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Saturday, 29 April 2017

'Liccle Bit' (South Crongton Trilogy #1) by Alex Wheatle

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
'I didn't want to be known as a snitch - snitches in Crongton had the same lifespan as a choc ice on a barbecue.'





'It all started two months ago. A normal day at school, if you can call going to my school normal.'





War is raging between North and South Crongton. Members of both gangs are getting deleted weekly, making the tension in the area unbearable.
Liccle Bit - Lemar - isn't a member of the South Crong crew. His mum would kill him if he got involved with Manjaro, the leader of the gang and his nephew's father. He's only fourteen and even though he's a very talented artist his entire family are eager for him to do well at school, just in case his art career doesn't pan out. 
But Lemar's life takes a turn for the unexpected when Manjaro singles him out. He wonders if he's trying to get closer to Jerome, because Lemar's sister Elaine doesn't want her violent, cheating ex anywhere near their son. He does all that he can to avoid Manjaro, but when the toughest man in South Crong asks you for a favour, it's impossible to say no... 










'Liccle Bit' isn't the kind of book I would normally try. I only picked it up because the sequel, 'Crongton Knights', is on the shortlist for the YA Book Prize and I'm reading every book in the running for the award.
This is a realistic representation of the working class, but it does verge on stereotypical at times. There's a vast spectrum of difference within the working class, and this is a very specific area to focus upon, but Alex Wheatle's focus doesn't waver.
Despite the fact that Lemar isn't directly involved with the gangs at the start of the novel, they're still a prominent aspect of his life. His family are always going to be intrinsically linked to them because of Jerome, which nicely demonstrated the way that the choices of your family can inadvertently impact your life. It also shows the problem with living in a violent area: it permeates everything, meaning that even if you aren't part of it, you're made a part of it just because of your postcode.
The exploration of why people get involved with gangs is fascinating. Manjaro justifies selling drugs and being violent, thinking of his crew as a kind of family. He has an all for one, one for all attitude
"Every loss is our loss and every profit is our profit."
and uses his ill-gotten gains to help his 'employees' afford higher education, even teaching them maths and English while they work for him. Lemar finds this out when he stays at Manjaro's house one night after an argument with his sister. When his family aren't there for him, Manjaro is, which explains why people feel loyalty to gangs: they may feel as though they have no one else looking after them, and no one wants to be alone.
The comparisons between the gang are family are laced throughout the book, and I'm looking forward to seeing if that discussion continues in the future installments. Lemar's parents are divorced, and because his father has a new wife and daughter and his mother doesn't like hearing about them, they also feel like two warring gangs.
Alex Wheatle is a genius when it comes to using informal language. He incorporates the lingo perfectly, bringing the characters to life, even if it is a little exhausting to get your head around at the beginning. The banter between Lemar and his best friends, McKay and Jonah, had me laughing out loud at multiple points
"Man! If I had ten minutes with Venetia," Jonah remarked.
"If you had ten minutes with her, you wouldn't know what to do, bruv," laughed McKay.
and it was nice to see such a great friendship between the three. They might mock and laugh at each other, but they support each other through thick and thin, and that's what's important. I also enjoyed Lemar's friendship with Venetia, though I'm not-so-secretly hoping it'll develop into more...









This is proof that you should always read outside your comfort zone. My assumptions were smashed to the ground, and I'm now looking forward to reading both 'Crongton Knights' and 'Straight Outta Crongton', the last book in the trilogy which was released earlier this month. Knowing that 'Crongton Knights' won the 2016 Guardian Children's prize, I'm expecting it to get better from here. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

How To Write YA Fiction with Samantha Shannon, Melinda Salisbury and Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Photo credit to @medievaljenga
On Wednesday 19th of April, I took a road trip to Oxford and visited Blackwell's book store for the first time. I only discovered that this event was happening the morning it took place - I recommend wasting all of your time on social media for this reason - so I dropped everything and managed to make it. I couldn't turn down the opportunity to meet these three inspirational (and very lovely!) ladies.

