Monday, 30 November 2015

Patent Pending - Oxford O2 Academy 2, 29/11/15 (+ Patent Pending and Zebrahead acoustic)

This was actually a Zebrahead headline show, but because of tricky transportation and the band having a super late stage time, we missed the entirety of their set. This meant that I was even more grateful that I decided to buy a VIP ticket, giving me access to short acoustics and a meet and greet with both Patent Pending and Zebrahead before the show. 

I knew I was in for an extremely fun night when Patent Pending started their acoustic with 'Hey Mario', a song about - you guessed it - everyone's favourite video game plumber. I'd never heard a song about a video game that had such a great moral: "This princess isn't worth these extra lives". Vocalist Joe Ragnosta has a powerful voice, and because I hadn't heard either of the songs they'd played before I was even more impressed by their performance.
There wasn't much time before the official door opening time, so the band sped along into their second song, with Joe gesturing wildly to the crowd and saying "We don't have much time, so imagine I just said something hilarious!". It was impossible not to smile through their set, because Joe is so unbelievably charismatic and full of a boundless energy. He asked the crowd for songs that they wanted to request, but rapidly turned down all of the options before choosing 'Douchebag', justifying it by saying that he was "bridging the gap between the old and the new, the things we know how to play and the things we have no clue".
I'd never seen such a lovely singalong to a song called 'Douchebag', and that proves how genius Patent Pending are - you can sing to their songs, and they sound beautiful, but their lyrical content is so hilarious that there's no way you cannot have fun. 

Hey Mario

Knowing these were the only two Zebrahead songs I'd be seeing, I was happy when they played one of their newer songs. Their newest album 'Walk The Plank' was released a month ago, but I only purchased it at the show so I hadn't heard any songs before hearing 'Worse Than This' acoustic. Despite the fact that Zebrahead are nearly twenty, they still write incredibly catchy songs with singalong moments, so I'm definitely looking forward to listening to the rest of the album.
I'm sad that I didn't get to see any of their full band set, because the acoustic was amazing. Where Patent Pending only performed with three of their members - their vocalist and two guitarists - Zebrahead had the entire band involved, and seeing drummer Ed Udhus playing drums on a bar stool was an experience I'm never going to forget. Both vocalists, Ali Tabatabaee and Matty Lewis, performed brilliantly, and their voices complement each other even more in a live environment than they do on their recorded songs. I can't really remember much about the last time I saw them live - it was four years ago, so my memory is a bit fuzzy! - but I don't remember being as blown away as I was in an acoustic environment. 
If I get the chance to go and see Zebrahead again I will definitely take advantage of it, because they are so much fun and are really lovely guys. 

Worse Than This

Now, over to the main show. I hadn't heard of opening act Man With A Mission, but when they started their set with intro track 'Man With A Mission' by Bad Religion, I knew it was going to be a special set. They walked out wearing their wolf heads and my jaw dropped - they looked absolutely badass. I have instant respect for any artists that wear costumes on stage, because I can't imagine how hot it must be. With all of the members throwing themselves around and performing with such energy and enthusiasm, it must have been even sweatier for them. That's dedication.
Sounding like a mixture of Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine, with their quick talking vocals and dance undertones, I was speechless. I can't put into words how instantly I was gripped by their set, and it passed in a blur of what felt like less than five minutes.
I haven't seen a response of that magnitude to an opening band since back when I saw Zoax opening for Tonight Alive last summer. The crowd went from 0 to 100 in the space of one song, and didn't stop jumping and dancing throughout their set. When they covered Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' it could have gone one of two ways - it's an amazingly heavy song, so with the dance spliced throughout the track there was a possibility of it being a disaster - but Man With A Mission avoided disaster and received the biggest crowd reaction that we saw in the evening. I can't vouch for what it was like during Zebrahead, but with a huge mosh pit breaking out and continuing throughout, it was an effervescent and riotous response.
The energy just stayed up through the set. With DJ Santa Monica and one of the guitarists (I'm unsure which one, I mean, they do wear costumes!) going out into the crowd during one of the later songs, it was mind-blowing when the eyes in their wolf heads lit up, making them glow bright yellow as they stood over the crowd. It was both menacing and astounding, and it was the icing on top of the cake.
When Ali and Matty from Zebrahead appeared for a song, 'Out of Control', the audience exploded into action once more - their vocals worked so well on the song, and you could see the bands had been touring together for a while because the chemistry was so natural. It was probably my highlight of the entire weekend of gigs, because it was so unexpected. We'd been able to see them stood side of stage enjoying the set, but as soon as they finished their performance they went back to their spot and watched the end of it, so you could tell that they genuinely appreciated the other bands show.
I hadn't heard of Man With A Mission before this show, but I've bought their album and I can't wait to listen to it. I already adore them.

Take What U Want
Smells Like Teen Spirit cover
Fly Again
Out of Control (ft. Ali and Matty from Zebrahead)
Get Off Of My Way

Now, for our headliners, Patent Pending. We missed Patent Pending at Slam Dunk this year because their set overlapped entirely with PVRIS, but it was definitely a regret so I was glad to finally see them.
While they were setting up they started an impromptu rendition of '...Baby One More Time', and following that up with their intro music of 'Final Countdown', it was a unique opener. Where Man With A Mission were heavier and incited mosh pits, as soon as Patent Pending took to the stage the floor turned into a giant trampoline - the jumping did not stop throughout their set.
That was applicable both for the audience and the band. Joe started throwing himself around the stage, jumping into the crowd within the first song and not hesitating to leap from one side of the stage to the other. Throughout 'Classic You' he was having quite a few microphone problems, but they were hardly noticeable - when you're having that much fun it doesn't matter if it's not completely perfect. But after the first song the issues settled down, which was a relief. It was good to see Patent Pending performing at their best.
As well as all of the jumping and bouncing, there was also lot of spontaneous hand waving, including many counts of jazz hands, and some pirate hooks in the air - this was the 'Walk The Plank' tour, after all. Joe introduced it, shouting out for "pirate hooks up in the air!" and when only a few members of the crowd did he paused, looking around, and shouted "have some fucking Oxford pride, and put your pirate hooks in the air!" which certainly got a larger chunk of the crowd involved. From that intro they dived into 'Psycho In Love' (the song that I was most excited about hearing in their set) which is better in a live environment than on a recording, made even better when Joe came out to the middle of the crowd and proceeded to teach the audience the different crowdsurfing techniques as they carried him back to the stage.
His energy is undeniable, a boundlessly unflappable charisma, and when he explained that he had ADHD before 'Started In My Head' - a song about his disorder - it didn't surprise me all that much. ADHD is something awful to have (I mean, it's a disorder, come on!) but it does really benefit his role as a frontman. There's no way he'd be as unstoppable without it, so I'm almost grateful for it!
I definitely recommend you listen to 'Started In My Head', which is off of their newest album, 'Riot Hearts Rebellion'. It was only released two days before the show ("our new album came out two days ago. If you don't have it yet, you're late! If you stole it off the internet, resourceful!") so they only played one song off of it, but it definitely stood out from the rest of their material. It might have been the subject matter, it might have been the way that the energy got that little bit more frenetic, but it was a definite highlight of the set.
The other big moment followed it, and that was their performance of 'One Less Heart To Break'. Joe shared the fact that the band strongly support many charities that support sufferers of depression and self-harm, and he gave a beautiful speech about the fact that nothing was as bad as it seemed, and that life could always get better. He encouraged the crowd to find something they loved and "spread it like wildfire. There is such a thing as happiness, and I fucking promise you this is it". Compared to the talk about pirates, it was inspiring to hear such a heartfelt sentiment, and it proved Patent Pending aren't a one trick pony - they don't just perform upbeat, humourous songs, they can also make a real difference in their fans lives.
But then, in a huge 180, they went from performing the closest thing they had to a ballad to performing 'Hey Mario' once more. After hearing it for the first (and only) time acoustically, experiencing it with the Super Mario music playing in the background really added an extra something to the song. I'd enjoyed it in the earlier session, but it was catapulted above and beyond when there was the added visual of Joe performing all of the Super Mario-esque jumps, and encouraging the crowd to join in with him at every possible opportunity.
From that into a cover of 'Soft Kitty' and 'The Big Bang Theory' theme song, this definitely won the award for the most ridiculously diverse show I've ever experienced, and I think it also wins the award for the most fun show I've been to - if not ever, then definitely in the last year or two.
In a very poignant moment, Patent Pending played their penultimate song 'Brighter' after giving a indirect tribute to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks earlier in the month. Joe took a moment, saying that he didn't want to dwell on it, but that "the world is an entirely fucked up place right now. People are scared to leave their houses. A bunch of fucking assholes broke into our house - I'm talking about the house of music, where we are right now - and they tried to take it from us, but we're still fucking here", and with the round of applause that went up it really showed a united front, which was hugely inspiring. So many bands have been cancelling tours, so many fans have been terrified to go to live shows, and it felt right that Patent Pending addressed the difficulties and showed solidarity with the victims and their families. It was very tender and touching, and I'll definitely remember that moment for a very long time.
Before closing with 'Douchebag', the band announced that they'd recently been getting their songs played by Kerrang! radio, and begged the crowd to keep requesting the song ("go to their house with biscuits, please please please insist they keep playing Patent Pending") and it was surprising that after fourteen years they're still so humble and thankful for radio play. It shows how much they care about their music, and it proves that they appreciate everything that they achieve. They really are a lovely band, and they deserve all of the success that they get. At the very end of the show, before they walked off stage (and Joe blew raspberries into the microphone for a good couple of minutes...) they announced that they'd be back in the spring, so I'm definitely keeping an eye out for that tour.

