November 24, 2015

You Never Can Tell With Bees (Review: The Bees by Lalline Paul)

24441639The Bees
Lalline Paul
Ecco, 2015

I have to make an admission before we get started: I’m pretty damn scared of bees. They don’t instill the same mind-numbing terror as wasps or my new Taiwanese nemesis the giant hornet. Still, it takes a lot for me to get through a book whose cover is swarming in aphids. I had to touch them!  From the outset The Bees was asking me to run away screaming and write a scathing review so that no-one else would have to suffer. Miraculously it’s had the opposite effect; I’m now somewhat neutral, leaning towards positive, in my attitude to bees and happy to recommend the book to all and sundry.

On the surface The Bees looks like it should belong in the children’s section. A humble bee named Flora 717 awakens within her hive and proceeds to join the work of her caste, namely cleaning, the lowest of all duties. All bees within her home are named for their birthline, from the Floras, through the humble Teasels guarding the young, to the eminent Sages who control the daily activities of the entire beetropolis.

Enforcing law and order are the bee police, sinister agents who patrol the hive in search of any transgressions. Order and conformity are of paramount importance. Any bee suffering the slightest deformity is executed and disposed of for fear of contaminating others. Any activity endangering the hive, even simply growing old, warrants death. The highest crime is daring to lay an egg. Only the queen may breed. No exceptions, no forgiveness. So when Flora begins to notice that she is somewhat different she lives in terror of discovery, struggling between her desire to keep her head down and the uncontrollable urge to explore her potential.

As you may guess, The Bees can be viewed as a fairly simple parable. It’s a tale which has been told countless times but for very good reason. Themes like the fight against conformity and the search for identity resonate with all of us, particularly those encountering them in their formative years. As such this is a book which will find a fond home in the heart of many an adolescent. It’s not just a YA work though, and the book contains enough complexity and depth to sway even an avowed melissophobe like myself.

Through excellent powers of description, Lalline Paul manages to create a bee hive which sucks us right down to their size. What feels alien at the start of the book soon becomes a living, breathing world, albeit a claustrophobic one. The release felt upon finally leaving the hive is exhilarating, just as the first encounter with the Myriad (those other insects with which the bees share their territory) is terrifying. Whether scurrying through the walls of her home or exploring the vast fields and orchards surrounding it, Flora’s experiences really come alive in the reader’s mind.

This same attention to details helps bring life and individuality to the members of the colony, a none-too-easy task given their reputation as identical clones with no sense of self. Rather than individual characters, Paul smartly focuses on bringing character to each caste as a whole. This is accomplished with particular flair in the case of the only males in the hive, the Drones. They are depicted as raunchy, dashing sky-pilots, ever in search of the princess with whom they will mate and start a colony of their own, regaling the humble sisters with tales of their aerobatic and sexual prowess. I have no idea of this was intended but I simply could not read Drone passages without thinking of Lord Flashheart in Blackadder Goes Forth. It’s uncanny, I half expected them to start saying “Woof!”

My only criticism of The Bees is that Lalline Paul injected (sorry) a little too much eco-preaching into the book. Actually in hindsight it was probably less than I thought but it smacked of the usual misinformed media/public hysteria which flies in the face of all evidence. Inconvenient truths like the fact that bee populations across the world have been increasing steadily all through this century, with the number of active hives rising around 12.5% since 2000, seems to pass a lot of people by. (Donning my flameproof suit right now)

That minor niggle aside, it’s a great book. It bounces between smothering paranoia within the hive to exhilarating flying adventures without and as a result never seems to flag. There’s always enough going on to keep you turning the page and the pay-off, while you can see it coming a mile off, is well worth the wait. This a perfect gift for the rebellious teenager in your life. Just make sure you steal it and read it once they’re finished.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones.  The Bees is available now and would make an excellent Christmas gift to anyone who likes good books. Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

October 28, 2015

On a Wing and a Prayer (Review: Winger by Andrew Smith)

Andrew Smith
Egmont, 2014

This review contains spoilers. Consider this fair warning, although we'll warn you again below, before things get REALLY spoiler-y. You may now proceed.