The discussion between the three ladies and moderator Peter Meinertzhagen - founder of the Oxford Writing Circle - went on for well over an hour. Instead of recapping everything that was said, I'm going to choose my ten favourite things that happened at this event (including some inspirational advice for aspiring authors).

10. Name dropping galore
Peter introduced all three of the authors at the beginning of the night, sharing that they'd all participated in Oxford Writing Circle events in the past, and when they started discussing other talks they'd done they quickly came to realise that they'd all been on panels with Alwyn Hamilton, almost gushing over how much they enjoyed working with her.
Later on, discussing literary writing in YA, Melinda claimed that Laini Taylor is the "master", proving that there's "room for beauty in YA" (also recommending 'The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender' by Leslye Walton).
There's more than enough love to go around when it comes to YA!

9. Don't tell Samantha Shannon that YA is "too gloomy"
Peter referenced an article in which someone referred to young adult literature as "too gloomy", and Samantha was very passionate in her disregard for that mindset.
"Books are dark because the outlook is bleak," she began. "I'm scared a lot of the time, and I'm not a teenager." She shared the fact that she's often "overwhelmed with darkness" and awfulness when she encounters the news and understands that young people feel the same, which is why they need to be able to read realistic books. "Dark things are happening. There's nothing dark in young adult fiction that hasn't happened in real life".

8. Sarah J. Maas is changing the YA game
When asked what makes YA, there was a bit of a debate. Shannon said it was harder for her to know, because 'The Bone Season' is actually marketed as adult more frequently than YA (because Paige, the protagonist, is 19) so she's "not asked to tone down" her writing often.
Kiran shared a story about 'The Island at the End of Everything' - her recently released second novel - in which she was "asked to tone down some of the more overt nastiness" because of the age of her readers. She laughed as she admitted that her editor told her that the end of the novel "left [her] with a profound sense of hopelessness".
But while they couldn't definitively state what made YA, all three authors agreed that the use of sex in YA is changing rapidly.
Shannon referenced Sarah J. Maas, saying that she's "pushing boundaries of what can and can't come into it" with her sexually charged scenes in 'A Court of Mist and Fury'. Melinda agreed, but also nodded her head towards fanfiction, claiming it's "changed the rules. Teens want to read about sex scenes, not fade to black, but sex they're actually having," and the popularity of fanfiction that features those scenes shows there's a demand for sex in books for teenagers.

7. YA is more plot driven that adult fiction
The debate about how young adult and adult fiction differ continued later in the night.
Samantha told us how the editor who worked on 'The Bone Season' and 'The Mime Order' was on maternity leave during 'The Song Rising', so she worked with Melinda Salisbury's editor instead. Her aim was to "slim it down and make sure it's focused", which led to a book that's so fast-paced it's exhausting: a direct contrast in her experiences with the adult and young adult editing procedures.
Melinda agreed, stating that young adult is more plot driven because "life as a teen is more plot driven" so "more happens in less pages [at a] slightly faster pace" because the teenage years are a "very definitive fast lane for a short length of time".

6. Every author's "first book is the book [they] needed."
When Peter mentioned that statistically, 80% of YA is acquired by people aged 25 and over, Melinda was quick to respond. She shared that the only YA she had when she was growing up were books written by R.L. Stine, and the Babysitter's Club, which is one of the reasons she can't get enough of it as an adult.
Kiran agreed, saying that her favourite novel as a teenager was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' because there wasn't really any fiction aimed at teenagers (apart from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials). To this, Melinda shared that 'The Sin Eater's Daughter' is "the book [she] desperately needed as a teenager", stating that "every first book is the book you needed".

5. YA fantasy is vastly under-appreciated
Melinda quipped that "as a YA genre writer, I might as well be dead sometimes". She celebrated 'The Hate U Give' and 'Asking For It', both contemporary YA novels that have broken into the mainstream with a huge impact, but Kiran agreed that for YA to be thought of as necessary it "must be issue driven".
"YA fantasy is doing so many important things and not getting noticed," Samantha added. "If they were adult fiction, they'd be heralded as 'the next big thing'".

