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Everything Alyce: April 2016

Friday, 29 April 2016

'True Born' (True Born #1) by L. E. Sterling

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Entangled Teen for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
'By your eighteenth birthday you're supposed to know. They're supposed to tell you. Splicer. True Born. Laster.'
It's been a while since I've gotten excited about a dystopian release - they're all basically the same story at this point! - but something about the blurb for 'True Born' grabbed me and made it impossible not to read.
Lucy and her twin sister, Margot, are part of the Upper Circle of society in Nor-Am (yep, North America) in a world that has been decimated by Plague. 'In the past two decades alone the population of the planet has dwindled by half', and based on the amount of people still succumbing to the disease every day that number is likely to keep on rising.
When it comes to the Plague, people fall into one of three categories. There are the Lasters, who will contract the disease and will definitely die. There are the Splicers, who are rich enough to undergo a procedure where 'they use long needles to sew medicine into your DNA. New DNA to take over where your own falls apart and starts to go rogue', meaning that Splicers can survive the Plague longer - even if they have to undergo the procedure more frequently as time passes.
And then there are the True Borns. No one in the Upper Circle acknowledges that the True Borns exist, because being True Born elevates you above the vulnerable Splicers. How? 'True Borns don't catch the Plague. They say True Borns are genetic throwbacks. Something in their DNA has woken up and jumped back in time, back to the OldenTimes when we were animals, mutating and evolving into humans. Some of those genes hold the code for becoming dogs, or apes, or sharks and other fish, reptiles. Some True Borns look a lot like the origins of their DNA: long limbs that hang to their knees, or tongues that loll out of their misshapen mouths. A few, we hear, actually sprout fur or grow gills'.
Lucy is certain that her and Margot will go through the Protocols and will be classified as Splicers. It's the only outcome that she can imagine. They sure as heck aren't True Borns: neither of them have ever grown feathers or lengthy claws. Their parents would never stand for it if they were True Borns, because their father is the Chief Diplomat of the continent, and that position comes with certain expectations - expectations that include having nothing to do with True Borns, at least not publicly.
However, they have to take their Protocols multiple times. They accept that the first samples could have been corrupted; everyone makes mistakes at some point. But when they're called in for a third, and then a fourth, time, Lucy and Margot realise that something bigger is going on, and it isn't long before Margot's life is in danger - one of the Protocol nurses, Clive, kidnaps her and starts harvesting her eggs. Neither twin can work out why Clive, who had always been sweet and happy to see them, would do something so terrible: they can only assume it's a way to blackmail their influential father.
Luckily, Lukas Fox had hired Nolan Storm as additional security for his family.
The Lasters (or the rabble, as Lucy refers to them) have been unhappy with their position in life for a long time. Why on earth should they have to accept their fate and die, when the rich and powerful are allowed a second chance at life? Where is the fairness in that equation? But the Lasters are normally too disorganised to plan an uprising that will shake up society: that is, they were disorganised, until a new preacher - Father Wes - appears on the scene. Soon the Lasters attacked the school that the twins attended, bringing the violence and danger into the forefront of their lives.
Thanks to Storm's team (comprised of Malcolm (a.k.a. Torch), Mohawk (a.k.a. Penny), Kira and Lucy's love interest, Jared) they save Margot. Lucy hadn't trusted Storm - there was something different about him compared to his gang of True Borns - but after he saves her sister she realises he's solidly on their side and he also wants to solve the mystery of what exactly they are that makes them so special. She discovers what it is that makes Storm different - he's a True Born, but his antlers appear above him constantly in a kind of swirling, blueish-white light, and not everyone can see them.
There is A LOT going on in this book. I did struggle to keep up at times: what was the difference between Lasters and Splicers, again? Who was the preacher, and where did he keep popping up from? Who is the mysterious Richardson who appears out of nowhere later in the novel, and how is their father's Russian business partner relevant to their story?
A few of these questions were answered, but I feel as though we're going to be getting a lot more information over the course of the series. Lucy and Margot have no idea - not an inkling - of how they could be special, or why so many people were interested in them, and it meant we were just as confused as them as to what exactly was going on. Lucy was adamant that they couldn't be True Born, so when it looks as though it's heading that way it makes her question everything she's ever known about the phenomenon: the next thing they're being told that they aren't True Born, they're something different, so there is a limitless amount of possibility for where this story could go.
For a first installment, it definitely does the job. It sets up the world and the story behind the Plague and the Lasters/Splicers/True Borns, meaning that the story is logical and makes sense from the get go. The twins are both brilliant characters: Lucy, the dependable one who realises she wants more from life, and Margot, the outgoing and bubbly girl who has a horrible experience and matures drastically. Some of Storm's team could have been developed more (particularly the girls, who were very interchangeable) so I'm hoping we'll get that in the next book too - when working with a team it's overwhelming to flesh out so many characters at once, so I'm glad L. E. Sterling took her time and focused on the relevant people for this first installment.
Storm's theory that the True Borns are "the resurrection of gods" is a fascinating one, and it adds another fantasy element - this is a dystopian novel, but it does have aspects of magic that also give it a lot of room for development. This series is not going to be easily defined.
The romance between Lucy and Jared was a bit cliched - he's the first True Born that she meets, after running into him on the stairs, and their relationship is filled with conflict from the get go. It seems as though Jared is definitely putting his job before his own feelings, so it'll be interesting to see whether their relationship continues - but I'm glad that there wasn't much kissing at inopportune moments: Jared is a badass anti-hero, swooping in and saving Lucy by ripping his panther claws through his victim's head rather than frequently swooning.
I do think the most important relationship in this book was definitely the connection between Margot and Lucy, though. When they were born they were conjoined by their big toes, and they've been gifted since - Lucy can feel when Margot is in pain, having a string of awareness between their consciousnesses. At the end of this first installment Lucy and Margot are separated (Lucy with Storm's group, Margot with their parents and Resnikov) and I can't wait to see how they find their way back to one another. It'll also be fascinating to see how the Plague has effected another country, as Lucy is insistent that she's going to Russia to retrieve her sister.
The second installment in the series, 'True North', isn't out until next April - this is the painful aspect of getting early review copies of books! I'm definitely going to continue onwards with these books, though - I cannot wait to see what happens, because I'm already very emotionally invested. 

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Thursday, 28 April 2016

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - O2 Arena, London, 27/04/16


After seeing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at Reading festival two years ago, I knew that the dream was to eventually see a headline show. The crowd had been largely unresponsive because they were a much more punk rock crowd, and I wanted to live the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis experience in a better atmosphere.
Fast forward two years, and the duo have just released 'This Unruly Mess I've Made', the follow up to their insanely popular first album 'The Heist'. Announcing their biggest European tour to date, it was finally time for me to see them at their own show, and I was insanely excited.

I missed most of the support acts (all of XP and most of Raury) due to the O2 Arena posting the wrong stage times online, which was a bit disappointing. However, I caught some of Raury's set and wasn't overly impressed: it definitely felt like something I'd heard before, even if I hadn't experienced it in a live environment. I did find it quite funny that he was talking about his girlfriend and how he "fucked her every Wednesday evening" on a Wednesday evening... You can tell that relationship is no longer.

