Thursday, 30 April 2015

Birthday Book Haul!

I've had an amazingly lucky month this month, winning three books on Goodreads First Reads (only two of which have arrived so far, so I'll haul the third one next month!) and three books through a Facebook competition, so I've only actually bought myself a handful of books this month, which is a surprise.

Goodreads First Reads:

The two ARCs I won through Goodreads First Reads are 'The Sudden Departure of the Frasers' by Louise Candlish, and 'Solitude Creek' by Jeffery Deaver. Both book are publishing on the 7th of May, so you'll be able to get your hands on these beauties very soon! 
'The Sudden Departure of the Frasers' tells the story of a family who have just moved into their new house and find their neighbours to all be completely hostile. One of the new homeowners discovers that the previous family disappeared without a trace last summer, so she takes it upon herself to find out why...
I don't really know much about 'Solitude Creek', and I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read any Jeffery Deaver books so far, but I love thrillers and I already own a few of his books, so this is a great excuse to finally get around to those. 

Competition wins: 

I entered a competition hosted by Just Write on Facebook and luckily I won! The three books are 'Get Started In Self-Publishing', 'Masterclass: Write A Bestseller' and 'Complete Writing For Children Course'. I've been reading a lot of books about writing recently, and have started off on a few story ideas, so I'm sure that if I get stuck I can pick these up and they can give me some inspiration.

Books I bought: 

I hauled the Percy Jackson books (well, apart from the last one) a couple of months ago, and while I still haven't gotten around to reading them I couldn't resist picking up this Heroes of Olympus box set when I saw it for sale in my local The Works. Four books for thirteen pound was an absolute bargain, and I wasn't surprised when it completely sold out within a week, so I'm very happy with these ones.

I like short stories, and I like P. C. Cast, so when I saw that Waterstones were selling the American edition of 'Eternal: More Love Stories With Bite' for just £3 brand new, I had to pick it up. It's a collection of paranormal romance stories, written by some of my favourite authors, so I'm sure I'll devour this one when I eventually get around to it. 

I haven't read any Christine Feehan novels yet, because of how many books comprise each of the series she has written, but when I spotted the first novel in the Carpathian series in a charity shop for £1, I had to pick it up. I know they're books about vampires, so I'm not too sure if I'm going to fall in love with this series, but I might as well give the first book a try before running in headfirst and buying all of the twenty plus books in this set. 

In Swindon, there is a brilliant charity shop which gives away the first three books you want to purchase free, and I found some books in there that I was really excited about so I had to grab them. After winning 'Solitude Creek' on Goodreads at the start of the month, I couldn't stop myself from getting 'Twisted' by Jeffery Deaver. 'You Can't Hide' by Karen Rose is another thriller, and I've already read and fallen in love with a lot of Karen's novels, so I was excited about buying another one.
The third book I got was the beautiful hardback cover of 'Tempest' by Julie Cross. I already own the paperback version, but I just thought this edition was so pretty and it looks amazing on my bookshelf. 

This month was World Book Night 2015, and I was a book giver, choosing to give away 'The Martian' by Andy Weir. I managed to give away all of my copies but one, so I just had to keep it for myself so that it didn't go to waste! 

The library I work in often sells on books once they've stopped being issued, so I couldn't resist grabbing a few of those as well. 'The Equality Illusion' and 'Go Ask Alice' are both non-fiction books; 'The Equality Illusion' focusing on the need for feminism when there's still such a large gap between the sexes, and 'Go Ask Alice' focusing on a young girls struggle with drug edition. I've been reading a lot of feminist texts recently, so I'm always interested on books focusing on that issue, and I was recommended 'Go Ask Alice' a few years ago after reading 'Crank' by Ellen Hopkins, so I'm sure that'll be one I'll fly through as well.
I bought 'The Avenger' by P. C. Cast, as it's one of the only P. C. Cast novels that I hadn't actually heard of, but because I enjoy her writing style so much hopefully I'll enjoy this one. I also got 'Dead Ever After', the final book in the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, meaning I've finally acquired the complete collection and I'll start marathoning through those soon enough.

Birthday presents: 

Of course, being a book blogger means that on my birthday I received some brilliant novels from my family, and these are all ones I cannot wait to read. 

First off, I received 'I'll Give You The Sun' and 'The Sky Is Everywhere' by Jandy Nelson. Most book bloggers have been going on about these books since last year, but because the UK suck we only had them printed rather recently! I'm really excited about these though - they both sound like amazing contemporaries that are going to rip my heart out and stomp all over it. 
I wasn't too sold on the covers compared to the American editions, but do you know what makes these editions awesome? 

Coloured pages!!!

As well as the two Jandy Nelson novels, I also got given the 'Anna and the French Kiss' companion trilogy by Stephanie Perkins! I read 'Anna...' back in November and I really enjoyed Stephanie's writing style - I thought it was a really cute contemporary, even if I didn't fall head over heels in love with it - so I couldn't wait to continue on with the series, but the library didn't have them in! Thankfully I've now got them, and in such beautiful, beautiful cover editions, and I can't wait to fly through 'Lola and the Boy Next Door' and 'Isla and the Happily Ever After' and see what happens!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

'The Girl At Midnight' by Melissa Grey - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Atom publishing, for accepting my request to review this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

"You're very curious for a little girl," the Ala said. "And it's midnight. You aren't supposed to be here."

As soon as I saw that 'The Girl At Midnight' was being compared to both The Mortal Instruments and 'The Daughter Of Smoke and Bone' series, I was completely sold. I absolutely loved The Mortal Instruments, and I've been looking to find a great novel that was similar to that, because I've read quite a few that have been remarkably average.
Thankfully, 'The Girl At Midnight' is a stunning debut that I flew through. We follow Echo, a young girl who has developed a close friendship with the Ala, a member of the Avicen. The Avicen are a bird like people - very similar to humans, apart from being completely covered in feathers - and while Echo is a human, she had run away from home at the tender age of seven, so it wasn't difficult for them to take her under their wings (excusing my pun). Echo is a thief, and when she decides to steal a music box as the Ala's birthday present a map is discovered folded up in a hidden panel, and Echo's life changes in ways that she could never have imagined.
The Avicen have been in a cold war with the Drakharin - a species covered in iridescent scales, who used to have the ability to transform into dragons, until their magic was depleted - since before anyone can remember, and with tensions still running high between them it seems as though a resurgence of the war will be imminently approaching. However, the map hints towards the location of the Firebird; a mythical creature said to be able to end the war in the best way for whichever side captures it. With the Avicen and the Drakharin both desperate to get their hands on it, it's down to Echo, as the only human in their midst, to travel to Tokyo and attempt to solve the biggest mystery that either of the species have ever seen...
Sometimes I can find it quite hard to get into fantasy novels, and it takes a special kind of writer to really drag me in, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found this one so hard to put down. Yes, it's an urban fantasy, so that was part of the appeal to me in the first place, but Melissa Grey just has such an amazing way of describing the things that she's writing about that you can't help but feel involved. The idea of the Avicen having different coloured feathers depending on their bird species was unique and intriguing - Jasper, the flamboyantly gay character, being a peacock was probably my favourite of the Avicen, but all of them had such individual personalities, even if they were only included for a matter of pages.
I worked out the eventual climax of the book really early on, but I didn't really believe it was going to happen, so I still managed to enjoy the journey to find the Firebird. I really do enjoy a good old fashioned quest novel, so with an object in mind and adventurous characters striving to find it was the perfect story for me. Because the characters can travel through something called the in-between, there are lots of different countries used as settings throughout this book, meaning that it never gets boring and it stays very fresh throughout, leaving you on your toes guessing where they might travel to next.
Also, I loved all of the main characters - there wasn't a single one of the viewpoints that we followed that I disliked, and I very often hate certain perspectives, so that was also a great testament to Melissa's writing. As well as this, the viewpoint shifts didn't seem contrived - sometimes there are too many perspectives and it doesn't seem necessary, but Melissa very cleverly made the viewpoints overlap instead of sitting next to each other, so often we'd be experiencing the same event through someone else, which was something I hadn't seen written a lot. There were also lots of hilarious scenes in this book - the dialogue felt so natural, so all of the characters bounced off of one another, and there were multiple sections that actually had me laughing out loud because of the sarcasm and the wit emanating from each of them.
The only thing that really annoys me about this book is that the second installment to the series isn't out until next July, and I don't think I can wait that long! I absolutely adore all of these characters so much that I just can't wait to see what happens to them, and it's the first time in a while that I've felt extremely emotionally involved in couples in a novel, so I just want to see everything work out for them. I definitely agree with people who have been recommending this novel for fans of The Mortal Instruments, but I'd also say that there are aspects of 'The Host' by Stephenie Meyer coming into play, so it'll be interesting to see how that develops in the second novel too. If you're looking for a new YA urban fantasy series, you should probably pick this one up now - you will not be disappointed. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Decade - The Vic Swindon, 27/04/15

