Monday, 29 February 2016

'You Were Here' by Cori McCarthy

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First things first, I need to thank Sourcebooks Fire for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
"You know what's great? After this, there's nothing. Isn't that great? I'm not even being sarcastic. I've been looking for ghosts and spirits for years, and it finally hit me. There aren't any. When we die, this is all over." 
It's been five years since Jaycee's brother, Jake, died in a horrific accident on his graduation night. On the night of Jaycee's graduation, she goes to the playground where he died, climbing to the top of the swings and deciding to backflip off of them - the same move Jake was performing when he broke his neck.
Natalie is driving her boyfriend, Zach, and his best friend, Bishop, from one graduation party to the next. Zach is already pretty drunk and he's getting on her nerves - she knows they're going to be breaking up before she leaves for Cornell, but she doesn't want to be alone all summer - and Bishop is in the back seat moping because he's recently had his heart broken. When she drives past the playground and spots Jaycee at the top of the swings, she stops the car and tries to stop her from jumping: Natalie and Jaycee were best friends until the night of Jake's death.
Jaycee falls on her ass, and while her pride is injured she doesn't really care what any of them think of her. Jaycee Strangelove has been the freak of the school since Jake died, so why should that change? She tells them she's going to explore the Ridges - the abandoned mental hospital that sits at the top of the hill watching over Athens - because it was one of Jake's favourite places in the world, and when Natalie insists on following her it changes the course of the summer for all of  them.
At the Ridges, they bump into Mikivikious, Jake's childhood best friend. Jaycee and him have been meeting at the Ridges every year on Jake's anniversary, the only night they see each other every year, and with his selective muteness he's one of the only people who doesn't ask Jaycee about her feelings. When they decide to explore the roof, they find a message from Jake - it turns out he went urbexing (urban exploring) a lot in the year before his death, leaving symbols and signatures in all of the crazy places he found. Jaycee finds his map and decides to follow him on his journey to feel closer to him, hoping to get closure for once and for all.
I've read a lot of YA novels revolving around death and grief, but this is easily among the most realistic. It's been five years and Jaycee is still drowning in the death of her brother, which is the first thing that struck me. Sometimes it's the year anniversary and a character is completely over it, sometimes it's literally a couple of weeks and their friends are telling them to get past it and go party. It was brilliant to have a character that wasn't pretending to be okay or forcing herself past her grief prematurely: Jaycee is honest with everyone, aggressively so, but she knows herself and doesn't need to pretend to be anyone else. It also deals with Jaycee's parents grief. Too often the parents in YA are completely invisible, but in a situation such as this it would have been a disservice not to tackle how they were coping.
I also thought it was a great choice to give Natalie a form of PTSD - she sees Jake die, and from that night she struggles with OCD and constant panic attacks. The event doesn't just effect his relatives, it effects all of the characters, and if you saw an accident that horrendous it definitely would do something to you psychologically. Even Zach's brother Tyler - who is one of the minor characters in the novel - is altered by his friends death, even if he pretends otherwise.
The juxtaposition between Zach and Tyler is one of the most well-written brotherly relationships I've encountered. Tyler is the stereotypical frat boy, sleeping around and taking pictures of all of his conquests to share with all of his friends. Meanwhile, Zach is in touch with his emotions and is unafraid to show his vulnerability: he cries at multiple points, ponders his relationship with Natalie and worries about the future. I love genuine male characters but they're so often caricatured and overly stereotypical - having a teenage boy that shows weakness is something that will always appeal to me, because it's still a rather rare occurrence.
This novel is written in multiple viewpoints: primarily using Jaycee, Natalie and Zach, but with sections for Bishop and Mik. Something that works particularly well is the difference in medium for Bishop and Mik's sections: Bishop is an artist, so his sections are only told through the artwork he leaves at the sites they visit, while Mik's chapters are told in comic format. I've never read a book that could switch so effortlessly from formats, particularly from novel to comic, but it's something I'd certainly like to see more of in the future: it kept the story interesting and showed the characters in action rather than purely describing all of their adventures.
The conflict between the past and the future, childhood and adult, is also tackled very interestingly. Natalie is always looking forward to leaving, going to Cornell, breaking up with Zach - she can't wait for the summer to be over so she can move on. On the other hand, Jaycee wants to go back to her childhood to relive her memories with Jake and get her brother back: hanging out with Natalie, Mik and Jake was so much simpler, and it takes her a long time to feel able to look forward without longing for the past. It touches upon a struggle that we all face, when our childhood memories start slipping away and our futures are still a mystery: it's a difficult place to be in, and it was good to see a well-rounded and authentic character dealing with the same difficulties.
I was a bit nervous about 'You Were Here', because it could easily have become a standard, repetitive book about the struggle of losing a brother and trying to find yourself, but Cori McCarthy has written something truly emotional. It has a romance woven throughout, but Jaycee doesn't rely on being saved by someone; she needs to save herself so that she can move on, and that's something that definitely needs to be included in more novels. There's no damsel in distress here, even though Jaycee is in an awful place at the start of the book - her friends and her inner strength are all she needs to pull herself through. I cared for all of the characters and thought that all of their personalities, worries and thoughts were completely separate from each other - they're all very strong, and they're all necessary to the plot (even Bishop, who does fade into the background at points when he's absorbed in his artwork).
If you're looking to read a book about loss and grief that genuinely deals with struggle and emotion, I couldn't recommend this one more strongly.

NEW MUSIC MONDAY: The Shapers (+ 'Reckless Youth' EP review!)

Hello, and welcome to another installment of New Music Monday! The Shapers contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I could review their EP, 'Reckless Youth'. Because of how busy I was last week I didn't get a chance to post the review, so I thought what better way to introduce you all to the band than by doing one big bumper post?
So without further ado, meet The Shapers:

(l-r: Nicolas, Anthony and Benoit)

The Shapers are a pure pop-punk band currently calling Toulouse, France, their home. Formed back in 2009, they gained a lot of early attention by touring - particularly in China and Indonesia, where they played for the first time in '11 and have since returned to twice.
The guys won a competition for being the best upcoming band back in 2013, which led to a North American tour with NOFX and Pennywise, but having also shared stages with The Flatliners, Gnarwolves and Silverstein, they've had some illustrious support slots so far.
Because they're from France they've obviously toured their home country extensively, but they're currently planning their first visit to the UK and it will not be coming a moment too soon.
The band released their debut album, 'Everybody Needs To Have A Dream', back in 2012, and they've followed it up with 'Reckless Youth', the EP which they released on the 26th of February.

Kicking off the EP with 'Can't Forget' (scroll down to watch the video for the track) is a perfect start: The Shapers call themselves pop-punk, and they prove it perfectly in three minutes. There's moments where it becomes almost dubstep in the middle, which is an inclusion I wasn't expecting, but with the "I can't forget, I can't forget" chant it's impossible not to get it stuck in your head. I can imagine this song working brilliantly in a live environment with an audience, and that's a good sign - The Shapers have toured so much that they definitely know how to write with a crowd in mind.
This is also demonstrated in 'Secrets', whose Good Charlotte-esque sound will get everyone up and dancing without a second thought. It's a little less frantic than 'Can't Forget', which makes it easier to appreciate the music - this isn't an unconquerable wall of sound (which I've heard from some pop-punk bands, believe me) but really shows off the nuances of the instruments and the skills of all of the members.
The grungiest song out of the six is 'Another Chance', which has a much heavier introduction than any of the other songs - it's another sound that they've conquered and have been able to add to their arsenal, which makes this a very unusual EP - it's diverse, but with Anthony's inimitable voice (complete with his extremely strong French accent on specific words, something I love) it's unapologetically The Shapers. This band know what they're doing and they're sure to gain many more fans by being brave and performing a range of tracks: they're all different, compared to some pop-punk bands who have ten songs that all sound the same. There are still some standard, stereotypical inclusions, such as the quieter section in the middle that then kicks back in double-time, but it feels tongue-in-cheek and fun rather than a super serious decision.
The biggest surprise for me is 'Lonely Moments', which is two minutes of acoustic guitar: a little interlude to split the EP. The first half of 'Reckless Youth' is frenetic and powerful, hardly pausing to take a breath, whereas 'Lonely Moments' takes it right back to the bare bones of the music and sounds utterly beautiful. It's a brave move, but it shows another side of the band and it's a wonderful difference.
Following it up with 'No Regrets', which also starts off acoustically, is a great way to segue back into the EP - it shows of Anthony's guitar playing skills, but it also shines a light on his vocal that wasn't there on the opening three songs. This band is not a one-trick pop-punk pony: they have range, and they will go far if they keep using it in such an effective way.
Closing track 'Youth Disaster' is definitely the most powerful song on the record, with the chorus "I know I can get through the worst time, I grab on to music to survive" sure to resonate deeply with any listeners and be a song that a lot of people can easily relate to. It almost feels like a reply song to blink-182's 'Stay Together For The Kids', as it includes lyrics like "When I'm home my parents fight, I'm a punching bag" and it's musically reminiscent to blink in a really appealing way. The song ends with a split vocal that sounds beautiful, and it's a brilliant ending to one of the most varied EPs I've ever listened to.
I hadn't listened to The Shapers until they sent me their EP through, but I'm not going to forget them any time soon.
The band released 'Can't Forget', the opening track, at the end of last year, and it has a wonderful video to accompany it:

Interested in hearing 'Reckless Youth' for yourself? It's available on iTunes, so don't delay in checking it out!

If you'd like to hear more from The Shapers, visit their Youtube channel as it has a few of their older songs available for listening. You can also follow the band on Twitter, find them on Facebook, or check out their website.

If you have a band and you'd like to be featured in New Music Monday, you can contact me on Twitter or through my contact page. Thank you for checking out this post, see you next week!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

'The Copper Gauntlet' (Magisterium #2) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

*This review will contain spoilers!* 
"I thought having a Makar around was supposed to make us safer," said the nervous voice. "If we're busy guarding him, who's guarding us?"
I reviewed 'The Iron Trial' yesterday: I can't imagine you would have missed it, but if you did you can find that review here.
At the start of 'The Copper Gauntlet', we rejoin Call at home in the summer holidays, where he's begrudgingly spending time with his father Alastair. Alastair is still peeved that Call succeeded in the Magisterium's entrance exams, and his frustration grows when he learns Call plans to return to school to participate in his Copper year. It's only when Havoc, Call's Chaos-ridden wolf, disappears that the action truly begins - Call finds handcuffs attached to the wall in their basement, where his father has kidnapped Havoc and intends to hold Call captive. There are sketches of a mysterious gauntlet spread all over his desk, and after Call reads some of his notes he realises his father is planning to burn the Chaos out of his soul.
Because - oh yeah - at the end of 'The Iron Trial', Call discovered he wasn't Callum Hunt at all. Call's mother died in a battle with the Enemy of Death, but the Enemy grew so weakened that he swapped his soul out of his body and into the only survivor at the scene: Call. The Enemy that the Magisterium are determined to destroy? He's a thirteen year old student living and learning in their establishment.
Of course, when Call finds out what his father's intentions, he runs. He travels across state lines to Tamara's house, where he's reunited with her and Aaron, and he spends the rest of summer happily hanging out with his two best friends before they return to school.
When they get back to the Magisterium they learn that the Alkahest, an artefact capable of destroying the Makar, has been stolen, and Call knows his father must have had something to do with it. Aaron is the Makar, the chosen one that they've been waiting years to find, and everyone assumes he's in danger, but Call knows the truth. He confides in his two friends, trying to reassure Aaron that he isn't in danger, but because he can't tell them he's the Enemy of Death Tamara goes straight to a teacher. Call is hurt by this betrayal and feels even worse when he discovers his father is being hunted and will be killed by the mages who find him.
Call knows he must go and warn his father, and when Aaron and Tamara learn his plan they don't hesitate to join him. Jasper DeWitt - Call's arch-nemesis - discovers them trying to sneak out, so they kidnap him and force him to join them on the road. With four students and a Chaos-ridden wolf, they're in for a long and difficult journey.
It took me a little while to get into 'The Iron Trial', but because I was already familiar with the characters I sped through 'The Copper Gauntlet'. I was glad that it wasn't set in the school because the constant repetitions of stalactites/stalagmites was very draining in the first book (I didn't count the recurrences, but the number must have been up in the 20s/30s), but it did mean that there wasn't much learning about magic, just the gang trying it out in the world.
The group of them on their adventure was actually the best part about the book - I didn't really care about the deceptions or the action sequences, but the interactions between the characters were very realistic and fun, taking me back to my childhood. Even Jasper grew as a character, and based on the fact that he's started helping Call out I can see that he's going to become even more of a focal point in the future novels. He works well with the group, so I actually hope he can get transferred into Master Rufus's apprentice group - there is some tension between the four of them, but it makes for an interesting dynamic.
I was a bit confused by the sudden appearance of metal and metal elementals. In the first book we had fire, water, air, earth and chaos, but suddenly people with an affinity for metal are appearing... It's not explained, and it seems like a bit of a strange addition to the line-up. I'm hoping there aren't other types brought in in the future, because it will get convoluted and confusing - the thing that's really selling the Magisterium for me at the moment is the simple way the magic works.
Overall, I much preferred this installment to the previous one. 'The Iron Trial' was a solid start, but if the rest of the series continues on with this level of adventuring and mystery I'll definitely be sold on it. The third installment in the series, 'The Bronze Key' should be out towards the end of the year, and I'll definitely be picking it up. I would appreciate less uses of the word 'coruscating' though...
If you haven't started the Magisterium series yet, I would recommend it - because it's middle grade, it's a bit of a lighter read compared to most YA books, but it still features lots of death and fighting so it's still very exciting! 

Saturday, 27 February 2016

'The Iron Trial' (Magisterium #1) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

