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Everything Alyce: March 2016

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five worst books in my favourite series

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

I've been reading an awful lot of series, so this is the perfect topic for me! I always seem to find that one book in a series severely disappoints me, while the rest of the series is completely note perfect - it's probably one of the most heartbreaking things that can ever happen.
These might be my five favourite series, but these five installations make me grumble.

5) 'Morning Star' by Pierce Brown
 
 If you thought I could make a blog post about series and not mention Pierce Brown, you were severely incorrect. I gave all three books in the Red Rising trilogy 5 stars, but 'Morning Star' was the only one that was on the border between 5 and 4. It didn't disappoint me, but the ending was much less deathly than I'd been expecting, and it seemed like it could have been more effective. 
Still loved it, though.

4) 'Ignite' by Erica Crouch
 
'Ignite' by Erica Crouch is the only book on this list that isn't a series ender. Considering my hatred for series enders, that's a bit of a surprise! But this trilogy definitely got better with age, as I absolutely adored the second and third installments (and the novellas <3 ) but I felt ambivalent towards the first book. 

3) 'Ensnared' by A. G. Howard
I've only really started finishing series over the last couple of months (I always skipped the third book, because I have a problem with commitment) so it's not surprising that the favourite series that have disappointed me are primarily ones I've read in 2016. I had the highest hopes for the final book in the Splintered trilogy, but I was left longing for a different ending.

2) 'Ruin and Rising' by Leigh Bardugo
 
I only finished 'Ruin and Rising' a couple of months ago, but I was SO DISAPPOINTED. The first book is kind of average, then the second book is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, but the third book was a pile of dirt. I gave it 3 stars, because I was in a super generous mood that day. 
This is literally the most cliched series ender in the history of series enders.

1) 'Allegiant' by Veronica Roth
 
I gave the first two installments of the Divergent trilogy 5 stars, unquestioningly. I read them both in a day - back to back with no breaks - but when it came to 'Allegiant' it took me MONTHS. At the time I rated it quite highly, just because it was part of the series, but looking back I definitely think of it more as a 2 star. At least the book isn't as bad as the film, though.
I'm doing a reread of these soon, so this might change! (It probably won't.)

Thank you for checking out my Top Five Wednesday! Do you hate series closers as much as I do, or do you really love some of these books? 

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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

'Dreaming of Antigone' by Robin Bridges

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I want to say a huge thank you to Kensington Books for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

'Dreaming of Antigone' is one of those novels that tries to deal with a lot of different issues, but only ends up touching upon them rather lightly. Our protagonist, Andria, is dealing with depression (well, I assume it's depression - she refuses to eat and suffers from insomnia, but it's never explicitly dealt with) following the death of her twin sister, Iris, six months ago. Andria blames Iris's boyfriend, Alex, for her death: he was a drug addict, and she thinks he's the one that caused Iris to go off of the rails and take the heroin that killed her.
I thought this book was going to deal with Andria coming to terms with Iris's death and forgiving Alex, but that happened pretty early in the book. In fact, you'd think Iris had been dead for a lot longer: Andria doesn't struggle that much! Her relationship with Alex is very love/hate (within the same chapter she goes from saying she could "so easily fall in love with this boy" to saying "I can definitely say I hate Alex Hammond") but it's obvious that they're going to end up together due to their mutual love of poetry and the shared loss of Iris, so there's no tension there.
Then I thought the book was going to deal with the allegations aimed towards Andria's stepfather, Craig, who is accused of having an affair with one of the girls on the school soccer team that he coaches. Paedophilia isn't regularly dealt with in YA, so I was surprised by the inclusion and I thought it would become a story of Andria trying to clear Craig's name... However, within a couple of pages the allegations have been confirmed through the discovery of Iris's journal, in which she recounts the multiple times that he sexually abuses her from the age of 12. So then I thought it was going to be a story about Andria coming to terms with the discovery of the abuse in her family, but she seems to deal with that quite easily too.
Can you see what I mean about the fact that 'Dreaming of Antigone' tries to deal with too much?! It doesn't really have a plot, just a bunch of mini plots. Will Andria get her driver's license, or will her epilepsy cause a seizure? Will Andria improve her grades or flunk out of school? Will Andria's dog live or die? Will Andria and Alex end up together? It's exhausting.
There were things I enjoyed about 'Dreaming of Antigone'. Andria's interests in astronomy were very interesting - I haven't read any other YA that included stargazing, and the descriptions are beautiful. The poetry quotes throughout were also nice, as I discovered some new poets that I hadn't heard of before and that's always something I'm going to enjoy. I hadn't heard the story of Antigone before, so it was nice to learn about that piece of Greek literature, and it's something I'm likely to read more about sooner rather than later, as the themes seem very intriguing.
I just feel as though Robin Bridges tried to do too much with this book. It's okay to just deal with one or two teenage issues, you don't need to tackle them all! It was a brave attempt, but it didn't pay off. It was the same all the way through (in the last chapter of the book, Iris's best friend Trista announces that she kissed her on the night that she died... Did we really need a random lesbian moment?!) and some of the inclusions definitely weren't relevant to the story. It feels like the focus of the story is definitely Andria and Alex's burgeoning relationship, but because all of the other plots are happening as well it's extremely cluttered, and I genuinely don't feel as though I read a novel rather than read a bunch of potential plot lines.