A mere six months have passed since the last time Decade played Swindon, so I was ecstatic when they announced that they were coming back, and though last night was an eclectic mix (to say the least) it also ended up being one of the most fun shows I'd been to in a very long while.

The opening act, Heartwork, was definitely my highlight out of the three support bands. Playing acoustic music straight from the heart, Dan O'Dell poured everything he had into his half an hour set, and I was impressed by every moment. I'm a real sucker for emo acoustic music (Front Porch Step, Rob Lynch, This Wild Life) but it's not something we've ever had much experience of here in the UK, so it was brilliant to encounter such a fabulous lyricist performing on my home turf. 'I Went To Parts' is one of the most revealingly honest songs I've heard in a very long time, and I think this is going to be a song that I'm listening to for a long time to come. 
None of the songs were disappointing and every single one brought something different to the show - even though Dan was fighting with sound problems for a good chunk of his stage time. And as well as being a brilliant performer, Dan is a hilarious guy, and some of the comments he was coming out with between songs were the funniest things I'd heard in a very long time ("If you're here with a loved one... It's not gonna last!") making him seem like a blend of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties with comedic American singer Bo Burnham. If you have a couple of quid, I'd sincerely recommend you download one of the Heartwork EPs - I'm sure you won't be disappointed. 

Second up were All Ears Avow, a local band who've gained a pretty big hometown following since the release of their EP, 'Home'. I'd seen them before, a couple of years ago, but I couldn't really remember what they were like, so I was absolutely blown away by their set. Recently all female-fronted bands seem to make pop-punk or pop-rock music, so it was refreshing to hear an alternative rock band with frontwoman Claire Sutton's vocals making them seem more similar to Halestorm than to We Are The In Crowd - it definitely gives them something different to push them ahead in this game.
Starting off with 'Better Now', a track reminiscent of a heavier version of Don Broco's 'You Wanna Know', they grabbed the crowd's attention immediately and did not let go of it for the entirety of their set. New song 'I Can Help You To Bend' was probably the catchiest song of the evening (not only because it employed my favourite instrument, the percussive egg, but because the hook was just so well written), followed closely by 'Waiting Games' and 'Tongue Tied', showing that their new songs are definitely their best songs. 
This band are definitely one who know who they are and where they want to go; the songs from their upcoming debut album 'Get In The Game' definitely demonstrated that their music is developing in a natural way that's likely to expand their fanbase dramatically following its release. I've already pre-ordered my copy, so I'd suggest you do so as well, because this band are definitely going to be one to watch - even more so if newest single 'Waiting Games' is an idea of things to come from the rest of the album. 

Better Now
Wings On Butterflies
Waiting Games
I Can Help You To Bend
Tongue Tied

The heaviest band of the bill tonight were, by far, Big Nothing, a new band from Liverpool (well... new in this incarnation, they used to be known as Scouts). Seeming like a mixture between Bullet For My Valentine and Nirvana (so much like Nirvana, in fact, that they were verging on a tribute band), it all got a bit too heavy for me, and I didn't really enjoy their set. Musically, they were rather good, but most of their songs just seemed to blend in to each other, meaning that for the entire half an hour it just felt as though I was surrounded by discordant noise. Their banter was also lacking, with some of their jokes falling completely flat on the crowd, which was a shame - I hope they settle down and become more comfortable throughout the rest of the tour with Decade, because they just seemed much too nervous to make a real impact on anyone.

Decade's stage time was a bit later than anticipated, following a couple of microphone lead changes and some sound issues, meaning that they interacted with the crowd a lot more at the beginning of their set than they'd ever had a need to before, and I think it definitely made them more comfortable. Sometimes, especially when playing bigger venues, Decade seem as though they've gone a bit deer in the headlights and are incapable of talking to people, meaning that they music is brilliant but the atmosphere is a bit lacking, but that was not a problem tonight. With guitarist and backing vocalist Connor Fathers taking to the mic, he had the crowd laughing almost instantly, and you could tell that no one was too irritated with the delay taking place, because it just made the show that much more individual. Talking of the crowd, I was impressed with the turn out that this show saw - for a Monday night the venue was absolutely buzzing, and everyone got so involved with the show which was highly commendable.
When the music eventually did get started, it was a brilliantly constructed set featuring all of Decade's best songs, and two new ones. Playing the entirety of the 'Good Luck' album, as well as two older songs and the two new releases, it struck me how flawless their performance was (even with some technical issues making Alex's vocal seem a bit too quiet a points) and I was not disappointed to be seeing them again so soon after Takedown Festival. If you haven't seen Decade live yet, you're definitely missing something great, and I highly recommend you change that now. 
'Daisy May' was definitely my favourite song that they performed - the first of the two new ones - which sounded like a perfect blend between Kids In Glass Houses and Lower Than Atlantis. With so many great UK pop-rock bands calling it a day in the last year (Save Your Breath, Canterbury and Me Vs Hero to name but a few) there's definitely a big gap to be filled, and I'm certain that Decade are going to step up and fill it. 'Brand New Again' also sounded great, and the two new songs stood out from the set in such a way that it displayed how much Decade have grown since their first album release - they're a more mature band now, they know more about what they're doing and they're not afraid to take some risks and shake things up a bit.
The rest of the set was a standard Decade show, and while that is not a negative thing it also didn't surpass either of the new songs. I can't wait for album two to be released, because it's going to kick down some doors and really open up some new possibilities for Decade, and they definitely deserve it. A self-confessed support band who rarely play headline shows, it's time for them to start selling out some rooms of their own, and that day can't come soon enough. 

Good Luck
Fool's Gold
Daisy May
Brand New Again
I Don't Care
Never Enough
Fake Teeth
British Weather

