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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Author: Patrick Ness

Release Date: 27th August 2015

My Rating: 4/5

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

In A Nutshell:
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of the kids who aren’t the ones chosen to save the world whenever a supernatural phenomenon occurs. It’s the story of characters who show great loyalty and love towards their friends and demonstrate that there are many different definitions as to what makes someone a hero. You don’t have to be everyone’s ‘Chosen One’, but you can be someone’s.

My Review:
In the interest of full disclosure, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is my first foray into the writing of Patrick Ness. I know, I’m a little behind the times and my friend has been trying to get me to read the Chaos Walking trilogy for the last 6 years. But that’s another story. My point is, I had high expectations because of how well regarded Ness is amongst bookish people, but I had no idea as to what style of writing I would encounter. And I was a little confused after reading the first chapter. But after finishing the second chapter, I realised what was going on, remembered what the book was about, and continued on to read the whole book in one sitting. Below is the letter I received with my ARC explaining why Ness wrote the story.

At the beginning of each chapter is a very brief summary of what is happening in the lives of ‘The Chosen Ones’, which in this story, is highlighted as always being one of the ‘indie kids’. The paragraph is summed up in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, which had me asking what in the world was going on and thinking these characters were just weird.  However, the rest of the chapter then gets into the real story, which is what is happening in the lives of the rest of the kids in town.

These are the kids who know something odd is going on in their small town but have their own problems to deal with and all they really want to do is get through the rest of the school year, graduate and get out of town. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of those kids, the ones who see the great big flashes of light or the odd behaviour exhibited by the possessed. They remember the brief zombie invasion a few years back and they recognise the world is just that bit weird, even though most of the town just prefers to ignore what is going on around them. It’s the untold story of what happens to everyone else while the world is ending.

The book is based around Mikey, his sister Mel, and friends Jared and Henna. Their story starts with them lying in the field behind Mikey and Mel’s house, debating the validity of the way your stomach flip flops when you see someone you like, and questioning what you feel and how you act on those feelings. Essentially, discussing the way we make choices in life. It’s a relatable situation experienced by everyone at some point in his or her life and it is a good way to start off the story by showing that these are just your average teenagers.

This is a book for those who are sick of all the ‘Chosen One’ stories out there. Who want to read about the ‘normal’ kids who just want to get through the year, having survived the soul-eating ghost phenomenon the previous year. In this case, our characters have their own troubles to deal with, problems that make life a struggle without some supernatural entity trying to end the world. Mikey and Mel have a passive, alcoholic father and a political, power-hungry mother. Mel is recovering from an eating disorder that nearly killed her which was triggered by their mother and the Press after a publicity photo-shoot. Mikey is trying to overcome his anxiety and OCD, which is once again making an appearance since their mother’s latest announcement.

And as for their friends, Jared is trying navigate the possibility of a male relationship in their small town as well as understand what it means to be the God of mountain lions, the result of having a God for a grandmother, just another side effect from the bizarre things that happen. Meanwhile, Henna is trying to convince her missionary parents that running off to a war zone is not the best idea for a family vacation before college.

There is a big focus on loyalty and helping each other through life because sometimes, friends are the only ones you can turn to/count on. This focus also applies to the brother/sister relationship between Mikey and Mel and how caring and encouraging they are of each other. They are one of my favourite depictions of siblings found in a YA novel.

Throughout their last few weeks of high school, a few home truths are revealed about friendships, relationships are salvaged, and lives are put in danger when the latest supernatural phenomenon occurs. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a page-turner with characters you will love and just want to see succeed.    

Thank you to Walker Books Australia for this review copy.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

You're the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About by Daniel Herborn

Title: You're the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About
Author: Daniel Herborn

Release Date: 1st May 2015

Rating: 4/5

Tim’s a young singer-songwriter with a guitar case full of songs and dreams of finding an audience to embrace his tunes. 

Mandy’s obsessed with music and a compulsive dreamer. She’s longing for something more fulfilling than daytime TV and cups of tea with best friend Alice, something like the excitement and passion of rock ’n’ roll.