Ryan Dean West is 14 and, as such, Ryan Dean West has problems. Not exactly abject poverty, incurable disease, downtrodden by the powerful masses problems but problems none the less.  He is in love with his best friend Annie, he is spending this term bunking in the bad boys dorm and he is at least a year younger than his classmates, leading to the aforementioned Annie not exactly seeing him as hunk material.  Never mind the constant threat of physical harm by being the only player on the rugby team that's around half the body weight of the rest. When you live on the campus of an extremely affluent boarding school these are the types of problems that can play on your mind.

Our journey with Ryan Dean covers his life over a school year, the trials and tribulations, the loves and losses and the drama that, at 14, we can all remember being absolutely world-ending (for about 2 days), all peppered with quirky cartoon strips of our protagonists own making.  Or at least it should have been, that would have been nice.  But instead Smith felt it necessary to go SUPER HARDCORE SERIOUS in the last 20 pages, so much so that the ending genuinely feels like it is a different book involving different characters.  But not to the ending just yet.

Our erstwhile host Ryan Dean is a very average 14 year old boy - he is insecure, overwhelmed and feels that all the worlds ills will be righted if he has the opportunity to rub himself up against almost anything female.  Sadly though, Smith has written him very averagely.  I didn't find Ryan Dean particularly likeable or even interesting which led to me having huge problems getting hooked in to this book.  Not only Ryan Dean but the majority of the characters I felt were woefully underdeveloped.  Don't get me wrong, they were all fine and played their parts but there was just way too much tell and not enough show from the author - I didn't understand why most of the characters did what they did or behaved the way they did which, for a book which isn't particularly short, is a mean feat to achieve.  But, to be more positive, Smith's mile-a-minute narration is always fun and really aided with the pacing of the overall tale which was, at times, mildly all over the place.  Ryan Dean is witty and delivers a very believable teenage view of the world which I'm sure will transport a lot of the readers back to their own school days, be that a good or bad reminiscence!  


But really, this ending I just can't make peace with and I'm going to have to lay down some pretty heavy spoilers here but I feel it's important for me to vent.  There is an openly gay boy on Ryan Dean's rugby team who, early on in the book, gets some agro from a group of local kids at an away rugby game.  Then, in the last twenty or so pages of the book, this boy goes missing from a party and is found tied to a tree, beaten to death, just for being gay.  This is such a massive step-change from the rest of the book and it happens so close to the end that there is no satisfactory response from any of the characters.  We are basically told that Ryan Dean was sad and then he got over it.

For me, it seemed a little too much like Smith was set on delivering a strong morality message to end Ryan Dean's story and tried to work back, creating a story around this.  Even the language in the last chapter does not sound like the Ryan Dean that the reader has spent the last few hundred pages getting to know.

Whether I was just too in love with Grasshopper Jungle to ever share my heart with another of Smith's novels is very much a possibility but I can't help leaving Winger feeling just a little bit let down.  What started out as a relatively light-hearted coming-of-age meander waded in with the hard-hitting moral stuff right at the end and it just didn't work for me.  In my mind it created a clunky plot, that was pretty light for much of the book, and an overall tale that doesn't seem to quite know what it wants to be.  Sadly, not nearly as clever or as organic-feeling as some of Smith's other work.    

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph who Splendibird hasn't seen for FAR TOO LONG. Isn't that sad? Yes, yes it is. Winger (and it's sequel Stand-Off) are now available in all places that sell good books. As are Andrew Smith's other books, which we think you should ALL read. Thank you to Egmont for sending us this title to review.



October 26, 2015

This is Halloween! Some Terrible Treats for the Weekend...

I love Halloween, I always have.  I think anybody who is a reader, or who spends a lot of time on their imagination can't help but be entranced by an evening so driven by stories.  Even as a very young child, I liked the sharp thrill of fear, found between safe pages and each year, I ferret out my favourite scary stories to read and re-read in front of the fire, surrounded by the deep gloom of October evenings.

This year, we were lucky enough to receive not only new editions of two all time favourites, but also a rather special book that offer both a Halloween challenge and a lot of fearsome fun.

