A Writer’s Review: Playlist For The Dead

When I first read the synopsis for Michelle Falkoff’s Playlist For The Dead, I for a moment thought that it had some striking similarities to Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. Thankfully it wasn’t too similar. The story was unique even with its reminders of the girl who doesn’t want to fit in any more, like in Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places. And how she starts to become the shoulder to lean on for the boy who’s struggling. This book deals with suicide because of bullying, which does indeed to some degree catch some similarities with 13 reasons. But at the same time there wasn’t any connection with sexual abuse and whilst yes, this is a story about mental health, it’s portraying it in another light.

One thing that I struggled with to some degree while reading this book, was keeping track of who’s who. There were quite a few characters with usual names, like Jack, Jake, Jason etc… The introductions to some characters that we saw quite often like Sam’s sister were rather brief, however much we continued to see her pop up during the story. With that said, I don’t think that’s a drawback. It may just be my inability to concentrate that could be getting in the way. As always, the reason I review this book with satisfaction is because of its ability to draw me into the story. I noticed myself smiling at moments of joy, and concentrating deeply for moments of conflict. All in all, it was a book that I enjoyed to the end and was happy being able to keep turning page after page.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: A Step Towards Falling

A young guy and a young girl attend a high school football game. They both witness a classmate with disabilities getting sexually abused under the bleachers. They see each other and assume the other will get help. Neither of them do. They’re punished by having to work volunteer time / community service at a local school / community group for those with disabilities.

So what did I think? This is rather a difficult review for me to write, because it could very easily start to borderline on my thoughts being offensive. See, with books, I fall in love with them when they start to drag me into the story. When I become so involved with the book that I get a connection with the characters. For example, my current favourite novel of all time; Thirteen Reasons Why created such a connection that I had a desire to save a fictional character. That did not happen with A Step Towards Falling. Unfortunately I have to use words like boring and uninteresting. It was a novel that I struggled to keep turning pages with and to a degree, wanted to be over. So why was that my impression? For various reasons, one of them was the mix of characters.

Two’s a party, three’s a crowd.

Jennifer Niven had done a fantastic job with the writing of All The Bright Places. But she had a perspective from two characters. This novel had three, the lead male, the lead female and the girl whom suffered from a mental disability. Which meant the writing style for character three had to be done in a way that seemed less cohesive (probably the wrong word, I’m trying to say, basic) than the other main characters. I didn’t enjoy the switching round so much and felt it hard to bring myself into the story. There wasn’t enough going on either to keep me interested. It was slow paced and again, dull.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Extraordinary Means

Well, I was not expecting it to have all of the emotions of John Green’s; The Fault In Our Stars, but that was exactly what started to happen as I got closer to the end. This would be the third book i’ve read about cancer. Well, actually, it’s not about cancer, it’s about TB. But this story was about Lane and Sadie. Two young teens who have both ended up at a hospital for young ones with tuberculosis. I really enjoyed the storyline, I loved the characters and what was going on. I found it really easy to follow along with. Again this book grabbed the style of using two characters to tell the story. Switching chapters between Lane and Sadie. I think this was used in a really good way, to keep the pace of things and make it easy to see what was going on. It also meant that you could see the emotions, thoughts and reactions from both sides.

Unfortunately though, one thing I think that to a degree failed with this book, was the progression. It took a long time for it to get anywhere. I would say the first 60% of the book was introducing us to the characters, the world around them and building their back story. It wasn’t until the near end when connections started to happen and events began to un fold. I’ve been thinking about this, and deciding whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Was the book unenjoyable? No, it was an enjoyable novel. Did I find myself bored at times? No, I found it quite easy to read. So why would the slow progression be negative? Honestly, I’m not sure. I feel a story is a story, and you need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Whereas this felt like a beginning, a beginning and then an end.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

I quite simply do not know where to begin. I don’t know if I want to splurge everything out right at once or hold back suspense for my reaction. Because, that is how this book worked, and it was amazing. I want to take a couple of days to think, because there is somewhat of a decision I need to make; this book may have just become my favorite novel. Currently standing is John Green’s Looking For Alaska. But this, well, oh my god was it fantastic.

The story is about a girl named Hannah. A girl who has taken her life. Prior to doing that, she has recorded her story onto cassette tapes and organized for them to be passed along to people who were involved in her story. This is told to us through a guy named Clay. I won’t spoil how he’s involved, but obviously he is one of the people who have made an impact on her life.

