The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

RestofUs

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness
2015
HarperTeen

Source: Public Library

Format: Print

Summary from Goodreads: 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.

This book was amazing! I read it halfway through as an ebook, had to return it, then finished it once the hard copy came in at the library. The characters were real people, with flaws. Events that would have been melodramatic in another book were emotional in this one, because they focused on Mikey’s relationships with his family and friends.

Mike lives in Washington state with his mom, dad, and two sisters. Their small town is overrun every generation or so by some creature or other–Gods and Goddesses, vampires, aliens, the walking dead. The “indie kids” are the heroes and heroines of YA paranormal/fantasy novels: “That group with the cool-geek haircuts and the thrift shop clothes and names from the fifties. Nice enough, never mean, but always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the alien queen needs the Source of All Light or something. . . .They’ve always got some story going on that they’re heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all, for the most part.” As a regular kid, Mikey just wants to hang out with his friends before graduation casts them out into the world. And make out with his friend Henna, before she leaves for Africa with her doctor parents.

His sister Mel, aka Melinda, is a year older than him, but was held back by a eating disorder. Mike struggles with his OCD–washing his hands until they bleed, counting anything over and over. Fortunately, he has his best friend Jared to get him out of “loops.” Jared is gay, and possibly in love with Mikey. He’s also a demigod of cats. Mikey’s sister Meredith is ten, a genius, and the only one in the family not messed up, according to him.

I liked the way Ness told two stories in one book. The main story in each chapter was Mike’s story. The other story was a basic YA paranormal novel told in the chapter headings. For example: “Chapter the First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.” Mike and his friends only see Finn run into the forest, followed by strange blue light. That way of storytelling made the book more than just a spoof of popular YA fiction.

I also liked that the emotional scenes were about Mike’s family for the most part. His dad is an alcoholic, but the sad depressed kind, not the scary abusive kind. His local politician mom appears to care more about her run for U.S. Senate than her family. His grandma has Alzheimer’s, but not “kooky Alzheimer’s” where she says cute things, the real kind where she doesn’t know who she is anymore. So Mike just talks at her when he visits her. His life sucked relative to the indie kids’ lives, which became part of the main theme of the book, friendship. He loves his family and friends for the messed up people they are, and makes do the best he can.

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brian

Z for Zachariah

by Robert C. O’Brian

Source: Public library

Hardcover

2007 (1974)

Simon & Schuster Pulse

 

After a nuclear war, sixteen-year-old Ann has survived on her family’s farm, in a valley that has its own weather system. She misses her parents and brothers, who left and never returned. She has a cow for milk and chickens for eggs. The general store in town has supplies of canned goods and men’s clothing for her to use. She also works on her garden. One of the two streams in the valley stayed fresh. One day a man arrives in an anti-radiation suit. He’s John Loomis, a scientist from Cornell University in New York. He created the suit shortly before the war, then went out in search of survivors. Even with his Geiger counter, he bathes in the irradiated stream and gets radiation sickness, so Ann has to nurse him back to health.

John wants the world as it was–except with him in control of civilization.  He’s very practical for a post-apocalyptic person. Ann asks if she could take the suit to get books from the town’s library, like Shakespeare and Dickens. He refuses, because textbooks and technical manuals have “more use.” He thinks she’s stupid because she’s young, and forces her to work for him. She has to fight and escape him. It turned into a good thriller once that happened! I liked Ann as a protagonist.
I had difficulty knowing where this was set, even with the long descriptive passages of the valley, hills, and town. I thought since New York was “very far away,” Ann must have lived in the Southeast, like Kentucky or Virginia.

The “About the Author” page at the end of the book said Robert C. O’Brian left notes for this after his death in 1973, so it was finished by his wife and daughter. That only bothered me a little because the tone and writing stayed the same throughout the book.

 

Adaptation by Malinda Lo (Adaptation #1)

AdaptationMalindaLoAdaptation (Adaptation #1)

by Malinda Lo

2012

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Ebook

Source: Public library (Overdrive)

Summary from Goodreads:
Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.
Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.
Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened, where they are—or how they’ve been miraculously healed.
Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction—and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

This was a good YA sci-fi thriller with memorable, realistic characters. It reminded me of The X-Files.  (Or, more recently Orphan Black.) Reese discovers she has special abilities after being treated for injuries at a secret military hospital, and gets drawn into a government conspiracy.

Lo wrote memorable characters. Reese comes to understand the difference between being attracted to someone and being in love with them. She’s attracted to her debate partner David, but then realizes she’s in love with Amber, the mysterious girl she met by chance. She eventually suspects Amber of being involved with the military conspiracy, which was the other part that reminded me of Orphan Black. The supporting characters were also memorable. Reese’s best friend Julian is a conspiracy theorist, and makes her investigate the connections between the secret hospital and the government. His being biracial was a part of him, but not so much that it defined his character. The same went for Reese’s bisexuality, which I liked. So all the characters were well-rounded.

