Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Vaccines - Sound Knowledge, Marlborough, 30/05/15

To celebrate the release of third album 'English Graffiti', The Vaccines have been playing small sets in record stores around the country over this past week. When it was announced that they were playing at Sound Knowledge in Marlborough, a mere twenty minute drive from where I live, there was no way I was missing it. 
Lead singer Justin Hayward-Young was the only one who performed, as it was a small acoustic set and it made for a very intimate atmosphere. Walking out onto the stage, Justin shouted "good evening Marlborough! Not something I ever thought I'd be saying," and judging by the packed state of the venue I don't think anyone else had been expecting this announcement either.
Starting off with newest single 'Handsome', it was brilliant to hear what is already such a popular song in such a different arrangement. Justin assured the crowd that "there's more going on than just me playing his guitar on the record", but with his unique vocal tone and beautiful lyrics I don't think anyone would have minded if that was the case. The other new songs that he played, namely 'Denial' and 'Want You So Bad' both kept me utterly gripped throughout, and if they're anything to go by I can guarantee that 'English Graffiti' is one hell of an album. I purchased it before the show last night, so I can't wait to have a listen through to it, because I do believe this is going to launch The Vaccines into an even higher level than they've already achieved. 
But of course, Justin wasn't only going to play new songs, so it was brilliant to hear 'Melody Calling' and 'If You Wanna' performed acoustically as well. The older songs obviously got much more of a reaction from the crowd, especially where 'English Graffiti' is so brand new, but for most of the new songs the audience were respectful anyway. There was a moment when Justin had to call out some of the people who were talking, saying "It's fine if you don't wanna hear, but I need to be able to hear as well" before 'Denial', which was refreshing. Too often acoustic artists will just deal with people talking and attempt to work through it, so I was happy to see someone call out the crowd; even if the show is free, you shouldn't bother going if you're just talking all the way through it.
But for the majority of the show, people were paying rapt attention, with Justin thanking everyone for going, saying "it's amazing you all came out at such short notice to celebrate this new record with us." If you knew about this show and you had any sense, you would have been there. Justin regaled us with anecdotes of when he was a pub singer and used to perform by himself, announcing that he could "assure you no one ever came", it was extremely inspiring to see someone who had strived for success manage to achieve it, so despite the fact that he said it was very intimidating to be up there all alone, you never would have known it by watching him. 
After 'If You Wanna', Justin said that he had been stopping after that song at the other sets, so the fact that he added in a special performance of 'Wetsuit' just made this show even more memorable. This was my first time seeing The Vaccines, but this has convinced me that I need to see a full band set, because if the songs are this amazing with only a quarter of the band on stage, it can only get better from here. I'd sincerely recommend you pick up a copy of 'English Graffiti' today.

Melody Calling
Want You So Bad
If You Wanna

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Endless Possibilities Read-a-thon TBR!

endless jpg

I'm taking part in the Good Tales Book Tours Endless Possibilities Read-A-Thon next week, so I thought I'd compile my TBR list ready, and let you guys know what I'll be challenging myself to read! I'm going to try and link them all to Endless Possibilities (even if the links will be a little bit stretched!)
  1. 'The Lover's Dictionary' by David Levithan: what has more possibilities than a dictionary? All the different words that can be combined together, in any shape or pattern. Just choosing amorous, romantic words minimises the possibilities a little bit, but they're still pretty big, and I can't wait to see what happens in this novel. 
  2. 'Panic' by Lauren Oliver: there are so many endless possibilities of things in the world that you can panic about!
  3. 'Adverbs' by Daniel Handler: he can only use a selection of adverbs, but the possibilities of which adverbs used are endless!
I'm only going to try to read the three novels, because I'm also gonna try and read a couple of non-fiction books for my investigation into self-help as a genre. Wish me luck! 

INVESTIGATION: Can books REALLY fix everything?

My relationship ended this week, and instead of wallowing in my depressing feelings, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make something productive out of heartache. I don't want sympathy or commiseration, but I thought it was worth giving a bit of background to wear this project idea came from. 
I've always wondered about self-help books; books that people read to cure anger issues, to relieve stress, or to help themselves become organised. But, as I'm sure some of you agree, I always thought it was a big bunch of hokum. As the Wikipedia article states: 

"It is important to note that the popularity of self-help books may cause a placebo effect and thus appear to be an effective way to change an individual's way of thinking about their life and selves. This is because individuals will believe these books well change their lives like others have endorsed."
As a reader, and an eternal pessimist, I am a disbeliever of the healing power of a few words. So, I thought I would use this tough time in my life to test my theory: can books really fix everything? Over the next four weeks, I'm going to read as many self-help books as physically possible, to see whether they help me feel any better! I'm not going to do individual reviews of them all (apart from short reviews on my Goodreads account) but instead I'm going to do a weekly wrap-up, and at the end of the month I'll evaluate just how helpful I think they really are.
My main focus is going to be on relationships, as that was the catalyst which convinced me to start this project. However, I'm also going to read books on stress (because who doesn't feel stressed out after a relationship ends?), relaxation and positive-thinking. They're the kind of books that I think could offer me something, so I might as well give them a chance in this experiment!
I hope you'll join me on my exploration into human nature and the human psyche, and hopefully you'll learn as much as I do!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

'Whispers In The Dark' by Chase J. Jackson

First things first I need to say a huge thank you to Boutique of Quality Books Publishing for accepting my request to review this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

*This review will contain spoilers!*

I hadn't read a good YA horror novel in so long that I'd been highly anticipating this one, despite its minuscule length. It follows the story of Adrian, who has just moved back to his childhood home with his girlfriend, Lea, after getting a job at the local private school. When they move in Lea starts feeling as though there is a presence in the house, and when Adrian meets spooky student Robin, his work life gets turned upside down too... The cover was sufficiently spooky, the title evoked menacing imagery and the synopsis sent shivers down my spine, so I was certain I was going to love this one.
However, I ended up being utterly disappointed. The opening scene is of Adrian driving in a car in a thunderstorm, before someone starts choking him from the back seat. Adrian screams out "Ahhhh!", detracting from all of the dramatic tension that had been built up so efficiently, leaving the entire scene feeling flat and unconvincing.
This just continued throughout. Whenever things started to get a bit exciting and the adrenaline levels started rising, someone would shout out "Noooo!" or "Ahhhh!" and it interrupted the entire flow of the story. It would have been so much more effective if the characters hadn't even spoken, instead of wailing in such a stereotypical and unrealistic fashion. Instead of feeling like a polished novel from a published writer, it just made it feel like a creative writing essay from a schoolkid who didn't know any better. This was even further cemented when the word 'really' was repeated five times on one page, and the phrase 'in the office' was repeated three times in one piece of dialogue.
Similarly, some of the subplots don't even get dealt with. After Adrian awakes in his car, he notices that there's a phantom line around his neck, as though he really had been being strangled by something. This is mentioned twice in the first few chapters, never to be referred to again, meaning that it was a completely pointless addition. As well as this, the spooky goings on at Adrian's house are never explained (well, I lie, one of them is) meaning that we never really know if his house was haunted or if it was just his imagination going wild during one of his many vivid (and utterly irritating) dream sequences.
I really want to have at least one good thing to say about this novel, but I'm afraid that there really isn't anything worth mentioning. The characters are interchangeable - none of them really have any defining qualities - the dialogue is boring and too stolidly crafted, and the big twist at the end of the novel is visible from the first chapter due to the stereotypical language surrounding it ("this room is so cold!" signalling the presence of the ghost character at least three times). Furthermore, the moral of the story is beyond preachy - Adrian is a majorly selfish character throughout the book, so at the end of the novel he displayed a compete 180 of his personality and starts being completely selfless, caring more about other people. Sometimes, I don't mind stories that have morals; as long as they are done subtly, so it doesn't feel as though I'm reading some classic fables, I can even enjoy them, because it is good to show that being a good person makes good things happen to you. However, the moral of this story is so blatantly obvious throughout the whole novel that it's like being hit repeatedly in the face by a brick.
I can't really recommend this one at all, unless you're a younger reader - I'm not sure this will appeal to the YA crowd, because it seems too immature, but if this was a younger teen book I think it would go down a lot better. The characters go out and drink in bars, and there are references to underage sex, so it's definitely not written for a younger crowd, but the voice is too childish to really aim any higher. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Slam Dunk South 2015 - 24/05/15

