Tuesday, 31 May 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten beach reads

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

A couple of weeks ago, Top Five Wednesday was focused on five summer reads, but I had so many books to choose from that it was beyond difficult to cut it down to a mere five.
That means that choosing ten beach reads is brilliant: you don't go to the beach in winter, so these books are also great for summer enjoyment.

10) 'Girl Online' by Zoe Sugg
While I didn't exactly love this book, I still think it's brilliant for a summer read: it's set at Christmas, but it's a light-hearted and quick read that will brighten up a summer afternoon.

9) 'Lola and the Boy next Door' by Stephanie Perkins
Because I read 'Anna and the French Kiss' in winter, it always feels like a Christmas book to me: the beautiful nights in Paris, the love story... Ahh. However, I think Lola - with her bright personality and crazy costume choices - embodies the spirit and fun of summer, especially when her and her friends go to a new music festival. It's a very fast read, perfect for a day at the beach. 

8) 'Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between' by Jennifer E. Smith

I didn't fall in love with this book, and I wonder if it was because I read it in February; it's set the night before Clare and Aidan leave their hometown to go to the respective colleges, so it'll be perfect to read when school has let out and new possibilities are on the horizon. 

7) 'Lumberjanes'
If you're on a beach, you're not likely to be attending summer camp: this way you can do both!

6) 'This Raging Light' by Estelle Laure
Estelle Laure's debut deals with a difficult subject - Lucille's mum leaves town and abandons her, leaving her to look after her little sister Wren - but it's also very beautiful. With a bright cover like this, everyone at the beach will want to know more about the book in your hands.

5) 'The Truth About You and Me' by Amanda Grace
If you watch Pretty Little Liars and you're a hardcore Ezria shipper, you will fall head over heels in love with this tale of forbidden student/teacher love. Expect a happy ending, but not a traditional one...

4) 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli
Don't just read 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' in summer: read it every single day. It's just that good. If you're an LGBT+ teen or you love LGBT+ reads, you won't regret picking this one up.

3) 'This Is Where It Ends' by Marieke Nijkamp
Only read this one if you want your heart ripped out, because it is a devastating read. Sourcebooks Fire have a very special challenge relating to the book happening all summer: if you read it you'll be able to join in!

2) 'The Rest of Us Just Live Here' by Patrick Ness
The indie kids are having another crazy adventure - this time fighting against The Immortals - but the general populace aren't involved, because it isn't their story. Luckily, the things going on in the lives of Mikey and his friends are just as exciting. This is the best book I've read this year so far. 

1) 'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
The YA Book Prize winner isn't being announced until Thursday, but if I'm right 'The Art of Being Normal' is the most obvious choice to take the prize. Even if it doesn't take the top spot, it won at the Leeds Book Awards last week - you NEED to pick this one up as quickly as you can, because it's brilliant.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! If I can make it to the beach this year what books should I try to read?

Monday, 30 May 2016


I actually skipped New Music Monday last week, so I need to apologise for that! I didn't have a band that I was desperate to feature, so I didn't want to force myself to write a low standard post.

That's changed this week though, because I really want to introduce you to WSTR. I'm posting this from my hotel room in Hertfordshire, where I'm about to go to Slam Dunk festival - WSTR are one of my priority bands, and I'm so excited to see them in a live setting.
Comprised of vocalist Sammy Clifford, guitarists Kieren Alder and Danny Swift, bassist Alex Tobijanski and drummer Conor, Liverpool's WSTR only formed last year - it means there's not an awful lot of information about them out there on the internet!
They've had an extremely successful first year as a band though, helped along by their friendship with Neck Deep and their musical similarities to The Wonder Years and Sum 41.

WSTR released their debut EP, 'SKRWD', at the end of 2015 - I'd suggest you grab a copy, because you don't want to miss this band.

Check out the video for 'Graveyard Shift', and see if you can spot a cameo from a certain Welsh vocalist:

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.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

'Concentr8' by William Sutcliffe

*This review will contain spoilers!*

If you've visited my blog at all in the past month, you'll know that I was attempting to read all of the YA Book Prize nominees before the winner was announced on June 2nd. Seeing as this is the last of the books that I needed to read and it's not June yet, I succeeded!

'You want to know how I got famous? This is how.
Weren't proper famous. Didn't last more than a few days. Weren't popular famous neither. I mean most famous is we-love-you famous or you-done-something-good famous - this was the opposite. For a few days me and Blaze and the others was the official scumbags of the universe. But what I'm saying is - we ain't. We ain't and we weren't.
Taking a guy off the street and tying him to a radiator and keeping him sounds psycho but if you knew me - if you knew my whole life what happened up to that day - you'd get it.'
Interesting way to set up the enigma, but I wasn't gripped by the voice instantly; I always struggle with informal and inaccurate speech patterns; it's hard to make it sound genuine without it being overly stereotypical.

In a not-so-future London, children have been diagnosed with ADHD left, right and centre. The so-called sufferers have all been prescribed Concentr8: a miracle drug that alleviates symptoms, linked with a huge decrease in criminal activity. Following the London riots, calming the behaviour was at the forefront of everyone's mind, and it had been hopeful that Concentr8 would prevent it recurring. When the prime minister withdraws funding from the programme mor e riots break out across the city; everyone has become dependent upon Concentr8 and can't cope with the withdrawal.
Blaze, Troy, Femi, Karen and Lee don't riot, though. Blaze has bigger and better plans. He kidnaps a worker from outside the mayor's building, taking him to an abandoned warehouse and tying him to a radiator. The rest of the gang are unsure about what's happening, none of them feeling too comfortable, but Blaze is the leader: no one stands against him. Even if it means that they'll end up going to prison for something they didn't want to be a part of...

'Concentr8' is boring. Yes, there's a kidnapping. Yes, there's rioting. But considering it's set over six consecutive days, it felt like it had been dragging on for months. 
There are too many perspectives. As well as the gang, we get the perspective of the hostage, the mayor, a journalist and the hostage negotiator. All of the adult perspectives are interchangeable, while the kids' voices are distinctive but irritating. There's Troy, whose chapters don't use commas - only use hyphens - disjointed and pacey - hard to read. (That's when there aren't stray commas sneaking in all over the place... To write in a style such as that successfully you need to be very careful not to slip into habits).
Karen always asks questions? Even when she's making a statement? 
and don't talk to me about Lee
Lee is the worst
no punctuation hardly any flow
thoughts jumping about
didn't like reading Lee 
Yes, it makes them all individual characters, but I just couldn't gel with it. The entire book feels disjointed. I'm a fan of the multiple perspective novel, as long as it doesn't try to do too much: 'Concentr8' is like a ladybird trying to build a house. It's not a successful endeavor.
Nothing really happens. There's a kidnapping, but then it's resolved. The end. Yawn. The ending is very predictable... There's just no tension, and with most of the chapters being stream of consciousness style monologues, I was beyond tempted to skip ahead - I wouldn't have missed anything.
I can understand what William Sutcliffe was trying to do. He's attempting to bring an under-represented teen minority into the spotlight, draw attention to the prejudice and discrimination that council estate kids face on a daily basis, and give them a voice that's hard to ignore. He has the best intentions, but the execution just isn't good enough. It's very contradictory, because it feels like it's demonizing teenagers while simultaneously championing them.

Compared to the quality of the rest of the YA Book Prize nominated books, I can't understand how 'Concentr8' made the shortlist. Yes, it's nice to see under-privileged kids having their story told, but I feel as though the contrast between the rich upper classes and the poor lower classes is much more effectively demonstrated in books such as 'You Against Me' by Jenny Downham. 
If you like your books with more perspectives than you can count, definitely pick this book up. If you like reading different styles of writing and enjoy authors that play with structure, try this one! Just don't expect too much to happen...