Considering the fact that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had seventeen songs in their set, and I was only familiar with five of the songs prior to the evening... I definitely felt out of my league, particularly because the majority of the crowd were singing along without missing a single word. There were already fans up on shoulders by the end of the first song - that must be some kind of record.
I did enjoy first encountering the 'This Unruly Mess I've Made' songs live, though. I hadn't had time to listen to the album before coming to the show - I know, I'm an awful person - but it meant that songs like 'Light Tunnels' and 'Brad Pitt's Cousin' were even more effective than they would have been if I'd already known them.
The reason I like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as much as I do is because they have the perfect ratio of serious songs to novelty songs. Ben Haggerty is unafraid to claim the label of activist: 'Same Love' being a campaign for equal rights for the LGBT+ community, and 'White Privilege II' calling out the white rappers in the industry who are using a black musical style without caring about the struggle against racism being fought. You can go to a Macklemore show and have a lot of meaningless fun dancing to songs like 'Thrift Shop' and 'And We Danced', but you also leave the concert really thinking.
This phenomenon was perfectly exemplified in this hour and a half set. There were very poignant moments: the introduction of 'Same Love', where Ben said "the media is really quick to use fear as a dividing tool, to divide human beings [...] fear spawns hatred, and right now, more than any other time in civilisation, we need love more than fear," and the touching #BlackLivesMatter tribute at the end of 'White Privilege II', in which their trumpet player made a short speech before performing an emotionally charged solo in tribute to the black lives that have been lost in the past years - most prominently those of Sandra Bland and Eric Garner.
But then, spliced with those inspirational sections of the evening, there were songs that left me perplexed. I was utterly confused by 'Brad Pitt's Cousin', especially by the huge screens at the back of the stage showing a repeated gif of a group of cats nodding, but it definitely kicked off an eclectic evening. Some songs did fade into the background ('The Shades', 'Arrows' and 'St. Ides' all definitely struggled to stand out - I already can't remember what any of them sounded like) but the majority of the songs shone on their own and had memorable moments. 'Buckshot' allowed Ben a brief reprieve from singing to draw a cartoon face on a huge piece of paper to give to a member of the crowd, while 'Wing$' was a particularly touching moment for the singer - as soon as the song finished, he shared "I feel so absolutely honoured to be on this stage tonight. [...] I wrote 'Wing$' when I was fresh out of rehab in my parent's basement, and the fact that this many years later I'm in London and you guys are still screaming "Mom, I touched the net"... It's not a given to have this stage, and I take it as the biggest blessing and dream I could have had as a musician."
I've never been to a hip hop headline show before - it's not my usual scene at all. I stick much more to the pop punk and rock bands. That means that while I'm an expert at knowing what to expect at a rock show, I didn't really know whether the show was standard fare or not. The duo were accompanied by brass and string sections, a piano player and their own mini dance troupe. Along with this, they had platforms elevating to give the stage multiple layers, and trapdoors in the floor to allow both Macklemore and Eric Nally (yes, Eric from Foxy Shazam - he's the other vocalist on number one hit 'Downtown') to suddenly jump out of the floor and surprise the entire crowd.
This show was a production, and it's something that really needs to be seen. Normally I know exactly how I'm going to word a review - even while the show is going on I'll start constructing sentences in my head - but this show made me completely speechless. I just had no idea what to expect, and everything was mesmerising, captivating in the sheer craziness of the evening.
My favourite of the new songs is definitely a toss up. The first song that I really fell in love with was 'Let's Eat' (with the catchy and repetitive refrain "You know I feel good about this steak/shake/plates/crepes/cake" - delete as applicable) which Macklemore introduced by listing reasons he was going to stay in London ("I love the history of London. Number 2: The women. 'Nuff said. [...] Number 3: You guys drink a bunch of tea and eat biscuits, and I love both those things! In America, people are like "We don't have time for biscuits!". Number 4: and the very, very last thing, the most important out of all of them, is the fish 'n' chips."). It was a very funny way to introduce the song, and by finishing it with a world record attempt - trying to throw a cookie from the stage to someone on someone else's shoulders - it was one of the best moments of the evening. Unfortunately, no world records were broken, but he said he "wouldn't be mad" if everyone hopped on social media and announced that Macklemore had just broken a world record, so don't believe everything you hear!
The other song I was impressed by was 'And We Danced', which was indescribably confusing. To segue into the first encore (this being a Macklemore show, there were two - the second being after Ben personally named and thanked all of the performers who had been involved with the show, as well as their lighting guys and all of the stage crew underneath making sure that the platforms functioned correctly) there was a video clip played on the screen showing Macklemore wearing a crazy 80s glam rock style wig and wearing a lot of lycra - when he came out on stage in that ensemble, complete with luxurious purple cape, it was hilarious and utterly baffling. Screaming out the words "And we danced, and we cried, and we laughed, and had a really really really good time" I was struck once more by how profound all of Macklemore's lyrics are: he really has a skill for writing songs that are so relatable it's almost impossible not to shed a tear. Keeping in with the dancing theme, the second song in the first encore was 'Dance Off', which wasn't as good as a song - it's a bit too repetitive for me - but by inviting members of the audience up on stage to compete against each other, it introduced an interactive element to the evening.
The thing I loved most about this show was their dedication to their fans and their family. As I mentioned earlier, he thanked every one of the performers by name: that's certainly a big touring family, but the appreciation and respect he showed for each individual artist was commendable.
The most heart-warming moments of the set were definitely the ones where Ben was telling the crowd stories about his daughter, Sloane, who is almost a year old. He performed 'Growing Up' - the song that he released to announce Sloane's birth - and altered the lyrics: rather than singing "I'm gonna be there for your first breath/I don't know if I'll be there for your first step" he changed it to "This week I was there for your first steps" and shared the triumphant fact that Sloane had taken her first steps days earlier, backstage on the tour. You can understand why Ben's wife, Trisha, was happy to travel around Europe as a family!
The most brilliant story was him sharing that earlier that day he'd decided to explore London with Sloane ("me and my baby girl around London, good ass dad!") where he was recognised by a man on the street who knew he was playing the arena that night. The guy called him over and told him "You gotta be careful because there's a lot of seats [...] there's no sitting down in hip hop shows, is there?". This got a lot of laughs from the crowd, but I can guarantee you that no one stayed sat down past that moment. Apparently the man got tickets to the show, so I hope he practiced what he preached!
At the end of the show, Ben said "I can't think of a better place to end the tour than right here", and I can't think of a better place to end this review than with this sentiment: this was a very unique show, and while it wasn't a perfect setlist and it definitely had its lulls, this is still one of the best performances I've seen in my life, just because of the sheer energy and the production. If you go to concerts and you don't get out of your comfort zone much, do it - you'll end up enjoying yourself a lot more, I bet.

Setlist: 
Light Tunnels
Brad Pitt's Cousin (ft. XP)
Buckshot
Thrift Shop
The Shades
Arrows
Wing$
Same Love
Growing Up
White Privilege II
St. Ides
Let's Eat (ft. XP)
White Walls
Can't Hold Us
-
And We Danced
Dance Off
-
Downtown (ft. Eric Nally)

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

'Anything You Want' by Geoff Herbach

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Sourcebooks Fire, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley. I also would like to thank NetGalley, for the service that they provide. 

When William 'Taco' Keller asks Maggie Corrigan to the prom, he doesn't think she'll say yes.
He definitely doesn't think they'll have a whirlwind summer romance that will result in Maggie being pregnant. 
Yep, you heard that right - this is a teen pregnancy book told from the male's perspective. I can't think of another one of those, so that's certainly a selling point for 'Anything You Want'. 
However, that's really the only positive thing I can say about it.
Am I being harsh? Probably. But 'Anything You Want' is one of those books that genuinely makes me despair for the English language. I've been wondering how to word this review for a while, and it seems the best (nay, only) way is for me to list exactly what is wrong with this novel.  
So sit back, relax, and enjoy...
  1. The main character's name is Taco. Isn't that an instant turn off?!
  2. Maggie Corrigan is a manic-pixie-dream-girl in the most awful sense of the term.
    'Maggie Corrigan is intense. She's wild and crazy and intense. [...] I spent a few weeks following Maggie Corrigan around school and saw how she laughed until she fell on the floor, screaming when she got mad at her friends, cried when she was sad about the basketball team losing, and smiled so hard it looked like her face might break.'