(Live A Loss For Words photo credit to Liana Hunt)

My favourite thing about festivals is the fact that you can wander around all day and see bands that you definitely wouldn't have experienced otherwise. This review is going to be a selection of the sets that I had something to say about, but this won't be all the bands that I saw - there were way too many of them for me to talk about all of them! Some of the notable sets that I won't be talking too much about were Cartel, Only Rivals, Neck Deep, Crossfaith and Fireworks - all brilliant sets, but I just didn't see enough of them to be able to review them properly. But now, onto the rest:

I've only been listening to PVRIS avidly for a few months, but they've quickly established themselves as one of my favourite bands, especially after their brilliant opening slot for Lower Than Atlantis last month. I missed the very beginning of their set (one song, 'Smoke') but I was still blown away by the rest of it; running through songs such as 'St. Patrick' and 'White Noise', vocalist Lynn Gunn was completely on point, sounding even better than she did the first time I saw them. I've never seen Alex or Brian look happier, both of them beaming out at the crowd that were eating up every single moment. For this early in the day the reaction was much better than I'd been expecting, and it still surprises me to see how far this band have come with just one album under their belts.  
As if their set wasn't going amazingly enough, a surprise appearance from Josh Franceschi on 'My House' was the icing on the cake, even if his microphone wasn't working for the majority of his time on stage. These guys are definitely ones to watch, and if you haven't listened to them yet it's imperative that you do so as soon as you can. Their popularity is going through the roof and the trajectory is nowhere near tapering off, and I can't wait to catch them for the third time this year at Reading festival - I guarantee they will just keep getting better. If they headline Slam Dunk in a few years time, I won't be shocked at all. 

St. Patrick
White Noise
My House

Next up was the third ever UK show from the acoustic side project of The Wonder Years frontman Dan "Soupy" Campbell. Because The Wonder Years had already been announced as performing at Slam Dunk, it wasn't too surprising when Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties were added afterwards, so it also wasn't too surprising when the Roaring Twenties weren't actually there, and it was just Dan (or should I say Aaron?) on stage by himself. 
If you haven't heard of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, the concept behind the act is that the songs tell the story of the worst year of Aaron West's life, and it was really interesting to see Dan embodying the character of Aaron and speaking as him. The Wonder Years have always been super popular because of their lyrical content and how easy it is to relate to them, but this acoustic emo act was obviously the drawing point of many people at this weekend, as the room was full to bursting before he even came out on stage. To have people queuing out on the landing for the third act on the stage is a huge achievement, but considering the fact that before Slam Dunk he'd only ever played one UK show, it just proves that the demand is definitely outweighing the supply. 
Starting off with 'Our Apartment', most of the crowd were shouting along to every word, which didn't let up through 'Grapefruit' or 'Runnin' Scared'. My personal favourite song is 'Divorce and the American South', which had the loudest singalong in the first half of the set. This boosted even higher during the trumpet solo, as the crowd decided to cover for the absent backing band and perform a vocal trumpet solo - which Soupy congratulated us on afterwards, calling for a round of applause for the great trumpet solo - something that definitely lightened up what was an otherwise completely depressing set. But depressing does not mean bad, and Aaron West was one of the best performers I saw in the entire day at Slam Dunk, so I seriously hope that he comes back and announces some full length UK shows at some point in the near future. I couldn't stick around for the rest of Aaron West's set, as I wanted to see some of Beartooth, but the half that I did see was superb.

I didn't think that the Fresh Blood stage could get any busier, but when I returned to see Fort Hope I sadly couldn't even get into the room. I stood outside and listened to a section of their set - most notably 'Sick', which sounded pretty sick ('scuse the pun) even from outside on the landing. With the band having signed their first record deal in the last few days, this crowd is just going to keep growing, and I'm so proud of how far these boys have come from back in the My Passion days. The UK rock scene is on the rise, and Fort Hope are leading the pack. 

I saw a bit of A Loss For Words at Slam Dunk last year and I thought they were pretty awesome, so I was bummed out when I discovered that they'd announced their break up before I'd even gotten around to listening to any of their full length albums. When it was announced that they'd be performing at Slam Dunk on their farewell tour, there was no chance that I was missing it. 
Joining the set to hear 'Pirouette', I was amazed when there was a surprise guest appearance from the vocalist of Save Your Breath, Kris Richards, whose band broke up back in January. I was a big Save Your Breath fan, so the moment was rather bittersweet, but it really embodied the entire ethos of Slam Dunk festival - having fun with your friends - and with a singalong of epic proportions it was perfect for this summery festival crowd. With singer Matty thanking his "brother" for appearing on stage with him, it really spread the love - something that A Loss For Words seem to be really fond of, as Matty was also wearing a t-shirt proclaiming 'I support same-sex marriage'. 
One of the most notable things about their set was the amount of bands they were shouting out to, thanking Decade, Light You Up, Transit, PVRIS and Neck Deep, to name but a few. Dedicating 'Distance' to Fireworks was also a poignant moment, with A Loss For Words splitting and Fireworks going onto hiatus, but there wasn't time to dwell on the emotions because the set was just too much fun. Nowadays, pop punk bands seem to take themselves much too seriously, but A Loss For Words were having so much fun and it was definitely encouraging the crowd. 

My sixth time seeing Lower Than Atlantis was also my shortest time, as I only managed to see three of their songs in the fifteen minute gap I squeezed in at main stage. It was impressive that they seemed to on top of their game, as this was their second festival set today (the first being at the BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in Norwich) but if anything that made them sound tighter, because they'd had the perfect warm-up this morning.
After catching them on their UK tour last month, I didn't think Lower Than Atlantis could get any better, but vocalist Mike Duce seemed to be so much more confident in front of this crowd, belting out every word and getting it shouted back in his face twice as loud. 'Ain't No Friend' had everyone dancing, while 'English Kids In America' is still a festival classic - perhaps even more memorable today than it was at Reading festival last year. I stuck around long enough to hear 'Deadliest Catch', my all time favourite of their songs, and I sincerely wish I'd been able to hang around longer, because they were sounding even tighter than normal. With a large tour announced in December, I'm sincerely hoping I'll be able to go along to one of their shows, because it would be brilliant to see them wrap up their biggest ever year as a band on such a high note.

Back at the Fresh Blood stage, the crowd outside the room had gotten even larger than it was for Fort Hope, meaning that I had to strain to hear This Wild Life over the voices of fans waiting outside. After such an extensive co-headline tour with As It Is over the last few weeks, I assumed that most of the people who wanted to see This Wild Life would have already seen them - this belief was naive, as disappointed fans were turning away in droves when they realised that there was no way for them to push into the room to see the band. This Wild Life were actually one of my most anticipated bands of Slam Dunk, so I stuck it out and managed to hear a good few songs, especially once the crowd dispersed a little bit and you could hear the music outside. 
'History' is one of their most well-known songs, and this was confirmed when they played it first, with the singalong from the crowd sounding much louder than the band themselves, the same of which can be said for 'Over It'. 'Ripped Away' sounded absolutely flawless, but the highlight of the part of the set that I saw was definitely their cover of Blink-182's 'First Date', which was a surprising but perfectly performed cover. 
I left after hearing 'Better With You', one of my favourite songs, but that wasn't before I noticed that even their co-headline tour mate Patty Walters, lead vocalist of As It Is, was unable to get into the room. This band are such a massive deal, something that I hadn't realised until this show, but I think it's a brilliant sign - they deserve to have all of this attention, because Anthony and Kevin are both such talented songwriters and performers. I haven't had the opportunity to see a This Wild Life headline show yet, but it's definitely something I'm going to ensure that I do next time that they come to the UK - I need to experience this show on a bigger scale, and I need to actually get into the room next time!