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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten most recent 5 star reads

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

It takes a lot for me to rate a book 5 stars. The story needs to engage me, the characters need to be realistic and the events that unfold need to be genuine and believable. I also need the writing style to be absorbing, and for the grammatical structuring to be neat and tidy - I can't abide writers that overlook grammar in favour of telling the story, because if the story isn't coherent it's not going to be enjoyable.
These ten novels impressed me, and I fell in love with them utterly and completely. I'm not including graphic novels, because those normally get 5 stars from me (I can't help myself when there's cute art and lovable characters!) or non-fiction, because my tastes are much less discerning.
If you'd like to read my reviews of the books I mention, click on their titles!

10) 'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
I LOVE this book, and I was absolutely over the moon when it won at the Waterstones Children's Book Prize just last week. Dealing with the struggles of David, who is trying to come out as transgender, and Leo, you can't help but love these characters.

9) 'The Body Farm' by Patricia Cornwell
Last year, I attempted to read a Patricia Cornwell book every week to enable me to catch up with the series in time for the release of 'Depraved Heart'. Unfortunately I failed in that quest, but that's mostly because 'The Body Farm' was so good that I just needed some time to deal with it before I continued onwards. 
8) 'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell
I'm going to be completely honest, I can't remember rating 'Landline' 5 stars. I actually found it quite cliched and got bored frequently throughout it, so looking back I definitely should have given this one 3 or 4 stars at the most. I don't know what I was thinking! 

7) 'This Is Where It Ends' by Marieke Nijkamp
This book is an absolute triumph. Since it was released it's gained so much attention, even hitting the New York Times' bestseller list, and there's a reason for that - it's flawless. It's set over the course of a few hours, during a school shooting. Heartbreaking and captivating in equal measures.

6) 'All of the Above' by Juno Dawson
There aren't many books that I read in one sitting, but 'All of the Above' was one of them. It deals with loads of different teenage issues - depression, eating disorders, sexuality - but it tackles all of them beautifully. This is the epitome of a 5 star book. 

5) 'Golden Son' by Pierce Brown
Hands up who's surprised? Oh wait, the answer to that is no one. Which means you also won't be surprised by the next book that received 5 stars... 

4) 'Morning Star' by Pierce Brown
Nope, no surprises here. 'Morning Star' was closer to a 4 star book for me... But I had to. I couldn't help myself. 
If I'm completely honest, 'Red Rising' should have been on this list too - just before 'This Is Where It Ends' - but that was a reread, so I chose to omit it. Sue me. 

3) 'Kindred Spirits' by Rainbow Rowell
This Rowell book was definitely more of a 5 star read than 'Landline' (seriously, what was I thinking?!). It was a short story written for World Book Day 2016, and it takes a lot for short stories to impress me, but this one succeeded where many others have failed. The characters were well-rounded, the story was wrapped up, and it left me wanting more.

2) 'You Were Here' by Cori McCarthy
I could not recommend this one more highly: it's such an authentic representation of grief, and it really does destroy you emotionally. 

1) 'Far From You' by Tess Sharpe
I actually read this one straight after 'You Were Here', and no one was more surprised than me when I read two 5 star books in a row. I don't think it's ever happened before, and I was over the moon! I'll be honest when I say 'Far From You' is probably one of my favourite books of all time - I already can't wait to see what Tess Sharpe does next. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What 5 star books have you read recently? 

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Monday, 28 March 2016

NEW MUSIC MONDAY: We Are The Movies


I was contacted a couple of weeks ago about reviewing We Are The Movies new EP, 'Get Busy Living...', I thought I'd combine their EP review with a New Music Monday post.
We Are The Movies were formed in 2011 in Columbus, Ohio, and are comprised of Mike O'Leary (guitar/vocals), Tim Waters (guitar/vocals), Dan McMillan (guitar), Stephen Goldstein (bass) and Bryan Overholt (drums). 
The band released their first EP, 'Ending One Moment at a Time', back in 2013, and they haven't stopped working since. It's definitely paying off, though: this year they have an opening slot on the Pure Noise tour (headlined by Hit The Lights and Seaway) and they're also playing the Road to Warped show in Alaska (with Sum 41 and Sleeping With Sirens, among others). At the moment they have just over 1,000 likes on their Facebook, and around a quarter of that on their Twitter, but by the end of the year I can guarantee that they're going to have gained a lot more attention. Unfortunately I can't go to either of these shows - being UK based has its downfalls! - which means I'm not going to know what We Are The Movies sound like live for quite a while, but hopefully there will be UK shows on the distant horizon.
If you'd like to listen to their first EP, it's available as a free download on their website.

