September 28, 2011

Music Is Best - Struts and Frets blog tour.

When I was asked about taking part in another blog tour, I have to convinced I wasn't sure but when I realised that Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron is a book with music floating from every page, my mind started ticking over.  For me, music and reading are often inextricably linked - a book reminds me of a song, a song reminds me of a book, I discover new music through new authors or garner recommendations from the many musical posts around the blogosphere.  So I've decided to turn my hand to it - and here is the result. Click the book titles to  find reviews/information on the book and the album covers to find the piece of music.  I got a bit carried away so be warned, it's a bit of a monster....

Across The Universe by Beth Revis : Starlight by Muse
This one was a bit of a gift - I had the song on continual replay in my head as I read the book.  That and Ground Control To Mister Tom but this seemed the cheerier option to share...

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson : True Romance theme by Hans Zimmer
Er, I know that these might not seem like an obvious fit, but this piece of music completely embodies the fun and beauty and, well, romance that run through Nelson's gorgeous study of life.

Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins : Champs Elysee by Joe Dassin
I love this song. I mean LOVE. I once sang it all the round Paris. I like to think that St. Claire would've gotten my vibe.

I'm cheating a little with this one as the song is referenced in the book itself - author Jeri explains why here.

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness : The Cave by Mumford and Sons
When I first heard The Cave I was bowled over by how much it tied in with Chaos Walking's protagonist, Todd.  It completely embodies his relentless nature, his stubbornness and his determination.  Brilliant books, brilliant song.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare : The Pirate Song by Elana Stone
Er, I may be pushing this slightly but the lyrics of this beautiful song really did make me think of Clary and her sadness/confusion surrounding Jace.  Also, I just think more people should be aware of Elana Stone - she's pretty awesome.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride : The Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet
Again, Ballroom Blitz is referenced in Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and totally sums up the all the fun craziness in the book.  Actually, this book is a must for music lovers - it's the first time I've ever created a playlist based on chapter titles. True story.

The Iron Fey trilogy by Julie Kagawa : Iron Man by Black Sabbath
Because how could I NOT??

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols : Fidelity by Regina Spektor
I like this song a lot and it popped into my head a lot when reading about Meg and the beautiful Johnafter.  Ah, Johnafter.... 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman : Tender by Blur
I almost matched this song with If I Stay's follow up, Where She Went, but in the end I felt that this song was more Mia than Adam - and gorgeous to boot.

Entangled by Cat Clarke : Leather by Tori Amos
Now, I'm not going to pretend that I really understand any of Tori Amos's lyrics and this is no exception but the paradoxical brash vulnerability here really reminds me of Entangled's Grace.

 The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater : No Names by Kate Rusby
Shiver, Linger and Forever are full of characters having to let go - this song fits them perfectly.  Also, I like to think that Sam might quite like it.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson : Paranoid Android by Radiohead
I think this song suits all sorts of Dystopian titles but it's particularly perfect for the world that Jenna finds herself living in.  She'd, like, really relate.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins : Turning Tables by Adele
One of the reasons I love The Hunger Games trilogy is it's lack of focus on romance. This song could tie in with the whole Katniss/Peeta/Gale hoo ha, but also makes me think of Katniss's relationship with everyone and everything. Actually, I like to think of her singing this to Buttercup.

Nearly Departed by Rook Hastings : Ghost Town by The Specials.
Well, it just GOES.  Rook Hastings gives me the creeps with her spooky writing but, thanks to Father Ted, thinking of this song always helps.

The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan : Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits
Because behind all the magic and, er, fighting, Sarah's books are really an incredibly touching story about two brothers.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver : Into Dust by Mazzy Star
This song doesn't so much tie in with the story rather than reflect Oliver's dreamlike prose and the themes of the title: losing yourself, losing love, losing reality.

....and finally....

Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron : Same Jeans by The View
There are so many songs in Struts and Frets that I could have chosen from (the book comes with it's own, exceptionally good, playlist) but in the end this was the one that summed up the book for me - enjoy!

I warned you it had gotten a bit out of hand... what can I say, the temptation to inflict both my musical and reading tastes proved too much.  I'd love to do another post like this, but with YOUR suggestions - leave them in the comments and if I get enough, I'll do this all over again.