I've had a love-hate relationship with Don Broco recently, as I haven't really enjoyed any of the singles that they've been releasing from forthcoming album 'Automatic', but that completely changed throughout their set yesterday. Starting off with 'Money Power Fame' was a brilliant way to drag the crowds attention to this band, who threw every ounce of their energy into their performance. A Don Broco show is a high velocity show, and that didn't change at Slam Dunk; if anything it ramped up even higher, with frontman Rob Damiani going absolutely crazy up there.
Newest single 'Automatic' didn't get that much of a reaction from the crowd: possibly because of the relatively young age of the song, or possibly because other people are agreeing with my opinion of the new material. However, something that you can't deny is the fact that they performed the song live amazingly, and it's impossible to move your eyes away from the stage from the second they start from the second they exit.
Older songs 'Whole Truth' and 'Priorities' both got amazing responses, with the crowd kicking it up a gear and dancing more than I'd seen them all day. I had to leave half way through their set, to run across to Seaway, but I'm definitely feeling more love towards Don Broco after seeing the new songs in a live environment, and remembering how encapsulating their live shows are.

I only managed to catch one song from Seaway, due to some terrible set clashes, but the one that I saw definitely deserves a special comment, and that was 'Your Best Friend'. I'd been having a pretty terrible morning - missing Set It Off and We Are The Ocean, and suffering with a terrible migraine - but after hearing such a fun song live I just couldn't stop myself from dancing and beaming from ear to ear. I don't know what it is about these Canadian fellows, but they're so full of fun that I can't help but fall in love with them a little more every time I listen to them. I haven't been disappointed by a single one of their songs that I've heard so far, and after purchasing their full length album 'Hoser' at the festival, I'll definitely be listening to them more. 

However, I had to leave Seaway quite early to get along to Finch, who were another of my most anticipated bands of the day. Since Finch's reunion tour a couple of years ago, I've been getting quite excited about the day when I would finally see them live, and I couldn't believe it was finally here. 
I will admit that I didn't know many of the newer songs that they played, as I only managed to purchase their newest album 'Back To Oblivion' at the festival, but the ones that I did hear sounded brilliant. I joined their set on 'Anywhere But Here', and was amazed by how much the band were putting in to the set - some of the older hardcore bands that I've seen have been quite complacent in their live shows, but Finch were excelling the performance I'd experienced at the Hidden In Plain View show last month, which was insanely high. The new music definitely padded out their set, putting a brilliant amount of life into it, and instead of being disinterested by the songs I didn't know I found myself falling in love much further with this band. 
'Letters To You' is obviously one of Finch's more well-known songs, so a lot of the crowd did seem to only be in attendance for this one, demonstrated when the moshing went through the roof for the duration of the song. A hardcore anthem, it's difficult to find someone who doesn't know this song, and I was amazed by how brilliantly the band played it over ten years since they wrote and released it. After going through two break-ups, it's impressive that the members still perform so well together, and their chemistry is palpable throughout the crowd.
Finishing with 'What It Is To Burn', another of their most popular songs, it was surprising to see another guest appearance from Josh Franceschi, who mentioned the fact the he wanted to perform the song with them in an issue of Kerrang! a few weeks ago. Seeing a dream come true like that live on stage should have been corny, but after seeing Josh moshing side stage throughout the previous couple of songs in their set, you could really see how much it meant to him, and he threw everything he had into his vocal (which, thankfully, was on a working microphone that time!). I can't believe that I waited this long to see Finch, and I will not be waiting this long until the next time. 

I don't really have that much to say about Taking Back Sunday that I didn't already say in my review of their show in Oxford in December, but that isn't a bad thing because it proves that they are consistent. Their banter was still lacking, which was much more noticeable (and cringe-inducing) in this environment, but the rest of their performance was one of my highlights of the entire day. I said before that Taking Back Sunday really know how to craft a brilliant setlist, and while they played most of the songs that I'd seen them play only a few months ago, they played them all fantastically so I had nothing to complain about. 
All of their biggest hits: 'MakeDamnSure', 'Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)' and 'You're So Last Summer' were all present, as well as a good chunk of their more recent releases, meaning that there was something there for every era of Taking Back Sunday fan. The majority of the crowd did seem to be turned off from Taking Back Sunday, but that was kind of understandable with them sandwiched between Don Broco and You Me At Six, both who are relatively new on the scene, meaning that their fan base might have been too young to fully appreciate Taking Back Sunday when they were at the height of their career. I was kind of disappointed with the crowd, who didn't seem to be making any effort at all - the whole point of a festival is to enjoy bands you wouldn't normally see - but the fans that were getting involved were going crazy. It would have been nice to have a few surprises in their setlist, other than just the inclusion of 'Happiness Is...' bonus track 'How I Met Your Mother', but it was still a lot of fun, and I was glad that I could stay for their entire set. 

Flicker, Fade
What's It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?
Number 5 With A Bullet
How I Met Your Mother
Liar (It Takes One To Know One)
Stood A Chance
Timberwolves At New Jersey
A Decade Under The Influence
Faith (When I Let You Down)
You're So Last Summer
Better Homes and Gardens 
You Know How I Do
Cute Without The 'E' (Cut From The Team)

You Me At Six were definitely the highlight of most people's day, and with their promise of playing older material there was no question in my mind that I was going to see every single second of their set. I've always been a huge advocate for them playing earlier songs, so my wish was finally coming true. I wasn't disappointed when the started the set off with the double header of 'The Truth Is A Terrible Thing' and 'Save It For The Bedroom', and going by the reaction from the crowd this set had been a long time coming. People were flooding in from every direction, screaming the lyrics from the top of their lungs, and it really felt like something special was happening - the excitement in the air was palpable. It didn't let up through the first five songs, concluding with 'Jealous Minds Think Alike', which is one of the best songs You Me At Six have ever written - there's a reason that they catapulted into such heights of fame, and it's mostly due to the skill and potential they displayed in their formative years. 
However, after the fifth song in the set things quickly went downhill. Due to a medical emergency with a fan, the band had to stop the set, so Josh attempted to banter with the crowd - talking a bit about their time away in Australia last week, and referencing some football rivalries - but after the banter sunk like a rock he went off-stage while the medics worked. A little over half an hour later, the band came back on stage, and it's testament to You Me At Six fans that they all stayed calm and civilised despite the lengthy gap, allowing the medics to work and for the band to give them the space that was necessary. Oftentimes things like this can go very badly very quickly, with fans throwing things and complaining about the lack of music, but that wasn't demonstrated at all during this set - everyone was extremely civilised, even if some people did get bored and wander away to The Wonder Years.

A brief intermission here, to give a shout out to The Wonder Years, who seemed to be playing a blinder of a set. I was disappointed that I was going to miss them to see You Me At Six, so the gap in the set was a blessing in disguise - due to the silence at the main stage you could hear every word of The Wonder Years set going on at the other end of the road. Dan's vocal sounded so stronger and powerful over the pop punk backtrack, which was surprising after he admitted during the Aaron West set that his voice was rather shot, and it was a real hint towards how expert he is as a frontman - he really knows what he's doing. It was my second time seeing The Wonder Years, and while I wish I could have seen and heard more of them, I was happy enough with what I got. 

