Friday, 31 July 2015

FRIDAY PLAYLIST: Anticipated albums edition

Because I obviously don't have enough CDs already, I always love adding to my collection. With just a few months of 2015 left, I thought it was the perfect time to make a Friday playlist dedicated to the new albums that are on their way - either at the end of this year, or the start of next year. I'm choosing the most recent songs released from the new albums - rather than my favourite songs released - so here goes nothing...

10) Don Broco - 'Automatic'

After the release of 'Priorities', I was a massive Don Broco fan. I've seen them more times than I can remember and have never been disappointed by a live show. However, I really don't like the direction that their new music is going in, 'Superlove' being a prime example of this. I've pre-ordered 'Automatic' (twice, in fact) and I'm seeing the band at Reading festival (and possibly Brixton O2 Academy) but I'm feeling very touch and go about this album. It's out in a couple of weeks time, on August 7, so we'll wait and see what I think of it then...

9) Bullet For My Valentine - 'Venom'

My relationship with Bullet For My Valentine is very much Marmite; I'll either love them or I'll hate them. Debut album? Genius. 'Scream, Aim, Fire'? One of my favourite albums of all time. However, things started to go downhill after that for me, and 'Venom' seems to be the first time that they might redeem themselves to their former glory. 'Venom' is out on August 14.

8) Simple Plan - TBC

Yes, 'Saturday' sounds like some weird-ass pop-punk version of High School Musical, but I FREAKING LOVE IT. I'm hoping the band are going to play some more of their new material at Reading festival but, with just the one song to go off of at the moment, I'm pretty pumped to see how their new album turns out. 

7) The Wonder Years - 'No Closer To Heaven' 

I like The Wonder Years - they're great live, they're a lot of fun and musically they're one of the strongest pop-punk bands around. However, I've always preferred Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, vocalist Dan "Soupy" Campbell's side project. 'Cardinals' is the first song by the band that I've ever gotten to verging on obsessing with -this one has been on repeat for me since it was released - and I'm hoping that this will be the year that I finally fall in love with The Wonder Years. 'No Closer To Heaven' is releasing September 3. 

6) Creeper - 'The Callous Heart'

I was so impressed with Creeper when I saw them in Swindon back in March, and after they got signed to Roadrunner Records it was pretty obvious big things were on the horizon. 'The Callous Heart', their new EP, is released September 18, and I think it's going to catapult this band to a whole other level. 

5) No Devotion - 'Permanence'

This one would have rated higher, but because of the fact that I've already seen No Devotion twice I actually know what most of the songs sound like. That means it's a bit less of a surprising, what is this album gonna be like?, release, and more of a "thank god you're finally here, I've been waiting all my life for you" release. 'Permanence' releases on September 25, and I can guarantee it's going to be beautiful - 'Grand Central Station' or 'Death Rattle' are likely to be the stand out songs. 

4) Neck Deep - 'Life's Not Out To Get You' 

I've never clicked with Neck Deep. I've liked them, but never loved them. But with the first two releases from 'Life's Not Out To Get You', I've finally had that moment of realisation - hot damn, Neck Deep are Very Bloody Good. Album is released August 14, so excited to see lots of new songs at Reading festival. 

3) Panic! At The Disco - TBC

Panic! At The Disco are another band that I was in love with but have disappointed me frequently in recent years. After the departure of drummer Spencer Smith, it really did seem like it was the Brendon Urie show, and that was something that really got on my goat. 'Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die' was a pretty good album during my first two weeks of listening to it, but after the novelty of new Panic! songs wore off I was disappointed and unimpressed.
When 'Hallelujah' first came out, it felt like a standard Panic! song. Brendon's high, verging on falsetto vocal, and the catchy singalongs; yep, I'd heard it all before. But after a few listens I really love this song, and I'm excited to see what the rest of the album will turn out to be like. 

2) Pierce The Veil - TBC

Gonna admit, I wasn't that happy when 'The Divine Zero' dropped. Compared to the quality of 'Collide With The Sky' as an entire album, the single just felt as though the band had taken a step back and had pulled themselves in and, quite frankly, it bored me. When a new song is released from one of my favourite bands and I feel bored during it? That's not a positive sign.
However, this changed after seeing them perform at the APMA awards last week. I don't know if it was the frenetic energy of the live performance or the return of Tony Perry, but something clicked and this song suddenly appealed to me a hell of a lot more. If they can bring that sort of mojo to their Reading festival performance next month, I'm going to be completely sold on this album. 

1) Bring Me The Horizon - 'That's The Spirit' 

It might seem a bit too predictable, having Bring Me The Horizon as my most anticipated album, but after 'Sempiternal' they have to pull something very special out of the bag. 'Happy Song' sounds like the band are definitely going down a nu-metal, softer kind of sound, and I'm impressed that they're still staying relevant - they were the kings of their screamo/hardcore niche, especially here in the UK, and to go in a completely different direction is a brave move. 'That's The Spirit' will be dropping on September 11.

I also need to give a big shout out to Mayday Parade, who are releasing 'Black Lines' in October - the only reason that isn't included in this playlist is because I'm too excited and nervous to listen to their new single, and I can't recommend it before I hear it for myself! Also, big up to Tonight Alive, who recently finished their new record - no idea when it's coming out, but it should be ace.

'My True Love Gave To Me' anthology

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'My True Love Gave To Me' is an anthology of YA short stories on the subject of Christmas. I know, I know - it's July, why am I reading Christmas stories now? Well, because the library didn't have the book available last Christmas, and I sure as heck wasn't waiting another six months. Non-seasonal reading can be appropriate, at least when it's a collection of your favourite authors in one!
Overall, I'm giving this anthology four stars, but I'm going to write a small review of each short story, because some of them really disappointed me while a lot of them exceeded my expectations completely.

'Midnights' by Rainbow Rowell - 4 stars
'Midnights', the first short story in the collection, is definitely the longest short story in terms of time - it follows Mags and Noel from their first meeting at a New Year's Eve party to a New Year's Eve party three years later. Mags is madly in love with Noel, despite the fact that he's her best friend, but every time the countdown to midnight starts Noel can be found kissing another girl. At their final New Year's Eve party, it's the year after Noel has gone off to university and the first time Mags has seen him since he left. She's understandably nervous, because they've hardly spoken at all during his time away, but when they hang out it's as though nothing has changed between them, and her feelings are just as strong as ever. As it gets closer to midnight, Mags is sure Noel is going to kiss another girl and feeling unable to cope with that she sneaks off - but when he finds her, they finally get their New Year's kiss.
'Midnights' definitely starts the anthology off on a really high note - Rainbow Rowell's writing style is brilliant and it means you can't help but care for the characters even though you only know them for such a short time. The only reason this one didn't give five stars was because it felt a bit too cliched - the friends magically falling in love at the stroke of midnight - but maybe that's just because I wasn't reading it at a romantic time of year. I also think this one lent itself really well to being part of a longer story; it was a great concept for a short story, but might have been more effective if it was a bit more fleshed out.

