Saturday, 28 February 2015

'Vampire Academy' (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead

*This review will contain spoilers!*

With the release of the last book in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy spin-off series, Bloodlines, released earlier this month, I thought it was about time I jumped on the band wagon. When I saw a read-along on Goodreads for 'Vampire Academy' I just couldn't resist. 
I went into this book not knowing much about it, apart from the fact that it was set at an academy for vampires. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our protagonist, Rose, isn't actually a vampire, she's a dhampir - a vampire guardian, half-human and half-Moroi. The Moroi are a type of vampire: mortal vampires, who can withstand certain amounts of sunlight and an use magic related to elements (air, water, earth or fire, depending on which one they specialise in). However, in this universe, there are two types of vampires, the other being the Strigoi. The Strigoi are vampires who have given up their ability to withstand sunlight and their ability to use magic, to become immortal. The way they become immortal is by killing Moroi, which is why the Moroi need their guardians around them at all times. 
When we join Rose, she's on the run with a member of the Moroi royalty, and her best friend, Lissa. As you can imagine by the title, them being on the run doesn't last too long and they get brought back to St. Vladimir's, the school that they escaped from just over two years ago. 
After the recapturing of Rose and Lissa the plot does slow down quite remarkably, throwing more of the focus onto Rose resuming her guardian training, and Lissa learning to deal with the fact that she has different, and stronger, powers than anyone else that they've ever known. Rose and Lissa also have a bond between them that causes a lot of intrigue from their teachers, as a bond like the one that they have - in which Rose can sense Lissa's emotions, and sometimes view things through her eyes - has only ever been heard of in stories from the distant past. Combined with this Lissa has a strong ability to perform compulsion, even on Moroi and dhampirs, and can heal and resurrect. All of these skills are ones that the girls have only seen for real in their crazy ex-teacher, Ms Karp, who was taken away by guardians due to her developing insanity. 
Because this is a young adult novel there is quite a bit of romance in it, but I was pleasantly surprised that none of it was insta-love, which is something I really hate. Lissa bonds with fellow outcast Christian, a student at the school whose parents both turned to the side of the Strigoi, and while their relationship doesn't develop smoothly it's written in a very believable way. Meanwhile, Rose develops a massive crush on her guardian training instructor, Dimitri; an older man, and a skilled guardian with six Strigoi kills under his belt already, he is going to be one of Lissa's guardians when she graduates from the academy, so while their romance seems doomed before it even begins, every fibre of my being hopes that they'll be able to work something out. 
As you can imagine, it does take a little while for the different dynamics of the world to establish. The difference between dhampirs, Moroi and Strigoi all seem quite ambiguous at the beginning, but quickly settle down into their rightful places throughout the book. There is also the establishment of different dynamics between the students, because since Lissa and Rose have been on the run there's been quite a shift around in the school hierarchy, and Lissa's place is no longer as set in stone as it had been. This means that at times throughout the book it does get a bit teen high school drama, but mixed in with all of the supernatural goings on it's not too overpowering. The middle section is rather slow, but the ending more than makes up for it - the last fifty pages are an absolute rollercoaster ride and it all gets very exciting very quickly. 
I can imagine that this series is just going to get better with time, because this was a very promising start but all of the development and settling down hindered it quite a bit. I'm definitely going to carry on with it when I have a spare few weeks, because I do think that once I start it I'm not going to be able to stop. If you're looking for a vampire book that's a bit more mature than the average, I'd definitely recommend this one. There's a bit of swearing in it, and the multiple savaged animals make for some disgusting imagery, so it is a bit more mature than the ordinary teen vampire books, but I very much enjoyed it. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

'An Abundance of Katherines' by John Green

'An Abundance of Katherines' is the story of Colin, a child prodigy who has an addiction to dating girls called Katherine - and being dumped by them. By nineteen different girls called Katherine, to be precise. Following the break-up with the last Katherine, K-19, hot on the heels of their high school graduation, Colin has a bit of a mental breakdown and decides to go on a road trip with his best friend Hassan. They find themselves in Gutshot, Tennessee, after Colin spots a sign announcing that Gutshot holds the body of the late Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and when they meet Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother, Hollis, they decide to stick around for a little while. 
This is a cute comtemporary read, but in all honesty it just doesn't have much substance. Colin is a heartbroken teenager taking all of his problems out on his friends, while simultaneously attempting to create a theorum of relationship predictability. Due to Colin being a child prodigy, throughout the novel he works very hard upon crafting and perfecting his theorum, and this means that there are lots of graphs scattered throughout the book. I did think this was a good addition, adding some visual to the explanations Colin is giving, but it also left me with a bitter taste in my mouth - the one thing I hate most in this world is maths involving graphs. Similarly, Colin is a big fan of anagrams, meaning that throughout the novel we get bombarded with hundreds of them. It's a very unique quirk to start with, but by about halfway through the novel it gets quite old quite fast.
His best friend, Hassan, is a much better character; I'm a big supporter of the 'We Need Diverse Books' campaign, so I thought it was brilliant to see an obviously Arabic Muslim character in a mainstream YA novel (I'm saying obviously because Colin is part Jewish, but this is not a fact that is very focused upon). There wasn't as much focus upon Hassan's praying and his religion as I desired, with Colin repeatedly complaining about how loud he prays instead of focusing upon the sentiment behind the prayer, but it was still good to see a minority character being represented. 
However, other than that aspect there wasn't much that made this book stand out. If you love John Green's books, you'll probably love this one - it doesn't focus on a serious topic like 'Looking For Alaska' or 'The Fault In Our Stars', but his voice still shines through in his writing. If you love cute, contemporary romance novels, there are better choices out there, but not many of them have male protagonists, so that aspect will also be a selling point. This is not the best John Green book I've read, but it's also not the worst; it was just quite an average read. Average isn't a bad thing, because I did still quite enjoy it, I just didn't love it. 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

'The Storm' (The Rain #2) by Virginia Bergin

*This review will contain spoilers!*

After reading the first novel in this series, 'The Rain', a couple of days ago, I was apprehensive going into this novel. The premise of the rain killing people was extremely interesting, but I hated the protagonist, so I wasn't really sure how I was going to feel about this second novel.
However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. In this second novel, we rejoin Ruby Morris waiting for her father to return to her home after she discovered a message from him in her kitchen at the conclusion of the first book. Ruby is having a bit of a mental breakdown, which she gets startled out of when the church bells of Dartbridge start ringing, the only human contact that she's experienced in the last three or four months. 
I'm going to try not to give too much away about this novel, because I know for some people it's highly anticipated, but I will admit that it is a lot better than the first book. If you gave up on the first novel because the protagonist was annoying, you might be impressed by this book - Ruby grows up significantly, dropping the annoying teenager monologues. ...Or, at least she does for the most part. It seems pretty obvious to me that Virginia Bergin CAN write strong female characters, I just don't understand what on Earth possesses her to take one step forward and five steps back. Throughout the majority of the novel, Ruby is mature and level-headed, a massive development from the make-up obsessed airhead from the first book. However, after dealing with blow after blow in an adult fashion, she decides to come face-to-face with her biggest hurdle... and pushes it back time and time again, deciding that instead of rushing in to try and be a hero, she's going to perfect her make-up and dye her hair pink instead, declaring "It was necessary", which it quite obviously wasn't. This character is such a terrible role model, teaching that it doesn't matter if it's the end of the world - you're a girl, so you need to make yourself look flawless for no real reason. That's a terrible lesson in survival!
As a whole, this novel is greatly improved. The plot holes and flaws that feature heavily in the first novel are all explained perfectly, leaving me with a more affectionate feeling for the first novel - it's not riddled with errors, it's riddled with clues that are explained in the future. The book is much more action packed; there's still a lot of moving from place to place but the scenes set in the different areas are definitely attention grabbing. It gets a bit science-y at points, but that gets explained quite well, meaning that it doesn't feel as though it's gone too far over your head - even if you aren't a microbiologist. 
There are still issues; an example being that the ending is extremely rushed, with a lot of things left open and the things that are solved being solved insanely quickly. I had to read it twice through, because there was a lot going on (including a monologue from Ruby about what she wished had happened, which got a little mixed in with what was actually going on...) and that can be a positive when it's not too rushed, but it was very overwhelming. I thought that this series was supposed to be a trilogy, so the fact that most things were solved by the end of this book was quite confusing, but if it is a duology that is probably for the best - it's better to go out on a high note than try to deliver too many installations and end up falling flat. 
If you read the first book and liked the idea, but just didn't like the execution, I would seriously recommend that you do attempt this second book: the story is very interesting, and the plot is still unique and, quite frankly, a terrifying concept.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Crowdfunding: why people need to celebrate, not hate

I've been thinking of writing an opinion piece on this topic for a while, but I haven't had the motivation to do it. That changed last night, after seeing The Blackout starting up a Kickstarter to be able to release a DVD of their final ever live show and receiving a lot of hateful messages because of that.
If you haven't heard of crowdfunding, the definition is: 

 the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions  from a large number of people, typically via the internet.