Classic You
Shake Weights & Moving Crates
Let Go
Psycho In Love
Dance Till We Die
The Whiskey, The Liar, The Thief
Started In My Head
One Less Heart To Break
Hey Mario
Soft Kitty/Big Bang Theory theme song

The 'Walk The Plank' tour was nothing but camaraderie - Man With A Mission having Zebrahead on stage with them, Patent Pending calling out to Man With A Mission and calling them one of the best support bands they'd ever seen, and Patent Pending thanking Zebrahead, announcing "they've been in their band long enough to have been my first rock show, and they're part of the reason [we] started the band"... These were a bunch of friends playing together, and all of the crowd members became friends throughout the show. If you get the chance to see any of the bands, don't miss out.

If you saw Zebrahead's set, please let me know how amazing they were: I don't mind if it hurts, I just want to know that they put on a great show! 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bring Me The Horizon - Alexandra Palace, 28/11/15

I realised last week this show was going to be the fourth time I'd seen all of the bands on the bill in the last twelve months! With a line-up this brilliant, there was no way I was going to pass up on the opportunity to attend (I mean, come on, nothing's ever beaten this line-up, apart from the You Me At Six/Kids In Glass Houses/The Blackout/Deaf Havana Halloween show extravaganza) and I've been highly anticipating this show for months. 

Playing Alexandra Palace as their second London show ever is a huge achievement, so I was ecstatic that PVRIS received the crowd reaction that they did. In the year since they've released their debut album 'White Noise' huge things have happened for the band, and with the crowd singing and dancing along at every possible moment throughout their set, it's inspiring to see their hard work paying off.
Because I'd already seen them quite a few times this year there were no big surprises in their set - still six songs, still fabulously performed - but I still enjoyed every second. Their blend of pop and rock sensibilities gives their sound the chance to accrue a large fan base, and that's definitely in the midst of happening.
The reaction to 'Mirrors' and 'St. Patrick' was especially vibrant, and seeing a large majority of the crowd jumping along to this kind of music is not what you would have expected at a Bring Me The Horizon show a few years ago. You also wouldn't have expected to see a support band whose lead singer shouted "Have you all got your party pants on?" but that's exactly what we received, and I don't think anyone was disappointed with their show. PVRIS aren't everyone's cup of tea, but they make it very difficult to dislike them.
I'm finally seeing a PVRIS headline show in April - my birthday present to myself - and I'm hoping they'll take the opportunity to really break out of the mold and own their live show. They play the role of supporting band extremely well (with having supported Sleeping With Sirens, Pierce the Veil and soon to be supporting Fall Out Boy, they must have been doing something right!) but it'll be brilliant to see them stand on their own.

White Noise
St. Patrick
My House

In some strange twist of fate I've gone from being begrudgingly accepting of Neck Deep to being more excited about their set than any of the other bands. For a while there it seemed as though everything that we were attending had Neck Deep on the line-up: Slam Dunk, Reading, All Time Low, which was nice and all, but I wasn't a huge fan of their music so it didn't get me jumping up and down with anticipation. But that started changing at Reading festival, when they began turning my opinion of them around: it finally looked as though they were becoming something special.
I still haven't listened to 'Life's Not Out To Get You' in full (when I'm excited about an album I normally wait, out of fear that it won't meet my expectations) but the songs that I'd heard from it - 'Can't Kick Up The Roots' and 'Gold Steps' specifically - were exciting and a huge advance from the music that they'd put out earlier in their career. You could feel a change in the air, and that change finally struck me last night.
With the setlist comprising of three songs I'd never heard before, this was certainly the most varied Neck Deep show I'd seen this year. In the past I've complained about the fact that all of their songs sound the same, but this is a complaint I have with a lot of pop punk bands of late. As Neck Deep say it best, with their slogan t-shirt 'Generic Pop Punk', it sounded as though every band was releasing the same music for a while there. But Neck Deep have finally found that development that was necessary to lead the genre to a more exciting place.
Starting off with 'Citizens of Earth', I was struck by the difference in their technique. The music was heavier, and there was shouting, unclean vocals?
Wait, that can't be right. This is Neck Deep. They don't have an unclean vocalist. Were Fil or Dani taking a (microphone) stand? From where I was, stuck behind a lot of tall people right in the centre of the crowd, I wasn't sure what was going on; no clue in the slightest, and a lot of the people around me looked equally concerned.
It was only when, after 'Losing Teeth', vocalist Ben Barlow shouted out to their "friend Sam Carter from Architects" that I realised why the sound had been so revolutionary. Who'd have thought that Neck Deep with a heavier sound could work that well? And who'd have thought I'd be completely able to miss a guest vocal spot that exciting? This is why you read my reviews, kids. I'm observant as shit.
But from the slightly confusing and extremely different opening song, Neck Deep didn't revert back to their old patterns. None of the songs sounded the same: all of their intricacies (lyrics, guitar lines, drum patterns) sounding so vastly different from each other that they all stood out for me. 'Kali Ma', a song about Indiana Jones, and 'Serpents', a slowed down, heart-wrenching moment, stood out the most for me, but what really impressed me the most was Neck Deep's new found ability to craft a setlist.
Whereas before the songs blended in together, the complete changes between the songs surprisingly still managed to sound cohesive. It didn't feel like a band shoving a lot of random songs together, as though they were playing their set on shuffle; it felt considered, deliberate... Amazing. From the dance-y bouncefest that is 'Can't Kick Up The Roots', into the melancholy 'Serpents', down to the acoustic ballad 'A Part of Me'... Each song was 180 degrees different from the one before it, but they all felt like Neck Deep.
'What Did You Expect?'. Well, I never expected to think Neck Deep were the highlight of this show: PVRIS are one of my favourite bands, while Bring Me The Horizon are always brilliant... But neither of them could hold a torch to Neck Deep. This band have really come into their own with their second full length album, and I'm excited to see where they can go next. The only way is up.

Citizens of Earth (ft. Sam Carter)
Losing Teeth
Gold Steps
Kali Ma
Can't Kick Up The Roots
A Part of Me
What Did You Expect?

Bring Me The Horizon are always going to put on an amazing show. It's a fact of life, like the sky being blue or needing oxygen to breathe. Performing is in their blood, and they've never let me down in a live environment. So when I say I was expecting brilliant things from this show, I'm not exaggerating.
Unsurprisingly, Bring Me The Horizon did not let me down. I will admit that I was a little bit disappointed that they only added two new songs into their setlist (well, four, but I'd already heard 'Happy Song' and 'Throne' live), because I'd been excited to see a wider range of the songs from 'That's The Spirit', but the two they played were both excellent. Starting off with 'Doomed' was inspired, because it set the tone for the rest of the show - brilliant singalongs with a darker lyrical edge - but 'True Friends' was my highlight of the set: it's just so damn catchy. I've been unable to stop listening to it since the album came out, and it's been stuck in my head for what feels like months.
I'm not sure why, but this show did feel less organic to me than the other Bring Me The Horizon shows I'd experienced. It might have been the venue - the ceilings are high and if you're not stood in the right place the sound can seem distorted - but I'm not sure if that's exactly what it was. It meant that this wasn't the best that I'd seen Bring Me The Horizon perform this year. The backing track was a bit overpowering at points, and while Oli's vocal was good it just didn't seem to have that extra something that has made it stand out in the past. That might be because they've done nothing but tour for months now, but it just didn't feel right.
That being said, the band still performed live better than almost any other band that I've seen, and that's extremely commendable. Guitarist Lee Malia was amazing as usual, and Matt Nicholls seemed to be putting more into his drumming than I'd ever witnessed before. Oli's energy is constantly unflappable, and he kept it up throughout the entire set: it's just a shame that the set was so short, because I'd been hoping for a bit more from the band. After seeing them perform at Wembley Arena last year, where they played a large variety of material both old and new, I'd been expecting a little bit more from a headline show of this magnitude, but beggars can't be choosers.
This was still an extremely fun show, and it definitely proved that Bring Me The Horizon are at the top of their game and are pushing the boundaries in the genre. Considering the fact that they sold this show out in just over two hours, it's pretty obvious that they're popular and will be selling out venues of this size just as quickly for a long time to come. It does make you wonder if a headline slot at the O2 Arena could be on its way...
I just hope that whatever they do, the next time I see them they do something different; something that will impress me that little bit more and prove they're undefeatable. I think their supports might have had them beaten at this show.

