YOU are Mr Miyagi…

Dead Ends by Erin Lange

‘I had a foot on some guys throat and a hand in my pocket the first time I saw Billy D…’

Dane Washington and Billy D couldn’t be more different.

Dane is a bully. He says he has ‘standards’; he doesn’t hit girls, and he doesn’t hit special ed kids.

Billy D is too kind to hit anyone. He has Down’s syndrome and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But one chance encounter leads them to realise that they have more in common than they think…

Erin Lange has an excellent knack for drawing the reader in from the first page. Her characters are all very unique and layered, pushing you to read on and find out more- with Dane and Billy D, this was certainly the case. Two very different characters, thrown together in a believable kind of way, which then leads you through a dramatic, funny, heart breaking and intriguing adventure.

It is about the journeys we take, literally and figuratively, and you’re reminded of this throughout by the little running man in the corner of the pages, which also act like a flip book, another little quirk!
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I found Billy D particularly poignant, perhaps because I have a family member who has Down’s syndrome. The quirks and behaviours described in the book were very real to me, and often made me giggle, or smile knowingly as I thought of an event entirely different yet entirely the same as that I was reading. I loved that he hadn’t been portrayed as a victim, or someone who goes through life in a daze not fully engaged with the world. He also wasn’t portrayed as some kind of saint, he still had flaws and a sneakiness to him as well. As the story unfolds, you often forget Billy D is any ‘different’ to any other character, as you follow his personal journey as he attempts, sometimes unknowingly, to find answers to questions he doesn’t even realise he has.

I found Dane to be the classic ‘bad kid who’s not all that bad really’ kind of character, but I did like his stubbornness and the way his own values he’d created are challenged and righted, and not always just by Billy D. As a teacher, it reminded me again that often kids acting out in class have deeper issues outside of school that might drive them to behave in negative ways (something you may struggle to bear in mind when dealing with the fourth or fifth class of the day!)

This novel did cater for a lot of different minorities, and even touched on the issue of gay parents in a real and blunt fashion which I liked. Again, it’s all about it being believable, and the character reactions to this issue were very much what I’d expect to see from my students (both positive and negative; some accepting, some blurting out questions without thinking how to word it, some judging without meaning to) It also wasn’t dwelled upon, it was just another element of the characters story.

Erin writes in a way that as events pick up pace, so too does your reading speed as you race to keep up and find out what happens next, which was something I delighted in.

I felt a little guilty in that I was comparing this a lot to the first novel I read by Erin Lange, Butter, which I thoroughly loved. This was very different, to the point where I’ve now decided each should be judged on their own merit. I felt that this book touched on a lot of issues, and told a unique story that kept me guessing until the end.

This is a story about unlikely friendships, unanswered questions and being your own Mr Miyagi when times get tough; a book that can make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again in quick succession. It also leads you to wonder if any journey in life will really lead you to a truly dead end.

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“Now that I’ve been sperminated…”

It has been a while since a book has inspired me to blog, and even longer since I have had a book I’ve been unable to put down and finished in a matter of days.

Trouble by Non Pratt:

‘Hannah is smart and funny.
She’s also fifteen and pregnant

Aaron is the new boy at school.
He doesn’t want to attract attention.

So why does Aaron offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby?’

This book takes you through the three trimesters of Hannah’s pregnancy, switching between Hannah and Aaron’s point of view. Both of their stories interlink but are also very different, and keep you guessing throughout. Be assured this is not another kooky Juno story (not that I am anti-Juno, I was just relieved this stood apart as its own story)

From the first page it is readable and, more importantly, believeable.

As a secondary school teacher, I observe and encounter the harsh realities of being a modern day teenager on a daily basis; from gross Public Displays of Affection in corridors (at which I regularly hurl the classic ‘don’t make me vomit up my lunch, get to lesson!!”), stories from weekend parties/gatherings and the reassuring smiles of BFFs, to friendship fall outs and the cruellest of cyber bullying. The characters and events in this book are so real you’d think Non had based this story on real teens.

The story flows so that you don’t even realise when 200+ pages have gone by. It will make you smile, cry, laugh and often make you cringe as you are reminded of your own teenage shenanigans as well, all in equal measure.

The love of being a parent, first loves, the ties that friendships form and all other forms of love and hate in between are presented beautifully, and make you grateful for the love that exists in your own life.

I wont go into much more detail about Hannah and Aaron’s story (never was a fan of spoilers, and it’s not a story I’d want to ruin for someone) but my favourite quote, ‘now that I’ve been sperminated’, is now my favourite phrase of all time, and this book has made it to my Bookshelf of Joy (all my faves are there) with ease.

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May the New Year bring you courage to break your resolutions early…!

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New year. New start? Not for me.

Every new years eve, a slowly growing feeling of dread fills me, starting on Boxing Day, right up to NYE itself.

The build up to midnight.  The noise and hubub of everyone around you, clamouring to be near someone they’d like to kiss.  The anticlimax once Big Ben finishes chiming and the immense smoke of the fireworks display, definitely costing more than my yearly pay packet, fades away on the television screen and you are once more shown the comparitive displays of neighbouring countries. The moment for us has passed, now let us relive it, twenty-gazillion times.