Thursday, 26 May 2016

'Rebel of the Sands' by Alwyn Hamilton

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'They said the only folk who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good. I wasn't up to no good. Then again, I wasn't exactly up to no bad, neither.' 
With an opening sentence like that, I couldn't resist picking up 'Rebel of the Sands'. I'm easily intimidated by fantasy, so that is essentially a western set in the Middle East filled with magic and monsters should have been far too scary for me to even consider attempting. I decided I'd give it a go anyway: it was one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016, and being Alwyn Hamilton's debut novel it was my only chance to explore her writing.

We meet Amani Al'Hiza at a pistol pit in Deadshot, where she's disguised herself as a man to be allowed to take part in the shooting. Girls aren't allowed to take part, but Amani needs the prize money - her uncle has just decided he's going to take her as his wife, extending his harem, and Amani will not allow this to happen. She's going to make it to the city of Izman, where aunt Safiyah lives, or she'll die trying. 
Things get out of control at the event when her and another participant - a foreigner referred to as the Eastern Snake - attempt to save the life of a supporter of the Rebel Prince. The owner of the establishment wants them each to take shots at a bottle he's balancing on his head, but the third competitor in the final round is wasted and won't be able to make the shot without killing the boy. Just because he has thoughts of rebellion, greater plans for Miraji, he doesn't deserve to die, so Amani and the Eastern Snake come up with a plan. Within moments of them scuppering the final round fights are breaking out and the place is on fire; the Eastern Snake doesn't hesitate to save Amani's life, helping her get out of the fray.
The next morning, back at home in Dustwalk, she's in a world of pain - she didn't get home until late, and she got bruised up in the escape fro the burning building - but her aunt Farrah still forces her to go and open the family shop. It's a slow day, until Amani sees the Mirajin army ride past outside: they'd only just passed through the village on their way elsewhere, so their return is a curious sight. The next moment the foreigner is sneaking into her shop and hiding in the shadows. She owes him her life from the previous evening, not that he'd know that - she's quite obviously a girl today, and the Blue-Eyed Bandit that the Eastern Snake met was well-hidden as a boy - so she hides him while Commander Naigub bursts in and interrogates her. Amani is smart enough to play dumb, and she acts as though she's never encountered the foreigner, despite the fact that he's hidden right below her.
Naigub leaves, and almost as soon as he's walked out the door bells start ringing. Instantly Amani thinks it's an alarm and panics, but it registers in the back of her mind that it's the signal of a hunt beginning. This book is filled with magic, and the alarm signals the hunt for a Buraqi, an immortal horse. 
'Ghouls come in a thousand different forms. Tall faceless Skinwalkers, who'd eat a man's flesh and take his shape so they could feast on his family, too. Small leathery Nightmares, who sunk their teeth into sleeping men's chests and fed off their fear until the soul was sucked out.'
Amani manages to capture the Buraqi and she's elated: the money from that sale will definitely help her get out of Dustwalk! But because girls cannot own their own property it would go straight into her uncle's pocket... So she decides to pack her bags and leave then and there, on the back of an immortal horse.
The only problem is that the foreigner has had the same idea. She leaves him in the shop and runs home to grab her belongings, and by the time she returns he's gone. In this time Naigub has received a tip-off that Amani did know the foreigner after all, and despite the fact that she tells him the truth - she doesn't know where the foreigner is, at least not anymore! - Naigub doesn't believe her, and chooses to shoot her crippled friend Tamid straight through the kneecap.
Amani's certain she's going to receive the next bullet, when she hears hoofs beating behind her. She has a split second to make a decision: jump on the back of a horse with a wanted man, or stay and save her oldest friend's life...
She leaves him, bleeding to death on the floor.
Amani still wants to go to Izman, but the stranger tries to talk her out of it: life in Izman isn't safe for girls, it won't be good for her there. She's stubborn, so she drugs him, takes his belongings - money and a broken compass - and makes her own way to the train to Izman. It's not that easy, because he follows her: it's a good thing he does, because Naigub is on the train looking for them, and the stranger - Jin - saves her life by pulling them off the train into the endless desert night.
Jin agrees to help her get to Izman: he can see how set her mind is on it, and he knows there's no swaying her. He's just pulled them off the monthly train, though, so it looks as though they're going to be taking a very long walk...
They join a caravan making their way to Dassama, where Amani will separate from Jin to head to Izman.
'Jin I knew. I didn't want to leave him. He made the world bigger. I wanted to go to the countries he'd been to. And more than anything I wanted him to ask me to go with him.'
They're followed across the desert by Naigub, having some extremely close encounters with the Miraji army and the Gallan forces currently occupying the outlying areas. When they arrive at Dassama they're devastated to discover that it has been razed to the ground: it seems to have been a bombing, but there's no shrapnel and the prayer house has been left intact. What kind of weapon doesn't damage holy buildings? 
When Jin gets attacked by a Nightmare in the desert, the caravan leave him and Amani behind: they're just dead weight, no one survives a Nightmare attack. But Amani won't let him go without a fight, and after he convinces her to follow his broken compass she finds herself right in the middle of the Rebel Prince's rebellion. Amani has to decide whether to support the cause - and discover exactly who she is - and she doesn't have much time to do it.

The first novel in a trilogy, 'Rebel of the Sands' suffers from over-exposition through the first half of the book. As you can see by the recap above, a lot happens - it's just that by the end of the book it's all basically irrelevant, because the plot has already moved on. 
It takes nearly 100 pages for Amani to get out of Dustwalk. This might make more sense in the greater scheme of the series: perhaps she'll return and encounter her aunt and uncle, or there'll be a tender reunion with a forgiving Tamid. Without this though, it's a little bit pointless. You can tell she's going to get out, it's just waiting for the book to get there, so all of these introductions to people that won't contribute to the story later - it's not needed. 
We also have that problem with her getting to the Rebel Prince's rebellion. They're with the group for 130 pages, so this means there's over 100 pages in the middle that is just getting them there. It's very slow. I can understand why, because it is setting up a trilogy, but it's draining. The Rebel Prince's slogan, "A new dawn, a new desert", is the tagline on the book, but it's a minor part of this first installment.
However, there's a lot that isn't directly addressed. A lot of countries names are just randomly dropped in all over the place, but there is no focus on the geography of the world. A lot of fantasy books have maps in the front covers: the second book in the 'Rebel of the Sands' series greatly requires one, because it will clear up a lot of the confusion. 
That being said, I haven't read a book set in the Middle East before, but the imagery that Alwyn crafts is extremely evocative. The constant sand, the dry feelings... It's another aspect that makes you feel exhausted after reading this book, because it triggers all of the senses. Not many authors can get a good mix of action and description this early in their careers; it's impressive.
I also loved the female empowerment from Amani, and later from Shazad. As girls they're told that they can't do anything but marry and bear children, but they both prove that they can be so much more than that. A core belief of Ahmed's rebellion is the fight for women's equality; you can't get much more feminist than that. 

This series has so much potential. With all of the various creatures being introduced (Skinwalkers, Nightmares, Buraqi, Djinn) we don't have much time to explore the possibilities with all of them. I'm already excited to see what happens in the coming books, because I think it's just going to get more dangerous and exciting from here. 
The rebellion is only just getting started at the close of the book, so I'm sure that it's going to be more politically charged second novel, but I'm intrigued and will continue this series
I'd recommend this book as long as you're patient: it is very slow, and if you like a fast read that dives into a well-developed and clearly explained world, you'll end up tearing your hair out.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five characters I defend

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

There aren't many characters that I like that everyone hates, so I'm not often pushed to defend anyone. That means I'm having to choose a blend of book characters and TV characters.

5) Ross Geller
I love all the Friends characters equally. Why does everybody hate Ross?!?!

4) Molly Barlow
Molly cheats on her boyfriend with his brother, then cheats on his brother with him... She makes a lot of mistakes, but the boys are just as guilty and they hardly get blamed at all: damn society! 