If you want to read more about Struts and Frets (and you really should) then head to the next spot on the blog tour tomorrow, hosted by lovely Carla at The Crooked Shelf

September 27, 2011

All That May Become A Man (review: Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron)

Struts and Frets
Jon Skovron
Abrams and Chronicle Books 2011

Sammy has quite a lot going on. Sort of. Firstly, his band sucks and the upcoming Battle of The Bands contest has never seemed like a worse idea – apart from anything else, he’s fairly terrified of his lead singer. Not a great situation when you want to become a professional musician. Secondly, he’s suddenly aware that his best friend, Jen5, is quite hot. Thirdly, his grandfather is rather rapidly losing his marbles with his stories, advice and wisdom disappearing with his sanity. So yes, Sammy really has far too much to think about and this time, scarily, perhaps music isn’t going to be quite enough to get him through.

Sammy is one of the nicest characters out there right now. Sweet, thoughtful, slightly gormless, confused and passionate he reads as an extremely believable teenage boy (albeit one who knows all the words to I’m Beginning To See The Light which, admittedly, just makes him more awesome). His general life plan is to play music – really, that’s just about it. While he dreams of fame and fortune, however, life seems to conspire against him and he starts to become a little despondent as he realises that following your dreams isn’t easy and doesn’t always come without compromise. It’s a situation that everyone has to face at some point – a universal dark night of the soul – and Sammy is no exception.

Jen5 is another well-drawn character although I don’t think I’ve ever met a teenage girl with quite her innate confidence, never mind her sense of style. Often, with confident characters in YA, their underlying flaws/issues/vulnerabilities are writ large and with little subtlety. Not so with Jen5 – for much of Struts and Frets she appears to be exactly as she, er, appears. However, Jon Skovron carefully plants suggestions of a distant, dismissive mother and Jen5’s struggle to be taken seriously at home that round out her character nicely. Her friendship with Sammy is delightful – one of those lovely, easy, tentative relationships that are so much nicer to read than the usual angst ridden fare – YAY for lack of angst!

Other characters in Struts and Frets are all written with the same believability as Sammy and Jen5. Sammy’s best friend Rick is interesting as a gay YA written, again, with little angst but with plenty of understanding; lead singer Joe clearly has anger management issues but also seems to be keen to belong to, well, anything and TJ is entirely realistic as a nice guy trying to do the right thing. The adults in Struts and Frets are particularly impressive. Sammy’s grandfather is beautifully, and often slightly frighteningly, painted as a talented and much lauded musician sliding inexorably towards senility while Sammy’s mother is well portrayed as a single mother, tired, stressed but also successfully raising a teenage boy while also managing to be his friend (despite her excruciating ‘sex talks’).

Struts and Frets has less of a plot and more of a gentle meandering tone and this is wherein lies its greatest success. While Sammy’s concerns for his grandfather and the looming battle of the bands add structure to the book, this is really a look at a teenager coming to terms with the realities of starting adult life (both positive and negative). It’s a coming of age tale of the best possible ilk, where not much really happens, but our protagonist slowly starts to become the person they are growing up to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a realistic vision of being seventeen and even longer since I read such an authentic teenage boy’s voice. Throughout the book, Skovron throws in references to Macbeth and at first they all seem a bit obtuse and unnecessary but, cleverly, they build towards the famous tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy that lends the book it’s title. Despite having studied the play at Sammy’s age, I’d never entirely realised how much this oft quoted speech sums up the what’s the point feeling that so often characterises the teenage years – it’s very cleverly worked into Struts and Frets. Also running through the book is a genuine love of music – it leaks from the pages and there is a great play list at the end, one which I suspect many will be listening to on finishing the story.

Struts and Frets is Jon Skovron’s d├ębut novel (although he now has another, Misfits – quite a different kettle of fish – on the shelves) and is hugely enjoyable. Fans of John Green, Shaun Hutchinson and Susane Colasanti will certainly enjoy his style and for those of you with teenage boys to buy for this Christmas you can’t go far wrong with this great debut.

Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me this title to review. The Mountains of Instead is also taking part in the Struts and Frets Blog Tour which started, er, today!  Details are on the right  - please check out all the posts, especially mine.  Er, I mean ALL of the posts.  They're all going to be super.

September 19, 2011

A Change Is As Good As A Rest

Welcome to

That's right, after a bit of consideration, I've decided to become a rather than a blogspot! To be honest, is a bit of a mouthful and I wanted it all to be a bit sleeker. I also want a site that I can expand to encompass my freelance projects as well as reviewing and this seemed to be the way forward.

Blogger/Google/Feedburner/Everyone-and-their-aunt assure me that you should all be able to continue following my posts without changing anything, but I am naturally sceptical so if you experience any problems then please let me know.

Along with the new name, I've also got a dedicated email address that you can find my accessing my Blogger profile or checking out the Review Policy page (see right sidebar). While the old Mountains Of Instead Gmail account will continue to be checked for the next few weeks, please contact me on the new address from now on. It goes without saying that I hope that you do.