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First of all I have to say that I love the artwork for 'Get Busy Living..'. Sometimes artwork isn't a priority for upcoming bands, but this is a beautiful piece of work and that's always something I appreciate!
Featuring six songs, including intro track 'Always The Rule (Never The Exception)' which is merely a minute and a half, if you're a fan of pop punk you'll definitely find something that you enjoy on this EP. There's 'The Story So Far', which is the fastest of the tracks and sounds rather like New Found Glory. If you like subtle Christmas songs (as in, no jingling bells or choral choruses here!) then you'll enjoy 'Happy EX-mas' - it's one of those songs that you can listen to all year round, even if it is based solidly on a holiday. Then it's time for 'The Best Revenge is Living Well', which is one of the happier pop punk songs I've ever heard: it deals with the aftermath of a break up and rediscovering yourself, with the refrain "I'm finally happy" being remarkably optimistic.
As their opening tracks states, "I will confess that I've always been a bit of a cynic", but my cynicism goes through the roof as soon as I see a song is nearly six minutes long. Nine times out of ten it just doesn't work well, and the piece is draining in its length and repetition, so I wasn't too enthused when I spotted the running time of 'Temporary' (5:53). It actually ended up being the song on the EP that impressed me the most! It's on a different level, with a soaring guitar line that could easily be part of a movie score, and it feels epic. Whereas the rest of the songs are solidly pop punk, 'Temporary' transcends the label.
After 'Temporary' I was a little bit disappointed by 'By A Thread', because it was the most slowed down song for the closer. It beautifully focused the split vocal that works so well throughout the rest of the songs, but after the upbeat earlier tracks and the wonderful 'Temporary', its melancholy feeling means it slips under the radar a little bit.
I will admit, this EP is standard pop punk fare. If you've heard anything from the genre, you've basically heard We Are The Movies before. However, that's a good thing in this case! All of the members are wonderfully talented, and you can tell that they've been in bands before - 'Get Busy Living...' has a polished feeling that puts them miles above the others emerging into the scene. If these guys don't get serious recognition by the end of 2016 I'll be very surprised, because they're one of the most promising new bands I've heard in a very long time. I'm certainly going to keep an eye on them.
If you're a fan of the aforementioned New Found Glory, love upcoming pop punk bands but wish Real Friends were a little bit happier, We Are The Movies are the perfect band for you. You can purchase 'Get Busy Living...' on iTunes or at their online store.

I hope you enjoyed this New Music Monday! If you have a band and you'd like to be featured next week, you can contact me on Twitter or through my contact page.

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Sunday, 27 March 2016

'Lola and the Boy Next Door' (Anna and the French Kiss #2) by Stephanie Perkins

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

I read 'Anna and the French Kiss' just over a year ago, and while I'd been intending to continue on with the series much earlier than this, I just kept procrastinating. I'm not sure why - I think Stephanie Perkins writing is delightful, and the reads are quick and easy - but something about 'Lola and the Boy Next Door' just didn't make me want to pick it up.
As you can imagine from the title of the book, Lola Nolan lives next to a boy, Cricket Bell (the great-great-great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone). Cricket and his twin sister, Calliope, have just moved back into the house next door after moving away a few years ago - their departure broke Lola's heart, and she genuinely wishes she never had to see either of the Bell twins again.
But of course, life is cruel. Lola is happy with her boyfriend Max (she's 17 and he's 22, so her parents don't approve, and Lola's life 'would be so much easier if they just accepted that Max is the one') and she doesn't need the reappearance of a well-dressed Cricket to flip her world upside down.
There were things I liked about 'Lola...' more than 'Anna...' and things that I liked much less. I was glad that there was no cheating in this book (Anna and her boyfriend, St. Clair, cheat on their respective partners with each other, which seemed unnecessary when they were both convinced the other one was The One) despite the fact that Lola and Cricket had opportunities in which they could have sneaked around behind Max's back. When Lola eventually dumps Max, she also waits three months before her and Cricket officially become a couple, because she feels as though she needs to rediscover herself. This is realistic and is very respectful towards her time with Max - they're in a serious relationship, she loses her virginity to him and wonders if they'll have a future together - and in real life people would definitely take some time to themselves following a break up like that.
However, I just didn't like Lola as a character much. She was a bit too quirky for me to deal with (one of the first sentences is 'I don't believe in fashion. I believe in costume.') and her constant struggle to be different and unique - going so far as never wearing the same outfit twice - it's just exhausting to read because she's very high maintenance. She grew on me by the end of the novel, but I still didn't really care that much.
I did love the fact that her parents were a gay couple, though. I hadn't read that in a YA book before, and the dynamic between Lola and both of her dads (and her birth mother, Norah, the brother of her father Nathan) was heartwarming to read and was a perfect example of why gay couples should be allowed - even encouraged - to adopt. I also thought the subplot dealing with Lola and her relationship with Norah was fascinating, as Norah was a recovering addict and that was dealt with beautifully.
I also thought it was just a tad on the too cliched side. Girl has her first kiss with the boy next door, he moves away, then he moves back and they fall deeply in love... It's a bit too gooey. I know that that's the whole point of the Stephanie Perkins books, but it made it predictable and overly cheesy. I did enjoy it, but I feel as though it's aimed towards a much more optimistic reader who believes in everlasting first love. 

