care. Fun flashes from other writers are the link. Come join us!

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Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta (Book Review)

Mrs. FletcherMrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grabbed this from the library’s impulse display; no holds, no waits. This is a new author for me.

Light and amusing but still meaningful treatment of empty-nest syndrome, emerging adulthood, and exploration of sexuality including LGBTQ with heavy focus on the T, life as a MILF, consent, misogyny, porn, hooking up, respect. Really, for all the boxes this book ticks off, it does a good job, even if a couple of the story threads seem to kind of trail off when everything’s wrapped up. I kept hearing “Stacy’s Mom” in my head as I read.

Competently written page-turner; a great airplane read even if I wasn’t on an airplane. Perhaps I’ll grab another Tom Perrotta book for my flight next week.

Bookshelves: hot-off-the-press, suburbia, satire, chick-lit, coming-of-age, lgbt-inclusion, fluff, social-commentary, women, too-sexy-for-my-mom, rom-com, reading-in-airports, popular-fiction

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

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Mate for Life (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“I still just wish you two could have worked things out,” Torrey’s mother said to Allan. “Get out here, boys!” she yelled toward the house, where ka-pew, pew-pew-pew ricocheted from an X-Box and out the window. “Your father’s here to pick you up, let’s go!”

“Well, Eleanor, unfortunately your daughter is a lot more like a praying mantis than a lovebird.”

He instantly knew that, father of her grandchildren or not, Eleanor would make him pay for that one. “I’ll just wait in the car,” he said quietly, and tried not to openly slink back down the driveway.

 

Josch13
Photo: Josch13

Every week at Uncharted, Ivy hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction challenge and blog hop. This week’s cue was MATE. Fun sixes from other authors are at the link.

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Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (Book Review)

mDigital FortressDigital Fortress by Dan Brown

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am not throwing the book into the wall because it does not belong to me–and neither does the wall, since I rent. 😦

Bookshelves: just-really-really-horribly-bad, everyone-loved-it-but-me, bloody-awful, was-the-editor-drunk, intrigue, thriller, popular-fiction, mary-sue-and-gary-stu, bad-dialogue, abandoned, purple-prose

Up until now I’ve defended Dan Brown against the Dan Brown haters. Up until now I hadn’t tried to read Digital Fortress.

The characters are cardboard-perfect-cliched and I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy that the NSA, for Pete’s sake, has no resources other than an untrained college professor to find the ring that will save the world. “I’m a teacher, not a damned secret agent!” He really says that. This was when David Becker assumed the appearance of Bones McCoy in my mind’s eye although he’s really an alternate-universe incarnation of Robert Langdon, minus the Mickey Mouse watch and the fell-down-the-well incident, and I became even less able to take him seriously than I already was, which wasn’t much. Mostly, though I cannot take the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher being referred to as the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher every single time the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher does something or every time the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher says something and every time someone thinks about the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher or talks to the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher and fantasizes about just bending the brilliant and beautiful Susan Fletcher over the desk and having a go. Barf.

I enjoyed The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, found The Lost Symbol to be so-so, did not even make it a quarter of the way into Inferno. The premise of Digital Fortress was awesome but the writing didn’t come close to doing it justice. It is physically impossible for me to endure an entire book’s worth of this drivel, and I am done with Dan Brown.

Join me on Goodreads: View all my reviews

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Five a Day (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane exits the stall, already anticipating another cup of coffee. This one weekday, she’s got almost unlimited fluid intake.

Part of her vagrant reality is having no decent, or even very private, bathroom. In the morning she heads immediately to the gym, before she’s even had tea.  The homeless newspaper office, but often with a long line. McDonald’s requires a receipt within the last 30 minutes. The college. The public library on her way back to Tent City. Five stops a day. She’s learned to coordinate her hydration accordingly.

Who could imagine a college ladies’ room as a luxury?

back_road_ramblers
Photo: back_road_ramblers

This installment from The Life and Times of Jane Doe is in response to Charli’s flash fiction prompt for the week: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about Five a Day. Fun flashes from other authors are at the link.

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Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Book Review)

Sister CarrieSister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Reasons to like this book:

Bump up your classics cred, with what was at the time the “newfangled” realist or naturalist writing style. Read about an immoral woman, one who chose neither the path of hard, respectable work nor respectable marriage, who wasn’t also vilified by her creator even through it wasn’t because she didn’t try or because she lacked good intentions. It’s not her fault she was fired from her grinding sweatshop job after being sick. It’s not her fault the guy she married was already married and took her through a sham ceremony. It is refreshing that Dreiser passes no judgments; indeed, he shows us how reasonable it is for a poor, young woman freezing her way through a Chicago winter to accept the gift of a coat, even a stylish and expensive coat, from a man of means and stature to whom she is not married. It gets even better when, despite her common- law marriage and her avarice, Dreiser does not make her die the lonely and agonizing death, à la Madame Bovary or Lady Dedlock, that was de rigueur for other shameless hussies of literature. Carrie soars above and beyond her perceived sins, achieving wealth and glamour by her own merits, leaving the men who took advantage of her behind her in the dust or the gutter or wherever they happened to land. It’s refreshing.