Happy Song
Go To Hell (For Heaven's Sake)
House of Wolves
Chelsea Smile
Shadow Moses
True Friends
Can You Feel My Heart?
Blessed With A Curse

Friday, 27 November 2015

The 1975 - Swindon Oasis, 27/11/15

I'm going to be honest: I was only attending this concert because it was near to my house. I didn't expect it to sell out as insanely quickly as it did, and I felt a little bit guilty about getting tickets. I only knew 'Chocolate' and 'Sex'. What about all the hardcore fans of the band who were now missing out? Would everyone hate me for getting tickets because of the convenient location?!
But over the last couple of weeks I've listened to The 1975 a lot more, and I've ended up really liking them, and getting excited about seeing them.

First up was Rat Boy, who we accidentally missed at this year's Reading festival. We'd been intending on seeing them (him? I'm not sure. It's a solo project, with three people in the live band), but there were too many bands to keep track of! It totally wasn't our fault.
After seeing them at the Oasis... I'm almost glad that we missed them. I'm not sure if it was their attitude or the venue, but it gave me flashbacks to the many school talent shows I've experienced over the years and I was not impressed.
'Wasteman' and 'Sign On' were both extremely catchy and well-performed, and while I dislike constant rhyming couplets in pop songs it made a lot of sense and was fun. Sadly, the first half of the set all blurred in together for me, and I found myself getting very bored. There was no interaction with the crowd (apart from a half-hearted request for a circle pit before 'Left For Dead') and it was very introspective, so it didn't win me over.
The second half of the set did pick up speed, the band seeming as though they'd gained confidence, but it seemed as though it was over as soon as it had really started. Rat Boy work well as a supporting band, but I can't see them headlining large venues any time soon.

Carry On
Hanging Round
Left For Dead
Sign On
Fake ID

(I couldn't get a full setlist as I didn't know any of his songs before this evening, sorry!)

I was rather anticipating The 1975, and while I only knew four of the songs that they played I ended up having an amazing evening.
This was all down to the amount of new music in their set. After 'Love Me' I was still enjoying the show, but I felt a little bit restless - the guitar was overpowering and vocalist Matt Healy was indecipherable with his slightly whiny vocal, these problems specifically bad on 'The City' and 'You' (except for the climactic outro of 'You', which feels like a set closer to me: it has that epic sound that sends shivers down your spine and really stays with you). The crowd were still going wild, treating the band with a godlike reverence, and there was lots of screaming and singing along but I didn't get it. It didn't sound great to me, and I'm not quite sure why.
But the band went off stage for a brief interlude, and when they returned and started playing more of their new material... It completely transformed my opinion. When talking about the new songs, Matt said that they wanted to "play it to our proper fans first", and you can see why - it's unbelievably different.
'Change of Heart' is as eighties sounding as 'Love Me', while 'She's American' was an instant song to sing along to with its catchy chorus and repetitions. Fast forward two songs to 'Somebody Else' and 'The Sound', and I was absolutely hooked. 'Somebody Else' was very easy to relate to and will quickly be incorporated into lots of lyric edits on tumblr., while 'The Sound' was fun, upbeat and easy to dance to. As Matt himself announced, "We're not a very jumpy band, but now we are!", and it's brilliant that the band themselves can acknowledge the crazy direction that they've gone in, but seem so excited about the possibilities.
While I don't understand the appeal of The 1975's earlier music, I absolutely adore the way that their sound is changing, and I think the new direction they're heading in is extremely exciting and could do revolutionary things to the UK music scene.
Of course I enjoyed the main set closer of 'Girls', and the encore of 'Chocolate' and 'Sex', but nothing could beat the new music for me. I found 'Me' to be very interesting, and it definitely showed the respect and awe that the crowd have for the band. Matt said "I just wanna do one song where there's no phone, so I can just look at your faces. I don't wanna be grumpy, but I really want to connect with you. [...] Let's look at each other and have a lovely three minutes of being alive", and at other shows where this has been requested fans haven't paid much attention, but you could see that the focus was solely on the band for the entirety of the song. For such a connected generation to actually put their technology down and live in the moment... It feels like Matt really could be a god, for managing to make his fans do something that difficult. While the new material was what really stood out for me, I can definitely accept the fact that The 1975 are talented musicians, and they're very comfortable up on that stage doing what they do best.
I'm very, very glad that I went to this show. I didn't have high expectations, but coming out of the show I'm so hyped about the new album and I respect The 1975 much more than I did before. They got famous very quickly with not a lot of graft, so I wasn't too convinced by them - with the new material they've proved that they have a talent for writing and are not scared to take big risks, and I definitely appreciate that bravery.
The 1975's new album, 'I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It', is released in February, and I for one can't wait to hear it in full. Matt shared that the band were "a bit nervous about it", but they have nothing to be worried about. It's going to be huge.  

Love Me
Heart Out
Settle Down
So Far (It's Alright)
The City
Change of Heart
She's American
Somebody Else
The Sound

FRIDAY PLAYLIST: Songs I'm seeing this weekend

I'm seeing eight bands this weekend (Eight. EIGHT?!) and I'm excited about all three gigs that I'm going to. So this Friday playlist - the return from our brief hiatus, while I completely NaNoWriMo - is the ten songs I'm most looking forward to hearing this weekend. You can expect to read about all ten of them in my reviews over the coming three days!

10) 'A Part of Me' by Neck Deep (ft. Laura Whiteside)
I adore this song. I'm not ashamed to admit that my eyes well up every time I hear it - live and recorded - so I always look forward to hearing this song.

9) 'Psycho in Love' by Patent Pending
I don't know much (see: any) of Patent Pending's material, but I've tried to listen to them over the last few weeks because I'm seeing them on Sunday, and I'm meeting them too! This is one of their songs that I've enjoyed the most - it's so catchy!

8) 'Happy Song' by Bring Me The Horizon
This song is absolutely electrifying in a live environment, and I can't wait to see it again.

7) 'Holy' by PVRIS

I've seen PVRIS live four times this year (after this weekend) but I've only heard 'Holy' once, so I'm looking forward to hearing it again. 

6) 'Chocolate' by The 1975
When I last saw The 1975 - at Reading festival 2014 - I only managed to see half of 'Chocolate', because I got to their set really late. It'll be exciting to finally hear it in full.

5) 'Rescue Me' by Zebrahead
I can't remember much about the first time I saw Zebrahead, but I can remember hearing 'Rescue Me' and really enjoying it. I'm not sure how much of Zebrahead's set I'm going to see - damn the lack of public transport on a Sunday! - so I'm probably going to miss 'Rescue Me'... Fingers crossed that they'll do it in the pre-show acoustic set that I'm attending.

4) 'Sign On' by Rat Boy
I missed Rat Boy at Reading festival, but 'Sign On' is just so catchy that I'm really hoping they perform it in their support slot for The 1975. 

3) 'True Friends' by Bring Me The Horizon
Based on the setlist that Bring Me The Horizon have been playing for the tour so far, I'm going to be hearing two new songs from 'That's The Spirit': 'Doomed' and 'True Friends'. I'm definitely more excited for the latter - it's a banger! 

2) 'Love Me' by The 1975
You have to admit, this song is absolutely amazing. I'm not a huge fan of The 1975 - I only bought tickets to their show because it was in my hometown! - but 'Love Me' is the exact change in direction that I'd been hoping for from the band. 

1) 'Can't Kick Up The Roots' by Neck Deep
I've never been a massive fan of Neck Deep, but for some reason I just can't stop listening to 'Can't Kick Up The Roots'. I'm getting very excited about seeing them, and it's the first time that that's happened - maybe this will be the weekend when I finally fall in love with them.