    Sounds to me as though Maggie Corrigan could potentially be dealing with bipolar (based on her extreme and instantaneous mood swings throughout the novel) or, if not suffering from something clinical, she has one serious case of drama queen disorder.
  3. The rights of a mother mean less than nothing. Despite the fact that Maggie is the one that's pregnant, she doesn't have any character development and no one really takes her feelings into consideration. She tells Taco she wants an abortion - he refuses. She tells Taco she wants to be a proper family, including getting married - he agrees, then changes his mind and doesn't even have the guts to tell her to her face, he just emails her. Maggie definitely develops Taco's character, but she's very much a minor player in her own story.
  4. Repeated 'dingus' syndrome. I appreciate it when characters have their own vocabulary and their own quirks (I mean, I did coin the phrase "Crikey Moses!" to replace "Jesus Christ!") but it only works effectively if it happens at intervals throughout the book, and if it actually makes sense in the sentence, dingus. Taco just uses the word all the time, dingus. It loses all meaning, dingus. Dingus, dingus, dingus.
  5. Taco is on the honor roll?! Yep, I'll say that again: TACO IS ON THE HONOR ROLL. Apparently he's one of the smartest kids in his school and always has been. So tell me, if he's so smart why does he say to Darius when he asks if Maggie's on birth control: "No. [...] Why should she be?" and then later, to Maggie: "I thought you were possessed by a ghost, but [Darius] said you were pregnant".
    If you're on the honor roll, you're smart enough to know about contraception and pregnancy. You don't get carried away and state that 'For whatever reason, doing it didn't seem the same as having sex'. No intellectual character would EVER state that.
  6. The characters are utterly unrealistic. Just to clarify, in case you can't see that by the points I've made above. They're so obviously caricatures of genuine teenagers that it makes me wonder if Geoff Herbach was ever a teenager himself.
  7. OF COURSE Taco's mother is dead! Because in YA books nowadays the mothers either need to be dead or absent. The thing is, Taco dealt with his mother's death a little bit too well: he refused to cry when she was dying because he didn't want to make her sad, then when he's talking about her dying words he comments 'Anyway, I listened to the lady'. No teenage boy would refer to his DEAD MOTHER as THE LADY. ARGH.
  8. It's not cohesively told. Throughout the book, Taco is telling his story to the reader. Then, in the last chapter, it's made to sound as though Taco is writing a letter to his newborn child to tell him the story of how he came to be. If it had been told like that all the way through it might have been charming and adorable, but it sounds to me like Geoff Herbach didn't exactly know how to finish his book, so decided to sign it off like a letter. Barf.
  9. Nothing happens for the bulk of the book. So much happens at the end that you wouldn't even believe it, and that's the stuff that should have been developed. Instead of multiple montages of Taco and Maggie doing it wherever and whenever they could, Taco's relationship with his boss and father figure Nussbaum is something I actually wanted to read about! But instead that's all rushed, leading to a happily ever after that made me groan so loud I'm surprised people weren't complaining in China.
  10. It's meant to be funny, but it's really not. I can see that Geoff was playing up the ridiculousness of the characters to add humour to the situation, but it just doesn't work. When Darius, Taco's brother, crashes into Taco Bell, he gets wasted and tells Taco that he was trying to kill him - because of their similar names, he thought Taco Bell would do just as nicely! It doesn't take a lot to make me laugh, but 'Anything You Want' didn't even make me smile: it was trashy. 
I have to stop.
There are more points that I could make about how dreadful this novel is, but I really don't want to waste any more of my time on it. I should have given up, but I struggle to stop reading books when I'm already more than half way through them - it's a day of my life that I'm not getting back, and I regret that. It just had SO MUCH POTENTIAL. This could have been wonderful and brilliant and hilarious and epic, but it ended up being nothing but a steaming pile of pain.
If you've read this review and you're still tempted to read 'Anything You Want', I admire your bravery and I wish you the best of luck with all of your future (dreadful) life decisions. 

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TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five mother figures

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

I've actually found this topic extremely difficult. Most of the books that I've read and really loved this year have had awful mother figures... Either they've abandoned ship and have left their offspring to fend for themselves, or they've been addicts who've brought no end of problems to their families, or they've been such minor background characters that they aren't even worth mentioning. Quite often you'll have dads being both parents (good examples of this being 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell and 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' by Jenny Han) but I'd rather include those in a list of best dad characters - they're certainly brilliant!

I had to dive way back to find five characters I could use - I mean, I read 'Beautiful Creatures' way back in 2010! Hopefully I'll be able to find some great recommendations for books with brilliant maternal characters.

5) Jocelyn Fray from Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments
This is going to be a controversial choice, because even I'm conflicted by it. Lying to your child for her entire life and concealing her true self from her is an awful thing to do: I don't think anyone will argue with that! But I can understand that she's doing it for the right reasons, and sacrificing her life as a Shadowhunter to improve Clary's life is very selfless.

4) Deanna in the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown
I can't really say why I've chosen Deanna without spoilers, because the reason I think she's such a wonderful mother character happens in the third book of the series, 'Morning Star'.

3) Mrs. Garrett from 'My Life Next Door' by Huntley Fitzpatrick
I wasn't absolutely in love with 'My Life Next Door', but I can't deny that Mrs. Garrett is a wonderful mother. She has so many children, but she raises them all brilliantly and she is just so loving and caring towards everyone.

2) Amma from Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Caster Chronicles
Amma is Ethan's nanny (and his father's nanny before him) and after his mother dies she steps up and fills the role for him. It's been a very long time since I read the Caster Chronicles, so I can't remember any quotes off of the top of my head, I just know that Amma's love for Ethan left a lasting impression on me.

1) Eileen from 'Alienated' by Melissa Landers
When I read 'Alienated', I was astounded by how wonderfully Cara's parents were written. Eileen and Bill, Cara's parents, are affectionate and loving, they support their daughter in all of her choices and they aren't afraid to get tough when they need to be. They have their own personalities, and they're very well-rounded characters in their own regard: I wish more YA parents could be like these two!

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday. Now bring on those recommendations!

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

'Wild Swans' by Jessica Spotswood

*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. 
'Here in Cecil, girls are still expected to be nice. Quiet. All sugar. Maybe a little spice.
But not us. We Milbourn women are a complicated lot.' 
I loved the first two books in Jessica Spotswood's Cahill Witch Chronicles, but I've been too nervous to read the third one (you guys should know by now that I struggle with finishing series!), so when I saw that there was a new Jessica Spotswood novel and it was a standalone? I was beyond excited.
Combine that with the gorgeous cover? As soon as I saw 'Wild Swans' up on NetGalley, I pressed the 'Request now' button faster than the speed of light.

Ivy Milbourn was abandoned by her mother when she was just two years old, and she's been raised by her grandfather ever since. Ivy never knew why her mother left her, but she thought it must have something to do with the Milbourn legacy: all their female ancestors have been extremely talented, but doomed. Their great-grandmother Dorothea, the popular poet who was shot dead by her lover's wife. Ivy's grandmother Grace, a renowned artist, who took her own life by walking out into the sea that had always been her subject. Understandably, Ivy's mother, Erica, must have felt a lot of pressure in her youth: pressure that Ivy is now experiencing first hand.
Ivy can't find her talent. She doesn't have an innate gift for anything. No matter how many after school classes or summer courses she participates in, nothing sticks out for her. She doesn't enjoy art, and while she likes writing poetry it isn't what she wants to do with her life. All Ivy really wants to do is swim, but that's just not what's expected of a Milbourn girl. Her grandfather pushes her extremely hard, trying to get her to do everything to the best of her abilities, but all it's really doing is putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on her.
After deciding to take a summer free from courses to just focus on her swimming, imagine Ivy's dismay when she discovers her mother is returning home. Her husband is divorcing her, and her and her two children - Ivy's sisters - have nowhere else to go. Ivy doesn't want to see her mother, and is apprehensive about becoming a sister, but her grandfather wants to give Erica a chance, so Ivy begrudgingly agrees.
As well as needing to deal with her mother arriving on the scene, Ivy is having boy troubles. Alex, their housemaid's son, has been her best friend since they were very young, but he's developed feelings for her. Ivy doesn't want to risk ruining their friendship, so she tells Alex nothing can ever happen between them: she doesn't have time for a boyfriend anyway, what with trying to find her Milbourn talent and dealing with her crazy family situation. But then Connor, one of her granddad's literature students, shows up at her house to take part in a summer project, and Alex hates the fact that Ivy's found someone she's interested in.
I really appreciated the fact that there was so much going on in this book, because it was realistic. I frequently find that when I'm reading YA the characters are dealing with one problem or another: divorce OR struggling with school, relationship issues OR an absent mother. There are not many books that show teenage characters dealing with a wide variety of problems and coping! But Ivy keeps her head on her shoulders, and she doesn't go out drinking or taking drugs - she just cares for her sisters and tries to keep them unharmed by her mother's issues.
Erica is a fascinating character. As well as having struggled with eating problems when she was younger, she's an alcoholic, but she doesn't have the strength or the inclination to stop. She thinks she's doing the best things for her daughters by pretending that Ivy is their aunt instead of their sister, but it's extremely selfish - they don't deserve to be lied to, but she doesn't want them to know about her past. She struggles with her relationship with her father - Ivy's grandfather - but can't stop herself from lashing out at him, even when it distresses her daughters and causes no end of tension.
Ivy's relationship with her mother and her sisters is layered and complex, which is exactly how it should be. There's no simple resolution, and they don't have a simple happy ever after - the ending is left open, so we'll never really know if Erica managed to get her life back on track, or if she ever successfully repaired her relationship with Ivy.
But despite the fact that a lot of the book is filled with unbearable tension, it still has its light moments, and at points I found myself giggling away. Jessica just writes such wonderful ensembles of characters, and they all contribute something meaningful and necessary to the novel: there's no throwaway characters here. There's Claire, one of Ivy's closest friends and an unashamed feminist, who constantly shouts girl power messages to defend her friends. There's also Abby, whose little brother Eli has started insisting he's a girl and asking to be called Ella: Ella is only six, and she's definitely the youngest transgender character I've encountered, but it is something that can happen at any age. Their reaction to Ella - particularly the reaction of Grace, Ivy's youngest sister - is heartwarming: Abby's father struggles to adjust to the change, but the rest of them are unquestioningly accepting.
As soon as Alex was introduced: the attractive guy best friend who lives next door, I was a little bit worried. It would have been such a cliched choice for a romance, and when Ivy insisted that nothing could happen between them I was convinced that it wouldn't take much to change her mind. I was so relieved that it didn't happen - Jessica Spotswood is not an author who takes the conventional route, which is part of the charm that makes her books so darn enjoyable.
The romance between Ivy and Connor was authentic: they make out after drinking at a barbeque, then both of them try to fight their attraction to each other but find it impossible. I loved the fact that they had such a messy start as a couple, particularly with Alex finding them kissing and flipping out! It was such an honest portrayal of the beginning of a teenage relationship. They're definitely one of my favourite bookish couples. It helps that Jessica writes kickass make out scenes - very hot stuff.
If you want to read a family-orientated, feminist YA that's very genuine to real life, look no further than 'Wild Swans'. I loved Jessica Spotswood's writing before, and I've fallen head over heels in love with it again: she just has such a wonderful way of writing, using great imagery and lyrical turns of phrase that are a dream to read.
Now, I think it's about time I finish the Cahill Witch chronicles...