The most commonly used crowdfunding websites (or at least, in my experience) are Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The person attempting to get their project funded creates a space where they can get funding, their fans and supporters pledge as much money as they are happy to, and the money only gets taken if the project gets the funding that the creator is requesting.
I blog about both books and music and crowdfunding is something that is ingrained into both of the topics. I'm going to focus on the book side of things first, then move onto the music, because a lot more musicians seem to use crowdfunding platforms, so it will take me a bit longer to tackle that.

Crowdfunding and novel writing:
Early last month, there was quite an uproar amongst the YA community. Stacey Jay, a YA author, set up a Kickstarter in an attempt to fund a sequel to her first novel, 'Princess of Thorns'. While I hadn't heard of the author, I thought it was good to see that the Kickstarter platform was being used to expand the YA community, which until this point I had only ever viewed as supportive and caring.
However, the uproar that the author received was explosive, leading to her cancelling the Kickstarter campaign despite the fact that she'd already received nineteen backers. The uproar mostly stemmed from the fact that Stacey was requesting over $10,000, because a large chunk of that sum was to pay for mortgage and bills when she was focusing upon writing and delivering the novel that was being paid for.
You might think that that is a great injustice, asking people for money for your day-to-day life expenses, but everyone who works gets paid so that they can afford to survive. The fact that Stacey cancelled her Kickstarter was disheartening, especially combined with the fact that some people had already given her money, obviously showing their support for a series that now may never get a sequel. Because of the complaints, Stacey felt that she had to publish a post on her blog, justifying exactly why she'd created the Kickstarter in the first place, and then went on to explain why she'd felt she had to cancel it. Since then, Stacey's blog has been changed to private, showing that she had felt so victimised that she'd felt it was necessary to hide her words from the internet. A lot of people claimed that the complaints weren't bullying, but in my opinion they most definitely were - if anyone feels so verbally attacked that they feel they need to take a break from writing, that's a damn shame.

Crowdfunding and music:
Crowdfunding and music have become practically inseparable over the past couple of years. It all seemed to start off on Pledgemusic and then transferred over to the other websites, but it's definitely been popular, especially amongst upcoming and unknown bands. It's completely understandable, based on the money musicians receive per streams on Spotify being a minuscule amount and, despite the fact that the music industry has experienced a regrowth over the last couple of years, illegally downloading music still being a popular option for many fans who are strapped for cash.
This is one of the reasons that crowdfunding is an excellent option for the fans and the musicians themselves. By offering lots of 'perks', even fans who might have less money available to spend will likely be able to afford at least one thing they want to buy, meaning the band get one step closer to their album/tour/DVD being successfully funded.
One of the best examples of a small, unknown band hosting a successful crowdfunding campaign is local Bristol band, Ashes to Angels. Their Indiegogo campaign, which ran from the 6th of January to the 7th of March 2014, successfully raised over £16,000 when their target was only £15,000. One of the things that Ashes to Angels did best was offering a variety of different 'perks', ranging from acoustic house shows to necklaces or posters. By offering a variety of different things for purchase, the campaign ran successfully, because everyone could afford to get something to help the band along. Because the band weren't very well-known, they received hardly any backlash from the general public.
However, in the case of The Blackout, because they are a well-known band they received a lot of harsh criticism. The Kickstarter for their final DVD was completely funded within three hours, despite the fact that they still have over a month until the deadline, but this didn't stop people from openly slating them for using a viable business model. A lot of the criticism stemmed from the fact that The Blackout had already used Kickstarter to fund their EP, 'Wolves', which also greatly exceeded their target.
If a band has been successful raising money using a method once, why shouldn't they use it again? It isn't against the rules of Kickstarter. By offering up 'perks', included limited edition, only one in the world, backdrops, they're just selling merchandise, so why does it lead to such hatred?

My personal opinion is that crowdfunding websites are a brilliant idea.
On the Stacey Jay topic... I will admit that I do agree that the prices on some of her 'perks' were a little bit steep. If the Kickstarter had gone ahead, I definitely would not have donated to it. But that's the choice. If you don't want to donate to it, you click the tiny little 'x' next to the window and you move on with your life. If people decide that they want to donate to it, that's okay too! It's all down to personal choice and what you want to spend your money on.
The exact same thing can be said about The Blackout. If you don't want to fund it, don't; just don't complain about it and ruin other people's fun and enjoyment. If people want to donate to a project and it doesn't get completely funded, they receive a refund, so no one loses out. Or, in the case of American crunkcore band BrokenCYDE, who attempted to raise $30,000 for their new album on Indiegogo, they were using flexible funding, which means even though they didn't manage to receive their entire total they still provide the perks for their fans, which makes it even more like buying merchandise from a website. If people want to donate to a project and it does get funded, they receive whichever item, or 'perk', that they wanted, so again - no one loses out!
Crowdfunding websites seriously increase the chances of the music industry staying alive, and with so many bands needing to split up because of a lack of funding, every little helps. Would you prefer to complain about crowdfunding and have a boring scene with little variety, or would you prefer to only donate to the bands you care about and let other people get on with what they want to do?

How do you feel about crowdfunding? Do you think it's a good idea, or have you had bad experiences with crowdfunding in the past?