Thanks for listening to this Friday playlist: see you on the other side of this gig weekend!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

'A Kiss In The Dark' by Cat Clarke

*This review will contain spoilers!* 
'If things went to plan and I kept liking Kate and she kept liking me (that was the tricky part of the equation), then there was a chance everything would be alright in the end. Because that was how live was supposed to work, wasn't it? True love will prevail or whatever. Not that I was in love with her or anything. Not then, anyway.'
'A Kiss In The Dark' is a love story told in two halves: 'Before', which is told from Alex's perspective, and 'After', from Kate's viewpoint.
However, it's not your conventional love story. Kate thinks that Alex is the perfect boyfriend, but the truth is... Alex is a girl. They meet online and after talking for a week or so they meet up at the Saving Serenity concert at their local venue, and Alex is certain that Kate will realise that she is definitely not a boy, but when she doesn't, Alex's determined to not let Kate find out the truth about her. She's quickly falling in love with her and she didn't want it to be ruined if Kate found out the truth.
Alex goes to extreme measures to keep her gender a secret from Kate: she wears masculine clothes, uses bandages to bind her chest up and even goes so far as creating a fake penis to wear in her jeans (a tube of mints wrapped in gym socks). But when Jamie, Alex's brother, discovers what has been going on he forces Alex to break up with Kate, and she knows it's for the best.
What she's not betting on is Kate turning up on her doorstep, desperate to beg her "boyfriend" for another chance.
And this is where the proceedings switch to Kate's viewpoint, leading us into the 'After' section of the novel.
'My life could now be neatly divided by a single point in time: before or after I found out my boyfriend was a girl.' 
Kate is distraught. She's been falling in love with Alex for months now, and finding out her boyfriend is actually a girl is a massive shock. She confides in her mother, who she has a fraught relationship with, but her mother adds two and two together and comes up with seventeen: she's certain Alex sexually assaulted Kate. Kate doesn't deny it, but she begs her mother to never mention it again.
Of course her mother doesn't do that. She phones the police, backing Kate into a corner so she feels that she has to give a false statement. She doesn't want to waste police time, and she knows it would upset her mother. She understands that it's wrong, but Alex broke her heart, so she thinks she deserves payback for that.
It's only when she finds herself thinking about the potential of a future with Alex - female Alex - that she realises that she's done the wrong thing. Alex is going to court for the sexual assault, but Kate turns up at the courthouse and stops the proceedings by announcing the truth: that she lied, and that Alex did nothing to her. When asked why she's decided to be honest, Kate's answer is simple: 'Because I love her'. 
'Maybe one day she would love over at me again and I'd see that look in her eyes and I'd know that she'd fallen in love with me all over again. And she wouldn't care that she was a girl and I was a girl, because what did it matter? Love was love.' 
I love the idea behind 'A Kiss In The Dark', because while it's unbelievable, it's written in such a way that it's completely feasible. Cat Clarke has a way of covering every possibility so that there's no way that it can be seen as unrealistic, making Alex question Kate's naivety multiple times, and having Kate still able to see the masculine traits that she'd seen in Alex after she knows the truth so that the illusion isn't completely shattered.
I adored the 'Before' section much more than the 'After' section, because I could empathise with Alex more than I could Kate. You could tell that what she was doing was out of love, even if it was misguided, and I felt for her because she thought she needed to go to such desperate lengths to keep her first love. The fact that sexual intercourse never came into her mind proves how innocent she was - she believed that hanging out with Kate and kissing would be enough for a relationship, which I thought was a lovely aspect of her personality and proved how much she loved her for her, rather than for her looks.
I appreciated the two lies mirroring each other (Alex's lie to Kate; Kate's lie to the police) but I found Kate to be too childish. She did the right thing eventually, but while Alex lied for a good reason, Kate did it to gain approval from her mother and to hurt Alex. When the excuse she gives Jamie is "She ruined my life!" I just wanted to shake her and ask her to put things into context. Is getting your heart broken by someone really the same as sending them to prison? No. I wanted nothing more than for Kate to get over herself.
I know why we needed to have two perspectives to make it effective and to really tell the story, but because I didn't really like Kate I found myself enjoying the novel significantly less in her section. It was beautifully written, with astoundingly powerful metaphors (the imagery about lies burning through the floor to the foundation of the house being particularly moving) and a moral ending to the story: always do the right thing. But Kate's constantly bad attitude grated on my nerves after a few temper tantrums, and her attitude seemed contrived.
I also wasn't too impressed with the ending of the novel, but that's because it was sudden. It was a natural closing point, and I'm glad that the story wasn't dragged out, but it meant that we didn't get to see any of the fallout from Kate's honesty. Alex's parents must have hated Kate for accusing their daughter of sexual assault, but we don't get to see interactions between them. It also would have been extremely interesting to see Kate's mother's reaction when Kate's dishonesty was revealed, as she had blindly trusted her daughter straight away.
There was also the little problem of Kate's "best friend" Astrid. Kate and Astrid had fallen out, so Astrid had been posting slanderous messages about her and Alex on Facebook. Kate doesn't respond to the messages, but because we never see Astrid get her comeuppance it means that plot line is a bit of a waste. It doesn't cause any character development and it doesn't have a climax, so it's an odd inclusion.
On the one hand, I dislike the fact that we didn't get a tidy ending, but on the other hand I was so happy with everything else. The descriptions of days out around Scotland were lovely, and definitely made me want to go there. I found it very interesting to learn about Hogmanay, because it was something that I'd heard of but I'd never seen it explored in a novel before: it makes me more inclined to research it in the future. I loved all of the emotional descriptions, and that's why Cat Clarke's one of my favourite authors - she can pinpoint the strangest little emotions and make them seem completely easy to relate to. There's a scene near the start of the novel where Kate is focusing on the sunlight because it makes it feel warmer, something I do regularly, and I'd never considered that it could be a common thought.
Overall, felt conflicted by 'A Kiss In The Dark', because of the strange choice of ending and the irritating secondary viewpoint. If things had been wrapped up completely (I have a thing for getting loose ends tied up, so that's always something I'm campaigning for) and if Kate had been as brilliant - or even as justified in her actions - as Alex, this definitely would have been one of my top reads of the year.
I recommend 'A Kiss In The Dark', because I recommend anything Cat Clarke writes. I'm being extra, extra picky, because she's one of the authors I enjoy the most and I don't want to blindly accept anything that she writes just because it's her. I'm glad that I read this novel, because it was an enjoyable read (despite my quibbles) and I'm looking forward to reading 'Undone' and 'The Lost and the Found', as I'd forgotten how easy it was to get sucked into the stories that Cat writes.
If you haven't read a Cat Clarke novel, what are you waiting for?!

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books I'm thankful for

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

Ooh, Thanksgiving is tomorrow! I don't celebrate it, but the online sales starting on Black Friday are always amazing, so I look forward to some extreme bargain shopping.

5) 'A Kiss In The Dark' by Cat Clarke
I promised myself I wasn't going to put the same authors on this list as I did on my Top Ten Tuesday yesterday, but Cat Clarke is Just. That. Good. Seriously, you cannot beat her writing. I started 'A Kiss In The Dark' late on Monday night, but I flew through it and finished it last night and my heart, it hurts. I need to be thankful for this book (as well as for 'Entangled' and 'Torn', both also beautifully written and brilliant reads). Keep an eye out for my review of this book coming later tonight!

4) The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater
You know, technically these are four books that I'm thankful for, but because it's the entire series I'm definitely counting it as just the one. I'm thankful for The Wolves of Mercy Falls series because it gave me something to bond over with my now best friend.

3) 'The Kind Worth Killing' by Peter Swanson
This is purely for vanity reasons, but I'm thankful for 'The Kind Worth Killing' because my review of the book was the first post on my blog to ever hit 500 pageviews. It doesn't sound like a lot, but for someone who has only been blogging for a year and a half it feels very awesome! 

2) 'The Collector' by John Fowles
I'm thankful for 'The Collector' for teaching me that you shouldn't judge a book by its title. I was assigned it as compulsory reading in my English Literature and Language course, and I was so certain it was going to be dreary and boring - it was so good that it still ranks in my top ten books of all time. This book definitely gave me more of an appreciation for classic literature (well, modern classics), and through him I learnt to appreciate Alan Sillitoe and H. G. Wells.

