Wednesday, 31 August 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books I'll never read

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

It's very difficult for me to say I'm NEVER going to read a book. I don't know if I'll change my mind, or if my reading tastes will shift, or if I'll pick up a book just to see what all of the fuss is about.
These are five books that I might read eventually, but I don't have any intention of picking them up any time soon.

5) 'The Second Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir
I know it's like the feminist text to read, but I just can't connect with the language. I'll work my way through it eventually, but I don't feel up to the task just yet.

4) 'Dead Until Dark' by Charlaine Harris
Image result for true blood dead until dark
The same goes for all of the True Blood books. I bought them all, never bothered to read them, and now don't have the slightest inclination to pick them up. Whoops!

3) 'Throne of Glass' by Sarah J. Maas
Image result for throne of glass maas
There's too many books in this series already, and knowing she's planning on churning out more and more... I just don't think I can be bothered to start this series. 

2) '50 Shades of Grey' by E. L. James
I bought the entire trilogy from a charity shop (yay, supporting good causes!) because I'm interested in reading it just to see what all the fuss is about. Some people saying it's amazing and subverts stereotypes, some people say it's filled with errors and plays into all of the stereotypical cliches. I'd like to make up my mind for myself, but I don't really have the time to waste on it. 

1) 'How To Be A Woman' by Caitlin Moran
I borrowed 'How To Be A Woman' from the library, read the first five pages and couldn't get any further. After scanning a few reviews on Goodreads I could see why I couldn't gel with it and that scared me off for good - it definitely doesn't seem like I'm going to agree with Caitlin's views.
I might give it another go eventually, or one of her other books, but for now I'm not interested.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Are there any books you really don't want to read?

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sleeping With Sirens - Union Chapel, London, 25/08/16

Image result for sleeping with sirens acoustic

State Champs blew me away.
I'd expected them to be good - they released an EP titled 'The Acoustic Things' back in 2014, and guitarist Ryan Scott Graham is also the sole member of Speak Low If You Speak Love, so it's not like they're unfamiliar with the acoustic thing - but I hadn't anticipated them being capable of almost stealing the show.
After I saw State Champs headline The Hippodrome I decided to listen to them more, but almost a year has passed and I still haven't done that. Experiencing their half an hour set tonight, I have no idea why, but I know for a fact that I'll be doing everything I can to get to their set opening the main stage at Reading on Sunday.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Derek DiScanio's vocal tone is one of the most aurally-pleasing I've ever encountered. Put that voice in a live environment, combine it with beautiful guitar work and multiple appearances of the fabled percussive egg... That's a beautiful mixture. It was appropriate that the show was being held in a church, because it was as though we were genuinely hearing the voice of an angel.
I'm joking: about the angel thing, not about Derek being a wonderful singer. If there was any doubt in my mind, it was completely erased during 'If I'm Lucky', which Derek performed completely solo. Tyler Szalkowski rejoined him to play 'Stick Around' for the first time since 2014, and based on the cheers that erupted from the audience when Derek announced the name of the song it's definitely a fan favourite despite its age (and the fact that it originated on one of their EPs, rather than their debut album).
Going by the audience, it would have been easy to assume this was a State Champs headline show. Derek encouraged the crowd to sing along if they knew the words and from the first note of 'Elevated' the people singing their heart out to every word almost overpowered him. It was certainly the most pop-punk choir I've ever heard! He joked that he "thought it was going to be a quiet stare at us show, but you guys are doing just fine", enthusing "you sound brilliant" as the singing grew louder and more passionate. State Champs were already announced as support when this show went on sale, and based on the reaction to them it seems like a large portion of the crowd might have bought tickets purely for these guys.
A complete contrast to the "sweaty packed show at the Underworld" that they put on the night before, Derek excitedly shared that it was "probably the most unique, different show we've ever got to play". State Champs own the room when they perform acoustically. Yes, they do pop-punk well, but it looks like they might do acoustic even better... Don't be too surprised if they announce an acoustic tour sooner rather than later. 

Simple Existence
Losing Myself
If I'm Lucky
Stick Around
Easy Enough

Notice how I said that State Champs almost stole the show? That's because nothing can beat Sleeping With Sirens when they perform acoustically. Just look at the success their acoustic EPs ('If You Were a Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack' and 'Live and Unplugged' respectively). It's unprecedented.
Put that talent in a live environment, you have something special. Make that live environment a structurally beautiful church with amazing acoustics and an enthusiastic fan base? You're in for the show of your life.
Successfully mixing all of the eras of their career in a varied and well-crafted set, this was the Sleeping With Sirens show that I'd always wanted to see. There were songs I'd never heard live before reimagined in the acoustic style, interspersed with multiple covers: Sublime's 'Santeria' and 'Iris' by The Goo Goo Dolls, with snippets from 'Killing Me Softly', 'Can't Get No', and - bizarrely - Nickelback's 'Photograph'. If I were to say there was something for everyone at this Sleeping With Sirens show, I wouldn't be lying.
Of course, the fact that the show was in a church became a strong motif through the set, and while it was bordering on cringe-inducing there were a few genuinely comical moments from vocalist Kellin Quinn. When introducing 'Scene One', Kellin quipped "this song's about love, so hopefully it will help you find love... Getting into your bedroom and doing what the Lord made you to do!". After encouraging everyone to stand up (being in a church the entire audience was sat in pews facing the stage), he ended the song by announcing "please be seated, God bless you!". Guitarist Nick Martin gestured the crowd to stand up at a few more points later in the evening, and like the loyal congregation listening to the Lord's words they all did: there's not much that the loyal fans of this band would question being asked to do.
Nick was certainly grateful to all of the fans in attendance, and not just for their unquestioning obedience to all of his demands. He took a moment towards the middle of the set to "say thank you to all the people who get there very, very early. Your dedication means the world to us, and getting to put on a show like this for you guys is awesome".
At the end of the set Kellin thanked everyone and said he actually had fun at the show, to which the crowd started cheering. He clarified "that's not about you, all respect to you guys, but that's about me. I actually had fun doing this, I had fun making music".
That much was obvious. Compared to shows I've seen in the past they were much more relaxed, all of the members were happily interacting with the crowd (drummer Gabe Barham even coming out from behind his kit to go up to the microphone and share how much fun he was having), and the interactions between the members themselves (including the witty banter flying back and forth across the stage) seemed much more jovial.
Kellin said early in the night that the set was "so weird and so different" because it was all coming from the band members: "if I forget the words and fuck up, that's on me. If we play the song too fast, that's on us too". If the increased risk of mistakes would make most bands nervous, it seemed to do the opposite to these five. I've never seen them look more relaxed or comfortable up on stage, every member having a big smile on his face.
This was a bucket list show for me. When I started listening to Sleeping With Sirens I always aimed straight for 'If You Were a Movie...', and getting to hear a couple of the songs from that EP live was a dream that I'd thought would be unattainable. When they announced the show in March I knew I had to be here, and while I wish there'd been less of a leaning towards the newer material and more older surprises, I also really appreciate and admire the work that they did to play a career-spanning setlist in a stage time of only an hour. I can't wait to see which songs they'll choose to perform as a full band at Reading.
With Kellin dedicating 'Santeria' to his friend Machine Gun Kelly, who was in the audience at the show, I'm keeping all of my fingers crossed that they might perform a certain collaboration at the festival on Sunday (Sleeping With Sirens follow State Champs on the main stage, while MGK is performing later in the day on the Lock Up stage). I'm going to be watching their entire set just in case, so here's hoping.
Nick did announce that they're going to start working on a new album soon, and they will be back over here "as soon as possible": I'm sure it's going to be interesting, whatever they do next. I just know that if they ever announce another acoustic show in the UK, I'm going to be there. This is an experience I already want to relive. 