Firstly, Alma Books were kind enough to send us two of their Young Adult Classic series:

I read both of these books as a teenager and they have remained close to my fearful heart.  I was actually rather obsessed with Hounds of Doom as a child.I was convinced that a werewolf regularly stalked the field behind our house. Really. So of course, I read The Hound of the Baskervilles. It terrified and thrilled me in equal measure, feeding both my desire to see an aforementioned Hound of Doom get his just deserts and my innate love of a good mystery.  The story did both and continues to do so. It is a tale that stands up well to repeated re-reads and sends a shiver down the spine every time.

Dracula is, while similarly Gothic in tone, an altogether different kettle of fish.  It has the most tremendous sense of forboding from the very first page and Stoker maintains an atmosphere of malingering, yet highly seductive, murk to the last. The story is frightening, the setting ominous and the fate of all those drawn towards the titular Count highly uncertain yet Dracula sits, like a spider in the heart of his web, horribly and terribly attractive.  That, of course, is where the true horror of the story lies.  For those who have experienced vampires only through Buffy and the CW network, this is the genesis of all those characters you hate to love.

These new editions from Alma  not only have fantastic new covers courtesy of illustrator, David Mackintosh, but also have great sections at the end of each story exploring the authors and books that might be excellent next reads for those who want just a little bit more darkness in their light.  All in all, both the stories and Alma's new take on packaging them are highly recommended.

For those of you who want a little more fun on fright night, Dandy's Horrorgami is the book for you!

This is an excellent introduction to the art of paper-cutting via the medium of, well, every horror story you care to think of. The book is beautifully produced and comes with cut-out-and-make sections to help you on your way to some truly terrifying spooky scenes. I have yet to take scalpel in hand and try these out but I certainly will be this weekend and have already invested in a few copies to hand out at Christmas.  As you can see below, they should keep even the most avid horror afficianado pretty happy.  If not covered in band-aids (that may just be me):

I am sure that mine will look EXACTLY like those when I am done hacking away at the pages.  Possibly.
Thanks very much to the folk at Midas PR for sending this unusual and challenging project our way!

Now that we've hopefully got your collective Halloween read on, don't forget to take part in the Neil Gaiman created All Hallow's Read.  Any of these books would be fantastic to pass on to the nearest fan of spooky stories.

Happy Reading and Happy Halloween - don't have nightmares....

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.

April 13, 2015

It's Pretty, But Is It Art? (Review: I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson)

I’ll Give You The Sun
Jandy Nelson
Walker 2015

Noah and Jude are twins, linked in that ineffable way that twins so often seem to be.  Inseparable for their childhood, things start to change as they get older and I’ll Give You The Sun tells their story from two points in time and alternating perspectives: Noah at thirteen and Jude at sixteen.  Hugely talented artists, we see them as they compete and negotiate, taking nothing off the table – not the moons, the ocean, the stars… not even their mother.  As we read their wildly different realities it quickly becomes clear that they are telling their story from opposing sides of a terrible tragedy and that, for all their trading of the world and everything in it, there is far more at stake than the sun.

Noah’s narrative voice is strikingly resonant and entirely unique.  An artist, his world is a painting made real, a kaleidoscopic whirlwind from the palette of a mad painter, swirled through with emotion and confusion, ambition and longing.  Struggling with worn down truths and surprising new edges, not least the boy next door who gives him whole new universes, Noah longs for his sister even as she drifts from his reach.  He is a character that is extraordinarily alive and his battle with himself is shot through with moments of sheer joy that will lift reader’s hearts even as his world darkens.

Seemingly the less talented twin Jude, in the three years between Noah’s narration and hers, has changed from the punchy, adventure seeking, rebellious sister that Noah watched with such awe and dread.  Instead, she lives in a world that has been muted and drained of colour.  Everything she touches seems to crumble and she seems haunted by what might be an angry ghost or what might be her own suffocating conscience. She’s a sculptor, encased in her own stone prison, endlessly reaching for a brother she no longer recognises nor is sure she deserves. Her grief and wearisome guilt is tangible on every page yet so is her latent passion and she’s a fascinating character to get to know.

