Friday, 30 September 2016

September wrap-up

Tomorrow is the first day of October, which means it's the day that I start embarking on a crazy journey into the wilderness of my brain. Don't know what that means? Come back tomorrow to check out my launch post!

Bookish wrap-up:
In September, I read 15 books. That's the same amount that I read last month, so that seems to be my monthly target. Of course 15, I read 7 non-fiction titles, because I started exploring mindfulness after a recommendation from my counsellor. 
I caught up with the #2016ClassicsChallenge, reading 'The Country of the Blind and other selected stories' by H.G. Wells as my August title. I'm halfway through my September title, which is 'The Time Machine', because I'm reading it through the Serial Reader app (they send you a short section of a classic every day) and I know I'm going to finish it in three days time. 
For my personal series challenge I read... Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I am a failure and a disappointment to no one but myself. 

The best books I read in September?
Image result for radio silence alice osemanImage result for our chemical hearts
My review of 'Our Chemical Hearts' is coming soon, but I rated both of these books as 5 stars. 

The worst books I read in September?
Image result for the dead boyfriend r l stineImage result for the loving husband christobel kent
I was torn between 1 and 2 star ratings for both of these books, so I gave 'The Dead Boyfriend' 1 and 'The Loving Husband' 2. Both of them felt like time wasters, and because 'The Loving Husband' is so long I kind of wish I'd given up on it to read something better. 

Musical wrap-up:

This month's album of the month has to be This Wild Life's 'Low Tides', the heartbreaking follow-up to 'Clouded'. 
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This was the only new album that I listened to this month, because it was the only one I was truly excited about, but next month I'm going to make the effort to listen to 'Tidal Waves', 'Bad Vibrations', 'Echoes' and 'GLA', by Taking Back Sunday, A Day To Remember, Young Guns and Twin Atlantic respectively. 

I'm going to choose two songs of the month, because there's a new band I'd like to draw attention to, and a song that I haven't been able to stop listening to.

The song I haven't stopped listening to is the new Highly Suspect release, 'My Name Is Human'. I was so excited about it that I bought tickets to their London show in November, and I can't wait to see these guys live again. 

I'm biased towards Junior, a new Welsh band on the scene, because this song features vocals from Sean Smith - his first musical appearance since the demise of his band, The Blackout. The song's catchy enough, but the special guest (and the hilarious music video) made it for me.

Meanwhile, my concert of the month has to be The Hunna in Bristol earlier this week. While I loved seeing Modern Baseball I hated one of their supports, but both Blaenavon and The Night Café blew me away. 

I hope you enjoyed this September wrap-up. What have you been up to this month?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top 5 genres to start reading

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

We've all been there: you want to start reading a new genre, but you have no idea how to get into it. There's so much on offer that you just can't decide where to start, and it's all a bit intimidating.
That's why I'm here to help!

If you want to read... Comics:
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There are literally a gazillion superheroes (don't trust me? Count them yourself!) so how are you supposed to decide which ones to read? What about comics that don't feature superheroes? What about the indie publishers? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
When I started reading comics (about a year ago, before the addiction fully took hold and I started buying single issues in the handfuls...) I started with 'Batgirl' and 'Lumberjanes'. 
Image result for batgirl 2015 volume 1Image result for lumberjanes beware the kitten holy
By starting with these two - both fun stories filled with strong female friendships and empowering characters - I got a taste of the modern take on a traditional superhero, and a less classic graphic novel telling the tale of a group of girls at summer camp.
I fell head over heels with the art styles of both, and I know that the illustrations greatly influence my purchases of comics (sometimes I can forgive a story being below average if an artist I really respect is involved in the creation). This is something you'll discover for yourself in time, but you might as well dabble with these: I can guarantee you'll have fun!

If you want to read... Contemporary romances:
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I only have one recommendation for those trying to start reading contemporary romances, and that is 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' by Jenny Han.
Image result for to all the boys i've loved before jenny han cover
It's cute, but not soppy. There's not too much drama, there's a great cast of supporting characters and - best of all - it's absolutely hilarious. I've been too scared to read the sequel in case I was disappointed, because I loved this first book so much. 