Monday, 27 April 2015

'Playlist For The Dead' by Michelle Falkoff

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Playlist For The Dead' is a YA contemporary novel focusing on how our protagonist, Sam, deals with the aftermath of his best friend Hayden's suicide. Sam finds Hayden's body, and with him is a USB drive and a note: "For Sam - Listen and you'll understand." Quite understandably, Sam is hit hard by the death of his only friend, withdrawing further and further away from society, until he meets a girl called Astrid, who changes his world for the better. 
I decided to read 'Playlist For The Dead' because it had been a while since I'd read a novel dealing with suicide, and the premise of this one sounded rather interesting. It definitely wasn't unique - I've heard of the idea of a playlist being used in multiple YA novels - but it seemed like something I'd enjoy. However, now I've finished it, I feel disappointed with how utterly bland it was. Predictable? Yes. Average? Yes! Boring? ...I hate to say this, but that would be a yes. 
Last year, I read a novel called 'The Beginning of Everything' by Robyn Schneider, in which the main character damages his leg, gets utterly depressed and gets dragged out of that depression by a girl, who he eventually breaks up with. Sadly, this was the exact same novel, except from instead of an injury causing the loss of a potential career, it was the loss of a friend. I didn't enjoy 'The Beginning of Everything', and I think perhaps that could have been some of the reason I didn't enjoy 'Playlist For The Dead' because there are too many parallels: most notably the premise and the fact that they're both debut novels (funny, too, that the covers are both blue). I couldn't get this connection out of my head throughout my reading, so that might have detracted from my enjoyment. 
I will admit that some of the goings on were rather intriguing: two of the guys who bullied Hayden for years are both targeted by a mysterious attacker, taking revenge for Hayden and for all of the disenfranchised teens who they've bullied and belittled over the years. But I managed to guess who the attacker was as soon as the first incident was reported, so I didn't get to enjoy any of the build up or the red herrings, and I thought that the dramatic reveal and Sam's (over)reaction were completely unnecessary, because I'm sure most other readers got it straight away too. 
But the main thing that irritated me was the idea of Archmage_Ged. Sam starts to hallucinate messages from someone using Hayden's screen name, so he believes that Hayden is contacting him from the other side, even though he states at multiple points that he knows this is impossible and he doesn't really believe it. The scenes make up the bulk of the novel, taking away from any of the good writing that Michelle Falkoff had done throughout - it just seems a bit of a gimmick, a grab to try and make people more interested, but it just made the book seem more childish and unable to deal with the topic seriously. I understand that sometimes people can hallucinate things like this - especially when overtired and grieving - but deciding to manifest it into a ginger wizard just made the attempt laughable. 
I'm sure this book is going to get up a big fan base, this just was not the book for me. I loved the playlist (especially the inclusions of Blink-182 and The Neighbourhood), and I'm sure I'm going to make it on Spotify and listen to it in the background while doing other things, but that's the only thing I'm really taking from this book. If you enjoy novels about suicide that deal with it in a respectful and tender way, you'll enjoy this one, but if you're looking for something that stands out in the field of other YA suicide novels, I'd suggest you continue on with your search. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

'What She Left' by T. R. Richmond - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first I need to say a massive thank you to Michael Douglas publishing, for accepting my request to review this book on NetGalley, and NetGalley for the service that they provide.

When I saw 'What She Left' described as "the years most haunting and unforgettable debut" and saw it likened to 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn, a novel I've been highly anticipating reading, I knew I couldn't resist getting my hands on a copy and reading it. I definitely didn't get what I expected.
'What She Left' starts with the breaking news of the death of Alice Salmon, a young girl whose body was found floating in a river in Southampton. It seems like a clear cut case - she had 210mg of alcohol in her bloodstream after all - but not everything is what it seems. An anthropologist from the university that Alice attended, Professor Jeremy Cooke, decides to take it upon himself to investigate Alice's life and the events leading up to the moment that she died, needing to find out for himself what had happened to this bright, promising spark.
The thing that really made this book stand out from the crowd was the form that it was written in - or rather, the forms. Taking place in a variety of different mediums, including Twitter messages, blog posts, emails, letters, diary entries, interviews and articles, it's a startling but highly effective mixture of many different methods of keeping records. Professor Cooke references throughout the fact that social media gives young people an omniscient presence in every aspect of life, and it's very cleverly conveyed when the death of Alice permeates so many different areas. This novel definitely felt more like a case file and a collation of information, rather than a story, which I thought would be something that would appeal to me more, but one of the appeals with case files and non-fiction works is the fact that you can then go and do other research and look into other aspects of the case, but with this being a completely fictional one it left me with a feeling of yearning.
I will be honest and say that some bits of the novel did completely throw me. A lot of the early entries are referred back to repeatedly towards the middle and end of the novel, meaning that throughout the first half of the book you receive a lot of loose ends that you don't really know what to do with. Eventually, everything will get wrapped up and pulled together nicely, but it takes a lot of perseverance through the beginning of the novel to really start getting any of the answers you'll be wanting to find out. 
I'm not going to go too much into the plot twists or the characters in this novel, because I really do think this is one that it's better to discover on your own - I saw a lot of the little reveals coming, but some of them might shock other readers, it could just be that I was being overly perceptive or increasingly paranoid throughout, leaving me questioning and re-questioning every bit of information we encountered. Similarly, a lot of the characters will have changed a lot from your first perceptions by the end of the novel, so I won't go too deeply into that either - this is definitely a case of the less said the better.
However, even though I did really enjoy the mystery, thriller aspect, I still felt confused and emotionally detached from the novel at multiple points throughout due to the writing style and the constant shifting of the form, so I can't really rate this one too highly. I have a feeling if I read this book again in a few months, with prior knowledge of what happened when, I'll pick up on a lot more things and feel a lot more for the characters, but at this moment in time that's not happening. I definitely felt a kind of kinship with Alice - her troubled teenage diary entries will ring true with most every reader - and Professor Cooke had a very distinct voice with his academia littered vocabulary, but other than those two the rest of the characters seemed disposable. I was focusing a heck of a lot of my reading energy on keeping the timelines and the information reveals straight in my head, so as I said this might change on second reading, but at the time I feel no connection at all to this story, which is a shame. 
If you enjoy mystery novels, this one is definitely that! But if a constant change of voice and style will throw you off, you might want to go and try a different book.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

COVER REVEAL! 'This One's For You' by Brandy Jellum

Another day, another blog post: this time a cover reveal for a novel that I am VERY excited about! If you wanna see that cover, scroll on down...

I don't think it's just me that loves this cover, is it? It looks like a summery, cute contemporary, and I'm sure I'm absolutely gonna love this one when it comes out.

All alone in a new state, Brennan Daniels has only the memories of her best friend, Reagan, to keep her company as she starts college. Reagan is the reason for everything Brennan does--before she died, she made Brennan promise to stay good until she found a man worth keeping. No boys, no dating, and definitely no falling in love--those were the rules for college, and Brennan carved them into the brick walls guarding her heart...
But there's a fire burning behind those walls, and when Brennan meets Owen Scott, the (mysterious) new guy across the hall, she can't deny the pull between them. He is everything she should never want. Everyone warns her to stay away--even Owen himself--but the heart wants what the heart wants, even if it knows that it's going to get hurt--even if it means throwing old promises to new flames...
If that synopsis doesn't instantly grab you, I don't know what's wrong with you! I think it sounds like a great novel, and I can't wait for release day on May the 12th to finally read this one.
If you like this book cover as much as I do you should go and tell Brandy on Twitter @brandy_jellum - I'm sure she'll appreciate the love!

Monday, 20 April 2015

'Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You' by Todd Hasak-Lowy - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Simon and Schuster UK Children's publishing, for accepting my request to view this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

'Maybe everything would be better without all these horrible, endless lists.'

'Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You' is Darren's story: he's a fifteen year old boy with a pretty average life, his parents are divorced, his big brother Nate's off at uni and he can't really get any girls to notice him. However, this all changes after his father reveals that he's gay. Darren finds it pretty hard to deal with this information, so decides to skip out on visiting Nate with his dad and get the bus to his university by himself... But this plan changes when mystery girl Zoey Lovell decides to jump on the bus with him and go along for the ride. Sounds like any other ordinary contemporary, right? Pretty much. But this book is told entirely in lists.
In all honesty, the main selling point of this novel was also the main downfall. I thought the idea of a story told completely in lists was a unique and attractive concept, but it just didn't really translate well onto the page. This could have been because I was reading an ARC format, rather than the physical copy, in which I'm sure the spacing and organising of the lists would have been highly more effective, but I don't think that was it. At some points the lists read more like a stream of consciousness, with Darren jumping from one topic to the next with little to no obvious link between them, maybe it a real struggle to keep track of the story. I finally felt as though I was getting into a flow with the novel, just for it to then skip ahead five months, so I never relaxed while reading this book - there were too many unexpected elements messing up the flow for me. 
Nothing really seemed to happen with the plot - this could have been because it was told in lists, so all of the developments that could have been interesting and attention-grabbing were over-analysed and overdone. Personally, I think the plot was meant to be the character development: Darren, learning to deal with his father's sexuality, while dealing with his own burgeoning relationship at the same time. But the whole aim of having a plot based in character development is to have a character that your readers will care about so much that they have to keep reading because they need to know what happens to them in the end. 
Unfortunately, this is not one of those books. I don't feel a thing for any of the main characters. Darren is a stereotypical fat kid, mentioning and complaining about his weight while eating constantly, but there's nothing to contrast with that to make his character stand out. Yes, he can play the bass amazingly, but we can't hear him perform so we can't really appreciate it, especially when he references how easy the bass is multiple times. I just didn't really like him for many reasons. There was the fact that he has a near love triangle going on at one point was something that made me feel uncomfortable, because it just wasn't necessary to the plot line at all, it was just another way to cause controversy and to get people talking about the book. Oh, and the fact that he seems super freaked out by his father coming out at the start of the novel, to the point where he starts talking in an offensive way and then completely brushes it off, ('There's nothing wrong with being gay, but there is at the same time even though Darren's pretty sure he doesn't think there's anything wrong with it himself' implied to me that, at least subconsciously, Darren definitely does have a problem with it, or why would he be openly discussing the fact that there was something wrong with it?) which definitely aggravated me. 
As well as Darren really annoying me, his brother did exactly the same thing. Nate is a lazy, good for nothing douchebag. He's derogatory about women, about the disabled and about homosexuals, he treats his parents like shit on the bottom of his shoe, yet he never gets reprimanded for his behaviour. Even though Darren is only fifteen, Nate uses peer pressure to force him to get high, and constantly forces beers on him. Don't get me wrong, I was drinking at fifteen and I'm not completely against sex or substance abuse in YA novels, but when the character isn't even sixteen yet it seems a little bit inappropriate. I was convinced that Darren was eighteen or nineteen, due to his behaviour and the encouragement he received from his brother, and it kind of disgusted me to find out that he was being promiscuous, smoking and drinking at such a young age. I know that readers have their own minds and won't necessarily be influenced by the things that they read, but this book just feels like it's aimed at younger people than should be reading about this (meaning that I thought all of their reactions were quite childish, and I definitely think this should be read by a slightly younger age bracket, because otherwise it will just grate on your nerves). 
The only character with any promise or substance is Zoey Lovell, the girl who decides to accompany Darren on the trip to see his brother, but she wasn't in the novel for very long - and when she is included, the scenes revolving around her and offering her back story are extremely vague and unemotional - so even she wasn't that brilliant. 
This book is a quick read, because the lists do go really fast, even if Darren does ramble on and on for pages at a time about some of the topics. It's an interesting format, but I really do think for it to work the lists need to be more snappy, concise and on topic, because it really did feel as though over half of this novel was completely unnecessary and was a waste of time. Apparently it's being recommended to fans of John Green, which I can kind of understand because Zoey is rather similar Alaska and Margot (from 'Looking For Alaska' and 'Paper Towns' respectively), but I think it's more appropriate for people who enjoyed Stephen Chbosky's 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower', except instead of Charlie writing letters and babbling his emotions, we have Darren writing lists and babbling his emotions. If you're looking for a great coming-of-age contemporary novel, there are lots to choose from, and I definitely recommend you search around for a bit before deciding that this is the one for you. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

'Taking The Stand' (The Crossfire Trilogy #3) by Juliann Rich

First things first I need to say a huge thank you to Bold Strokes Books for allowing me to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

*This review will contain spoilers!*

Full disclosure, I did not realise that 'Taking The Stand' was the third and final book in a trilogy until I started reading it. Normally, if I have a book for review that is a late installment in a series, I'll purchase the previous installments and marathon the series ready for my review, but that wasn't financially feasible at this time of the month, so I just decided to go ahead and read 'Taking The Stand' without any prior knowledge and see how I got on.
Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed this book! If you are already a reader of this series you'll know the general premise, but for anyone who is as new to the series as I was, this will catch you up. Our protagonist, Jonathan Cooper, is a newly out teenager living in a Christian family, attending East Bay Christian High School, meaning that he's pretty much surrounded by adversity on all sides. This constant battle has been made even worse following events at the high school dance (featured in the second novel, 'Searching For Grace') after Jonathan's boyfriend, Ian, attacked one of the members of the football team, injuring Jonathan in the process. This installment follows the trial, as it seems exceedingly more likely that Ian will be spending an inconceivable amount of time behind bars and Jonathan decides to take matters into his own hands and attempt to find witnesses to come to his defense.
You could definitely feel that this was a conclusion to something, wrapping up all of the loose ends, because not much really happened - there were no exciting events, nothing shocking or gripping or mind-blowing. However, that didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Juliann Rich has a real talent at writing fully-rounded characters, so I found myself getting swept up in the daily lives of Jonathan and his two best friends, Mason and Sketch, even though I didn't have any previous affections for them. At multiple times the dialogue between them made me laugh out loud, and they really seemed to come alive on the page, giving their own personalities to the words that they were speaking. 
I was also very impressed with how Juliann dealt with such a sensitive topic area. LGBTQ books need to be dealt with well as it is, but combined with the conflicting aspect of the religion it was obviously going to take a lot to successfully pull off this plot. I'm not sure how it was dealt with in the first two novels, but in this novel it was definitely handled brilliantly. As Jonathan struggles with his beliefs in contrast with his sexuality, he has multiple role models around him throughout, and he sums it up perfectly when he says "He doesn't care who I love. He only cares that I love Him and accept His love for me". If I could give that piece of knowledge to every religious person who struggles with who they are in relation to their beliefs, I believe that the world would be a much happier place. 
All of the loose ends are tied up very well at the end of the novel, leaving this book feeling like a happy ending to what I'm sure has been an emotionally wracking series of trials and tribulations. Sometimes it's nice when the characters all get happy endings, and this was one of those times - it seemed right that everything worked out well in the end for Jonathan and the rest of his friends. I was rooting for him from the start of the novel, because he was in such a difficult position, but he dealt with all of the hurdles he encountered in a very mature way, which made me have a lot of respect for him as a character.
I wish I could have read the other two books before I read this one, because I did really enjoy this third book, it's just unfortunate that it sounded so much like a standalone from the description. However, now I've enjoyed this one I'm probably going to get hold of the other two in the next few months - it'll be interesting to read it in a different order, and will definitely be something I haven't done before, but it'll be worth a shot! I do highly recommend this book if you're interested in reading about LGBTQ characters being normal people - because that's exactly what Jonathan is, a normal person; there is nothing extraordinary about him, and he's not a stereotypical gay character which makes him that much more endearing, because he's so much more realistic and lifelike. I am straight, so I can't know for sure if Jonathan's struggles are written as well as I thought they were, but it seems like the kind of things that would be issues in your every day life, and it definitely gave me an even greater respect for the struggles that people face every day of their lives, just trying to be themselves. If you haven't read LGBTQ characters before, this is also a great starting point - it's not too over the top with the romance aspect, and is much more focused on creating a wider awareness and a commentary in society for something that is often overlooked. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