In fact, I’ll Give You The Sun is filled with fascinating characters, all of whom are beautifully drawn by Nelson’s unique hand.  Interweaving the story of Noah and Jude is a father who comes into focus differently depending on whose eyes view him; an erratic, all-consuming mother; a dead, yet surprisingly vocal grandmother; a boy with a face like a cracked mirror and a bowler pitching meteorites.  All are compelling although if there is one weakness in the book it is the twins’ father, who is seen so differently by each of his children that he never entirely comes into focus for the reader.

The writing, as with Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, is exceptional.  Weird and truly wonderful, her prose lifts from each page and is vivid, visceral and lush, allowing the reader to transcend the basic plot and envelop themselves in a world that is a splurge of winding words and heavy metaphor. It shouldn’t work, particularly the level to which that heavy metaphor is used in each and every sentence, but it does.  Magical, yet real, readers will find themselves entranced by this imagining of traded suns and grandmother’s who float by propelled only by magenta parasols.

While Nelson, as with her debut, riffs on sex, death, life, love, lust and identity – and does so with thought-provoking aplomb – what I’ll Give You The Sun is really about is the intangible relationship between twins: the endless push and pull, ebb and flow of two distinct hearts wrestling for ownership of a shared soul.  It is fascinating, different and brilliant.  For lovers of the gorgeous madness of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle and the billowing prose of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars this is surely a must read.  For everyone else, if you love words and those who use them beautifully, this is your book of the year. Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who spent her morning stroll along the beach searching for red sea glass and sand dollars, so thanks for that Jandy Nelson.  You can read her equally glowing review of The Sky Is Everywhere here. I'll Give You The Sun is available now. Thank you to Walker Books for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

March 26, 2015

Secrets and Lies (Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher
Razorbill 2007

Slightly late on the uptake - story of my life - but I have been looking forward to this for a while now. Goodreads reviews are hugely mixed and there has been a fair bit of controversy banded around.  So is the fuss justified we rightly ask?

Clay arrives home from school to a package on his doorstep.  The package has no sender or return address and contains 7 cassette tapes explaining the 13 reasons why Hannah Baker, Clay's schoolmate and object of his affections, chose to end her life.  The tapes are being sent on a "round robin" to each of the people involved in the reasons for Hannah's decision, meaning that Clay knows almost from the opening of the book that he has, in some way, contributed to the suicide of a friend. And the vast majority of this book is simply the reader listening in real time as Clay hears these tapes for the first time.

And I loved this.  The reader is given next to no context to this story - we know very little of Clay and all we know of Hannah is really what she chooses to divulge from her own perspective.  The reader is essentially a voyeur to one night that changes Clay's life, after which we are left to draw our own conclusions as to how he has been affected by what he has learned.  So what has he learned? What could a teenage girl believably have thought of as justification to take her own life?  Well, as you may have expected from a teenage girl and to avoid any specific spoilers, a lot to do with friends, or the lack of, boys and the way she is perceived by others.  At the time of reading each "tape", I remember clearly thinking that a fair few of the 13 reasons when considered in isolation were ridiculous.  But considering, as Hannah calls it, "the snowball effect", suddenly I was completely invested and convinced of the downward spiral of this poor girl.  Factor in the helplessness of Clay who is hearing Hannah's reasoning for the first, and voice for the last, time, the effect is pretty unique and utterly entrancing.

And so to one of the more controversial discussions points, the elephant in the room.  There are bloggers, publishers, parents and others who believe, in some cases very loudly, that Thirteen Reasons Why glorifies suicide.  I disagree.  Whist I can see that Hannah being our narrator, and a very eloquent one at that, along with the odd manic-pixie-dreamgirl trait would have some people think she is exuding control from the great beyond, I don't think this is a glorification of her choice. Hannah had a story to tell that, for many reasons, she didn't have the opportunity to tell in life and so chose to tell it afterwards.  As she says herself, the tapes are not about revenge, she has forgiven almost all who are mentioned in them, they are about the chance to be heard and it is so important for us to remember that that is the one thing so many in similar circumstances do not feel they have.  To suggest that anyone, even a fictitious character, does not have the right to share their story with the world after taking a decision which was theirs and no one elses, I can't help but think would send a dangerous message, a message that would read, "You made the choice so your story doesn't matter".