1) 'Looking For Alaska' by John Green
I'm thankful for 'Looking For Alaska', which is one of my favourite books of all time. I nearly put John Green on the authors I was thankful for yesterday, but I've only enjoyed 'Looking For Alaska', so I think I need to read a couple more of his books to really be thankful for him.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Which books are you thankful for? 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten authors I'm thankful for

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

First things first, happy Thanksgiving (in two days...) to all of my American readers! I hope you're having a lovely turkey day, and that you have an absolutely fabulous time with each and every one of your family and friends.
These are the authors that I'm most thankful for...

10) Stephenie Meyer
I'm thankful for Stephenie Meyer because she taught me that even if a book isn't of the highest quality, it can still be really enjoyable. I know that the Twilight series is not literary genius, and I know that I really shouldn't love it, but I read them very quickly and had a lot of fun. She also released 'The Host' which was amazing, so Twilight can be forgiven.

9) Jenny Downham
I'm thankful for Jenny Downham for writing the most beautiful YA contemporaries ever. However, I'm not thankful that she takes so long writing her books - I need many, many more of them!

8) Rachel Caine
I'm thankful for Rachel Caine, because she created one of my favourite trilogies of all time: the Revivalist series. Before running this blog I went through a major reading slump for years (literally taking two months to read a single book!) but every time a Revivalist novel came out I devoured it within a couple of days.

7) A. G. Howard
I'm thankful for A. G. Howard because she's an absolutely lovely person, and is always to fun and chatty on Twitter! But the real reason I'm thankful for her is because I absolutely adore 'Splintered' and 'Unhinged' - I don't want to finish the series because I'll miss the characters, but I feel confident that A. G. Howard will have done the characters justice. She's just that good!

6) David Levithan
I'm thankful for David Levithan, because he was so, so lovely when I met him earlier this year. He was funny, and he didn't mind the fact that I had dozens of books for him to sign.

5) Pierce Brown
Why would you not be thankful for Pierce Brown? I mean, just look at his face...
But on a serious note, I'm thankful to Pierce Brown for allowing me an easy access to the sci-fi genre. I'd never been great at imagining other planets, so reading sci-fi and high fantasy was a nightmare for me, but after 'Red Rising' something seemed to click in my head. I've enjoyed a lot more sci-fi and high fantasy this year, and that's because of Pierce Brown.

4) Teri Terry
I'm thankful to Teri Terry (and her publicist!) because when they came to visit my school I was talking to them afterwards and it was the first time that I'd heard that book blogging could be a thing. It wasn't something that had ever crossed my mind, but the idea stuck with me and, six months later, Everything Alyce was launched!

3) Jilliane Hoffman
Not a YA author, but I'm thankful for Jilliane Hoffman because she was the first crime author that I ever read. I loved 'Retribution': it gave me many sleepless nights and sent shivers down my spine, but it got me addicted to the crime genre and I wouldn't have read Patricia Cornwell or Karin Slaughter without her.

2) Rainbow Rowell
I'm thankful for Rainbow Rowell because when I'm sad or bored, I know that I can pick up one of her books and get completely swept up in her brilliant storytelling. 'Fangirl' and 'Landline' are both brilliant contemporary novels that bring you into the characters lives and make you love them, so I'm hoping I'll enjoy 'Attachments' and 'Carry On' just as much - when I get around to reading them.

1) Cat Clarke
I forgot how much I absolutely adored Cat Clarke, until I started reading 'A Kiss In The Dark' yesterday. Her first two novels, 'Entangled' and 'Torn', I read in a day each - I've nearly finished 'A Kiss In The Dark', because it's just as absorbing. 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

'Adverbs' by Daniel Handler

*This review will contain spoilers!*

Do you ever read a book that is just so confusing, so mind-boggling, that after you finish it you sit there for about fifteen minutes staring into space before you can even accept the fact that that was it? Well, 'Adverbs' was one of those books for me. 
'Adverbs' is not a novel, heedless of the fact that it's marketed as one. 'Adverbs' is a collection of disjointed short stories that vaguely link through a muddle of character connections and a very twisted sense of chronology. Daniel Handler (also know as SPOILER ALERT! Lemony Snicket, the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events) is a genius - his writing style is off the wall, often makes me laugh and is very enjoyable because of how unique it is... But 'Adverbs' takes it from kooky and quirky to completely pretentious, over-the-top and not very well thought out.
I know, I know, how can a book that connects this many characters in this many intricate ways be not well thought out? It would be okay if Daniel just owned the fact that that was what he was trying to do, acknowledging that these characters were all interlinked by coincidence or fate or some greater force at work - but that's not what he does. In the chapter 'truly', which is written by Daniel Handler as Daniel Handler, in kind of a memoir/commentary upon 'Adverbs', he states: 
'Follow the people themselves, although you're likely to confuse them, as so many people in this book have the same names. You can't follow all the Joes, or all the Davids or Andreas. You can't follow Adam or Allison or Keith, up to Seattle or down to San Francisco or across - three thousand miles, as the bird flies - to New York City, and anyway they don't matter.' 
I'm pretty sure that your characters do matter, or at least they should in an immersive and emotional novel. It seems to me as though this is an easy way out, because if there are ever any plot holes or bad connections between the characters, Daniel can just point and say "aha! That's because that Tomas isn't the Tomas we met earlier, or the Tomas we will meet in a few chapters time". The name Tomas isn't that rare, but a Tomas who also knows a Steven, an Adam and an Eddie (who is a girl, by the way) must be one of the fewer specimens of Tomas's in the world.
I had planned to draw out a little map of the characters and their connections at the bottom here, so that you could get an idea for yourself how twisty turny the world of 'Adverbs' really is, but that would waste too much of my life, and I feel as though I've already spent far too much time on this book that could have been spent elsewhere.
By the end of the novel, I was enjoying it more. A few things clicked into place and it did make a lot more sense. For example, in 'clearly' Tomas and Steven go hiking, and Steven gets injured. Eddie and Adam are nearby in the forest, so Tomas asks them for help, but when they return there are three backpacks on the ground. Later on, in 'barely', we meet Andrea, who is dating Steven, and Andrea's friend Sam exclaims "He'll slay you. [...] You'll go on some hike with his college buddy and they'll just do it. You'll vanish.". As we never see Eddie or Adam, or indeed Andrea, again, we can assume that Sam was spot on and that forest became a crime scene for three of our characters, but at the time it's left as a big cliffhanger and it takes that long to work it out that the gratification is greatly minimised.
However, in 'symbolically', the chapter before 'clearly', Adam sleeps with Tomas, and Tomas is introduced to Eddie. It seems quite certain that it must be the same Tomas, which is what makes me question the events in 'clearly' - surely one, or both, of the couple should have recognised him and should have decided not to follow him aimlessly through the woods. This is where Daniel Handler's defense of "but it wasn't the same Tomas!" would come in handy, but that just seems like a very cheap excuse.
Apparently, 'Adverbs' is a story about love. While love (or infatuation, or the absence of love) crops up quite regularly, occurring more often is the motif of birds and volcanoes. Apparently there is some age-old belief that San Francisco is on top of an active volcano, which is referenced multiple times throughout, so when the volcano eventually erupts it's not that much of a surprise. I'm still quite confused on the bird motif, because while the lovebirds symbolise the love and the need for partnership, and the magpies symbolise the greed and the need of the characters who are desperate for money and other shiny things, the majority of the mentions are just thrown away and don't really link into the story in the slightest. I understand that that's part of Daniel Handler's appeal - that he fixates on an idea and gets stuck on it - but it just didn't work as well for me in this novel.
In all honesty, the majority of these characters are unnecessary. While the Eddie/Adam/Tomas/Steven thing is quite interesting, and does take a few chapters to set itself up and then work itself out, the only other characters who are really needed in this novel are Andrea and Joe. In the first chapter, 'immediately', Andrea's boyfriend leaves her because he's fallen madly in love with a taxi driver (neither of which are seen again) and in the second chapter, 'obviously', we are introduced to Joe, who is dreaming about Lila, the girl he had a crush on in college. The novel keeps going back to Andrea and Joe, so they're almost the main characters of the entire affair, and when they get together in the final chapter, 'judgmentally', it feels almost cathartic - we've followed these characters through and something has actually happened to them, which is a surprise when you consider that many of the characters are just dropped in and are then never mentioned again.
Or rather, they're mentioned all the time, but don't have any remarkable plot line or contribution to the tale. Hank, Keith, David, Helena, Mike... None of them are necessary. The only ones of them who get any kind of resolution to their tales are David and Helena, who randomly acquire a large amount of money and find out they're having a baby after doing nothing but argue in all of their scenes. Allison is kind of necessary in 'soundly', as she helps wrap up Lila's story, but then she has a lot of removable chapters where she doesn't do a lot, and when the revelation comes that she is Daniel Handler's mother (say it with me now, what?!) it takes a massive step over to the dark side of the intriguing plot twists.
If you like things that are overly convoluted, don't make much sense and are downright irritating, you'll love this book. If you have the time to read it twice, you'll also love this book - I can imagine it makes much more sense on the second read through, but I do not have enough time to commit to this again. I'd expected a lot more, and while it was interesting and some of the quotes were inspiring and thought-provoking (such as 'this often leads to weddings unless you're gay, although this too will change, for how could it now, and perhaps it has by the time this is published' which, when you consider the fact that the book was published in 2006, is an interesting piece of social commentary and shows how optimistic Daniel Handler was) there wasn't really a whole lot going on. I feel unsatisfied and I definitely feel as though I've missed something - I just don't understand it at all.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Union J - Christmas Lights switch-on, Swindon

I wasn't planning on reviewing Union J (well, 3/4 of Union J, with George Shelley being out in the jungle for 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!'), but I thought I'd write a little bit about them because I enjoyed their performance and they ended up performing five songs, which was more than I'd anticipated.