'The Lady and the Fox' by Kelly Link - 2 stars
'The Lady and the Fox' tells the story of Miranda, daughter of an imprisoned dressmaker, who is spending Christmas with her upper-class godmother. Miranda feels uncomfortable at the house, as she is obviously out of place, but when she bumps into another outsider - a man wearing a jacket with a fox embroidered on it - she finally feels as though she might have a chance of belonging. However, none of the other guests allude to the gentleman's existence, so Miranda is not quite sure how she met the mysterious man in the fox jacket...
This one did not make an impression on me, hence the fact I actually can't write any more of a synopsis to this one - it just didn't stick in my mind, not one bit. I couldn't connect to the story, because the way Miranda spoke and the scenes she described evoked imagery of an old Victorian age - but the story was actually set in modern times. There was a huge disconnect and I couldn't get past that, so this one was a big struggle for me.

'Angels In The Snow' by Matt de la Pena - 4 stars
Telling the story of Shy and Haley, 'Angels In The Snow' focuses on an apartment block in New York that is completely snowed in. Shy is cat-sitting for his boss when a random knock sounds at his door. He believed that the apartment block was completely vacated - rich New Yorkers genuinely have someplace else to be over Christmas, and he would have been back in Mexico if he could afford the plane ticket - so when he swings open the door and finds Haley on his doorstep, he's pretty shocked. Haley's shower pipes have frozen and because Shy is a gentleman he offers her the use of his shower until her pipes thaw out. Haley finds the idea kind of strange, but proposes a game - every time she goes to his to shower, they will tell each other secrets so that they will feel as though they know each other.
I really enjoyed this one! Shy is a really strong Mexican character, which - as well as being a massive point for diversity - made for interesting reading; some of the things he said, such as 'dire shit' and 'the survival skills I'd picked up back home (how to mug somebody)' demonstrated his self-deprecating attitude and gave him strong characterisation instantly. This combined with his use of Mexican phrases ('mijo' and 'esé' amongst others) really cements who he is, and I loved the depth of his character. Haley was also a really sweet character, even though she didn't really get any deeper than that - the revelation that she'd actually been trying to spend more time with Shy throughout was cute, but it was rather predictable.
The thing that really made this lose a star for me was the inclusion of chapter headings. I know it was just to break the story up a little bit more, but because they hinted towards what would happen on the next page or two it made for a completely anti-climactic feel and took away from the rhythm of the story.

'Polaris Is Where You'll Find Me' by Jenny Han - 2 stars
Set at the North Pole, 'Polaris...' is the story of the only human girl at Santa's factory - his adopted daughter. Natty's mother abandoned her in Santa's sleigh when she was only a baby, and he quickly adapted to the role of father, but this means Natty is pretty lonely all of the time. Surrounded by perfect, 'long and lovely and lean' elves, Natty feels clumsy and unappealing, and the lack of human contact means she seems to feel very self-consciously a lot of the time. Natty has feelings for Flynn, one of the elves, but elf and human relationships can never work out; she watches him in his relationship with Elinor and is filled with a sense of unending despair. However, Flynn finds her the name of the only human boy she's ever come into contact with, giving her a chance at a new life.
It surprised me, how disappointed I felt with this story. The other novels by Jenny Han that I've read have blown me away - I LOVED 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before'! But something just didn't work for me with this story. It might be because of how short it was, coming in at only fourteen pages, or the fact that there were lots of flashbacks and flash-forwards and it was hard to keep track of the timeline. There was just something that didn't settle well with me, and this story fell really flat.

'It's A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown' by Stephanie Perkins - 5 stars
The first five star short story is from the editor herself, queen of contemporary Stephanie Perkins. So far I've only read 'Anna and the French Kiss' out of Stephanie Perkins' companion trilogy, but I enjoyed that novel so much, and this short story is just as good (if not better!). Marigold Moon is an animator and after hearing the voice of one of the local Christmas tree salesmen she's convinced that he is the only possible star for her latest video. Trying to get up the nerves to ask him to help her, she accidentally buys a Christmas tree from him, but there's one small problem - her mother and her haven't been in their new apartment for very long, so they haven't unpacked anything. A montage of moving boxes and re-storing their stuff occurs, ending in a very romantic kiss between North, tree salesman and expert packer, and Marigold.
This one was just so adorable! North's utter contempt at needing to help her so quickly melts away and reveals that he's completely unable to stop helping her, and I thought that the evolution of his character and the progression of his feelings felt completely natural - even though the story was only based in the events of the night. The ending is perfect, closing on a brilliant cliffhanger with Marigold's mother just walking through the door to see the newly tidied apartment, but I thought it was a brilliant choice of ending - it keeps you thinking about the characters and wondering how they would be getting on now, but it also completely wraps up their evening and finishes before the plot would progress on to the next occurrence.

'Your Temporary Santa' by David Levithan - 4 stars
In another super diverse story, 'Your Temporary Santa' is the story of an unnamed guy who dresses up like Santa to help his boyfriend's sister to continue believing after the loss of their father. Connor asks him to dress up like Santa to keep the magic alive for his young sister, and our protagonist obliges because he's majorly in love.
Because we didn't get any information about the main character apart from the fact that he was gay, Jewish, and slightly fat, it was hard to feel connected to him. I found Riley, Connor's younger sister, to be absolutely adorable - she was convinced that Santa didn't exist, but was still optimistic enough to be easily persuaded by his arrival. However, because we didn't know where the children's father had disappeared off to (was he dead? Did he run out on them?) it wasn't as poignant a moment as it could have been. If there had been more information given about the protagonist this story would have probably been much more meaningful - however, I did really enjoy his ruminations on his relationship with Connor, and the ending is filled with hope for the year ahead which meant it finished on a really high note.

'Krampuslauf' by Holly Black - 5 stars
The second five star story of the anthology had to be Holly Black's twisted tale, featuring the Krampus - an evil version of Santa who ensures all bad children get their comeuppance on Christmas night. Hanna's best friend, Penny, has been cheated on by her boyfriend Roth - so their other friend, Wren, decides that they should throw a huge party to be the setting of a showdown between Penny and Roth's new girlfriend. Hanna agrees to host the party in her grandma's trailer, as long as they can have a classy and sophisticated New Year's Eve do. However, on the night of the party Roth shows up and trashes the joint, only for Hanna's fake ex-boyfriend to turn up and magically change him into a donkey (or an ass) for Penny's revenge.
Yeah, as you can tell this story is a rollercoaster ride, but it works because it's so well structured and planned. As well as the lead-up to the party, we get small segments of back story about all three of the girls, and that means that their actions and reactions are all realistic and believable. This means that the sudden appearance of an ex-boyfriend that Hanna made up is completely reasonable and doesn't make you bat an eyelid. Holly Black is a brilliant author because she can craft a world so completely that there's no room for questioning or the thought that it might go against logic, because she makes the logic of her worlds completely foolproof. This story was a rollercoaster ride, but it's one that I'd gladly take every day.

'What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?' by Gayle Forman - 5 stars
Two five stars in a row? That's just how good this anthology becomes after a few stops and starts towards the beginning. I love Gayle Forman's writing, so I wasn't surprised when I fell head over heels with Sophie Roth and her crazy, put-my-foot-in-it-again personality. Sophie has just moved to a university in the middle of nowhere on a scholarship, because - despite the fact that her dream university accepted her - she couldn't afford to make any other choice. Being a poor city girl surrounded by rich country bumpkins, Sophie struggles to settle in, so when she gets whisked away from a dreadful choir performance by the enigmatic Russell she's in for the most exciting night she's had in a while. Russell takes her to a little diner and after finding out she's Jewish and is missing Hanukkah, he decides to make their own Hanukkah celebration so she doesn't feel as though she's missing home as much.
I love the way that the stereotypical roles were completely reversed for this story, with the rich black guy and the poor white girl. Too often short stories use already established beliefs to make their characterisation and descriptions easier in their lack of space, so I think it was very clever of Gayle Forman to address this and flip the entire scenario on its head. I really enjoyed the scene when they commented on this - Sophie voicing her beliefs that Russell must have been a scholarship student, and him then retaliating with the fact that he'd believed she was rich - and still managing to start a relationship despite the fact that their backgrounds were so completely different. As the old adage goes, opposites attract. However, as well as this I just loved their individual personalities - their sarcasm and the way they bounce off of each other had me laughing out loud, and you really could feel the chemistry coming off of the page.

'Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus' by Myra McEntire - 3 stars
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, people were panicking because the barn that hosts the annual Christmas pageant got burnt down and the entire production seems to be falling into a shambles. Yes, after Vaughn accidentally burns down the church barn (hey, he was shooting fireworks at pigeons in an attempt to get them to shit all over his love rivals car, it's allowed, okay?) his community service is to help out with the twentieth annual Christmas performance, and because of the fact that he's burnt down their stage it's a bit of a panic. Sharing a working space with a local bar and rodeo facility, it's much more rednecks and bulls than Christians and a donkey, but it all seems to be working - until the space gets double booked, the director breaks her ankle and it starts to snow, leaving half of the cast members and most of the audience trapped miles away from the performance. Meanwhile, Vaughn is madly in love with the vicar's daughter and decides to do anything to make sure that the show goes ahead without a hitch...
This story all seems a bit too melodramatic for me. The sudden snowstorm leaving cast members stranded was kind of believable, and it's wasn't too much of a stretch for the venue to be double-booked due to someone forgetting to cancel a previously booked show, but the rest of the goings on just seemed to be thrown in willynilly to put a bigger obstacle for Vaughn to conquer. Come on, he already had the odds stacked against him - do we really need limbs being broken and scripts being blown all over the room into a disordered mess?
I liked the relationship between Vaughn and Gracie, though - the fact that they had discussions about good and bad were almost verging on preachy, but just about came across as cute instead. Vaughn had a very troubled back story that could have been explored more, but with all of the Christmassy action going on it was probably for the best that we didn't try to delve any further into his terrible home life - I don't think anyone could have taken any more drama in this short story. Gracie really saved the story for me; the vicar's daughter who falls in love with a bad guy, repeatedly says "ass" and sneaks off to kiss in a corner is the kind of vicar's daughter for me.

'Welcome to Christmas, CA' by Kiersten White - 5 stars
In this third five star story, we follow Maria, a teenage girl who is having a pretty tough time in life. Living in Christmas, a "census-designated place", Maria is in the middle of nowhere, and having to work at a Christmas designed diner all year around for measly tip money is something she can't being to fathom spending the rest of her life doing. All Maria wants is to leave Christmas far behind her; to take her tip money and run. However, when new chef Ben arrives he brings a sense of magic to Christmas that Maria has never experienced before. Ben has a sixth sense about what food will evoke the biggest sense of happiness from customers, so the residents of Christmas are suddenly all cheery, acting like old friends instead of grumpy neighbours, and all of their tips to Maria start going through the roof. So why is it, when escape from Christmas seems possible, that she suddenly feels the desirable urge to stay?
I thought this story was so damn cute. Maria complains constantly about her mother and step-father, Rick, who have been taking all of her paychecks since she started working at the restaurant three years ago. She thinks Rick is stingy and unemotional, labeling all of his food containers with his name to make sure that no one else eats from them, and only ever asking her questions about her inevitable departure from his life. Maria feels unwanted and unnecessary and grows resentful of her family. And this is why I love this story - Kiersten builds it up so brilliantly that you start to hate Maria's family for her, and then throws the truth on you with such a simple announcement; Rick and her mother have actually been saving all of their money and all of her money to go towards her college fund, so that she can finally leave Christmas and have the life she's always wanted.
I will admit, I found myself getting a little choked up at more than one moment throughout this story. There was just such a poignant and emotional feeling surrounding Maria - the fact that she's always wanted to get away from this life, she's never felt good enough and she's never felt appreciated, but the fact that she'd always had all of those things deep down and she'd just overlooked them... It was just beautifully written. The inclusion of Ben, adorable chef extraordinaire, also helped - he was such a little sweetheart, acting like a puppy who had been kicked any time someone didn't enjoy one of his culinary masterpieces. I would happily read more adventures of these two; they're characters that are going to stay with me for a while, I'm sure of it.

'Star of Bethlehem' by Ally Carter - 5 stars
In the most intriguing and mysterious story of the compilation, Ally Carter proves again why she's the queen of YA mystery writing in this brilliantly told short story. Lydia is waiting in an airport to board her plane to New York, when she sees an Icelandic girl in some trouble - her airplane ticket is nonrefundable and nontransferable, but she wants to go to New York to see the man that she loves. Lydia instinctively approaches her and offers to swap her tickets, despite not knowing where the Icelandic girl is heading, because all she wants to do is to get away from her life. Once her plane lands - in Oklahoma, in the middle of nowhere - Lydia starts to make plans: she needs a burner phone, a rental car and a hotel room, stat. But she doesn't bank on the fact that the Icelandic girl, Hulda, would have people waiting for her in Oklahoma; it turns out that she's on an exchange trip for five months, and the family who were hosting her were really excited about her arrival. Cue a montage of happy Christmas activities with a family and a guilt-ridden teenage girl, culminating in the big announcement of her secret past - she's world-renowned pop singer Lidda Chambers.
After reading Embassy Row and some of the Gallagher Girls novels, I was convinced Lydia was going to end up being a spy or an undercover agent of some capacity, so it was actually really exciting when the truth was so much more inspiring and interesting than that. Having a pop star run away because she just didn't want the life of fame and fortune anymore is definitely different for YA - too often the characters are striving for fame and success, whether in a band or as a supermodel, so it was great to see someone striving for an easier and simpler life.
I think I loved this story the most out of all of them because it was just so damn adorable. Aunt Mary had lost her child and husband in a car accident the previous year, so she completely took "Hulda" under her wing. Even after finding out the truth and realising that she'd been lying to them for weeks, Aunt Mary took it on the chin and dealt with it effortlessly, deciding right there and then that she was going to attempt to get custody of this unloved, over-worked, flight risk. It seemed a bit far-fetched, but not too unbelievable, so it really did feel like a Christmas miracle.