'Moonlands' by Steven Savile

First off, I need to say thank you to BadPress Publishing for accepting my request to view this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Moonlands' is an urban fantasy book set between Earth and the Kingdoms of the Moon, a magical world where there are seven moons in the sky and thirteen islands lying beneath them. The Kingdoms of the Moon are being ruled by Elbegast, the King Under The Moon, but his daughter, and rightful heir to the throne, Ashkellion, is living in the mortal realm, so he sends a pack of highly trained assassins - the Wolfen - to eliminate his threat to the throne as quickly as possible.
We start the book following the Wolfen Alpha, Blackwater Blaze, as him and his pack flood the streets of London searching for their King's daughter. After most of the pack get destroyed by Targyn Fae, one of the heir's Wardens, Blackwater Blaze continues on his quest on his own, determined not to fail this mission. 
Meanwhile, Ashkellion - or Ashley Hawthorne, as she's known at school - is living a normal life, completely oblivious to the fact that magical blood flows through her veins. After the death of her Aunt Elspeth, she inherits some strange items from the crazy old lady, and soon finds her whole life spinning out of control. 
This is one of those books where the synopsis sounds amazing, and the idea is brilliant, but the writing just cannot pull it off. I was convinced that 'Moonlands' was a debut novel, because the writing style is clunky and ineffective, so I was mightly surprised when I looked on Steven Savile's Goodreads author profile and he has many, many works already published. 
One of the things that really irritated me about the writing style was the constant use of repetition. I lost count of the amount of times Ashley worried about having an over-active imagination, or the amount of times the words 'oleaginous', 'ululating' and 'orrery' were used throughout (so much so that it really felt as though the author was clinging on to the words that he had discovered, rather than using them once to have an effective description - once something has been described as 'oleaginous' multiple times it really does dampen the image it produces). This was quite a long book (or it felt like it, despite the fact that it was under 300 pages) but it could have been drastically cut down if there wasn't as much repetition of facts that I was sure that any reader could recall.
Similarly, at multiple points throughout, the motives of the characters were overly explained - there was an exchange between Blackwater Blaze and Ashley when he asked her if she was ready, and then there were two or three sentences which described what he was asking if she was ready to do, just for her to say she was ready and have multiple sentences describing what she was replying to. One of the magical things about writing is that the characters can say one thing and mean another thing, and it's all down to the reader to interpret away to their hearts content - being so obviously signposted and shoved in the right direction just takes away the joy and discovery from the reading. 
Another of the issues was that multiple bits of the story just didn't make logical sense. At the start of the novel, Ashley relates the fact that she hasn't been living in her new home for very long, however we then discover that she's already made a best friend at school - one that basically lives at her house. I don't know if Steven had a different school experience than any of the rest of us, but in my recollection the new kid had to be around for a couple of months before they really settled with any one group, so it didn't make much sense at all that Ashley and Mel had already had their complete bonding experience. This was further confused towards the end of the book, when Ashley was ruminating upon her life experiences so far - she mentions the first school disco she attended, when the boy she liked ignored her, and how she cried afterwards wondering how Mel could have it so easy... If you've only been at your new school for one term, it's unlikely that you'll have already attended a school disco, and if she's remembering one from earlier on in her life, how was Mel there? Along these same lines, Ashley also mentions the fact that she really misses her old best friends, telling some little anecdotes about them, and fails to ever mention their names again, which makes little to no sense. 
Another thing that didn't make sense was the fact that as soon as Ashley crossed through the Moongate, she could remember all of the names of objects and places despite the fact that she left the Kingdom of the Moons when she was less than a day old - yet later on, when encountering different species that inhabit the Kingdoms, she couldn't remember any of their names. If your memory is going to come back as soon as you cross through the magical portal, all of your memory should come back, not selective bits to try and shake up the narrative. 
On the subject of the Moongate - we're told that this is the first time that the Moongate has been open since the late 1800's, but then we also find out that the option of forcing open the Moongate has always been there, and they proceed to get opened three times in the space of a few weeks. This also seems to have no semblance of logic behind it - if it naturally opened because of the position of the moon, it would open a lot more regularly than every two hundred years. 
Because of all of these issues, I didn't really enjoy 'Moonlands', which was a massive shame. The characters all seemed to be very well developed - Blackwater Blaze's constant internal struggle with obeying orders and following his beliefs was a personal highlight - and the Wardens were an interesting addition, allowing the author's imagination to shine brightly. One of the most terrifying aspects was the Nightgaunt - a creepy, oleaginous creature that sucks all of the senses out of the people near it, leaving you with a lack of hearing, the inability to feel and with your vision disappearing - but with the repetition of this scene every time the Nightgaunt came near, the emotive aspect definitely deteriorated, leaving him as another mildly intriguing aspect to a mildly interesting book. 
If you like urban fantasy, there are probably other books out there that you can read that are similar to this but written better. But if you're a fan of dense repetition and a slow moving plot, this book will definitely appeal to you, and I'm certain it's going to get some hardcore fans quite easily. The end of the book has a massive cliffhanger, making it a given that there's probably going to be a sequel, but it will take something drastic to make me read it. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Guest Post: Jody Gehrman!

After reading (and falling in love with) 'The Truth About Jack' a couple of days ago, I'm delighted to welcome the author, Jody Gehrman, to my blog!

Jody Gehrman is a native of Northern California, where she can be found writing, teaching, reading or obsessing over her three cats most days. She is also the author of ten novels and numerous award-winning plays. Her Young Adult novels include 'The Truth About Jack', 'Audrey's Guide to Black Magic', 'Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft', 'Babe In Boyland', 'Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty', and 'Triple Shot Bettys in Love'. 'Babe In Boyland' was optioned by the Disney Channel and won the International Reading Association's Teen Choice Award. Her adult novels are 'Bombshell', 'Notes from the Backseat', 'Tart', and 'Summer in the Land of Skin'.
Her plays have been produced in Ashland, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and L.A. She and her partner David Wolf won the New Generation Playwrights Award for their one-act, 'Jake Savage, Jungle P.I.' She is a professor of English and Communication Studies at Mendocino College.

If you're interested in getting in touch with Jody, you can visit her website, or you can find her on Facebook or on Twitter.

Now I'll hand you over to Jody!

My first "novel" was really a very long letter sent to my friend about us riding around on our flying dogs. I was eight. We'd moved to Canada for the year and I missed our imaginary games, so I wrote about them instead. I guess writing for me has always been about delving into imaginary worlds. I still tend to think of each of my novels as a long love letter--to a place, a time in my life, a person, a feeling.
That same year in British Columbia, I had a bizarre thing happen with a message in a bottle, something that plays an important role in The Truth About Jack. I made a really great friend up there named Kristen. She and I decided to write a letter and launch it in a bottle. I remember my dad helping us throw it really far, to be sure it would catch the currents. I can still remember watching the bottle get swallowed by the sea, feeling all hopeful and certain someone would find it.
A few weeks later, we'd all but forgotten about it. Out of the blue we got a massive envelope. Inside were like thirty letters, all written from third graders. A teacher from one of the nearby islands had found the bottle with our letter and had her entire class write to us. 
Looking back, I think that's when I decided to be a writer. I know I started learning to use a typewriter soon after.  
In college I discovered playwriting, and after college I freelanced as a journalist. Both of these experiences confirmed my commitment to writing, in part because they helped with the inherent loneliness that can become an occupational hazard. As a playwright I love working with actors and directors; as a journalist I feel invigorated by interviews. The more social aspects of writing balance out the isolation of writing novels. 


Dakota McCloud has just been accepted into a prestigious art school. Soon she'll leave behind the artists' colony where she grew up--hippie dad, tofu since birth, yurt--and join her boyfriend and best friend on the East Coast. It was the plan...until Dakota finds out her boyfriend and best friend hooked up behind her back. 
Hurt and viciously betrayed, Dakota pours her heart out on a piece of paper, places it in a bottle, and hurls it into the ocean. But it doesn't quite go where she expects...
Jack Sauvage finds the bottle washed up on the shore and responds to Dakota's letter. Except what if his straight-laced life doesn't jive with the free-spirited girl he's only seen from afar? As Jack creates a persona he believes she'll love, they slowly fall for each other with each new letter. Now Jack is trying to find a way to make this delicate, on-paper romance happen in real life...without revealing his deception.
If you're looking forward to getting hold of a copy of 'The Truth About Jack' (and I highly recommend that you do!) you can find it on Amazon US and Amazon UK. This is a perfect book for summer, so with the weather warming up you should definitely read this one!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

'The Truth About Jack' by Jody Gehrman - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first I need to say a massive thank you to Rachel Silberman at Entangled publishing, for reaching out to me and asking if I wanted to read and review this Entangled Teen Crush novel! 