Scene Five: With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear
Scene One: If I'm James Dean, You're Audrey Hepburn
Free Now
Who Are You Now?
Go Go Go
Santeria (Sublime cover)
Save Me a Spark
Iris (The Goo Goo Dolls cover)
The Strays
If You Can't Hang

Lower Than Atlantis - Oxford O2 Academy 2, 24/08/16

Strange Bones were a late addition to this show, being announced after it had already sold out, so not many members of the crowd had heard of them before. That didn't stop them from trying their hardest to engage the audience, and while it didn't exactly pay off they certainly put on a good show.
With their vocalist pacing across the stage, throwing himself into every second of their stage time and even performing an entire song out in the middle of the crowd, you couldn't accuse him of being complacent. Encouraging the crowd to chant along at multiple "woah-oh" moments, including that explosive opening to closer 'God Save The Teen', they had minimal response but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm. There was moshing and dancing towards the end of the set, but it felt as though Strange Bones hit their stride as the set was coming to a close. They need to concentrate on finding a way to engage the crowd earlier, especially with them only performing 20 minutes out of their 30 minute stage time.
I'd listened to Strange Bones in preparation for Reading festival (they're performing on the Lock Up stage on the Sunday) and I enjoyed their recorded music more than their live performance, but that's something that will improve with experience and a few more shows under their belts. They're stronger musically than vocally, but with this punk-infused sound making a comeback through bands like Slaves, Strange Bones couldn't have picked a better time to start making an impact on the scene. 

Pussy Galore's Flying Circus
S O I A (Sick of it All)
We The Rats
Give Me The Sun (Death To Fascists)
God Save The Teen

This is the third time I've seen Milk Teeth this year, following their Tonight Alive support slot and my brief visit to their set at Download. 2016 has been Milk Teeth's year, and the fact that they're playing halfway up the Pit on Saturday - at their debut Reading festival appearance, no less - is astounding.
Despite the fact that six months have passed, Milk Teeth are still playing the same set (with the exception of 'Burger Drop', which has been cut) and I'm assuming it'll be the same again at their Reading performance.
I don't really have anything different to say: I still admire the fact that they're bringing back the old-school female-fronted punk vibe, but playing the same set means there's nothing new to add.
'Kabuki' didn't work as well in front of this crowd. It was a jarring moment that contrasted oddly to the rest of the set, and a lot of people just talked through it: rude, but it shows that Milk Teeth need to think a bit more about the audience they're performing to instead of bashing out the same songs every time. This is something that'll get easier when they release more music and have more to choose between, because they only have an EP and an album at the moment which doesn't offer much variety.

Brain Food
Crows Feet
Melon Blade
Swear Jar
No Fun

Lower Than Atlantis disappointed me at this show.
That's not something I ever thought I'd say - I've seen headline shows and festival appearances and I've never left less than satisfied - but I think it's something a lot of fans were feeling after they walked offstage after 40 minutes, without saying thank you or even goodnight.
Don't get me wrong, I can understand why they did it: tickets were cheap, they needed an opportunity to practice before Reading, but I still felt a little cheated. Never before have I seen a band leave the stage, confusing their crowd so completely that they couldn't even chant for an encore. The entire room stood eagerly anticipating the band returning until the house lights snapped on and security began ushering people out of the building, no explanation as to why the end of the show was so abrupt.
The band tweeted afterwards explaining that the show was short because they needed to practice the exact set they'd be performing at Reading, but that feels like a cheap excuse to me. Did any of the band make the effort to shout "this is our last song!" after 'English Kids in America', before the riff to 'Here We Go' kicked in? Nope. If they had, at least the crowd would have been anticipating and accepting of the end of the show.
It was just weird. I've been to a lot of shows, and I've never seen anything like it happen before. It was disconcerting.
Until that moment, the night had been going fabulously. Running through all the biggest hits from the self-titled album reminded everyone exactly why it's their best-selling album to date: it's stuffed to the brim with bangers and all of them sound even better live. The "scream and shout" chant at the end of 'Words Don't Come So Easily', the viciously spitting 'Criminal' and the summer anthem 'English Kids in America' - hit after hit, filling up the set. It's going to work beautifully at Reading.
I just feel as though the older material still deserves a chance. Yes, 'Another Sad Song' - Mike Duce's depressing yet relatable anthem - still managed to squeeze in there, but the other fan favourites that they've released over the years were completely disregarded. It makes no sense to me. If the self-titled album had only just been released, it would be reasonable, but it's been out for a few years now and the band should have a better idea of how to craft a setlist that spans the entirety of their career.
The best moment of the night was definitely 'Work For It'. Considering that it was released less than a week ago, the amount of people in the room who already knew all the words was impressive: this small show was definitely for the most hardcore of Lower Than Atlantis fans. If they can get that kind of response to the song at the festivals then I'll be very impressed.
It's just a shame that the end of the night put such a dampener on what had been a note-perfect, almost flawless set. Next time lads, at least say goodbye so your fans understand that it's the end of the show.