After You Me At Six walked back out on stage, Josh Franceschi announced "someone's life is way more fucking important than our little band playing songs at a festival", a sentiment that he reiterated on his Twitter following the incident, and it really was heart-warming to see the frontman of such a massive band caring so much about his fans. You Me At Six might have exploded, but they're still just five boys from Surrey at heart.
I'd been anticipating quite a large cut from the set following the time that they'd been off stage, but they still completed their entire set - bigger hits like 'Room To Breathe' and 'Lived A Lie' running parallel to older songs 'The Rumour' and 'Take Off Your Colours' - and it was a breath of fresh air to get a mixture of both eras in a You Me At Six show. Often when I see the band live I find myself getting restless, but this was the perfect mix of fun and serious, meaning that there wasn't a single moment of the set that fell flat for me. This was the best show I've ever seen You Me At Six play, and I think it's going to stay that way forever, as the band have said that they will be cutting the older songs from their set completely following these three festival performances. I sincerely hope that they'll consider the crowds reaction during 'Always Attract' and rethink that decision, because that kind of colossal reaction only happens in older songs that mean a lot to all of the fans, but I'm sure they know what they're doing. 
The band are going off to record their fifth album this summer, and while I'm nervous about what the result will be, I'm excited as heck as well. As Josh sang, "the problems that have come haven't yet torn You Me down" and I'm sure they aren't going to any time soon.

The Truth Is A Terrible Thing
Save It For The Bedroom
Stay With Me
Jealous Minds Think Alike
Lived A Lie
No One Does It Better
Take Off Your Colours
Kiss And Tell
The Rumour 
The Consequence
Fresh Start Fever
Always Attract
Room To Breathe
Bite My Tongue 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

'The Archived' (The Archived #1) by Victoria Schwab - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

'The Archived' is one of the most exciting YA fantasies I have read in a very long time. In this world, the dead - called Histories - are kept like books on a shelf in the Archive (a library of the dead, if you will). Our protagonist, Mackenzie Bishop, is a Keeper - if one of the slumbering Histories wakes up and escapes into the Narrows (the buffer between the Archive and our world) Kenzie needs to get in there and control the situation, sending them back to the Archive through the Returns door. Kenzie has just moved to the Coronado, an apartment block made from a converted hotel, with her parents, following the death of her younger brother, Ben. Kenzie continues patrolling as usual, because the move hasn't taken her out of her territory in the Narrows, but when the volume of Histories needing to be recaptured rises out of control, Kenzie knows that something is going terribly wrong with the Archive. She just needs to find out what, and why. 
I thought I would find this novel quite difficult to get into, because there was a lot going on right at the start. Getting my head around the difference between the Outer, the Narrows and the Archive wasn't difficult, but working out what exactly the jobs of Keeper, Crew and Librarian entailed took a bit more thought. Some of the lines weren't well defined, so it was definitely a 'learn as you go' kind of deal - while that wasn't a problem, it did mean that the first half of the novel was slow and kind of clunky, taking away from my overall love of the book.
However, once I settled into the world of the story I really did enjoy it. I haven't read any of Victoria Schwab (or V. E. Schwab's) other novels, but her writing style grabbed me and had me flying through this novel. The characters were all brilliant: Kenzie had such physical strength but such emotional weakness, and seeing that juxtaposition play out was so realistic, and something that I hadn't seen explored as well as this in any other YA novels. Her job as a Keeper was both terrifying and intriguing - as she could reach into objects to read their histories, we got to learn more about the world around her than we ever would have at a base level. It really made me think - how much more would we appreciate the world, and the other people around us, if we could find out everything that happened to one of them?
But as well as Kenzie, I found the other characters appealing as well. Wesley is one of Kenzie's neighbours, but he has so much more to him than we get in our first impressions, and from the amount that we discover in the first novel I can tell that there's going to be a lot more we learn in the second novel too. The same can be said about the Librarians that Kenzie interacts with in the Library; Roland is the main one of them that she interacts with, so it feels as though we know him quite well, but towards the end of the novel there are a lot of implications that the Archive are hiding things from the Keepers, so it will be interesting to get more backstory on each of the Librarians and how they ended up in their jobs. 
The plot line reads like a murder mystery, if you ignore the fantasy aspects. Kenzie realises that many of the Histories are being released into her territory around about the same time she discovers that a teenage girl was murdered in her apartment many years before. At first it doesn't seem as though the two are connected, but as more of the puzzle pieces come to light it becomes very obvious that they indeed are. Normally I'm spot on with working out who is the bad guy in a novel, but this was one of the first books where I had no idea throughout the entirety of it, and only twigged on during the reveal - something that definitely made me enjoy this novel more, because it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout its entirety.   
I wasn't completely in love with this book, because of the slow start, but other than that it was flawless. The action sequences were clean and well-choreographed, meaning I could visualise everything that was going on without too much trouble, while the emotional scenes were heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. Victoria has an amazing skill with her writing, in that she can make you love and hate a character, and love to hate a character, so this was definitely a rollercoaster ride of the feelings. 
If you love novels with intriguing and unique premises, this is definitely one for you; I can guarantee you will have read nothing else like it. I can't wait to read the second book in the series and see where Victoria Schwab goes from here, because there is still so much potential, and if this book was good I'm anticipating that the second book will be amazing. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

'From A Distant Star' by Karen McQuestion

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

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

Emma's boyfriend, Lucas, is dying from cancer, and she's the only one who hasn't given up hope. His parents are preparing for the end, his brother is avoiding the entire situation and the nurses visiting their farm are readying funeral plans. Frustrated with everyone's lack of belief, Emma visits the home of self-proclaimed witch Mrs Kokesh, where she gets given a potion to save his life - and a warning that when he awakens from his coma, he will not be the same. Emma follows Mrs Kokesh's instructions exactly - rubbing the potion around Lucas's eyes and mouth, praying that everything will work out. When a loud bang sounds from outside, Emma doesn't think much about it, too worried about whether or not the potion will work. But when Lucas wakes up acting like a completely different person, she connects the dots, leading to her embarking on a journey to save the boy she loves, and send home the alien trapped inside of him... 
It's been a long time since I've read a good alien story that wasn't dystopian, so 'From A Distant Star' was a breath of fresh air for me. Don't get me wrong, I loved 'The 5th Wave' by Rick Yancey and 'Untaken' by J. E. Anckorn, but it was relieving to meet a friendly, harmless alien in our ordinary, every day world. There were some brilliant moments of social commentary from Scout, such as the one below: 