*This review will contain spoilers!* 
'1. Power comes from imbalance; control comes from balance. 
2. All elements act according to their nature: Fire wants to burn, water wants to flow, air wants to rise, earth wants to bind, chaos wants to devour.
3. In all magic, there is an exchange of power.
4. You can change a thing's shape, but not its essential nature.
5. All elements have a counterweight. Fire is the counterweight of water. Air is the counterweight of earth. The counterweight of chaos is the soul.'
The above rules are the rules for magic at the Magisterium, where our protagonist, Call Hunt, is a student.
The thing that makes Call different is that he really did not want to go to magic school. His mother, Sarah, was killed in an attack by the Enemy of Death - the evil who the Magisterium are fighting to stop - so his father has been warning him off of magic since he was a very young boy. When he gets summoned to the Iron Trial to undergo tests showing his aptitude for magic, he makes a concerned effort to fail each and every aspect, so that he won't get chosen.
However, his father's old mentor - Master Rufus - can see what he's doing, so he chooses him as one of his apprentices anyway, despite the fact that he has the lowest score that the Magisterium has ever seen. His father is upset, throwing a dagger across the room at Call (well, Call thinks, to him rather than at him...) but he has to go to the Magisterium anyway - he has no choice, because having untrained mages with burgeoning powers in the wild is a recipe for disaster. 
Call hates training at the Magisterium: he hates Master Rufus, who forces his apprentices to sort sand into coloured piles for weeks; he hates his fellow students because they all hate him; he hates the underground caves because they're long and hurt his injured leg. He hates it even more when he sneaks into Master Rufus's office to contact his father, who gives him an ominous message telling him he doesn't know who he is, and then he finds a note from his father to Rufus begging him to bind Call's magic.
In all honesty, Call is a really irritating character. He does nothing but complain. I mean, yeah, I guess he has some reasons to at the beginning: his dad's a bit of a nutjob, his mum is dead, he's been forced into a boarding school that won't even let him go home for Christmas! But when he has people being nice to him and they're making an effort, he still sulks in the corner and assumes they don't like him. Eventually they talk it all out and then the friendship trio solidly begins, but the angsty section in the middle there is super annoying.
Similarly, there's a character called Jasper who really wants to succeed in the Magisterium because his family have lost everything. Call proceeds to mock him at every possible opportunity because he isn't as skilled, and then when Jasper saves him from drowning he doesn't say thank you, just stares at him blankly in shock. Little rude. I always hate it when characters who say that they've been bullied their whole lives then turn around and become horrible to people - if you've been bullied you know how painful it is and you don't want to make anyone feel like that, so it seems false.
I've heard a lot of comparisons between this series and the Harry Potter series, but that's selling the Magisterium short. Yes, it's a magical, supernatural school, but so are the schools in Vampire Academy, and the House of Night, and Night School - Hogwarts does not have the monopoly on magical schools. The only other comparisons I can think of (considering the fact that I haven't read Harry Potter so might have missed some of the subtler influences) are that it's a group of three friends - two boys and a girl - and that there's a big bad enemy to face off against.
The Magisterium is rather unique in the way that it's set out. First of all, the school is placed in an underground cave system, so it's very secretive and hidden away. Secondly, you get wristbands that allow you access to specific areas of the school - Iron in your first year, then Copper, Bronze, Silver and Gold. You can also get gemstones added to your wristband to show your achievements in the schooling system, which I thought was a very nice touch.
But the real thing that makes 'The Iron Trial' unique is that Cassandra Clare and Holly Black have turned away from the stereotypical "the protagonist is the chosen one" trope, and have taken a bit of a different route with the story. Yes, Call is special, but it's his friend Aaron that is the chosen one that the school have been searching for for years. Aaron is a Makar, making him one of the only Makars in the history of the Magisterium and the only person who can rival the Enemy of Death. However, Call later finds out that he is the Enemy of Death - the Enemy was nearly dead after the battle that killed Call's mother, so he switched his soul into Call's body to ensure his survival.
It is all a bit farfetched, and I did have to read it a couple of times to really understand what was going on - it seemed like it was too complicated of a twist for a middle grade novel but I can see what they were trying to do, bringing the fight between good and evil into one little boy against himself. It's clever and it isn't something I've read before, but I'll wait until I've read the next installment before I decide whether it worked.
If you haven't read the Magisterium because it's marketed as a children's book, you can throw that reasoning out of the window now. Yes, there's no romance, no make out sessions and no swearing, but it's really nice to have a team of characters going on adventures with none of that other stuff getting in the way. For a book aimed at young people the language is still complex (such as 'coruscating' being used literally twenty times) so it definitely can appeal to an older crowd. This was a solid first installment, but it hasn't swayed me either way - hopefully 'The Copper Gauntlet' will help me fall in love with the Magisterium, because at this point I'm not very bothered. 

Friday, 26 February 2016

twenty one pilots - Brixton O2 Academy, 25/02/16

After I saw twenty one pilots in Oxford back in November, I was very conflicted. The band still had their unflappable energy, but the atmosphere and the sound just weren't to the standard that I'd been expected, and I left the show feel a little deflated. I already had tickets to this show in Brixton - they announced it as a one-off headline show before expanded it into a larger tour - but I was more than a little worried.

Opener Transviolet did nothing to dissipate my nerves. I'd only heard one of their songs before, closer 'Girls Your Age', and I thought they sounded rather similar to Halsey - after missing her in this same venue two days ago, I'd been looking forward to seeing them perform. However, I ended up being quite underwhelmed.
Vocalist Sarah McTaggart has a... unique vocal tone. By this, I mean she kind of sounds like Ellie Goulding, if Ellie Goulding had inhaled a bunch of helium, or was perhaps suffering with the flu. At points her voice was so high that I literally could not understand a word that she was singing - it was a jarring. It might sound harsh, but it's the best comparison that I can find, and it didn't sell their set for me.
I'm sure there are people out there who will be absolutely in love with Transviolet, but they're not a band for me. I definitely wouldn't have seen them live if it wasn't for this support slot. There were some people who followed twenty one pilots around the country, going to every show that they performed, and Sarah shouted out to them saying "You've been here for five of the seven shows we've done, you guys are hardcore!" and, though they would have been attending for twenty one pilots rather than Transviolet, they certainly seemed to be enjoying the set.
Musically they performed well, but a lot of their songs did sound the same, with the exception of the first song, 'Bloodstream', which was the heaviest song that they played. The rest of their songs have an almost psychedelic sound, and it's definitely music you can chill out to - perfect for TV ad music - I just didn't really enjoy it in a live environment (well, apart from the third song they performed, which I actually really enjoyed - it's catchy and easy to dance to).
The majority of the songs that they played in their set were unreleased, so I've popped a couple of lyrics in the gaps so that I can piece it together as and when the songs get released.

- ("Want you alone")
- ("Only love you when you're someone")
- ("I knew that I was playing for keeps")
Night Vision
- ("Staring out the window/Getaway car")
New Bohemian
Girls Your Age

The setlist was nearly the same as the one twenty one pilots performed when I saw them three months ago, but despite the similarity in the song choices this show was completely different. Going from a tiny venue holding 1,000 to a huge 5,000 capacity room complete with balcony and seating? That's a very, very impressive upgrade, but it's not surprising at all after the success of 'Blurryface'.
Starting off with two of their most recent songs, including runaway success 'Stressed Out', I wasn't surprised at all when the entire crowd burst into action. For the entirety of the "Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit" chant back into the chorus of 'Heavydirtysoul', and the "Wake up you need to make money" scream in 'Stressed Out', the crowd were singing with no help from the band, and the fact that you could understand every single word was very impressive.
I'd been expecting the reaction to dampen a little when songs from 'Vessel' were performed, so I was over the moon when things got a little bit crazier when 'Guns For Hands' started. There were definitely people in the room who didn't know the earlier material, that's expected when a band catapults into the public awareness in such a rapid way, but I'd thought there would be a lot more people who were only there to hear the more recent songs. Instead it felt a bit like a congregation rather than a group of individuals attending a show, cemented even further when the crowd rapped the first verse of 'Migraine' solo - it's one of those songs that means so much to many people, and to hear them all screaming along to the words was a spine-tingling moment.
I'd assumed that twenty one pilots wouldn't suit large venues, but I was completely wrong. With the large screen at the back of the stage showing video footage relating to each of the songs (such as the hazmat suited men from 'Lane Boy' and the flying birds during 'Goner') it actually made their set feel more intimate rather than larger - in a weird twist of events, I felt much closer to the band and the other fans at this show than I did last time. The most effective use of the screen was definitely the video clip played before 'Ride', which showed flashing clips of running through the wood with some frantic breathing played over the top - it raised the adrenaline in the room and made it that much more effective when the song kicked in.
It's still amazing that there are only two men on the stage, because they both cover every inch of the surface: vocalist Tyler Joseph running from the front of the stage back to the piano and then up to a platform with a hanging microphone, and drummer Josh Dun leaving his kit to backflip off of the piano during 'Holding On To You' - you can't get bored during a twenty one pilots set, because they don't stay still, and there's always something to watch. Add in the fact that Josh started playing the trumpet during 'We Don't Believe What's On TV', and Tyler flipped his kimono over the top of his head and performed the entirety of 'Lane Boy' as a kimono-clad ghost, and then they invited a fan up on stage to do the 'Stressed Out' handshake with Josh - there are so many memorable moments that it would take me hours to mention them all.
I do wonder if I would have felt the same without the inclusion of the medley and the surprise appearance of the outro of 'The Run and Go'. As this tour is supporting 'Blurryface', the majority of songs in the set are from that release, but the earlier songs are still so brilliantly received that it almost makes me want to go back to the days of every set featuring 'Vessel' played in full. I was elated at the response to 'The Pantaloon' from the self-titled album - the fact that a large amount of the crowd were still singing along to it, despite it being their most under-appreciated release... It just showed that the band have received mainstream success, and they have acquired a much larger fanbase, but the majority of people have listened to every song that the band have put out.
If you haven't been to a twenty one pilots show, I don't know what you're doing with your life. Their songs really are transferable from situation to situation - instead of just working brilliantly in small venues, they actually sound much better in a large environment like this - and I genuinely believe Brixton O2 Academy might be the perfect venue for the bands sound. The crowd singing along didn't overpower the band but elevated them, and with it still being safe enough for the drumming on the crowd portions of the evening (during which Josh and Tyler are held up by the crowd on platforms) they're still bringing elements to their show that keep it utterly unique. Tyler asked the crowd "if we can get night number two to blow night number one out of the water", and later said "this is probably maybe gonna beat night number one"... Well, based on their reaction before they walked off stage - Tyler so speechless he had to stop speaking twice before he could say "We're twenty one pilots, and so are you" - I think that might have happened. They aren't going to be playing venues of this size for long, and I wouldn't be surprised if they announce a headline show at Wembley Arena before 2016 is over. I, for one, will be attending that show.