Just looking at the front cover for 'The Truth About Jack', it was obvious to me that it was going to be one of those contemporary novels that I would just fly through, and the fact that I read it in one sitting of just over four hours definitely proved that.
Throughout this novel, we follow the perspectives of both Dakota and Jack: Dakota has just found out that her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend, and Jack has just spotted Dakota and become instantly infatuated, convinced that he needs to get to know her and he needs to get to know her now. Through a series of coincidences, Jack and Dakota end up at the same stretch of beach near their respective hometowns, and after seeing Dakota throw a message in a bottle out to sea Jack retrieves it and decides to contact her, but not as himself. Overhearing a conversation between her and one of her friends, he discovers that she's interested in travelling to Barcelona, and he creates the character of Alejandro Torres, an enigmatic Spanish man travelling in California for the summer. However, when Dakota and Jack start to grow close, he realises how difficult it is to compete with a fictional guy, and how difficult it is to keep secrets from the woman he's starting to love...
I really did love this book, and I'm not quite sure why, because there were aspects of it that rubbed the wrong way with me. At times, the secrets and lies Jack were keeping and telling to Dakota did get on my nerves, but on the other hand he seemed like such an innocent character - due to being homeschooled he had no experience with girls, so in some ways his inability to be himself in front of Dakota was understandable. I found myself empathising with him a lot more than I thought I'd be able to, because it did seem that his reaction to Dakota was more of an instant obsession than an instant crush, so I was a bit spooked by him towards the start of the novel, but I think it's a credit to Jody's writing that she managed to display how desperate he was to meet Dakota without making him seem like a psychopathic stalker.
I think one of the reasons I loved this book was because of Dakota's character; she has such a strong personality and she doesn't take any shit from anyone. When she received the email from River telling her that her and Cody were getting together, she got emotional but she didn't argue back or even reply, demonstrating her strength in a way that I never could - when someone hurts me they will know it instantly, because I'm not great at pulling the cold shoulder. Similarly, when her father was complaining about her desire to go travelling, she put him down smoothly without seeming like a bitch; she's just a character that really seems to know herself and know her own mind, and she doesn't like other people trying to get control of it.
But really I think the main reason I enjoyed this book is because it was just so good. There wasn't anything that irritated me - the similarities between the two main characters weren't slap you in the face obvious, they were understated and cleverly written, and there were no scenes that were pointless or unnecessary; everything in this book was crafted to get you to the end result, not just to fill pages. I also loved the letters that were exchanged between Dakota and 'Alejandro', because they both had such unique voices in their writing and it really fleshed out their characters without being over the top on unrequired back story. In fact, one of my only complaints is that we didn't get enough of the letters - I was hoping for a few more exchanges!
I don't want to say too much because I really want you guys to be able to experience and enjoy this book as much as I did, but just know that this is a great contemporary novel and if you're looking for new releases in the genre this is where you need to be. With the weather warming up and the sun starting to shine, this is definitely a summery book and it'll be perfect to take on holiday with you if you're going somewhere where you need something light to read while you sunbathe. I hadn't heard of Jody Gehrman before, but I was absorbed by her writing style and I flew through this book, so I'm definitely going to look into her other novels soon.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to come back to my blog on Thursday, because I'm going to have a guest post from Jody to celebrate the release of 'The Truth About Jack'. See you then! 

'Supervision' by Alison Stine

First off I need to say a big thank you to HarperVoyager UK for accepting my request to view this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

If I had to choose one word to describe how I feel about 'Supervision', it would definitely be confused.
In 'Supervision' we follow Esmé, a teenage girl who has been kicked out of her private school in New York. Exasperated with her behaviour, her sister sends her off to Wellstone, a small town in the countryside, to live with her grandmother, but when Esmé gets to Wellstone her life goes from bad to worse. Why? Because she's now invisible. Oh, and she's surrounded by ghosts. 
I really liked the premise of this book, so I was hoping I was going to love it, but something vital was lost in translation leaving me with unanswered questions occurring constantly throughout my reading of this book. Written like a bad 'American Horror Story' fan-fiction, ghosts were popping up all over the place, written into and out of the story without much rhyme or reason despite the insistence from the ghosts that if there were more of them around they would know about it... They quite obviously didn't, even if they had been hanging around for over 100 years. 
Too much of this book relies on coincidences, meaning you constantly feel cheated at every twist and turn: children have been going missing regularly for years, but no-one notices until Esmé comes along and points out the pattern, a tin can accidentally gets knocked off of a table, landing on a hollow piece of flooring and causing the discovery of the trapdoor they'd been searching for, a ghost randomly appears and points you in the right direction. All of these things mean that the characters don't need to work for any of their discoveries, they just easily get pushed along to the right conclusions to keep the story moving, but it makes it a very one-dimensional novel. Even the big climax at the end is solved by someone else, with the answer to all of their problems being given to Esmé in a vision by the ghost of her mother, but it coincidentally happens to work out - Esmé isn't a hero, she's just a girl being told what to do by extraneous forces. 
As well as the plot being one-dimensional, all of the characters are too. Well, all apart from one: Clara, the ghost of a thirteen year old girl who died in a fire that she started. Clara's personality verges on bipolar at points, switching from being really nice to Esmé to being the mean girl spreading rumours about her, but this makes her all the more realistic. Thirteen year old girls often aren't the nicest, because they can be immature and childish, so being stuck at that age for a century would cause you to have a few mood swings. But other than Clara, the rest of the characters really don't have all that much going on for them. Mr Black is a drunk, Martha is a maid, Tom is the cute boy next door, Esmé is the main character searching for answers. Oh, and there's the Builder, who - you guessed it - builds. That's all you really need to know about any of the characters, because throughout the entire story they don't really develop or change too much. 
Everything just seems to convenient for this to be a good book. The Firecracker - Esmé's sister - can see Esmé when she places her on the train to Wellstone, but Esmé turns invisible at some point between leaving New York and arriving at her new home. This is explained away later on, apparently as a side effect of the family gift that allows them to interact with ghosts, but Esmé then has the revelation that she knew a ghost at her previous school. Seeing as everything revolves around Esmé hitting her head while exploring in an out of bounds subway tunnel at the beginning of the book, and they seem to assume that that was when her talent came into effect, how could she see the previous ghost? And why didn't she turn invisible straight away? None of these things are answered, meaning that, at least for the hows and whys, this book doesn't really answer any questions. 
As well as this, there are multiple points throughout the book where things start to get explained, but we're told that we will get the explanations later, just for it to never happen. An example of this is Martha, the ghost of the maid, and the question around how she died. We know that she killed herself from a very early point in the novel, and every time she starts to dive into the story she stops herself and pronounces that she will tell Esmé later, but that's something that never comes. I could understand it if it had been touched upon and she'd stated overtly that it was something that she could never go into, but the fact that she promises to relate the story, and then doesn't, definitely means that there's a chunk missing from this book.
The one thing I was actually pleased with was the ending. The majority of the individual character plots gets wrapped up extremely quickly, but it was good that it wasn't dragged out any further because I don't think I would have been able to cope. The fact that Esmé managed to appease Tom's spirit, despite the fact that she had burgeoning feelings for him, was also a relief - too many times in YA novels the spirit decides to hang around to spend time with their living and breathing girlfriend, which always leaves me feeling irritated at the conclusion.
I know I was reading an advanced copy of this book, but in all honesty this feels like a first draft. As well as having a ridiculously high amount of spelling and grammar mistakes throughout (which doesn't effect my rating of the novel directly)  the story just doesn't seem anywhere near as fleshed out or completed as it should be - there are too many unanswered questions left for it to be a satisfying read. Yes, it has a lot of promise - the idea of all of the family experiencing the ghosts in different ways, ranging from seeing colours and shapes to smelling their scents, is a brilliant one, as is the idea that ghosts can only feel pain if they return to the scene of their death. If this had been carried out well it would have been a roaring success, and it would have been one of the most intriguing and unique books I'd read all year. But that's not the way this story goes, and I'm left feeling extremely disappointed, unfulfilled, and beyond all - confused. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Lower Than Atlantis - Oxford O2 Academy, 10/04/15