"This is a very confusing planet. People believe things that aren't true about other people just because of how they look and what kind of vehicle they drive. Why can you not wait and see who they are inside before you make a decision?"
"Because we're afraid. [...] It's better to be cautious."
"That is a sad thing."
I always think the way authors can write the viewpoints of other beings new to our planet is a very intriguing and enlightening thing, and the above quote made me stop and think - it wasn't really something I'd ever considered before, it was just the way that the world worked. If an author can make you contemplate your very existence, you can tell that they're a brilliant writer, so I was very impressed with Karen McQuestion's characterisation of Scout.
But other than the social commentary, this was still a brilliant novel! Scout was so much more than just a fish out of water - as he tried to fit in with the humans and attempted to get to know their world a bit better, we learnt a lot about him and fall in love with him. He's such an innocent character, meaning you just can't help but feel for him, and while I was rooting for him to get home and back to his family, I wouldn't have minded this being a series - I just wanted to read more about him and his adorable personality.
As well as falling in love with Scout, I loved the characteristics of his world that we are given. The planet he came from stays a mystery for most of the novel - we don't know where in the galaxy it is, or even what it's called, but with the information that Scout gives us we still get a marvellous picture of it. The disclosure that their technology is intuitive and doesn't need controlling, and that their plants can sense exactly where you need shade and bend to your will, gives enough similarity between our planets to still feel realistic, so I was glad that Karen wrote it more subtly. It would have detracted from the effective imagery if we'd had an over the top description of exactly how the planet worked.
Meanwhile, Emma is one of those protagonists who gets very hot-headed at times - she gets an idea in her head and can't really go off course, meaning that at multiple points throughout the novel it seemed as though she was going to do something really stupid - but Lucas's brother, Eric, and Scout both managed to keep her on track, stopping her from messing everything up. I found the interactions between her and others quite funny, the main scene being when she attempts to shoot open a door after failing to shoot one open earlier on, but she's so convinced that she can do it so Scout just looks at her like 'really?'. I think I like it when protagonists get things wrong, because too often the protagonist gets everything right and it's the supporting cast who makes all of the mistakes: having those roles reversed was definitely a great change.
I also loved the fact that the direction the novel was going in wasn't predictable. There are multiple bad guys in this novel, and it seemed to be whichever direction Emma and Scout headed to for sanctuary they'd soon be sprinting away from with their tails between their legs, and I enjoyed that for a change - there aren't enough novels where every other character seems to be an obstacle in our quest, and the characters have to work out how to save themselves all alone. The sense of despair was really palpable - when the characters could see no other options, neither could we, which definitely helped with the development of the plot.
There were a few aspects of the novel that did seem just a bit too predictable, though. When Emma and Scout have to leave one of the places that they think will help them, all they're armed with is the name of an ex-employee, and while driving down the road they pass her decorated mailbox. While this was a bit too convenient I know it was just to move the plot forwards, but it took away from what was otherwise a realistic novel. Even the discovery of the two people who helped them after their car broke down was more believable - if you found a bar in the middle of nowhere you would be expecting bad people to be inside, so the juxtaposition of the bar with the elderly square dancers was completely unexpected, meaning it wasn't too surprising they found someone to help out.
Other than that disappointing development, every thing else in the novel was really enjoyable - the ending was what I'd been expecting, so there wasn't anything too mind-blowing, but I loved Karen's writing style and I really did feel for the characters. I hadn't heard of Karen until I read this novel, but I enjoyed her writing so much that I'm definitely going to have to check out some of her older novels!
I do highly recommend this one if you're looking for a YA alien novel that stands out a bit in the current climate - and I recommend it to fans of E.T. because, despite the fact that I haven't seen that movie yet, I think it's quite similar to that, but in a more grown up setting.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

'The New Hunger' (Warm Bodies 0.5) by Isaac Marion

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'This is what you are and why you're here. You are not a person. You are not even a wolf. You are nothing, and no city was ever built for you.'

It's been a couple of years since I read 'Warm Bodies', so I couldn't really remember much about it apart from the relationship between Julie and R, but I knew that I fell in love with Isaac Marion's writing style at the time. I definitely wasn't wrong with this recollection, because I rediscovered that love in this novella, and I really do wish that it could have been longer.
'The New Hunger' is just over one hundred and fifty pages, following R, Julie, and Nora on their individual journeys in the time preceding 'Warm Bodies'. We join R just after he turns into a zombie, Julie as a twelve year old girl travelling across America with her parents looking for safety, and Nora as she attempts to protect her little brother, Addis, after they're abandoned by their parents. Three very different stories, all written with very different voices. 
R was still the strongest character, with such a unique style to his chapters and his thoughts deteriorated further to the basic command of 'Eat'. If you've read 'Warm Bodies' (and if you haven't, why not? It's a stand-out in the world of apocalyptic literature, and is much better than the film adapted from it) you'll know that R has a semblance of feeling and thought left over in his zombie form, making him able to control his actions more than the stereotypical mindless eating machines. This is developed brilliantly throughout 'The New Hunger', as R questions who he is now and why he can no longer recall memories or read road signs. You can't help but feel your heartstrings pulled as R comes to the devastating realisation that he isn't dead, but he's also no longer alive, and begins to contemplate how he's going to be able to deal with this. 
However, where Nora seemed to be quite a minor character in 'Warm Bodies' (or, at least, I can hardly remember her doing anything of consequence) she was almost the main character in 'The New Hunger', with the majority of chapters dedicated to progressing her travels with Addis. The strength of her character was brilliantly developed - her mature ability to deal with whatever obstacles were put in their path, her logical thought processes and her unflinching dedication to keeping Addis safe were realistic and made her a stand out character.
I didn't really think much of Julie's story; on the one hand it was good to see her interactions with her family, but due to her only being twelve years old not much really happened in her chapters. I found it quite creepy when R was watching her through the woods - the fact that they got together a few years later made it seem almost paedophilic, as when he awoke in the woods as a zombie with what I assumed was a girlfriend or a wife, showing that there must have been a substantial age gap between them, and almost seemed worse than the fact that they end up getting together despite him being dead. 
As well as loving the characters (well, the majority), I also adored Isaac's inventive and unique description of the end of the world. As well as the rise of the dead, it's said that there have been a lot of previous disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding) making it a veritable smorgasbord of drastic events topped off perfectly by the return of lost family members. This means that when Nora and Addis are walking through Seattle there is the gorgeous description of the land, decimated by destruction, with the sea level rising and nature taking back the world - it's such an interesting image that you can't help but find it morbidly beautiful. 
The sequel to 'Warm Bodies' is being written at the moment, and I'm so excited about the release - I adore the writing so much and I just want to know what else can happen with these characters. If you enjoy zombies and you haven't read any of these books yet, you're making a big mistake. They're practically flawless, and combined with the anatomical chapter headings there's something here that will appeal to everyone. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

'One Chance Night' (Take A Chance #1) by Eliza Boyd


*This review will contain spoilers!*

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

'Change has never done me any favors--mostly because I've never tried it-- so I don't know why I imagined that tonight would be any different.' 

I was only involved with the release day blitz for Eliza Boyd's debut novel yesterday - but I absolutely flew through this book, so I've already finished it! Following Chelsea Greer, an (un)happily married woman, through her 'One Chance Night' - in which she takes a chance and heads to a bar with a work colleague and her roommate, two women she hardly knows, despite the fact that her husband would go crazy knowing she was sneaking out of the house while he spent time with his friends. While on this night out, she meets mystery man Brett, who recognises the fact that she isn't happy and takes it upon himself to help her talk through her problems and decide what changes to make with her life - and whether to take a chance on the possibility of true love...
The premise of 'One Chance Night' kind of reminded me of the idea behind Gayle Forman's 'Just One Day' (which, admittedly, I haven't read yet - but it's one of those books that is very high up my TBR!) and I was interested in reading a novel entirely set in Chelsea's evening, but I was worried it was going to get a little stale.
Surprisingly, it didn't! The first half was well developed and perfectly set up Chelsea's back story, letting us see inside her life with Wesley - her loveless and passionless relationship, Wesley subtly manipulating her with abusive comments which she tries her hardest not to retaliate to. When Chelsea gets invited out by a friend at work, she automatically disregards it, believing that Wesley would be angry if she went out, showing just how debilitated her self possession is by this man who is supposed to love her. You can't resist feeling completely empathetic towards Chelsea, who finds herself in a marriage she doesn't want with no friends and her parents over the other side of the world. 
When Chelsea meets Brett in the bar at the open mic night, her nervous disposition also made me feel so bad for her - even just harmless joking around has her flinching in case he verbally reprimands her. This might have been more effective if we'd seen some more of Wesley's behaviour towards her in the past - all we have to go off of are her recollections and anecdotes, but we don't actually get to experience any of his harsh words or the actions verging on violence, meaning it seems a bit sudden when she starts flinching and reacting terribly.
The only complaints I have about 'One Chance Night' can all be equated down to the length of the novel. First off, the fact that we don't get to see as much of Chelsea and Wesley's back story as I would have ideally liked - because we only get the one side of the story, it could almost seem like she was an unreliable narrator, over-exaggerating her troubled past to woo a guy in a bar. I know this isn't the truth, but when you combine that with the fact that she took her wedding ring off before going out with friends... 
Secondly, the jump between the one night and the eight months later just seems a bit too harsh. We find out that Chelsea and Wesley have divorced after having a long talk about their relationship and the reasons why she left him, but this is reported to us rather than us getting to see it. It would have been a lot more intriguing to see the exchange between them and how it played out, and I think one of Eliza Boyd's strongest aspects of writing is definitely in dialogue, so I would have preferred to see her make full use of this talent. I understand that it was meant to be a harsh change to show exactly how much Chelsea changed in the time, but it made her decision to go after Brett at the end seem quite unfounded - it would have been stronger if we'd seen her thinking about him and wondering after him when her and Wesley had finally confirmed their split and she'd moved out to face the big wide world on her own. 
However, despite the fact that there were some issues with the length of the novel, overall I did really enjoy it. Eliza Boyd crafts brilliant characters, and I loved the constant referencing of country songs (some that I knew, some that I didn't, but all that I've written down to listen to as a playlist!) because it is a really under-appreciated genre, and definitely one that specialises in the storytelling aspect of lyric writing, lending itself perfectly to this kind of inspiration. For a first novel this was definitely successful - Eliza took a serious topic and dealt with it in a sensitive way, and I'm sure that if any readers are in this situation themselves it will definitely make them consider their options more fully, which is definitely a positive thing. If you're in the mood for a more serious contemporary, I'd definitely suggest this one - it can't be called light-hearted, because it deals with very heavy topics and conversations, but it's very well written and the characters will stick in your head. 
I'm rather excited for the second novel in the Take A Chance series, 'Two Pink Lines', which is briefly set up at the end of 'One Chance Night' - this sounds like it's going to be a companion series quite similar to the 'Anna and the French Kiss' series by Stephanie Perkins (but NA, obviously) and I'm looking forward to it - getting to see what happens in Chelsea's future, but also getting to experience another story will be a great way to keep the series alive. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