'The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer' by Laini Taylor - 4 stars
It's embarrassing to admit, but this short story was actually the first piece of Laini Taylor's writing I've ever read. The 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' trilogy looks amazing, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet because it's quite long, so is a rather large commitment. I went into this short story unsure on what to expect from her writing style, but I ended up falling into her storytelling.
'The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer' is by far the most fantastical installment of this anthology. Set on the Isle of Feathers, a land that was discovered by sailors hundreds of years ago, we discover that when the island was found there was a large hill covered in oily black feathers. The sailors decided to set fire to this hill, to claim the land as their own, but the smoke from the feathers overwhelmed them and the majority of them died, so when more settlers attempted to inhabit the land they buried the feathers instead.
There's a tradition on the Isle of Feathers; every day of Advent, a gentleman will leave a gift on his beloved's doorstep, and on Christmas Eve they will be betrothed to each other. Neve, our protagonist, is certain that no one will be leaving gifts for her - she's an orphan, the last member of a failed colony from far far away, and she lives in poverty. When the vicar decides to claim her as his wife, she's dismayed, because three of his wives are already dead. She prays to Wisha - the Dreamer - to save her from her poor existence and to give her more of a choice than between the vicar and squalor for the rest of her life. The Dreamer hears her cry and is woken (hence the title of the short story) and he loves her for waking him, for being such a standout character from the rest of the humans, so he leaves gifts for her until they meet on Christmas Eve, where he grants her largest Christmas wish; he gives her a pair of blonde wings, to match the pitch black ones he found buried when he awoke.
This was probably the easiest story to read in July - instead of being super focused on Christmas, there is much more of a focus on the characters hopes, dreams and personalities, and the usage of the Advent presents just seems like an obvious choice for the timings to develop. Neve acted much older than her age at the beginning of the story, commenting on how bitter and disappointed she is with everything, and I adored the progression of her character throughout the story as she grew to become excited about the Dreamer leaving her gifts and their eventual meeting.
After reading this short story, I'm definitely prioritising reading another Laini Taylor book, because her writing is beautiful.

And there you have it! The larger proportion of short stories in this anthology did get five stars, but then is that surprising when you have authors of such high calibre working together? The likelihood is that I will buy this anthology and read it again closer to Christmas - probably not this Christmas, but maybe the next one - and I'm sure it'll be just an evocative and emotional then, if not more so.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

COVER REVEAL: 'House of Grimm' by Ashley Dawson

Phew, another cover reveal? There are so many exciting covers being announced recently that I cannot keep track of them all! I feel like I keep repeating myself, because I'm always so excited about the books - but this is the most exciting of all, because it's based on a retelling of the Brothers Grimm! Scroll down to see the cover, and there will be more information about the book underneath...

Ah it looks so ominous, walking down the path in the middle of nowhere with the stormy sky above you! I can imagine this one is going to be creepy as heck, and it sounds even creepier after you read the synopsis:
After her best friend is the victim of a grisly murder, Dora is dragged unwillingly into a frenzied hunt for answers in this riveting young-adult debut from Ashley Dawson. 
The town of Grimsby is home to horrid secrets, including the true identity of the homicidal book writers in the old estate on the hill--the Brothers Grimm. And Dora is only the latest in a long line of their fairy tale characters destined for an untimely end. With the youngest brother taking a liking to her, she must figure out how to rewrite her story with his help, before the eldest brother writes her off for good. 
It's such a unique spin on a classic tale, and I'm beyond intrigued to see how this one plays out. To combine young adult with a murder mystery is an aspect that isn't explored as thoroughly as it could be, but this story definitely excites my imagination! If you're as interested in 'House of Grimm' as I am, watch this space for more information on the book as we near release day.

Last, but definitely not least, I'd like to say a huge thank you for Booktrope for allowing me to be involved in yet another cover reveal - all of their covers are too good to resist!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five character tropes

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

This week, Top Five Wednesday is focusing on top five character tropes. If you don't know what a character trope is, it's something that is overused and can sometimes feel redundant, but is something that you still love anyway.

I found this topic really tricky: most tropes annoy me to no end. However, I've collected five of the ones that I can appreciate - they still get written well, or there are multiple layers to the trope that can work well in the story line.

5) The absent parent trope

Whether they've left their child due to an inability to cope, or have died in some tragic back story, nearly every character in YA has a troubled relationship with their parents. This is one of my favourite tropes because I can relate to it, so some of the books I've read have meant a lot to me because I've been able to understand the emotions, but I also love this one because it really seems to light a fire under the protagonist and kick their ass into gear.

4) The idiotic heroine trope

Could be a trope, could be a personality flaw, but it happens all the time in YA. Bella Swan? Tris Prior? America Singer? All massively annoying and massively idiotic. But for some reason, we love them anyway - even as we throw our books at the wall in frustration.

3) The teenagers alone at the end of the world trope

It wouldn't be a good dystopian novel if there were adults or parents guarding you and shielding your every move, so it needs to be a group of teenagers out in the wilderness on their own. My favourite example of this trope is probably 'Tomorrow, When The War Began' by John Marsden, because the teenagers all go camping and when they return the end of the world is nigh, their parents nowhere to be found. It's a bit too constructed to be completely believable, but it works and is damn well entertaining. However, this trope does mean that if the end of the world happens, I'm going to be striking out alone - no cool YA characters hang around with their families and make sure everyone survives, duh.

2) The love triangle trope

I can't think of a YA novel that doesn't have a love triangle - or at least, doesn't alude to one - but some of them are really well written and I can enjoy them. Some love triangles are thinly veiled ploys to sell more novels, but some are really well constructed a believable. 

1) The I'm in love with my best friend trope

This is probably my favourite trope because this is something I am highly guilty of in real life! I just think sometimes it is so adorably written, and some of the novels are really effective and aren't cheesy in the slightest. 
I'm also picking this as my top trope because 'Never Always Sometimes' by Adi Alsaid comes out in a couple of weeks time, and it's all about best friends falling in love with each other, so it's definitely a plot trope that has been at the forefront of my mind recently. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten characters who are fellow book nerds

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

This week, top ten Tuesday is focusing on ten characters who are fellow book nerds. I found this one much harder than I'd been expecting to - I thought I'd read loads of books with bookish characters, but I just couldn't think of any of them. Somehow, I've pulled ten together at the last moment, so here goes...

10) Mackenzie Bishop from 'The Archived'

This one is kind of cheating, because the Histories aren't technically books, they're dead people. But Mackenzie wants to read them AND she works closely with Librarians - I think this is close enough to count.

9) Ethan's mom from the Beautiful Creatures series

Really, I could have picked any number of the characters from this book series - Ethan himself reads a lot, there are the librarians Liv and Marian, and a huge chunk of this series is set in the library (either human or Caster, take your pick). But I think Ethan's mom is by far the most book nerdy of the characters - she's described as using everything from forks to food as bookmarks, because she can never get her nose out of her books. 

8) Wade Owen Watts from 'Ready Player One'

For the foreseeable future, just expect to see 'Ready Player One' on every list I compile. Wade is a huge book nerd, even if he only focuses on reading 'Anorak's Almanac' and all of the sci-fi/fantasy novels that are referred to throughout it. 

7) Hazel Grace Lancaster from 'The Fault In Our Stars' 

I HATED 'The Fault In Our Stars', but I can't deny that Hazel Grace is one of the biggest book nerds I've ever met. She gets so utterly frustrated by the end of her favourite book that she tells her boyfriend, then they go to find the author at his home in Amsterdam. Sounds kinda creepy when you put it like that, doesn't it?

6) Cassie Sullivan's father from 'The 5th Wave' 

'Books? They're heavy and take up room in my already full backpack. But I have a thing about books. So did my father. Our house was stacked floor to ceiling with every book he could find after the 3rd Wave took out more than 3.5 billion people. While the rest of us scrounged for potable water and food and stocked up on the weaponry for the last stand we were sure was coming, Daddy was out with my little brother's Radio Flyer carting home the books.' 

If aliens are invading the planet and you're still hoarding books, I think that makes you the king of the book nerd clan. However, Cassie's dad isn't in the novel much, so I'm afraid he can't be my number one.