When their eyes meet at a gig, sparks fly across a crowded room and hope burns in their hearts.

But in a city of millions and a scene overrun with wannabes, can they ever get it together? Will Mandy’s nerves doom their romance before it even starts? And where does the darkness in Tim's songs come from?

This is a story of Sydney's Inner West, of first love, crush bands and mix tapes; of the thrill of the night and what happens when the music stops.

In A Nutshell:
A book about first love, friendship, finding your way, drinking tea, music, and all that music inspires.

My Review:
Mandy and Tim are eighteen year olds from the inner western suburbs of Sydney who meet expectantly at a gig one night. Both are hooked instantly but neither does much about it and leave without swapping so much as a phone number. An electrifying night fizzles with that all too familiar feeling of, “Why on earth didn’t I do something?!”

You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About features two of my favourite things: Boys who play guitar and live music gigs. AND it’s Aussie YA. So it had three big ticks before I even opened the first page. Living up to my high expectations, You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About didn’t disappoint.

When she isn’t working at a sandwich bar, Mandy spends her days watching daytime TV, having deferred university with the plan to travel before picking a major. In the evenings, more often than not, she and her best friend Alice can be found at local pubs on the lookout for musicians who can invigorate their love of music.

“Would it have made a difference? Or would I still be me, adrift in some other time, waiting for my life to begin, wondering when inspiration will strike?”

Tim is repeating year twelve and living with his uncle after events from the previous year contributed to his less than stellar results. The reader doesn’t know what happened (although there are very small hints throughout the book) until Tim reveals all to Mandy about 2/3 through. In his spare time, Tim writes and plays music, sometimes performing in competitions and solo shows in grungy pubs and bars, searching for the elusive crowd that actually cares about what he has to say within his music.

“I guess it seems weird to write a song about someone I don’t know, but that’s kind of what songs are: they’re secrets made public” 

Told in alternating chapters from Mandy and Tim’s perspectives, You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About is a story about having friends and people who support and believe in you even if they have no idea what they want to do either. Because life is a crazy mish-mash of thoughts, ideas and surprises and you never know what will happen next. 

“We might be an unlikely couple, but I’m starting to think that’s the best kind.”

There were so many sweet, tender and emotional moments mixed in with the confusion and frustrations of life and I certainly had my fair share of smiley, happy, reading moments. As much as I loved the characters of Mandy and Tim, I also really appreciated Alice, who comes as a “package deal” with Mandy, or as Tim describes her, “an added bonus”. On the outside Alice seems like she has it all together: at uni studying something she loves, working in a bookstore, attending gigs with her bestie, and rocking her own quirky style. But she too has things in her life to deal with and it made me so happy to see her light up during the absolutely adorableness of her interactions with Justin, a boy from uni (that is not to imply that all her problems magically disappear because of a boy – they are just really sweet moments and I like seeing her character smile).

“I unwrap the parcel and it’s a mixtape Tim has made for me. Cute boys making me mixtapes has always been my sad secret fantasy, the thing I’m too cool to admit I wanted.”

As you would expect, there are plenty of musical mentions throughout the book which no doubt are inspired by the author, Daniel Herborn’s, own love of music. I only knew of some of the artists/bands but it didn’t matter and it gave me a plethora of new music to investigate. 

You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About has a distinctive Australian feel to it. It’s a feeling, I think, to do with the writing style but I’ve never been able to put my finger on or articulate it. It’s not the fact that it is set in Australia, although that does have something to do with it, but it’s something more, an ‘essence’ or something that resonates with me. Like I said, I’ve never been able to figure it out but I’ve had the same strong feeling while reading a few select Aussie YA books, including Guitar Highway Rose, Swerve, Friday Brown and A Straight Line to My Heart. I love that You’re the Kind of Girl I Write Songs About has joined this elusive, personal list.

“Not for the first time, I feel some stupid urge to write songs about her, to make people see her as I do.”

A book about first love, friendship, finding your way, drinking tea, music, and all that music inspires.

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