I liked that the parents were in the story, instead of absent so the plot could advance. Lo portrayed Reese’s mom’s struggle to be a good single parent well. The way she wrote about Reese’s deadbeat dad made me think he shows up more in the sequel.

Weird Wednesday: Welcome to Night Vale the novel

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Weird Wednesday is a monthly feature about “weird” fiction, which is a combination of science fiction/fantasy and horror, or sometimes pure surrealism. 

NightValecover

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel (Night Vale #1)

by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Hardcover

HarperCollins

2015

Source: Personal copy

As a fan of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, I thought this book would be difficult to review at first, as I wondered if I could be objective. To me the podcast is like connected short stories, so this was like a novel based in the world of the short stories.

Night Vale is a small town somewhere in the desert of the American southwest. It has a community radio station run by friendly Cecil Palmer, a pawnshop, an all-night diner, a Secret Police force, and various “vague yet menacing government agencies” who watch the citizens’ every move. Only the very brave enter the library because the monstrous librarians have been known to eat people. Religious arguments erupt over whether mountains exist. Jackie Fierro owns the pawnshop. For as long as she can remember, she’s always owned the pawnshop, and has always been nineteen. One day, a mysterious man in a tan jacket carrying a deerskin suitcase gives her a paper that says “KING CITY” on it. She tries to destroy the paper, but it always reappears in her hand. The only other person to notice this is Diane Crayton, as she was also given a paper by the same man. Diane worries about her teenage son Josh–he’s started asking questions about his absent father. He can also shape shift into different animals, or his favorite combinations of animals. In alternating chapters, Jackie and Diane eventually decide to go to King City and find some answers.  Where exactly is King City? What does it mean to be “a good parent”? Do you decide to grow up, or do your experiences decide for you?

Events from podcast episodes were explained, so you don’t really have to listen to the podcast for this to make sense. Then again, after I finished the book, it seemed like the opposite. It seemed like Star Trek books or Star Wars and so on, where you have to know the characters and the setting to know what’s happening. In the case of Night Vale, you’d also have to like a podcast that’s been described by its’ creators as “Twin Peaks meets NPR” or have to like surrealism.

Themes of family and coming-of-age intertwined with the surrealism. Fink and Cranor turned Cecil’s point of view from the podcast into third-person omniscient for the novel, which worked very well. I liked learning more about minor characters from the podcast stories, especially the Man in the Tan Jacket. Even with my mixed reaction, I liked this book overall. I  want to listen to the audiobook version, too, read by the narrator of the podcast. I’m looking forward to the next Night Vale book!

 

 

A Counterfeit Betrothal by Mary Balogh

Cover of A Counterfeit Betrothal/The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh: A woman in a pink Regency dress holds a finger to her lips.

A Counterfeit Betrothal

Mary Balogh

2013 (1992)

Dell

Mass market paperback

Source: Personal copy
Lady Sophia Bryant wants to get her estranged parents back together. Her solution is to pretend to be engaged to her childhood friend, Lord Francis Sutton. Her parents, Olivia and Marcus, have to help prepare for the wedding. In turn, they pretend to still be in love for Sophia’s sake. Alternating points of view  of the four of them showed how they miscommunicated with each other.
This was well written, though a little repetitive. (In an early chapter, it said twice on the same page that her parents had been separated for fourteen years!) The characters all had depth and clear motivation. There were a few times I thought, “Why doesn’t she just ask him if he loves her? Well no, then the book would be over too soon.” The plot was mostly the miscommunications, but I liked this book overall. As a reprint of an earlier novel, I see Balogh’s strengths lie in characterization more than plot. Now I’m interested in reading more recent Mary Balogh books, like her Survivor’s Club series.

Weird Wednesday: New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran

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Weird Wednesday is a monthly feature about “weird” fiction, which is a combination of science fiction/fantasy and horror, or sometimes pure surrealism. 

New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird

Edited by Paula Guran

Prime Books

2011

Source: Ebook from the library (OverDrive)

For this first installment of Weird Wednesday, I chose a book of stories based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, one of the “fathers” of weird fiction. I’ve read some H.P. Lovecraft, but I don’t like his Cthulhu stories much. I don’t see the universe as inherently frightening and overwhelming.

It took me a long time to get through this book as it was too much of the same thing. A lot of the stories in this were about people stumbling on or discovering the Lovecraftian monsters. My favorites were the ones where the monsters were known to some people but not to others, or the monsters were known to everyone.

My favorite stories were:

“Fair Exchange” by Michael Marshall Smith: A thief in London steals a mysterious artifact from the house of a strange American family.