Monday, 23 February 2015

'The Rain' (The Rain #1) by Virginia Bergin

*This review will contain spoilers!*

I bought 'The Rain' back in December and I wasn't really sure when I was going to get around to reading it, but when my request to view the second novel, 'The Storm', was accepted on NetGalley, I knew I had to get reading, and get reading fast.
'The Rain' started off a lot better than I'd been expecting it, because I had heard a lot of absolutely horrendous reviews. We get a nice little recap of the past of this world - exactly the same as ours, apart from a couple of years ago an asteroid got a little bit too close to Earth, so scientists blew it up. We don't get much idea of why this is relevant until later on, but it builds a nice and believable history which draws you into the story and makes you want to continue.
Our protagonist, Ruby Morris, is at a party at her friend Zach's house - in a jacuzzi, making out with super hot guy Caspar - when Zach's uber-relaxed and cool parents rush in, screaming at everyone to get inside. Ruby doesn't really know what's going on, and neither do any of her friends, but because they've never seen Zach's parents acting so unhinged they know that they need to follow their commands. Once inside, his parents break the news to them that there's something in the rain, and they all need to stay in the house and keep calm.
However, Caspar has other ideas. He rushes outside in the rain to collect his phone and his MP3 player, both resting in his jeans on the lawn. When he comes back in, nothing happens for a few minutes, but then he starts scratching so violently that he takes chunks out of himself, blood running down his face and pouring out of his body.
Obviously, everyone panics. The warnings of there being something in the rain no longer seem so hilarious, watching the disgusting results of contact playing out in front of you. Zach's mother, Sarah, insists on taking Caspar to the hospital, and Ruby goes with her, desperate to see that the love-of-her-life-even-though-they-only-just-kissed is going to survive this so-called 'fatal' disease.
So far, so awesome. This novel is set in England, and as I live in England I know that one thing we get a shit-ton of is rain. I started reading this book on a clear morning on my way to work, and by the time I'd finished work it was pouring it down, which it has been doing steadily for the last twenty four hours. The novel is set in May, so I didn't question when there were dry days in amongst the rain storms, but there were still a couple of things that didn't add up. The rain starts killing people because of tiny little microbes in the water, which eat through your skin and stream through your blood, devouring you from the inside out. The little alien-microbes are supposedly able to survive in the dry, in the damp, in the hot and in the cold. When rain falls, the ground - roads, fields, hedges - all stays quite wet and damp for a good couple of hours, if not a good couple of days, afterwards. So, a few things that didn't make sense...:
1) Ruby's step-father, Simon, warns her not to touch anything that has been in contact with the rain. He doesn't specify not to touch anything still damp - just anything that has ever been touched by the rain, EVER. When Ruby is on a bike ride home, she's dehydrated, and she remembers a clever little bit of advice; when you're thirsty, find a pebble and put it in your mouth and it will stimulate your glands to produce saliva to hold you out. Ruby stops, picks up a piece of road grit, wipes it off and puts it into her mouth. NOW HOLD ON ONE SECOND! Rain had been falling earlier on in the day. In England, the roads stay wet/damp for a good few hours, so I'm pretty sure that that large chunk of road grit would have been deadly to put in her mouth, yet she survives... Something doesn't add up there.
2) Similarly, before Ruby decides to cycle home, she returns to her friend Zach's house to pick up her phone and the other belongings of hers that she left there in the panic of the murdering rain. She grabs Caspar's phone and MP3 player, both of which had been out in the rain. Another action that made me put a question mark over whether this girl should really be surviving this scenario...
3) There are a few more, but I'm going to keep it to a more concise list instead of ranting about all of the improbabilities that are scattered throughout. At a late stage in the novel, Ruby decides that she's going to run off through a field in an attempt to get to her father's house. It had been raining earlier on, and if one thing definitely holds water it is grass/crops in a field. There have been times when I've walked through a field two or three days after it has been raining and it's still been soaking wet in there. Furthermore, at this point of her adventure she was wearing flip flops, notoriously well-known for letting in the wet. Seeing as this particular scene is set in my home town of Swindon (with the description of the golf course and the beautiful lake leading me to assume it's set at Coate Water, only ten minutes away from my home) I know this area like the back of my hand, and I know that it gets so extremely boggy that the wet gets in even if you're wearing thick and sturdy shoes, so this definitely should have been the time when Ruby got struck down by the disease.
Now don't get me wrong, I didn't create this universe so I don't know whether those things would really be dangerous, or even fatal. Possibly, a certain amount of time after the rain has stopped, it will be okay to touch items that had been out in it. But if you knew you could be eaten from the inside out, would you ever really have the courage to attempt it? Would you really pick things up from off of the ground and put them into your mouth? Our protagonist is fifteen, so we can't really expect her to question and question again every action that she considered, but with Simon drilling into her head over and over "THINK!", you would think that she'd do that once in a while.
If I'd been absolutely loving 'The Rain', and those issues were the only things that had cropped up throughout, I might have been able to let them slide. However, as well as there being a lot of things that just didn't seem to add up, I just hated the protagonist. At multiple times throughout the novel I just wanted to wring this girls neck, and I had to keep reminding myself "Alyce, she's only fifteen, she's allowed to do stupid and childish things", but I know that if I'd been put into this situation three years ago I would have been a lot more logical about everything.
For example: the shopping trips. OH MY GOD THE SHOPPING TRIPS. "Ooh, my mother, brother and step-father are all dead - might as well go and get some nice clothes and some make-up!" "Hm, boring old Darius made us stop to look for food and water, might as well pick up some magazines!" "Ooh, I might be going to a sanctuary soon, I really need a special dress for this occasion!" ...I just wanted to scream out loud so many times. I understand that there would always be a desire there, to just walk into any shop you wanted and take all of the things that you desired. I understand that, really, I do. But deciding to pick up tiaras and flip flops just does my head in. If anyone in their right mind decided to do that the second the world started to end, they would deserve to be eaten from the inside out by tiny aliens.
Furthermore, the make-up! I lost count of the amount of times that this girl decided to reapply her make-up, or pick up more make-up, or panicked about how her face looked. At one point, she questioned her priorities, saying "Mobile, friends, Caspar. Priorities, Ruby." ...Retrieving her mobile phone from Zach's house was her top priority: not her family, not herself, not how they were going to have enough water and food to survive forever. If you're in a apocalypse, please don't bother with make-up, it's not a logical thing to do. No one is going to care what you look like, especially when you end up dead because you just wanted to spend a bit longer searching for the perfect lipstick so you forgot to find food or drinkable water.
The final thing that really annoyed me about this character was her completely and utterly judgmental attitude. Darius Spratt saves her when she faints, offering her water, and all she can think is "Speccy, spotty, spoddy, nerdy, nobody freak. [...] Girls like me don't even acknowledge the existence of boys like Darius Spratt. It's a basic law of nature." She isn't grateful to him for offering her a drink after she's fainted, she just internally complains about the fact that there is peanut backwash in the liquid. Then later on, when Darius calls her a bully and a snob, both characteristics that I think she displayed multiple times throughout when in relation to him, she has the audacity to be completely shocked and offended.
I could go on, but I should stop myself, or this is going to get to a ridiculous length. I was so beyond excited about reading 'The Rain'; it has a unique premise and if the protagonist had been a little bit older and a little bit more mature it would have been much, much more successful. The scientific explanation, behind how the rain effects you and why, was well thought out and brilliant, with hardly any loopholes. It was all extremely creative, but the premise was let down with the execution. If someone could use the plot from 'The Rain' and write a novel featuring adult characters, it would probably be one of my all time favourite books. But with a protagonist this annoying I can't understand how anyone could enjoy this novel. I couldn't stop comparing this book to 'The Fifth Wave' in my head, because Cassie is in a very similar end-of-the-world-with-aliens situation, but she handles it in a much more mature fashion, and I really needed more grown up behaviour in this novel.
I wouldn't recommend this novel. I'm still going to read the second book, 'The Storm', because I have all of my fingers and my toes crossed that it will get better, but I don't have my hopes up very high. If Ruby could just stop applying make-up and start applying her brain, I'd be much happier with the way this series could turn out. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

'How I Live Now' by Meg Rosoff


*This review will contain spoilers!*

I'll be very surprised if you haven't heard of 'How I Live Now' because the film of it was out a couple of years ago, so it got quite a lot of attention then. I didn't hear as much hype about this book, but I thought I'd try it out anyway because I was very interested in watching the movie. 
'How I Live Now' tells the story of Daisy, a fifteen year old American girl who moves to England to live with her cousins, Piper, Edmond, Isaac and Osbert, right before a war breaks out. Daisy and Edmond fall in love, which is quite inappropriate because they are cousins - and even Daisy herself can admit this - but because her Aunt Penn, the cousins mother, has gone to Oslo to give a speech about the imminent threat of war, there is no one to control the cousins behaviour. However, when the war breaks out the cousins get split up, Piper and Daisy going one way, Edmond and Isaac going another way and Osbert becoming involved in the war effort. Piper and Daisy seem to settle down with their foster family quite quickly, but they can't stop thinking about the family that they've been separated from.
I read my first Meg Rosoff book back in October, and I had a massive issue with her writing style, which I had hoped was just contained to the one novel. However, as soon as I started 'How I Live Now', I knew the writing style must be across all of Meg Rosoff's books, because this novel was also written in reported speech, without any speech marks differentiating the description from the talking. For the majority of the novel it wasn't so much of an issue, but there were still areas in which the talking and the thinking about what someone had said afterwards all blurred in together and was hard to separate. 
I can't really understand why this book has had such rave reviews over on Goodreads, because it's not just that great. To be absolutely honest, I didn't really care about the cousins having sex aspect that much, because it did show how children without an adult can make terrible mistakes. It was just the novel as a whole that was utterly disappointing. Part One is set up extremely well - Piper and Daisy going cross country in an attempt to find their family, discovers horrors of the war that were realistic as well as affecting (RIP Ding </3) and showing exactly how two young children can survive on their own armed only with determination and desperation. The story isn't rushed - over five months pass from the start of the novel, rather than a few weeks as is told in some war novels, so that was an interesting aspect. However, the end of Part One into Part Two just completely disappointed me.
Daisy and Piper had just made it to their home and were waiting for Edmond and Isaac to return, when low-and-behold the phone starts ringing. There has been no phone signal for months on end, but we're meant to accept the fact that Daisy's father's phone call miraculously managed to get through, just after they'd returned to the farm. This was never explained, never expanded upon, we were just meant to accept it, and I could not.
Furthermore, in the middle of a war, would they really bother deporting a teenage girl when all of the travel and transport is meant to be closed down? Even with a medical order demanding her return to America, I don't think it would be that easy. You hear stories all the time of countries trying to get their civilians home from enemy territories, and more often than not it takes months, or even years, of trying, rather than one phone call and a couple of days.
Part Two just put the final nail in the coffin for this book though. Six years have passed and Daisy is returning to see her cousins, and we believe that Edmond is dead - until she gets to the house and he's sat out on the porch. It just seems quite unbelievable to me that in a family of six people, only one of them dies in a war, and it's none of the children/teenagers who would be more likely to make mistakes and get caught. When we return to the farm, Isaac is speaking but Edmond is closed up in himself, a shell of who he was due to the trauma he witnessed during the war. I understand it's meant to be kind of ironic, that Isaac used to be the one who didn't speak and he could only find his voice when his brother lost his, but it just really annoyed me. Then Daisy and Edmond start sorting out their differences, and she proclaims her love to him, and neither his brother or his sister bat an eyelid at the fact that he's dating their cousin. 
I was expecting really good things from this book, but it just fell completely flat for me. Don't get me wrong, there were some good descriptions: the English countryside felt realistic and layered, the massacre at the farm was stomach-turning and the death of Ding brought a tear to my eye. But other than those aspects, the novel just wasn't that good. If you're looking for a war novel aimed at young adult readers, I would definitely recommend 'Tomorrow, When The War Began' by John Marsden, because it's a heck of a lot more exciting and enjoyable. 