5) Darcy Patel from 'Afterworlds'

I haven't actually read 'Afterworlds' yet, but I've heard so much about it. This book tells the story of a young girl who puts college and her life on hold in an attempt to get her own YA book published. If you're an author, you must be a book nerd!

4) Grace Brisbane from the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

Grace works in a bookstore, and - if I'm remembering rightly (it's been 'Forever' since I read these books...) - she meets Sam for the first time while she's working, and that's an extremely poignant moment for these books. 

3) Liesel Meminger from 'The Book Thief'

This is another one I haven't had a chance to read yet, but being based in Nazi Germany and focusing on a young girl who gets taught to read by a Jewish man, Liesel becomes the "book thief" that the title refers to. Stealing books is bad, but also book nerds get tempted sometimes. 

2) Cath from 'Fangirl'

Writing Simon Snow fanfic all day long, Cath is the epitome of book nerd.

1) Echo from 'The Girl At Midnight' 

Last but not least, I had to choose Echo. She lives in a freaking library, for god's sake! If that isn't the book nerd dream, I don't know what is (well, apart from getting locked in Waterstones overnight; that would be pretty heavenly too). 

I hope you enjoyed my Top Ten Tuesday! Comment below if you agree with any of my choices, or leave your Top Ten Tuesday's so I can have a look at them. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

COVER REVEAL: 'Antidote' by Taylor Hondos

If you haven't guessed yet, I love creepy novels. Zombies = good. Death and destruction = good. End of the world? Pretty much my favourite thing in a book. So 'Antidote' looks like it's going to be a novel I'm going to fall head over heels in love with, meaning I am extremely excited to be involved in this cover reveal. Scroll on down to see it...

Ooh, the cover is just as creepy as I'd anticipated! But I also love how simplistic it is; the really clear, crisp font has a brilliant juxtaposition with the busier background - this is one that I could look at for hours. If you aren't completely sold on the cover, here's the synopsis: 

Life sucks, and then you rot. No one knows how Dermadecatis is contracted, but its existence has changed everything for 18-year-old Lena, in this riveting debut from Taylor Hondos.
No contact with other people. 
Masks must be worn in public at all times. 
Four months ago men, women and children alike began to rot from the inside out, and the world as we know it changed forever. Life goes on, but now everything revolves around the need to survive and find a cure for Dermadecatis, the disease that Lena Alona's father discovered. 
Unfortunately for Lena and everyone else who is desperate to survive, her father's secrets died when he did.
This appeals to me utterly and completely. The imagery that's being invoked just from the disease name - Dermadecatis - is nausea-inducing; rotting from the inside out must be one of the most inexplicable pains possible, so having this happen to a large majority of the population must cause mass hysteria. Similarly, the cure for the disease being an unknown makes this a brilliant quest novel - find the cure, save the world - and I'm already trying to work out how on earth this could be fixed. My never ending anticipated releases lists has just gained another friend!

Friday, 24 July 2015

'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

'Growing up as a human being on the planet Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.'

It's not often that I read a book and intuitively know that it's just become one of my favourite books of all time, but I had that realisation with 'Ready Player One'.
If you haven't heard of this book, I'll be extremely surprised - it's received rave reviews, and Steven Spielberg has already signed on for the movie adaptation that's in the works. I've had my eye on 'Ready Player One' for nearly a year now, but I just hadn't found the motivation to pick it up; the blurb was extremely vague so I had no idea what I was expecting from this one. In actuality, the story was much more engrossing and unique than I ever could have imagined. I'm going to give a brief summary of the first fifty pages or so - it'll seem like a large summary, because it's a complex story! - but I'm going to keep the spoilers to a minimum, because this is a book that you really need to experience for the first time with an element of surprise behind it.
Set in America in 2045, this is a time when the world has almost completely gone to shit. Our protagonist, Wade Watts, lives in one of many stacks that have formed around the country - piles of camper vans and trailers one on top of the other, creating crude and dangerous apartment blocks and maximising the use of the space. Wade lives with his aunt and fifteen other people in their trailer, which is part of a stack of twenty-two mobile homes, reeking "of cat piss and abject poverty". As you can tell, this is not the most glamorous setting.
With the world struggling with an increase of prices of fuel and transport, most people have become sedentary beings living their entire lives in the OASIS - a fully immersive virtual reality simulation. In the OASIS, people can act as though they have no problems, and they can be anyone that they want to be, meaning it's the ideal form of escapism.
When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he leaves behind a billion dollar inheritance with no heir to receive it. Because he was such a huge fan of video games, he used the opportunity to create the most extreme Easter egg hunt ever. In the OASIS, James hides three keys and three gates. Whichever user can find all three keys and clear all three gates first wins - the winner receives his inheritance and complete ownership of Gregarious Simulation Systems, the company that James owned and thereby the owners of OASIS.
Wade has had a pretty terrible life up until this point; both of his parents are dead, and his aunt cares more about finding her next fix than she cares about him. So when the competition gets announced Wade quickly dedicates his entire life to studying James Halliday and his likes and dislikes - including his obsessive compulsive fandom for all things 1980's.
I think one of the main reasons I love this novel is because of Ernest Cline's writing style. There is nothing about this book that I don't like - the descriptions are flawless, the characters are brilliant and the plot is so obvious yet so genius.
The setting is described impeccably and is utterly realistic - it's only thirty years away, but because the decline of civilisation is so easy to comprehend it's spine-chillingly possible that this could be the vision we grow accustomed to. The real world, and the OASIS world, are vibrantly crafted and are all so highly individual from each other - from Wade's trailer to his hide-out, from Ludus, the school planet, to Archaide, the gaming museum planet, they all have their own feelings and it's impossible to get two of the places confused because they all stand out.
This is the same with the characters. Because we spend so much time in Wade's head, it really feels as though we know him by the end of the novel, but his online friends Aech, Shoto, Daito and Art3mis are all three-dimensional and brilliantly rendered too. Normally, if there is a medium-sized group of characters (more than three, less than ten) there are characters that I really feel could be weeded out from the story without making any difference, but all of them are so vital to the furthering of Wade's quest. The joking, brotherly nature of Aech and Wade's friendship had me cracking up at every turn, while the aloof and mysterious Art3mis kept me guessing about her true character right up until the end.
The dialogue was also hilarious, having me laughing out loud at more than one point during my reading. During Wade and Art3mis's first meeting ('"I'm seeing flying ostriches in my sleep!" "That can't be pleasant."') and during an argument with a n00b towards the beginning of the novel ("If I didn't spend so much time offline, getting laid, I'd probably know just as much worthless shit as you two do.") it all really played to my sense of humour, which is another fabulous aspect of this novel.
I think the appeal with 'Ready Player One' is the fact that it's such a simple premise, but no one had thought to do it before. Gamers the world over have been obsessed with finding Easter eggs in games, and yet this is the first book I've ever read that focused on that single-minded obsessive nature and combining it with the standard quest plot. With the good vs. evil in the form of the ordinary people players vs. the Sixers - part of an elite corporation determined to cheat the OASIS and use it for monetary game - it means that there's an incentive to get behind Wade and his friends. I don't know if it's just me, but watching the typical, ordinary person on their struggle to save the world might be overdone, but it's still comforting; at least it's not me in that situation!
This is a highly accessible book - I'm not a massive gamer (you can find me whiling my time away on Tetris, but I don't think that counts...) but it's very easy to enjoy this book anyway, and I could visualise a lot more of the goings on than I'd expected to be able to. If you feel put off because you just don't play video games, or know a lot about them, don't let it scare you - you'll learn enough to feel like an expert, and with games from Joust to Pacman playing vital roles in the plot, even the most inexperienced gamer will feel involved in some aspect.
Another thing that surprised me was how un-daunting the constant '80's references were. I was born in the '90's, and I've never really had that much of an obsession (or an interest) in '80's entertainment or music, so I thought a lot of the references were going to go straight over my head. However, because a lot of the mentions were just in passing it meant that I didn't feel as though I was getting lost. It's also given me a great excuse to watch a lot of movies and TV shows to get more into the mindset of the characters - and I've had a blast collating a pinterest board with some of the things that Wade mentions in the story. If you were born in the '80's, or before the '80's, you'll definitely appreciate this novel - it might even remind you of some things that you'd forgotten from a previous time in your life.
I would highly recommend this story to anyone; in fact, there's just nothing bad for me to say about it. In fact, my only complaint is that it's not fair that this is a standalone novel! Too many books get dragged out and become stale by the end of a companion novel or trilogy, but with Ernest Cline's witty writing style and so many aspects of the world that hadn't been explored, I would have happily read another book based in the 'Ready Player One' universe.
Ernest Cline's second novel, 'Armada' was released last week, and I am going to get my grubby hands on a copy as soon as possible, so keep a look out over the coming weeks!