This year for me was different.  For one thing, I wasn’t working behind the bar.  This year marked the first year in my five year relationship where my partner and I were free to go where we wanted, with whom we wanted, without having to make sure the Christmas tree in the corner didn’t get stripped and drunks didn’t crush one another in the throws of new year joy.  There was also a lack of frustration, waiting for patrons to leave the building before we could truly celebrate ourselves- this was always one of the greatest challenges to my lack of patience.

Secondly, my feeling of dread was less so, spending the new year with my partners mother and two of his brothers and their other halves meant it was less mad and pressured than the usual new year affair.

Thirdly, there were no mechanical disasters (I will never forget the fateful year I wrote off my car going to the rescue of my stranded, and drunk, sister on an icey night- don’t worry, she got a taxi whilst I waited for the pick up truck!), nor did I wake the next morning with a horrendous hangover (a rarity these days anyway, but I’m still glad it didn’t occur for New Years Day)

Now I do love a celebration, and the happiness and excitement of others often catches me before the final bong of aforementioned Big Ben.  For me, New Years Eve is exciting as it marks a brand new year with my significant other, soppy as it sounds.  But that is as far as it goes for me.

For others, it marks a brand new start. I’m not sure why.  For me, January 1st is just another day.  It’s still winter, the sun still rises and sets, and people stay the same.  You could just as easily turn around and say tomorrow’s Monday, it’s a brand new start! Or each new month brings a brand new start.  Or each new day.

Although not a believer in resolutions, it gives me hope some people may change for the better, but on ther whole, they don’t.  This said, this only applies to those that I feel need to improve as people, but who am I to judge? If I don’t like someone, I don’t tend to interact with them much anyway.

My own resolutions, which flashed into my mind as we began the countdown, were fairly simple, and fairly easy to break too:

1) Buy less Costa coffee.  Every day I waste £2 on a Costa express on the way to work, hoping it will perk me up before a busy/mad/unpredicatble day at school.  It does, for about an hour.  I also worked out it means I spend £10 a week, £40 a month, just on coffee.  That’s a pair of Converse.  Or a posh dress. Or a pair of jeans! This resolution is easy to keep, particularly as Kirsty brought me in a special coffee machine that takes magic coffee pods at work.  Easy to keep, that is, until we near the first half term break of the year; pressure is suddenly high again, assessments to mark, reports to write, remembering to buy the magic coffee pods and just generally getting enough sleep all make buying that Costa much more appealing.  Sorry Converse. Sorry dress.  Sorry jeans. Sorry coffee machine.

2) Be happier.  Again, this post probably makes me sound cynical and grumpy, which I often can be, but I honestly try to be as happy as possible as much of the time as possible.  One of my best friends is insanely happy, all the time, to the point one of her students asked if she was on happy pills.  Just talking to her for 10 minutes can perk me up, she’s like a drug or a happy virus, her mood is catching, and this I am very envious of.  Sadly, I cannot keep that level of personal joy up consistently, I’m like the drumming gorilla on the duracell advert, sometimes I need a recharge, particuarly as I avergae about 5-6 hours of sleep a night during the week.  I love my life, I love My Boy, I love my family and friends, but still, I need to turn into a grump to stay sane.  Besides, being grumpy often means people are less likely to mess with me, so perhaps it is more courageous to not achieve this one, particularly when dealing with hormonal teenagers or raging drunks.

3) STOP BUYING SO MANY DVDS ON AMAZON.  This will never happen.  They’ve made it too easy to order things, the site remembering my payment details means it takes just one click for me to get a little rush of purchasing excitement.  Besides, my love of film means I can pay back to Kirsty what she gives to me in good books, recommendations for the wierd and wonderful 🙂  I  just need to make sure no one looks in the cupboard under the stairs, my not-so-secret DVD stash is hidden there and it’s getting a little bit ridiculous…

4) Stay out of debt with the dinner ladies.  Our school is brilliant, a cashless system of fingerprint scans, very futuristic, and allows teachers, who are often in a rush or waiting for pay day, to go into a mini-overdraft until they can ‘top up’.  This has led to a running joke amongst a few of my students, who take great pleasure in asking how much I owe the dinner ladies.  Perhaps just bringing a little amusement to moody teenagers is enough reason to remain in debt, annoying the less accomodating of canteen staff (fortunately for me, 99% of them are lovely and know me by name now due to my consistent debt!) Still, an additional aim to take some soup to school could potentially help with this resolution. Until I forget to buy the soup.

5) Tolerate my neighbours.  This isn’t a religious aim, just an actual my-neighbours-annoy-the-hell-out-of-me-but-I-must-live-with-it type of thing.  There are hundreds of tweets on my part, lamenting the constant screaming of my neighbours non-toddler and new born.  The new born I could tolerate, it can’t help it, but the spoilt brat, not so much.  Where is Super Nanny when needed? Perhaps it would be braver to just confront them, but there is a social rule that one not tell parents what to do, particularly when one has limited experience with young children oneself.  In this case, tolerance may be limited to not talking to them much. Damn terrace housing.