Christmas isn't in the air. It's not me being a Scrooge, it's just true - yes, the weather has gotten colder in the past week, but it's not December and it's not snowing, so it's not Christmas for me yet. I wasn't really in a festive mood; not wearing a goofy Christmas jumper or reindeer antlers, I certainly wasn't dressed up for the occasion. While Swindon's Christmas lights are quite mediocre (visit the town centre, you'll see what I mean), it was actually nice to get involved in a community event and have a nice night out like this.
In true Swindon style, of course there had to be technical issues, so after the band came out on stage to perform 'Tonight (We Live Forever)' their microphones ending up stopping on the second line, so they had to leave the stage again and re-enter. The dramatic build-up was not as impressive second time around, but in all honesty it added fun to the event. It was obvious that things couldn't be that perfectly polished in a town like Swindon!
Performing three of their most well-known songs (as well as their opening song, they performed 'Carry You' and 'You've Got It All') and two covers (including a Christmas song - of course!), it was a nice variety for a set, and it was definitely worth standing out in the chilly night for a little while. 
I found myself impressed by the vocal performance that they'd put on, because with pop artists you can't really tell which way things are going to go: they're either really skilled or obviously lip-syncing, so I was glad that Union J fell in the former category. With missing a member you'd definitely expect them to be lacking something, but it wasn't obvious at all, which is the sign of a very well-connected group, and it's quite obvious that these three were comfortable performing together and were individually talented long before George joined their ranks. 
For a band that were officially formed on 'The X Factor' (originally entering the competition as Triple J, with George Shelley as solo male act) Union J have done extremely well for themselves. With two top ten albums, a collection of well-performing singles, and a couple of sold out tours, this was a very impressive booking for Swindon - think about the fact that they turned the Christmas lights on at Regent's Street last year, and that makes it even more surprising. The group shared the fact that they've taken this year off to work on new music that will be coming very soon, so I'm sure that they'll have another top ten album by this time next year. 
Thank you to Union J, for coming to our little town, and to inSwindon for organising the event - now I just need a few more hot chocolates before the Christmas spirit comes to me! 

Tonight (We Live Forever)
Carry You
I Can't Make You Love Me cover
You've Got It All
It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas cover

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five reasons I haven't watched/read 'The Hunger Games'

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

I haven't watched or read 'The Hunger Games', and this week Top Five Wednesday is focusing on the top five moments from the series, so I thought I'd do my own spin on it. Here are the top five reasons I haven't read, or watched, 'The Hunger Games'. (Well, apart from the fact that I have seen the first film... But still).

5) It's a trilogy
In my expert opinion as reader of multiple trilogies, three books is one book too many. I'm kind of disenchanted with trilogies right now, and it always takes me the longest time to get through the third one (hence the fact I still haven't finished 'Ensnared' by A. G. Howard, or 'Ruin and Rising' by Leigh Bardugo) but I'm working on that character flaw. 

4) It's too realistic
With everything that's going on in the world at the moment, I just don't think I could deal with any more heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, corrupt governments ruining everyone's lives. Maybe if the world wasn't in such a sorry state, I'd feel more attracted to it.

3) It feels too late
The books have been out for basically a gazillion years, and the final film releases this week, so it just feels like I'm much too late for this bandwagon. The train has left the station without me, and I don't feel like getting a later one. 

2) It's over-hyped
I hate things that are over-hyped. One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, Harry Potter... They all permeate the cultural sphere in every way, shape and form, and I can't deal with any of them. 

1) I'm lazy
I have to be honest, those four other reasons are pretty true, but the top is that I'm lazy. If people keep telling me to read something, the likelihood is that I won't! So I need to wait for the excitement to die down before I'll properly enjoy these books.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of Top Five Wednesday! If you're a fan of 'The Hunger Games', I hope you enjoy the new film! 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

'Massive' by Julia Bell

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

'Massive' is a story focusing on eating disorders, particularly bulimia nervosa, so if you're sensitive to issues regarding eating disorders and you find it to be triggering, please don't read this review!
'I must try harder, I write, pressing the biro into my biology book, not to eat. It is this which is at the root of my problems, I have decided. Not Mum and Dad, or Nana or Kelly or Maxine and Paisley, but this: my puffy face, my swelling breasts, my belly. If I was beautiful, I could have everything I wanted.' 
'Massive' is Julia Bell's debut novel, and was first published way back in 2002. It tells the story of Carmen, whose mother has had bulimia since Carmen was born. Carmen has grown up with a deeply ingrained love/hate relationship with food, as her mother has begged her to keep food diaries, participate in her diets with her, and avoid the food that her step-father, Brian, would cook for her to keep her eating. 
When Carmen's mother decides to leave Brian and move them both to Birmingham, things get worse for Carmen. Being alone with her mother means that there's hardly ever any food in the house, so Carmen struggles with her eating, over-eating when she's at her grandmother's house and then starving when she gets home. As well as this, her mother takes all of her frustrations out on her - regularly calling Carmen a piggy, and criticising her for the clothes that she chooses to wear because of her fat face and the fact that she can no longer fit into a size 12.  
Carmen's mother continues dieting, forcing herself to get thinner and thinner, so it's no real surprise when Carmen starts purging too. Her grandmother is obese, so she goes to her house and feels disgusted at the weight that she's seeing, then she internalises it and she feels disgusted with herself also. Lisa, her aunt, is concerned about her, as is Billy, her mother's ex-boyfriend, but because Carmen is nowhere near as dangerously thin as her mother, nothing is really done to assist her. 
I have a lot of issues with this novel, and the primary on of them is this: if you're talking about eating disorders, and if you're calling people fat and using abusive language about them, please don't use real sizes. Keep it vague, keep it impersonal, and it will be a lot better for a lot of people. I am a size 12, so I know that I am not big at all - I can see that what Carmen's mother is saying to her is illogical and is a form of mental abuse to keep her in line. However, a reader who is a size 18 or a size 20 might (I'm saying 'might' because I don't know, but it just seems like a possibility) just see a personal attack to their size and it might make them feel uncomfortable and unhappy, and that's not the point of reading - even if you're reading something harrowing and heart-wrenching. 
Also, Carmen is just a horrible character. She's not a horrible character written well, she's just not very well-written: her abrupt attitude shift when she starts her new school is unbelievable, and it's awful when she starts bullying the fat girl in her class, spitting in her face and using homophobic slurs towards her. This is partially because of the two girls she starts hanging out with, Maxine and Paisley, but Carmen is a very active participant in the bullying behaviour, so she doesn't get let off with just being a bystander. 
I did appreciate the fact that her mother had bulimia and her grandmother was obese - the contrast between the two women and the fact that Carmen had no healthy role models from which to learn a stable relationship with food. It was very cleverly written, and it was rather realistic - the way her mother starved herself as a way of control and as a way to separate herself from her family was very psychologically astute and made a terrifying amount of sense. 
In all honesty, I wasn't enamoured with the writing style either. If it had just been the characters I might have been able to overlook it, but the fact that I didn't click with the writing style either makes me think it wasn't their personalities so much as how they were written that I was having issues with. I think I might have been expecting too much, because the last book I read that focused on eating disorders was 'Wintergirls' by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the prose in that novel is on a completely different level. 
'Massive' just felt a bit too obvious for me - the mum's ex-boyfriend being Carmen's father, the metaphor of the hedge overgrowing uncontrollably outside the grandparent's house meant to represent the wildness that was her mum in the throws of bulimia, and the vague ending that implied Carmen's disordered eating was continuing. I might have enjoyed it more if the issue of Carmen's eating had actually been resolved - or even dealt with! - but because of the state that her mother had gotten herself into, everyone seemed to overlook the fact that Carmen had been in the house with no food too. There was a throwaway comment of concern from her grandmother ("I won't have you going the same way.") but when you considered the fact that they hadn't noticed her purging for what must have been months, it doesn't seem likely that they're going to have their eyes on her that closely in the future. The last paragraph contained this quote: 
'I can feel my skin tightening, like cling film pulling taut around the soft contours of my body.' 
and if that's supposed to imply that Carmen is now happy and content with her size and shape then blow me down, it doesn't come across that way. I just hate novels like this that deal with these terrifically massive issues that people genuinely suffer from and don't really give much hope for recovery - it just seems to imply that you'll always be a sufferer, and there's no way for you to reclaim your healthy relationship with food once you've been through something like this.
I wonder if I would have enjoyed this novel more if I'd read it when I was younger, because the protagonist is only fourteen and you can definitely feel that in her mannerisms and her attitude. She's very childish, constantly rebelling and skiving off of school, but you can definitely understand it with the upheaval that she's gone through due to her mother's selfishness. It just seems like it's aimed at the lower end of the young adult spectrum, so that might be why I didn't connect to it. 
I'd been expecting a lot more from this novel, so I'm feeling quite disappointed. Hopefully I'll enjoy Julia's recent release, 'The Dark Light', a bit more. 