Saturday, 21 February 2015

'Incite' (Ignite #2) by Erica Crouch

First off, I need to say a massive thank you to Patchwork Press for accepting my request to review this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service they provide.

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

After struggling to get into the first novel in this series, I flew through the novella and couldn't wait to get through the second book, because I thought I was going to absolutely devour it. However, I was suffering from a terrible migraine earlier on in this week, so it's taken me a bit longer to read it than I was hoping.
However, I still really enjoyed it when I eventually got through it. It wasn't as good as the novella, but that's probably all due to my personal preference of preferring back story over current developments. In this second installation, Pen and Michael are still on the run, with both the angels and demons tracking them down to get revenge for their desertion and to receive a bounty for killing them. Instead of the singular narrative that we experience in this first novel, in this second novel we get a dual narrative featuring Azael's viewpoint, which is one of the things I wanted more of in the first book. Azael is the newly instated King of Hell, Lucifer's second-in-command, and following the prologue of the first book (in which Lucifer demanded the deaths of Michael and Pen) he's on a mission to capture the couple, even though he still hopes that he can convince Pen to go back to his side.
I think I preferred Azael's viewpoint, purely because of the fact that we had so much of Pen in the first one. Yes, I was happy to see Pen and Michael settling down into their relationship, but seeing Azael struggling with his desire to obey Lucifer and his inability to send the command for the death of his sister was really interesting. His angst and anger was written extremely well and his chapters flew past, in contrast to Pen, who was much more calm and collected throughout. 
The beginning of the novel was very interesting, seeing Pen and Michael on the run and their constant paranoia at the knowledge that they're being hunted. This book was a lot more violent than the first novel, and that was cemented at the start when we saw them both coldly disposing of demons who were hunting them down. 
Because this is the middle book in the trilogy it was quite slow, because it was setting up for what is sure to be an explosive and captivating third novel. Pen and Michael met a one-winged angel named Kala, who told them about an uprising called New Genesis who had been inspired by their actions and had decided that it was time for angels and demons to live in peace. Meanwhile, Azael had a group of demons banded together to accompany him to Earth and help him hunt down Pen. The individual groups going on journeys was interesting, but at times the travelling and the settling down just seemed too much like a literary technique rather than something solid. Azael decides to direct his group to London after having a feeling that Pen and Michael had escaped there, but because of how impulsive and reckless Azael is I think it would have been much more realistic if he had destroyed every town near their last sighting in an attempt to flush them out. With the ending of the novel falling when Pen's supporters had just landed in London, ready to attack Azael's troop, the start of the third novel should be explosive and enthralling, and I really can't wait for it.
I do recommend this series, because it's definitely getting better as it goes along, but if you're a fan of the first book you need to be warned that the second novel is a lot more graphic. As well as featuring Kala, who swears in almost every sentence she delivers, the torture that is inflicted upon Michael early on in the novel, as well as the torture that Azael inflicts towards the end, is highly descriptive - if you're a squeamish person, I would definitely suggest staying away from this one. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Used - Oxford O2 Academy, 17/02/15

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that I saw and reviewed opening band Decade back in October, when they played my hometown of Swindon. Back then, I said that I'd never seen Decade looking so confident and sounding so assured in their music, and while that might have changed slightly over the last couple of months they still put on an amazing show. Vocalist Alex Sears seemed kind of uncomfortable up on stage - it might have been the atmosphere of the crowd, who seemed pretty unresponsive - but musically they still sounded as good as they ever have. Whereas, in the past, I've stated that their sets can blur together a bit, with all of their songs sounding a little bit same-y, a setlist rejig has fixed that issue, and their half an hour set rose and fell in a way that got the crowd moving enough to show their appreciation. Some aspects of the songs were changed, such as the group shout of the song title "I don't care" at the end of the track, but it's hard to distinguish whether that was from a sense of complacency or from a marked effort to shake things up a little bit.  Finishing off with a new song, without announcing it, was a bit of a surprise, but it sounds to me as though Decade are going in a heavier direction with their music, and whatever happens on their second album, it's not going to be a repeat of 'Good Luck'. Today, I've found out that I'm going to be attending Takedown Festival in the first week of March, and I'm definitely going to be dropping in on Decade's set to see if they slip in any more new material, because it's something I'm highly anticipating.   

I Don't Care
British Weather
Fake Teeth
Fools Gold
New song

However, second band Landscapes just did not do it for me. When bands are shouting and hardcore, I like to still be able to understand the lyrics, but that just didn't happen here. In a set that mostly blurred all in together, I could only distinguish a lyric here or there, so I got bored rather quickly. The fourth song in their set stood out, which was remarkable when all of the other songs seemed to be so tightly interlinked, but other than that I found myself bored multiple times throughout. Musically, the band seemed rather talented, but they just were not my cup of tea, and I was too excited for The Used to really give them too much of a chance.

I've been listening to The Used for a good seven years, and this is the first time I've ever managed to catch one of their live shows. I was filled with nerves, because I had my hopes set so utterly high, but I had nothing to be worried about. As soon as the opening riff to recent single 'Cry' echoed throughout the venue, I knew we were bound to be in for an amazing performance, and I was not wrong. Vocalist Bert McCracken burst out on the stage with an energy that was effervescent, spilling out of him and straight into the crowd who instantly exploded into action. Despite the fact that 'Cry' is rather a recent release, the crowd was singing along passionately, and that was just a taste of the things to come throughout the evening.
One of the most commendable things about The Used is that they sure as hell know how to craft a setlist. I looked it up before the concert and I was impressed by the fact that they managed to contain songs from nearly all of their six album discography, which is a pretty big feat when you've been a band for as long as The Used have. Diving from a recent release back into old fan favourite 'Take It Away' connected with the small section of the crowd who weren't involved in the moving and singing along, and from there on out the crowd was connected for the entire night. Running through all of their greatest hits: 'The Bird and The Worm', 'The Taste of Ink', 'All That I've Got' and 'Pretty Handsome Awkward', to name but a few, the reaction just kept getting better and better. 'The Taste of Ink' had the best crowd reaction to a song that I've ever experienced in a live show, the line "it's four o'clock in the fucking morning" being screamed entirely by the crowd, putting a massive smile on the faces of every member of the band. While guitarist Quinn Allman is on a hiatus for the entirety of 2014, Justin Shekoski of Saosin is filling in for him, but it wasn't obvious at all; Justin is such a talented musician that he managed to slot himself into the band effortlessly, and I'm glad that it was such a successful collaboration.
If you have been a fan of The Used for a while, or have heard about them in recent years, you will probably know that with their latest album 'Imaginary Enemy' they took a bit of a political twist. This was expressed consistently throughout the show, with Bert making many mini speeches in between their songs, but it was artfully done in the way that it did not sound preachy. Often, when band members decide to start talking about the government and society, it can come across as an attempt at brainwashing, trying to turn the crowd into living, breathing vessels to contain their message. However, this was not true at this show. Bert was so utterly impassioned by what he was saying, stating "I still believe that music, and people like us, can change this fucked up world". Instead of attacking the system, trying to turn disenfranchised teens even further against their rulers, Bert stated "that's a good point, the system is fucked. But the only way to change a fucked up system is to learn everything you can about it". With so many 'preachers' nowadays stating that the way to make a difference is to have completely and utter disinterest and non-action (I'm looking at you, Russell Brand) it's refreshing to hear a voice that is urging us to learn and not just sit back and wait for things to change. Instead of pressuring, Bert inspired, and instead of just coming away from the show feeling satisfied with their live performance and their musicality, I came away from the show feeling more thoughtful and that can never be a negative aspect.
If you haven't seen The Used live yet, please go and do it. I'm already regretting how many years I've waited, and as soon as they come back to the UK I will travel any distance to go and see them again. Despite the fact that it was their first ever show in Oxford, Bert announced that they were going to attempt to come back soon, and their reaction combined with the fact that it hadn't completely sold out makes me think that the next time they step in that room it will be filled to the brim with people waiting for them. You really do get everything from a show with The Used: amazing music, hilarious banter (including an Anne Robinson mask, thrown onto the stage from the crowd, proclaiming her to be "as big as Obama in our culture), mind-opening speeches, a Nirvana cover, a Rage Against The Machine cover and a drum solo from Bert... Wait, what?! Yeah, this show was that jam-packed. If you've skipped out on going to their UK tour, shame on you - you've missed a damn amazing show.