Get Over It
Work For It
Words Don't Come So Easily
Another Sad Song
English Kids in America
Here We Go

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five books to read in 2016

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

I have a gazillion books I want to read, so trying to narrow it down to the five that I want to read this year? That was really difficult.
But I have managed to do it! Whether I'll actually be able to read them all in time remains to be seen...

5) 'Nothing Tastes as Good' by Claire Hennessy
When it comes to books about eating disorders I really struggle to read them. I pre-ordered 'Nothing Tastes as Good' and I was so excited to read it, but I haven't been in the right mindset to read it. I'm hoping that will change by the end of the year. 

4) 'Holding Up The Universe' by Jennifer Niven
Don't tell anyone I told you, but I was actually accepted to read and review 'Holding Up The Universe' on NetGalley! I'm hoping to read this sooner rather than later, but I also want to read 'All The Bright Places' before I read this one - hopefully I'll have time to get both of them done. 

3) 'Ulysses' by James Joyce
As soon as I started the #2016ClassicsChallenge, I knew I was going to get around to 'Ulysses'. I'm now over halfway through the year and haven't picked it up yet - I promise I will!

2) 'A Court of Mist and Fury' by Sarah J. Maas
I read 'A Court of Thorns and Roses' and I absolutely loved it, so it would make sense if I just continued on with the damn series, wouldn't it? BUT IT'S SO BIG. I struggle to read large books, and this can't be described as slim.

1) 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' by J. K. Rowling
If I read 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' by the end of the year, it'll mean I've also pushed myself to read the third and fourth installments in the series. I don't think I'll be able to get the whole thing completed just yet, but I'm still working on it!

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Are there any books you really want to read by the end of the year?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Good Charlotte - O2 Forum, London, 22/08/16

When Waterparks walked out on stage, I was surprised to see three people.
Of course frontman Awsten Knight and drummer Otto Wood were going to be in attendance, but after Geoff Wigington - backing vocalist, guitarist, band sweetheart - broke his hand on Warped tour, I'd expected to be watching a two-man band for the evening.
Imagine my surprise when the lights go up and there's none other than My Chemical Romance's Mikey Way on bass. Mikey recorded with the band on their EP, 'Cluster', but bringing him along for their UK live shows (which will presumably include their debut appearances at Reading and Leeds festivals this weekend) was a shock. A lot of people didn't notice the stranger on stage straight away - because a lot of the crowd weren't already familiar with Waterparks they probably didn't know what the members looked like - but when 'Crave' finished and Awsten joked "quick shout out to our bud here, Mikey... You may know him from a band called Korn!" the reaction was explosive. Wolf whistles and cheers erupted from the previously apathetic crowd, making Mikey look a little bit embarrassed and causing Awsten to crack up laughing.
Compared to the last time I saw Waterparks there were a heck of a lot more people, but the participation wasn't as enthusiastic as I'd expected. They had people crowdsurfing at Slam Dunk and shouting along to every word at their headline show, but at this show they had a rather lukewarm response (the only thing exactly the same being Awsten's love for Brendon Urie: "you're gay for Brendon Urie? Who isn't at this point!"). Awsten tried his hardest to get the crowd involved, inciting clapalongs and encouraging everyone to jump during 'Pink' (starting the song by calling out a guy in a black shirt in the crowd directly in front of him who refused to jump, begging "you can do this! If you don't do this I'm gonna cry myself to sleep tonight, tomorrow night, every night for the rest of this tour", enthusiastically yelling "oh shit, he did it!" when he finally joined in), but it seemed as though a lot of people were unwilling to give the support act a try. Considering the fact that Good Charlotte discovered Waterparks and made them who they were today - Awsten going so far as to call them "our dads" - you'd think that the crowd would have been more excited to see such a promising upcoming band.
I hadn't realised quite how vital Geoff is to Waterparks live show until experiencing one without him. Hearing Awsten performing his verse in 'Crave' rather than having the two contrasting vocals meant it was a lot less effective, and 'Silver' - which normally has Geoff screaming his backing vocal to a climactic end - fell flat. The reason this band is so exciting is because of the chemistry and connection between all three of the members, and it makes me even more disappointed in recent magazine articles that have focused solely on Awsten and his rising star: he's not the only member of the band, and Waterparks wouldn't be the same without the other two.
Waterparks still aren't used to seeing crowds of this size, despite their recent summer on Warped Tour. It must be a vastly different experience, coming to the UK and having people turn up to shows and know all of your lyrics, but when their full-length album releases towards the end of the year I'm hoping it'll get them even more adored on this side of the pond.
With the announcement of their upcoming American tour with Sleeping With Sirens, Tonight Alive and State Champs, they're going to get used to this many faces staring back at them every night - hopefully that'll add to Awsten's confidence, as he's still a little awkward with his onstage banter ("I ate y'alls fish, I ate y'alls chips... Not at the same time, I'm not a psychopath") but in a very endearing way. Awsten shared at the end of the set that they're going to be coming back to our shores fairly soon - they just can't share when yet. I am definitely going to be there.