First things first, I'm gonna admit that the main reason I was attending this show was to see the opening band, PVRIS. This was my sixth time seeing We Are The Ocean, and my fifth time seeing Lower Than Atlantis, but because this was only PVRIS's second show EVER in the UK, I hadn't seen them before. I was beyond excited to see them in a live environment, because I was sure they were going to kill it, and judging by the reaction of the crowd it seemed like there were a lot of other people who were rooting for them too. 
I don't think anyone would have gone away feeling disappointed. Vocalist Lynn Gunnulfsen has a brilliant voice on their recorded songs, but her live vocal is much more raw, showing the emotion that she was putting into the performance and impressing the majority of the crowd. After a huge support slot on the Sleeping With Sirens and Pierce The Veil co-headline tour, and a lauded appearance at Self Help Festival in America, you can tell that PVRIS know what they're doing live, and they did it well. There did seem to be a kind of disconnect - I'm not sure whether it was the acoustics in the venue, but something was off with the sound, meaning that it didn't blow me away as much as I'd been expecting - but overall it was an impressive performance that definitely got the crowd moving.
They definitely picked a great setlist to draw the crowd in; starting off with 'Smoke' really gave them a chance to get people interested, which just grew throughout 'Mirrors' - in which Lynn really made the most out of her vocal range - peaking at 'St Patrick', which has been receiving a lot of mainstream radio play in the UK over the last few weeks. As Mike Duce stated during Lower Than Atlantis's set, we're "expecting very big things from those guys, so they better not fuck it!", and if they keep going the way that they are, that definitely won't be an issue. 
If you haven't had the chance to see PVRIS while they're in the UK on this tour, they're also playing Slam Dunk festival at the end of May, so I'd seriously recommend you get tickets to that - you won't regret it.

White Noise
St Patrick
My House

Main support We Are The Ocean are currently gearing up for the release of their fourth album, 'Ark', so I was pretty excited to hear the new songs in a live environment. After seeing We Are The Ocean four times during the touring cycle for 'Maybe Today, Maybe Tomorrow', I was highly anticipating a new, fresh setlist, and I was pleased when they burst out on to stage with new song 'Do It Together', followed it up with 'Shere Khan' and played 'Good For You' half way through the set, meaning that the new album was highly represented. If you don't know anything about We Are The Ocean's past, just prior to the release of their third album they announced that unclean vocalist, Dan Brown, would be leaving the band, so 'Ark' is going to be the first album that they've written and recorded without him being an influence in the process. I was struck by how obvious this was - instead of pop-rock, the new We Are The Ocean sound is a throwback to classic rock, with a heavier sound that definitely suits them, demonstrating Liam Cromby's vocal prowess brilliantly. You can feel that this is a new era for We Are The Ocean, and I'm looking forward to hearing what they've done with the rest of the album, because Liam definitely seems to be putting his stamp on the band as the frontman now. 
Other than the new songs, they still performed their older songs brilliantly, with 'The Road', 'Young Heart' and 'The Waiting Room' all getting great reactions. Towards the end of 'The Waiting Room', Liam encouraged the crowd to sing "Let go and then I lose control" back to them, and the singalong got going after a few repetitions, with Liam shouting "We're at a rock gig, we don't wanna be nice, we wanna be rowdy!". But for the majority of the set it felt as though the band were fighting a losing battle to make an impact on the crowd, which was a massive shame. 
Perhaps it was the inclusion of so many new songs, songs which people would not be familiar with and might not enjoy too much, but for the bulk of their set it seemed as though everyone was talking and not really connecting with the band. We Are The Ocean are an avid touring band - I can't remember a time when they haven't been lined up for a festival or a support slot somewhere - so they really are the best in their live set, but it seemed that the crowd weren't really feeling this tonight. It could have been that people were there for PVRIS, and were politely staying through the rest of the show, or that they were restlessly waiting for Lower Than Atlantis, but it didn't really seem as though We Are The Ocean were bringing too much to the party. Maybe, if the album had already been out, it would have been a different story, but I sincerely hope that the audience at the rest of the tour dates is more respectful, because the boys deserve much, much more than this. They're playing Reading festival in the summer, and I will be seeing and reviewing their entire set, so I hope that the response they get there is to the standard that it should be. 

Do It Together
Shere Khan
The Road
Good For You
Young Heart
Nothing Good Has Happened Yet
The Waiting Room

After the triumphant release of their self-titled album last year, it wasn't surprising when Lower Than Atlantis managed to sell out this entire tour, and they proved exactly how it happened with the set that they played. The focus was most definitely on the new album, with half of the songs performed being off of the new release, but when an album is that good no one's going to complain about more being played - especially when the band still made sure to include a song each from both 'Far Q' and 'Changing Tune'. 
Starting with 'Criminal', the entire crowd was instantly absorbed proving that, even if they seemed apathetic at times throughout the supports, Lower Than Atlantis are not a band that you can ignore. Some of the older, lesser known songs did not get amazing responses, with 'Far Q' falling quite flat, but with the audience having a visceral reaction for all of the new songs it wasn't an issue. 'English Kids In America' had every person singing along, as did 'Emily' and older, well-loved track '(Motor)way of Life'. One of the most surprising inclusions in the set was 'Sewer Side', one of the bonus tracks included on the deluxe version of 'Lower Than Atlantis'. Most bands don't choose to play bonus tracks in a live environment, because not many people know them, but Lower Than Atlantis are a ballsy band, and the risk definitely paid off. I hadn't heard the song before, but it had a unique sound that meant it really stood out from the rest of the set, and I'm sure it's going to have convinced quite a few people to re-purchase the album with the extra songs.
But the highlight of the night by far was 'Words Don't Come So Easily'. If the rest of the set was great, that song was absolutely flawless, with the band letting the crowd sing alone for the repetition of "open mouth, scream and shout, nothing out", a moment which was both impressive and goose-bump inducing. Following up with a short intermission, during which Mike cut a path through the crowd, got on top of the merch stand and led a rousing rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for their merch man, Joe, just added to the special moments that were happening during this show, one that means it will stick in my mind for a while. As well as multiple chants of "oggy, oggy, oggy, oi, oi, oi", it seemed to be one of the most memorable shows I'd been to in a very long time.
Another risky choice was to play 'Another Sad Song', Mike's slower ballad, as the song before the encore. Generally bands choose their most well-known, upbeat songs to wrap up the main set, but this was yet another risk that played off, with the whole crowd singing along. At Reading festival, I thought that 'Another Sad Song' might have been the most emotional song in their set, but it was also the most well received, and the same could be said from this night.
Closing up with 'Here We Go' was a predictable but brilliant choice, meaning that the set ended on a massive high, and I'm sure no one left feeling disappointed. I'm excited to see where Lower Than Atlantis go over the next year - with a high profile slot at Slam Dunk festival next month, I'm sure that their trajectory is not leveling out just yet, and I see big venues in this bands future, so you should get on board with this journey now, before it's too late.