Another reason to read it: Another victim of both bowdlerization and banning, once by its own publisher. I’m a firm believer in reading banned books.

Reasons to not like this book: I found the writing just a bit ponderous. “Oh, the drag of the culmination of the wearisome. How it delays, – – sapping the heart until it is dry…” is an example. Every little detail of people’s thoughts and deeds is rendered in excruciating detail, and I felt I was wrestling the story from the twists and turns of Dreiser’s rather grandiose writing style.

Upshot: Atypical treatment of an atypical woman for the times, and despite its period (it was published in 1900), it is possible to read it without throwing it against the wall, and even to be entertained. I say, go for it.

Bookshelves: classic, women, literature-with-a-capital-l, banned-and-challenged

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The Book of Ash by Mary Gentle (Book Review)

Ash: A Secret History (Book of Ash, #1-4)Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished my umpteenth reread of this series and realized I have never reviewed it. Perhaps because it’s simply too much awesome to review. I would give it 37 stars if I could.

This book has it all.

Magic, cleverly disguised as prayer, cleverly disguised as quantum physics.

Fantasy.

Medieval history.

Priests and prophets, saints and miracle-workers, slaves and mercenaries. Historians and archaeologists and physicists. Genetics. Movable realities.

The ruins of a Visigoth Carthage appearing off the North African coast, where countless previous surveys showed nothing. Ancient scholarly manuscripts magically recataloguing themselves in university libraries. A man missing for sixty years mysteriously turning up where he should have been the whole time.

Golem. How freaking cool are GOLEM?

Kickass female characters. Not kickass like being the most beautiful and pulling off the most politically advantageous marriage while having the best sex and wearing the most sumptuous gowns kind of kickass, but the command a mercenary army and wear custom-made Milanese plate armor and have your own warhorse and know how to take somebody’s head off with a poleax kind of kickass.

(Warning: The reality of war is gritty. Ash is a something of a politician but she is no lady, and says “fuck” a lot.)

The ending shatters me every time.

(For those intimidated by 1120-page books that can be used as doorstops, or who have bursitis and don’t want to lug around something big and heavy, my copy of this book is four normal-sized paperbacks: A Secret History, Carthage Ascendant, The Wild Machines, and Lost Burgundy. I love the cover artwork on my copies. All paper-and-glue editions are out of print, but they can be found used online. It’s also available for Kindle.)

Bookshelves: comfort-favorites, sci-fi, fantasy, mysticism, medieval-history, heroine-kicking-ass, action-with-a-body-count, grittiest-reality, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, war, women

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Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Address UnknownAddress Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow.

I am very picky about short stories, not easily pleased. Every short story I read gets measured against the likes of “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Monkey’s Paw” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and they all fail to cut it.

Address Unknown cuts it.

When I included this in my 2017 Reading Challenge (#3, a book of letters) I thought this was an actual book, and that’s how it came to me, a small hard-bound volume not much larger than my phone. I read the whole thing in about thirty minutes.

This is a quick and devastating story, told in the letters exchanged by two friends, business partners in an art dealership, one remaining in America and the other returning to their German homeland in 1932. In their letters back and forth we see the rise of Hitler and the fall of human decency. The betrayal is bone-chilling (“That is why we have pogroms,” said oh-so-matter-of-factly) and the revenge is brutal.

Just read it. And Trumplings, take note.

(I was slightly annoyed by the foreword written by Whit Burnett, editor of Story magazine in which this piece first appeared in 1938, wherein he waxes amazed that such a powerful story was written by a woman. Stuff it, Whit.)

Bookshelves: short-story, world-war-ii, nazi-hate, classic, historical-fiction, schadenfreude, epistolary, plot-twists-and-irony

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The Most Interesting Man in the World–Nanjo Castille (Flash Fiction)

Sit carefully in my tooled leather chair, studs and verdigris, pour my snifter of brandy. Reflect on how much I look like the pimp Esteban from Kill Bill and wonder which one of us the joke is on. Adjust my cravat.

Scroll around the Internet for designer names; perfume bottles with stitching and sewing, handbags by the likes of Choco Caramel and Channel and Coochi, which sounds almost as bad as a dongle, no matter if it’s a real word.

I don’t always enter flash fiction rodeos, but when I do, you can’t tell if I was serious or not.

michael-parks-kill-bill-vol-2
Michael Parks as Esteban Vihaio in Kill Bill
The-Most-Interesting-Man-In-The-World
Or, we can just have a Dos Equis.

This silliness is doubly inspired. It’s partly in response to Charli’s flash fiction prompt for this week: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about The Real Nanjo Castille, who was the signee of something that may have been a spam  email or may have been an incredibly tongue-in-cheek entry in one of October’s Flash Fiction Rodeo events–read more at the link. It was also inspired by Nyquil, because I have what is evidently the plague on top of insomnia.