4. Melinda. Salisbury.
Don't get me wrong, I love Kiran and Shannon too. But Melinda Salisbury is absolutely hilarious, and she stole the show at this event. I've wanted to meet her for so long (mostly because of Steph from A Little But A Lot, who is her biggest fan) and I was blown away by how down to earth she is: I was shaking with nerves before approaching her, but she quickly put me at ease and I didn't feel like an idiot even though we were talking for quite a while!
Mel came out with a lot of brilliant quotes throughout the night, but my personal favourite was when she admitted that if she didn't write YA she'd be writing "raunchy, Mills and Boon nana stuff". Well, someone's got to do it!

For the last question of the night, Peter asked all three authors if they could offer one piece of advice for writing YA, so their responses have to make up the top three:

3. Kiran Millwood Hargrave: "Write the book that you need to write. Leave the marketing to someone else."
Having shared that she started writing 'The Girl of Ink and Stars' with no idea who she was writing it for, it really doesn't matter if you don't have a target audience in mind as soon as you pick up your pen or start typing.

2. Samantha Shannon: "Don't be afraid to experiment. Write weird stuff. It's important that we keep breaking boundaries."
'The Bone Season' sounds like it's impossible to compare to any other book out there, so it's important to think outside the box when you're writing.

1. Melinda Salisbury: "Finish your book. Just finish it! You can't be a writer if you can't finish a book."
Melinda was almost shouting as she cajoled the aspiring authors in the room, and she's not someone you want to disappoint! She also shared a second piece of advice, saying "Don't compare your first draft to a published book," admitting, "I would be nothing without my editorial team". Roughly finishing your story is much better than completely polishing just a chapter or two.

I'd like to say a big thank you to Melinda, Kiran, Shannon and Peter for having such an insightful and thought-provoking discussion, and to Blackwell's for being so welcoming. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for more events there in the future.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