Take It Away
The Bird and The Worm
I Caught Fire
The Taste of Ink
All That I've Got
Buried Myself Alive
Best Of Me
Blood On My Hands
Pretty Handsome Awkward
Bert drum solo
Box Full Of Sharp Objects (including Smells Like Teen Spirit intro and Killing In The Name outro, with Landscapes singer on stage)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

'Entice' (Ignite #1.5) by Erica Crouch

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Patchwork Press, for allowing me to review this book from NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

'I think I'll be walking the line between Heaven and Hell forever--swaying towards the darkness but always reaching to the light.'

Despite the fact that I only finished the first book in the Ignite series this morning, I couldn't resist diving straight into 'Entice', the novella that sits between the first and second novels. The novella is set in the past, right back during the battle between Heaven and Hell that resulted in Michael's death, and I love any books that give more back story for characters so I adored this.
Straight away we're thrown into the action, with Pen counting the amount of angels she's slaughtered during the battle. She can't find Azael anywhere and, as anyone who has read the first book already knows, she then spots him climbing up a mountain towards Lucifer and Michael who are viciously battling with each other. Pen freaks out, screaming for Azael to get down from the mountain, and when Michael looks over his shoulder to see who is causing such a ruckus, Lucifer strikes him through the heart.
However, as well as getting a much more detailed description of the action that surrounded Michael's death, this novel then goes on to develop another event from Pen and Azael's past that was referenced in the first novel: the Garden of Eden. In the first book we discover that Pen and Az were involved in the scheme to corrupt Adam, the first member of mankind, but they failed due to being subtle. This novella expands upon that knowledge a lot further, letting us ride along with Pen and Azael as they go to the Garden of Eden and do everything in their power to corrupt Adam before the team that they are battling against. 
Despite the fact that we already know how both stories end, they were both extremely interesting and written in a very captivating manner. I enjoyed Erica Crouch's writing in the first novel, but at times it seemed to drag, so a shorter book managed to contain everything that I liked about her writing style while wringing out some of the things that I thought were a bit unnecessary. 
Another great thing about this novel was the use of foreshadowing. We know that at the end of the first novel Azael is commanded to go and kill Pen, so by getting Gus's point of view in the epilogue and learning that "They fell together; they will die together", well that just makes me even more eager to delve into the second volume of this series. The fact that Azael's fate seems completely set in stone is brilliant; it will be very tricky to find a way around their battle so that there can be happily ever after for all involved, and I'm a bit of a masochist in the way that I love deaths that seem completely unavoidable. The more you care for the characters, the more you want the story to be able to change, so I think the next book could evoke a lot more emotion in me than the first book. 
If you read the first novel and you're not sure whether it's worth reading the novella, I would say that it 100% is. This had a much faster pace and rhythm throughout the story and I absolutely flew through it, making me wish that it was longer. Gus's character gets a bit of back story too, which I loved because I thought he was really underused in the first novel, and we get a lot more dialogue and knowledge about Lucifer, which can never be a bad thing. 

'Ignite' (Ignite #1) by Erica Crouch

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First off, I need to say a massive thank you to Patchwork Press, for accepting my request to review this book from NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

I haven't read a book about fallen angels, or any of this type of mythology, since I read the Fallen Angel duology by Heather Terrell, way back three years ago. I've been wanting to explore the genre further for a while, I just didn't have a good segue into it, but when I spotted the Ignite series on NetGalley I knew that I had to request them. 
'Ignite' follows Penemuel, our main protagonist, and her twin brother Azael, as they travel around America doing demon-y things. When we join them, Penemuel (or Pen, as she prefers) is massacring the patients and staff of an asylum, and Azael is waiting to reap their souls for Hell. While Azael is reaping, Pen waits in a tree outside for him, keeping a watchful eye out for any angels that might come and attempt to interrupt their work. Everything is going swimmingly, until a golden boy with golden hair lands in the tree above her: the archangel, Michael. Except for the fact that Michael died, hundreds of centuries ago, because of Pen, so it's impossible that he can be back... Isn't it?
I'm not sure if it's just because I haven't read a book of this genre in a couple of years, but I found it really hard to get into the first half of the novel. I enjoyed Pen's narration (the constant referencing of old literary texts was something that I really enjoyed, and I'm definitely going to look into reading 'Paradise Lost') and I enjoyed the back and forth exchanges between her and Azael, but something just didn't click for me. The scene where Pen attempts to reanimate a soul to access the memories, but the memories have all been wiped, was definitely intriguing but it seemed a little rushed, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. The premise was definitely unique though, and that's something that's difficult to do in a genre like this.
However, after Pen was placed on the mission to guard Michael, and her and Azael split up for him to go and track Lilith, the story became much more interesting for me. Instead of just being demons up to no good, the relationship between Pen and Michael was really captivating, and I appreciated the fact that it wasn't insta-love; it definitely took some time for them to realise that they had feelings for each other. I thought it was pretty obvious that Pen had had a crush on Michael's first incarnation, but I'm glad there were no love at first sight droning speeches. The mirroring between their relationship and that of Romeo and Juliet was quite obvious, especially considering that the play was referenced at multiple stages throughout the novel, but that makes the events of the second novel even more intriguing; will they get their happily ever after, or will these star-crossed lovers experience the same fate as the original pair?
Other than the relationship of Pen and Michael, there were more positives throughout the novel. One of the main themes is the difference between good and evil, and the fact that there are many shades to every person. Angels are white, and demons are black, but Pen and Michael can both admit the fact that they have shades of grey in them. I believe in yin and yang, in that all good needs some bad and all bad needs some good, but the fact that most of the characters in this novel have quite extreme beliefs is very well discussed. 

'I couldn't fight for Heaven when their definition of good was so narrow that it excluded any instance of weakness. When it punished doubt. Being righteous does not always mean being right. It simply means trying to do what you think is right.' 