For me, Thirteen Reasons Why isn't primarily a book about suicide.  It's a story of grief and acceptance and acknowledgement, the acknowledgement that our actions, however small, directly affect all of those around us and we must use them wisely.  But, mild controversy aside, a really strong read.  I enjoyed it greatly.  It's accessible without being simple and thought-provoking without being preachy (which I am aware I have more than made up for with this review).  Proof that a small leading cast of really well written characters along with some fantastic scene setting gets you far. Good work Mr A, looking forward to reading your other offerings soon.    

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph.  Who is worried that she's been a bit ranty.  But we believe it's an articulate and interesting rant. So, er, there.


March 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Childhood/Teen Books that I'd like to Revisit.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme run by The Broke and The Bookish.  It involves lists of, well, top tens. We like lists.  This week's Top Ten on the Mountains of Instead is brought to you by Splendibird.

The problem with loving to read is that there are so many, many books in the world and so very little actual time in which to read them.  This means that while I most certainly am a re-reader, I don't often get the opportunity to revisit the books that I would like to, including those that I re-read repeatedly as a child and teenager.  This was by far the easiest top ten I've taken part in yet because these books lurk constantly, tempting me to turn away from the endless TBR pile and towards the past.

Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enwright

This was a book that I read a lot at about the age of eight. Until recently I couldn't remember what it was called but managed to track down the title with the help of the brilliant site What's That Book  When I think of this book I have images of butterflies over a swamp, a rock inlaid with garnets and a hot and dreamlike summer filled with all the very best kind of things.  I remember it so fondly that I am almost scared to return to it and ruin the memories I have of a halcyon read.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

I've always been a sucker for time travel, for which I blame Doctor Who and also for boarding school stories for which I blame the Chalet School series.  However, perhaps I should be laying the blame elsewhere as Charlotte Sometimes, a much beloved read of my childhood, contains both. When Charlotte heads off to boarding school she inadvertently heads off to the past at the same time where she appears to be an entirely different person. If you haven't read it, this is all you need to know.  Head off and get a copy now.  Really.  Off you go.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

This is cheating as I actually revisit this one all the time.  I have always loved the story - it is absolutely my favourite fairytale.  However, it is the specific edition that I had as a child that I particularly love, entirely due to the absolutely stunning and frighteningly magical illustration by Errol le Cain.  Google them, they're beautiful.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Because who doesn't want to have a boat and no parental supervision and an island and pirates and general shenanigans.  I mean, seriously.

Remember Me by Christopher Pike

When I was a teen, there wasn't much in the way of Young Adult literature and what there was, from my hazy memories,  revolved largely around the Point Horror stable of horror-lite, Caroline B. Cooney and Christopher Pike - all of whom I adored.  Remember Me was my very favourite Pike book (although Weekend gave it a decent run for its money) what with the dead girl and the MURDER and the twist.  I'd like to see how it stands up to the YA titles of today.

The Dark Half by Stephen King

In lieu of a large YA section in my library, I floated (like so many teens in the '90's) towards Stephen King.  While I don't think The Dark Half was the first King title that I read it was absolutely the one that captured my imagination the most and I've been meaning to re-read it for years.  The idea of a fictional character becoming an enraged reality still fascinates me and, to this day, I happily admit to getting creeped out by sparrows.  Especially if they are flying.  Again.

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

I have only very vague recollections of this story but what I have are enchanting and also sad.  I remember feeling utterly transported as it was read to me, possibly because it was one of the very last books read aloud to me before I insisted on reading to myself.  I'd like to see how it would make me feel now.

The Chronicles of Pantouflia by Andrew Lang

I could actually revisit this right now, as I bought it recently for my daughter.  It's a wonderful selection of stories that includes seven league boots and a princess who attracts bees because she wears flowers in her hair and many other wonders.  Also, I loved that cover as a small girl - I can remember just gazing at it because I thought it was so beautiful.  I might read this tonight, actually. I have no doubt that it will be just as good as it was thirty years ago.