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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

'Flawed' (Flawed #1) by Cecelia Ahern

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'For bad decisions, it's their temple. 
For lying, it's their tongue.
For stealing from society, it's their right palm.
For disloyalty to the Guild, it's their chest, over their heart.
For stepping out of line with society, it's the sole of their right foot.'
The premise of 'Flawed' is a good one: in this dystopian society, perfection is bred. If you step out of line in one of the above ways, you are deemed Flawed and you are branded with an 'F' in the corresponding location on your body.
We follow Celestine North, who - you guessed it - is found Flawed. She goes from being perfect to being Ousted from society, all because she helps a Flawed man who is choking to death. Her boyfriend, Art, and her sister, Juniper, both refuse to help - the blame falls completely on Celestine, and because of her actions she becomes the first person in history to receive all five brands.
Well, she's supposed to receive five. Judge Crevan, the man who oversees all of the trials of character, is Art's father, and he puts his neck out on the line for her because she's his son's girlfriend. Celestine refuses to repent, so in a fit of rage he brands her for a sixth time: at the base of her spine, because he has "never seen anyone so Flawed to their very backbone like this lady". As one of the characters says towards the end of the book '"So you're the one. The One." He widens his eyes in mock-worship.' Yep. The Chosen One. Of course.
The problem is, the above events take up the first thirty chapters of the book (which is only about 40% of the book on a Kindle, because for some reason the chapters are unbearably short. It's under 400 pages and has over 60 chapters - what the heck is that?!) when they could easily be fitted into ten at most. You can tell this is the first book in a series (likely to be a trilogy, but I can't find out for certain) because there is so much setting up the world and establishing the evil overlord and the corrupt government. It's a dystopian, so it's pretty standard stuff - I certainly felt like I'd read this exact same book in the past - so it didn't need that much establishing. It would have been better if the novel had started after Celestine's Flawed verdict and had given her story in flashbacks - it would have sped up the pace and caused a bit of tension. Because everything's so predictable, it really trundles along.
I definitely couldn't get on with Cecelia Ahern's writing style. You can tell she's an adult author, because a lot of this could have been trimmed and edited down - the book is over a hundred pages longer than it needs to be. There's a lot of repetition, which is instantly irritating, but Celestine also has endless internal monologues... There's a writing tip that tells you to show something rather than say it, but most of this is definitely blandly recited (particularly the seemingly endless sections about Celestine's love for her boyfriend).
It also gets preachy. Because it's focused on the fact that you can't really be perfect and everyone is Flawed in some way, Celestine deeply ponders what good and bad truly are, and whether her actions were justified. This is nice enough the first time, but when it's the fourth or fifth time she's had the same internal discussion with herself it gets quite frustrating.
This book also tries unnecessarily hard to be feminist. A footballer is put on trial for being Flawed after cheating on his wife, but the media focuses upon her rather than him, leading Celestine to comment that the media are acting 'like she is the one who was Flawed. Not him.'. Her mother is a model, so when Celestine is being hounded by paparazzi her mother also gets photographed, and that's when the quote 'I understand that, for the media, shows off and displays merely means has.' and while that's true it seems jarringly out of place in the narrative. Perhaps, because Cecelia Ahern is writing for younger people, she's trying to get a point across about the insidious nature of media - smacking it in the middle of your novel isn't the most effective way of tackling that. If it had been done subtly it would have worked much better.
Of course, being a young adult book there just needed to be some relationship drama: you can't just have a happy relationship in YA land! So despite the fact that Celestine and Art have been together for months, are extremely happy and are attempting to keep their relationship going after her Flawed verdict, there had to be a love triangle! Yay! Can you taste the sarcasm yet?
Yes, we have the relationship between Celestine and Carrick, a boy who is waiting for his Flawed trial at the same time as her. They don't speak, but she can see him through the glass and just feels so connected to him - it's spooky, because they've never spoken, but she's completely drawn to him - and it's the most cliched thing I've ever read. Even though they don't speak, she thinks about him all of the time, and then he just happens to be in the vicinity when her life needs saving towards the end of the book - retch.
But because there's a second book in the series, it doesn't matter that Celestine literally doesn't speak to Carrick during book one, because at the end of 'Flawed' she's on the run and attempting to track him down. You know what that means: EVEN MORE LOVE TRIANGLE IN BOOK TWO! YAY.
Seriously, if you're a fan of dystopians, read this. It's so standard that you will fall in love with it instantly. If you're over the whole dystopian thing (and come on, who isn't at this point?) you'll agree with me when I say that this book has been released about five years too late. It's unsurprising that they've already sold the rights to the film, but I sincerely hope they let this one go without making that adaptation - the market is saturated enough as it is, and we don't need another YA flop dragging down the industry. Cecelia Ahern is a good adult writer, but I think she should have stuck to the day job.

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TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books I wanted to DNF

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

I've already shared with you before, I can't DNF books. If you don't know what DNF means, it stands for 'did not finish' - you decide that you aren't going to finish the book, no matter how much it begs you... You just put it down and never finish it again.
I mentioned before that there were a few books that I hadn't finished yet - books that I'd put down and just haven't gotten around to picking up again, but definitely will. So these are the five books that I really wish I'd just said no to, because I hated them so utterly and completely.

5) 'Hot Feminist' by Polly Vernon
I don't like Polly's writing style, I hate the fact that this was branded as feminist text but was a glorified fashion article... Blegh.

4) 'Morning Star' by Pierce Brown
On the other hand, I didn't want to finish 'Morning Star' because I didn't want the Red Rising trilogy to come to an end. Normally I would have finished a book of this size within a few days - a week at the most - but 'Morning Star' took me nearly two weeks because I had to keep stopping. There was just too much potential for pain.