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American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (Book Review)

American PsychoAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Pretty sure I’ve stumbled across another book that was written to impress other writers. This entry in my 2017 reading challenge (#28, a book with an unreliable narrator) proves once again what a lowbrow I am.

I’ve read six chapters of nothing but detailed descriptions of everybody’s designer clothing, and the ridiculously expensive booze they drink and the upscale food they eat, a comparison of high-end business cards that reads disturbingly like a dick-measuring contest, and constant anxiety about not getting a good table at whatever pretentious and overpriced yuppie bistro is the latest cool place to be. That’s it. Four pages of the parade of top-end products that makes up his morning grooming routine and another two pages of all the crap from Hammacher Sclemmer in his kitchen. There seems to be a fixation with videotapes; I’m guessing porn will play a large part later on. Every woman is either a “hardbody” or is not, and they are all interchangeable. He can’t remember one person from the next, always mixing up names and faces, and I can see that as a symptom of the pathology at play here, but he does it with music too and it really really annoyed me when one of the best rock and roll songs of all time, “Be My Baby,” was not properly attributed to the Ronettes. That should have been one of the ones he got right.

The thing is, I think I get it. I’ve heard enough to know it’s about a brilliant young financial wizard on Wall Street in the late eighties who is also a serial killer. This endless blahblahblah of conspicuous consumerism is a clever device, really, the soulless clutter of day-to-day life playing up the soulless rage that comprises the mind and heart of our torturer murderer. But it’s a veritable slog to try to read. …and she’s wearing a wool-crepe skirt and a wool and cashmere velour jacket and draped over her arm is a wool and cashmere velour coat, all by Louis Dell’Olio. High-heeled shoes by Susan Bennis Warren Edwards. Sunglasses by Alain Mikli. Pressed-leather bag from Hermès. This for every single person who enters the narrator’s line of sight, including doormen and cocktail waitresses, this endless haute couture word vomit. It does echo what I imagine to be the greed and shallowness of senseless killing, the young hotshot moving through the world of junk bonds and leveraged buyouts and coke in the men’s room, twenty-six years old and pulling down two hundred grand a year, so why not reach out and take all the Wurlitzer jukeboxes and $850 gazelleskin wallets and deathsack prostitutes you want? I’m picking up desensitization as a gimmick here. Our impeccably dressed killer is a shark in more ways than one, and don’t try to tell me that anyone who aspires to Wall Street isn’t a predator of sorts.

But…it’s boring. This might have worked brilliantly for me as a short story or a novella, but as a full-length novel it is simply tedious. I’m already skimming at page 57; no way am I slogging through 400 pages. Dnf-ing. This might also be one of those times where the movie really is better.

Bookshelves: well-i-tried, writing-with-a-capital-w, pomo, unreliable-narrator, bloody-awful, misogyny-rules, abandoned, gore, horror, satire, dark-humour, literary-fiction, literature-with-a-capital-l, artsy-fartsy, dnf, ugh, reading-challenge

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Chair on the Porch (Flash Fiction)

Lora steps out of the SUV and inhales deeply, the scent of dead leaves and humus and apples, oddly enough. She doesn’t remember apple trees around here.

She picks through brambles to the overgrown cabin. How many years since anyone has been here, this jewel in the woods, where they used to hide from civilization?

She eases into the cobwebbed chair on the tiny porch. She has just settled her gaze on the autumn-brilliant tree line when a splintering crash lands her on the plank boards.

Maybe you can go home again, but you have to fix it first.

cgdphoto
Photo: cgdphoto

The Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch Literary Community is over, and we’re back to the regular weekly flash fiction challenges. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a chair on a porch. Fun flashes from other writers are at the link.

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Accept No Substitutes (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“How did your soup turn out?”

“The soup is nonexistent,” Torrey snaps, “because who on earth has bone broth sitting around the house?”

“We’ll find you a list of substitutes you can use when cooking,” Lesley smiles.

“The websites I found say if you don’t have bone broth, you can substitute gelatin, and if you don’t have gelatin, you can substitute agar agar, whatever that is,” Torrey replies. “What’s the point of a substitute list, when I’m even less likely to have the substitute than the real ingredient?”

poppicnic
Photo: poppicnic

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “substitute.” Fun sixes from other authors are at the link. Join us!

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Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Book Review)

Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13)Glass Houses by Louise Penny

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This isn’t doing it for me, and that’s too bad. Really.

The pacing is one problem; it’s awful. The book opens with Gamache on the witness stand, testifying against the accused in a murder trial, and flips back and forth in time as events unfold–partly, I think, to play up Gamache’s helplessness as momentum gathered into murder and his perceived ineffectiveness against an enormous opiate trafficking problem. This can be a very effective way to build suspense–it is stock-in-trade for author Laura Lippmann and she makes it look easy–but here it feels contrived and tedious. We slog halfway into the book before we finally have our dead body, and I see from other reviews that it’ll be another quarter of the book before find out who is sitting in the accused box in the opening pages. I’ve read what must be thousands of whodunits that didn’t reveal the accused until the very end, but it’s just not working here. I feel played.