Finally, if there are any other changes that you'd like to see on Mountains of Instead then get in touch - onwards and upwards, people... onwards and upwards.

September 18, 2011

The Dying Of The Light (Review: Dark Inside; J. Roberts)

Dark Inside

Dark Inside
Jeyn Roberts
Macmillan 2011

Early September and most of America is enjoying the pleasures of a warm, late summer.  Children play in backyards, kids travel to school, adults make their way to work – all is normal, until suddenly a series of massive earthquakes changes the face of the planet, and mankind, irrevocably.  The physical devastation would be apocalyptic enough with the west coast of America devoured by the earth and the sea causing horrific tsunamis the world over, but a darker force has been unleashed.  Suddenly, people are giving way to a previously unseen anger, a deep seated rage and violence that turns them on their fellow men. Amidst this panic are small groups of survivors, many on their own, some in straggling groups.  Among them, scattered across America and Canada are Mason, Aries, Clementine and Michael all caught in a desperate fight against the end of civilisation as we know it.

It’s rare to see a book split into multiple narratives, but Jeyn Roberts has bravely given it a shot – telling the story of her catastrophe through the eyes of not only the four teenagers but also a mysterious fourth, referred to only as Nothing.  Nothing seems to hold the darker narrative track – starting and finishing the novel and showing up for the odd, disturbing interlude every now and then.  Nothing seems to have a deeper knowledge of the affliction currently inhabiting so many people and waxes philosophically (and often terrifyingly) about its root cause.  Some of these passages are more successful than others and all are oddly disjointed, adding a genuine air of unease to proceedings. 

The other protagonists are easier to get a handle on. Aries (yes, that really is her name and no, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it – not that any would be excusable, really) is probably the strongest of the bunch, leading her rag tag crew of survivors unwillingly yet with some success.  Clementine is tough in a different way, spending much of the story alone, driven by her desire to find her brother who may or may not be still alive/normal.  Michael at first seems like a natural leader but soon finds himself conflicted due to his own survival instinct and Mason struggles with his losses and the anger they engender within him.  Lurking in the background is Daniel, charismatic, mysterious and a little bit frightening with an absolute conviction that he is better travelling alone. 

Surrounding these five are a host of characters who slip in and out of the individual narratives, some destined to stay, some clearly only passing through.  In a world where the motto is very much kill or be killed, none of the characters are without bloody hands yet it is how each handle this new reality that is so interesting.  While they all, without exception, witness and undertake acts of sometimes extreme violence, their core personalities are so well constructed that they never seem unlikable – in fact, it is the cowardice of the snivelling Colin that is likely to cause more distaste.

The story line of Dark Inside is straight-forward – a series of road-trip survival stories set against an unimaginably broken world.  The characters move like dots on a map, staggering from terrifying vignette to terrifying vignette.  Underlying this, Jeyn Roberts starts to riff on the nature of her apocalypse, and there are suggestions that perhaps humanity has become its own worse enemy with those most disenfranchised/depressed by society now driven to ultimately destroy it.  Certainly current, I suspect that this idea will work better for some readers than for others, but Robert’s writing is so compelling that it matters little whether readers choose to run with the possible existentialism running underneath her gripping narrative.  One thing is certain, no one could be anything by chilled by her vision of monstrous humanity.  The demons of her story are not zombies but cold, calculating and absolutely frightening versions of every day people.

As an addition to the post-apocalyptic canon, Dark Inside is very successful and as a debut writer, Jeyn Roberts is certainly someone to keep an eye on.  While the book actually stands alone fairly successfully, the ending is rather open ended and I suspect that many readers will be delighted that, inevitably (because isn’t everything part of a series these days), there is a sequel in the works.  Certainly it will be fascinating to find out what happens to Aries et al (maybe we’ll even discover why on earth she has such an odd moniker) in the frightening world that Jeyn Roberts has created.

September 07, 2011

What Is All This Sweet Work Worth... (Review: Red Glove by Holly Black)

Red Glove (Curse Workers, #2)Red Glove
Holly Black
Gollancz 2011

Red Glove is the second book in the Curse Workers series by Holly Black. If you have not read the first book (White Cat) then this review will contain spoilers. You have been warned.