Stressed Out
Guns For Hands
House of Gold (intro)
We Don't Believe What's On TV
The Judge
Lane Boy
Medley (The Pantaloon/Semi-Automatic/Forest/Screen/Ode To Sleep/Addict With A Pen/Screen)
Holding On To You
Not Today
The Run and Go (outro)
Tear In My Heart
Car Radio

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Tonight Alive - Bristol O2 Academy, 24/02/16

February has been a majorly busy gigging month for me and with this, my penultimate live review for the month, I went to Bristol O2 Academy for the first time in four years to see Tonight Alive. As this was my Christmas present, I was given VIP tickets too, which meant I managed to see the band perform unreleased song 'Waves' in their soundcheck. Because it's one of the tracks from 'Limitless' that hasn't come out yet, it was awesome to be one of the first people in the world to hear it, and trust me - it's worth waiting for. The band have been going from strength to strength with their recent singles, and it's just going to get better from here. 

When I saw opening act Milk Teeth at Takedown Festival last year, I was highly unimpressed. So unimpressed that I ended up leaving their set fairly quickly and I didn't mention them in my review! It meant I wasn't too pumped when I realised that they were one of the supports at this show, but hearing their new songs definitely changed my opinion.
The last year has been a huge one for Milk Teeth. They signed to Hopeless Records, released an EP and followed it up with their debut album, 'Vile Child', which came out a few weeks ago. Because the album hasn't been out long it seemed like the majority of the crowd didn't know the songs; this meant the reaction to the band wasn't very enthusiastic, but the band performed brilliantly.
Vocalist Becky Blomfield has an old school tone to her voice, similar to Courtney Love in her Hole days, and it's nice to hear something different to the vast majority of bands around at the moment. Whereas before I'd thought the band were thrashy and unpolished (in a bad way) the new songs seem to have honed their songwriting and they've definitely reigned themselves in - the control means that you can appreciate the music rather than just being assaulted with a wall of noise. Becky took a moment to call out to any girls in bands in the crowd, stating "we need more bands like The Distillers, The Pixies, so keep doing that!" and if Milk Teeth can inspire a new wave of female fronted bands it will not be a bad thing.
The most surprising moment of their set was 'Kabuki', which Becky introduced by saying that she wrote it when she was in a really bad place, and that she hoped by "putting this out here and me being stood here today [it proves] you can go through really shit times in your life and get through to a better place". It was a haunting song, with raw emotion and a vulnerability that makes it impossible not to respect Becky for being able to open herself up so thoroughly. She definitely has a talent for songwriting and if this is the kind of song they're releasing after being a band for nearly three years, I'm excited to see where they go in the future.
The band recently lost guitarist Josh Bannister, one of their founding members, but touring guitarist and backing vocalist Billy Hutton fits into the band so perfectly that you'd think he'd been there the whole time. His roaring vocal at the end of 'No Fun' certainly showed a different side to the band, but instead of thinking their older music was over the top and unappealing, I found myself really enjoying it.
I'm surprised that Milk Teeth managed to change my opinion so completely, but I'm very grateful for it: I can't wait to get hold of 'Vile Child' and hear what their songs sound like on a recording rather than in a live environment.

Brain Food
Burger Drop
Crows Feet
Melon Blade
Swear Jar
No Fun

I've liked Our Last Night for a very long time, but things have always gone wrong when I've tried to see them live: illness, or cancellations, or transport issues. Finally seeing them was something I'd been waiting for for over four years. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.
The chemistry between co-vocalists Trevor and Matthew Wentworth is captivating - not too surprising, with them being brothers -   but it meant that the set was absorbing and the energy just didn't let up. The crowd responded to them better than they did to Milk Teeth, which is probably due to how long they've been a band: whereas Milk Teeth only formed in 2013, Our Last Night released their debut album over ten years ago. It means they already have their own fanbase solidly established, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people only came to this show to see them.
Their half an hour set time felt like it was a lot longer because of the variety of songs that they played. Ranging from the heavier, almost post-hardcore sound, through to the acoustic 'White Tiger' and the uplifting and inspirational 'Sunrise', there was definitely a mix of styles in this set, and it kept it interesting - you never knew what was going to be played next, you just knew it was going to be enjoyable.
'Home' was one of the more successful moments, with the beautiful split vocal at the end of the track (emphasized with the use of a backing track to add more layers to the sound) showing exactly how complementary the brother's voices are.
If you're looking for a band that put on an energetic show, look no further than Our Last Night. Trevor only stayed still during 'White Tiger' because he needed to be able to play his acoustic guitar, but for the rest of the set he didn't stop moving. Just during the last half of 'Sunrise' he jumped off of the drum platform that was set up ready for Tonight Alive, then threw himself into the crowd, running up and down in front of the barrier. Seeing this band live you can't help but be entertained - I just hope it's not too long until I can see them again.

Road To The Throne
Same Old War
White Tiger
A World Divided

This is the second Tonight Alive headline show that I've seen, after going to their Reading Festival warm-up show at Oxford back in 2014, and because that was one of the best headline sets I'd ever seen I was a little bit nervous - I didn't know if they'd be able to live up to my expectations.
Hearing 'Waves' in soundcheck definitely took some of my worries away: I'd forgotten how spectacular Jenna McDougall's vocal was. But it was the start of their headline set and the performance of new song 'To Be Free' that really reminded me of how spectacular this band. Instead of building up the tension and coming out on stage under the cover of darkness, Jenna had her microphone back stage with her and started singing before the band had set foot on the stage. It was a unique entrance, and it started the show off with a bang that didn't fizzle out.
The thing about Tonight Alive is that I really like them, but I keep forgetting to listen to them. It sounds weird, but it's true: sometimes I won't listen to them for three or four months, but then I'll remember just how much I enjoy their sound. I looked up their setlist before we came to this show and I thought I knew one or two songs, so I was very surprised when I ended up knowing almost every song that went into their set. From 'The Ocean' to 'Hell and Back' (which Jenna finished by singing "I went to hell and back just to be where I am today, with you, on the Limitless world tour!") they write songs that are easy to relate to and are emotionally evocative, but they're so easy to sing along to as well, despite the sometimes hard-hitting subject matter. With Jenna announcing "if you don't know what we stand for, we're all about personal power and emotional freedom" they certainly proved it with their music.
I was surprised by the crowd's reaction to Tonight Alive. I'd always kind of thought of them as a bit mellow, so with their fans instantly throwing themselves into the set it wasn't what I'd expected. When Jenna was talking to the crowd someone shouted "Mosh pit!" at her, to which she replied "What did you say? Oh, you want a mosh pit? I appreciate that, I thought you said something rude for a second there" before announcing that there would be moshing later and that they just needed to work their way into the set. I don't know if the pits did arrive, but the audience seemed very up for it: after the tame reaction to the heavier Milk Teeth I hadn't thought it was a hardcore crowd, but apparently Tonight Alive changed that!
During a brief gap while Jenna spoke, one of the guys started playing the intro 'Stay Together For The Kids' by Blink-182, leading to a very small and impromptu cover session featuring the intros of 'All The Small Things' and 'Feeling This'. Jenna joked "Can we be a Blink cover band for the night?", but while the prospect was exciting they have far too many of their own successful songs to perform.
The most emotional song of the evening was unquestionably 'Amelia', written about the death of a close friend. Introducing the song Jenna mentioned the fact that they'd met fans before the show and a lot of people had brought along their copies of debut album 'What Are You So Scared Of?', saying "it's really cool that an album that came out in 2012... 2011! Is still being brought to shows", crediting 'Amelia' with helping the band appeal to fans with their lyrical content and helping them get where they are today. Based on the reaction of the crowd the majority of people really love their older material - this band have built themselves a very solid and dedicated group of fans.
With the majority of the band leaving the stage after 'What Are You So Scared Of?' it was time for the acoustic part of the evening. The stripped back session was intimate and made the show very special. With Jenna and Whakaio sitting together on the platform at the front of the stage, they played 'Safe and Sound' and 'The Other Side'. Before 'Safe and Sound', Jenna explained that they'd decided to play it because "there's a beautiful couple in the front row and it's their anniversary and they both have lyrics from 'Safe and Sound' tattooed on their bodies!" before getting the crowd to shout out Happy Anniversary to the two of them. I hadn't heard the song before, but I've absolutely fallen in love with it - it's beautiful, and the acoustic sound worked brilliantly on it, making for a very memorable moment. Because 'Safe and Sound' was a fan request, people were shouting out for other songs that they wanted to hear acoustic, with Jenna joking "We're not going to play 'The Edge' acoustic!" before introducing the second acoustic song that they'd play, my personal highlight of the set: an extended version of 'The Other Side'.
I first heard 'The Other Side' during Tonight Alive's Oxford show, and I've listened to it constantly since - it's just a brilliant song, and it's definitely my favourite from Tonight Alive. I was a bit worried about hearing the extended version, because I didn't want them to ruin the song by doing too much to it, but the extended version is actually better than the original: it only has two extra verses, but with Jenna passionately singing "we were always more than friends, just friends" it had a little extra kick that made me enjoy it that much more. As Jenna said, "it's about reflecting on your past without bitterness and without resent", and I think that meaning comes across that much more solidly in the extended version.
Unfortunately I did have to leave before the end of their set due to an early train home, so I'm only using educated guesses at how their setlist went after 'Human Interaction', which started as I was walking out of the venue. It was a shame that I didn't get to hear more of the new songs from 'Limitless' live because it would have been nice to see how they sounded in a live environment - it's only a couple of weeks until the album comes out, but it's nice to see the reaction and feel the atmosphere surrounding new material. I'm sure it won't be too long until I see Tonight Alive again, so I'll just have to hear the new songs next time.