Another irritant is the writing style, overflowing with incomplete sentences and chopped-up paragraphs:

They all knew that look. They’d seen it before. More times than you’d think possible.

There was no censure there. No suggestion they shouldn’t ask. He’d be surprised if they didn’t. And they’d be surprised if he answered.

More than anything, there was resolve in those eyes.

But this time there was also anger. And shock. Though he tried to hide both.

Like that, constantly. There are very few normal paragraphs in the book. I am not fond of Writing With a Capital W that is meant to create a dramatic atmosphere but only serves to trip me up. Lee Child used a similar incomplete-sentence trick to lose me as a reader forever in less than two chapters.

Still. I grabbed this from the library display on a whim, being new to Louise Penny. I see it’s number 12 or 13 in a series and that this entry was a departure in style that was less popular with series devotees. I scoped out a couple of earlier entries on Google Books; the choppiness and contrived tension seem unique to this book. I’m always looking for my next favorite cozy series, so maybe I’ll try an earlier installment. This one has to be back at the library in two days, no renewals allowed, so I’m going to toss it back without investing myself further.

I particularly like the creative use of the cobrador del frac, used in Spain not to harass those who cannot pay a debt, but to shame those who have the means but will not pay a debt, beefed up into the Conscience with a capital C that collects on a moral debt by silently staring down a wrongdoer into madness. That was beautiful and eerie and felt perfect, at this almost-Halloween part of the year. I wish it had been done well enough to keep me going.

Bookshelves: abandoned, cozy-mystery, mystery, whodunit, detective, canada, creepy-horror-stuff

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Book Review)

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I usually love Margaret Atwood, and I usually love dystopian/speculative fiction, but I could not get into this one. I tried. Sorry, Maggie. I still love you but this effort was dull, dull, dull. I put it down one evening and never felt compelled to pick it back up.

It might be time to reread The Robber Bride, though.

Bookshelves: dnf, speculative-fiction, my-dystopia-utopia

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#Twitterflash (And a Note About Trolling)

I haven’t published much flash fiction this month, because one of the two forums (fori?) where I participate in flash fiction linkups, Carrot Ranch Literary Community, has been holding a Flash Fiction Rodeo, eight contests throughout October. I’ve entered most of the contests, but judging is to be blind, so I can’t publish the entries until after judging is complete. So I’ve been writing, just not publishing.

Except for this entry, and at least one more that I’m working on–we’ll see how inspired I get before the deadline. This contest has a fun and different structure for flash fiction: Write a story in 99 words, consisting of 11 sentences of 9 words each, tweeted over Twitter. It’s #Twitterflash! It’s hard to judge blindly when it has to be tweeted, so I can go ahead and publish this one. Finally!

The note about trolling is a confession that I now must make. In the event you decide to follow me on Twitter (@99_Monkees), be aware that I troll our dumpster fire of a presidency. (#ImpeachTrump) Normally I do not like Internet trolls, just there to stir up trouble and throw negative crap everywhere. But with Emperor Hirocheeto, I find it therapeutic. It could be argued that I’m crazy for even following President Looney Tunes* on social media in the first place, but I’m one of those drivers that likes to lag behind you a bit, because I can keep an eye on your idiot ass from back here. Stay informed. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. I confess to occasionally finding old boyfriends on the Internet to see how miserable they are these days, which might qualify as Internet stalking if I did it more often than I do. What can I say; I’m a Scorpio. In any event, I don’t say anything truly terrible; mostly I tell him he sounds like he’s 7 (which he does) or remind him it’s his bedtime now, or bug him again about what in the hell he intends to do about our fellow Americans who lost everything to Hurricane Maria and who have been living without power and clean water and basic infrastructure for more than a month now. (#PuertoRico) I may have also called him a baboon. I find all of it cathartic. I love living in a country where I have the right to free speech, the freedom to go on social media and say “fuck you” to the President of the United States; so very very much less do I love that I am inspired to do just that on almost a daily basis lately. I have feet, knee and hip problems that make it hard to march, so I use what I have. I troll. And I vote.  (#resist)

Mostly, though, I tweet relatively harmlessly from this blog, so that’s another way to follow 99 Monkeys if you want to.

On to my first entry in the Carrot Ranch #Twitterflash contest:

#TheEnd  #funwithhashtags

*Please note that you will never see me use the words “president” and “trump” adjacently, because I do not want to give the impression that I consider those two words to comprise a valid title. #NotMyPresident

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Book Review)

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: punk, spoof, homage, as-seen-on-tv, fanfic, mystery, horror, dark humor, lgbtq-inclusion, supernatural, paranormal, haunted house, love-the-cover

First–don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate this book. I mostly enjoyed it. It’s just that I was expecting to love it as much as I loved The Supernatural Enhancements, which I absolutely adored, and I didn’t listen to the part of me that knew TSE was going to be one amazingly tough act to follow, and that cynical part of me was right, and now the non-listening part of me is annoyed at the cynical part of me, which is being all snarky and I-told-you-so-ish. But that doesn’t make Meddling Kids a bad book at all. It’s rather good. I would probably rate it higher if TSE hadn’t been so freakishly stupendous even though I know that’s not fair, like the younger sibling being held to the standards set by the superstar older sibling, suffering through school with constant comments like, “But your sister was so good in math,” “But your sister was a cheerleader,” “But your sister’s prom date had his own Camaro,” “But your sister never got suspended for smoking in the bathroom,” until it finally starts smoking weed and intentionally hiding its own superstarness out of spite.