3) Tate Langdon
Yes, Tate did a lot of bad things. He had been dealing with bullying and a mentally abusive mother for his entire life, so I still feel sympathetic towards him.  

2) Alice Cullen
Alice Cullen is the only decent Cullen, but so many people write her off just because she's part of the family. 

1) Jace Wayland
More specifically Jamie Campbell Bower's Jace: I think it was perfect casting, but a lot of people prefer Dominic Sherwood's portrayal! 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What characters do you always need to defend?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

'Asking For It' by Louise O'Neill

*This review will contain spoilers!*
"That's not how it happened." She stares up at me. "I told you what happened."
"But I wasn't there with you, was I? How do I know what really - "
"But I told you. I didn't want... I didn't want to."
"You didn't say no."
"I didn't say yes either."
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you will have heard of this book. After the runaway success of Louise O'Neill's debut novel, 'Only Ever Yours', her sophomore novel had everyone waiting with bated breath to see whether she could pull it out of the bag once more.
If you haven't guessed by the title of the novel or by the quote above, this is a book tackling the subject of rape; if you're sensitive to this issue and will feel uncomfortable reading this review, please look away now...

Emma O'Donovan is your stereotypical queen bee. She's beautiful and she knows it, and her best friends - Ali, Maggie and Jamie - know it too; Emma turns heads wherever she goes and is never lacking male attention. It causes some tension in their group of friends, particularly because Ali has a huge crush on local footballer Sean and he's attracted to Emma, often acting as though Ali doesn't even exist.
Despite Emma's beauty, she's popular too. She's very two-faced, acting sweet and sincere to someone's face and rolling her eyes as soon as their back is turned; she knows how to play people.
'I imagine them whispering to themselves once I'm out of earshot about how nice I am, how genuine, how I always seem to have time for everybody, how it's amazing that I can still be so down to earth when I look the way I do.
By the time final bell rings, I am exhausted. I have to smile and be nice and look like I care about other people's problems or else I'll get called a bitch.
People don't understand how tiring it is to have to put on this performance all day.' 
When she sets her eye on Jack Dineen, the breakout star of the football team, her friends know that Jack isn't safe; Emma O'Donovan always gets what she wants. Sean's throwing a big party to celebrate the game, and Emma insists they all go: Ali's excited because she might finally get a chance to grab his attention, but Jamie doesn't want to. Dylan (another member of the football team and the guy everyone thinks Jamie slept with last year) will be there, and she doesn't want to put herself in that situation, but Emma doesn't give her a choice.
On the night of the party it's pre-drinks at Emma's house. Jamie turns up drunk, so Emma takes lots of shots to try to deal with her irritating behaviour. Conor, her childhood friend and neighbour, tries to stop her - he's had feelings for her for years and would do anything to protect her - but she pushes him away; he's not the one she wants.
Things go from bad to worse when they arrive at Sean's. The living room has been hotboxed: Emma decides she needs some weed, because alcohol isn't doing enough. It's not like it's the first time she's taken drugs. She's wearing a gorgeous dress, slinky and black and cut down to her belly button, so it doesn't take long to catch Jack's eye... But then Ali's dragging her away because Jamie's being sick and she needs Emma's help.
She gets Jamie a lift home, but when she returns Jack's got his hands all over Mia, a fifteen-year-old friend of Sean's younger sister. Emma is furious. She's Emma O'Donovan, how could anyone resist her? She tries to make Jack jealous by flirting with Paul, one of the more well-known members of the football team, and Paul offers her drugs; she's fed up with people thinking she's predictable and boring, so she doesn't hesitate.
The MDMA hits, and Emma throws herself at Eli and then kisses Conor. She still wants to make Jack jealous and she knows Conor won't make anyone jealous, so she drags Paul off to Sean's parent's bedroom. She comes to her senses, deciding she doesn't want to have sex with Paul after all, but he forces her and she grins and bears it: the more it looks like she's enjoying it, the quicker it will be over.
Sean, Dylan and Emma's other friend Fitzy walk in just after they've finished and start doling out prescription medication; the combination of drugs and alcohol take effect and Emma blacks out...
The next day is a painful blur. Emma's parents find her on the doorstep burning in the sun; Ballinatoom is in the middle of a heatwave, and Emma's always had extremely sensitive skin. She can't remember how she got home and she can't stand up without being sick, but her mother's convinced it can only be sunstroke. There's no way her good girl would do anything stupid.
However, on her return to school on Monday all eyes are on her, and not in the normally appreciative way. She wonders if it might be the sunburn - everyone's so used to seeing her looking perfect, they just can't believe she'd have such dreadful luck! - but when the snickers and whispers start and her friends won't let her sit with them, she's certain there's something more malicious going on. When she confronts the group Maggie is spitting mad: Emma kissed her boyfriend, and she knew Ali liked Sean, so how dare she sleep with him? Emma's confused, protesting her innocence. She slept with Paul, not Sean! Where would anyone get that idea from?
But the proof has been posted all over Facebook. A page titled 'Easy Emma', filled to the brim with pictures of her in various states of nudity. Paul, Dylan and Sean all having their way with her. Sean being sick on her, Dylan pissing on her, and thousands of likes and comments below:
"Some people deserve to get pissed on."
It's true that she can't remember a lot of Saturday night, but there's no way she was that word. That word can't apply to her. She's Emma O'Donovan and no one takes advantage of her, no one abuses her, no one forces her to do things she doesn't want to do. She brushes it off, claiming that she was just pretending to be passed out in the photos, that it was supposed to be funny. But she can't get the images out of her head (pink flesh) (spread legs) and her brother Bryan convinces her to change her statement, and to tell the truth; she cannot remember the evening, and she didn't consent.

The story then jumps forward a year.
Emma's refusing to go to school, struggling to eat, and is under careful monitoring following two suicide attempts. The Ballinatoom case is worldwide news; her identity has stayed concealed, but everyone knows her story and what happened to her. #IBelieveBallinatoomGirl has been trending for weeks, but the support in her local area is all for the boys who raped her.
The likelihood is that the case is going to go to court, but it could take up to two years for it to get there, and when it starts the case could last more than two weeks. Emma's fed up with all eyes being on her:
'I had liked it before. I had encouraged them. (Maybe I had been asking for it).'
And she really just wants it to be over. Everyone is covering the case: local newspapers, The Late Late Show, radio broadcasts... Every single person has an opinion about what happened to her and an astounding amount of them agree: she was asking for it. She was wearing a low-cut short dress, she'd been drinking alcohol and had taken illegal drugs, and she was known locally for her promiscuity. What else could she expect?