3) 'Ferryman' by Claire McFall
'Ferryman' was one of the first books I ever reviewed on this blog, and I detested it. It was cliched, the editor didn't do a very good job meaning the character's names were interchangeable, and it was so damned repetitive that I nearly pulled my own hair out. She travels to the other side, then decides "nah, yknow what, I don't feel like being dead" so forcibly travels back to the land of the living. If you can show me a more ridiculous happy ever after, please go ahead.

2) 'Flight To Eternity' by J. R. Harrison
I had to finish it, because it was only just over a hundred pages and if I'd given up I would have been a failure. But 'Flight To Eternity' really hurt my brain. 

1) 'Only We Know' by Simon Packham
'Only We Know' is the story of a transgender girl who gets outed as transgender. However, her being transgender is kept a secret until the end of the novel, so it's used to maximise the shock value. Any book that uses someone's gender as a plot twist is absolute garbage, and I wish I'd stopped reading 'Only We Know' so it wouldn't still make me so unbearably angry. Grr. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Would you recommend I stop finishing books I hate, or do you also struggle to DNF a title? 


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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten forgettable books I loved

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

I read a lot of books (you probably already knew this, I'm sorry for stating the obvious). Sometimes I absolutely love a book - it gets five stars, I fly through it and it makes me feel all of the emotions - but then I forget about it within a couple of months, and I never mention it here on the blog.
This week, I'm giving those books some well-deserved attention, and forcing you all to read them at your earliest convenience.

10) 'Cruel Summer' by K. R. Conway
When I read 'Cruel Summer' last year, I loved it. It's a novella, part of K. R. Conway's 'Undertow' series, but for some reason I've never read the other books in the series. I don't know why - I intended to, but I just haven't had time! It means I often forget about 'Cruel Summer' and the brilliant characters that it focused upon.

9) 'Teeth' by Chele Cooke
I contacted Chele back in November 2014, asking if I could read and review 'Teeth' for her before it published. Thankfully she accepted my request, and it ended up being one of the most bloodthirsty vampire books I'd ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The second book in the series hasn't been released yet (unfortunately), but I really should mention 'Teeth' more than I do - it's wonderful!

8) 'The Catcher In The Rye' by J. D. Salinger
I know I read 'The Catcher In The Rye' and I enjoyed it, but it was that long ago that I didn't review it or rate it on Goodreads, so I can't remember whether I loved it or not. I'm going to have to reread this one fairly soon.

7) The Fallen Angel duology by Heather Terrell
I read both books in the Fallen Angel duology within a day, because I was completely absorbed in the story and I loved the characters. Whereas I struggled to get into 'Fallen', and couldn't finish the 'Hush, Hush' series, 'Fallen Angel' swept me away. I definitely need to mention these more.

6) 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
'Perks...' is a required read if you're a fan of young adult fiction, but it slips my mind all too often. It's a wonderful read and it's supremely short, so it's perfect if you don't have much time on your hands and want to quickly slip into a story.

5) 'Slated' by Teri Terry
The only reason I'm not recommending the entire trilogy is because I haven't read the third book (yet!) and can't really remember the events of the second book... However, 'Slated' sets up the dystopian world perfectly, and it will send shivers down your spine - all of the inhabitants are so tightly controlled that it's a very Big Brother-esque situation.

4) 'Retribution' by Jillianne Hoffman
I don't mention 'Retribution' much, because it's an adult crime book, but I feel as though it's a perfect gateway for teen readers who want to pick up books dealing with more adult content. The events at the start of the book occur when the protagonist is a college student, and those events impact the rest of her life and the rest of the story - it's a harrowing and difficult book to read, but I really recommend it.

3) The Eve trilogy by Anna Carey
I definitely need to reread the Eve trilogy, because all of the reviews of it that I've read say how terrible it is and I thought it was utterly fantastic! I did read it when I was quite a bit younger, though, and I hadn't experienced as many dystopians - it'll be interesting to see how my opinion of this one has changed over time.

2) 'You Against Me' by Jenny Downham
Jenny Downham is most well known for writing 'Before I Die', but I actually love her second novel more. 'You Against Me' is a modern day Romeo and Juliet love story, between a rich girl and a poverty-stricken boy: it's heartbreaking, but the characters are wonderful.

1) 'Stolen' by Lucy Christopher
This has to be my number one choice, but I LOVE 'Stolen'. I've read it multiple times, I cried when I finished it the first time and I know for a fact that it really impacted upon me. I hardly mention it anymore, though - that needs to change!

Thank you for checking out this Top Ten Tuesday! Have you read and forgotten about any of the books I mentioned? Are there any books you always forget?