So, yes, my small and breakable resolutions really just apply to some of my quirks or daily trials, some more costly to my bank balance than others, but aren’t those quirks what make us stand out? Is it really neccessary to make such resolutions, when they’re so easily broken?  This just leads to a feeling of failure when one does break them.  Besides, accepting you’ll break them is much less stressful than trying to maintain the impossible.  We are all creatures of comfort and reaction after all.

I think my aim for being happier is the best one, as the amazing people in my life always bring me out of my grumps repeatedly, sometimes without even realising it.  For this, I am thankful, and consider myself insanely lucky to have such people in my life.

I am taking the plunge, being brave and accepting few of these resolutions will really last.  The brave part being, I’m accepting how flawed I am, and am quite happy that way.  And I haven’t even bothered with the rejoining of the gym.  Last year the receptionists amusement at my return on January 3rd made me defiantly decide if I rejoin, it will be because I am motivated and it will not be in January.  keep ’em guessing I say.

At the end of all of this, my long-running stream of thought, I genuinely wish anyone who has made them the best of luck with their resolutions, as I am sure their willpower and determination is far greater than mine.  And a happy, healthy and prosperous new year is my annual wish to all too, for what is there to look forward to without these three things?

‘Destiny is not imagineable, except in dreams or to those who are in love’

This is my first blog post.  I am scared.  I can imagine readers worldwide, scanning their eyes over the content, rolling their eyes and moving on to something far more interesting and well-written.

I think my life often sits on the borderline between interesting and mundane; I work as a history teacher by day, and by night help my lovely Albanian fiancée in his family run pub.  Sleep, for me, is a luxury, one I only really enjoy during school holidays (and no, before anyone begins to even think it, teachers do not get far too much holiday; sadly the sheer amount of paperwork and marking takes over a vast majority of that time too)

I have always wanted to write a blog.  My best friend has her own blog, reviewing all the millions of books she has read (she is a reading demon http://www.overflowinglibrary.com/).  Our headteacher constantly searches the internet for interesting blogs on how to improve ourselves as teachers (an ongoing process, I assure you!).  My sisters old university flat mate writes amazing pieces of creative writing based around her thoughts and experiences (http://www.juststuffnofluff.blogspot.co.uk/).  But what can I blog about? It was a quote from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ that really inspired me to get blogging, and that also happens to be the name of my blog.  My favourite character, Barney, is often heard exclaiming ‘This is SO going on my blog…!’  Essentially, I have decided to blog about everything and anything that I deem interesting, enraging or worthy of note happening in my life, regardless of theme.

My first blog post is on one of my favourite writers, John Irving, and one of the latest of his novels that I have read.  I am hoping it may also persuade Kirsty to actually read a John Irving, as she predominantly reads YA fiction.  Unlike Kirsty, who can read a whole book in a matter fo hours, I take a month or two to read a book, sometimes longer if time is short, so to find one worthy of note is always a special time, especially when it is by a favourite author.

My love of John Irving began when I was about 16.  My rather attractive English Literature teacher, known to us as JT due to his likeness to Justin Timberlake,  recommended Irving to me, based mainly on my random personality, and my love of unusual novels.  Looking back, some of the content may have been beyond my maturity level, but nonetheless I fell in love with Irving’s style and unpredictability, and will forever remember JT purely because of this (shamefully, I can’t actually remember his real name)

The first book I read by Irving is to be reviewed at a later date, today I am focussing on a relatively new novel, published in 2001, ‘The Fourth Hand’.

 ‘Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event- the loss of his left-hand, long before he reached middle age.’  The tale centres around this young man, Patrick Wallingford, and his personal journey following the loss of his hand.  The lion attack itself is momentary, almost comical, but sets that stage for Wallingford’s transformative path.

As with all Irving novels, it seems random and pointless, but draws in other characters, some from across the American continent, all unique and equally important to the plot.  We have Dr Zajak from Boston, the hand surgeon eagerly awaiting to perform the first successful hand transplant, and a married woman in Wisconsin willing to donate her husband’s hand to Patrick, the only flaw in this plan being her husband is still alive at the time of Patrick’s accident.

My favourite character is actually the hand surgeons dog, Medea, who seems to represent the whole point of the book- however rubbish or flawed a person you may be, you can change, although you may not realise how horrible or flawed you are, or that a change is necessary or even happening.  Medea’s main flaw, in case you were wondering, being that she eats her own excrement.  But she can’t help it, she’s a dog.

I found the novel really engrossing, and unpredictable, hence the quote from it which I have used as my blog title; ‘Destiny is not imagineable, except in dreams or to those who are in love’.  The truthfulness in it makes this quote beautiful to me.  Go back five years, and I would never have known I’d be a history teacher, engaged, living a relatively grown-up life.  The same goes for the characters in this novel, their effect on one another is unpredictable and long-lasting.

It is, as the Washington Post asserts, ‘Vintage Irving’.  It will keep you guessing, take you all over the world and leave you pondering long after the final page.  A definite must-read.

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