The majority of this story, is about showing what impact people can have on those with depression. I finished this novel in a period of under 8 hours whilst on a flight from Dubai to London. I had to keep turning pages. And this book, most definitely created some emotions. The way it was written, the way you started to build a connection to the characters. I seriously found myself getting extremely concerned, and sad for fictional Hannah. When it came to the end, and she started explaining her plans for suicide, I found myself grasping desire to try and stop her… That’s right…

I wanted to try and save this fictional girl in this fictional novel. 

So I’ll just clarify that, I was sitting reading a book and wanted to try and save a girl that did not exist. That’s how well written this was, that’s how amazing the words on these pages were. But, I’ll add some bias here… I am currently writing a YA novel on depression. So the likelihood that something like this will connect with me is 10x higher than it might normally. But that being said, I’ve read many NY times best sellers (this too is rated as an international best seller) and without a doubt hold back no reservation to assign this to my favorite books collection. And again, am feeling very confused about whether I will be setting this as my favorite novel I’ve ever read. John, I’m sorry bro, imma let you finish. But Jay Asher’s got one of the best ya novels of all time! (Sorry, just had to make that reference there). Again, Jay Asher, well done. This was your first book, and damn, was it an astonishing start.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: The Beginning of Everything

We all get a tragedy. Yes, yes we do. That’s the theme of Robyn Schneider’s; The Beginning of Everything which tells the story of Ezra Faulkner. The everyday popular kid at high school. Except there was a little bit of a difference, Ezra had something dramatic happen to him (ended up cripple following an accident) and started taking a little bit more of a deep look at things. This introduced us to Cassidy, his new found love interest. A new girl with a mysterious past, the new girl that doesn’t quite fit in or go with the flow.

I really loved this book, it continues to be another book that reaffirms my love affair for young adult fiction. The American high school scene, the ecstatic cheerleaders and the live young die hard attitude of today’s youth (god I’m twenty, did I just say that?). But really, that’s what happened as I was reading through this. It showed a lot of the classic attitudes of kids these days, and the lack of desire that some have to, do the right thing, treat others with kindness and be generally all out good people. Of course I’ve definitely got to take a step back and remind the whole “age” thing makes an impact. But with that being said, when I meet characters like Ezra and Cassidy in novels like this, it reminds me a lot of some of the great & similar friends that I’ve met.

I don’t have an intense, in depth review for this. But that definitely does not mean I want to fault it, because the story was so wonderful and easy to read. It was enjoyable to keep turning pages and the characters, events and storyline of this was really just an overall enjoyable young adult novel. I loved learning about debate teams and seeing some of the more intellectual types this young world has to offer. It reminds me of high school and when the whole “debate” thing was offered one day. I had definitely considered it, and reading this book, makes me regret not giving it a go. That being said, who of us doesn’t wish they could have done high school differently, am I right? (Insert smirking emoji face here). Thanks Robyn for a wonderful read.

– Michael Topschij.

A Writer’s Review: Holding Up The Universe

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It was a sunny Thursday morning. I was lining up, wait, no, I just walked in. October 4th was the set release date for Jennifer Niven’s latest masterpiece; Holding Up The Universe. On October 3rd I visited the New Zealand equivalent of Barnes & Noble after reading that they had stock already of the book. I walked in, ready to buy, the shop assistant went out back to get my copy, only to come back and tell me I couldn’t have it until tomorrow. So, I came back, and bought it on release day!

This book was everything I thought it was going to be and more. Jennifer has a writing style that she seem’s to enjoy using. The method of writing through the eyes of two different characters to portray the story. I’d been used to this after loving her first novel; All The Bright Places. The one comment I will make, there were no chapters, and no pages numbers! But as for the story itself, well… This novel brought us into the lives of Jack and Libby. Libby an overweight American girl who’s struggled with being fat for a very long time, so much to the point of obtaining the title “America’s Fattest Teen”. Jack, well, he just seemed to be the cool kid at high school. With one big secret, he cannon’t recognize people. He has a real life syndrome that prevents you from recognizing faces. I found it astounding how this works, the fact you can recognize objects and identify what they are but not people? Yet, it’s a real thing!

We watched as Jack becomes introduced to Libby and explore things like self empowerment for someone like Libby who’s been struggling with the life of being insulted and ridiculed. And for Jack, things like being yourself as we’d seen Jack have to really try and push his way through with varied methods of faking a lot in his life. I really enjoyed this, it was indeed a page turner. I also enjoyed how easy it was to get through and read. Most people find themselves needing to make their way to the end of a chapter before they can put the book down, but pacing through this was quite easy due to Jennifer’s choice in writing style. And being able to make the ‘chapters’ rather short. I look forward to seeing more from Jennifer in the future, this book happily earns it’s way into the Books I Love category.

– Michael Topschij.