Mad All The Time
No Capes
I'm A Natural Blue

Honestly, I only bought my tickets to this show to see Waterparks. Good Charlotte were just an added bonus!
Good Charlotte are a band that I've never fallen in love with, but I've always appreciated. Having grown up watching Kerrang! I knew a lot of their songs through passive consumption, but I don't actively listened to them (okay, that's a lie: I love 'Cardiology', the one album they played no material from in this set...). I hadn't expected the visceral response that continued through every second of their hour and a half stage time.
Bands of this age have songs that everyone knows. If you think you don't know a single Good Charlotte song, go and listen to 'The Anthem', 'Girls and Boys', 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'... You'll know them, even if you didn't know who they were by. But most of the people in this room knew all the words to every single song. It's impressive when you consider that the band's debut album is 16 this year: these songs age so well that you honestly wouldn't guess most of them were released over a decade ago.
Only playing four songs from new album 'Youth Authority' was a brave move, because despite this being a warm-up show for Reading and Leeds it's also the release tour. I didn't listen to the new material before the show (with the exception of 'Makeshift Love', which I heard back when I saw them supporting All Time Low) but I found myself enjoying the new material more than most of the rest of the set. I hoped they would put more in: while it's good to hear the classic songs, it's also nice for new songs to get their time to shine, but with six albums worth of material to represent it's difficult to appease everyone.
Despite the fact that I wasn't completely familiar with a large percentage of the material, I found myself absorbed.  It takes a special band to hold my attention for 19 songs, but their time flew past and I found myself shocked when Joel and Benji started joking that every song they played was their last song. They didn't have a stereotypical encore: it was obvious everyone wanted more, so it saved time to squeeze more songs in. They're a no fuss band.
They do, however, know how to appreciate their fans. You don't often find humble rock stars who have been in bands for over 20 years, but both Maddens took the time to thank the crowd during the set. Dedicating 'Riot Girl' to all of the women in the crowd, they shared "we wanna take care of you and make sure you're having a good time", sharing before 'Life Changes' that this show was their "favourite moment of the year" and thanking everyone effusively for attending by saying "I can't help but think how lucky I am and how much you mean to all of us".
The most tender moment was definitely the introduction to 'Hold On', in which they thanked everyone, "whether you got into us last year or have been here for twenty years, we really appreciate you being here", and said to "anyone out there tonight going through something tough, a rough spot" that "most of the people in this room want to see you live to see another day". Show me a band that care for their fans more honestly and openly than Good Charlotte do, and I'll be shocked.
Claiming that London was the band's favourite place to play because "you guys just destroy every other crowd in the world" before reminiscing on the fact that it was "five or six... Seven years" since they'd last played a London headline show. They announced at the end of the show that they will be returning to London next year and will be playing an even longer set. Of course, if that fits in with my currently booked shows I'll be there. Fingers crossed the guys will choose to play some 'Cardiology' material next time - it's such a neglected album!
I'm not sure if I'll be able to see Good Charlotte headlining the Lock Up Stage at Reading, as there are going to be brutal stage clashes when the times are announced tomorrow: I'm anticipating that they'll overlap with both The 1975 and Biffy Clyro, and those are both sets that I'm not going to be happy to miss. 

The Anthem
The Story of My Old Man
My Bloody Valentine
Girls and Boys
Riot Girl
Life Changes
The Chronicles of Life and Death
The Motivation Proclamation
Hold On
The Outfield
Makeshift Love
Life Can't Get Much Better
Little Things
Young and Hopeless
The River
Dance Floor Anthem
I Just Wanna Live
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books that have been on my TBR forever

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

The actual prompt for this week is books that have been on your TBR since before you started blogging, but considering that I've only been blogging for two years and have been hoarding books on my Goodreads TBR for six years, I thought I'd go back a little bit further than that.
So without further ado, these are the books that I really should have read by now... 

10) 'Flowers in the Attic' by V. C. Andrews
This is a classic, so I'm actually hoping to get around to this one before the end of the year using the #2016ClassicsChallenge as my excuse. 

9) 'When We Collide' A. L. Jackson
This new adult romance might have an unappealing cover, but the synopsis means I still feel inclined to pick it up. 

8) 'Anna Dressed in Blood' by Kendare Blake
I only managed to get hold of 'Anna Dressed in Blood' a couple of months ago, so I'm planning on reading this one sooner rather than later. I adore ghost stories. 

7) 'Alice in Zombieland' by Gena Showalter
I own the entire trilogy, so I have no excuse not to get around to this zombie-themed Alice retelling. 

6) 'Ten' by Gretchen McNeil
I added this to my TBR because it was the story I always tried to write: teenagers getting murdered on an island in the middle of nowhere. I'm still very interested in reading this one, so I think I need to get around to buying it. 

5) 'Vampire Kisses' by Ellen Schreiber
When I was obsessed with vampires, I thought the 'Vampire Kisses' series sounded amazing - now it sounds more than a bit cliched. 

4) 'Dark Secrets' by Elizabeth Chandler
One of my very close friends recommended I read 'Dark Secrets', so I bought it... Then I was way too lazy and didn't get around to it. I don't know if I'll bother reading this one earlier, because it's been four years since I added it to my TBR. 

3) 'The End of Alice' by A. M. Homes
I've never read a bad book with a butterfly on the cover, so I was attracted to this one purely because of that. 

2) 'Red Riding Hood' by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright
One of the first young adult fairytale retellings in the recent uprising, I was interested in 'Red Riding Hood' when it was released, but I'm not so sure anymore. I did really enjoy the film adaptation, though. 

1) 'Passion' by Lauren Kate
...Yeah, this probably isn't going to happen. I'd need to reread the first two books, because I can't remember what happened in them at all, and I'm not too interested in angel books anymore. Maybe one day, though.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! Would you recommend I read any of these books, or have they also been waiting on your TBRs for years? 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Don Broco - Priorities x Automatic, Motion Bristol, 15-16/08/2016

Normally I would write these album in full shows as two separate reviews, but due to a lack of time and a supremely busy week approaching, I thought it would be worth combining this into the ultimate Don Broco album in full review post. 