This is a fun plot, the cast of Scooby Doo resurrected as Andy (fka Velma, lesbian and Hispanic and wanted in two states), Kerri (fka Daphne, with her brilliantly alive orange hair, which is almost another character in the book), Nate (fka Shaggy, a horror aficionado in and out of mental institutions) and Peter (fka Fred, dead, present as a ghost only Nate can see and hear, and responsible for at least two of Nate’s psychotropic medications). Scooby is here too, as Tim,* grandson of the original mystery-solving dog Sean,*** a Weimaraner instead of a Great Dane. The kids return to the scene of their last mystery, the one that left them all fucked up in the head, for closure and healing, and learn that no, it is not always a human villain in a costume.

It’s been noted that this book is an amalgam of homages, most notably to Scooby Doo and to H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon and the mythos of Cthulhu, but there are nods to Stephen King’s It (my least favorite of King’s books and no, I will not be seeing the movie, I have feared and loathed clowns since I was little), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, some of the flavor of David Wong’s John Dies at the End, and no doubt others I missed.

Other reviewers have noted Cantero’s penchant for endless synonyms for “said” that grow annoying. I’ll grant him the fun of playing with the English language, which is not his mother tongue and which he still use more correctly than a lot of American college grads running around today, but I was growing weary of people who always half-phrased, umpired, intervened, polled, moaned, urgently suggested, appended, challenged, admitted, pop-quizzed, second-guessed, and so on, pretty much anything but simply saying something. Heads up, Edgar: You do not need fancy synonyms for “said” with dialogue as excellent as yours.

His descriptive powers are as evocative and socks-off-blowing as ever. After a window’s light is blocked: The colors in the room went oh and became very sad. A motel slept in silence, all the guests probably busy counting stolen money or chopping up corpses in the bathtub. A dog that tail-nods. She squiggled her feet into her sneakers. Fun portmanteaus. I recently read an article Cantero wrote wherein he explained that in his head, if English writing can have a crash-landing, then it should also be able to have a kaboom-landing, and I don’t disagree.

There are a few sharp pokes at American society: “Never cry about a gun. Sadly it’s one of the easiest things to replace in this county.” Ouch. We deserve that.

Perhaps my favorite part: The meddling kids get to escape in a mine cart in pure cartoon style. The cart flew out of the adit mouth, far over the debris slope at the end, hurling the passengers out to free-fall ouching and whoaing and F-word-yelling all the way into the Zoinx River. Yes!

Perhaps my least favorite part: Velma/Andy did not say “jinkies.” Not even once. Sad face.

And just as big as everything else – the cover. This cover! Every time I pulled the book out on the metro or in the break room, I flashed it around a little: Look what I’m reading. Feast your eyes, and know your reading material cannot possibly be cooler than mine. Don’t you wish you were reading this gloriously groovy bit of literary amazingness too? Yes, you do, you know you do. I might never have discovered Edgar Cantero if I hadn’t fallen in love with the cover of The Supernatural Enhancements. (His Catalan covers don’t do as much for me, which is just as well since I can’t read Catalan.)

Anyway, despite the rather lackluster and previously explained three stars, I do recommend the book. I really recommend The Supernatural Enhancements, which I reviewed here.

*I don’t really care for this trend of giving people names to dogs, especially when they’re all the same. Much like every kid I meet these days is named Jayden or Brylee, it seems every dog I meet these days is named Sophie or Lilly.**

**My dog does happen to be named Lilly, but I didn’t pick it; her AKC name is Leina’s Lilly Moose and it was written in stone by the time I got her at a year old. Besides, I call her FatDog. Perhaps I should start calling her Moose. She would probably like it. She likes everything.

***Now I realize that the dog named Tim is a nod to the Famous Five that I missed, as in their dog Timmy. But my * mini-rant about people names for dogs stands, because although Sean is one of my favorite names in the world, being the name of one of my kids, I still generally think people names for dogs sound silly. Unless Sean for the dog is another homage I missed, which is entirely possible.

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Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker (Book Review)

Death In Paradise (Jesse Stone, #3)Death In Paradise by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Much better than the previous installment. Crime-solving was more front and center. Jenn was much less angst-inducing, which was a relief. Jesse Stone still gets more women’s panties thrown at him than Elvis ever did, so all is right with the world.