It's taken me a few days to get around to writing this review, because 'Asking For It' is an emotionally draining read, and I needed a bit of distance before I felt able to revisit it. I'd originally given it five stars - it was a 4.5 that I decided to round up - but thinking about it over the last few days I've had to drop it down to four because there's just too much that isn't dealt with for it to feel like a completed novel.
This is the first book of Louise O'Neill's that I've read. Considering she only has two it's not that surprising, but 'Only Ever Yours' was one of the biggest releases of 2014; I should have picked it up by now. Because I hadn't experienced her writing before I hadn't expected to be so utterly absorbed. A book of this size (around 350 pages) would normally take me two solid days of reading, but I completed 'Asking For It' in one.
The thing that grabbed my attention was Emma being such a hateful character. As soon as she's introduced you can't help but dislike her; her self-absorbed attitude and her disregard for her friends make you want to slap her in the face. But no matter how horrible she is she doesn't deserve what happens to her - no one does! - and it completely changes your response to the character. As a reader, we can't help but feel sorry for her because we experience her inner turmoil and her struggle to come to terms with what she went through.
However, because of who she is, the characters are split in their opinions: the majority of them support the boys because of Emma's reputation. This wouldn't have worked if she'd been the quiet nerd, or the shy girl-next-door; Emma needed to be the queen bee to accurately portray societies response.
If you haven't heard of the Steubenville case I'll be surprised. Back in 2012, a high school student was assaulted at a party by multiple of her peers; the reason it became so high profile was due to them taking pictures of the assault and posting them all over various social media sites. It's obvious that Louise O'Neill has taken inspiration from that real life event, but by making Emma 18 - above the legal age for consent - and by setting the story in Ireland, it adds many more layers to the story. Ireland is well-known for its conservative attitudes, being one of the places that abortion is still illegal, so it was the perfect setting to explore reactions.
The issue that I have with this book is that it feels incomplete. There's a lot of debate regarding rape and slut shaming, both of which are very relevant topics, so it opens up the possibility of discussing the issues more as a society. A book like this being so well-known can be nothing but a good thing, because it will likely leading to a shift in outdated and harmful attitudes towards victims. Because Emma is promiscuous, people imply that she deserved what she got or that she probably enjoyed it anyway: this shines a light upon the fact that you need to give consent every time you sleep with someone. Just because you sleep around, doesn't mean everyone is entitled to a slice of your cake; you still need to agree to cut them a piece.
This book should also be able to help alter opinions about women as a whole:
"Girls are all the same," Dylan says, rolling his eyes. "Get wasted and get a bit slutty, then in the morning try and pretend it never happened because you regret it."
As a patriarchal society, men blame women any time that their reputations are ruined (e.g. it's not the man's fault he had an affair, it's the woman's fault for tempting him) and it's normally accepted, leading to the woman shouldering all of the blame. That definitely needs to be addressed. Emma keeps thinking to herself that she doesn't want to ruin their lives, but they should have thought about that before they raped her.
But other than the debates and sociological discussion starting points, the second half of the novel feels a little bare. Emma is trying to deal with what happened to her, but because she's struggling she pushes everyone away; all of the well-crafted characters that we were introduced to in the first half of the book don't really exist in the second.
As shown by the quote at the top of this review, Jamie had also been raped and after she confided in Emma she encouraged her to keep it a secret; it would have been fascinating to see their responses to each other after the accusations came to light, but they don't interact on the page again.
The ending of the book is extremely ambiguous: Emma withdraws her complaint, but it's possible that the Director of Public Prosecutions will still take it to trial on behalf of the state. Emma's mother gets a phone call and she calls Emma downstairs... That's where it finishes. If I knew there was going to be a sequel this would make a lot of sense, because it would be a wonderful cliffhanger to anticipate the resolution to - instead it just seems disconnected, and compared to the rest of the book it's disappointing.
I can understand why Louise chose to tell it in that way: rape convictions are often low, so going to a trial would likely end unhappily; if the DPP chose not to take it to trial the boys would have gotten away with it, which would also end unhappily. I just would have preferred a bit more closure, but that's my personal preference.
After the emotional rollercoaster of this book I'm not sure how long it will take me to get around to reading 'Only Ever Yours', but I do appreciate the fact that Louise O'Neill is not afraid to tackle contemporary issues that have a lot of tense discussion surrounding them. If you're a teenager - male or female - I would highly recommend reading this and thinking long and hard about your reactions to people; it's time we all stop judging each other and start letting people live their lives how they want to, without fear of repercussion.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books that get better with time

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

10) 'Red Rising' by Pierce Brown
This is cheating, because it was a five star book the first time I read it; it's just that when you reread this book you pick up on so many aspects that you missed first time around. 

9) 'Girl Online' by Zoe Sugg
I don't know if 'Girl Online' actually gets better, but when I think of it now I think of it affectionately. It feels like a children's book, though, so it's almost like reminiscing of a younger time. 

8) 'My Life Next Door' by Huntley Fitzpatrick 

I wasn't too excited by 'My Life Next Door', but I keep having this urge to reread it and dive back into Sam and Jase's story. I have a few other Huntley Fitzpatrick books to read first, so hopefully I'll fall head over heels in love with one of those!

7) 'This Song Is (Not) For You' by Laura Nowlin
There's still a lot about 'This Song Is (Not) For You' that bothers me, but I don't dislike it as much as I did when I read it - I appreciate the attempt to portray asexuality, and to include a relationship model that isn't typical. 

6) '99 Days' by Katie Cotugno
Because '99 Days' tells the story of 99 continuous days, I got a bit restless while I was reading it - not much seemed to be happening, and I just wanted to skip ahead. However, recently I've read some books that have skipped too much and I've felt lost, and I just need them to slow down and take more time with it; it makes me appreciate this book that much more.

5) 'The Darkest Part of the Forest' by Holly Black
I was really glad this was a standalone when I read it - I thought the story was flat, predictable and irritating. Now, though, I find myself wishing that there was a sequel, and that proves I must have warmed up to the book - at least marginally.

4) 'Silverwood' by Betsy Streeter
I wanted to like 'Silverwood', but I found myself disappointed when I read it. I've been dying  to go back to the world, though, and to reconnect with some of the super scary and original monsters that Betsy created; I look back on this one fondly, and I think if I reread it I would love it a lot more. The sequel hasn't been announced yet - hopefully that'll come soon!

3) 'Queen of the Tearling' by Erika Johansen
The more time passes since I read 'The Queen of the Tearling', the happier I feel about it. At this point I've forgotten all of the unnecessary filler description and how irritating Kelsea's character was - I can just remember the excitement, the fighting, the cleverly weaved perspective switches. Hopefully the sequel will be better, because I'm actually excited about it now. 

2) 'Savage Run' by E. J. Squires
E. J. Squires sent me a copy of 'Savage Run' for review and I was desperate to like it. I didn't. But the imagery in 'Savage Run' is so evocative that sometimes I find myself thinking "hm, what dystopian was that scene from?" and 9 times out of 10 I'm thinking of 'Savage Run' again. It's memorable, even if the writing isn't my cup of tea. 

and 1), a book that gets worse...
So I couldn't actually think of ten books that get better with time, but I could think of one that has diminished in my opinion over the months since I read it. I gave 'Landline' five stars, but for the life of me I cannot remember why.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! See you again next week. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Funeral For a Friend - O2 Forum, London, 21/05/16

This is one of the most heartbreaking reviews that I've ever had to write. It was sad when I saw Kids in Glass Houses for the last time. It bruised my soul seeing The Blackout's last ever festival appearance. But to attend the last show - not one of the last, but the last - of a band as legendary and influential as Funeral For a Friend?
I wasn't surprised when they announced their break-up. A band that have been together for fifteen years and had their most successful album sales a decade ago are bound to be at risk. Expecting it and accepting it are two extremely different things though: I still can't really believe the news, even though sitting here writing this review unquestioningly proves the band are done (for now at least, we can always hope for a reunion...).
It was an emotional evening when I saw their last Welsh show a matter of weeks ago, but I knew this one was going to be much harder to get through.