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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten bookworm delights

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

I am a bookworm.
There are so many things that I adore about being a bookworm: the limited edition collectible editions of books, the events, the merch. But these ten things are the pinnacle of bookworm delights, and I don't know how I'd live without any of them.

10) Rereading books you love
Okay, sometimes this one can go terribly and horribly wrong. You decide to reread a book you loved as a child, and it disappoints you and stomps on your heart. However, a lot of the time they're EVEN BETTER! I read 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' again for my Classics Challenge, and I loved it so much more the second time around because I could appreciate it more as an adult.

9) Discovering an adorable independent bookshop
I mean, I love Waterstones as much as the next bookworm, but sometimes it's wonderful to support independent booksellers, and finding a place with a wonderful atmosphere and great stock? That's a brilliant find.

8) Subscription boxes
Owlcrate and Illumicrate are the only ones that I personally receive, but I'm so tempted by Fairyloot... They're all so gorgeous!

7) Being surrounded by books
It might be a health hazard, but it gives your home character and means you'll never be bored in your life. 

6) Debut authors
A brand new shiny author? Don't mind if I do! It's so exciting to see new authors emerging: it means I can follow their progression as they release more books and gain huge followings, and it's always nice to be a hipster and say that I liked an author before they were cool. 

5) Finding a brilliant new blog
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN HIDING? HOW DID I NOT KNOW YOU EXISTED? *frantically smashes follow button*

4) The bookish community
I am Eeyore, and all of my wonderful blog readers and bookish friends are giving me huge cuddles and bringing happiness and joy into my life. I wasn't an active member of the YA community until a few months ago, when I gathered the courage to join in with Twitter chats, and now I can't imagine not having weekly discussions with everyone. 

3) Alternate covers
Particularly when they're so much more beautiful than the original covers. The only downside to this is finding the space to store multiple editions, and having the money to keep buying brand new complete sets!

2) Cait at Paper Fury's Society6 store
Not only is Cait a wonderful blogger, she makes amazing book and blogging related merch. I want everything she sells, and the best part is that the prices are not extortionate! 

1) YALC
If you're one of my American readers, you can switch this out for BEA (Book Expo America), but I had to choose the biggest UK YA convention around. I haven't attended YALC yet, but I might be going this year - if I do, I'm sure it'll be the best experience of my bookish life. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What are your bookworm delights?

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Monday, 25 April 2016

NEW MUSIC MONDAY: Melanie Martinez


I've been thinking of featuring Melanie Martinez for a few weeks, because she's very popular in America, but hasn't received as much attention in the UK yet. With her first London headline show happening in two days time - at Heaven in London - that's likely to change: when you consider the fact that she's following it up with an appearance at the O2 Kentish Town Forum in a couple of weeks, that's already a massive growth of venue size. 
Melanie Martinez is 21 this week, and considering the fact that her debut album, 'Cry Baby', went in at number 6 on the US Billboard charts? She's already achieved a hell of a lot for her age. She was discovered on The Voice, as part of Adam Levine's team - she was eliminated after making it through to the top 6, but got signed to Atlantic Records soon afterwards (two years ago this month). After releasing her 'Dollhouse' EP, she started work on 'Cry Baby' - it was finally released last August, and she's since released a whole bunch of music videos to accompany the songs (she's announced that there will be a music video for each song on the record, and she produces and directs a lot of them herself). 

My favourite song from 'Cry Baby' is probably 'Carousel': it's creepy and has a very dark vibe to it, but it's also a major ear worm and you won't be able to get it out of your head. 


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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Funeral For a Friend - Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 23/04/16


I hadn't heard of either of the support bands before they were announced, and unfortunately I didn't have time to check them out before we attended.

This meant I was extremely surprised when Funeral For a Friend's drummer, Casey McHale, hopped up on stage with Terrible Love. Turns out his side project have been together for almost a year (their Facebook page launched in August, while their Twitter started back in January) and in that time they've already released an EP, supported Rolo Tomassi and have been announced for 2000 Trees festival. This band are wasting no time.
You could certainly see why Casey was wearing a Zoax shirt on stage, because as well as having them as recent tour buddies (Zoax were the openers for every date of the 'Last Chance to Dance' tour) their musical style and their vocalist's stage presence was very similar to that of Zoax's Adam Carroll, especially during new song 'Anne', in which he was pacing around the quickly growing crowd. Switching between a growling vocal to a shouted spoken word style like that of La Dispute, it's a very American style that I haven't heard UK bands attempting - they stand out from the rest of the upcoming bands around at the moment.
Terrible Love are very promising. Their EP, 'Change Nothing', was released in January, and I purchased it at the show - they played it in full and it's definitely the sound of a band who are filled with energy and optimism. I'm interested to see where they go next.

Setlist:
Change Nothing
Mt. Misery
They Need You
Stone In Me
Anne
Sparrow

I hadn't heard of Raging Speedhorn either, which is surprising when you consider the fact that they formed back in 1998 and are gearing up to release their sixth album, 'Lost Ritual', this July. 'Lost Ritual' is going to be their first album in seven years, after the band reunited in 2014 following the announcement of their hiatus in 2008.
Raging Speedhorn were definitely the heaviest band on the bill (unsurprising, considering they've been announced as a stage headliner at this year's Download festival) but it did mean I had no chance of working out their setlist - I couldn't understand a word, because both of their vocalists are screamers/growlers and it was impossible to decipher lyrics. However, their music is wonderful: the vocals are definitely more on the hardcore side, but their guitar work and pacing definitely leans more towards the nu-metal genre. I could hear aspects of Disturbed and Korn, which meant I wasn't too surprised that they had been around for a while: if they'd been brand new on the scene and had been coming out with this kind of music it would have been very risky!
By the end of their set I was starting to feel as though I was hearing the same song multiple times, because I wasn't familiar with any of them and they did have a very specific sound, but it wasn't in a negative way. It was still enjoyable and fun to dance to, and you could see that the crowd were getting very enthusiastic: after multiple shouts of "Cardiff, come on, move forward! Let's pretend we're at a fucking gig!" most of the attendees couldn't help but dance. I hadn't heard of Raging Speedhorn before, but I can guarantee people were excited when they were added to this show, based on the amount of people shouting along to the songs.
Both of the supports only played twenty minute sets, which is a bit of a shock based on how long Raging Speedhorn have been together. However, it was the first show that they'd played in over a year, so it was definitely one way for them to get back into the swing of things.