To Be Free
The Fire
The Ocean
Hell and Back
What Are You So Scared Of?
Safe and Sound (acoustic)
The Other Side (extended version acoustic)
Human Interaction
Don't Wish (*)
Wasting Away (*)
The Edge (*)
Listening (*)
Drive (*)
How Does It Feel? (*)
Lonely Girl (*)

(*) - setlist credit to, taken from the Manchester night of the tour. I can't confirm if these were the other songs played, but up to and including 'Human Interaction' is right for this show. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five worst love interests

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

We've all been there. You're reading a book that you're absolutely loving: the protagonist is great, the world building is inspiring and the plot is absolutely captivating. You're sure it's going to be the best book you've ever read!
And then the awful love interest comes bounding in and messes everything up.
You can't understand why anyone would fall in love with them, because they have no redeeming qualities and they have the emotional depth of a puddle.
Who am I talking about, you ask?

5) Augustus Waters, 'The Fault In Our Stars'
Pretentious asshole.
I mean, uh, great guy. 

4) Tris Prior, the Divergent trilogy
I nearly picked Four, but he's actually a decent love interest: he's selfless, caring and sacrificing, but not in a stupid way. Meanwhile Tris is a hormone-fueled teenager running around without thinking twice about what she's getting up to - she's very annoying as a love interest, and even worse as a protagonist. 

3) Edward "I watch you while you sleep" Cullen, the Twilight saga
Need I say more?

2) Stefan Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries
No offence to Stefan, but he's a bit of a sad sack. Look at that brooding face, those emo kid quotes... He tries to be a good guy, but he's not a good guy, and then he gets all introspective and complainy. At least Damon can own the fact that he's an asshole! 

1) Malyen Oretsev, The Grisha trilogy
(art found on Pinterest: if anyone knows who the designer is, please let me know! It's so pretty <3)

Alina is a plain, boring, regular girl: Mal sleeps around with attractive Grisha. Alina discovers her Grisha powers and becomes extraordinary, the chosen one, perfect: Mal suddenly claims he's been in love with her his entire life and just didn't know how to tell her.
To me, that says something fishy is going on...
There are many more appealing love interests in the Grisha trilogy, and many more interesting characters to boot, but because Alina is so obsessed with Mal we have to put up with him much more than I wanted to. He's definitely the worst love interest I've ever encountered.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Do you agree with my choices, or do you love some of these characters yourself?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

'Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between' by Jennifer E. Smith

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Headline publishing for sending me a copy of this book through bookbridgr in exchange for an honest review. 
'No matter how strong her feelings for him, she refuses to rush the words. They're too significant, too definite, too lasting. When she finally says them, she wants it to be to the first, last, and only person. She wants it to count.'
Aidan and Clare have been together for two years, but with both of them departing for colleges on different sides of the country in the morning - him off to UCLA, her off to Dartmouth - they spend their last day together trying to work out what to do about their relationship. Clare is adamant that they should break up, because she doesn't want them to stay together and despise each other. Aidan is certain that they should stay together, because he loves Clare and he's certain that they'll be able to make it work - his parents were childhood sweethearts, after all. However, Clare's parents used to be married to other people before they found each other, and she doesn't want to risk missing out on meeting her 'one' if Aidan just isn't it.
Clare designs a list of places that they need to visit before they make a decision: a 'greatest hits' of their relationship, touring them from the place they met to the place that they had their first kiss. Clare puts all of her energy into convincing Aidan she's making the right choice for both of them, but when she starts to doubt herself will she be too late?
The first (and only other) Jennifer E. Smith book I've read was 'The Geography of You and Me', which I absolutely adored. I'd been expecting so much from this novel, because the concept was adorable - a mini road trip based on their relationship? Cute! - but unfortunately this one just didn't end up appealing to me that strongly.
I think the problem might be the time scale. While it's a brilliant idea, it makes it extremely difficult to care about their relationship: the flashbacks come quite regularly, but they aren't that detailed or lengthy, so it felt as though there were references to the things that they'd been through together, but there wasn't any solid evidence that made me believe they were a good couple or made me want them to work out.
I liked their best friends, Scotty and Stella, much more than I liked Aidan and Clare. Clare was self-obsessed, while Aidan was a bit of a meathead - they just didn't seem to get any deeper than that. On the other hand, Scotty failed to get into any of the universities he applied to, so his struggle with being left behind while his friends all learnt to cope with leaving was a cruel irony. Similarly, Stella tried to put up a front and be the uncaring tough girl, but she seemed to take it harder than anyone - made even tougher when you find out that her and Scotty have been secretly dating for two months.
Talking of Scotty and Stella: I thought Clare's automatic assertion that they should stay together was very irritating. They've been dating privately for a matter of weeks, while Clare and Aidan have been dating for two years, and she doesn't think they're worth the effort of a long distance relationship. Bit hypocritical...
I don't really have many complaints about this book, other than the boring characters and the utterly predictable conclusion - it was just overwhelmingly average. I've read a lot of contemporaries this year so far, and while it's not the worst it's certainly not the best. A bit of a non-entity, sadly. 

#HowlerParty at Hodder Headquarters!

Last night, I went to Hodder to hang out with Pierce Brown.

Isn't that the most surreal sentence you've read on this blog?! But it's true!

Signs peppered the hallways announcing the Reaper's arrival
It was much more terrifying than I'd expected it to be, because I'd never done this kind of thing before. I've been running my blog for less than two years, so I haven't hit the big time yet! But this certainly gave me a taste of what it would feel like, with the table covered in munchies and glasses of wine and a breathtaking view of London from the rooftop. 