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten book quotes I loved in the past year

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

10) '99 Days' by Katie Cotugno
"It feels unfair though, right?" Gabe says. "I mean, if you're a dirty slut, then I'm a dirty slut."
I only read '99 Days' last week, and while I think Gabe could have said it more eloquently, I really like the sentiment behind his statement. Sexism is rampant, in that girls get called sluts and guys get called legends, and I liked hearing a guy addressing that.

9) 'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell
"You don't come into this world with a name like Georgie McCool and throw it away on the first pretty face."
Georgie has the McCooliest name I've ever seen, and I think this is a wonderful quote.

8) 'The Lover's Dictionary' by David Levithan
'"Most times, when I'm having sex, I'd rather be reading." This was, I admit, a strange thing to say on a second date. I guess I was just giving you warning.' 
'The Lover's Dictionary' is beautiful because it focuses on such an unconventional relationship, and it's told in a completely unconventional format. Also, I'd rather be reading than doing most things in life (showering, working, sleeping, eating) so I definitely sympathise.

7) 'Fire With Fire' by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivien
'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a burn for a burn. A life for a life. That's how this got started. And that's how it's going to end.' 
The best closing sentence to a novel ever, and it made it impossible to resist reading the third and final book in the trilogy.

6) 'Trigger Warning' by Neil Gaiman
"Can you hear it?"
"What?" I said.
"A sort of background whispering white noise that actually becomes whatever song you wish to hear when you sort of half-concentrate upon it?"
This quote isn't deep or meaningful, but this happens to me literally all of the time, so I'm glad to know that someone else experiences it, and that Neil Gaiman succeeded in putting it into words.

5) 'From A Distant Star' by Karen McQuestion
"This is a very confusing planet. People believing things that aren't true about other people 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?"
We'd be wise to keep this quote in mind.

4) 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline
'I gradually began to figure out that pretty much everyone had been lying to me about pretty much everything since the moment I emerged from my mother's womb. This was an alarming revelation. It gave me trust issues later in life.'
Wade has such a brilliant awareness of the world around him, and that's exhibited the strongest in this quote. I also think this is such an easy quote to relate to - we all go through that realisation at some point, that adults haven't been completely honest with us, and I think it's that point where adulthood really begins.

3) 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli
'The whole coming out thing doesn't really scare me. I don't think it scares me. It's a giant holy box of awkwardness, and I won't pretend I'm looking forward to it. But it probably wouldn't be the end of the world.' 
I think it's brilliant, reading an LGBT character who isn't terrified of coming out - Simon is comfortable enough with himself and his family that he knows that everything will be okay. I also think it's a great way to introduce the character and his amazing voice.

2) 'Looking For Alaska' by John Green
'From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond. I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to me room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.'
I could have picked one of five quotes from this novel. 'Looking For Alaska' is the only book I've ever highlighted in, but a few of my favourite quotes are very spoiler-y so I thought I'd go with this one. The entire novel is pretty faultless though, and I reread it rather frequently.

1) 'The 5th Wave' by Rick Yancey
'The uncertain circumstances of your certain destruction.'
I love this quote so much that (eventually, when I'm less worried about the pain and can afford it) I'm going to get it tattooed on my collarbone. It just struck me so deeply when I first read it, and it's stuck in my mind ever since.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What are your favourite quotes?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

'Only We Know' by Simon Packham

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Only We Know' is a book revolving around a secret. When we join Lauren, our protagonist, she's preparing for her first day at her new school, where she's moved because of something mysterious in her past. Her sister, Tilda, is irritated that they've had to move, because she's left all of her friends. Lauren's parents are both paranoid about her settling in, telling her to fly under the radar and not to draw any attention to herself.
Based off of the blurb:
'What is the secret of Lauren's past?
Lauren's family have moved house very suddenly, and she and her sister Tilda have to go to a new school. Lauren's determined to reinvent herself, but she's panic-stricken when she sees Harry, who she knew a few years ago. Luckily Harry doesn't recognise her, and she knows she has to make sure it stays like that. 
Lauren, unlike Tilda, settles in well. She makes friends, is helping to organise the school fashion show, and she has boys asking her out. But just as her life finally seems to be looking up she starts receiving macabre packages. When she gets a message: 'Isn't it time your new friends knew all about you?' she has to admit that someone knows her secret. But who - and what should she do?'  
I was expecting a lot more. I thought that the plot would kick in pretty instantly, that the menacing notes would be left more frequently, and that Lauren would receive multiple packages, terrifying her and sending a shiver up my spine. I thought it was going to be a thriller, and I thought it was brilliant that it had such a contemporary cover - something really genre-defying, something brave and unique.
That was not what I got in 'Only We Know'. Lauren meets Harry quite early on, but he doesn't know who she is, so that tension is dissipated very quickly. Then the main plot doesn't kick in until page 150, which is ridiculous in a book that is under 250 pages. There's a lot of babbling, a lot of teenage melodrama, and a lot of regular days at school that get dragged out under the pretense of plot development. The note that is quoted on the back is never actually sent, and I do hate it when that's the case - why put something on the blurb if it's not actually included in the story?
You can tell that this book is written by an older man, because it doesn't sound like a teenage girl at all. Sometimes I find authors write across age gaps convincingly, and - more rarely - that they can believably craft a protagonist from the opposite gender, but that didn't happen in this situation. The metaphors and similes used were terrible at best ('like a tortoise on tranquilisers', 'ever tried explaining the rules of badminton to a horse?' and 'like a vegetarian on a school outing to the abattoir' being the most memorably bad examples) and it just didn't sound like a teenage voice. Combine this with the fact that ParentPay was dropped in, as well as how realistic the parents' voices were... You can tell this is written from a mature author.
As well as using pretty bad imagery throughout, I really disliked how short and disconnected the chapters were. Some of the chapter breaks came in what really should have been the middle of a scene, and some of the chapter breaks made the content of the chapters completely irrelevant and easily removable. If your book is less than 300 pages and you have nearly 40 chapters? That's a bit of an issue for me, so I also wasn't enjoying that structural point.
Talking of the big reveal? Well, let's take a quote directly from the book, during a conversation between Lauren and her student guide, Katherine:
"Katherine, why don't you stay and finish your book?"
"It's completely predictable anyway. And the main character's so shallow I feel like slapping her."
The big reveal was a 'shock' that I saw coming from about the fifth chapter. Lauren's secret is that she's transgender, and was born as Luke. It's not a big surprise, because the hints are barely hidden throughout - comments on the big feet, on how tall she is, on her nether regions - but it just kind of made me feel disappointed. Using someone being transgender as your big shocking reveal is quite disgusting, and just seems to be capitalising upon the lives that many people have as their reality. I thought exactly the same thing about a certain popular TV show that many the same choice a couple of months back - not naming any names, but you'll probably know which one - and I still dislike it as a narrative choice.
I understand it if it's not revealed in such a dramatic way. If you actually get the character sitting down with their friend and explaining the change they've been through, how it affected them and what it means. But the fact that Lauren's photograph is projected on to the wall at the fashion show, along with the picture of Luke - it's all a bit too over the top, and it feels like cashing in.
I do wonder if I might have enjoyed the book more if I hadn't seen it coming, but it was just so eye-rollingly obvious that I can't see how other people didn't see it from a mile away. It definitely feels less like a YA novel and more like it would appeal to younger people, just because of how the characters are crafted and how thinly veiled the clues are.
I did like Lauren's sentiment at the end of the novel: 'I do know how lucky I am. What are a few nasty comments when you've got good friends? It's a small price to pay for finally being yourself. Because there are some places where being yourself comes with a prison sentence - or worse.' but other than that one quote she's a bit of a hateful character throughout. Despite the fact that she had no friends at her previous school, she takes her new friends for granted, and she's a terrible snob. Her first impression of Katherine? 'The thought that she could have anything to do with her royal deliciousness was enough to make me crack a smile.' For someone who has such a complex back story and has such a history of experiencing judgement, you think she'd be a nicer person. As well as this, she doesn't seem to sympathise with Tilda, who is struggling to fit in at school, in the slightest. Tilda is actually the one who has been blackmailing Lauren, and I could completely understand where she was coming from - yes, she went about it a terrible way, but because her parents were ignoring her and she was also struggling to come to terms with the move it was reasonable that she acted out in some way, shape or form. I try not to rate books on the likability of their characters, but this just isn't realistic characterisation - if all you've experienced is bullying, you're hyper-aware of the emotions of the people you care about, and you wouldn't normally be so dismissive when someone is being nice to you on your first day at a new school.
The reaction of the students at the school to Lauren is quite unrealistic. I hate to say it, really I do, because I do support tolerance and acceptance of all: in a secondary school environment, if someone announces that they used to be the opposite gender it will be met with shock, disbelief and ridicule - even if it is the twenty-first century, teenagers (or, at least, the majority of the teenagers that I've interacted with in my life) are not that accepting. For everyone to flood the stage and congratulate Lauren instantly? It's just not feasible. I wish that it was, but it feels a bit too fairy tale ending for me. Following that up with an eight month later epilogue feels like an easy escape, allowing you to avoid exploring the difficult issues and conversations that would crop up in the coming days and weeks.
Talking of the epilogue, the decision of the author to make Lauren get together with Conor - the boy who had been nothing but sexist and creepy towards her for the entire rest of the novel - was a bit ridiculous. Lauren justifies it, because 'I should know better than anyone that first appearances can sometimes be deceptive', but it's not really first appearances, because he'd been being a tool throughout the entire first three months of her being at school with him. She goes to a party, and he's graffiting family photos in a spare bedroom, and when she tries to leave he propositions her and makes her really uncomfortable. I get that characters can change, but doing it off of the page and expecting it to be believable... That's just not right. It just seems like it's establishing the fact that no matter what you say to women, you'll get the girl eventually, because that's your right as a man.
The ending was rushed, the secret wasn't very well concealed and the entire novel was very predictable, so I didn't think much of this one. I'd never heard of Simon Packham before, despite the fact that he's already published multiple novels, but I think I'm going to avoid them - this was definitely the kind of LGBTQIA literature that I'd rather avoid, thank you very much.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Fratellis - Oxford O2 Academy, 12/11/15