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Monday, 21 March 2016

'The Queen of the Tearling' (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

It was only last week that I had 'The Queen of the Tearling' on the list of books I needed to read in spring, so I'm as surprised as you are that I already managed to finish it. Normally high fantasy takes me so long, and seeing that this book was nearing the 500 page mark... Well, I'd been expecting to be struggling through it for the better part of a fortnight.
However, here we are: I've finished it, and I'm feeling... Confused.
I'm confused because I don't feel anything towards 'The Queen of the Tearling'. I enjoyed Erika Johansen's writing - I must have, because I flew through the book! But nothing much really happened (apart from endless travelling montages and a brief conflict that could have been dealt with much faster) and I have a lot of problems with what was included in the book. Still, it doesn't infuriate me as much as books have in the past... I'm completely on the fence. I'm actually neutral about a book for once.
I can't understand why it's has been so highly praised. 'The Queen of the Tearling' is set in the future, in a time after the Crossing. Nope, me neither. There is literally no world-building: we get told that the Tear is to the west of Mortmesne, the capital of the Tear is New London, the capital of Mortmesne is Demesne, there are a couple of other countries under Mortmesne's thumb, and there are two queens (the Red Queen of Mortmesne and the title character, surprise surprise!) who are not the best of friends. I'm hoping we'll get information about the Crossing and the time that followed it in the second novel, but for a book establishing a brand new series this is not well done at all.
I also hated the main character, Kelsea Glynn. She's dreadful. I'm not exaggerating: all she does is complain about the fact that her looks are so plain, pine over a guy called the Fetch who is much older than her (and, by the way, who she only met once before fantasizing about him at every possible opportunity) and be absolutely horrible about her subjects. The best example of this is Kelsea's inner monologue regarding the looks of Lady Andrews, one of the older inhabitants of the Tear:
'What does she see when she looks in the mirror? Kelsea wondered. How could a woman who looked so old still place so much importance on being attractive? She had read about this particular delusion in books many times, but it was different to see it in practice. And for all the all the anguish that Kelsea's own reflection had caused her lately, she saw now that there was something far worse than being ugly; being ugly and thinking you were beautiful.'
Lady Andrews is a little bit annoying, sure, but she doesn't deserve that kind of assassination! Kelsea doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong about mocking and berating an older woman in front of her peers, either. She just doesn't react to anything: she kills someone and just instantly thinks 'she wished she could tell Barty' when it's her first kill... It's not genuine! There's no authentic emotion in this book at all. This girl has been exiled with two people for her entire life, and she doesn't have any difficulty getting to terms with crowds or holding conversations with multiple people - if you'd constantly been interacting with just two other human beings, you would have some issues.
The only thing that even vaguely redeems Kelsea's character is her obsession with reading and books. Apparently reading hasn't been a widespread habit since before the Crossing, but Kelsea is determined to reestablish a printing press and get books distributed among all of the populace of the Tear. It's quite commendable, even if it shouldn't be a priority - at this point she still thinks there's an army on its way to invade the Tear, so she really should put books on the back burner and deal with the situation at hand.
However, when not taking Kelsea into account, I actually enjoyed the subplots focusing on the minor characters. There's a Gate Guard called Javel whose wife was taken from him years earlier, and all he wants is to get her back. There's Father Tyler, who crowns Kelsea and has to learn to live in the spotlight as the Keep's priest. And there are very occasional sections told from the point of view of the Queen of Mortmesne: getting a glimpse into the other side is fascinating, and I much preferred reading the bits focused upon her (even though the ones towards the end of the book glamourise rape and paedophilia... You win some, you lose some). To start with, I was annoyed that we kept jumping into other people's stories, but they're so much more interesting I found myself yearning for more.
I also love most of the characters that make up the Queen's guard: most notably Pen and Mace. We only really interact with them through Kelsea, but they're great characters and I wanted to read more of them. I do wonder if I would have absolutely loved 'The Queen of the Tearling' if there just hadn't been a queen.
I definitely don't think it should have been marketed as adult fantasy. It's young adult, no question. There are some references to rape, some profanity and a fair bit of violence, but none of it is extreme or offensive: this is not of 'Game of Thrones' standard (talking of which, I can't genuinely believe there are non-ironic comparisons being made between the two). There's a fight sequence at the end of the book which lends itself to named character deaths (the entirety of the Queen's Guard, who we've grown to know and love, are in the fray) and Erika Johansen chose to kill off the one member of the Guard who Kelsea hadn't interacted with... It was a cheap choice, and this book definitely doesn't have the guts to fit it with most fantasy novels.
I'm going to read 'The Invasion of the Tearling', the second book in the series, because I want to know the history of the Crossing and how the Tear was established. If that information is not divulged in the second novel, I'm going to bash my head against a wall. 

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NEW MUSIC MONDAY: Zoax

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


With the news that Zoax are releasing their self-titled debut album in May, I had to feature them on New Music Monday. I've been a huge supporter of Zoax since I saw them supporting Tonight Alive two years ago, and it's great seeing them taking such huge leaps forward.

Zoax are Adam Carroll (vocals), Doug Wotherspoon (guitar, vocals), Joe Copcutt (bass), Sean Weir (guitar) and Jonathan Rogers (drums). With Adam's huge beard and dominating stage persona, he's unquestionably recognisable, but it's actually Joe that you're more likely to have encountered before: he was the bassist for Rise To Remain prior to their split, and he's a member of supergroup AxeWound, working alongside members of Cancer Bats and Bullet For My Valentine.
Zoax formed in 2013, and the fact that they've achieved so much in three years is very impressive. As well as the aforementioned slot supporting Tonight Alive, they've toured with The Qemists, We Are The Ocean and HECK, and have an upcoming opening slot on Funeral For A Friend's final tour. Last year, they played an amazing array of festivals (including Takedown, Y Not?, Havoc, Butserfest and Breakout Festival) and this year they're making their debut at Download Festival, a setting in which I'm sure they will thrive.
With two EPs under their belts (namely 2014's 'XIII' and last year's 'Is Everybody Listening?') it's about time that Zoax finally announced an album, and I can't wait for May 13th to hurry up and arrive so that it can be unleashed on the world.