TRAVEL THURSDAY: Te Papa Tongarewa

Today, AJ's sharing some thoughts from Te Papa Tongarewa, which he visited last weekend.
While I was in Wellington the weekend just gone, I found myself with a sizable amount of free time and decided to go to one of the cities prime attractions. Located by the foreshore, the Te Papa Tongarewa is the National Museum of New Zealand, and the experience was fantastic. I spent hours trawling through the replicas of early settler ships, and spiritual Maori temples, and deeply enjoyed the entire floor dedicated to earthquakes, tsunamis and natural phenomenons. As someone who has lived through a massive 7.3 earthquake and its aftershocks, I found their earthquake simulator very accurate. 
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Te Papa Tongarewa in all its glory (credit: newzealand.com)
What moved me the most, however, was the main attraction. Currently, there is a very unique exhibition called Gallipoli - The Scale of Our War, which, thanks to local movie masters Weta Workshop ('Lords of the Rings', 'Mad Max: Fury Road', 'Deadpool') utilizes music, film and traditional media to tell the story of eight people involved in the failed Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, which claimed the lives of 8,709 Australians and 2,701 New Zealanders on Turkish grounds. 
As soon as you walk into the exhibit you are greeted with a sized up 3D model of an unnamed man firing his gun while wounded, and the first thing that strikes you is just how visual it is. The level of detail is incredible: every crease in their face, every hair on their arm, every drop of sweat on their brow looks incredibly lifelike and eerie. Their faces are as emotive as you or I, and straight away that takes you out of your own experiences and into the stories of these men (and one nurse). 
From there you follow through this labyrinth, reading all the displays at will. All the stories come out at you: the stench in the trenches and the horrible state of food, latrine pits people were too exhausted to get out of if they fell in, the general horrors of war - all of which are interactive and fully immersive. There's one section where you're walking through a representation of some of the trenches, and on hidden screens recordings of Turkish soldiers would run out and shoot you. I felt like I had made a latrine pit of my pants after stumbling upon that. 
Of the stories, two in particular caught my eye. The giant figure of Percival Fenwick - a surgeon who knew the side effects of war, having fought in the Boer War of South Africa prior to World War I - had an immediate effect on me. He was perched over a dead body, coat over his head, and was staring down. His eyes were haunting, showing subtle sadness, the sweat on his forehead shining in the lights of the exhibit. After witnessing the goliath, you were taken through his own life, through messages he wrote home. The voice played over on repeat, subtle enough not to distract you from reading, but striking enough to cause your throat to tighten. The horrors of war come to life. 
The other was the personal story of Sister Lottie Le Gallais, a nurse who was sent to Gallipoli to help mend the troops. She was hoping to see her brother Leddie, who was fighting at Chunuk Bair. Every few days she'd send him a message, and in one of the last she sent she said "I don't know when these will get to you, perhaps we will meet before then." When she arrived, however, she was presented with all of her letters. Leddie had died, four months prior. Her statue has her in her moment of sadness, the tears on her face looking as real as mine were. 
The exhibit ends by having the patrons write their own memories on a poppy and throwing it into a pit beneath a private solemnly preparing to go back to war, a few months after the end of the Gallipoli campaign, in Somme. 
With ANZAC Day - a public holiday in Australia and New Zealand commemorating the start of the Gallipoli campaign - passing recently, I cannot thank Te Papa and Weta Workshop enough for this truly incredible exhibit. Previously I had difficult trying to empathize, blessed by my life of multiculturalism and high speed internet. It felt less like a boring museum piece and more like being taken through a truly cinematic experience; I've never visited anything like it before. 
The First World War was really the first time Australia and New Zealand fought in their independence, and it's impossible to live here without seeing how Gallipoli shaped these countries over a century later. One day I hope to visit Turkey, the Gallipoli peninsula especially. It's thanks to the sacrifices these men made that I can have that opportunity. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them. 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

'Margot & Me' by Juno Dawson

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
"Over time, we teach ourselves to stop feeling. It's the only way we survive." She taps her breastbone with her index finger. "It all becomes scar tissue and gristle. It's such a shame. So just let yourself feel it, truthfully and wholly, because one day you won't any more."
"But I don't want to feel like this. It really hurts." My voice crackles.
"It's better than nothing at all. Believe you me."





"The problem with young people today," Margot said about an hour ago, "is that, from birth, every single one has been told that they are somehow special."
Well, you can't argue with that assertion. Margot's not a fan of special snowflake syndrome.






Fliss and her mum have gone to live in Wales with her grandmother, Margot, for six months, while Janet recovers from ovarian cancer. Fliss is unimpressed: she misses her friends and her sort-of-boyfriend Xander, and she's not a fan of the dirty farm or the aloof and unemotional Margot.
Things change when Fliss finds Margot's diary in a dusty old chest in the attic. Fliss loves sixteen-year-old Margot, and can't wait to see how her story got her to where she is today: she was in love with a man who wasn't Fliss's grandfather, and Fliss can't understand how their seemingly perfect relationship could have failed.









