August 26, 2015

As I Try To Make My Way to The Ordinary World - Review/Interview: Patrick Ness on The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

We're both fortunate and delighted to welcome Patrick Ness back to these here hills to talk about his new book The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here takes the idea of a Chosen One (Harry, Buffy, Katniss, whoever) and asks: what about everyone else? What about the kids just trying to make it to graduation? What about the boy trying to figure out where he fits in while desperately hoping that his school stays intact this year? Protagonist Mikey is just that boy and as another Chosen One fights another battle that may or may not end in the apocalypse, Mikey has his own battles to fight, his own mundane existence to navigate and his own extraordinary, ordinary life to live.

Walker Books invited Splendibird herself to interview Patrick but sadly London was too far a trip this time. Sean, publicist extraordinaire, thus promised to take a list of our questions, put on a wig and a Scottish accent and pose as Splendibird in what was sure to be the interview event of the year. For some strange reason, this didn't happen.  Instead he got Patrick to perform his own interrogation on behalf of The Mountains of Instead. Despite the tragedy of a wigless interview, it undoubtedly worked out better this way.  Without further ado, we welcome Patrick Ness and The Rest of Us Just Live Here (oh, and in another plane of existence, Splendibird likes to go as Sya - which is SIGH-ah):


As a riff on the Chosen One genre, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is both clever and extremely funny not to mention pretty meta. For all of you out there who have ever loved a Buffy, an Elena, a Clarke or a Clary (not to mention a Jace, a Percy, a Katsa or a Sabriel - Ness really has a point about these names), the opening sections of each chapter will resonate loud and clear while also making you laugh to the point of tears.

However, The Rest of Us Just Live Here isn't a Chosen One book, it's a contemporary story about one boy figuring out how he fits into his own life.  It is a story that will speak to all those who have ever felt like the least important, the lesser friend, the hardest work. It will speak to teenagers and adults alike in that we have all felt ordinary in an extraordinary world, all felt insecure and all negotiated the kind of close friendships that require the best kind of hard work.  Finally, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is about family - the ties that bind.  Ness writes the relationship between Mikey and his sisters in a way that is both hopeful and life-affirming and it is a pleasure to read a book that focuses on a bond that is so often passed over or written into cliche.

It is with great pleasure therefore, that we at Mountains of Instead, are able to recommend yet another Patrick Ness book without hesitation.  He's our favourite, he really is.  For those of you just coming across him for the first time, you can find reviews of his earlier work and a previous interview he kindly granted us by clicking on the Patrick Ness label at the bottom of this post. Read the reviews, then buy all the books because they are the kind of books you will want to have on your shelves FOREVER.  For those of you returning to his writing, you won't be disappointed: go out, buy this book and set aside a couple of days.  You're welcome.

This interview/review were brought to you by Splendibird. Thank you to Patrick for interviewing himself so gallantly and to Walker Books for providing us with a copy of this title for review. Finally, thank you to Sholto, best baby brother, for editing the video. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is available TOMORROW (27.8.15).

August 04, 2015

A Pirate's Life for Me (Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier)

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier is one of my top five favourite books. I have re-read it once a year since I was about 16 which means that I've read it more times than I am willing to admit here. Yet as entranced as I have always been with Rebecca, and Maximilian and the young Mrs. de Winter, I had never been tempted to read anything else by Du Maurier until recently.  What prompted my long overdue interest was an email from Little, Brown who have re-released Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek with some gorgeous new covers and who were wondering if I'd like one to review.  It seemed like the thing to do.  So here we are, part of the Du Maurier blog tour.  I urge you to check out all the stops on this one as, rather than just focussing on one book, it's focussing on several and each one is a classic.  I know this because, having read Frenchman's Creek (thanks to Little, Brown) I sought out and read all three (including Rebecca. Again)....

Frenchman's Creek
Daphne Du Maurier
Little, Brown 2015

Dona - the Lady St. Columb - is entirely fed up with the tedium and hypocrisy of city life under the reign of Charles II.  Being a woman who knows her own mind, she ups and leaves (kids in tow) to spend time in her husbands long abandoned Cornish estate, Navron.  Rather than finding the house a dusty haven, however, she finds it inhabited by Jean-Benoit Aubery - a French pirate of disrepute, who has been holding the entire Cornish coast to ransom with his dastardly companions.  Aubery, however (like all the best pirates), turns out to be imbued with a shrewd wit and undeniable charm and Dona soon finds herself, entirely understandably, under his spell.  Shenanigans ensue.

Ah, pirates!  Don't you just love them?  There are surely few stories which would not benefit from a pirate thrown in for extra flavour.   And Aubery is up there with my favourites. Move over Jack Sparrow, move over Long John Silver - Jean-Benoit is where it's at.  Reckless, handsome and entirely tempting it's easy to see why one might run away to sea with him.  Aubery makes escape from the mundanities of everyday life seem utterly possible, easy even, and as a reader for whom literature itself is a great escape, he is a hugely appealing character.