My phone camera struggled to capture the jaw-dropping sight
Meeting Pierce was brilliant: it felt more like talking to a fellow fan about the series rather than the author, because you could see how excited he was. We discussed our favourite characters (I chose Sevro, obviously, and Kavax with his jellybean-eating fox, Sophocles - the favourite of Pierce's editor) and our least favourites (Pierce agreed with me about Antonia, saying that he really wanted to hit her even though he'd never hit a woman). 
I thanked him for writing such a brilliant ending to the series - he agreed that the final book in a trilogy is normally awful, so I'm glad 'Morning Star' didn't fall into that category! He was happy to sign all of my books, which was great - I'd carried all three hardcovers and the two chunky ARCs of 'Golden Son' and 'Morning Star' with me, and they'll look really nice on my signed book shelf. 
If you get the chance to meet Pierce while he's in the UK, I'd sincerely recommend you go to one of the events - he's such a funny person, joking around about being drunk the entire time he wrote the book and saying that was how he wrote Sevro. I can guarantee you won't be able to stop laughing. He's just so genuinely lovely. 

Me and Pierce <3
After working the room and talking to a lot of people, Pierce did a reading from 'Morning Star', choosing chapter seven, 'Bumblebees'. A bunch of people needed to plug their ears to save themselves from hearing spoilers, and I was very grateful that I'd managed to finish it already! He tried to adopt an accent when he read a line from Ragnar Volarus, causing the entire room to burst out laughing: he apologised, saying "it's all in bold so I tried to do it, this is why I hire someone else to do the audiobook!".
Pierce reading from the ARC of 'Morning Star'
When he'd finished his reading he thanked everyone for coming, sharing the fact that at his first signing he had ten people and he was delighted, but then he only had six people attend his second signing and he felt as though he was sliding. Seeing how many people were in the room tonight, he's definitely come a long way from that point! He invited everyone to "please eat the cupcakes with my face on them, not my face!" and then it was time to mingle and snack with all the other Howlers in attendance.

I couldn't stay for too much longer because I needed to travel home, but I had time to pick up some postcards and posters with quotes from 'Morning Star' on them (I'll be posting pictures of those in my book haul at the end of the week, because they're too fiddly to spread out now!) and it was lovely to meet some fellow bloggers at the event.

The reason Pierce Brown loves the Red Rising trilogy...
Thank you to Becca Mundy and all at Hodder for allowing me to attend this awesome event, and thank you Pierce for writing a brilliant trilogy! 

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books I enjoyed out of my comfort zone

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

I read literally anything. ANYTHING. Which means it's very difficult to read things out of my comfort zone, because I don't stop myself from reading anything.
These ten books are slightly out of my comfort zone - genres I'm not the best at, authors I didn't think I'd like - but I ended up enjoying them nevertheless. 

10) 'Girl Online' by Zoe Sugg
I feel strange putting this one in, because I only ended up giving it two stars... But I enjoyed it, despite the fact that I thought it was cliched and awful. I guess it's almost a guilty pleasure (made all the guiltier when I admit that I'm actually looking forward to reading the second book, 'Girl Online: On Tour') 

9) 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' by Alan Sillitoe
I hadn't read any books by the 'Angry Young Men', but I decided to start exploring that literary genre during my sixth form years. I didn't think I was going to enjoy it, and the majority of the books I tried really didn't appeal to me, but there's something about 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' that means I still hold it in my affections. 

8) 'Twilight' by Stephenie Meyer
Back in the day, I hated - HATED - anything that was vaguely popular. So when I read 'Twilight' and actually ended up enjoying it? That was a huge surprise. 

7) 'A Million Years In A Day' by Greg Jenner
I've been reading a heck of a lot of non-fiction over the last year or so, but that all started with 'A Million Years In A Day'. I'll admit, I only picked it up because the cover was beautiful (COME ON, IT IS!) but it's caused a non-fiction kick that I am loving. 

6) 'Fight Club' by Chuck Palahniuk
I also didn't love 'Fight Club', but I thought the premise behind it was interesting and I certainly enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone on this one. I like anything psychological and, while I saw the twist in the tale coming from a mile off, it was written in a completely unique way and is unlike anything else I've experienced. 

5) 'One' by Sarah Crossan
I hadn't read any books written in free verse since 'Crank' by Ellen Hopkins (which I absolutely loved) but 'One' was out of my comfort zone because, as well as being written in free verse, it told the story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. I'd never read a story based on conjoined twins, so it was certainly something different to experience! 

4) 'Black Orchid' by Neil Gaiman
When I started reading graphic novels I decided to dive in at the deep end and pick the one that looked the most intimidating (and beautiful) to start. It was not a bad decision, because I adored it and now I read graphic novels very regularly - it was a great way to start a love affair with a new genre. 

3) 'City of Bones' by Cassandra Clare
Once I got past the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, I knew that I'd be able to deal with the other ones - it was just getting past the behemoth that was the beginning. These books are fatter than most of the ones that I read, which is what put them out of my comfort zone: the premise is certainly something that I'd jump on, but they're so, so BIG. 
I still haven't actually read the final book... So maybe they are still out of my comfort zone (at least a teeny bit). 

2) 'On Chesil Beach' by Ian McEwan
'On Chesil Beach' should have been one of the most boring books I'd ever read - it's all about a couple who've just gotten married, the way their relationship started and the problems that they're already struggling with. But Ian McEwan's writing style is beautiful, and I cared about the characters so completely and utterly that I couldn't help falling in love with it. 

1) The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown
Space stuff goes right over my head. It's the reason I haven't read 'The Martian', or watched blockbuster smash 'Interstellar'. There's just too much sciencey stuff, and I can't get my head around it... It makes me feel all squiffy. 
So, when I decided to read 'Red Rising', I nearly gave up within a few paragraphs. It's set on Mars = too spacey. There's a lot of talking about the terraforming process that made Mars inhabitable to humans and allowed trees and lakes to grow = too sciencey. This book should have been a nightmare for me.
But it's ended up being my favourite trilogy of all time, ever. In fact, I met Pierce Brown yesterday at Hodder's headquarters! I'm glad that I decided to persevere when the going got tough, because it definitely paid off. 

And that's another Top Ten Tuesday done! What books have you read that were vastly out of your comfort zone? 

Monday, 22 February 2016


(New Music Monday is adapted from Music Monday, hosted by Lauren at Always Me)

After seeing Zibra supporting Bring Me The Horizon on Thursday, there was no question in my mind that I needed to feature them on New Music Monday this week.

(from l-r: Russ, Sam and Ben)

Zibra are a band from London who are certainly making a name for themselves. From the aforementioned slot at the BRITs week show, to a song on the FIFA 16 soundtrack, it's not going to be long before these boys are a household name.
The reason they're so appealing is because they're just so damn fun. Too many bands nowadays take themselves seriously and make it difficult for fans to get on board with them, but Zibra are doing exactly the right things. 
Zibra have only been actively uploading music for just over twelve months, and I actually can't find much information about when they formed - based off of the ages of the members, I'd say it hadn't been very long at all. That just makes their emergence into the public consciousness that much more commendable.  
With their newest single, 'Wasted Days', gaining mainstream radio play and a lot of attention, it might be worth you listening to it now: 

If you don't feel like dancing right now, there's something seriously wrong with you!

If you'd like to hear more from Zibra, you can find all of their songs on their Youtube channel. You can also follow them on Twitter, or find them on Facebook.

If you have a band and you'd like to be featured in New Music Monday, you can contact me on Twitter or through my contact page. Thank you for checking out New Music Monday, see you next week!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

'Morning Star' (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

If you haven't read my review of 'Golden Son', the second installment of the 'Red Rising' trilogy, go and check that out now - it's also spoiler free!
"Why would I care what you were? I care about what people do. I care about truth. If you have told me, I wouldn't have done a single thing differently. I would have protected you."
The only spoiler I'm going to put in this review is something that happens at the end of 'Golden Son', so if you haven't read the second book in the series you should seriously LEAVE, LEAVE RIGHT NOW, GO AND READ IT.
Phew! Now that outburst is over, I shall continue with the spoiler: you have been warned...