When Funeral For a Friend announced their split last year, I was devastated. I wasn't surprised - in fact, it seemed inevitable when you consider their ages and the almost complete retirement of the Welsh rock scene over the last two years (The Blackout, Kids In Glass Houses) - but I'd always thought this band would be around forever. After seeing a headline set in Oxford last June I rediscovered my love for the band, and with the announcement of the Last Chance to Dance tour - playing 'Hours' in full on the first night and 'Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation' in full on the second night - I quickly grabbed tickets to both London shows, which I'd been highly anticipating.
Fast foward a few months, and O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire (the venue for the London shows) has been undergoing structural work since November. The album in full shows that I should have attended last week were relocated (over to the O2 Kentish Town Forum) and pushed back to the middle of May - unfortunately one of the new dates didn't work for me, so I knew I was only going to be able to see the band once on their final tour.
So imagine my joy when this tiny charity show was announced. Vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye shared on stage that this should have been the end of the band ("Tonight was supposed to be the last show on our tour, if it wasn't for stupid fucking London") so it added to the poignancy of the evening, even with those two May shows on the horizon.
During this show, Funeral For a Friend played their first two EPs in full: 'Between Order and Model' and 'Four Ways To Scream Your Name', as well as a variety of other tracks. I've always liked their older material more than their newer songs, so this was right up my alley, but I haven't avidly listened to the band in quite a while so I rediscovered some old favourites.
Within minutes of being on the stage, Matt announced that he didn't want people "standing there looking fucking gormless", because "yes, this is a funeral, but this is also a celebration". It certainly kicked the crowd up a gear: while they'd listened politely during Terrible Love and participated minimally during Raging Speedhorn, I lost track of the amount of crowd surfers during the evening. Clwb Ifor Bach is only a small venue, so it didn't get as crazy as it could have, but the intimate environment made it a show I'm sure both the attendees and the band will never forget.
As I mentioned earlier, this was a charity show, so Matt took the time to explain exactly what it was that Matthew Pritchard - a member of Dirty Sanchez and close friend of the band - did that they were so impressed by: that being a half Iron Man (a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run) every day for 23 days, earning him a world record. You can read more about his achievement here. Matt was understandably proud of his friend, saying "what impressed me more is that he decided to do it on a vegan diet as well!". He shared that the band wanted to do "whatever we could do to help out such a phenomenal cause" which is how this show ended up how it was - originally they'd planned to have it downstairs in the venue, as a floor show.
Despite the fact that it wasn't a floor show, it was still absolutely insane. As I mentioned earlier, there were countless crowd surfers, and with the crowd surfers came the stage invaders. Matt joked "I don't wanna kick anyone off the stage if they're having fun, that makes no sense to me. Unless they're people you know, then you can kick 'em!" (referencing the incident involving The Story So Far's vocalist Parker Cannon two week's ago). There were a few issues later in the night, with Matt needing to pause to tell the crowd off for not letting the crowd surfers down ("they'll be going round and round and they won't know what time their bus or train is [...] I don't wanna see people get their heads snapped off. As much as that was a huge part of my youth, blood doesn't agree with me at my age!") but the fact that the audience listened to him and started behaving more responsibly - it's a testament to how much respect they have for their hometown heroes.
It wasn't surprising that the band finished with 'History', and it was very emotional to think that that should have been the last song the band played full stop: it'll be interesting to see what they close with at their London show, because it connected every member of the audience and really effected the band emotionally - a fitting send off. I was already looking forward to their final show, but now I'm looking forward to seeing the band get the reaction that they deserve on a much bigger scale.

Setlist:
10:45 Amsterdam Conversations
Juno
Red Is The New Black
The Art of American Football
This Year's Most Open Heartbreak
She Drove Me To Daytime Television
Kiss and Makeup (All Bets Are Off)
Escape Artists Never Die
Storytelling
Bullet Theory
You Want Romance?
Rookie of the Year
Streetcar
Novella
Roses For The Dead
History

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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Bring Me The Horizon - Royal Albert Hall, London, 22/04/16

Because I haven't seen and reviewed Bring Me The Horizon enough recently, here's another one for you. This was no regular show: teaming up with Teenage Cancer Trust, this event saw Bring Me The Horizon paired with a full orchestra all in the name of fundraising for charity. The show sold out within an hour, so I was very grateful to have even grabbed a pair of tickets.

The host for the evening was Tim Lovejoy, best known for being one half of the presenting team for Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. He shared the fact that his brother died from cancer at the age of just 37 and asked the crowd if they could imagine being a teenager and going through something like that: his introduction, combined with the wonderful and uplifting footage of Teenage Cancer Trust patients and nurses shown later in the night, really brought home the real reason we were all there. Yes, it's great to go to rock shows, but when it's for a good cause (including all of the proceeds from merchandise sales made on the night) it means a hell of a lot more.
Teenage Cancer Trust have been putting on gigs for 16 years, and this is the first one that I've been able to attend, but I'm definitely going to continue supporting them in the future, and I'd suggest that you do as well.

I was overjoyed when PVRIS were announced as the opening act. I only saw their headline show in London two weeks ago, but I adore this band - I can't get enough of them. After seeing such a long set last time, it felt strange going back to only hearing a handful of songs, but the band made the most of every moment they spent on the stage.
There's no denying that Lynn Gunn's voice is spectacular, but in a venue such as this it's really elevated. Their brand of pop-infused rock was the perfect way to introduce the evening: it appeals to rock fans, but it also segues beautifully into the more polished music of the orchestra. I'd been hoping (but not expecting) that new song 'Empty' - from the just released deluxe edition of 'White Noise' - would make it into their set: I haven't heard it yet, but seeing that there's a harpist on the personnel list it would have been interesting to hear it in this evening.
Only a handful of bands from their genre will ever get to grace these hallowed halls, and it feels appropriate that PVRIS are one of them: their rise has been meteoric and shows no signs of slowing down, so they deserve once-in-a-lifetime moments like these. As you can see by these photos on Rock Sound's website, the band looked so at home on the stage, and at this point you'd genuinely believe they'd been together much longer than they have, because they rise to every challenge. Festival appearances? Easy. Playing Madison Square Gardens and Alexandra Palace? No big deal. So a legendary venue like the Royal Albert Hall is just another exclusive name to add to what's quickly become a very lengthy list.
I was surprised at the inclusion of 'Eyelids', but I loved the fact that the band were still surprising me. I've seen them as supports and at festival appearances four times in the last year, and they've always played six songs: it was obvious that new single 'You and I' was going to become one of the chosen ones, but they know that their fans appreciate all of their music so they aren't afraid to pick and choose from the album as they feel like it.
This is the first time in 18 months that I haven't had my next PVRIS show lined up on the horizon, so I'm feeling a little bit anxious. They've quickly become one of my favourite live bands, and while I know they need to take some time off to record the highly anticipated album number two, I'm already waiting for them to come back and blow me away again.