It is his offer of a better, more exciting, less dutiful life that seems to be what appeals to Dona, also. Married young to a kind yet far artless husband, Dona is desperate for something different.  In taking her reluctant children to Navron she grants them a childhood far more innocent and fun-filled than any on offer in the city but her awareness that freedom of this sort is short-lived is tangible and Frenchman's Creek tells the story of her one grasp at living a life unencumbered by obligation.  What makes her such a brilliant protagonist is the juxtaposition of her impulsivity and adventurous spirit up against her sure and certain knowledge that any adventure will surely be temporary.  She's a joy to read.

As with Rebecca, there is a languid quality to Du Maurier's prose that belies the adventure at the heart of this novel.  Her storytelling is dreamlike, Navron a place of endless sunshine and hidden treasure, billowing romance and seaswept kisses all underpinned by the knowledge that real life is just out of sight and inescapable.  This style of writing, combined with such poigniancy leaves readers with a novel that is at once a romance, an adventure and a coming of age story to be enjoyed by all.  For those of you yet to be convinced, it should be noted that it is set in Cornwall.  Yes, THAT Cornwall! Where handsome young men sheer the verges in their pants!  Also, it is entirely acceptable to envision Aubery as looking EXACTLY like the Dread Pirate Roberts.  Or not. As you wish.  Either way, pick up Frenchman's Creek.  Hell, pick up all the re-released titles because each is equally good and will improve the looks of your bookshelves no end and you can find our more about them all by taking a peek at the other stops on the Du Maurier tour.  Happy reading.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who entirely enjoyed her brief sojourn on the Cornish coast and highly recommends you 
join Dona and Aubery there before the end of the Summer. Thank you to Little, Brown for sending us this title to review.

June 12, 2015

You Were Made for Me (Review: Made for You by Melissa Marr)

24261482Made for You
Melissa Marr
Harper Collin’s Childrens 2015

When Eva is victim of a hit and run in her sedate North Carolina town, she is confused.  Who on earth would hit someone with a car and not stop?  Who would want to hit her?  Eva is, after all, Little Miss Popular with a locally noble lineage and all the right sort of friends.  However, the matter of who hit her takes a back seat to the fact that she has woken from her accident with a strange ability.  She can now, through touch, foresee how those around her are going to die.  While her new gift seems at first a curse, she quickly realises that she was only the first victim of a killer who will stop at nothing to get to her and that her death sight might be the only chance she has of saving not only herself but also her friends.  At her side stands Nate, an old not-quite-the-right-sort-of-friend, who has drifted back into her life after a long absence.  Together they find themselves locked in a struggle with an unknown assailant – one that could easily end in both of their deaths.
Eva is a perfectly nice character.  Born into a life of privilege, she’s very aware of her status and influence but hasn’t let it go to her head.  However, she does have an air of superiority about her – particularly in terms of her peers.  You get the impression that she finds them all a bit vacuous.  To be fair, they seem a bit vacuous.  From the jealous ex-boyfriend, to the cadre of giggling girls, they are all vaguely irritating and at times you wonder why she hangs out with them at all.  Yet she seems to genuinely care for them and they for her, in their own way, and when she starts envisioning their imminent deaths her panic is palpable. 

Luckily, Eva has Nate who is by far the most multi-faceted character in the whole shebang.  There is something terribly attractive about any character who is told the unbelievable and solidly, loyally believes and Nate is one of those.  Luckily, Marr has made him smart, caring and slightly mysterious rather than painting him as a love-sick puppy.  He is not, in fact, unlike Wicked Lovely’s Seth – another Marr creation of definitive swoon. While Made for You’s narrative largely stems from Eva, it is interspersed with a first person narrative from the mystery killer whose rambling reasoning is all unsurprisingly disjointed and creepy.  However, these sections are one of the novels failings as they somewhat quickly clue readers in to who the killer is.  Perhaps this was intentional but removing this core mystery just leads to a lack of general suspense – something that Made for You was already sadly lacking. 

Melissa Marr has proved her writing chops with the fantastically detailed and compelling Wicked Lovely series.  However, Made for You falls pretty flat in comparison.  It’s surprisingly short and at times oddly over-sentimental.  The core premise is a strong one but not entirely unique and what it really required was a strong, dark undercurrent or at least more of an edge than it has.  Yes, the killer is creepy and yes Eva’s ability has interesting repercussions but it’s hard to care about a cast of characters that, for the large part, are pretty badly underwritten.  There are some great ideas that don’t really get the page time that might make them compelling (the idea of the language of flowers is a great one, but seems to get lost in the mix) and the grand denouement seems predictable by the time you reach it.  The killer, while creepy in his obsession, comes across almost pantomime-like in his villainy and Eva, while readable enough, lacks any real depth of personality.

Ultimately, Made for You is a rather disappointing read from a writer who is truly excellent when on top of her game.  For those looking for a genuinely compelling story of a similar ilk, I highly recommend Kimberly Derting’s Body Finder series while Barry Lyga writes a truly terrifying killer in his acclaimed I Hunt Killers.  For those wanting to try out Melissa Marr as a writer, her Wicked Lovely series really is great as is her adult offering, Graveminder – start with these and perhaps leave Made for You for another day.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird really wishes that she'd liked the book more.  Thank you to the publisher for sending us this title to review.