Bookshelves: detective, manly-men-kicking-ass, mystery

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Yard Work (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Rico drums his hands on the steering wheel, impatient for the bus ahead of him to move again. Places to be, folks.

The bus farts and jolts ahead, and Rico’s eye is caught — that woman he’s had his eye on in his sociology class, Jane he thinks her name is, walking away up the crumbling sidewalk.

He presses on the gas slowly now, curious to see which way she’ll head. She doesn’t go far, just two houses up from the stop, a dead-looking house, slumping behind its overgrown yard. His eyebrows arch upward as she skips the front door and heads around the side, looking around perfunctorily without even seeing him, then nudges open a sagging gate and disappears into a wild tangle behind the house’s blank-windowed stare.

Arcaion
Photo: Arcaion

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “yard.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Enjoy!

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Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton (Book Review)

Y is for Yesterday (Kinsey Millhone, #25)Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

SEXUAL ASSAULT TRIGGER WARNING: Repeated descriptions of sexual assault, with accompanying “she had it coming” mentality

Grafton crafted a dark story here, then threw away the opportunity to make it count.

My neck hairs first stood up when I read, “I couldn’t think why she’d try extorting money for a sex tape in which she starred front and center.” Um, what? You mean, in which she was being gang-banged and sodomized while passed out. Which is acknowledged a few pages earlier, opining that those making the tape would be facing rape and sexual assault charges. So, is the throw-away attitude toward this girl throughout the book casual victim-blaming on the part of the writer, or is it intentionally written to display the “Well, she shouldn’t have been drunk and naked and wasted with a bunch of guys, and I don’t care if she was only fourteen, she’s a dirty dirty sloot” attitude that everybody, including Kinsey, seemed to share? When a young man is released after serving a sentence for murder, and you feel bad for him because now he’s being blackmailed over a sexual assault he took part in and you don’t want to see him “go through” any more…say what? But of course. Don’t forget that he is rich and white and from a “good family.” Kinsey is so principled that she returns the entire retainer after she’s fired, without deducting for services already performed, but she’s not principled enough to turn down this dog turd of a case in the first place? Or take the tape straight to the D.A.?

Out-of-character characters. “I picked up the scent of the cigar he’d smoked, but the effect wasn’t unpleasant,” writes Kinsey, except that the Kinsey I’ve been reading about for 30 years hates smoking. Henry has always loved and babied his yard, but he’s suddenly torn it up and is letting a homeless couple pee in it? Kinsey’s being stalked by a serial killer, so she carefully cleans her beloved H&K, locks it in the trunk at the foot of her bed, and drifts peacefully off to sleep?

Anachronisms. In 1979, teenage kids use the word “homophobe” and have computer video editing equipment in their bedrooms. Most glaring was not being allowed past airport security without being a ticketed passenger–except this was in 1989, twelve years before 9/11, back when you could go to the airport and get a drink and sit and watch the planes take off and land, which I used to do. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about these novels is being stuck in the 80’s, Kinsey hauling her portable typewriter around and always being miles away from a pay phone when she needs one. In this installment, present-day intruded several times.

These books have never been perfect and I’ve loved them anyway, but this one set my teeth on edge. I only read to the end because I wanted to see if I was right about whodunit, which I was, and I’ve already forgotten it. I never thought I could give a Kinsey Millhone book only two stars, but Kinsey as a rape apologist, who’da thunk it.

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Spirit of New Orleans (Six Sentence Stories)

“I’d like to take a few days to make the trip, book a sleeper on the Spirit of ‘76.”

“You’re going to travel on President Nixon’s Air Force One?”

“Sorry, I meant the Spirit of St. Louis.”

“Lindy’s been gone a long time now, and I’m pretty sure his plane is in the Smithsonian, and anyway I thought you don’t like to fly.”

“Oh sheesh, I mean the Spirit of New Orleans, like the train in the song, you know, I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”

“I’ll book you on the City of New Orleans, if you’ll please stop singing.”

City of New Orleans
Photo: Robert Kaufman, from the FEMA Photo Library, Public Domain.

This flash is in response the Six Sentence Stories cue of the week: spirit. I know it’s weird, but it’s where the prompt led. All I did was follow. Follow the link for fun sixes from other writers.

 

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was going to say it’s impossible for Neil Gaiman to write anything I wouldn’t like, but then I remembered Neverwhere, which I couldn’t get into, and I blame that mostly on the rats, which did not become a horror to me until I moved to Seattle in the midst of a seven-year stretch of chronic and heinous insomnia, and my rented-online-sight-unseen apartment turned out to be infested with the hideous creatures, and the job I moved here to take turned out to be the absolute worst employment experience of my life, leading to an almost complete psych breakdown and years of therapy. It became an association thing: I fucking hate rats. I also blame the character named Jessica. I’ve just always disliked that name. No real reason. No idea. But rats + Jessica = couldn’t read the book.