Love Someone Else
Far Q
Stays The Same
Ain't No Friend
English Kids In America
High At Five
Marilyn's Mansion
Sewer Side
(Motor)way of Life
Words Don't Come So Easily
Deadliest Catch
Another Sad Song
Beech Like The Tree
Here We Go

Thursday, 9 April 2015

'The Darkest Part of the Forest' by Holly Black

*This review will contain spoilers!*

I am beyond disappointed in myself, because this was the first Holly Black book I'd ever read. Ever. Yep, I am a terrible person. I've had the 'Tithe' series for years and years, I've just never gotten around to reading them, but when I heard everyone going crazy about how amazing this book was meant to be, I decided to get it as soon as it came in at the library I work at. 
'The Darkest Part of the Forest' tells us the story of Fairfold, a little town where bad things happen daily, due to the faeries that live nearby. Hazel and Ben, the brother and sister that the story focuses upon, have always known that Fairfold is a dangerous place to live - they spent most of their unsupervised childhood hunting monsters, after all. But the bad things start getting worse when the horned boy, who has been asleep in a coffin in the woods for as long as anybody can remember, suddenly disappears, coffin broken into in the middle of the night...
In all honesty, I'm not exactly sure how I felt about this book. Nothing was bad about it, and nothing got on my nerves, but I just didn't really feel connected to any of the characters. I mean, yes, I liked them - the idea of Ben being cursed with an affinity for music was definitely interesting, and his struggle with his talent compared to the reactions of the people around him was filled with visceral desperation that really made you empathise with him. Meanwhile, Hazel was a massive bad ass for wanting to hunt monsters when they were children, and the fact that she actually managed to take out a few in the process was very awesome! But other than those aspects, the main two characters just felt a little flat for me. Loads happened with Hazel's character in the last hundred or so pages of the book, but for the first half something just seemed to be causing a disconnect. With the gaining of tension and pace in the last part of the book, I just felt as though I was missing things, and I kept having to go over and re-read them again and again, which isn't something that was necessarily wrong with the book, just something that didn't click with me. 
My favourite character was most definitely Jack. The idea of having a faerie living as a human in their day-to-day life was a very interesting one, especially when you combine it with the fact that everyone knew what Jack was and didn't isolate him from their relationships. At the start of the novel, before the faeries started causing extra havoc in the town, Jack definitely seems to be one of the more popular guys at school, which was a big plus for the acceptance rates of the folks of Fairfold. 
Similarly, Ben being an accepted, openly gay (but not overtly in your face) main character was an addition that I loved. Too often, when gay characters are written by straight people, it's as though they're jumping up and down waving to get attention for their sexuality, so that the authors get appreciated for putting in a variety of people. However, Holly Black's writing is nothing like this, making it a real breath of fresh air, and it proves that she can write characters genuinely without needing to use gimmicks to get respect and attention to her novels. 
I also did enjoy the plot - the idea that Severin, the horned boy, had a sister who mourned her husband so extremely that she turned into Sorrow incarnate was a terrifying myth, that's going to send shivers down my spine every time I'm out in woodland areas. Sorrow's effect on people, such as them choking up dirt, was also really uniquely spooky, and I flew through the sections that she was involved in. 
However, I'm not sure why, but I just didn't love this book. It all seemed a bit predictable - both of the couples got happily ever afters, the evil overlord ruler was slain and the monster was appeased and could live happily with them. It was a good, well written book, and I'm definitely going to go on to read more of Holly Black's writing, but it's not something that completely blew my mind and left me begging for more. I'm glad that 'The Darkest Part of the Forest' is a standalone, because - at the moment, at least - Holly has definitely done all she needs to do with this story, and I'm glad it's not being stretched out. 
If you like books about faeries, but with a twist on the typical fairy tale structure, this is definitely the book for you. It's one of the best standalone novels I've read in quite a while, so that's also a plus if you're looking for something that you can start and wrap up rather quickly. 

'Midnight Crossroad' (Midnight Texas #1) by Charlaine Harris - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First off I need to say thank you to Orion Publishing Group for accepting my request to read this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

'Manfred Bernardo realizes he's moved to the right place. In fact, it's just like he belongs here.'

I haven't yet read Charlaine's Harper Connelly series, but I knew that Manfred Bernardo was one of the characters from those books that people really love, so I was excited about reading this book despite the fact that I didn't already know the character. And for the first five percent or so (thinking that I read this on my Kindle) it was rather interesting - Manfred is the new guy in Midnight, an internet psychic who actually has powers, so he's already pretty interesting. We then get introduced to all of the characters really quickly, and it's pretty obvious that they all have their own secret pasts that we will discover throughout. I was looking forward to a good old mystery book, with plenty of red herrings and misinformation given throughout, and I had my hopes pretty high for this one. However, it was pretty awful.
In fact, if I could give an award to the most boring book I've read in the last couple of years, 'Midnight Crossroad' would experience a landslide victory. 
How do you write a review for a book in which nothing much really happens? Well I'm about to find out, because in a book that has over three hundred pages, only three things (yep, one thing every one hundred pages) of consequence actually happened. It sounds like an under-exaggeration, doesn't it? You're thinking 'Wow, there is no way this can be true!'. Well it is. 
If you're thinking of reading this book, I would seriously recommend just skipping the first quarter, because it's utterly pointless. Charlaine has decided to use exposition to the maximum, so for the first big chunk of the novel is just an endless monologue of 'this shop is to the west of this shop, and this shop is slightly to the south-east of this shop, and this shop is...'. I'm attempting to read a book, not completely familiarise myself with the location that it's set in. I'm not going to be drawing a map of Midnight, so I really don't need to know what is east of anything. I do not enjoy skipping sections of novels, because I think if the novel has been published then everything in it must be included for a reason, but I was nearly tearing my hair out by this point. The locations then get reiterated consistently throughout the novel, every time the characters are travelling to another business in Midnight, so much of this book could have just been compressed down into a more concise method of storytelling.
Furthermore, most of the conversations between the characters are yawnfests. Off of the top of my head, there's a conversation between Bobo and Fiji, the owner of the pawn shop and the local witch, when they're walking towards a picnic, which felt as though it went on for hours - we got a little bit of back story on both of their characters, but it wasn't really anything that we needed to know, so it definitely felt as though Charlaine was just filling the book up willy nilly. Similarly, there's a scene where Bobo and Manfred go to dinner at Joe and Chuy, the local gay couples house, and while we get an intimate guided tour of their house, the fact that we never go back to that location makes it completely redundant. 
Don't get me wrong, the main plot line is quite interesting. Bobo's girlfriend, Aubrey, disappeared a few months back, at the start of summer, and her body is found towards the start of the novel (well, just over a quarter of the way in, which is why you should skip the first quarter) and that's when the interesting stuff starts... Well, at least some interesting stuff. Bobo's grandfather was a racist homophobe, and the extremists Men of Liberty (MOL - think of the KKK) are desperate to get in contact with Bobo, because they're certain that he has his grandfather's legendary stash of guns hidden somewhere in Midnight. Tension occurs - fights happening all over the place, and a really well written scene when the MOL crash Aubrey's funeral, infuriating all of her mourners, but other than that nothing really goes on with them, either. This whole book just seems to be a collection of loose ends chucked together, with a bestselling authors name on the cover to make people pick it up. 
But really, the worst thing of all about this book is the fact that Aubrey's murderer isn't even considerable until the reveal at the end of the novel. There are no clues spread throughout, no little niggles of doubt, until the reveal just slaps you right in the face with the information. This means it's a massive anti-climax, because whereas there are a few characters who could have been in the frame, and definitely could have had motive, the reality is that there's a shock factor here. If I had been more emotionally invested in this book, I would have felt disappointed and betrayed by the easy escape clause that Charlaine used, but thankfully I really didn't care enough to muster up a response to it.
In all honesty, all of the interesting aspects of this book are underplayed, understated and under appreciated. Fiji's familiar, the talking cat, never gets explained - we just accept the fact that about halfway through the book, the cat starts talking, with no reason. Lemuel, Bobo's tenant, an energy sucking vampire who can invigorate himself just by holding the arm of a person - also, not really explained. It's touched upon, just about, but there's nothing here that really makes me think 'hm, that explains that, that's an interesting idea!'. 
If you like Charlaine Harris, you'll probably like this book, because I've read a lot of five star, super positive reviews. I've tried to look on the optimistic side, and I've tried to look a little deeper and to find something worth liking, but it's just not there for me. I know that the whole point of the rambling exposition is meant to demonstrate the fact that in a small town, everyone knows everyone else's business, down to what they're eating on which evening, but I really didn't care enough to want all of that information. I have no idea why, but this book is the first one in a trilogy - there is literally no possible way that this series could get worse, so fingers crossed that the next installment will get to the point a little bit quicker.