Setlist:
Smoke
St. Patrick
White Noise
Eyelids
You and I
My House

Of course, the band that everyone was waiting for was Bring Me The Horizon. The tickets for this show went on sale nearly six months ago, so it's certainly been a long time coming: everyone wanted to know whether the band could successfully pull off something of this magnitude, or whether they would crash and burn under the pressure of the evening.
When Tim Lovejoy announced that there were going to be over sixty people on stage, I'd assumed he was joking, but seeing the orchestra and the choir file out and into position, I finally appreciated the magnitude of what was about to happen. As you can tell, I don't normally attend shows with orchestras, so it was a first for me: I hadn't quite realised how many bodies it took to put on an event such as this one.
Anyone who had doubts would have had them proven unfounded within the first two songs of the set. As it was a performance with an orchestra, I'd assumed that it was going to be a more subdued affair compared to the sets that I'd seen the band perform recently: I was completely incorrect. 'Doomed' was a wonderful opener, because it gave the opportunity for the orchestra to introduce the band and establish what we could expect from the rest of the evening, but when - halfway through 'Happy Song', the second track in their set - vocalist Oli Sykes screamed "It's time for the first wall of death!"... That moment really elevated the show to another level.
Come on, how many wall of deaths do you think the Royal Albert Hall had seen before this evening?! (Speaking of which: how many times do you think "cunt" had been screamed in this venue, until the band played 'Antivist'?! Pushing boundaries.)
I was up in the seats with quite a bird's eye view over the stage, but it meant  that as well as seeing the band in a way I never had before, I also had the chance to watch the crowd in action throughout the evening. That was certainly a sight to behold. After releasing 'That's The Spirit', their most pop-influenced album to date, the audience members that you encounter at Bring Me The Horizon headline shows are often much less energetic, and the crazy moshing days of the past seemed to be over. However, due to the limited ticket numbers and the fact that this was a show for hardcore fans, the crowd didn't stop moving the entire evening: I lost track of the number of mosh pits and wall of deaths that popped up (though there was only one incidence of a line of people sitting down and starting to "row, row, row the boat" ...Yeah, I wasn't sure either). This really felt like a Bring Me The Horizon show.
Reintroducing 'Empire (Let Them Sing)' and 'It Never Ends' to their set (playing them both for the first time since their headline show at Wembley Arena) cemented this feeling. 'It Never Ends' was the oldest song that they put in, which surprised me: I'd been hoping for a couple of surprising, reworked versions of songs from 'Count Your Blessings' or 'Suicide Season'. It had to be included though, just for the "Take my hand, show me the way" bridge: it's choral on the original recording, and I've never thought that it sounded right live, so it was good to finally experience it how it should be.
I've seen the band play effectively the same set four times in the past six months, so I was grateful for the change of pace and the few surprises that they included. Finally hearing 'Avalanche' and 'Oh No' live was certainly a memorable moment! Debuting songs live in an environment like this is a brave move: it makes it difficult to put the song into a set again, because it'll be hard to surpass a first play like this! They both worked brilliantly though, particularly 'Oh No' as a closer. It was a surprise to hear that as the encore, as it's normally one of the more well-known and radio released tracks, but with the "oh, oh oh, oh oh" singalong it complemented the band, the orchestra, and the crowd, who didn't stop singing the chant even while walking down the road after the show. I've only had a moment like that twice before (both times with 'Best of You' by Foo Fighters) and if Bring Me The Horizon have something in common with legends like that? It bodes well for the future.
Compared to how busy they've been over the last six months, the next six months look a bit quieter for the band. With the announcement that keyboardist and programmer Jordan Fish is going to be a father (congratulations, by the way!) I think it's about time that the band let themselves have a break: they took over the world in 2015, and it doesn't look like their domination is going to stop any time soon. I'm seeing them again in November, when they finally headline the O2 Arena, and I'm already looking forward to experiencing another one of their sets. If you haven't seen a Bring Me The Horizon live show, you're missing a spectacle.

Setlist:
Doomed
Happy Song
Go To Hell, For Heaven's Sake
Avalanche (live debut)
It Never Ends
Sleepwalking
Empire (Let Them Sing)
Throne
Shadow Moses
True Friends
Follow You
Can You Feel My Heart?
Antivist
Drown
-
Oh No (live debut)

The band are releasing this show on DVD (their second live DVD in twelve months!) with all of the proceeds going towards the Teenage Cancer Trust: I'd highly recommend you purchase a copy, because it's certainly worth it. You can also see some kickass photos of their set over at Rock Sound

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

'Autumn: Purification' (Autumn #3) by David Moody

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Now, several days since any of the soldiers had been above ground, almost one hundred thousand bodies had gathered around the bunker, every last one of them fighting to get nearer to its impassable entrance.'
I only finished the second book in David Moody's Autumn series yesterday, and I was so excited by the ending that I just had to dive straight into this one which - as you can tell by this review - I've already managed to finish.
When we left our survivors they'd just managed to gain entry into the military bunker where Cooper had been sheltering from the day the virus struck. Being in a safe and secure environment for the first time in two months, I'd expected our survivors might have gotten complacent, but the exact opposite happened: if anything, being with the military ratcheted their anxiety through the roof as they wondered what they'd enlist them to do.
Because of the noise from the soldiers coming and going, hundreds upon thousands of corpses gathered outside the bunker, covering the grates in the ground that allow air to pass through the filtration system. The soldiers know that oxygen is running out, so they plot to go above ground and park jeeps over the grates to allow the air free passage. Their first attempt goes well and they manage to unblock two grates and kill a handful of cadavers, but when they go for round two and try to clear more grates, their entire operation falls apart.
This means it takes less than fifty pages for our survivors to find themselves fleeing from the military bunker, once more displaced in the countryside. I'd been expecting a lot more to happen with the army involvement, but I wasn't disappointed because I thought it was a great way of showing the hierarchy shifting with the end of the world: the soldiers go from being the ones in control, having all of the answers, to being terrified and reliant upon information from the civilian survivors.
Our group - joined by four of the military men - bed down in a department store nearby, all of them scared of what the morning will bring. After being in the relative safety of the bunker none of them particularly want to deal with the corpses still wandering the world: corpses who're becoming more sentient, seeming to consider the survivors and make plans before attacking them. Hearing the sound of a helicopter in the distance, all of the people are convinced that they must be delusional: it's only when Richard and Karen land outside, telling them about an island called Cormansey and their plan to clear it entirely of the dead for habitation, that the survivors take a collective sigh of relief. It seems like a future is suddenly possible.
There's a lot of travelling (again!) as the group moves across the countryside to Monkton Airfield, where Richard, Karen, a bunch of survivors, their helicopter and a small plane are staying, but because the travelling is purposeful and holds a lot of plot potential it goes very quickly. I complained that the first half of 'Autumn: The City' moved quite slowly, but the pacing is much better in this third installment, so I can almost forgive that being the only lull in three novels.
I did have a problem with the amount of new characters we got introduced to, but I can see that David Moody is a writer who works best with an ensemble collection. As well as the soldiers who join our survivors, we have Richard and Karen's group (filled with a selection of characters who don't really do much, but who apparently merit full names) and the survivors who are already starting to clear off Cormansey (there are six of them... Two of them seem relevant). It annoyed me that Sunita - the lesbian cigarette-smoker - from the second novel wasn't mentioned even in passing: she seemed to be a focal point of the second story, figuring out that the corpses intentions were shifting, but she doesn't get even the briefest mention in this third installment. It's possible that she died in the truck crash caused by Dr. Croft at the end of the second book, or that she died in the military bunker along with Bernard (who is taken down by badly aimed rifle fire - RIP Bernard) but it would be nice to have a mention for the only LGBT+ character in the entire series.
I still struggle to care about the characters (apart from Emma and Michael, who I grew attached to in the first installment) so the deaths that are meant to be upsetting (the aforementioned Bernard, as well as Dr. Croft and reliable truck driver Steve) are really affecting at all. This might be because I'm reading the novels so quickly - it might be better if I take a step back and wait awhile before reading 'Disintegration' or 'Aftermath' - but it just means I got a bit impatient with the focus switching between rather insignificant characters constantly.
However, I thought the military people who stayed with the group for a length of time - Kelly and Kilgore - were fascinating. They know that if they take off their protective suits, they're likely to die, but because they can't eat or drink while wearing the suits they're heading speedily towards death anyway. It really uses the Schrodinger's cat question: by removing the mask you could live or die, and by keeping the suit on you're both living and dying, so which would you do? It really made me think about how I would react in that situation (but yeah, I'd totally take the mask off).
I LOVED the ending. I thought it was the perfect way to finish the story of these survivors, and after looking online and seeing that 'Disintegration' follows a different group I'm actually happy - these characters have been through enough! I was pleased that there weren't too many deaths or it would have just turned into a bloodbath, but I was also happy that David Moody doesn't seem to be scared to write characters out if it's necessary.
As I said, I'll probably wait a little while before reading the fourth book in the series, but I'm feeling very optimistic.

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TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books that intimidate me

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

I'm sure you can agree that some books are just too scary to touch. They're huge, and menacing, and they genuinely look as if they could eat your face off while you read them. Or you've heard so many amazing things about them that you're worried: what if you don't like the book, and you get ostracized from the bookish community?!
These five books cause me no end of problems.

5) 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
'Good Omens' intimidates me for an entirely different reason than the rest of the books on this list. It scares me because it's my girlfriend's favourite book, and I really want to like it, but I'm scared that I won't! I know that's really silly, but shush, I'm a ridiculous human being. 

4) 'A Darker Shade of Magic' by Victoria Schwab
I don't know much about 'A Darker Shade of Magic', apart from there's jumping between dimensions and there are multiple different Londons. I'm not very good at reading fantasy, so I'm just too nervous - what if I don't understand it? What if I get lost and frustrated and confused and refuse to ever pick up a book ever again? 