FRIDAY PLAYLIST: Summer edition

Ah, how optimistic I was when I crafted this playlist. I hoped it was going to be blazing hot outside, the sun beating relentlessly down and making us all curse it due to our British obsession with hating the weather. But currently it's quite chilly, very dull, and definitely pouring down with rain. This summer playlist is more marking the end of July and the near start of August, rather than sun, ice cream and beaches. 

10) 'Sweat' by David Guetta and Snoop Dogg

I'm not that partial to dance music, but it's a summery song so I felt like it had earned a place here.

9) 'Ocean Avenue' by Yellowcard

Old but gold.

8) 'Salt Sweat Sugar' (aka 'Bleed American) by Jimmy Eat World
Returning to the "sweat" theme... 

7) 'The Other Side' by Tonight Alive
It might be because they're Australian, but for some reason Tonight Alive always remind me of summer. Combine that with the fact that this song talks about lying under sunsets, which you definitely don't do in winter!

6) 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
This is purely a summer 2015 song, because the most popular songs of the year ALWAYS get over played in summer - it's the number one rule of summer parties, DJ sets and playlists (just like this one!). 

5) 'Sunshine' by Kids In Glass Houses
Yes, this song is utterly melancholic, but if you're British (which I am!) you really do need to learn to "stop wishing for the sunshine" every summer... And I'm definitely "living in the rain" right now. 

4) 'Boomerang' by The Summer Set
When The Summer Set's third album was released I listened to it all summer, so any of the songs from 'Legendary' could have made this playlist - I think 'Boomerang' is fun and catchy though, so had to pick this one. Also, The SUMMER Set? Get it?

3) 'Money Power Fame' by Don Broco
This was a toss up between 'Money Power Fame' and 'You Wanna Know', as both made their live debuts at Reading festival so are quintessential summer tunes.

2) 'Summer Nights' from the Grease soundtrack
Uber cheesy, I know, but who doesn't love Grease?! 

1) 'Summer Paradise' by Simple Plan
There were no contenders for the top spot - Simple Plan had it in the bag the second I decided to create this playlist. As well as being one of the best songs about summer ever written, I'm also seeing them at Reading festival this year, so this is going to become cemented even further into my ideal summer. 

If you're in a different country this playlist might actually reach you on a summery day - or is that just me being optimistic once more? Either way, I hope you enjoyed this playlist, see you next week!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Elasea - 'Where I Belong EP'

Since seeing Elasea for the first time supporting Funeral For A Friend they've definitely been a band I've held in high regard. They put on brilliant live performances and have such a visceral passion for the music, which are both attitudes I appreciate bands having. When the band contacted me and asked if I'd like to review their new EP, 'Where I Belong', I had to say yes - I just couldn't help wondering whether their recorded tracks could live up to my high expectations. 

Opening track 'Glass Heart' sounds just as good as it does live, which automatically sets a high bar for the rest of this EP; three of these songs are ones that I've already heard, so I'm already attached to them. Sometimes songs work much better live and don't translate well on to a recording, but this is not one of those problems - it's just as flawlessly performed. The chorus is addictive, the lyrics utterly catchy, and I really do enjoy this one.
'Where I Belong' is by far the most pop-punk of Elasea's songs; the intro is a hybrid of Four Year Strong and Neck Deep, and there's a brilliant section in the middle that is just made to be clapped along to live. As the title track of the EP you'd expect it to be similar to the other songs, but it's remarkably different - you can still tell that it's Elasea because of Andy Bradford's distinctive vocal tone, but other than that it could be a completely different band. It's good to see the band stretching themselves; no two songs on this EP sound the same, and bands with less experience under their belts often stick too closely to a set formula once they've written one good song. 
'Lost In The Dark' is definitely my favourite Elasea song - it stood out for me when seeing them live, and after the release of the music video earlier this month it's stayed firmly stuck in my head. The split vocals at the end of the song (with Liv Jones contributing vocals and Simon Jackman guest starring on the song) really add an extra layer, sending shivers down my spine, giving me goosebumps - all those cliches, but it's true that they do. There's not a single thing I can fault about this song, and I still think it's an arena-worthy track - mind-blowing to have been achieved at this stage of the band's career. 
'Time Is Against Us' is one of the heavier songs on the EP; the vocal switches between a growl and a softer sound, reminding me of We Are The Ocean back when they still had Dan Brown as a co-vocalist. This is also an amazingly catchy song - Elasea have a talent with lyrics and know how to write something that will stand out and hook you from the first moment. 
The most surprising song on this EP was definitely 'On The Line', featuring Alex Gale. The only acoustic song, it surprised me how much such a different style still suited them. I'm a sucker for a song with a male and female vocal, so this was right up my alley, and with the beautiful guitars in the background reaching a crescendo towards the end of the song it's a really emotional song. It's perfect road trip music, and I can imagine people blasting this song with their car windows down and the wind in their hair; it's evocative of the end of summer. 

The thing that makes Elasea stand out is their vocalist, Andy Bradford. His vocal tone is extremely unusual, but what I find the most impressive is how he chooses to phrase his lyrics. As someone who did performing arts for years I've studied lyric phrasing closely, but Andy makes decisions that are pulled from completely out of the box, and their songs really benefit from this. Instead of making predictable choices, by playing with the tempo of the lyrics throughout the songs it allows the vocal to shine, but also means that there's more focus thrown on the music - you just can't help but notice it, because making an usual vocal choice makes it all stand out. If you don't know what I'm going on about, I'd highly recommend you listen to 'Lost In The Dark' (linked above) because it's easy to recognise on the chorus there, but it's a trend that continues throughout their songs and it's something I adore. 
I also really appreciate the musical side of this band as well. A lot of the time I find myself ignoring the music because I focus on the vocals, but Elasea are a perfect blend, and that's something I haven't heard in quite a while. By working with multiple genres, this EP is certainly eclectic, but I think it will widen their appeal and they are very brave to take risks and do what they want to do with their music - it's something I think fans will love. 