In that respect, it's rather a philosophical novel. Just because we've seen Pen ripping out throats, does that mean she's entirely evil? Or does the love that she feels for Michael give her the essence of goodness back? 
I also really enjoyed Azael's darkness, in contrast to Pen's conflicting emotions. I can't remember a novel that I've read that has been narrated by a demon before, so in some ways it was kind of disappointing that we didn't experience the viewpoint of a demon so convinced by what Hell stood for. However, that changed when we reached the epilogue, narrated by Azael. The exchange between him and Lucifer was brilliantly written, exuding a darkness that we never experienced in Pen's viewpoint, and the characterisation of Lucifer was exactly what I'd been hoping for throughout. It would have been good to get more of Azael's story, including what went on when he was trailing Lilith around the country, but the bit that we did get was written very well and I definitely appreciated it. However, during Azael's viewpoint we discover that the demons have already taken over Heaven, meaning that we missed the dramatic conflict that had been built up to throughout the entire novel, which was kind of disappointing. The set-up for the second novel has definitely been established though: Pen and Michael on the run, Azael on a quest from Lucifer to kill them both, all angels stuck in purgatory... It should be a bit of a rollercoaster ride. 
I will admit, it all does sound a bit like an episode of 'Supernatural' to me, but I don't mind that so much because I do really enjoy the TV show. I'm also lucky that I read this novel when I did, because I can now move on to the second book straight away (after reading the novella, 'Entice') whereas if I'd read the first book when it was released a couple of years ago I would have been beyond frustrated by the cliffhanger. 
There are some negatives to this novel: the beginning is slow, there are some speeches by Pen scattered throughout that make you want to roll your eyes (an example being towards the end of the novel when she declares she'll never stop trying to find Michael, then contacts Hell after the first setback...) and there's a constant switching between the spelling of 'pendant' and 'pendent', but other than those little issues I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I was going to. I'd definitely recommend it if you are a 'Supernatural' fan, or a fan of angel/demon novels in general, because it was a lot of fun to read and it managed to put a unique spin on the genre. Fingers crossed that the second book will be just as good, if not better. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

All Time Low and You Me At Six - O2 Arena London, 14/02/15

With steely determination glinting in my eye and a spring in my step, I left my hotel early. I was convinced that this was going to be the first time that I would go to an All Time Low show and not miss the opening act. 
Getting to the O2 Arena ten minutes before Walk The Moon hit the stage, I quickly jumped in the queue for merch, planning on purchasing it and getting to my seat before they began. Then, bad things happened - the queue inched along, slowly at first but getting rapidly faster... And I finished buying my merch ten minutes after Walk The Moon left the stage. One day, I will see All Time Low's opening act. Today was not that day. 
All Time Low were the penultimate band every night of this tour (which I don't think exactly equates to a co-headline tour, but that's a discussion for another time) and they were also the band I was most excited about seeing live again, so when they started I knew I was in for a good time. Kicking off with 'A Love Like War' was a surprise, because it seemed like a song that would fit better towards the end of a set, but by taking a risk and putting it in so early on it immediately grabbed the crowd. If you've been to an All Time Low show before, you'll know that the atmosphere is always palpable, with big singalongs and high energy consistent factors throughout. Playing the O2 Arena was an ordinary All Time Low show magnified tenfold, and the response from the crowd demonstrated just how successful this band have become. 
With a co-headline tour, you never know what percentage of a crowd is going to participate for the band that they weren't attending solely to support, but with over half of the standing area jumping and moving for All Time Low's entire set, they definitely weren't neglected for being on early. Older favourites 'Lost In Stereo' and 'Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)' were obviously going to be brilliantly received, but the reception for newer songs was frankly jaw-dropping. 'The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver' had fans screaming their lungs out, as did 'Somewhere In Neverland' and 'Backseat Serenade.' Even brand new single 'Something's Gotta Give', which has only been out for around about a month, had a reception that was utterly impressive, with most of the crowd singing along to every word. The most emotional moment of the night was still 'Therapy', made more touching by the entire front half of the crowd holding up handmade paper hearts, and it's a credit to All Time Low that what is probably the most memorable song of the set is also the one that slows it down, putting less emphasis on the stage presence. 
Of course, this is All Time Low, so as well as music their set was filled with childlike banter reminiscent of Blink-182. Guitarist Jack Barakat announced quite early on in the night that "I think I've had sexual interactions with 30% of the crowd," the mood was quickly set as the crowd laughed along, and it was further cemented as he wrapped a bra around his head, jumping around the stage wearing it for the entirety of a song. Of course, with it being Valentine's Day, the sleazy jokes were out in force, with Jack asking "Are there any couples that will let me watch them make out with each other? Please. I need this", and with a crowd that was willing to play along it managed to come off as funny rather than awkward. Later on in the set, while getting fans on stage to join in singing 'Time Bomb', Jack announced that "If you're not wearing underwear you're automatically allowed to come on stage. That's why I'm here!" and it's great to say that that was definitely not the only reason. If you take the banter out of an All Time Low set, you definitely detract from the fun of the situation, but they can hold their only musically too. I just prefer to see four friends having fun than four guys being serious and not interacting with a crowd. 
With a headline show at Wembley Arena next month - which everyone was reminded of, when Alex Gaskarth mistakenly shouted out "Hello Wembley!" instead of O2 - and their sixth album 'Future Hearts' coming the month after that, it will be very interesting to see where All Time Low go from here. Their last couple of albums have been rather hit and miss, comprised equally of pop-punk magic and boring filler tunes, but I'm hoping that will change with 'Future Hearts'. I really want to see All Time Low back on top, because they have been working their asses off for this, and it would be a shame to see them lose it. I'm seeing All Time Low live again twice this year, and I've already pre-cordered 'Future Hearts', so if you want to know how they fare over the next couple of months you should definitely keep an eye out on my blog!

A Love Like War
Lost In Stereo
Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)
Forget About It
The Irony Of Choking On A Lifesaver
Somewhere In Neverland
Backseat Serenade
Time Bomb
Something's Gotta Give
The Reckless and the Brave
Dear Maria, Count Me In

Closing the show were You Me At Six, homecoming heroes hailing from Surrey, playing their second headlining tour in support of their fourth album, 'Cavalier Youth'. In this touring cycle I had seen the band three times already (including two sets at Reading festival, which I reviewed back in August), so I knew what to expect from their newer songs, meaning that I wasn't anticipating their set that much at all. Starting off with 'Room To Breathe', the fun in the room automatically lowered, because the one word I would use to describe You Me At Six is serious. Whereas All Time Low run around stage and make dick jokes, You Me At Six stay as still as possible and try to perform flawlessly. 
I was grateful for the fact that the 'Cavalier Youth' songs were widespread throughout the set, because I really detest the new album. After 'Room To Breathe', there were only another four songs from the album scattered throughout, so it was great that, for once, You Me At Six seemed to be getting the hang of comprising a varied setlist from multiple albums (well, still declining to include any songs from 'Take Off Your Colours', which will always be a sore spot). Playing 'Contagious Chemistry' was the biggest surprise compared to their usual setlists and, if anything, it just proved exactly why You Me At Six should try to angle their album more towards their pop-punk roots than towards the indie-rock that they've been attempting to emulate. However, my disappointment resurfaced during 'No One Does It Better', which the band constantly decide to shorten. Any band that play the single version of a song live, rather than the album version, will always aggravate me. If you write a version of a song to go on an album, you should always put your eggs in that basket, rather than the basket of the shorter - and less emotionally affecting - version.
However, other than declaring the fact that they were going to be writing their new album soon, nothing that exciting or noteworthy happened during the set. Yes, the pyrotechnics looked amazing, with a variety of fireworks and waterfalls that were extremely impressive. Yes, the band were on point, sounding exactly like they do on their recordings, proving that they are a good live band. But to be a truly amazing live band, you need to have a stage presence that completely absorbs every member of the crowd for every second that they're watching you, and that's something that You Me At Six are sadly lacking. Since the first time I saw them, way back in 2010, they've come a long way: number one album, headlining Wembley Arena and now headlining the O2 Arena, but they really do need to think back to what made them stand out from the crowd in the first place, because at this rate they're going to become forgettable. This was the seventh time I've seen the band, but it took the number one spot for the least impressive show of theirs that I've witnessed. Jokingly, vocalist Josh Franceschi referred to You Me At Six as "mediocre rock-and-roll" and he definitely hit the nail on the head with that statement. 