3) 'Les Misérables' by Victor Hugo
This one is ginormous. It's also set in France in the revolution (or, at least, that's what I can gather) so I can assume there's a shitload of death. I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the movie either - it's too long! - so of course the book intimidates me. 

2) 'Throne of Glass' by Sarah J. Maas
"But Alyce, you have to read this series!"
Nope.
"I'm sure you'll love them, just try them!"
Noooooooooooooooooope.
Similar reasons to 'A Darker Shade of Magic' on this one, but also I've heard dreadful things about the later books in the series, so I don't really want to commit.

1) 'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy
I work in a library, and one of our customers has been slowly trudging his way through 'War and Peace'. I admire him, but I'm just too nervous to try it for myself - I find it so hard to give up with books, but I also struggle as soon as I see the page count is over 500! 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What books terrify you?

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

'Autumn: The City' (Autumn #2) by David Moody

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

When I finished 'Autumn', the first book in David Moody's series of the same name, I was excited to continue onwards. I loved Michael and Emma, the survivors that we were following, and I was looking forward to seeing what happened to them over the course of the series.
This meant I was a little bit dismayed when I started 'Autumn: The City' and discovered that we were following a whole host of new characters. Starting in much the same way as the first book, we join our new characters on the day that the world ends and we follow them as they find other survivors and eventually team together in a large group.
This novel is split into two parts, and I did feel as though Part One dragged ridiculously slowly. Because we'd already experienced the first two weeks of the end of the world, it didn't seem worth reliving it - a lot of it felt like repetition of the first book (setting fires to contact other survivors, working out how to get supplies etc.). I understand that we needed more characters (following Michael and Emma again would have been limiting) but it would have been nice if we'd joined them when they were all already together, rather than meeting them all individually to start with. It was probably to make you feel more connected to the characters, but because there were so many of them I didn't feel emotionally attached anyway: I would have preferred to jump straight into the action.
However, Part Two is much more interesting. Cooper, a soldier who has been sheltering in an underground bunker nearby, and one of his fellow comrades get separated from their team on a reconnaissance mission. They've all been forced to wear large protective suits and breathing apparatus, as the virus is still in the air - however, Cooper's friend is frustrated and removes his mask, causing him to drop down instantly dead. When Cooper damages his suit he realises he is immune to the virus and realises he never needs to go back to the bunker, but when he finds himself with the larger group of survivors they convince him to take them there: it's the safest place any of them can imagine. The dead bodies have been growing increasingly more violent, attacking each other mercilessly, so they have to work out how to get out of the city without getting torn apart by angry corpses.
In Part Two we also rejoin Michael and Emma, who are living in a mobile home in the countryside. Michael heard Cooper's convoy leaving the army bunker, so he's trying to track down the entrance to their shelter - he's certain that the army will be able to help them, even if Emma isn't convinced.
I loved the gradual intensifying of the zombies actions and the fact that they weren't the stereotypical movie monsters you encounter, but more than that I really appreciated Bernard - one of the survivors at the university - thinking to himself that the zombies 'apparently had no desire to eat or drink or rest, and there was no flesh-eating, like in the horror films'. One of my complaints about the first installment was that no one seemed to have ever even considered the concept of zombies before, so I was glad that was dealt with.
By the end of the book, all of our survivors are grouped together in the same place, managing to gain entry into the army bunker as they'd hoped. I'm much more hopeful about the third installment, because now we've got a large group of survivors we won't need to relive the first couple of weeks again, and the introduction of the army presence will lead to an interesting change in dynamics. 
This second installment definitely isn't as good as the first, but the set up for book three is definitely promising. 

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TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books that will make you laugh

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

I don't read many funny books. I always seem to pick up darker, more serious reads, so any books that I read that make me laugh are extremely relieving! It's taken me quite a while to construct this list, because I had that few titles to choose from, but I've managed to scrape together ten choices...

10) 'Kindred Spirits' by Rainbow Rowell
Released for World Book Day earlier this year, 'Kindred Spirits' is only a short story, but it's packed to the brim with really funny moments. Elena is determined to queue for the release of 'The Force Awakens', and she makes friends with the other brilliant characters waiting in line. 

9) 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' by Jenny Han

When the love letters that Lara Jean has written to every boy she loved (with no intention of sending, of course!) get sent out, it's a totally cringey moment, but you can't help laughing at the situation that Lara Jean finds herself in. I adored this book, and I'm hoping the second installment, 'P.S. I Still Love You', is just a funny. 

8) 'Alienated' by Melissa Landers
I wasn't expecting to love 'Alienated' as much as I did, because I thought it was going to be filled to the brim with inter-species instalove. However, there was no instalove, and Cara and Aelyx both irritate the heck out of each other when they first meet - their interactions are very funny.

7) 'Lumberjanes'
A group of female friends go on adventures at summer camp. You can't really get a more fun read than this one!

6) 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan
The thing that really made me laugh about 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' was the flamboyantly gay Tiny Cooper. This means I'll probably find 'Hold Me Closer' by David Levithan - Tiny's sequel - much funnier... I just haven't had a chance to read it yet!

5) 'Snow Like Ashes' by Sara Raasch
Sara Raasch is brilliant at writing natural, witty dialogue, particularly the easy interactions between Meira and Prince Theron. 
"I'm trying to learn more about magic," I start. 
Theron gasps. "While reading a book called Magic in Primoria? No!" 

4) 'Captain Marvel'
Particularly this scene:

3) 'Denton Little's Deathdate' by Lance Rubin
Denton Little is probably one of the most tongue-in-cheek characters I've ever encountered, and I was highly impressed when I read this debut novel. I'm looking forward to the sequel, 'Denton Little's Still Not Dead', because I'm certain it's going to be just as good. It was meant to be released this year, but has been pushed back since 2017 - I'm already feeling impatient!

2) 'Patsy Walker aka Hellcat!'
I've been buying the single issues of this series, and there's only four out at the moment - I'm highly anticipating more being released though. It's beautifully designed, with the popping colours and the clean lines, but the writing is really funny too.

1) 'The Bane Chronicles' by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan
I've only read the first few short stories of 'The Bane Chronicles', but they are really funny (particularly 'What Really Happened In Peru?'). I just adore Magnus as a character - The Mortal Instruments are rather depressing and filled with death and darkness, but Magnus is brilliant comic relief.
Harry Shum Jr. also portrays him wonderfully in the 'Shadowhunters' TV series adaptation: 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! Please post your lists below - I'm so excited to find more funny reads!

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Monday, 18 April 2016

NEW MUSIC MONDAY: John the Ghost


There's not really much to be said about John the Ghost, because the project only got launched last week, but 'Sour Grapes' is such a wonderful song that I wanted to showcase it.
John the Ghost is the side project of John O'Callaghan, vocalist of The Maine (formed in Arizona back in 2007). John launched the project on his Instagram with this announcement: 
The Ghost haunts the far corners of my head and permanently lives in a flat he built on the tip of my tongue. He is everything I wish I'd both said and done when I had the chance but simply forgot how. He isn't quite sure why he has so much to say, or if he really means much of it at all, but this is what his voice sounds like and these are his songs.
John the Ghost's first release will be a six song EP called 'Sincerely, John the Ghost', which was written and recorded in John's bedroom over the past two years. You can pre-order the EP by itself or as a bundle (including a 90 page book of prose poetry and a bookmark) here.
Listen to 'Sour Grapes', the first John the Ghost release, below:

You can certainly hear The Maine vibes in the song, but I'm excited to see how the rest of the EP sounds. It's released on April 29th, so we don't have to wait too much longer!