COVER REVEAL! 'Infinite' by Erica Crouch

In some ways, I really wish I wasn't involved in the cover reveal today, because it marks the end of a brilliant series! With the reveal of the 'Infinite' cover, and it's release date approaching rapidly, Erica Crouch's Ignite series will soon be over. I'm beyond nervous about what is going to transpire in the final novel, but more on that later - first, you need to scroll down to see the BEAUTIFUL cover!

Cover Reveal: Infinite, by Erica Crouch

See! It's such a perfect ending to the series, and it fits in so perfectly with the other covers - I'm so proud of the designer for making them all so utterly perfect. Just look at how good they all look together:

Ignite Series Full

'Infinite' is the third and final installment of the Ignite series, not including novellas, and the release date is set for June 16th, so it's not far away at all. The synopsis means I don't even think I can wait that long, because it's so nail biting!

There are infinite ways to die, and the fates are calling for blood. After evading Azael since her betrayal, it’s finally time for Pen to stop running and face her desperate brother. 
But she won’t have to challenge him alone: the rebel army of New Genesis is ready to stand strong and fight to secure the future they believe in. As Azael spirals deeper and deeper into darkness, and Pen grapples with her new leadership role, a familiar name rises to power whose decisions have the potential to rewrite everyone’s future. 
Dangerous secrets, silent traitors, and unraveling fates means that time is running out. There’s no telling who will survive the final battle. In this thrilling conclusion to the Ignite series, Pen and Azael return to finish what they started over a millennia ago.
If you're as excited about 'Infinite' as I am, you should pre-order it on Amazon UK or Amazon US. Comment down below with your thoughts on the cover, or just to let me know how excited you are for 'Infinite' - it's gonna be brilliant!

About the author:


Erica Crouch is a young adult and new adult author from Baltimore, Maryland. She has a strange blended aesthetic of cute and spooky, and her books reflect her ever changing mood. (You may find romance, you may find gore—sometimes both in the same book, but probably not at the same time. Probably.) Erica is the cofounder of Patchwork Press — an indie publishing collective that produces middle grade, young adult, and new adult titles in all genres — and Weapenry — a resource for writers. She is the head of editorial services and design, with over fifty projects to her name.
You can contact her on Twitter or Facebook, or visit her website or her blog.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

RELEASE DAY BLITZ! 'One Chance Night' by Eliza Boyd

I've definitely been in the mood for more New Adult contemporaries recently, so I am super excited to say that it's finally the release day for 'One Chance Night' by Eliza Boyd! This is the first book in her Make A Change series, and it definitely sounds interesting.

On the surface, Chelsea Greer has it all: A loving husband. A nice house. A good job. In reality, she works hard to maintain the illusion that is her life. She's also missing the most important thing:
One night could change her life. One night could give her the strength to rediscover what's important. In one night, she could find love when she most needs it and least expects it.
All Chelsea has to do is follow her heart after One Chance Night.  
I love the way the blurb doesn't give much away - this is definitely a book I'll be going into without knowing much about it, and I haven't had one of those in a long time!

If you're interested in picking up a copy of 'One Chance Night', it's available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. I think this one will be worth it! I've already got my copy, so you can expect to see a review up within the next few days... Watch this space!

About the author:
Eliza Boyd is a contemporary women’s fiction and romance author. Also an avid reader, she writes novels, short stories, poetry, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Born and raised in Northern Illinois, she now lives in sunny Arizona with her husband and her plethora of animals. When she’s not reading, writing, or working, she can be found walking around her neighborhood (for exercise, not for stalking), taking photos of her pets, or catching up on her favorite shows. Catching up really means binge-watching.

You can contact Eliza on Twitter or Facebook, or check out her website!

About the publisher: 

This Release Day Blitz was organized by Patchwork Press. Patchwork Press is an independent publishing company that specialises in publishing YA and NA titles, meaning most of their releases definitely appeal to me! I'd like to give them a big thank you for allowing me to participate in this release day blitz, and I hope they carry on doing what they're doing for a long time to come!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Alien Ant Farm, P.O.D and Hoobastank - Reading Sub 89, 12/05/15

I've been to co-headline tours in the past, but never in my life had I heard of a triple headline tour, so this show was a magnificent thing. Three bands, three hour long sets. one hell of a good time. 

Considering the fact that Alien Ant Farm have been a band for twenty years, I think it must have been pretty nerve-wracking to be an opening act, especially for a tour as big as this, but they did a brilliant job of crafting a setlist that managed to keep the crowd interested throughout. The first two songs, 'Wish' and 'Forgive & Forget', didn't get much of a reaction, but placing 'Movies' so early on in the set hooked the crowd for the rest of it. If you don't remember 'Movies' I'll be very surprised - it's one of those songs that everyone knows, and that was evident from the screaming singalong it invoked. With vocalist Dryden Mitchell performing nearly the entire song stood out in the crowd, it was a great moment of fun and demonstrated exactly what to expect from the rest of the evening.
My personal highlight of Alien Ant Farm's set was definitely 'Let Em Know', a song from their latest album 'Always and Forever'. I knew Alien Ant Farm's 'ANThology' album, but I'd never listened to songs from any of their others, so it was great to experience them for the first time in a live environment. 'Let Em Know' stood out the most and I think I liked it more than most of Alien Ant Farm's earlier stuff, so I'm looking forward to hearing a bit more of the album soon. 
The rest of the set was pretty solid - lots of singalongs and participation from the crowd, and a strong sense of nostalgia as the band focussed upon playing their older material. Dryden dedicated 'Attitude' to his mother, telling the crowd that it was her favourite Alien Ant Farm song, and he wanted to apologise for everything he's said to her over the past week, a very touching anecdote. A story that wasn't so touching was him recollecting the time a stripper stole his money after he tried to convince her to give him some cocaine, so he stole her phone, stating "I'm all sad, I've got one fucking shoe on, and my life sucks." There were some boos from the crowd (whether directed at Dryden's story or the stripper, I'm still not sure) and it didn't really seem as though there was a point to his rambling, but it quickly gained direction when he started playing 'Simpatico' through the phone and the band flawlessly transitioned into playing it live. It was definitely one of the more unique starts to a song that I've seen live, but it's also one that will stick in my mind.
Finishing with 'Smooth Criminal' was always going to be the way, and the crowd went crazy once more for Alien Ant Farm, proving that - even though their most popular songs were released over a decade ago - this band still have a loyal and passionate fanbase. Walking off stage to a shout of "See you next year at Reading Fest, hopefully" makes me hope that we'll see them there too.