One thing severely hampered my enjoyment of this novel: it was riddled with errors. I always try to refrain from judging books too harshly for mistakes, but that's because I'm normally reading advance reader's copies and those aren't final. This one was.
I've left it a few days to write this review, because I felt very conflicted. I enjoyed the letters that told Margot's story, but Fliss didn't really have her own plot. Everything that happened to her was because of other people: she had a crush on the school librarian which she only got past when he rejected her; she only matured because of her mother's illness; her respect for Margot only developed because she discovered her diary. I can't think of one aspect of her character that she developed herself.
I was only interested in Margot's diary, and at multiple points I actually considered jumping to the next one. Fliss's reaction didn't add anything to the story for me, and it explains why this novel is so much longer than Juno's previous releases: there was lots of unnecessary waffle. If I hadn't been looking after my friend's cat with no access to the internet, it would have taken me a lot longer to crawl through this book. Similarly, if this story had just focused on Margot and being an evacuated teenager, it would have been five stars. Juno really brings the era to life, and the tense atmosphere of a country at war is beautifully crafted.
But as soon as it gets to the present plot, everything falls apart. I couldn't understand why it was set in the late 90's. It didn't add anything to the plot, and the stereotypical references got old very fast. I can only imagine this was chosen to allow Fliss to be the same age as Margot in her diary entries, but that's a shallow reason. It doesn't feel as though Juno had any love for the decade, because at multiple points it feels like it could be set today - it's not authentic.
So many aspects don't make sense looking back. What was the point in Peanut the piglet? Yes, he caused more conflict between Margot and Fliss, but then he just disappeared into the background. What was the point of that weird chapter where Fliss did her make-up and then smashed her lipstick in the mirror? I didn't sit comfortably with any other part of the story and it was another thing that did nothing to the plot. That's why the synopsis I've written above is so short - no other aspect of the story seems relevant enough to mention.
This book was just a mess. On top of everything else, it's forgettable: I've been reading back through my notes, and while I felt all warm and fuzzy at the time and was certain that it deserved a high rating, I have no way of justifying that anymore. This is another reason I've been putting off this review, because I hoped that my love for it would come back... I'm just confused about how my feelings have changed so quickly. It might have been because I loved 'All of the Above' and just assumed I was going to love this one too, but that's another reason I held off on reviewing it.

It's not Juno's fault that the copy edit wasn't up to scratch, and if I'd been reviewing this as an ARC I might have been able to overlook it, but as a finished edition I couldn't let it go. If that had been the only problem, it wouldn't have had too much of an impact on my enjoyment, but unfortunately there was far more bad than good in this book. 
I decided to give it a four star rating as soon as I finished it - it's very emotional, and my knee-jerk reaction was that it was almost perfect. 
Sadly, with a couple of days of reflection I've had to drop it down to two stars: I see hardly any positive aspects in hindsight. Disappointing, but necessary. I can't award a book a high rating just because I really loved the author's previous work.

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five authors I want to read more from

(Top Five Wednesday was created by GingerReadsLainey. Find out more at the Goodreads group!)

This topic last came up back in August, but luckily there are SO MANY authors that I want to read more from that I found it easy to choose another five.

5) Lily Paradis
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I absolutely loved 'Volition' by Lily Paradis, but a lot of people accused her of having ripped off another author. She hasn't released anything since, and I miss her: come back, Lily!

4) Cat Clarke
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I've read most of Cat Clarke's novels, but that doesn't stop me wanting more. She's a brilliant writer, and I've cried while reading all of the books of hers that I've read so far (which is the main reason I haven't read everything she's released!).

3) Holly Bourne
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It's my own fault that I haven't read more of Holly's novels: she has published six novels so far, and I've only read one of them (despite the fact that I own the other five!). This is something I really need to work on, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her writing in the future.

2) Katherine Webber
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Katherine's debut novel, 'Wing Jones', is a treat. I read it in one sitting, and I've been unable to stop thinking about Wing since. I don't just want more from Katherine, I NEED it. 

1) Sara Barnard
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I've read an adored both of Sara's novels so far, and I just can't wait for her to release her third book. I love her writing style, but it makes it impossible to savour the novels: I've sped through both of them, and I'm already planning on rereading them. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What authors do you want to read more from? 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten things that make me NOT want books

(Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and The Bookish!)

Last week, I talked about the ten things that instantly made me want a book. This week I'm doing the other side: which things make me run a mile.

10) Convoluted descriptions
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If the synopsis doesn't make any sense, I can't deal. I often get this with fantasy books: there will be a very shallow description of the world that the story is set in, and it will just make me put the book down and walk away with question marks swirling around my head. 