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, 17 April 2016

'The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender' by Leslye Walton

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth - deep down, I always did. 
I was just a girl.' 
As you can imagine, this is the story of Ava Lavender. She introduces the book herself in the prologue, written as an introduction set in 2014 (seventy years after Ava's birth). The main body of the novel is written in a memoir style, recounting the stories of her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother, and eventually teenage Ava's first person perspective. Through their stories, we learn how love hurt them all during their lives.
I really don't know what words to use to describe my feelings towards this book.
Strange is certainly a good one. '...Ava Lavender' is filled to the brim with magical realism: the girl who turns herself into a canary, the mother who dissolves into ash after her husband disappears, and of course Ava herself. None of these occurrences are explained, they're just taken at face value. If it had been a fantasy world, rather than the contemporary setting of America in the 1940s-70s that had been so wonderfully crafted, it would have made more sense - as it was the feeling of the unbelievable, the mysterious, prevailed throughout the novel.
Beautiful is a good word to use, too. For a debut novel, Leslye has a very distinctive style of writing, and the rises and falls in her prose are almost musical. I was becoming more confused by the events that were occurring in the novel due to their inexplicable nature, but I was finding myself enjoying it more too, just because of Leslye's writing.
There's really nothing else I can say. I'm still confused on what happened, and I definitely think there was a lot more to the ending than met the eye. This is one of those books that is very ambiguous and open to interpretation, and no matter what I think Leslye was trying to say, the next person who reads it will find a completely different meaning.
I'm looking forward to reading more of Leslye's writing in the future, because she has a beautiful voice and a real skill with crafting her sentences and choosing beautiful vocabulary. However, I suggest you read '...Ava Lavender' for yourself to work out how you feel about it. I've never read another book like it before, I've left it two days after finishing it to write this review, and I still have nothing concrete that I can say. Not many books throw me off like this, so it's certainly a special one.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

'Golden Boy' by Abigail Tarttelin

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'Things like this never happen. They happen to other people, but not to you, not to me. Not with moody-but-harmless Hunter. Not with the son of your parents' best friends. Not with your best, true, forever friend when you were a kid. Not in sleepy, small town Hemingway. This happens to people in dark alleyways, at night, with strangers. This happens when you're lost in a city. More to the point, this happens to girls. So I've been thinking so far, This isn't happening.' 
Max Walker is a golden boy. He's captain of the football team. He's never failed an exam in his life. He lives comfortably as part of a white upper-middle class family in a suburb of Oxford, with his little brother Daniel, Karen, his mother and a high-flying barrister, and his Crown prosecutor father, Steve. There's no doubt that Max is one of the most popular kids in school: every guy wants to be him, and every girl wants to be with him.
But Max has a secret - he's intersex. Being intersex means being born with a reproductive system, chromosomes or genitalia that fall somewhere between the binary of male and female, effectively making you both male and female, but also neither male nor female. Max has a female reproductive system but identifies as male - he doesn't have breasts, and he experienced a course of testosterone shots in his early teens.
The only people that know about Max are his parents, their best friends Leah and Edward and their son Hunter. Hunter and Max have been best friends since they were born - Hunter being only a few months older than Max - and he's always trusted him with his secret.
In the week before Max's sixteenth birthday, Hunter comes in to his room and - as I'm sure you can guess by the quote at the top of this review - he sexually assaults him. Because Max identifies as male and is heterosexual, he's never done anything sexual with a man before: he's terrified, in pain and utterly ashamed by what happens. He blames himself for being intersex, wondering if he's always going to be a curiosity that people feel it's their right to explore.
If you're sensitive to scenes of rape and find it triggering or upsetting, I'd sincerely suggest you skip the first chapter of the book told from Max's perspective. It's harrowing and very distressing, and I don't often get as emotional as I did. I had to put the book down after reading it and have a break, because I was just utterly devastated.
However, I do have to give Abigail Tarttelin credit - she writes it in a sensitive and emotional way, and the scene is not included for the shock value. I felt so upset from reading about it, and it made it impossible not to care for Max. The majority of people won't have had experience with being intersex, but the empathy she evokes puts you straight in his shoes.
Yes, that chapter is awful to read, I'm not denying that. But people always talk about the statistics of transgender and intersex rape: rarely do they tell the story from the victim's perspective. Using a person - a well-rounded, realistic character - is much more effective than listing numbers.
Max deals with the rape extremely maturely. He decides not to go to the police - because of his parents careers there's no way that they wouldn't find out, and he doesn't want to ruin their relationship with their best friends. He takes himself to the doctor's surgery in town and gets the morning after pill, and then starts coming to terms with what happened and begins moving on with his life.
However, Max's female reproductive system is fertile, and when he is sick jut after taking the pill it hasn't had time to take effect - three months later, Max discovers he's pregnant. He decides to get rid of the baby almost straight away, and his mother persuades him to have a hysterectomy at the same time as his abortion. The surgeries are booked and the time is fast approaching, but Max can't stop thinking about the fact that this might be his only chance to have a child naturally. The wheels have been set in motion for his abortion, but will he have time to decide what exactly he wants?
I haven't read many books featuring teen pregnancy that have mentioned abortion, so I really appreciated that. Sometimes authors seem to be extremely pro-life and won't represent any of the other choices available, so it was good to have another option shown. Max's struggle is written beautifully, and it's impossible to guess what he'll choose to do before it happens.
I loved the story of 'Golden Boy', but I think what really pushed this book into 5 star territory for me was the use of the multiple narrators. Throughout the novel we have six perspectives: Max, Daniel, Karen, Steve, Sylvie - Max's eventual girlfriend - and Dr Varma, the doctor that he confides in following his rape.
I don't think the book would have been as effective if it had only been told through Max's perspective, as we wouldn't really know what the other characters have thought or felt towards Max. He believes he knows how his mother and father feel, but when we actually get to hear it from them it gives us a lot more of their backstory, including the time just after Max was born. Karen and Steve have such differing ideologies about Max, and they never really agree with each other - Karen is determined to help Max live a 'normal' life, while Steve just wants his son to be able to be himself, not needing to experience surgeries or intrusive examinations from doctors.
Daniel has some form of mental disorder (or, at least, I assume he does). He constantly fantasizes about robots, refuses to follow rules as they aren't logical, and has constant temper tantrums. He goes through quite a large character development throughout the novel, and by the end he does seem to have settled as his family have entrusted him more with their secrets: it feels as though more could have been done with his character, but at only 10 years old that might have been tricky.
Sylvie was one of my favourite perspectives: she's one of the only characters I've read that has had convincing panic attacks, and when Max entrusts her with his secret she's not ashamed to admit that it's a little more than she can cope with. There's no manic pixie dream girl here, which is a relief.
However, I think the best inclusion was Dr Archie Varma. By including the perspective of a doctor, it's a non-preachy way to educate and inform about intersexuality: she reads her research and plans how to let Max know what she's discovered, which lets us know all of the information we need without it being boring or like a lecture. Abigail has certainly researched intersexuality, and I feel as though I know a lot more about it now than I've learnt during the rest of my life.
I haven't read many books featuring an intersex character, but with a recommended reading/watching list included at the end of the book that's definitely going to change. If you're interested in reading a book featuring a unique and lovable main character, I can certainly recommend this one for you - just keep an open mind, as some of the debates regarding sexuality and gender are ones that will have you thinking for days.

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TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books tackling difficult subjects

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

If you've read any YA, you'll know that a lot of it deals with extremely difficult topics. Sometimes the books tear your heart out and stomp all over it with their intensity, but sometimes they deal with the subject in an inspirational and hopeful way.
These five books tackle their subjects wonderfully, and I can't recommend them more highly.

5) 'Playlist For The Dead' by Michelle Falkoff
I hated 'Playlist for the Dead' when I read it last year, but I actually really appreciated the way it handled teen suicide - it's one of the only books that doesn't glamourise it and shows exactly how the actions of one desperate person can effect all of the people that they know and love.

4) 'Beautiful Broken Things' by Sara Barnard

I flew through 'Beautiful Broken Things' when I read it last month because Sara Barnard has a real skill with writing and it's impossible to put the thing down. Dealing with domestic abuse and depression, it handles both in a very sensitive way, but it also deals with the question all of us face at one point - what am I doing with my life?

3) 'Crank' by Ellen Hopkins
'Crank' deals with cocaine addiction and teen pregnancy, and is written entirely in prose. Do I need to say more to sell you on this book?!

2) 'Before I Die' by Jenny Downham
If you haven't heard of 'Before I Die', I don't know what rock you've been living under. Telling the story of Tessa, a 16 year old battling cancer, and her attempt to complete her bucket list before her death, this is the original (and better) 'The Fault In Our Stars' - it's soul-destroying. 

1) 'Wintergirls' by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dealing with anorexia, 'Wintergirls' is a wonderful piece of writing. I read it so long ago that I can hardly remember anything about it (apart from how much I loved it) so I've actually just reserved it at my local library again - I can't wait to rediscover Laurie Halse Anderson's writing. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Are there any hard books that you absolutely love?

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