Forgive & Forget
Yellow Pages
Let Em Know
What I Feel Is Mine
These Days
Sticks and Stones
Smooth Criminal 

Next up were P.O.D and, similarly to Alien Ant Farm, I only knew of one of their songs which had reached super popular status - 'Alive'. This meant that I was surprised with the visceral reaction they received from the crowd, the energy of which didn't let up until long after they stepped off stage. Hoobastank's name might have been top of the bill, but most of the room were definitely here for P.O.D. 
Opening with 'Murdered Love', singer Sonny Sandoval was throwing everything into the performance and I was surprised he could keep it up through the entire set, which was relentlessly fast and furious. Playing the entire second half of 'Boom' on top of the crowd he didn't have to stop for even a second, and it was highly commendable. 
With a new album on its way in August, they played a couple of the newer songs, and the band definitely seem more invigorated by the newer material, with all of them having big smiles plastered over their faces throughout, looking pleased by the brilliant reaction the new material received. 'Revolucion' also had a great reaction, and with the knowledge that there's going to be an appearance from Sick Of It All on that song when the album releases, it's just going to get bigger.
The older songs also had great reactions: 'Youth of the Nation' had one of the loudest singalongs I've ever heard, as did 'Satellite', and when they closed the set with it, 'Alive'. I didn't fall in love with P.O.D, because they did sound quite similar to Limp Bizkit with the nu-metal and the rapping, but they're definitely a band I'm going to need to listen to more in the future, if only because I want to experience another of their frenetic live shows. 

Murdered Love
Lost In Forever
This Goes Out To You
Will You
Set It Off
Babylon the Murderer
Youth of the Nation

I was most excited about Hoobastank's set, as one of my closest friends is a huge fan of theirs so he's been making me listen to them for years. Starting off with 'Crawling In The Dark' and 'Inside of You' was a stroke of genius, because - despite the fact that a lot of the crowd did leave after P.O.D's set - it invigorated the people that were left and got them singing and dancing along from the start. 
However, their set was riddled with sound problems which left me feeling a little disappointed. Doug Robb has an extremely unique vocal sound, but the distortion of the microphone left it almost impossible to distinguish any lyrics at multiple points throughout the set, but most notably on 'Just One'. Musically, they were completely on point and it was a flawless performance, but the vocal distortion was very irritating throughout. 
Despite the sound problems, their set was still one of the best I've seen. With twenty years experience comes an ease to performing that really works for a crowd like this - Doug looked utterly confident and was fine with joking around, even though the crowd seemed less receptive towards the close of the evening. The fact that it's been nine years since Hoobastank last played in Reading, or in the UK extensively, was not evident. Due to the fact that they've been touring practically non-stop in America, this is not a band that is letting their skill slip with time, and they really are honing their craft.
With a promise of new music soon, it will be exciting to see what comes: it's been three years since their last album, and it will be good to see how they've developed in that time. When a band have as many albums as Hoobastank the music can often get stale, but based on their set last night that is not what's happening - they managed to fill their set with a variety of songs, and it was nice to get a couple of slow moments after the velocity that packed both Alien Ant Farm and P.O.D's sets. 
The announcement of "let's do the song!" preceded 'The Reason', which it isn't arguable is Hoobastank's most well known song. The crowd were all singing and swaying along, even the people who hadn't been involving themselves in the earlier songs, and it was nice to see the power of music in such an obvious way - everyone calmed down and cheered along, enjoying it wholly. Final song 'Out Of Control' picked the pace back up, giving everyone one last chance to put all of their energy into dancing, and it was a fantastic way to close a brilliant set.
I sincerely hope Hoobastank don't leave it this long until they come back again, because this is something I could definitely get used to. 

Crawling In The Dark
Inside Of You 
Just One
Running Away
Born To Lead
No Win Situation
The First of Me 
Same Direction
Remember Me
The Reason 
Out Of Control

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

'The ReArranged Life' by Annika Sharma - SPOILER FREE REVIEW (+ giveaway!)

First off I need to say a massive thank you to Curiosity Quills Press, for sending me an e-copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, and for allowing me to be a part of the 'The ReArranged Life' Blog Tour! 

Nithya, a vivacious, intelligent and driven college senior has always known what she has wanted: a successful career in medicine and the love of her family. She’s even come to terms with the idea of an arranged marriage, a tradition her conservative Indian family has held up for thousands of years.  
When a night of partying puts her on a collision course with danger, Nithya’s entire life changes. 
Enter James St. Clair, the smart, challenging and heartbreakingly handsome American. As Nithya and James fall in love, she questions the future she and her parents have always planned. 
Now, Nithya has a choice to make: become a doctor and a good Indian bride, or step away from her family and centuries of culture to forge her own path. The decision she comes to takes her on a journey that transforms how she sees her future, her relationships with loved ones, and how she learns to put herself back together when even her best-laid plans fall apart. 
The synopsis for 'The ReArranged Life' grabbed me instantly, because it was so unlike any book that I'd ever read before. I'm a huge supporter of the We Need Diverse YA campaign, and I've always thought that it should definitely branch out into the New Adult genre, so it was brilliant to see a contemporary novel like this with an Indian protagonist whose entire world was so deeply rooted in traditional beliefs. 
One of the most striking aspects of this novel was how surprisingly easy it was to relate to the main character. Despite the fact that Nithya was constantly referring to Indian terms that I hadn't heard of before (Google became a great friend during my reading of this book!) I didn't feel any less connected to her, because she had such an endearing personality. Throughout her burgeoning romance with James, and the quickly developing feelings of love she was having, she still constantly worried about what her family would think, and how it would affect their reputation, meaning that she wasn't just a self-absorbed and shallow protagonist. This all made it very easy to fall in love with her, and to feel for her throughout her conflicting and nerve-wracking experience. Similarly, despite the fact that the situation was so different from any that I'd experienced myself, I still felt as though I could relate to it to a lesser extreme - the idea that the boy you're falling in love with might not be the best for you or for your family is probably one that will resonate within all of us.
It was also very easy to fall in love with James, who was written fabulously. Instead of being instantly accepting of the fact that Nithya was supposed to have an arranged marriage, he took it very hard and contemplated where their relationship was going with an extremely mature approach. It was nice to have such an honest reaction to a sensitive subject - instead of getting over it straight away it took time and a lot of discussions between the two of them to come to a mutual agreement.
I didn't know much about Indian culture or arranged marriages before I read this novel, so I'm coming away feeling enlightened and intrigued. It's definitely a topic I want to read further into, because the pictures that Annika was painting with her words were so beautiful. When describing the wedding Nithya attends towards the beginning of the novel it was very artfully worded, and even though some of the specialist language Nithya used went straight over my head, it didn't dampen my enjoyment of the novel one iota.
I'm not going to give anything away about how this all gets wrapped up towards the end of the novel, because I really want you to read it and find out for yourself, because it's a great read. If you haven't read a novel with an Indian protagonist before, why not branch out and try it now? You will not regret it, I can assure you. This is Annika's debut novel, and I cannot wait to read more - her voice is so refreshing and it's great to get some more diversity in the field of NA, especially diversity that maturely discusses and weighs up a subject as controversial as this one. I've heard a lot of opinions about arranged marriage before I read this novel, but none of them have ever been from an Indian's perspective, and I think it's something that we should all really research a little bit more before judging.