But any other Gaiman book, I’m totally down for.*

Norse Mythology is an absolute delight to read of an evening, wrapped up cozy in a warm blanket, with warm lamplight and a warm cuppa, perhaps rain on the window. The language is not childish but creates that “once upon a time” atmosphere that recalls being read to as a child. This book might be superb on audio.

The stories are wonderful, and this collection includes a nice tour of Yggdrasil and the basics of Norse belief (those interested may want to check out the spiritual path of the Asatru). Gaiman sources his tales straight from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, all with the unique flavor and rhythm that are Gaiman’s own. All of your favorite gods are here…Odin, Thor, Loki, Frigg, Tyr, Frey and Freya, Heimdall, Baldur…and some you may not have heard of.

My personal favorite was Thor in drag.

*Unless he chooses to name a character Tracy, every Tracy I’ve been intimately involved with having turned out to be a manipulative, backstabbing C U Next Tuesday. It’s a puzzle. I once worked and became sort-of friends with a woman in the screen-name environment of the Internet, and was dismayed when I learned her real name was Tracy. “Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “it’s just a name. Just because her name is Tracy doesn’t mean she’s going to suddenly turn into a skank.” Lesson learned, that I could not have been more wrong, as I pulled not one but two of her knives out of my back. I’m aware that there are probably a great many women named Tracy who are upstanding and moral people. Maybe it’s an alchemical thing, that happens when I become involved with the woman named Tracy. So if you are a Tracy, let’s just not meet, or at least don’t let me know, so all of these Tracy’s can continue being good people. Please, Neil, don’t ever name a character Tracy. Because I know you’re reading this.

This was #17 in my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book published in 2017.

Bookshelves: myth-and-legend, deities-behaving-badly, retelling-a-classic, literary-fiction, once-upon-a-time, religion-sort-of, reading-challenge, short-stories, humor

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Fluid (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Becca stumbles at the entrance to her building, dropping her keys and shopping bag in her clumsy anxiety to get in out of the interminable Seattle rain, captivated by movement out of the corner of her eye.

Down the street, in the downpour that shimmers in the streetlights. A woman. Dancing in the street, alone, not caring if anyone is watching.

Poetry in motion.

The woman pirouettes around the corner and out of sight, leaving Becca to wonder yet again how other people learn how to get through life as a fluid.

Free-Photos street dance
Photo: Free-Photos

Every week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s six is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe; this week’s cue was “fluid.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

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Exodus by Leon Uris (Book Review)

 Exodus Exodus by Leon Uris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the fictionalized story of the creation of the present-day nation of Israel as symbolized by the Exodus, a ship refit by the Mossad Aliyah Bet, carrying Jewish refugees from post-WWII internment camps on Cyprus to run the British blockade and settle in Palestine.

Bookshelves: well-i-tried, disappointment, world-war-ii, in-the-news, historical fiction, jewish-history, middle-east

So much potential, but I’ve been reading for a week and I’m not even halfway through. The story is interesting enough, but there is a lack of balance in writing about a many-faceted period in world history. The characters are without nuance, written in black-vs-white terms. Zionist activists and Jewish people are good; Arabs, Turks, the British, and Americans (sympathizers excepted) are bad. I understand and do not disagree with the basics of Zionism and the negation of the Diaspora, and the basis for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that’s enough to know it’s a helluva lot more complicated than Uris would have us believe. Even now, President Twitler creates some controversy by proposing to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, flying in the face of virtually every other country on the planet, most likely as another way of flipping the bird to the United Nations.* This book is 100% pro-Israeli, as far as I read, and I dislike that one-sidedness.

I could even deal with that. Just finish this book, then go read one sympathetic to the Palestinian viewpoint, but there are other things. The different characters’ backstories are visited as flashbacks that read more like infodumps, dry as unbuttered toast. Slog, slog, slog. There are a couple of romances in the offing, between the Brokenhearted Steadfast Warrior Heroes and the Beautiful and Plucky Women Who Melt Their Hearts, who come off formulaic and trite. And somebody really needed to curb Uris’s enthusiasm for the ! key.

The story is based in truth, which you can read about here and here, with a lot of poetic license that I truly have no issue with. The real Exodus sailed from Marseilles, not Cyprus, carrying far more people. I am given to understand that somebody saves the day at the end of the fictional voyage; the real life voyage did not end happily.

I was hoping for an epic I could fall in love with and gush over, but I’m more annoyed than anything, and I try to discontinue things that annoy me. I usually only give one star to a book I can’t finish, but I’m throwing in an extra for the scope, the fact that the book is dated (1958) and that’s not its fault, and that it inspired me to research the true story and learn something new.

*I hate, loathe, and despise #45 and will get my digs in where I can.

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (Book Review)

Mystic RiverMystic River by Dennis Lehane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“You ever think how the most minor decision can change the entire direction of your life? Like, say you miss your bus one morning, so you buy that second cup of coffee, buy a scratch ticket while you’re at it. The scratch ticket hits. Suddenly you don’t have to take the bus anymore. You drive to work in a Lincoln. But you get in a car crash and die. All because you missed your bus one day. I’m just saying there are threads, okay? Threads in our lives. You pull one, and everything else gets affected.”