Zoax released their most recent song, 'The Bad Blood', last week - check that out below.

The likelihood is that Zoax will be announcing some headline shows near the release of the album, and if you can get along to one of those I'd highly recommend it. You'll never have more fun that you do at a Zoax show, and you can never anticipate what Adam will do.

I hope you enjoyed this New Music Monday! If you have a band and you'd like to be featured next week, you can contact me on Twitter or through my contact page

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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

'Beautiful Broken Things' by Sara Barnard

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'1) I would get a boyfriend. A real one.
2) I would lose my virginity. 
3) I would experience a Significant Life Event.
In the following year I achieved just one of these goals. And it wasn't the one I expected.'
Cadnam (Caddy, for short) has always wanted to experience a Significant Life Event. Her sister, Tarin, has bipolar; her best friend, Rosie, had a younger sister who died... But nothing worth mentioning has ever happened to Caddy. Her theory on Significant Life Events? 'Everyone had them, but some have more than others, and how many you have affects how interesting you are, how many stories you have to tell'. Caddy feels as though she's unbearably average, because nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened to her: she goes to an all-girls school, so she's never had a serious relationship; she's a straight-A student, but she's not prefect material. She doesn't wish for a tragedy to befall her, she just wants something to happen to her.
When Rosie introduces Caddy to Suzanne, the new girl at her school who has just moved to Brighton, Caddy's life takes a few unexpected turns. Suzanne is risky, daring and reckless, sneaking out to visit Caddy in the middle of the night and whisking her off to Reading for a spontaneous weekend away. Caddy's finally learning how to live her life, but will all this excitement be the death of her?
'Beautiful Broken Things' is told across three parts: 'Before', 'When' and 'After'. It's a very interesting way of telling things, because it follows both Caddy and Suzanne's stories - their plots take very similar twists and turns, and one strongly effects the other. The 'Before' section is the longest, taking up nearly three quarters of the book, and while the pacing for 'When' and 'After' is expertly crafted (the former being extremely high octane, and the latter resolving the situation in a very bittersweet and tender manner) it felt as though the early events dragged at points.
Suzanne was a victim of domestic abuse, getting beaten by her father regularly from the age of seven. Her mother refused to get involved in the situation, and her brother helped her deal with the injuries afterwards but didn't help stop them being inflicted. She moves to Brighton to live with her aunt, Sarah, after a suicide attempt.
Because 'Before' deals with Suzanne's backstory and establishes the friendship between the trio, it needs to develop gradually, but at times it felt slow and repetitive. Rosie and Suzanne start sniping at each other, and Caddy is caught in the crossfire; Caddy and Suzanne sneak out at night and have deep and meaningful chats... It followed a pattern. It felt authentic - when you're a sixteen year old girl there's not a lot to do with your friend in the middle of the night, and arguments do definitely repeat themselves when they're on such sensitive subjects - but I found myself getting a little bit bored, especially when you could tell that something major was coming (why would you have a 'Before' section if there wasn't something that seriously changed the dynamic?!).
However, that's my only complaint, and it's a minor one!
I really liked 'Beautiful Broken Things', much more than I'd been expecting to. It's a UKYA story that doesn't focus on romantic relationships: it's centered entirely on female friendship, and I think that's wonderful. Yes, there are arguments between the trio (particularly between Rosie and Suzanne and Rosie and Caddy) but there needs to be tension to keep things interesting. On the whole, the friendship is supportive and a lot of fun, even if people disapprove of Caddy and Suzanne's behaviour towards the end of the novel.
It's just so refreshing. As shown by the quote at the top of this review, Caddy intends to focus on getting a boyfriend and having sex: I breathed a sigh of relief when her priorities shifted. It's a rare book that doesn't include a love story, and I didn't realise how much of a break I'd needed from romance until I read this novel.
Similarly, it doesn't glamourise or romanticise suicide or depression. Too often nowadays suicide is portrayed as a beautiful and wonderful way to die, when it's the ultimate act of desperation and it hurts everyone involved in the situation. Suzanne isn't afraid to contradict that belief ("Sadness isn't beautiful. And if it looks that way, it's a lie.") and I was really happy to see it dealt with in that way - it injects a dose of reality into the situation, which is good for impressionable young readers. I was glad Suzanne didn't end up committing suicide, because I feel as though it would have contradicted everything established in the novel: Sara Barnard made a brilliant choice, even if making the book less controversial could have impacted on its success.
The ending of the book was extremely bittersweet, but it's definitely not a cliche. As Caddy herself thinks, 'This wasn't how stories like this were meant to end. She was meant to get better and come home, not leave completely. Not after everything', and I'm glad that Sara decided to take such an unlikely route - there's no unbelievable resolution here. It's so nice to see a story like this wrapped up in a realistic manner, with Suzanne unable to return to Brighton and moving away to get a fresh start with a foster family. There's no immediate sense of resolution - Suzanne has to leave, Caddy has to learn to live without her friend - but that's good, because life never has neat bows tying all the loose ends together. If Suzanne's family had welcomed her back with open arms, or if she'd returned to Brighton and had suddenly been completely fixed, it would have been ridiculous.
If you're looking for a genuine portrayal of mental illness in teenagers, I can't recommend 'Beautiful Broken Things' more. As well as having Suzanne struggling with her depression, Caddy's bipolar sister Tarin is dealing with her mental illness in a well-adjusted fashion - there are lots of admirable portrayals of people struggling against adversities. It's also a wonderful piece of UK writing: the descriptions of both Brighton and Reading are so full of life, and it's so easy to picture the places. 'Beautiful Broken Things' is Sara Barnard's debut novel, and she definitely has a talent for writing YA.