March 06, 2015

Cliffs of Fall (Review: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer)

Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer 
Pan Books 1997

Edmund Mallory, one of the first and keenest adventurers on Mount Everest was once asked why he wanted to climb it.  He famously answered, “Because it’s there”.  And people have been climbing it, because it is there, ever since.  Not all with success. Mallory himself was killed before ever reaching the summit and his body languished on the frozen slopes for many years before it was recovered.  This may sound gruesome yet it is not uncommon.  Everest is veritably littered with bodies, lying frozen and forever inert their locations making recovery and burial nigh on impossible. Among these unfortunate souls lie several who met their end on the 10th of May, 1996. Of the many who attempted to summit Everest that day, Jon Krakauer was one.  A writer by trade and a keen and experienced climber, he was commissioned to write about the commercialisation of Everest and joined one of several guided expeditions heading to the summit.  Into Thin Air tells the story of several groups on Everest that season, primarily focussing on the tour Krakauer joined, Adventure Consultants and one other, Mountain Madness. 

Into Thin Air is incredibly compelling.  The story is constructed carefully, slowly even, with Krakauer expertly weaving mountaineering history, techniques and philosophy into the build towards the fateful summit attempt. His story is full of strong characters and the members of each group slowly come into focus from the leaders, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer to the hugely varied clients whose only common ground often seems to be their desire to conquer the mountain. However, those looking for a cut and dried explanation of a terrible tragedy will not find their answers here. High altitude and terrible weather don’t lead to exact recollections and while Krakauer clearly spoke at length to all the major players both on the mountain and in the aftermath he himself admits that the accounts vary sometimes  wildly.  Everyone, it seems, remembers events slightly differently.  Yet it all makes sense, in a terrible sort of way, and certainly it would be hard to reach the end of Into Thin Air without forming at least a vague opinion about why things went so terribly, terribly wrong.

Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air just six months after the events of 10th May and his account lacks any real objectivity.  His words are raw, often angry and he himself admits that (due, apart from anything, to the aforementioned effects of high altitude on actions and memory) he is a far from reliable narrator. He clearly has very strong views on certain aspects of the expedition he was part of and particularly focusses on Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian guide on the Mountain Madness expedition, whom he feels contributed in large part to the problems of May 10th.  It is worth noting that Boukreev co-wrote The Climb, his own account of the tragedy which gives readers a fascinating counterpoint to Into Thin Air. Jon Krakauer’s writing, though, is excellent.  He draws you into a stark and alien landscape planet and skilfully shows why it is so attractive to so many. He allows you to feel the biting cold, trudge through the endless ice and breath the failing air.  It’s a visceral reading experience.

Searing, brave and laden down with survivor’s guilt, Into Thin Air is a paean to the lost, a desperate plea to those left behind and the compulsive storytelling of a man for whom the tale will never end.  I came to this book a mountaineering novice but since finishing it have read many more explorations of that intangible drive that makes us lift our eyes unto the hills and particularly towards Everest. I understand now, I think, why people look to that height of all heights and dream of ascension.  They do it because they are alive; they do it because they can; they do it because they are looking for something regardless of risk; they do it because they are foolhardy; they do it because they long to dichotomously illustrate man’s dominance and insignificance.  But mainly they do it because it’s there. Read Into Thin Air and I defy you to feel otherwise.  Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who is, by the way, now totally considering a trek to Everest Base Camp.  Not UP the mountain. Well, probably not.  Well, maybe... She also highly recommends The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.  

January 08, 2015

Gon Out, Bizy, Back Son.

For the last few months I've had whooping cough.  Whooping sounds like it should be fun, but it turns out it's rather crap.  Anyway. I've not finished a book in nearly three months due to tiredness and lack of concentration.  This is TERRIBLE.  Obviously, this means a distinct lack of reviews.  While I am now back at work, I'm also only JUST back to reading and it's a surprisingly slow process.  Therefore, for the first time in nearly five years, The Mountains of Instead will be out of action until March 2015.  I have lots of brilliant books to read and review and Polka Dot Steph and Cannonball Jones are also still avid contributors but for the moment we'll be lost in the depths of radio silence.  Please don't forget about us and we'll see you in the spring.