I finally read this. Oh. My. God.

Even though I’d seen the movie years and years ago, and already knew whodunit and what happens, this is one of the top three mystery/detective/psych thrillers I have ever read. Ever. Even if I did keeping putting Sean Penn’s face instead of Kevin Bacon’s onto book-character Sean.

My first Dennis Lehane book, but it will not be my last.

And when I was texting my son Monster to tell him how good this book was and how he just has to read it right away, he texted me back that he happened to be in Barnes and Noble at that very moment and was trying not to die laughing because someone had just asked the clerk if George Orwell “had a new book out.”

This is why it’s important to talk about books.

And why Sean is a great name, because that’s Monster’s name, too.

So name your kid Sean, and read books, and talk about books, and go read this book.

Bookshelves: detective, grittiest-reality, police-procedural, psych-thriller, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, mystery

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Too Much Up (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Becca reels across the room as the panic attack hits, waves of nausea and terror roiling.

Naturally, her pills are in the bedroom, on the other side of the endless stretch of floor-to-ceiling windows, and getting to the wine in the kitchen would be not much easier. She whimpers with another flare of fear, backs into the farthest corner and lowers her eyes to the floor, the only way she can not see the expanse of open air on the other side of the windows. So much for opening the drapes to let some light and fresh air into the place.

The worst thing about panic attacks, she decides, is their ability to take even the comfort of your own home away from you. How do you feel safe when twenty-two floors up is twenty-one too many?

Pexels high view
Photo: Pexels

Ivy at Uncharted hosts the weekly Six Sentence Stories flash fiction linkup and blog hop. This week’s cue was “up.” Fun sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us!

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Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler (Book Review)

Farewell, My Lovely (Philip Marlowe, #2)Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good Lord.

I know it was the attitudes and nomenclature if the time–this novel was published in 1940–but I have never waded through the sludge of so many racist and misogynistic attitudes EVER. I even learned some racial slurs I hadn’t known before. See, kids? Reading is educational.

This book is chock-full of dinges and niggers and shines and wops and dames and broads and an Indian who says things like, “Gottum car,” I kid you not. So part of me is just rolling my eyes and cringing through the whole thing. And I think PC is important, yes I do, although I also think we get carried away with it sometimes. But the thing to realize is that PC is only just the surface, it’s the skin-deep beauty that cannot hide the flesh underneath, still rotten with prejudicial attitudes. Almost eighty years after this book was written, women are still not fully credited for everything we can do, still do not have equal pay or control over our own bodies. Racism is going strong, institutionalized and systematic in virtually every aspect of American life and even normalized by our current presidential administration. Simply making the words unacceptable in polite society does not enlighten anyone, does not change the underlying attitudes and accepted norms of that society. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet. But we have to start somewhere, and PC is as good a place as any.

But on the other hand- -that’s my favorite hand, the other hand–the prose. The prose! Hard-boiled poetry.

“I had seen some of his work and it was the kind of work that stays done.”

“She’s a nice girl. Not my type.”

“The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.”

“She hung up, leaving me with the curious feeling of having talked to somebody that didn’t exist.”

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

Gold.

Couple of things to note. The word “okay” is spelled “okey” through the book and I kept tripping over it. Was that normal then? I learned a few new terms for “marihuana,” including “jujus” and “tea” and “American hasheesh.”

One of the best parts of the writing of the time is that “dick” is not a dirty word. “Private dick.” Private dick? Don’t mind if I do. The best dick is always private. Dick, dick, dick.

As for the story itself, I’m torn. The plot is all over the place and in a couple of spots, but particularly toward the end, it was really slogging. I considered not finishing it– I know! Not finish a Raymond Chandler book?–but at 88% you might as well push through. Then I read somewhere that this novel is the cobbling together of three of Chandler’s short stories, which explains the disjointedness. The story opens with Marlowe working on a case, and he gets sidetracked by a shooting in a “shine joint” and a missing woman, and never bothers to go back to his original case. So, the plot. It’s okay (or okey), but I think we really read Raymond Chandler for the tough-guy characters, and the dames with legs “to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window,” and the sentences you read over and over again because they’re just that good. The plot is only necessary as a vehicle for everything else that sets noir apart. And for that, four stars.

Bookshelves: noir, whodunit, manly-men-kicking-ass, detective, mystery, crime, bad-dialogue, so-bad-it’s-good

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Harvest (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Jane takes a deep breath, opens her professional email address.

This past week she has, as always, sent out a plethora of resumes and cover letters, responding to ads and notices from every source she can find. She has agonized over word choices, triple-checked spelling and grammar and attachments, made her resume as snazzy as she knows how, applied for jobs she’s sure she’d hate. Desperation trumps selectivity. Looking for a job is a full-time job. Hard work. Or a lottery?

17 new messages, the program tells her. Maybe, today, she will have garnered the magic one. The “yes.”

JulieG
Photo: JulieG

Every week at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads.”