London upstarts Massmatiks were the support for every night of the tour, so going into this I knew I was going to be seeing them twice. I wasn't surprised at all that they nearly played the same set both nights (choosing to switch out one song towards the end of the set) because they've only been around since 2012 - they don't have enough material to be able to do two completely different sets.
Despite tweeting the band to find out their stage time, I still missed the beginning the first night: I'm not sure if a lot of people decided to turn up after doors opened or if the queue was just that crazy, but for the first song and a half of their set I was waiting outside to get my tickets checked. I could vaguely hear them, because the doors to the venue opened out into the courtyard where we were waiting, so I'm fairly certain the setlist is correct (if you were there and it's wrong, please let me know!).

When I finally got through the door I was blown away by the ferociousness of Massmatiks onstage attitude. I've listened to both 'Gunning For You' and '4am' as these shows approached, wanting to get myself familiar with some of their material, but as studio recordings they're verging on lackluster. 
At a live show life is breathed into the songs, and based on the crowd reaction to both this is definitely a band that you need to experience rather than passively listen to.
I really appreciated getting to hear more of their material. 'Blank Walls' blew me away with its social commentary about keyboard warriors and the fact that "suddenly everyone knows everything about politics recently, and now the football's started everyone's a football manager, when really they know fuck all!". The catchy refrain "no one tells a lion how to hunt, no one tells a fish how to swim" has been cycling round my head for the last three days: their lyrics are simple, but because of that they're memorable and it won't take many listens before you're singing along to every word.
There's a video for 'Independence (A Lack Of)' on Youtube, but I hadn't listened to it before, so five of the songs in this seven song set were brand new to me. I wasn't surprised by the reaction to that as a closer - with it's "brap-ba-da-da" singalong it's infectious and impossible to resist dancing to. Vocalist George Peploe also managed to demonstrate the potential that he already has as a frontman by getting the crowd to crouch down and jump back up again, announcing "we've done this at every show so far and it's fucking gone off!". When small bands try to get the crowd involved in that sort of action you often find that the first few rows of people will happily get involved, but the majority of people will sit it out: thanks to the enthusiasm of Don Broco's fans and the small venue, almost everyone in attendance was down as soon as George suggested it. They're very lucky to be experiencing this kind of reaction so early on, and if they keep the ball rolling and release more music soon (particularly the aforementioned 'Blank Walls', which George shared they're soon going into the studio to record) it's going to be no time at all before these guys explode. 

When George challenged the audience to go home and listen to the songs they'd already released, stating "you got 24 hours to learn some of 'em", I knew the set they did on their second night was going to be even more energetic.
Luckily I managed to get in to the venue for the start, but with the queue still going around the block outside the room got sweatier and tighter as their set progressed. The crowd were a lot more involved the second night, moshing their way through 'Gunning For You' and chanting along to almost every word of 'Blank Walls'.
Whereas the first night they played a song about setting foot in a club and just wanting to go home (which George proudly announced had "a really filthy riff in"), the second night they switched it out, replacing it with the Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes-esque 'Don't Be A Coward'. With George pacing up and down on the stage roaring into the microphone, you could definitely see Frank's stage presence coming through. Massmatiks have a lot of choice in front of them, because their heavier songs are just as well received as '4am' with its singable hook: at this point they could go in any direction, or keep experimenting with the range of music that they're already beginning to produce.
I'd thought the reaction to 'Independence (A Lack Of)' couldn't be better than it was the first night, but that was before the appearance of Don Broco's vocalist, Rob Damiani. Bursting on to the stage and encouraging the crowd to bounce along with him, it only took minutes before both Rob and George were diving onto the crowd and surfing over them. It's always great when the last night of a tour is a celebration of the friendship that the bands have forged over the preceding weeks, and thanks to this stage invasion it's not going to be a set that I easily forget.

I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye on Massmatiks as they release more music: there's something different about these guys, and if they keep doing their own thing they could make a real impact.

Setlist (Night 1):
Bad Luck
Gunning For You
Blank Walls
- (One Foot)
Independence (A Lack Of)

Setlist (Night 2):
Bad Luck
Gunning For You
Blank Walls
- (Don't Be A Coward)
Independence (A Lack Of)