Room To Breathe
Stay With Me 
Contagious Chemistry
The Consequence
No One Does It Better  
Carpe Diem
The Dilemma 
Forgive and Forget
Bite My Tongue
Fresh Start Fever
Lived A Lie

Friday, 13 February 2015

'Volition' by Lily Paradis - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

I have been excited for the release of 'Volition' since I was involved in the cover reveal all the way back in December, so when it released at the start of this week I knew I needed to get it read as soon as I possibly could. I just didn't know it was going to have such an earth-shattering effect on me. 
'Volition' is a story of two halves: the 'Then' and the 'Now'. Tate McKenna is a woman on the run, escaping from her tortured past in Charleston with a one way ticket to New York, a fresh start with no men in her life. This quickly goes out of the window when a handsome stranger starts talking to her on the plane, but Tate's flight risk attitude isn't going to go away that easily, and she flees, leaving nothing but a postcard behind to help him find her.
I really don't want to go into the story of this book too much, or really review it that closely, because there's nothing I can say apart from the fact that I am sat here in a dazed, tear-stained mess, and it's been the most brilliant reading experience I've undertaken in the last year or two. Lily Paradis has a way of cultivating her words to portray everything I've ever wanted to express, but just haven't had the means to do so. As Tate debates between whether you can ever have two soul mates, whether your soul mate and the love-of-your-life can be two different things, and whether you can ever truly let go of the past and move on and be happy, I was hooked with every sentence. 
If you've ever been in love, you will relate to this book.
If you've ever had your heart broken, you will relate to this book. 
If you've ever had the soul-crushing realisation that the person who makes you feel more at home than you've ever felt in your life is not 'the one', you will relate to this book.
I generally try to keep my emotions out of my reviews, to make them less biased and more informative, but I'm throwing everything out of the window with this book.
In all honesty, I stopped believing in soul mates, because I grew apart from mine. Sometimes life just happens that way - it's not fair, but it's the way it happens, the way it's meant to be. But because of that situation I started kidding myself into believing that soul mates couldn't exist and it was all a lot of bull. At the start of this novel, I was rolling my eyes at the implication of soul mates, because the eternal cynic in me was being completely rubbed up the wrong way. Recently I've just wanted to dismiss all young love, because it won't last so it's pointless to watch it develop. But after going through Tate's story of love, loss and learning to live again, I've felt myself come to terms with a lot of the things that have happened in my life over the last year. 
This book was utterly cathartic. If you're grieving for a relationship that you've lost, a friend that you've lost, a 'what if' that you'll never close the door on - this is the book for you. I haven't cried while reading a book since 'Looking For Alaska' by John Green, and that was such a revolutionary experience for me that I didn't think it would ever be matched again. However, I think Lily's book has completely surpassed the depth that it moved me. 
I don't want to give too much away about this book, because it really is a lot better to watch the story unwind, but just trust me when I say bare with it. The beginning of the book was a little bit sticky, because of the jumping between the past and present, but it doesn't take long to get into the rhythm of the book and connect the dotted timeline of the flashbacks we're presented with. If you find yourself getting confused, just trust me when I say that everything is unwound and linked up by the end of the novel, and you will not regret it if you just stick with it and power through. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

'Stung' (Struck #2) by Joss Stirling

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First off, I need to say a massive thank you to Oxford University Press Children's Books for approving my request to review this title from NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

When I get advanced copies of books, I like to read them by their release date, but sadly I've only just finished 'Stung' a week after it came out. Sometimes, life gets in the way, and sometimes you don't realise a book is a sequel until it's too late. If you haven't checked out my review of 'Struck' (also known as 'Storm and Stone') I'd say you should go and read that one first! But anyway, because this review is being posted a week after the release date, I'm just going to put all of my spoiler thoughts straight into this one review, so fasten your seatbelts, we're in for a bit of a ride.
If you've read Joss Stirling's 'Finding Sky' series, you'll know that each of her books focused on a different main character, even though the previous protagonists were included in the action too. The same thing happens in the Struck series, with 'Stung' focusing upon Nathan Hunter, a member of the YDA who was included as a minor character in the first book, and Kate Pearl, an ex-YDA member who is on the run - but from who? Kieran and Raven, both protagonists from the original novel, are both included in this book, but as more secondary characters. If you're looking to read 'Stung' because you loved the original characters, you will not be disappointed - their story does get expanded upon, even though they aren't the focal point of the novel.
This book introduces a lot of the back story of the YDA: why Isaac decided to create the organisation, some of the previous missions that had been undertaken, and why they were so adamant about the rule of 'no relationships while on a mission' in the first book. I love a good back story, so the fact that this entire novel was based on the return of Kate, where she'd been for the last twelve months and how her mission in Jakarta went so disastrously wrong... I was hooked from the first page. Whereas 'Struck' seemed to take a long time to get into the story and lulled regularly throughout, the fact that this entire novel was set in the YDA organisation meant that there was a lot more action and a lot less private school drama. However, we still managed to get a lot of personality from the characters: Nathan and Kate going on the run together was a great technique to find out more about her judgments of the YDA, while having Kate write a letter describing all of her escapades in Jakarta meant that we managed to get a bulk of back story delivered in a way that was convincing rather than contrived. 
The only problem I had with this novel was the fact that I worked out who the leak in the YDA was within the first couple of chapters. When a character isn't referenced in the first novel, but suddenly starts popping up regularly in the second book, you know that there's something amiss with that person. In the first novel, there were no mentions of Isaac's secretary, Mrs Macdonald, so when she was slotted into the cast without any fanfare it seemed obvious to me that she would be closely interlinked with the plot, and it was disappointing when my suspicions were confirmed. 
Really though, even with working out who the bad guy was within the first couple of chapters, I still enjoyed this book. Because they didn't start throwing the blame at other people and seemed to acknowledge the fact that they had no idea who could be a traitor, it didn't annoy me so much - one thing that always gets on my nerves is when the reader knows who the bad guy is and has to watch someone else be punished for it, but that didn't happen in 'Stung' which I appreciated. There were some parallels between the first book and the second book: the inner monologues when Nathan and Kate were falling for each other but not admitting it, a comment about saying "no offence" and then going on to offend someone, and the fact that Isaac jumped in to help save the day at the end of the book - but those parallels were few and far between. I had been worried that 'Stung' was going to mirror the first novel almost exactly, so it was very interesting to have such a contrasting plot. 
If there's a third book in this series I will definitely be ordering it, because it's definitely improving as the time goes on. b 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

'Crash & Burn' by Lisa Gardner - SPOILER REVIEW

*This review will contain spoilers!*

If you didn't read my spoiler free review of 'Crash & Burn' go and check that out, and if you haven't read this book yet I would seriously recommend turning away now, because this is a book that you don't want to get spoilers on before you've read it for yourself. 
If you're still interested in getting my spoilery thoughts on this novel, scroll down now... 

1) Nicky and Thomas's relationship: 
This is one of the most bizarrely twisting and turning book that I have ever read. My immediate instinct told me that Nicky was being abused by her husband, Thomas, but when he had bruised my brain switched the the idea that maybe she was abusing him. Their relationship was so tumultuous throughout the entire novel, and I was very impressed with Lisa Gardner's writing ability, in that it really did make you consider all of the options. I worked out about halfway through that Thomas probably had something to do with Madame Sade's brothel, but I was convinced that he was going to have been working with his mother, rather than going against her wishes. I was pleasantly surprised when we found out that he helped Nicky escape from her evil clutches, and when they ended up happy together I was beyond happy, because it seemed like justice that the two characters who had suffered most throughout the novel got some semblance of a perfect ending. 

2) Wyatt and Tessa's relationship:
Even though the focus of the story was so obviously upon Nicky, with her tortured past and her unravelling present, the inclusion of Detective Wyatt, and his relationship with Tessa, was one of the other interesting points in the novel. The relationship between them mirrored the relationship between Nicky and Thomas, with Tessa's withheld secret mirroring that of Thomas's, and I thought it was interesting to see the juxtaposition of a normal couple with secrets versus a couple with secrets and a mentally impaired participant. The fact that they too got their happy ending also made me happy.

3) Nicky as Vero/Chelsea:
I wasn't surprised at all by the news that Nicky was Vero, so I was actually extremely disappointed by this reveal. It seemed like the most natural assumption, and for the time that she was Vero, it just seemed like the book was chugging along to the inevitable end. The reunion and confrontation between Maureen and Nicky was heart-wrenching, but the big twist that actually, Nicky was not Vero, was one of the biggest twists of the whole novel. Never before have I been so completely blindsided by something like that, so I was shell shocked. The turnaround to Nicky being Chelsea didn't shock me as much, because it made sense that if she wasn't Vero she was someone extremely close to her, but the original twist made me supremely paranoid of everything that I assumed I knew throughout the rest of the book. 