It helped that Zoax were the opening act for the evening. I've praised them multiple times before for their invigorating, enthralling performance; as soon as Zoax come on stage it's as though a spell has been cast, because it's impossible to pull your eyes away. Adam Carroll is magnetic as he paces up and down the stage, shifting from a guttural roar to a harmonic vocal, and I adore the variety that the songs from their brand new self-titled record (released last week) introduce into the set.
It's the first time that I've heard any of their new material live, and you can hear the development that Zoax have been through over the last year. Instead of the frenetic, barely contained energy ripping the stage apart, the guitar work is more nuanced, while the drumming drives the songs forward at such a fast pace that it felt like their set was over before it had even begun. The shift between indecipherable growling and beautifully clear vocal is always a popular style (think Of Mice and Men) but being able to use one vocalist to do both, rather than having two, makes them stand head and shoulders above everyone else.
I haven't seen Zoax in a room of this size before. The first time I saw them they were at the O2 Academy in Oxford, which is markedly smaller than the one in Kentish Town (almost exactly half the capacity) while the second time they were opening a stage at Takedown Festival, meaning that their crowd was much smaller. At both of these shows Adam worked his way out into the crowd and performed in the audience; considering the size difference I definitely hadn't been expecting him to try that at this show.
But then 'Bitter.Angry.Fake' began. The only non-album track to make it into the set, coming from their 2014 EP 'XIII', it's filled with a vicious energy. When Adam stepped off of the stage and started walking around the crowd you could feel the anticipation in the air - where was he going? What was he doing? - and when he started up the staircase towards the balcony I was ecstatic; I had seating tickets, and it meant I still felt involved in Zoax's set despite being distant from the crowd. Walking along the front row of seats, Adam chose a spot to stop and sing, leaning down to the person next to him and asking "on a scale of 1 to 10 how fucking awkward are you?". It's a ballsy move for an opening act to be so interactive with the crowd as the likelihood is that they haven't purchased tickets just to see you, but Adam owned the room.
He didn't bother to return to the stage for 'The Bad Blood', heading straight out into the middle of the crowd and clearing a gap for himself. Again, he joked around with the crowd, pointing to one of the guys stood at the front of his circle and quipping "he looks so fucking scared!". Pacing in the circle, throwing himself into the performance, Adam is a man possessed by his music, and you can see how much he feels every note played up on the stage.
Closer 'The Wave' is a devastatingly gorgeous song. Stripped back, toned down, there's no screaming but there is an extremely powerful vocal performance that proves once and for all that Adam can sing; as though there could be any doubt left following the rest of the set. Dedicating the track to Funeral For a Friend, Adam thanked the band for all that they'd done for Zoax, stating that the invite to support them on their final tour "was a childhood dream", because he could remember buying 'Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation' and being blown away by it. You could see how much effort he was putting in to the performance, and it was very tender and emotional; the perfect closer for the first set of the night. 
Zoax are playing Download festival next month, so if you're attending the festival theirs is one set you can't afford to miss.

Ksychia (*)
Lonely Souls
Roses All The Way
The Bad Blood
Devil Dance
The Wave

(*) song title found on 

Fresh from supporting Andy Black on his first UK solo tour, Creeper were a late addition to the bill after the announcement of the rescheduled dates. As it came close to their stage time the room fell to darkness, the piano music piping through the speakers inducing a creepy atmosphere and tossing a blanket of silence over the expectant crowd, the only light illuminating the giant heart logo emblazoned on their backdrop. This kind of entrance is normally reserved for the headline act, and with vocalist Will Gould's swaggering confidence and songs as catchy as the singalong-centric 'Valentine' and recent single 'Black Mass', Creeper are definitely headline material.
Despite the fact that they were taking the room by storm, stirring the rapidly growing crowd into a frenzy, Will pronounced "tonight is not about our band, tonight is about a very special band who we've had the privilege of opening for multiple times".
It turns out that Creeper exist thanks to Matthew Davies-Kreye, Funeral For a Friend's vocalist. Before 'Astral Projection', which they dedicated to the band, Will shared a story about his and Ian Miles' (one of Creeper's two guitarists) old band - Our Time Down Here. The band broke up a few years ago, but before the split Matt went to see them play in Swansea "a small DIY show [with] no one there". Despite the fact that the band were breaking up, Matt listened to their record 'Midnight Mass' "and he paid his own money to get that pressed to vinyl". Yes, that's right, they'd already announced their split and Matt thought their album was so good that it deserved an investment. It's always been a well-known fact that Funeral For a Friend have supported the upcoming music scene, nurturing new bands as though they were helpless baby birds; it's a testament to them that the members of a band they helped have started a new project and have played with them multiple times (Creeper's first ever tour was opening for Funeral For a Friend). Will couldn't thank Matt enough, stating "there are only so many times we can start again when struggling, and we started again because of Matt. If one of our idols cared about what we were doing, it couldn't be that crap. [...] We, as a band, as well as other people, owe a lot to Funeral For a Friend".
You could see that Will was getting emotional towards the end of their set, particularly before they played 'Henley's Ghost'. He explained that they normally close their sets with this song, but "this evening feels a lot more significant, because once this is done Funeral come on stage for the last time ever, so I kind of don't want to finish talking...". The crowd all cheered along to this; I don't think anyone would have been angry at all if Creeper had refused to leave the stage, not allowing that final set to ever begin. It was a consolation that their final song was so beautiful; similarly to Zoax, they finished on a comparatively chilled out song rather than choosing one with a fast beat, and it definitely pushed Will's vocal to the limits. I hadn't realised quite how powerful his voice was, but I was struck by the similarity to the late and great Freddie Mercury with his flamboyantly extravagant way of tackling every song he performed.
I'd forgotten how brilliant Creeper were live, but I'm not going to allow the knowledge to slip my mind again. I wasn't that interested in seeing them at Slam Dunk because of the close proximity to this show (I'm attending Slam Dunk next Monday) but - set clashes permitting - I'm going to have to fight my way into the Fresh Blood room to see them own that crowd too.

Black Mass
The Honeymoon Suite
Astral Projection
Lie Awake
Henley's Ghost

After two such brilliant - nay, flawless - support sets, Funeral For a Friend needed to pull out all the stops to steal the show. Being their last show, they had to put on the headline show of their lives; it would have been a bit embarrassing if they'd been overshadowed by one of their support acts! But when they walked out on stage the two bands that came earlier were completely forgotten. Before any of the members had played a note on their instrument, the applause and cheering from the crowd was deafening. Matt thanked everyone, saying that "we never in a million years thought we'd be in the situation" and that the band were "incredibly humbled [...] incredibly grateful" for the welcome that the crowd was giving them. As this was an album in full show, he introduced it by saying "for the very, very last time, we're Funeral For a Friend, and this is 'Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation'"; the band then dived straight into the playback of their extremely successful debut album.
When 'Casually Dressed...' was released thirteen years ago, it debuted at number 12 on the UK album charts. It hit gold certification within a year, which is an extremely impressive feat for any band; it shows just how much of an impact their two EPs ('Between Order and Model' and 'Four Ways to Scream Your Name') made on the scene. Its popularity has not diminished with the passing years, that much was apparent the moment the opening chords of 'Rookie of the Year' blasted out into the venue, causing the crowd to surge forward in a sea of movement that tossed and turned relentlessly for the almost two hours of their set.
If you've seen Funeral For a Friend before, and you thought that songs like 'Escape Artists Never Die' and 'Red is the New Black' were impressive, you want to hear them with over 2,000 people screaming along to every word. Whereas some of the recent tours that Funeral For a Friend have put on have been smaller, lower capacity rooms and with less shows selling out than they once managed, this tour united Funeral For a Friend fans past and present, old and new, and gathered a selection of rabid, enthusiastic fans that really wanted to show their love and appreciation for the band one last time.
As well as the fans going crazy, from my vantage point up on the balcony I could see the amount of people gathering around to watch the band from side of stage. The crowd included Adam from Zoax, who was enthusiastically air drumming to himself through the entirety of 'Bullet Theory'. When he then burst back on to the stage to perform the unclean vocal on 'Juneau' you could see how pleased he looked - as he mentioned during Zoax's set, he's been a fan of the band for years, so being able to say that he was on stage with them during their last ever show must be a surreal fact. The interaction between the two vocalists worked wonderfully: 'Juneau' has never sounded that good. They also had a co-vocalist on 'Escape Artists Never Die', their guitar tech Nash, and if he doesn't have another job lined up after this tour he should definitely consider starting a band, because his vocal was stellar as well.
I couldn't remember 'Moments Forever Faded', but when Matt introduced the song he was passionate in his speech regarding abusive relationships: "this issue still worries me all the time, how anybody in a loving relationship, or any situation, could willingly raise a hand to that personal and abuse them physically or mentally. Are we not civilized enough to realise that is not acceptable?". Sharing the fact that he was bullied in school, he urged "it's not wrong to seek help, it's not weak to look for a way out of that situation" - I'd forgotten how vocal Funeral For a Friend were about the issues in society that disturbed and upset them, and it was very appreciated by the crowd. The song did not ring any bells to me at all, but I'm going to make a concerted effort to listen to it more in the future, because it's very powerful lyrically.
As I mentioned earlier, the response to 'Red is the New Black' was utterly insane, and Matt took a moment before the song to thank the crowd once more. He claimed that it was "the most enjoyable yet saddest set [he'd] ever played in [his] life" before encouraging the crowd to sing the first verse without him joining in, just the audience and Kris's guitar. Stating "we've done this every single time on this tour and we've been keeping a tally of which audience is best [...] If I have to join in, it means you're fucking terrible!" that definitely wound the crowd up. I've been to a lot of shows where the audience have been encouraged to sing along unaccompanied and it often degrades into madness and mumbling: I've never heard a group of people louder or more in sync than at this show. If the rest of the crowds on the tour have been this enthusiastic, I can't imagine it's made the decision to break up any easier on the guys.
I'd also forgotten how beautiful 'Your Revolution is a Joke' was. With three of the members stepping off stage, it let Kris and Matt alone to perform the acoustic track: compared to the hectic guitar work and constant movement of the rest of the album, these few minutes were poignant, memorable and emotionally fraught. Matt's voice had never sounded better, clearly ringing out above the crowd, and I had goosebumps from the first moment until the last chord rang out.