When Rob Damiani announced "might never, ever play" a lot of these songs again, the appreciation for Priorities went through the roof. Opening with the title track meant the majority of the crowd were already involved, but knowing that it was the last tour that was going to feature certain songs - the final show playing the debut album in full - the attendees rallied behind the band and were 100% on board for the rest of the night.
I've been to a lot of Don Broco shows. I'm not just saying that: these were my 11th and 12th shows respectively. I've been there since before 'Priorities' was released, following the band through multiple appearances at Reading Festival, a triumphant headline set at Brixton O2 Academy and a surprisingly successful return to Download back in June.
I fell in love with these songs first time around, so getting to hear them live (uninterrupted by recent material which found itself confined to the encore, including 'You Wanna Know' and 'Money Power Fame' - both songs which were released in between the two albums) gave me a lot to reminisce on.
I knew I wasn't going to be able to write a subjective review about this first show, because I'm so emotionally attached to this album. It's a very strong debut: with its signature 'Cheeky Nandos' lyrical style it practically birthed the recent uprising of bro-rock bands (it's becoming a genre, don't think about arguing). Combining that relatable, matey attitude with Simon Delaney's funky guitar rhythms and the complementary vocal coming from drummer Matt Donnelly - it all cemented the fact that these four Bedford lads were going to be something very special.
Looking back on this album now, almost four years to the day since its release, it's obvious that good things have happened. To being touring two albums in full and selling out every show on the tour is no small achievement, particularly when the musical style between the two is so vastly different. There's the rocky punch in the face that is 'Priorities', contrasting to the "let's drink punch by the pool" that is 'Automatic'. People who have been fans from the band from the beginning still want to support them, while they're gaining new fans by the bucketload (as exemplified by the fact that 'Automatic' managed to enter the album charts at #6 upon its release).
I can't critique a moment of this set. The songs worked the first time around, and they still work now. The appearance of 'In My World' - which Rob admitted the band had had to learn specifically for this tour as they'd never played it live before - was refreshing, particularly when you look at where it sat in the set. Preceded by the frenetic 'Let's Go Back To School', followed by 'Fancy Dress' with its huge circle pit and ferocious bite, it gave everyone a second to catch their breath and enjoy a toned down singalong. It definitely made sense of the fact that the band weren't playing the album in the order it was originally released - it makes a lot more sense for them to be arranged like this at a live show.
It was disappointing when Rob shared "we're gonna take a little time after this and not do a headline tour straight away", because it does seem as though they're starting to get pigeon-holed as a support band: there was the uber-successful run with You Me At Six, followed by lengthy runs with 5 Seconds of Summer and Bring Me The Horizon. But after playing two albums in full this many nights in a row, I think the band deserve a bit of a break. I'm hoping they're going to go away and start working on more new music: we need an album three, and we need it as soon as they can release it.
Oh, and talking of new music...
I was only lucky enough to hear 'Everybody' on the first night. The set had quite a late finish time, and with a train at 10:35 I wasn't able to stay until the end of either show, which was disappointing (I didn't think I'd ever need to leave a Don Broco set without hearing 'Thug Workout') but we risked staying through the interminable 8 minute break between the band leaving the stage and returning to play their newest single.
If you haven't heard 'Everybody' yet, I highly suggest you do that. As soon as I heard it I was struck by the fact that it could comfortably fit on 'Priorities' - compared to the relaxed nature of recent tracks, it's full to the brim with the swagger that inhabits their early songs. The "what you waiting for" chants don't work as well live (yet - it has only been out for a matter of weeks so that's something that's going to grow as the song gets older) but other than that the song is already going down brilliantly.
Two things about it really impressed me: Matt Donnelly's note-perfect vocal opening, and Rob Damiani violently screaming the lyrics "we are fucked this time, fuck!". I've always loved 'Thug Workout' because it's completely uncontrolled, hinting towards Don Broco having heavier roots, and this almost-screamo moment mimicked that intensity in a more mature and developed way. If Don Broco choose to go back down the heavier root with their new material, I'm going to be more than happy.  

Back in the Day
Yeah Man
Hold On 
Here's The Thing
Let's Go Back To School
In My World
Fancy Dress
You Got It Girl
Whole Truth
You Wanna Know
Money Power Fame
Thug Workout

The turnout was obviously going to be pretty much equal because of the fact that both shows were sold out, but I'd expected the reaction to Automatic to be tamer, particularly after experiencing the insanity that was the first night.
Yes, the album charted rather highly, but musically it's much calmer than 'Priorities' so I didn't know how it would translate in full live. I'd seen odd songs from the album live, but never such a large, uninterrupted chunk of them - it always seemed to be the songs from 'Priorities' that would breathe life back into the crowd after the newer songs gave them a bit of chill out time.
That doesn't seem to be the case with all fans, and I actually think the 'Automatic' evening was a much sweatier experience, even if it was less rowdy. There wasn't as much moshing but with a large portion of the crowd jumping up and down constantly, the temperature soared. 'Priorities' is a much more physical album, but 'Automatic' is definitely a vocal one.
Songs like 'Fire', 'You Wanna Know' and 'Nerve' beg you to sing along, while 'Superlove' and 'Keep on Pushing' are just waiting for you to dance. I've listened to the album a lot in the past but I haven't listened to it in full very often - it's one of those collections of songs that I like to dip in and out of, rather than experiencing in its entirety every time. Experiencing it like this has definitely made me reevaluate my opinion on it: before I was a little lukewarm, but it makes more sense to me as an album now.
Being the last night of the tour, it was very special to experience. Massmatiks had to leave early, so they had the tour photo taken in the middle of the set rather than at the end, and based on all of the hugging on stage it seems that lifelong friendships have been made over the last couple of weeks. It wasn't all bittersweet, though, with the end of tour pranks being out in force: Rob apologised in case he was pulling weird faces while he was singing, confiding "our lovely guitar tech Jase stealthily put a condom on my microphone," complaining "it's going to smell this whole set!". He then shared the best prank, "the stupidest most infantile joke", that he knew with the crowd: "lay a condom on their shoulder when they're not looking [...] they're having a conversation and they think they're bossing it, when there's a lone condom...".
There were also two beautiful, fan-centered moments later in the set. Rob dedicated 'What You Do To Me' to Ashley, who drew the band in the recent sketches of them as cowboy outlaws that they shared on their Instagram, stating that her artwork was "the coolest we've ever seen in person". They also invited a fan up on stage with them before 'Money Power Fame' - it turns out her appendix had almost burst the night before, and after staying in hospital until 7am she'd returned to the venue to start getting ready for this night. Don Broco are a band that deserve that kind of dedication: their hard work is definitely paying off in a big way.
I managed to stay until the end of 'Nerve', so heard the album in full, but couldn't wait for the encore due to the train time: I can imagine it was an explosive, and extremely memorable, way to end what's been a brilliant tour. Not many bands can pull off album in full shows this early in their career (let alone playing two!) and it proves how ballsy these guys are. I can't wait to see what they do next.

Keep on Pushing
Tough on You
You Wanna Know
What You Do To Me
Let You Get Away
I Got Sick
Money Power Fame
Thug Workout

Don Broco were recently announced as the main support for Bring Me The Horizon's November tour, and I'm so grateful that I have tickets to it. I've only just seen these two shows, and I'm already ready for another one! Seeing this band in small venues always reinvigorates my love for them, and after the huge festival appearances I've experienced recently it was so lovely to get back to basics. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

'The Form of Things Unknown' by Robin Bridges

*This review will contain spoilers!*

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

'My grandmother is listening to the Beatles again. Loudly.' 
 ...There's not really much to say about this first sentence.