At the end of 'Golden Son', shit went down. A whole bunch of bloodydamn shit. But the biggest thing that went down? Darrow was outed as a Red.
Yep, you remember: our intrepid infiltrator was outed and captured by the Jackal, leaving the future of the Sons of Ares uprising in danger. I was shocked, dismayed, panicked... I basically went into fully blown meltdown mode, so it was a good job that I waited an entire year after the book published before I finally read it because I was waiting for 'Morning Star' to be here so I could read it straight afterwards.
And, in a surprising twist of events, I actually received an advanced copy of 'Morning Star' through bookbridgr and Hodderscape! It's still taken me ages to read it (it's over 500 pages, which is one of the longest books I've read in a long while...) but it was so exciting to be able to start it a couple of days early and dive straight back in on Darrow's adventures.
I'm not going to give any spoilers in this review, because I don't want to ruin this series ender for anyone - at least not yet, when it's been out less than two weeks... - but I might write a spoilery review in a couple of weeks, because I know I'm still going to be thinking about everything that went down in this novel.
All I can really say: this is a satisfying conclusion. Being a novel set in the midst of a space war, there are casualties - this means you will get your heart broken at multiple points, so be prepared! But that just meant that it was much more effective, because it wouldn't have been realistic at all if there hadn't been any losses of characters we cared about.
But the war isn't the only thing going on. We get lots of character development from characters we're already well acquainted with. In fact, there are only a few new additions to the cast, and they're all meaningful and necessary - there aren't any throwaway cannon fodder characters in this world! If you already love the characters from the first two books, you'll love this book purely because of the developmental arcs that they go through: they're all realistic, and no one has a random, unexplained change of heart purely for shock value. Everything is very natural, and that's brilliant.
I've been making an effort to finish series this year, and all of the series enders that I've read so far have been utterly disappointing. The authors haven't seemed to know where they were going, they've been too focused on wrapping up all of the loose ends, and they've all needed their characters to have a picture perfect happy ending. While the ending of 'Morning Star' is a happy one, it's also extremely bittersweet (you can't count that as a spoiler, anything could constitute a happy ending - I'm sure you won't guess exactly what happens!) and it's also very open: Darrow's story ends, and the plot that gets established in 'Red Rising' is finished, but it's only part of what is a much larger and wider story. We don't have a cliched "10 YEARS LATER" flash forward, but with the news that Pierce Brown is writing a new trilogy based in the 'Red Rising' universe (read more about that here, but the article does contain a couple of spoilers!) there's a lot of potential for what will be going on in the future.
I'm very, very happy with how this panned out. Getting to explore more of the universe (finally setting foot on Jupiter and Earth) was exactly what I'd wanted, but it wasn't over the top - there weren't random flights out to Pluto or Mercury just to show off the space-themed writing, so it made a lot of sense. I was torn between four and five stars for this final installment, because some of the political digressions and subterfuge went a bit over my head (betrayals in betrayals in betrayals, death begets death begets death) and it can be hard to keep track of everything that's going on... But compared with some of the final series books that I've read this year that I've had SO MANY problems with, I needed to reflect the fact that I only have one or two minuscule complaints - it would probably be closer to 4.5 stars, though.
If you haven't read the 'Red Rising' trilogy yet, I don't know what I can do to persuade you that it's necessary. There's a jellybean eating fox, goddammit! I can't recommend this series any more highly.

Friday, 19 February 2016

'Love Me, Love Me Not' by Alyxandra Harvey

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Entangled Publishing for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
'This was her night. She was only fifteen, but she was giving up the blue cloak of childhood. She'd found her swan cloak. She'd fallen in love.'
In 'Love Me, Love Me Not', there are two rival families: the Renards and the Vila, foxes and swans. Ana, our protagonist, is part of the latter camp, and the novel starts with her and all of her many, many cousins celebrating one of them discovering true love and earning her swan wings.
Let me stop right there, and say this: if you're expecting a reason for the ability to transform into swans or foxes, this is not the book for you. I'd been hoping there would be a reason behind it, but it's just taken as a given - they can transform into animals. That's the best explanation that we get. As you can imagine, this leaves me unimaginably frustrated: it just takes away some of the realism and makes me a bit skeptical about the novel, because if you can't come up with a great backing story for your mythological creatures it's a bit worrying.
Anyway: to get your swan wings and the ability to transform, you need to find your true love. Yep, not just platonic love or familial love, it has to be fully blown, first and true love. It might just be me being pessimistic, but I feel that this is a bit harsh for teenagers, and with all of the desperation surrounding their search for true love I'm guessing that they have a time limit on it happening, too. But I wouldn't know, because of the aforementioned lack of development around the creatures.
Ana is in a panic, because she really wants to get her swan wings and her magical feathered cloak, which can only be acquired when she finds true love. Her best friend, Pierce, is truly madly deeply in love with her, but she writes that off - it's obviously just a side effect of her magic! - so she instead pursues the dark and brooding Edward (have we heard that somewhere before? Oh, wait...). And there, one of the most unconvincing love triangles that I've ever had the misfortune to experience commences.
Ana tries to force herself to love Edward, even though she feels nothing about him and is thinking about Pierce all of the time. But Pierce is her best friend, so of course she'd be fantasizing about kissing him while Edward's tongue is in her mouth: that's just common sense!
Meanwhile, dead swans and fox parts keep appearing everywhere. The Renards think the Vila are attacking their people, and vice versa, so the tension between their two families gets unbearably thick and the blood feud deepens. Swan girls go missing, but so do members of the Renard family, and despite the fact that both families are point blank denying their involvement, neither of them pause for a second to listen to each other.
This is the point where I started rolling my eyes so hard that I thought they might potentially get stuck in my brain. If your family is in danger and there's a feasible explanation as to why there might be third party involvement, you most definitely listen to it. You don't keep blindly attacking without a second thought! It's very over-the-top and completely unrealistic. Also, the size of the family is just distracting: there are either six or seven aunts (I lost count, because they kept getting dropped in and out without any character being added to them) and a heck load of cousins that don't really do a lot (especially Soliloquy, who gets kidnapped and then never mentioned again...) and it's just unnecessary. Don't shove that many characters into a brood-like family unless you can give them all a unique selling point and a reason for existing, because it's just unnecessary.
When you combine that with the cliched relationship and the constant internal debating about feelings and magical responsibilities... This is one of the most stereotypical teen romance books I've ever read. It certainly puts the 'young' into young adult, that's for sure!
I really enjoyed the start of Alyxandra Harvey's Drake Chronicles, which is why I jumped on the chance to request this book on NetGalley. Now I kind of wish I hadn't bothered. I really liked the Drake Chronicles the first time around, because I was a young and naive hopeless romantic, and I thought the idea of true love and soulmates was romantic rather than just a little bit sickening. But this book is definitely too sugary sweet for me.
If you're looking for a quick read with a unique creature, this book will appeal to you! But if you're looking for something with a bit more substance and some stronger characters, I'd probably avoid it. 

Bring Me The Horizon - Electric Brixton, 18/02/16

Because this concert was part of the BRITs week celebrations, this was not a regular Bring Me The Horizon show - I've seen them a handful of times, but this was certainly the most diverse and interesting of all of those. 

Openers Zibra were unquestionably the most pop act on the bill, but that also made them the most fun act of the evening. Kicking off with 'Wasted Days', the crowd wasted no time in starting to bounce along: I was quite surprised by the reaction, because they definitely aren't the kind of band that would normally support Bring Me The Horizon, but they really seemed to embrace their sound. The dancing didn't stop once throughout, and the amount of people responding more than doubled.
With vocalist Sam looking like a much more badass version of Jedward, the band are certainly a memorable one. When you combine that with the fact that Russi Harley was playing a percussive pineapple (yep, you heard me, it had been hollowed out and filled with what Sam claimed were "dried ants", making for a very unique maraca!) and bashing out a cover of 'Where Are U Now' by Justin Bieber to outro 'Chlorine'... You really couldn't expect what was going to happen next.
On that note: a Bring Me The Horizon crowd not bottling over a Justin Bieber cover? I don't know if that proves that the average age of the fans has increased exponentially, or if Bieber is just really cool now.
I probably enjoyed 'Sunscreen' the most in their set, despite the fact that I'd only heard 'Wasted Days' before seeing them live. With the chorus of "we never wear sunscreen, because we always like the heat" they're definitely using their popularity to be bad influences, but bad feels so good when it's unadulterated pop like this.
Closing with a brand new song (apparently releasing next week) was a gutsy move, but with it's catchy "uh-oh" refrain I'm sure it'll be stuck in the mind of everyone who was in attendance. I'm predicting very big things happening for these boys, with their sound reminiscent of The 1975 (exemplified perfectly on 'R.I.P (Rest In Peace)'), so I'd suggest you listen to them sooner rather than later - this isn't a rise that you want to miss out on.