Of course the album in full was going to go down well: the majority of the people who purchased tickets would have been familiar with the majority of the first section of the set, if not the entire thing. It had been a very long time since I'd heard the album myself (I hadn't been able to bring myself to listen to it before going to the show, because it was just too emotional) but memories of most of the songs came flooding back to me.
I still think of myself as a fairly new Funeral For a Friend fan (I have been a fan of them for seven years, but that's less than half of the time that they were together, so compared to the hardcore old school followers in the room I was a newbie) but they've been with me through good times and bad times over the last few years, and I'm really appreciative to them for being a staple part of my personal soundtrack.

The second half of the set was a selection of the other material they've released throughout their career, focusing on the early years. Bringing back original members Darran Smith and Ryan Richards for 'This Year's Most Open Heartbreak' was the most exciting moment of the evening: I'm not afraid to admit that I may have shed a little tear, seeing those two returning to give the band the farewell that they deserve. After the appearance of Adam during 'Juneau' I hadn't been expecting any more surprises, but that reunion was the icing on the cake that was this show. 
The saddest thing about this show - other than it being the last time Funeral For a Friend would play as a band - is that this was the best I've ever seen them play live. This was my fourth time seeing them, which I'm very grateful for (just twelve months ago I'd only seen them once, at their Reading festival 2013 appearance) but it was undoubtedly better than the previous three shows I'd experienced.
I don't know if it was the excitement from the crowd that invigorated the band, but I've never seen Matt jumping around as much as he did last night. Every other song he was bouncing along to the introduction, getting higher than I thought would be possible from standing, filled to the brim with an energy that has been lacking in the recent past. Maybe it was just the fact that it was the last show - throwing everything into it because it was the last chance to dance - but it was impressive; you wouldn't have been able to tell that he was 36 if he hadn't shared that fact later in the evening. It was ironic: Matt was moving around more than he normally would, and that would normally point towards a rougher vocal due to the breathlessness of the exercise, but - as I mentioned earlier - it's the best I've ever heard him sing, too. 'Casually Dressed...' sounded exactly as it did on the recording, and even jumping back to the earlier songs they sounded note for note perfect. There wasn't a dud moment at any point of the show, and the setlist in particular was crafted to perfection, despite the fact that Matt joked around "even at the end, the facade of professionalism, we still can't keep it up! Nobody's ever called us professional. Keeping the dream alive right until the last fucking show". Part of Funeral For a Friend's charm will always be that they were so down to earth; fame never went to their heads.
Later in the evening, Matt shared the origin story of Funeral For a Friend, something I'd never known before:
"Once upon a time there existed a band called January Thirst. They recorded one song for a Blackfish Records compilation - pretty fucking brutal - and a really close friend of mine screamed in that band, and he played it for me. And he was really fucking excited, and I was like 'Yeah, man!'. It was pretty fucking brutal. I wasn't a huge fan, to be honest..."
(At this point Kris interjected, quipping "16 years and you're telling me now, bro...")
"Then their singer left, and [Kris] says 'Do you wanna come along and try out for the band?'. What the fuck am I supposed to do in a band that sounds like that? But what the fuck, I'll do it."
So Matt went along to January Thirst's practice space - St Barnabus church, kindly provided by Kris's mother - and he tried out for the band. They all agreed that, with Matt's voice sounding like it did, they couldn't play "real heavy shit" anymore, so they started writing together... "We started playing some ideas, Kris has some lyrics and they were really fucking good lyrics", and within the next hour they'd created '10:45 Amsterdam Conversations'.  "It was a meant to be a demo, it wasn't meant to be for public consumption" but that became 'Between Order and Model', the EP that launched the band's career, in part because of how rough around the edges and independent it sounded. January Thirst were no more. Funeral For a Friend were born.
And following the story of their birth is the story of their demise. '10:45...' was followed by 'The Art of American Football' - which Matt dedicated to Funeral For a Friend, then called for a circle pit because it would be "the last circle pit that we'll ever fucking see!" - ...and then it was time for the last two songs that the band would ever perform. They'd picked the songs specifically, with Matt stating "these next two songs, if I were to explain to anybody what this band is about I would play them these two songs".
I'd looked up the setlist that they'd been doing at every other 'Casually Dressed...' in full show, and it had been 'History' and then 'Roses for the Dead', but I was elated when they switched the two songs to perform them for the final time. 'Roses for the Dead' has always been an emotional one - a tribute to all the people that Matt has loved and lost throughout his life - but it didn't seem like an appropriate song to be the last song.
Of course, the closer had to be 'History'.
But before performing it Matt took the time to thank every single person that was with them. Thanking Zoax, he called him "friends and brothers", praising them for "making music for the right fucking reasons, because it moves them". He joked about Adam interrogating him about Funeral For a Friend ("any story that he could possibly get out of us, any story to do with our band") and said that whenever he heard the word "legacy" he didn't think it would relate to them, because he "never thought we would be a band who would influence anything or anyone" and that was why they made the effect to "give something back to the scene that has nurtured us" because it's still relevant today. He also announced that Creeper "genuinely 100% deserve everything they've got coming their way", and he's right - there are big things on the horizon for those guys.
Personally thanking all of their crew, Matt announced "for us this is a family, regardless of everything, regardless of sales, it's about family, it's about finding a place" and if more upcoming bands could develop this mindset I feel as though we'd be getting a lot more success stories. You could hear that he was getting emotional when he was speaking, so it wasn't a surprise when he complained "fucking hell, I'm getting all fucking teary! Emo as fuck, yeah, we know!".
Joking that it wasn't fair because he's "the only guy that actively uses a microphone in this band", he also took the time to individually thank all of the other band members too: Casey, their drummer, "for killing it with us [...] truly and inspiring individual, incredibly talented and we've been lucky to have him"; Rich and Gav, who "stepped in and kicked this band's ass"; Kris, and "every single member past and present - thank you so much for fucking everything, for being the best bunch of guys to sound off ideas with, tell you that your riff is shit..." (causing chuckles from all the members, so it makes you wonder how often that was said!). Finally thanking "every single person who has ever given a single fuck about our band, we love you very, very, very much" the room erupted in a roar of cheers, the chant of "Funeral! Funeral! Funeral!" echoing around the room. Feet stamping, hands clapping, every member of the crowd were showing appreciation for a band who didn't just catapult their genre into the limelight, but a band who have fought against adversity, persevered through line-up changes and independently releasing multiple albums, and who have done it all with a grateful, thankful attitude.
Introducing 'History', Matt shared that it was about "standing up for what you believe in, never letting go of your dreams, your aspirations" and enthusing "fight for it!". As soon as the song started you couldn't hear Matt's vocal, but this wasn't a technical hitch: the crowd was singing along so loudly that they were almost over-powering the speakers. The song passed in a flash, feeling like just seconds had passed before it was over, and then that was it; the end of Funeral For a Friend.
The band stood on stage thanking the crowd, Matt falling to pieces and the other members rushing to console him (including Darran and Ryan, who had been watching side stage but sped over to comfort their friend). The chant started up again, this time more raucous than before (if that was even possible!) but then some members of the crowd started singing the end of 'History' again, and before long the entire room was joining in on the impromptu singalong:
"Archers in your arches, raise your fingers for one last salute, and I bleed this skyline dry, your history is mine."
Every member looked so touched, with Matt drying his eyes and singing along with everyone, before raising his hands in a heart shape and thanking the crowd.
It was utterly heartbreaking, but it was also one of the most memorable moments of my life; I don't think I'm going to be able to listen to 'History' for a while without getting overcome with emotion.