Natalie Roman's life has been flipped and turned upside down. Her ex-boyfriend Caleb convinced her to try ecstasy, and instead of being a fun night out she ended up having a mental breakdown. After a brief stay at Winter Oaks, an adolescent psychiatric facility, she's now having to adjust to living in a new town: her grandmother suffers from schizophrenia, so her family move in to care for her.
At least that means Caleb's out of the picture.
Natalie doesn't particularly have anything she wants to do with her summer, she's just grateful for the freedom. Her brother David has different ideas: the boy he has a crush on is participating in the local summer theatre project, and he drags Natalie along for moral support. She thinks she'll get a chance to work on her costume design, but ends up landing the role of fairy queen Titania in the production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
Also taking part in the play is Lucas, a fellow patient of Winter Oaks. Natalie is terrified in case he mentions where they met, because she's making friends and she doesn't want them to know about the problems she's dealing with. But when she keeps taking risks with her medication and she becomes convinced there's a ghost in the theatre, is it her schizophrenia or are there darker forces at work?
And why exactly does she keep feeling sparks when she's with Lucas?

I wasn't too impressed with the companion novel, 'Dreaming of Antigone', which deals with Andria and Alex's story. It tried to deal with too many things at once and ended up feeling rushed and incomplete.
If anything, the opposite is the problem with 'The Form of Things Unknown'. It's very slow. It's only a short book, and judging by the length I should have read it very quickly... I just couldn't. It was like crawling through quicksand.
I couldn't connect with the story. It was flat. The bits of ghostly interference aren't scary, so all of the characters are freaking out and I didn't really understand why... There were just some creaking noises and giggles. It didn't make sense to me. It might have been better if Robin had taken the time to build up some more description, but because it dived straight in there was no chance for the adrenaline to build.
The other problem is that the romance is cliched. Mental health patients fall in love with each other despite everyone warning them away from the craziness. If I've read it once, I've read it a million times. I was impressed with Natalie and Lucas's no-fuss approach to sex - it's one of the first times I've read that in YA. He invites her to his house, they grab a condom and they're going for it: it's very realistic, because you don't always need to have been together for a long time to have a physical relationship, particularly if neither of you are virgins going in. (Not literally! ...well, literally).
However, I loved the fact that schizophrenia was being represented. Particularly schizophrenia as something genetic and inheritable. I've read a lot of books dealing with mental health, but the majority of them seem to have the sufferer as the only person in the family struggling with it. I didn't really appreciate Natalie's reaction to her grandmother: there are multiple moments when she bemoans the fact that her grandmother ruins everything, and you think she'd be a little more sympathetic, dealing with it herself! It shows the impact of mental health on a family, though: Natalie is struggling because of her genetic link to her grandma, but there's also the strain on her parent's relationship. Her dad hides himself in work while her mother stays at home as a full time carer.
I also really appreciated the fact that Natalie has to deal with side effects of her medication. She goes out in the sun with her friends for too long despite the photo-sensitivity warning on her medication, and she ends up passing out and almost getting heat stroke. Seeing side effects dealt with in a candid way is refreshing - it doesn't glamorize mental health issues, or make them seem like something to aspire towards.

I'm assuming there are going to be more companion novels to this series, particularly now more cast members have been introduced. The romance between Raine and Peter, Starla's search for fame - there's plenty of opportunity for more stories. It would be interesting to finish with a book focusing on Trista: both Andria and Natalie have had their stories told, so it would round off the tales of the original trio.
Either way, I think I'm going to follow Robin Bridges writing. She has a lot of potential, particularly because she's unafraid to deal with tougher subjects, it's just the stories she's choosing to tell at the moment that aren't the most absorbing.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

'Paper Butterflies' by Lisa Heathfield - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Electric Monkey, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
"Some people die as babies, other live to a hundred. It wouldn't be fair if that was it. You've got to have somewhere to go on to."

"Drink it." She's holding the glass out to me. It's so full that if she tipped her hand just a bit the water would trickle down the side. "Now."
"But I'm not thirsty."
Because the first chapter is set when June is only 10 years old, this image breaks my heart. Her being forced to drink the water despite the fact that she's not thirsty - and then forced to drink another glass, and another, and not be permitted to use the bathroom - made me want to cry, and I was only a couple of pages in.

June's mother drowned when she was 7 years old. Her father remarried, and in moved her stepmother Kathleen and her daughter Megan, who's a year younger than June.
Kathleen is abusive: she constantly calls June ugly, mocks her for her black skin and frizzy hair, and forces her to eat and drink to the point of vomiting on a daily basis. Megan often joins in, too scared of her mother to say no, and June feels completely alone with no one to turn to.
June is too frightened to tell anyone, especially her father: he was broken when her mother died, and she doesn't want to ruin his happiness. She stays silent, but mentally wills the people around her to see the situation that she's trapped in - internally pleading with her teachers to just ask if she's okay, because if anyone asked she would tell them. She's certain no one will believe her if she just blurts it out, but if they ask then it proves they can see something is wrong.
June's only freedom comes from her bicycle. Every time she pedals she fantasizes about leaving home and never returning, fending for herself in the big wide world. It's on one of these adventures that she explores the old, abandoned caravan park, and stumbles upon Blister, the boy who will become her best friend.
Told over a series of years - following June from 10 years old all the way through to 25 - it's a harrowing look at the way childhood abuse impacts your entire life, and the way victims are often blamed for defending themselves.

I was distraught by this book. I should have known I would be after I read a review by Rachel (leader of #SundayYA chat) and she said she'd cried for the last 50 pages, but - stupidly - I thought I would be impervious to the emotions that Lisa's writing evoked. I was wrong about that.
Reading the first page made me feel sick. It's just so damned realistic that I could picture poor little June stuck in that situation and I was yearning to help her. It's how I imagine the true life childhood abuse books would make me feel, and is one of the reasons I've never even attempted the genre. I like to pretend I'm cold-hearted and uncaring, but this made me feel so much.
I was hoping that someone would recognise June's suffering, I was rooting for the relationship between her and Blister that slowly turned into more than friends, I was flying through the book.
I decided to start 'Paper Butterflies' just before midnight which was a stupid idea - I ended up staying awake until 1:30, then had to finish it the next day after work. The story takes over your mind, and you won't relax until you know how it finishes. I definitely suggest starting this one when you have a good chunk of time on your hands.
But despite the soul-destroying nature of the plot, I couldn't help but appreciate that Lisa Heathfield's writing is gorgeous. She certainly knows how to tell a story, and with intermittent chapters flashing forward to a time 'After' the question of what exactly those chapters are following is always in the back of your mind. I had an idea of where the story was heading, but my prediction was completely wrong. If you can predict what happens next, I'll be very surprised: I haven't felt this shocked to my core in a very long time.
There are two events towards the end of the book that I wasn't expecting, but because they were so startling I'm not going to discuss them here. It's not often that I do a spoiler free review - I like giving away the endings and fully dissecting them! - but I know that would be hugely detrimental to the effect of the plot. This is one you need to discover for yourselves.
I do have one piece of advice for you: keep tissues close by.