“A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman: One of my favorite Gaiman stories! In a world taken over by the Elder Gods, a man much like Dr. Watson meets a man much like Sherlock Holmes.

“Bad Sushi” by Cherie Priest: An old Japanese man encounters the monster he fought decades before.

“The Essayist in the Wilderness” by  William Browning Spencer: A man decides his life’s work is to write essays about nature. He observes the life cycle of “crawdads,” which are baby Cthulhus.

“The Dude Who Collected  Lovecraft” by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt: A story where the characters discuss Lovecraft himself.

“Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips: An update of sorts to “At the Mountains of Madness.” Explorers in the now melting Arctic find Lovecraftian monsters have adapted to climate change.

“Mongoose” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette: A science fiction novella about a man who uses a small tame Lovecraftian monster to hunt giant ones in a space station.

So a mixed bag of stories. I might look into the second book, New Cthulhu 2.

#AusteninAugustRBR 2015: Lady Susan & Wrap Up

Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon

Oxford World’s Classics edition, 2003 (Oxford University Press)

Paperback

Source: Personal copy

I wasn’t in the mood for Northanger Abbey after all, so I decided to read Austen’s unfinished works. I only got as far as Lady Susan, which was finished but unpublished.

I like to read the introduction to classic novels before I read them to get some context. This edition’s introduction (and notes) is by Claudia L. Johnson. According to the introduction, a novel in letters was considered a classic novel when Austen began this in the 1790s. She wondered what the scheming villian of Clarissa would be like as a woman. Lady Susan tricks the Vernon family into giving her money, while writing to her confidante about how awesome she is at tricking people. Catherine Vernon knows about her reputation, and therfore suspects Lady Susan of not being sincere. Catherine describes her terrible behavior in letters to her mother.

Writing an epistolary novel was difficult for Austen, as she ends the story with a third-person “Conclusion.” If the same story was in third person, it probably would have focused on Catherine knowing her husband was being duped, and being powerless to stop it until the end. Overall, I liked this story.

           Wrap-Up

I enjoyed my first Austen in August! Even though I didn’t enter any giveaways, I liked reading other people’s posts on Austen and her works. I’m looking forward to sharing more thoughts next year!

#AusteninAugustRBR 2015: Austenland by Shannon Hale


Austenland

By Shannon Hale

2007

Ebook from library
I don’t read much contemporary romance. I like to watch romantic comedies more than read them. So I’m glad this was made into a movie. Even so, this was a quick read and I enjoyed it!

Jane Hayes read Pride and Prejudice as a teen and became obsessed with Jane Austen. Now in her thirties, she’s searching New York for her Mr. Darcy–or her Colin Firth as Darcy. (She hides the DVD in her houseplant.)

Her Great Aunt Carolyn dies and gives her an all expenses paid trip to Pembrook Park, a Regency theme park in the English countryside. In this “Austenland” actors play the men and supporting characters to the “Ideal Client,” women who want to live the fantasy of falling in love with a Regency gentleman.

Jane arrives with the idea that she’ll give up men forever after getting lost in the fantasy. She ends up falling for two different men, the Darcylike “Mr. Nobley” and Martin, an actor who plays a servant. She wonders if the actor playing Nobley is as sincere as Martin is as a real person.

It was hilarious that the women who come to Pembrook Park are given different names by the manager. Jane becomes “Jane Erstwhile,” another American woman is “Elizabeth Charming” and a third woman is “Amelia Heartwright.”  That part was more like Dickens than Austen, where the characters’ names describe their natures. On the other hand, giving the women silly names added to Hale’s theme of living in a fantasy versus reality.

I would recommend this if you like Jane Austen or funny contemporary romance, or both.

#AusteninAugustRBR Announcement and Reading List

 

AusteninAugust

I just found out about this meme by way of The Classics Club‘s Twitter feed. It was created by Adam at Roof Beam Reader and is an annual event! I’m a fan of Austen’s books and anything related to her work, so I’m excited to join!

My picks are:

Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen:

9780192840820

This is the 2003 Oxford World Classic’s edition I bought in college when I read Northanger Abbey for a Gothic Literature class. It also has her unfinished works, which I didn’t read then. I understand the titular Lady Susan is a good villain. Hank Green and Bernie Su adapted Sanditon into vlog form on YouTube a couple of years ago, like they did with Pride and Prejudice (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and Emma (Emma Approved). I enjoyed Lizzie Bennet and Emma Approved but didn’t want to watch Welcome to Sanditon until I’d read Sanditon itself.

Austenland  by Shannon Hale:

Austenland

An Austen-obsessed American woman looking for love goes to a (fictional) Regency theme park in England. I discovered Hale when I was still in the kidlitosphere, as she also writes for kids. This book sounds fun! It was made into a 2013 movie.