Wasted Days
Great White Shark
Chlorine (Where Are U Now outro)
R.I.P (Rest In Peace)

I was actually a little bit disappointed with Sundara Karma's set, but I think that was because I hyped them up so much after seeing them at Reading festival last summer where they absolutely owned their tent.
I'm wondering if vocalist Oscar LuLu might have been ill, in which case I don't want to penalize them for something out of their control, but his vocal was a little too far on the nasal side tonight. It wasn't something I'd picked up on at Reading, which is why I'm wondering if it might have been a one-off issue... But his voice didn't appeal to me too strongly, and the tone - combined with the acoustics in the venue - made it a little bit hard to understand the lyrics throughout their set. For someone who rates lyrical content quite highly in how they feel about a band, this was frustrating for me. I'd been looking forward to hearing more of the band, but I came away feeling very ambivalent about them.
Sundara Karma are definitely more likely to turn up as a support for Bring Me The Horizon in a regular setting, because they're rockier than Zibra and have the introspective rock attitude down. There wasn't much interaction with the crowd, but it came off as more punk than rude - they thrashed through their songs and it was all over quite quickly: their half an hour set time seemed to fly past. They had less of a crowd reaction than Zibra, but their music isn't really something that you can dance to as easily - the audience were still polite in their applause, though.
My attention span did go a couple of times during their set, because a few of their songs did sound similar, but the new song they played in the middle (whose name I can't work out, but which had an extremely catchy refrain featuring the lyrics "She says she needs me") recaptured my focus. It definitely seems as though their new music is taking on a life of its own, and it certainly stands out from the other songs they performed.
I still really enjoy listening to Sundara Karma's recordings, but I'm not too fussed about seeing them live again just yet, which is a shame. If you like bands like The Vaccines and Arctic Monkeys, you should definitely check Sundara Karma out - they'll be right up your alley, and I'm sure you'll fall head over heels in love with them! They just aren't completely my cup of tea - or, at least, they aren't yet.

A Young Understanding
Run Away

This is the fourth time I've seen Bring Me The Horizon in the last six months, so you can see how much I enjoy their live shows. When you consider the fact that I've already got another two dates booked (their one-off Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Royal Albert Hall, and their biggest headline show to date at the O2 Arena) it cements that even further.
The only problem with seeing any band that frequently is that they're playing the exact same setlist - well, apart from the live debut of 'Follow You', which was inserted in the middle and was easily the standout track of the evening.
While I really enjoyed Bring Me The Horizon's set at Alexandra Palace, I think the intimacy of this venue worked wonders for them. Whereas before the backing tracks and the effects all seemed a little too overpowering, it was all perfect for a room of this size - particularly the large screen at the back of the stage projecting lyrics and graphics to accompany each song they played. Everything felt closer than it was, and it meant that it was impossible not to be completely absorbed in the moment. You could not take your eyes off of the band.
The crowd reaction was absolutely outstanding. I've seen Bring Me The Horizon shows where people have hardly moshed, which isn't surprising with the rapid change of direction that their sound has taken across their last two albums, but the energy didn't let up the entire time that they were on stage. Electric Brixton is spread across three levels (the standard balcony up above, and a stage level standing area up three stairs from the sunken dance floor) and the dance floor area was a non-stop flood of movement, culminating in a wall of death during main set closer 'Antivist'. In larger venues it's hard to get such an effusive crowd reaction, because there are always people that don't want to participate - in this room, every single person was throwing themselves into the set, really living in the moment.
Musically, the band were flawless. It's one of the reasons I've always loved seeing them live: they don't make mistakes. It makes it hard to review them, because I don't really have anything to complain about! Well... There was one thing that was lacking: unfortunately vocalist Oli Sykes didn't have the opportunity to jump on Coldplay's table while performing 'Happy Song'. There weren't any rock 'n' roll antics at this show, but with the reaction the band have been getting due to that stunt, that's probably for the best.
If you haven't seen a Bring Me The Horizon show yet, what the hell have you been doing?! I can confirm you'll have a brilliantly fun night, and with more new songs being slipped into the set there's definitely going to be something for everyone, whether you're looking to circle pit until your bones break or have a melancholy singalong.
The next time I see them, they're going to be accompanied by an orchestra in one of the most legendary venues in London - it's certainly going to be a special show, and I hope they take the opportunity to pull some surprises out of the bag.

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

'A Time Imagination Forgot To Inspire' by Cold Summer

After featuring Cold Summer on New Music Monday this week, I've been looking forward to sharing their new video with you: 'A Time Imagination Forgot To Inspire'.

Check out the video, then see my thoughts on the song and the video below!

I challenge you if you think you're not going to get the "I'm not seeing a change" refrain stuck in your head all day, because it's all I've been humming since I first heard this song. 
I've listened to most of Cold Summer's back catalogue and this is definitely their most accomplished release. They've developed in a way that maintains their sound and style, but they're performing it in a much more polished way. Dan Feast has more vocal control, making the change between the soft vocals and the harder sections much more effective, and that puts this track far above their previous ones. Similarly, their ability to write lyrics has improved too: you can feel how much they've put into this song, and I'm already looking forward to seeing where they go next.
The video is very simplistic, but that's often a better way for an upcoming band to go. It definitely helps all of the focus stay on their sound, and the music staying front and center can't be a bad thing when it sounds this good.
If you're a fan of A Day To Remember, The Used or Alexisonfire, I can see that Cold Summer would appeal to you - it's certainly worth checking them out. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five recommendations I loved

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

I don't get recommended many books, because all of my friends and family know that I have way too many books to read as it is. However, sometimes a book will slip through the net and I'll end up actually reading it... Then I fall madly, deeply in love.
These are five examples of that happening!

5) 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell
I'd been recommended 'Fangirl' by a couple of people, but only ended up reading it for one of my Goodreads group readalongs: I fell head over heels with the characters and the story, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading 'Carry On', the companion novel. 

4) 'Trigger Warning' by Neil Gaiman
I'd always thought about reading Neil Gaiman, but I didn't try until I was enthusiastically recommended this short story collection by my now-girlfriend. While it certainly wasn't perfect, the majority of the short stories were absorbing and intriguing, and I'm already looking forward to reading more Neil Gaiman in the future: his writing is unique and I love the characters he crafts.

3) 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth
Only the first book in the trilogy though, because I discovered the rest by myself. I can't remember who recommended 'Divergent' to me - I've talked about it with so many of my friends in the past few years! - but I'm glad that I read it because this first installment is one of the best books I've ever read. 

2) 'Autumn' by David Moody

I only read 'Autumn' a couple of weeks ago but I absolutely loved it. It was recommended to me by a colleague, and I'm so glad that I took a shot at it: I love zombie stories, but the development of the zombies is vastly different to any others that I have read. 

1) 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan
'Atonement' is one of those almost classics that everyone should read at least once in their lives, and I'm grateful that my friend recommended it because I ended up really enjoying it. It wasn't perfect, but it certainly tugged on the heartstrings and it's very intellectually written - it was a really nice change of pace for me. It's not my favourite Ian McEwan novel - that distinction is currently awarded to 'On Chesil Beach' - but it's definitely worth a read with it's unreliable narrator and quickly moving pace.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What books have you been recommended that you absolutely loved?