Lisa Heathfield is a genius. A sadistic genius, but a genius nevertheless. I'd read an excerpt of her debut novel, 'Seed', but didn't get around to finishing it off - after reading this one that's definitely a priority.
It's a strange coincidence that I decided to read 'Paper Butterflies' just after 'The Problem With Forever' by Jennifer L. Armentrout, because they have a lot of parallels - child abuse, the protagonist wanting to be a social worker to help out other people in her situation. However, the flashbacks in the other novel are vague, and the abuse in this one is in your face, hard-hitting and very intense. If you don't like reading distressing scenes, I'd suggest reading Jennifer's novel instead. This could be triggering, especially as the abuse transitions from psychological to physical over the course of June's life.
If you love reading true-life stories, this is one for you. The characters and the plot are so well-written and believable that it genuinely could be a real person's story.

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five first sentences

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

It's almost like I predicted that this was going to be a topic, because when I revamped the blog a couple of months ago I started a 'First Phrase' section to showcase the first sentences of novels. That means I had lots to choose from for this Top Five Wednesday!

5) 'Don't Even Think About It' by Sarah Mlynowski
'We were not always freaks.'

I'd assumed 'Don't Even Think About It' was going to be a cute contemporary, so when it started off with that sentence? It made me reassess everything I'd assumed from the cover!

4) 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
'Dear friend,
I'm writing to you because she said you listen and understand and you didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.' 

Who is writing the letters? Who are they writing them to? Who's she? What party?
This opening sentence both establishes the fact that it's an epistolary novel, and sets up so many questions that you have no choice but to continue reading. 

3) 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell
'There was a boy in her room.'
So simple, but when you consider the love story that's about to unfold, it's absolutely adorable. 

2) 'Beautiful Broken Things' by Sara Barnard
'I thought it was the start to a love story.

1) 'Cross Stitch' (aka Outlander) by Diana Gabaldon
'People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread and butter to journalists.' 

I like reading short books, so it takes a lot to convince me to pick up a book that's nearly 900 pages. I was recommended 'Cross Stitch' by one of the customers in the library, but I still wasn't convinced - that first sentence was enough for me to take it home. 
Haven't started it yet, though... I should get on with that. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! What are your favourite first sentences?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books set in school

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

When I was gearing up to leave school, I was certain I wasn't going to miss it. I had some amazing friends, but it's such a crazy environment - the cliques, the cafeteria, the constant studying - that I just couldn't wait to get away.
With two years between the end of my education and today, I actually really miss it. It's one of the reasons I'm considering university (even though it's a vastly different environment) and it means I really enjoy YA that's set in schools.
These ten books all share a school setting, and they're very realistic - it'll take you right back to those endless corridors and sneaky naps in lessons.

10) 'Stella' by Helen Eve
I kind of hated 'Stella', because of the fact that it glamorized eating disorders and that always makes me uber-uncomfortable, but I can't lie: the portrayal of the popular girls - and the way that the new girl gets sucked into their world, a la 'Mean Girls' - is very realistic.

9) 'Vampire Academy' by Richelle Mead
Self-explanatory: it's a school for vampires.

8) 'The White Devil' by Justin Evans
I don't mention my love for 'The White Devil' enough. A ghost story set in the hallowed halls of Harrow, this scared the bejesus out of me when I read it, but it also gave a great look into the world of private boarding schools. 

7) 'Am I Normal Yet?' by Holly Bourne
I can't recommend Holly Bourne's Spinster Club novels enough. A large part of Evie's life is spent at her sixth form, which she joins after being off school for an extended period of time due to her OCD. The scenes set in the cafeteria, and lounging around on the field with her group of friends, genuinely gave me flashbacks to specific moments I'd spent with my group doing exactly the same things. 

6) 'Don't Even Think About It' by Sarah Mlynowski
An entire homeroom class develops the ability to hear each other's thoughts after being giving a bad batch of the flu vaccine. High school has never been more interesting: no one's secrets are safe from the Espies. It also follows a huge class, giving us pages following all of the individual characters (over 20!) meaning there's something for everyone in this book.

5) 'Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda' by Becky Albertalli
Simon's troubles begin when the school bully threatens to out him after finding Simon's Facebook still logged in on one of the school computers. It sounds like it's going to be an introspective novel filled with his worrying, but Simon's self-deprecating attitude is humorous and lighthearted.

4) 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J. D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield hates all of the phonies at his boarding school, so he doesn't care at all when he gets expelled. 

3) The Harry Potter series
If I'm talking about books set in schools, I have to mention Harry Potter. Look at that big ass castle!

2) 'The Problem With Forever' by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I only finished 'The Problem With Forever' a couple of days ago, but I just wanted to talk about it again. It's so wonderful. Mallory finally enrolls in high school after being home schooled for a few years, and she has to learn to deal with lessons, mean girls and reuniting with the cute boy from her past. 

1) 'All of the Above' by Juno Dawson

I loved everything about 'All of the Above', but the scenes that particularly stick in my mind are the ones of Toria and her friends all chilling in the common room. It's the one thing I miss more than anything: spending all of that time when you're supposed to be studying just lazing around with your friends. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! Are there any books set in schools that you'd recommend I try?