After the startling, transforming (yep, I went there) and violent events of White Cat, Cassel Sharpe is surely due a break. Reeling from the manipulation he suffered by his brothers’ hands, he’s spent the summer with his erratic mother, always on the look out for the next con, grifting their way through hotels and rich guys like in a manner reminiscent of John Cusack and Angelica Huston. On his return to Wallingford, school for the privileged/smart/possibly criminal, he hopes for some normality but before long the feds are knocking at his door – his brother is dead and they want Cassel working the case. The thing is, the ever present criminal element of the Curse Workers (which seems to be, er, almost all of them) also have stakes in Cassel. With his transformative powers of interest to all, Cassel has some interesting choices to make… not least to do with Lila, crime lord's daughter, erstwhile murder victim (not to mention cat) and the love of Cassel’s life. But wait, Lila loves him too! How beautiful, how touching, how perfect! Except, of course, it’s not…

When first encountered in White Cat, Cassel Sharpe wasn’t in the healthiest of mental places. While somewhat discomfited that he was the only non-worker in an acclaimed family of curse workers/mobsters he was also tortured by the confusing yet indubitable memory of killing the girl he loved two years previously. Red Glove finds Cassel no less conflicted albeit for a host of different reasons. With both the mob boss Zacharov and the authorities courting him Cassel is once again forced to take a difficult look at himself, his family and his future. As in White Cat, Cassel is aware that his natural path would be to get in with the most powerful crime family by whatever means yet he doesn’t want to be, well, bad. He’s a cleverly written character who, while well intentioned, often believes himself to be wicked and clearly thrives on the thrill of the con. In Red Glove, Holly Black has cleverly added yet more complications in the now human form of Lila, the girl whom Cassel loves and who claims to love him but whose feelings he cannot trust. All of these elements render Cassel's decision making process somewhat protracted, often confusing but always real. Cassel could easily be one of these dreadfully angst written characters, wrestling with his conscious (or, God forbid, his eternal soul – I am so over that), but Black has given him a sly humour, relatively easygoing manner and some occasional downright boyishness that make him not only incredibly enjoyable to read but also give him one of the best male voices in current YA fiction. He’s one of my personal favourites, mainly because he’s just so damn believable.

Other characters in the book are as interesting as they were in White Cat, with perhaps the exception of the cursed Lila who, mostly, is relegated to delicate swooning and love-sick misery. Actually, that makes her pretty interesting too come to think of it. However, the stand out bit player is Cassel’s mother. A truly terrifying yet utterly delightful character, reading her is rather like walking a knife edge and I hope to see more of her conniving, manipulative and oddly loving interplay in the next instalment. Daneca is another character who becomes increasingly uncomfortable to read over the course of the book – it seems that everyone in Cassel’s world is harbouring one secret or another… except perhaps Sam, who is as solid, sensible and loveable as ever.

Plot wise, Red Glove is at once as simple and as complex as White Cat was. The central plot strand concerns Cassel looking into his brother's murder and this works well as a standard murder mystery. However, it is the sub plots that are truly intriguing. Primarily, there is the conflict caused by Lila’s curse – particularly in light of the fact that Cassel’s mother placed it upon her, effectively cursing her own son in the process. There are then further strands regarding the authorities use of Curse Workers, an anti-worker Senator and his dubious Proposition 2 and the prejudice on both sides of the worker/non-worker divide.

The strength of Red Glove, as with White Cat, is the realisation of an utterly recognisable yet also fantastical world. While Cassel’s interactions with the FBI hold the familiarity of a million cop shows, his dealings with his mother, Zacharov and Lila bring to mind old time mobsters, red lipstick, tackily opulent hotels and glamorous deceit. It is to Black’s credit that she can evoke both modern and historic criminality in her cleverly rendered parallel universe. As with reading White Cat, it defies belief that the writer of the pleasant yet ultimately bland Tithe series has been able to create such a rich, witty and darkly violent world. Red Glove is a worthy second book in Black’s Curse Worker series and I am sure that the third and final instalment will be more than worth the wait.

Red Glove is available now. Thanks to the team at Bookbitz for providing me with a copy of this title to review.

September 03, 2011

Not for the faint-hearted...

One of the books on my teetering TBR pile is a title I'm particularly keen to get to. I love a bit of horror, me, and don't mind the odd post-apocalpytic setting either so Jeyn Robert's Dark Inside looks like it might be right up my street. In a world wrecked by a series of catastrophic earthquakes, a dark force is overtaking mankind, besetting normal people with a terrible blood lust leaving them killers set on eradicating what is left of humanity.  Dark Inside follows five teens and their attempt to survive in a world forever changed. While committed to reading a few (!) other books first I can't wait to get started on Dark Inside and thought I would share the fabulous, if terrifying, trailer.  Be warned, it's not pretty...