I'd been waiting to see The Fratellis for an extremely long time. I nearly got tickets to their reunion show, way back in 2012, but unfortunately the plans fell through, so this show had been many years in the making.

Opening up, The Crookes were the epitome of indie-rock fun. I hadn't heard of them until they were announced as the opening act on this tour, which was surprising - they've been around since 2008 and they play just the kind of music I'm always wanting to hear more of. 
Starting with 'The World Is Waiting', a track from their new album 'Lucky Ones' that's being released in January, I was hooked by how upbeat their songs were - it was the perfect sound from an opening act, because it really got the crowd moving and having a dance.
The Crookes play just the kind of almost-pop that would fit perfectly in a festival environment, similar to - but still standing out from - The Kooks and early Vampire Weekend. My favourite of the tracks they performed was definitely 'Backstreet Lovers', because it really allowed vocalist George Waite to perform to the best of his abilities. I really like the tone of his voice, but it's not the only thing that makes the band stand out - musically they're all talented, and they all work so well together that you can tell how well-connected they are. 
'If Only For Tonight' and 'I Wanna Waste My Time On You' were made for much bigger rooms than this one, and if the rest of 'Lucky Ones' sounds anywhere near as well-crafted and expertly written as those, I might as well pre-order now
The band have announced an extensive tour all through February, so if you can get along to any of the dates I'd highly recommend it. Unfortunately I won't be able to catch another show as none of the dates are close enough for me to travel to, but you won't regret going along - it'll be a lot of fun!

The World Is Waiting
Maybe In The Dark
Backstreet Lovers
If Only For Tonight
I Wanna Waste My Time On You
Bear's Blood

Now, I hate to say this - really, I do - but I was disappointed by The Fratellis. It's completely my fault, because I hadn't listened to either of the albums that they've released since reuniting - I know, I'm an awful person, but I just didn't have the time, and after what I heard last night I think I might have made the right decision. 
Bursting onto stage with the can can music was definitely the most unique starter to a show I'd ever experienced, but it suited the style of the band and it ramped up the anticipation immediately. Most recent single 'Baby Don't You Lie To Me!' has the energetic, anthemic songwriting and style that I've come to expect from The Fratellis, so opening with that really got the crowd going, and following it up with their debut single 'Henrietta', had everyone singing along. With two opening songs such as these, I thought it was going to be one of the most fun shows I'd ever been to, that it would be filled to the brim with singalong songs that work perfectly in a live environment. 
But after the first two songs, everything just got so... Repetitive. 
The singles still stood out: 'Flathead' getting a great reception, 'Whistle For The Choir' being the emotional moment everyone would have expected, 'We Need Medicine' inciting a spontaneous little clap-along, and 'Baby Fratelli' and 'Chelsea Dagger' getting the entire crowd up on their feet and dancing around. But the rest of the set?
The rest of the set kind of felt as though it was stuck on a loop. There were a few standout moments, namely 'Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie' and 'Dogtown'. 'Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie' stood out because it's an early song so it was just so different from the rest of what was being played (plus it was introduced by vocalist Jon with a little anecdote about how him and Barry met, decided on the band name and the title of the first album, but didn't have a band until they met Mince - it was very touching, from a band who've been around so long). 'Dogtown' was the song that fitted with the set the least, because it has this crazy keyboard intro that makes it sound like it's being performed by another band - it doesn't sound anything like the rest of their music, or any other song that I've heard, which I really appreciated. 
Alas, the rest of the set dragged for me. Songs like 'Impostors (Little By Little)', with its chorus "little by little by little by little by little by little by little" repeated four times, even 'We Need Medicine' with the "we need medicine, we need it now" repetition... The songs sounded brilliant musically, and I can't fault their skill with their instruments or the beauty with which the songs are written, but after about half an hour I just felt like putting my head through a wall.  
It might be because I didn't know the songs, or it might be because a 22 song set is just too much for me to take unless I'm in an arena or stadium environment. It would have been better to hear fewer songs performed, with possibly more crowd interaction inserted (the band spoke to their fans two or three times, but other than that just dived from song into song). Whereas shows in the Oxford O2 Academy usually feel intimate and special, this show seemed quite impersonal, and it was a little bit uncomfortable. It was nice of the band to thank the crowd during the encore, saying "thank you for keeping us in a job all this time, without you guys coming to see us play we're all just a bunch of reprobates", but the band/crowd interaction just seemed stilted for the majority of the show. 
I know that the band have changed since 'Costello Music' and 'Here We Stand' were released, but I don't think I'd realised quite how much. They've gone from being a pop-rock band with standout songwriting capabilities to performing indie music in a mature fashion (for mature, see 'boring'). I can understand why they've still got a huge fan base, but I can also understand why their more recent albums haven't performed anywhere near as successfully as the earlier ones. 
I might like the songs recorded better than I like them live (it's exactly what happened to me while seeing Mumford and Sons at Reading festival), so I'm definitely going to try to give the albums a go, but while this was a show that was played flawlessly, it just wasn't a flawless performance for me. 

Baby Don't You Lie To Me!
Seven Nights, Seven Days
Acid Jazz Singer
Impostors (Little By Little)
Shotgun Shoes
A Heady Tale
Whistle For The Choir
For The Girl
Me And The Devil
This Old Ghost Town
Got Ma Nuts From A Hippie
Desperate Guy
We Need Medicine
Baby Fratelli
Too Much Wine
She's Not Gone Yet But She's Leaving
Chelsea Dagger
Runaround Sue (Dion cover)