To celebrate the release of 'The ReArranged Life', and the setting for James and Nithya's first date, I'm happy to offer you the chance to win a $25 Starbucks gift card, in conjunction with Curiosity Quills! Enter the giveaway below - good luck! And if you haven't checked out 'The ReArranged Life' yet, I highly recommend that you purchase it: it's available on both Amazon UK and Amazon US!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author:

Annika Sharma was born in India and moved to the United States (Pennsylvania!) when she was a baby. Annika was a daydreamer from day one, always coming up with stories and games of pretend that seemed real. She was a serious journal-writer from fifth grade to college and wrote dramatic scenes for stories often, inspired by soap operas she watched in summers off from school.
Eventually, when the time for college came around, Annika’s parents encouraged her to pursue journalism. Convinced she couldn’t make a living from writing, Annika disagreed. After five years, two degrees, two minors, working with children, being a dancer teacher, and creating a two-and-a-half page resume in college that had interests so all-over-the-place that even she couldn’t make sense of it, Annika finally decided her parents were right. Writing was where her heart was, all along.
In the month before graduate school, the idea Annika had in mind for years finally poured out in the form of the novel, The Rearranged Life. Annika began editing in earnest after she finished her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education, landing Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group as an agent. Three months later, she had a book deal with Curiosity Quills.
In her spare time, Annika loves spending time with her family and friends, often indulging in the three S’s: Starbucks, shopping and superhero movies. As a chocolate lover and general all-around vegetarian foodie, Annika also adores cooking.
If you love 'The ReArranged Life' as much as I do, you should contact Annika on her Twitter to congratulate her for writing an amazing novel! I'd also like to say thank you to Curiosity Quills once again for offering me such a brilliant opportunity to read such an insightful and enlightening novel.

Friday, 8 May 2015

'Cleo' (Cleo #1) by Lucy Coats

First things first, I need to say thank you to Hachette Children's Books publishing, for accepting my request to review this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

I was intrigued by the idea of 'Cleo', as it's a YA retelling of the history of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh, Cleopatra, before her rise to the throne. I have always been extremely interested in Egyptian mythology, so the idea of changing Cleo's story to make it more appealing for a YA audience was something I was extremely on board with. 
However, it just didn't seem as effective as I'd been expecting. The novel starts with the death of Cleo's mother, who we discover was pushed down a flight of stairs by Cleo's "Evil Sow Sisters" Berenice and Tryphena, all in a bid for them to claim the Pharaoh's throne as their own. Cleo knows she's next, so she flees from the palace with her slave Charm, to the safety of the temple of Isis, where she vows to dedicate her life to worshipping the God that claimed her before birth. We then jump forward four years, joining Cleo at the temple of Isis, where she gets sent on a mission back to Alexandria to retrieve a map stating a location where Isis can regain some of her waning powers. 
None of that sounds bad to me - in fact it sounds like a high octane adventure novel, with murder and impossible quests throughout. But the reality was completely different: the death of Cleo's mother and her journey to the temple dragged on for an extremely long period of time, and it definitely seemed to suck the life out of the book. I would have been a lot more interested in joining Cleo at the goddess temple and finding out how she ended up there, but unfortunately the entire first section of the story just read like an extremely unnecessary and lengthy prologue. 
From there, it did pick up - it just didn't pick up by a lot. Cleo reflects on her behaviour shortly following her mother's death, chastising herself for being so childish and throwing a temper tantrum, but then proceeds to act like a child at every possible opportunity, making her one of the most frustrating protagonists of all time. Cleo repeatedly gets told not to tell anyone about the reason behind her return to Alexandria, but Cleo then turns around and tells her best friend Charm instantly, proving that for Isis's "Chosen One" she really doesn't take the job description too seriously. She cements this by recklessly kissing the spy who infiltrated the Pharaoh's palace for them at a young age, risking all of their lives and the mission security in the process.
I did like 'Cleo'; it wasn't an absolutely terrible book, even if there were a couple of things that did make me want to groan with exasperation. It all just seemed too convenient: while being chased there was always a door left carefully ajar for them to hide behind, and it always seemed a bit too easy for Cleo to sneak around - as a high priestess and a princess I definitely think there would have been more spies keeping an eye out for her, rather than just one or two. The problem for me was that it all just seemed a bit too young: 'Cleo' feels more like a middle-grade novel than a young adult novel, because noting of young adult standard really happened here. 
If you like stories about Egyptians that use a rough outline of the mythologies but in more of a 'Cinderella' plot line, you'll definitely like this book - it reads much better as a 'Cinderella' adaptation than an adaptation of the stories I've heard about Cleopatra. If you're looking for something based on a serious topic, but with less hard-hitting scenes and language than a young adult novel, I'd definitely recommend this one for you. I'm just not sure this was the book for me, and that's not Lucy Coats fault! Her writing style is definitely unique, and the Egypt that she paints is realistic: the amount of language that I needed to look up because it referred to some obscure Egyptian delicacy really brought the book to life. I just think the audience is a bit younger than that of the books that I normally read. 
When the sequel to 'Cleo' comes out, I'll probably end up having a go at it - the book leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I am interested to see what happens, because the characters are all fleshed out and realistic - but it's not going to be one of my priorities. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

'Origins' (The Summoner #0.5) by Taran Matharu - SPOILER FREE REVIEW


I received the first book in the Summoner series, 'The Novice', from NetGalley, so when I found out that there was a prequel novella available free on the Kindle store, I thought it would be worth dabbling a little before diving into the main novel. 
We follow Arcturus, a orphaned stableboy who decides to run away from the abusive innkeeper who he works for. After gathering together all of his life savings, Arcturus decides to go through the saddlebags of one of the nobles staying in the hotel, hoping to find some jewels or weapons that he can sell on to help him survive on his own. In the bottom of the bag is a scroll wrapped up in some leather, which intrigues Arcturus, and he reads the scroll aloud to himself. The next moment there's a flash of light and a dreadful noise, before something crawls out of the darkness of the stable and... Licks his face? 
It turns out that Arcturus is a summoner - able to summon demons, which shouldn't be possible as this trait is passed down through the noble families and their first born children. The noble whose demon he just stole isn't the happiest about this development, and after Arcturus has been locked up for a few days and interrogated, it's determined that it's time for him to join the Vocans Military Academy, where they will teach him to capture and summon demons and to use the mana that flows through his demon, Sacharissa's, body. 
I'm going to admit that for the majority of this novella I was imagining it as a blended combination of Pokemon and Harry Potter - the cute Canid image on the front cover, with the fact that you get different levels of demons, and you're learning about it all in a magic school. These were not negative aspects, oh no. If there were a school that taught you Pokemon, I would be there. It just meant that 'Origins' didn't seem like the most unique idea to me, more like a fantastic mixture of two ideas I already really enjoyed.
There were some issues with this story. The characters aren't described at all, or at least if they are they're described scantly and are rather forgettable. Other than the image on the front cover, I couldn't really get a fixed picture of Arcturus, which left me feeling unattached to him. I know that he smelt a lot, because of the repeated mentions of him needing a bath (and did he ever get one?) but other than that I couldn't describe him at all. The same can be said of the other characters around him - Charles, the noble whose demon he stole, had a very strong personality, but other than him the other characters weren't really fleshed out. I know that this can sometimes be an issue in a novella, because of how few pages there are to fit everything in, but I think it could have been done better.
It also seemed quite strange that, towards the end of the book, Arcturus could just access Sacharissa's mana without thinking about it. There's a scene where a Wendigo is in the school's summoning room, and Arcturus starts using magic without a second thought, whereas the only other time he used it he was finding it rather difficult. Wyrdlights - the little blue glowy orb next to his hand on the front cover - seem to take a lot of his concentration the first few times he makes them, but in a throwaway comment he describes the wyrdlights as shooting from his hands, which seems a little bit impossible.
However, ignoring those aspects this was a solid attempt at a novella, and it's definitely gotten me more interested in 'The Novice'. I hadn't heard much about the novel, but after seeing inside the ether where the demons originate, and learning a bit about the type of magic that can be used, I'm definitely intrigued. 'Origins' has helped me feel like I already know the world of Hominum, and I feel at home in the Vocans Academy, and I just can't wait to see what happens with the main character of the series and how things change and develop from the novella. It would be great to see Arcturus crop up in trilogy, but if he doesn't it's not that great of a loss.