4) Vero's death:
The constant development of how exactly Vero died was extremely interesting, and made the final reveal that much more surprising. When we get Nicky's story of how Chelsea died, it's natural to assume that Vero died in the exact same way when we get the twist. However, finding towards the end of the novel that, actually, Vero had to jump out of the burning building and fall to her death, made it that much more terrible. For all of these girls that had been taken from their homes and placed into the cruel environment of the brothel, dying from a drug overdose might seem to be the likely fate, but Vero's ending was much more distressing. 

5) Vero's mother selling her:
With how upset Maureen seemed by the entire situation, I thought she was one of the biggest losers of the entire book, so when it turned out that she'd actually sold her own daughter it was another massive shock to me. During the conclusion, when she admitted to Nicky that she didn't know that it was a brothel, and she didn't know the situation that she was forcing her daughter into, I felt a little bit sorry for her. The desperation of an abused woman, seeing her daughter nearly get beaten to death, is a desperation that I hope that I never have the pain of feeling, so I can't imagine what I would do in that situation. However, if you've managed to keep it covered up for thirty years, you shouldn't allow yourself to get rattled and go and try to shoot two people you hardly know; that shows a cold calculation that hints towards a deeper evil inside.

'The Kind Worth Killing' by Peter Swanson - SPOILER REVIEW

If you haven't already read 'The Kind Worth Killing', I'd suggest you do that before reading this review. If you haven't heard of 'The Kind Worth Killing', go and check out my spoiler free review of it that was posted a couple of weeks ago!

"I don't think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing."

Because of the thriller nature of 'The Kind Worth Killing' I didn't want to spoiler any of the big twists, but now it's been out for a week I thought I'd post a blog wrapping up all of my thoughts on the novel and the events that unfolded, so if you're ready to be spoiled - and beware, they are big ones - start scrolling now...

1) The death of Ted.
OH. MY. GOD. I was not expecting this massive twist at the end of part one. Because of the flawless nature of Ted and Lily's plan of how to kill Miranda, I just assumed that it was all going to go off without a hitch and the rest of the novel would be centered upon the two of them learning to fully trust each other and attempting to get away with their crime. I thought that the arrival of Brad at Ted's door would cause Ted to kill Brad in a panic, so the fact that the roles were reversed was extremely unexpected.

2) Faith = Miranda.
I wasn't so surprised by this twist, because it had crossed my mind. The fact that Lily recounted her murder of her cheating boyfriend, Eric Washburn, and didn't tell us about how she got revenge on the girl he double-crossed her with, automatically put me on high alert, so I did consider that possibly she was offering to help Ted to get her revenge on a girl from her past. When it was revealed I was slightly surprised, because I thought I was way off, but it was good to have my suspicions confirmed.

3) Brad killing Miranda.
Again, wasn't too surprised. It did cross my mind a couple of times in the lead up to her death that possibly Brad could be deceiving her, or possibly he could be planning to kill Lily, but I thought that Lily would end up avenging Ted eventually, so I wasn't too worried about her. It was still a big slap in the face for Miranda, when the guy that she'd been manipulating for months decided to whack her with a huge wrench, so that made me extremely happy.

4) Lily killing Brad.
:( . I knew it was going to happen, deep deep down, because Lily was going to kill him and frame him for Miranda's death when she was planning with Ted, but because he'd been smart enough to choose to kill Miranda instead of being overcome by her charm offensive I kind of wanted him to survive it.

5) Lily attempting to kill Detective Kimball.
I thought Lily would be smarter than this! I know she obviously didn't want the detective following her, because it showed that he must have been suspicious about her involvement in the Seversons murders, but I hoped she'd recycle Miranda's tactics and charm him into falling in love with her, so that she could have then killed him in a more subtle way. After how well Lily had managed to plan ahead, faultlessly executing the other murders, I thought she'd be smarter than to attempt to take down a police officer in plain sight, especially when she must have known that he'd had a partner who he had probably been reporting to. This just seemed like something that had been included to wrap the story up and make sure that justice was served, instead of seeming like a step by step manifesto on how to get away with murder.

6) Lily getting caught in the end.
It actually really annoyed me that Lily got caught in the end, because I really liked her character and empathised with her reasons for all of the murders, which probably makes me a serial killer sympathiser, but her character was just so well written! Peter Swanson was very clever in leaving the novel in such a place - with the news that the field that she hid the bodies in was being dug up - because it makes it seem very obvious that she will be convicted for all three of the murders (possibly Eric's murder as well) but it would have been interesting to see how the trial played out, because Lily might have been able to talk her way out of the situation.

'Struck' aka 'Storm and Stone' (Struck #1) by Joss Stirling

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

After I received a review copy of 'Stung', the second book in the 'Struck' series, I decided to read the first book before the second one. I've been told that they are more companion novels than continuing novels, but I think it's always good to have an idea of the story before you start in on a sequel.
'Struck' (known as 'Storm and Stone' in paperback book, and 'Struck' in eBook format) is a crime/mystery YA novel, set at the private school of Westron. Raven Stone is a scholarship student at the school, having started there after going to live with her grandfather, the caretaker, following the death of her parents. At the start of the new school term, Raven notices a lot of the pupils are acting oddly; accusing her of stealing things and attacking her in the sports changing rooms. As well as being cast out by all of her peers, her best friend, Gina, hasn't returned to school, so she's worried about that as well. Meanwhile, Kieran Storm and Joe Masters are new pupils to the school, a young Sherlock blessed with the power of perception and a charismatic smooth talker respectively. The boys are at the school on a mission, investigating a link between the pupils parents and some widespread government corruption around the globe. Kieran and Joe are both members of the YDA (the Young Detectives Agency), a secret organisation that trains teenagers to become investigators of crime, but how can Kieran juggle his work with his developing feelings for Raven?
The first half of the novel is depressingly slow. I understand that the set-up needed to be well explained and explored, but it just seemed like it was dragging more than it was moving. Raven and Kieran obviously both have feelings for each other, and the first half focuses on their 'will they/won't they' relationship. Normally I don't mind a bit of a conflict of whether the main characters will end up together, but when a book has both of their last names in the title, a relationship just seems like a given.
Furthermore, Kieran and Joe's investigation is very slowly developed during the start of the novel. We find out that they are investigating a manor that is near the Westron site, where pupils can stay if they don't want to go home during half terms. The manor is advertised as a sort of spa vacation, with lots of leisure activities, but it's only the kids that are returning from the manor that are acting strange and are changing. The idea of brainwashing was quite obvious to me, and once the boys have decided on their course of action being to go to the manor themselves, it takes a while to get from deciding to go to actually getting there. In some ways I appreciated the fact that there was a jump, because it would have been unlikely that they would have decided to go on the manor course just as another one was starting, but on the other hand if you know where a book is going it's good to get there as soon as possible, rather than dragging it out.
However, the last half of the novel is attention grabbing and nail biting in the best kind of way. Once the boys have gone off to the manor, we can see quite quickly that Joe is being taken in by the brainwashing course, but Kieran is completely immune to their attempts. Getting to see inside the manor, including the torture chamber where they keep Kieran in an attempt to break his resolve, is written so well that it actually sent shivers up my spine. The action sequences towards the end of the novel, where Raven and Isaac, leader of the YDA, break into the manor to rescue the boys, were a bit rushed but were also pretty solid. The second half definitely saved the book, but it was just disappointing that it took so long to get into a rhythm and to hook me. Recently I've been reading a book in two days, but this one took me a bit longer because I had to keep taking breaks because it just wasn't interesting me anywhere near enough.
I'd recommend this book for you if you're not looking for a quick read, and you're looking to get more immersed in the story before you get any action. I have quite a low attention span, so this wasn't the best book for me, but if you enjoy your character development you'll definitely rate this highly. Similarly, if you're a fan of Sherlock (the character in any format) you'll definitely enjoy Kieran, because his first scene with Raven, when he pieces together her entire personality just off of the clothes she's wearing,  carries an essence of the character without being overly copied.
The second book in the series is a lot shorter, so I'm hoping that I'll enjoy it more, but I'm a bit apprehensive after the slow burner that was this novel.