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TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five fictional items I want

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

We've all been there: you're reading a book, and the character pulls out their completely fictional item, and you realise you've never needed anything more in life. You will do anything to make that thing real - ANYTHING - and you slap your hands on the ground and scream in frustration when you realise it's just not possible.

5) Pepper Imps from the world of Harry Potter
Yes, Pepper Imps have been made in the real world, but they don't let you breathe fire on people - they're just regular sweets. Tad bit disappointing, no?

4) Invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter world
Sometimes, I really don't want to bother with people. This cloak is the ultimate invention for an introvert - just throw it over your head and pretend you aren't there, no one will ever know the difference!

3) Morozova's collar from the Grisha trilogy
Similarly to the Pepper Imps, people have antler chokers that look similar to Morozova's collar, but they aren't magical - at least they're lighter than I'd imagined the amplifier would be! 

2) The Remembrall from the world of Harry Potter
The smoke in the Remembrall turns red when the holder has forgotten something. I forget things a lot, but sometimes I just need a nudge to remind me - this would really help me with that!
For someone who hasn't read the entire series of Harry Potter books, I want a heck of a lot of stuff from their world. 

1) Pokemon
Image credit to bigjb21 on DeviantArt!
Watching the show isn't enough. Playing the games isn't enough. I need to have a Pokemon.
Yeah, yeah, real pets are cool and all - I like my dog - but he's not a water-spouting, fire-breathing, kickass defending machine. And my dog can't evolve.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What fictional items do you NEED to have? 

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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books I need to read in spring!

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

There are a lot of books I want to read in spring. In fact, more like forty or fifty than just ten. But these are the ten books that I absolutely must, MUST read. 


10) 'The Queen of the Tearling' by Erika Johansen
I have to read 'The Queen of the Tearling' because it's due back to the library fairly soon, but I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about it. I struggle with high fantasy, but it looks so good... I just hope I don't rush it and ruin the experience. 

9) 'The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl' by Melissa Keil
'The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl' looks so cute - my friend read it and highly recommends it, so I'm hoping this one will meet my expectations. 

8) 'Lola and the Boy Next Door' and 'Isla and the Happily Ever After' by Stephenie Perkins
I was meant to read these two books for my series challenge last month, but I didn't have time to squeeze them in. I have to get around to them in spring, because otherwise I'm falling behind on my challenge, but I'm just not really in the mood for them - I don't know why, but I loved the first book! Hopefully my apathy will shift.

7) 'Mer-Charmer' by Amy Bearce

After participating in the cover reveal for 'Mer-Charmer' last week, I'm even more excited than I was to get around to this second installment in the World of Aluvia series. 

6) 'Radio Silence' by Alice Oseman
I received 'Radio Silence' through NetGalley, but I didn't get it until the day the book published so I didn't have time to read it beforehand! I've been so excited about this one, so I'm definitely reading it sooner rather than later. 

5) 'Beautiful Broken Things' by Sara Barnard
I'm excited about 'Beautiful Broken Things'. I'd intended to read it last month, but then 'Morning Star' came out and I got too distracted and couldn't physically read anything else - I can't wait to finally get around to this one. In fact, I'm probably going to start this one tonight. 

4) 'South of Sunshine' by Dana Elmendorf
'South of Sunshine' is a fairly small book, so I know I'm going to be able to read it super quickly, but I'm looking forward to it - it's all about a girl who falls in love with a girl, but she lives in a very conservative town. 

3) 'Half Wild' by Sally Green
I'm going to read the entire Half Life trilogy, but I'm particularly looking forward to 'Half Wild', because I've been waiting to read it for a year now. The third book in the series publishes in two weeks, so I need to get a wriggle on! 

2) 'Carol' by Patricia Highsmith
I was surprised when 'Carol' was snubbed at nearly all of the award shows this season, but I couldn't be too disappointed because I haven't actually seen the film yet. I'm planning on reading the book for the 2016 Classics Challenge this month, and then watching the movie soon afterwards. 

1) The Hunger Games trilogy
For my series challenge (which yeah, I know, I'm behind on, I'm dealing with that!) I decided I was going to read The Hunger Games trilogy in full in April. I'm definitely going to do it, even if it is a little bit daunting - I'm just not sure how I'm going to feel about them, because I think I've built them up too much in my head.
Hopefully I'll enjoy them as much as I'm expecting to.

Thank you for checking out this Top Ten Tuesday! What books do you want to read in spring?

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