Rookie of the Year
Bullet Theory
Juneau (ft. Adam Carroll)
Bend Your Arms to Look Like Wings
Escape Artists Never Die
Moments Forever Faded
She Drove Me To Daytime Television
Red is the New Black
Your Revolution is a Joke
Waking Up
This Year's Most Open Heartbreak (ft. Darran Smith and Ryan Richards)
Kiss and Make Up (All Bets Are Off)
10 Scene Points to the Winner
You Want Romance?
10:45 Amsterdam Conversations
The Art of American Football
Roses For The Dead

It sucks that Funeral For a Friend have split, I'm not going to lie to you. But I'm ecstatic that they managed to go out on such a high note, with everyone supporting them; the crowd at the show was utterly brilliant, and the response could not have been better. Whatever they choose to do next, I hope the guys stay in the music industry and keep making the scene a better place - their impact and influence will not be easily forgotten.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Busted - Genting Arena, Birmingham, 20/05/16

When it was announced that Busted were getting back together, my little heart nearly imploded. It was the biggest and best piece of news I'd ever heard. I'd see McBusted, I'd seen Charlie Simpson performing his solo material, but combining the two forces and getting the band back together?! Insanity. 

I wasn't too excited when Emma Blackery was announced as the opening act, because I'm not a fan of the Youtube musical generation. It just seems like an excuse for mediocre teenagers to become famous.
However, I enjoyed her set much more than I'd expected. She exploded on to the stage with newest single - and EP title track - 'Sucks To Be You', grabbing the crowd's attention with her shiny silver varsity jacket and her upbeat attitude. The EP is being released next week, and she played three songs off of it (the fourth song in her set being older song 'Perfect'); all of the songs have a strong pop-punk vibe - some of the guitar work reminding me strongly of Kids in Glass Houses - but to me the songs are a bit dated.
If Emma Blackery was just starting off in the early 00's, she would be a roaring success. This is why her slot supporting Busted works so well! Her style is similar to that of early Avril Lavigne or TaTu: guitar-driven pop anthems with extremely predictable, strictly rhyming lyrics ("You go and make the pitch that you're ex-girlfriend's a bitch!") and while that was popular a decade ago, it's just not something that sells well today.
I'm hoping I'm wrong, and that Emma's EP will gain her some mainstream attention; the songs are very catchy and fun, and I'm definitely going to be buying it which is not something I thought I'd be saying this time yesterday!

Sucks To Be You
Look What You Made Me Do
Let Me Be

Similarly to Emma Blackery Wheatus's set felt a little dated, but that's because over half of the songs in their set were over a decade old. I saw them four years ago, but it definitely doesn't seem that long, because I could remember 'Lemonade' and 'Leroy' despite not listened to them since. The band might not have had a ragingly popular song since 'Teenage Dirtbag', but you can't deny that they know how to write a catchy song.
However, I did find their newer material a little boring. With two harmonizing female backing vocals and the repetitive "Josephine, don't be mean" refrain, 'Fourteen' actually got on my nerves a little bit, which surprised me. I feel as though Brendan Brown's vocal is so nasal and unique that it only really works in isolation: as soon as you put backing vocals with it it's overpowered and doesn't have the same appealing quality.
'Only You' was interesting enough - a new song dedicated to fandoms, inspired by Brendan nearly getting punched at a show in Margate for covering a One Direction song. It encourages all kinds of fan behaviour, despite the fact that people often mock and patronize them for their obsession with bands - for a crowd as excitable and hysterical as this one, it was well-accepted.
Of course, 'Teenage Dirtbag' was the moment of the evening. If you want to see a room of 15,000 people go from seating to standing in 0.5 seconds, announce "Let's do the 'Teenage Dirtbag' song!" and it will happen. Whereas the crowd had been listening politely for the entirety of their set, every person there was instantly involved and singing along to every word. Brendan let the crowd sing the female part of the song (you know the bit: "I've got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby") completely unaccompanied and applauded them furiously afterwards, shouting "that was great! I heard harmony, I heard everything!". I can imagine the response has been as enthusiastic every night of the tour, and while it's a shame that the rest of their songs are being unappreciated, getting that reaction can't be a bad thing.
Hopefully this tour will be the what Wheatus needed to relaunch their career and release some huge hits in the future. 

A Little Respect
Only You
Teenage Dirtbag

Busted are undoubtedly the band that I've been listening to the longest. I can remember dancing around my house when 'Year 3000' was released, tiny Alyce getting all excited and boogieing, thinking about women with three breasts... Yeah, Busted aren't the most child-friendly band, but that's why they still appeal to me as an adult.
Because of that, the wide range of audience ages at this show was astounding. You have people who must have been adults when Busted broke up, people who were just children (me!) and a large chunk of people who wouldn't have even been born, but discovered the wonders of Busted through the McBusted collaboration with McFly or were introduced to the band by their parents. Bands often have very specific target audiences, so it's impressive when a band can traverse those lines and appeal to everyone.
For them to have returned after a decade, and to be releasing new material instead of just touring the old songs? It's an impressive feat, especially when you consider how intimidating it must have been for the band to take that leap and release new music after such an extended hiatus.
The tension built quickly in the arena, reaching a fever pitch when the giant pig balloon started making its way around the ceiling above the crowd (cleverly attached to the backpack of a pig-mask wearing member of the crew). With a tour called 'Pigs Can Fly', it would have been stupid not to make the most of it with such an over-the-top prop! The arena had music playing while the band set up (if you've been to any kind of show you'll know this is the norm) but Busted's intro tape regularly burst through the music with flashing lights and jarring static; when the tape eventually started, showing people riding the bus and walking around cities wearing the pig masks, I worried that my eardrums were going to burst because the screaming reached such a high pitch.
Starting off with their new release, 'Coming Home', was a ballsy move - I hadn't heard it until the show because I was skeptical about the new songs, but it's written in a more mature and rock-centric way than their earlier material, so it stands out from the crowd. It received a good reception, though: whether that was because it was the song that the band entered the show on, or because the audience have accepted it that easily, I'll never be sure.
Of course they performed all of their greatest hits, and they were all performed brilliantly. I enjoyed them when I saw them with McFly two years ago, but there's something about hearing the songs as they were intended - with Charlie's lower voice contrasting brilliantly to the higher pitches of James Bourne and Matt Willis, grounding the songs - that is just so much sweeter. This was particularly apparent on 'You Said No', which Charlie performs lead vocal on; it felt like there was something missing last time I heard it, but it was utterly perfect this time around. All of the songs were on the same level, as well: they often weren't vocally perfect, but it's been years since any of them had been touring this constantly so they're allowed to be a little rough around the edges! There were no songs that felt unnecessary in the set, and they crammed as much as they could into the evening (eighteen songs!) without it getting boring or repetitive.
As well as 'Coming Home', they performed two other new songs: 'Easy' - performing on the second stage in the middle of the crowd, with James playing the piano - and 'One of a Kind', which they played on their return to the main stage, standing in large boxes of light reminiscent of The 1975. 'Easy' was beautiful, bordering on being a ballad, while 'One of a Kind' had a funky beat - caused by James playing the keytar - that was so modern and will obviously chart when it's released as a single.
The band were very much looking forward to the future. Matt shared the fact that they went to a studio in Philadelphia when they decided to attempt a reunion, determined to be able to release new music rather than just living in the past. The fact that they've already put three of those songs into their live set is an extremely good sign, and with James stating that they can't wait to start recording and releasing "some new [records]" (very specifically stating some), it looks like Busted could be back on the scene for a few years to come.
The chemistry between the band members is undeniable. Dancing towards each other and sharing microphones, you can tell that they really are friends again: it isn't just a polite working relationship. Charlie was beaming through the entire night, occasionally cutting himself off mid-lyric to laugh or smile at the crowd - as he was the one that broke the band up in the first place, I hadn't been expecting him to be so overtly happy to be part of the trio again, but you can tell he wishes he'd never left.
This reunion isn't a cash grab. Busted aren't going anywhere.