Glass Heart
Where I Belong
Lost In The Dark (ft. Simon Jackman)
Time Is Against Us
On The Line (ft. Alex Gale)

Once again, huge thanks to the band for sending their EP through to me, and I can't wait to see where these guys go next - it's so exciting!

AUDIOBOOK SAMPLE: 'The Last Leaves Falling' by Sarah Benwell

After participating in Top Ten Tuesday this week, I've found myself unable to stop thinking about 'The Last Leaves Falling' once again - it's such a heartbreaking story, and the characters are so vibrant that they really do haunt you long after finishing the book.

Recently, I've been considering starting to listen to audiobooks, so I'm excited to be able to share this excerpt of 'The Last Leaves Falling' audiobook with you. Because I already know the story I'm probably going to get this title on audiobook; I've always been too nervous to experience a book for the first time in an audio format in case I miss snippets and need to jump back and interrupt the flow, but I think it might be easier if it's a book I already know and love.

Check out the snippet below:

If I do end up listening to this audiobook, you can expect a review of it when I've finished, but I'm still quite reluctant about the format; it's silly of me to find them so scary!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five side characters that deserve their own series

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

When it comes to side characters, I normally like them more than the protagonists. Come on, you have to agree with me, right? If not, you will after you see this top five - you'll need these books just as much as I do!

5) Alice Cullen from the Twilight series

I know everyone is still waiting on 'Midnight Sun' to be released, but I don't really need any more Edward and Bella. Alice is definitely the most badass member of the Cullen family, so why not follow her for a while? With her precognitive powers allowing her to see the future she could quite easily become a detective, and a series of crime novels focused on her and Jasper would be brilliant stuff.

4) Jonah from 'Way Down Dark'

We get a little bit of Jonah's origin story in 'Way Down Dark', but I think it would be amazing to see some of the years that he grew up with the Pale Women - because he was the only male in their group it would be interesting to see that dynamic. Because 'Way Down Dark' is only the first book in a trilogy we might get more of Jonah's story in the future, but I want that now. 

3) Wren from 'Fangirl'

'Fangirl' follows the story of Cath and Wren, two twins who go off to uni together. Cath is our protagonist and through her we see that Wren goes a little bit off the rails, getting drunk a lot of the time. It would be interesting to see Wren's motivation behind this - whether she also feels separated from her twin and feels the pressures of uni - so I'd love to get a little bit more from this character.

2) Prince Maxon from 'The Selection'

I've only read the first book in 'The Selection' series so far, but I just adore Prince Maxon - he's a little sweetheart! Getting to experience the Selection from his point of view would be brilliant; hearing his thoughts on all of the women, struggling with juggling participating in the contest with helping to run Illéa... I just think it would be much more interesting from the male point of view. 

1) Valentine from The Mortal Instruments series

There aren't enough books written from the perspectives of truly evil characters, so getting inside Valentine's head would be a mind-blowing experience. I find that the bits of The Mortal Instruments that I enjoyed the most were definitely the flashbacks and recollections of Valentine when he was younger, so I would love to read a prequel series detailing his motivations, stories from The Circle, and exactly how he got so damn bad. 

I hope you enjoyed this top five Wednesday! Do you agree with any of my choices? Do you think I missed a really obvious side character that deserves their own series? If so, leave a comment down below!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

BOOK TRAILER REVEAL: 'The Silent Treatment' by Melanie Surani (+ GIVEAWAY)

Today is the trailer reveal for The Silent Treatment by Melanie Surani. This trailer reveal is organized by Lola's Blog Tours - thank you for allowing me to be a part of it!

The Silent Treatment - Book Cover ImageThe Silent Treatment (Katrina Jaitley #1)
by Melanie Surani
Genre: Mystery
Age category: Adult
Publisher: Booktrope

Twenty-eight year old Katrina Jaitley is rebuilding her life after escaping an abusive boyfriend. The last thing she needs is the mystery she stumbles on during a bout of retail therapy. But she can't ignore the coil of film -- a piece of movie history -- she finds hidden inside her purchase. Unfortunately, Peter, the handsome host of the estate sale, disappears before Kat has a chance to return it to him.

Curious, Kat watches the strip and is shocked to witness the murder of a famous 1920's silent film star by a fellow actor. When a news article cites Kat as the film's owner, her already complicated life goes from bad to worse. Someone begins stalking her. Are they trying to silence her or what she has discovered?
If you're interested in 'The Silent Treatment, it's on Goodreads and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Check out the book trailer below:

Since partaking in the cover reveal for 'The Silent Treatment' a couple of weeks ago, this one has really been playing on my mind, so I love this trailer - using all of the clips from old black and white silent films really sets the scene, and I'm anticipating the release of this book all the more now.

Author Photo - Melanie SuraniAbout the Author:
Melanie Surani is a blogger, hair stylist, and author with a heart for international travel. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee before taking extended trips to Canada, Germany, and Philadelphia.

When she isn’t cutting hair, Melanie is thinking about ways to kill people (for mystery novels). DVDs of British comedies help keep her calm. She lives with her husband and cat in New York City, where she is hard at work on her next novel with Booktrope Publishing.

Her previous work includes 'The Morning After', 'Commanding Disappointment', 'A Body in a Seat', 'A Similar Fate', and 'The Silent Treatment', a novel soon-to-be republished by Booktrope.

Melanie is a member of the International Thriller Writers society. Her fiction can be found anywhere ebooks are sold. Follow her adventures on her tumblr.

If you'd like to tell Melanie what an awesome book trailer she has, you can contact her on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her website

Four Fun Facts About Melanie Surani:

  1.  Melanie enjoys visiting museums, especially wax museums. Madame Tussauds and the films House of Wax (1933/1953) were inspirations for her thriller novel, Awake.
  2. Melanie knows a lot about cats and cheetahs – like how to own one as a pet, though she’s only had house cats.
  3. Melanie was homeschooled as a kid in Memphis, so she learned a lot about writing, languages, and art at a young age.
  4. Melanie loves food and there’s almost nothing she won’t try once, including brains and offal. No bugs.


As well as having an exciting trailer reveal, I'm happy to offer you the opportunity to win a couple of prizes while you're here. The prize pack includes eBook copies of Melanie's books ('The Silent Treatment' and 'Awake') and a Trendimi gift voucher for a make-up artist course!
You'd be silly if you didn't want to enter this giveaway, so use the rafflecopter down below...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books that celebrate diversity

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

Hello there! Crazy to think it's already been a week since my first installment of Top Ten Tuesday; time just goes so fast these days.
This week, in a topic very close to my heart, we're talking about the top ten books that celebrate diversity, or diverse characters. These aren't necessarily all books that I've read, but they're books that I'm looking forward to reading.

10) 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

When it comes to celebrating diversity, I always have to throw out a mention to 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'. Charlie, our protagonist, is suffering with a form of PTSD due to repressed childhood memories, meaning that he is a diverse character in himself, but his gay best friend, Patrick, is a brilliant portrayal of an LGBT character in YA. 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' is the first book I can remember reading that had a confident and strong-minded gay character, and that's always stuck with me. 

9) 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

I only started reading 'Ready Player One' a couple of days ago, but I've already been impressed by how unusual this novel is. Our main character, Wade, lives in "the stacks" - tower blocks made up of mobile homes stacked one on top of the other, resembling a metal shanty town. I've never read a book that managed to portray poverty in such a graphic way (within the first chapter Wade states that his "trailer reeked of cat piss and abject poverty") and it's definitely opened my eyes to a socioeconomic status that I haven't seen properly explored in YA before. 