9) Hype
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If a book is majorly over-hyped, I'm always nervous. What if I'm the only person in the world who hates it? What if my expectations are too high and it disappoints me? It doesn't often happen, but when it does it's utterly crushing, and has put the fear of hype in me. 

8) Bad Goodreads ratings
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I trust Goodreads reviewers. I'm very active on the site, and don't often find that my opinion of a novel differs greatly from the general consensus. If a book has an average rating of less than three, I find it very difficult to attempt. 

7) Predictable plots
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If a book tells you what it's about in the synopsis, it's difficult to find the strength to read it. We all know that the Twilight series is about vampires, so while Bella is trying to work out exactly what Edward is, we're all groaning from boredom. 
If the plot point referenced in a synopsis doesn't happen until over halfway through the book, you're just waiting for that moment to occur. Spoilery synopses are the worst. 

6) Lengthy series
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When I start a series, I find it very difficult not to follow through and finish it. If a book is part of a series that has over ten books, I'm probably never going to try it.

5) Top dollar
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I never buy brand new hardback books, because they're just too expensive. It's a treat when I buy myself a new paperback, but I prefer finding books in charity shops or borrowing them from the library. 

4) Bad condition

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No matter how much I want to read a book, I won't read any that are absolutely disgusting. My favourite thing about working in the library was getting rid of books that were ripped, sticky or stained - I just can't stand them. 


3) 500+ pages
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No matter how much I want to read a book, if it has over five hundred pages I'm going to struggle. They're not only long and often convoluted, they're so damn heavy! 

2) Irritating authors
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If an author makes bigoted comments or generally acts like an unprofessional idiot on social media, I'm not going to read their books. This might be overly judgmental, but I always try to be professional on my social media platforms, and I'm just a blogger doing this for fun!
You wouldn't serve coffee in a café while spouting derogatory comments about your workplace or the customers, so authors shouldn't be allowed to either. 

1) Dreadful covers
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If a book has a cheesy cover or a terrible font, I'm not going to find it appealing. The story inside might be absolutely amazing, but a lazy cover design often hints towards lazy editing, something I despise. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What makes you not want to read a book?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

WTF Did I Miss This Week? #29 (w/c 17/04/17)

The publishing world:

Not as many new releases as normal - thankfully!:
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Cover reveals included one of the most exciting YA anthologies EVER: 


In other news:
  • HBO are adapting Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' into a film
  • The Man Booker Prize International shortlist has been announced. 
The music world:

A heavy new release
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I'm particularly excited about the new music that dropped this week (can you guess which song specifically?!):

PARAMORE ARE BACK! They've been having some 'Hard Times' since they've been away: 

Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd have a 'Lust For Life': 


You'll be 'Hypnotized' by Set It Off's new video:


State Champs released a beautiful acoustic version of 'Secrets': 

This week there were also new releases from Lady Gaga, Dreamcar, Rise Against, Bleachers, Racquet Club, Have Mercy, While She Sleeps, Fallen Captive, Vukovi, Patent Pending, Meat Wave, Joyce Manor and Balance and Composure. That should keep you busy!

Tour announcement klaxon!: 
  • Royal Blood are doing a small UK tour in May to celebrate their return. Support comes from Black Honey. 
  • Paramore are touring the UK and Europe in June and July in support of their fifth full-length, 'After Laughter' (which is coming out May 12th!). 
  • The Wonder Years are playing two headline shows in the days leading up to their appearance at 2000 Trees Festival. 
  • AFI and Circa Survive have announced a co-headline tour across America throughout July and August. Support comes from Citizen. 
  • Gorillaz are heading to America, playing shows in the US and Canada from July to October.
  • The Juliana Theory are celebrating their 20th year as a band by headlining a US tour in August
  • Real Friends are going to Mexico for the first time in August, playing three dates with Knuckle Puck. 
In other news
It's my birthday tomorrow, so I'm going to have a day off from blogging - see you on the other side of 21.