Coming Home
Air Hostess
Falling For You
Everything I Knew
You Said No
That Thing You Do
Dawson's Geek
Who's David (second stage)
Easy (second stage)
Meet You There (second stage)
One Of a Kind
Thunderbirds Are Go
Sleeping With The Light On
Crashed The Wedding
What I Go To School For
Year 3000

Friday, 20 May 2016

'The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo' by Catherine Johnson

*This review will contain spoilers!* 
'If she acted like a princess, then that is what they would all see.'
Mary Willcox is found unconscious on the Bristol road, just outside of Almondsbury, in May of 1819. Following the betrayal of the man she loves, the death of her son she was travelling from London to Exeter by foot. After a brutal attack by two men on the roadside, Mary decides she will no longer be herself: she will become the Princess Caraboo, a strong, independent, fearless member of a distant royal family. Speaking in gibberish, she feigns a lack of understanding, disappearing into herself and becoming Caraboo.
Cassandra Worrall, the daughter of the residents of Knole Park, 'the biggest and most important house in the district', is in the local inn when Caraboo is discovered - she insists upon taking her home, as her mother studies anthropology and she is certain she will be curious about the mysterious woman that has been found.
Cassandra's father and her brother Fred both disbelieve Caraboo instantly, certain she must be tricking them to get money, so her mother sends for famous seaman Captain Palmer and the phrenologist and electrical expert Professor Heyford. Heyford is unconvinced, but Palmer is also skilled in the art of deception: he pretends to talk to Caraboo in her own language, crafting an elaborate backstory to explain how she came to be in England.
After getting Caraboo's identity corroborated, Fred begins to have feelings for her: she's one of the only women who has ever seen him for who he is. But with Palmer threatening to expose Caraboo for the fraud she is, she knows she needs to get away from Knole Park as soon as she possibly can.

I had a lot of problems with this book.
I feel as though I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't recently read 'The Lie Tree' by Frances Hardinge, which is set fifty years later but it feels older; it has a genuine historical air around it. Something in the narrative of this book felt modern, so I was struck with a constant sense of disconnect. It still had the same historical accuracy with rampant sexism and racism:
 "[Mrs Worrall] is intelligent - for a woman. And an American"
and, my personal favourite:
"I believe that by the twenty-first century all over languages will decline into obsolescence. English will be paramount. It is a far superior language to any other. Indeed, my thesis is that other tongues are poor substitutes; merely half-based gropings towards the proper and most ideal form of communication that is the English tongue." 
but the dialogue used and the interactions between the characters didn't have any marked differences to how people interact today. Based off of other historical novels I've read, it would have been a lot more discriminatory than barbed comments when someone's back is turned, particularly towards a woman who is openly interested in the sciences.
After reading the author's note at the end of the book, I was surprised to discover that 'The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo' was based off of a real story from 1817. Catherine Johnson explains that she edited some of the core facts, particularly that the Worralls never had a daughter, so she crafted Cassandra from scratch.
I can imagine that she did this to portray the attitude of society towards women in the 1800's, but Cassandra is a caricature. Her affections flit from one boy to the next (specifically between Edmund Gresham, Fred's best friend, and the local innkeeper's son William) and all she really talks about is the boys and her clothing - it's so stereotypical that it hurts. Having a mother who is interested in the sciences, you'd think that Cassandra's character could have a bit more substance, but she's so materialistic and fickle it's a waste of potential.
As well as the wasted potential of Cassandra, her parents were completely overlooked as well. Mr and Mrs Worrall don't even get given first names! He works in a bank, she's interested in anthropology, and while that makes their relationship interesting we don't get to see them interact at all - they even call each other Mr Worrall and Mrs Worrall. That aspect doesn't make a lick of sense to me.
I did appreciate Fred's character and the development that he underwent: from being a spoilt rich boy who regularly visited the strip clubs around London, he became someone who was able to forgive Caraboo for lying to his family. At the beginning of the book Fred's character is the least palatable, but he matures by the end.
Other than the hateful characters, the story of Caraboo was interesting enough: she lies to the family, gets caught in her deception and has to convince Fred to let her leave, saving his family the embarrassment of their naivety becoming public. The plot is really pushed along because of the fear of discovery, so when we don't see that play out it's a little disappointing, but it makes you feel happy for Mary Willcox after all that she's been through. She genuinely didn't mean any harm towards the Worralls.
This would have been a four star book... if it hadn't been for the damned epilogue. After Fred agrees she can leave she sets her thoughts to America - she's determined to get passage on a boat and make her fortune in a new country that's more accepting of everyone.
However, then the epilogue comes along. Caraboo is in New York, and Fred walks in to the shop where she's working because he hasn't been able to stop thinking about her for the last year. She thanks him for his help with the police when the story broke... Wait, what?!
Yep, everyone finds out that the Princess Caraboo was a complete fraud, and we don't get to see how or why that news becomes public. She leaves in the middle of the night, no one around to watch her go, and her and Fred have a perfectly crafted cover story. What the hell went wrong?
Fred then shares the fact that Cassandra and Edmund have gotten married, and it made me groan and cover my face with despair. She decided she couldn't be with Will because he focused too much on his lack of money, so she married the lothario from down the road just because he was from the same world as her. It's just so stereotypical.
But my biggest question: how did Fred find her in America? She didn't share with him where she was going, she hasn't sent them letters and the telephone wasn't invented for another fifty years so I can't imagine she gave him an international call. This is something else that must have happened between the body of the main book and the epilogue. It feels as though the story wasn't finished and needed a few more chapters in there - either that or for the epilogue to have been scrapped, because it leads to a lot more questions than it answers.
It feels more like a first draft than a finished product: it's not a complete story. That, combined with the amount of errors splashed throughout the book definitely makes me think it needed another run through from the proofreader. I don't normally factor errors in to my reviews - sometimes mistakes are made, things are missed, we're all human - but when the chapters started with a date and a location, and the date changes from 'May 1819' to 'June 1819' when it's still the same day, and then reverts back to May two chapters later... It's acceptable if there's time travel in the book, but unfortunately there's none of that here.
Of all of the YA Book Prize nominees that I've read so far, 'The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo' has sadly been the most disappointing.