8) 'Trash' by Andy Mulligan

Taking 'Ready Player One' as a springboard, 'Trash' is similar in that it's set in an actual shanty town, but in an unnamed third world country. As well as focusing on a different country and a culture that must be unimaginable to most of us, the status differences between the well-off and the poor set up a very interesting dynamic. 'Trash' is marketed as a children's novel rather than a YA novel, but this one really had an effect on me. 

7) 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli

'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' is quite a recent release, focusing on the coming-out story of a teenage boy. I haven't managed to read 'Simon...' just yet, but I've gotten it out of my local library so should be reading and reviewing it quite soon.

6) 'A Kiss In The Dark' by Cat Clarke

Similarly to 'Simon...', I haven't had a chance to read 'A Kiss In The Dark' yet, but I love Cat Clarke's writing so I know for a fact I'm going to love this one when I get around to reading it. I don't know much about 'A Kiss In The Dark', but I know for a fact that it focuses on a lesbian love story, and that's enough to have me on board. 

5) 'Amy and Matthew'/'Say What You Will' by Cammie McGovern

I read 'Amy and Matthew' back in January. I didn't exactly fall in love with this book, but I definitely appreciated what Cammie McGovern was doing in terms of diversity - this is a love story between a cerebral palsy sufferer and a boy with debilitating OCD. 

4) 'Every Day' by David Levithan

Every day A wakes up in someone else's body and lives a day in their life, so in this novel we get chapters from different religions, people with different sexualities and people suffering with different mental illnesses (ranging from addiction to depression). While the book doesn't go too in-depth with any of the other characters, it's definitely one of the most widely diverse books I've ever read. 

3) 'The ReArranged Life' by Annika Sharma

Until I read 'The ReArranged Life' I hardly knew anything about Indian culture, but this book is utterly informative and teaches you so much about the differences between our cultures.

2) 'Noughts and Crosses' by Malorie Blackman

One of my favourite book series of all time, Malorie Blackman's 'Noughts and Crosses' series is an emotional, soul-crushing look into racism and segregation, and is one of the best YA novels featuring people of colour. 

1) 'The Last Leaves Falling' by Sarah Benwell

When I think of diversity, the first book that pops into my head is 'The Last Leaves Falling', because it was such a gut-wrenching and emotionally involving book that I still feel as though I've got a part of myself invested in the story. It's been over six months since I read it and I still feel sad about it - that's how brilliant this novel is. This is the story of Sora, a seventeen year old Japanese boy suffering from ALS, and as well as being the first YA book I've ever read set in Japan, it's also the first novel I've read that has included ALS.

Looking back at this list I can see that I read much too much heart-breaking diverse YA; I need to find some more fun and quirky contemporaries featuring characters from different ethnicities and cultures! If you have any recommendations please leave them down below; if not then I'll see you for another top ten Tuesday next week. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Five things I missed at YALC

If you're anything like me, this past weekend you will have been hunched in front of your laptop, madly refreshing Twitter to get some insider knowledge of all that was going on at YALC.
You don't know what YALC is? How! It's only the biggest Young Adult Literature Convention held in the UK, and this is the second year it's occurred. It was launched last year by Malorie Blackman and with this second year it has just gotten bigger. 
However, I still couldn't attend, which makes me feel lots of sadness. But for all of you other YA fans who couldn't attend, I thought I'd compile a list of the five most exciting things that happened at YALC! 

(Most of these goings on have been found through the YALC Twitter, but I'll credit and link original posters in captions)

5) Diversity being celebrated

Embedded image permalink
Posted by Liz Kessler on Twitter
Liz Kessler and James Dawson are both out and proud YA authors - and what is more exciting than feeling comfortable to be yourself and help encourage others to feel comfortable about being themselves too? Their panel discussing LGBT and YA was one of the most thought-provoking things that happened, so I'd suggest you scroll back on the YALC Twitter to see the live tweets that they posted throughout. 
Another thing relating to LGBTQIA that made me think was a question posed to one of the panels: "What about asexuality in books?". I definitely root for all sexual orientations and romantic inclinations to be displayed fully in the YA genre, because for teenagers often books are the only way to learn things - how can you learn about yourself if you aren't represented? But I think Samantha Shannon answered in such an eloquent and enlightening way that really makes me question the world around us...
"Is it possible that not having sex and asexuality is more taboo?"
Tell me that that doesn't make you look at things in a different light and I will be very surprised. It's something that I've never considered before, but I'm dwelling on it now.

4) Derek Landy promoting his new series

Embedded image permalink
Posted by HarperCollins Children's UK.
Personally I'm not *that* excited about this (please don't kill me!) but some of my best friends are massive fans of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, so I know how excited they are about the 'Demon Road' promotion. This series definitely seems more up my alley than Skulduggery did, so I'm keeping my eye on this one... 

3) 'Lady Midnight' chapter samplers

Embedded image permalink

I know some of these were available at BEA, but it's exciting to know that there are officially chapter samplers over here in the UK. I don't know how I feel about there being a third Shadowhunters series, but I'm still going to give 'Lady Midnight' a try, if it ever comes out... 

2) The announcement of LA Weatherly's new series

I'd heard mumblings that LA Weatherly was going to be announcing something extremely special at YALC, and I was not disappointed when she announced 'Broken Sky'. The first book in The Broken Trilogy, I'm already sold - 1940's America setting? Count me in.


1) The Mental Health in YA and the Being A Girl panels

If I'd been at YALC I would have been right at the front for these ones, and that's the reason that they rate above new book announcements or chapter samplers. The themes and issues dealt with in books are always going to be the things I care about the most, and these are both issues I care a great deal about. 

I've struggled with mental health issues in the past and I definitely found that some YA books were a massive comfort for me in those terrible times. Authors such as Cat Clarke and Laurie Halse Anderson have been huge influences on me. This panel would definitely have been the one that had the biggest personal meaning to me - even reading some of the live tweets quoting it made me insanely emotional. 
For anyone out there that struggles with mental health issues, YALC retweeted a beautiful sentiment: 

Embedded image permalink

Similarly, I'm a strong believer in feminism, and one of my favourite things in the world is finding a strong feminist character in YA - so hearing established authors discussing a topic so close to my heart would have been unmissable. The media have done a great job of making feminists seem old, unattractive and ridiculous, so it's marvellous to see authors inspiring young people to take up the feminist gauntlet. I would have loved to have heard some of the discussions at this panel!

And those were the top five things I'm really sad I missed at YALC. 
As well as this, there was a bucket list wall for 'All The Bright Places' by Jennifer Niven and a secret wall celebrating 'The Accident Season' by Moira Fowley-Doyle. There were also shirtless men dressed as fallen angels to promote the 'Unforgiven' (the upcoming 'Fallen' spin-off novel by Lauren Kate), while the cosplay panels all looked like brilliant fun. I also loved Samantha Shannon's interview with Newsbeat that she gave just before YALC, in which she discussed wanting to allow people to read what they want to read.
I sincerely hope that I'll be able to attend next year!

Once again, check out YALC's Twitter to see other images and decide on which five things you wish you hadn't missed - if you were really sad about missing something leave a comment and we can wallow together.