If you want to read... Dystopian:
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So, you missed the dystopian craze the first time around, but now you've decided it might be the genre for you. You've heard a lot of mixed reviews, so you just don't know what to pick up: everyone complains about the Divergent trilogy, complains about the Matched trilogy, complains about the Delirium trilogy...
That's why you start with a classic, rather than with a young adult novel. The perfect gateway book into dystopians is '1984' by George Orwell.
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It features all of the main tropes of dystopians - a world like ours with a corrupt government, and a main character embroiled in a romance against all odds - but there's no teenage whining and the characters don't often do inappropriate things at stupid times (all of the inopportune kissing in dystopians is a big drag!). 

If you want to read... Sci-Fi:
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You want to read something futuristic, possibly set on another planet, but you're not sure if you're going to be able to connect with all of the crazy new technology and spaceship battles. 
I'd suggest you start reading Sci-Fi with something a bit less intimidating, such as the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, or 'The 100' by Kass Morgan.
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I recommend 'Red Rising' because while it might be set on Mars, the struggles that Darrow has to overcome - racism, poverty, loss - are all very easy to relate to, so it's impossible not to root for the underdog in the story. 
If you struggle to visualise when you're reading SciFI, that's why 'The 100' would be good for you! If you enjoy the book then you can watch the TV show: they're different enough that you won't get spoilers and can still enjoy surprises in both formats, but you won't need to imagine the spaceship that the characters call home.

If you want to read... Fantasy: 
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I struggle to read fantasy myself at times, so I'm hoping that some of you will have good fantasy gateway reads for me. 
The only fantasies I've really managed to connect with recently are 'Snow Like Ashes' and 'The Invasion of the Tearling'. 
Image result for snow like ashes sara raaschImage result for the invasion of the tearling
I found 'Snow Like Ashes' easy to read because all of the characters are well-rounded, the love triangle is downplayed and the quest they're on is easy to follow. I haven't read the other two books in the series yet though, so I can't promise that the ease of understanding continues.
I hated the first book in The Queen of the Tearling series, but the second installment was amazing because of the dystopian subplot. If you're already a fan of dystopian, I'd suggest fighting your way through the first book to get to this one: it's honestly worth it. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Are there any other genres you'd like recommendations for?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Hunna - Thekla, Bristol, 26/09/2016

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I missed the beginning of The Night Café (thanks to the time for doors being wrong on the tickets - awkward!) but the part of their set that I managed to catch was brilliant. Sounding like a blend of Two Door Cinema Club and The Wombats, their ridiculously catchy songs were a great way to start the night. It's impossible to listen to them and not have fun, which makes them the perfect opening act, particularly when you hear the clear and unique vocal tone of their singer.
I'm not sure how many songs they played at the beginning of their set, but I managed to hear four tracks in full when I arrived.
I think the first of those four must have been a new and unreleased song, because I've been searching around their Soundcloud account and haven't managed to track it down. It's a shame, because it was the song that appealed to me the most: with its catchy hook exclaiming "I won't change with the seasons" it's certainly an appropriate song for this time of the year, with the nights getting longer and the temperature rapidly dropping.
Closing with 'Mixed Signals', a song that they only released a couple of weeks ago, didn't go down as well as the band were hoping. This could have been due to other attendees having the incorrect time for doors on their tickets, but the crowd for The Night Café was sparse and unenthusiastic when they encouraged the audience to clap along.
This time next year, a lot more people are going to have heard of The Night Café. Having recently supported Sundara Karma, as well as having this sod out run with The Hunna under their belts, tickets for their recently announced UK headline tour are going to be flying out.

Mixed Signals

The start of Blaenavon's set was a little bit dry, but by the end they'd transformed into a tornado of barely contained energy. Moving from 'Let's Pray' - a carefree and happy tune that wouldn't sound out of place on 'Made In Chelsea', directly at odds with the darkness of the lyrics, the chant of "Let's pray, let's pray, let's pray for death" - to the thrashing and relentless climax of 'Prague', Blaenavon sound like hardcore souls stuck in the body of an indie band.
It's going to be interesting to see which direction they choose to favour in the future, because at the moment the contrast is a little jarring - particularly in a live environment. The enthusiasm that they have for their music is palpable though, and when vocalist Ben Gregory whipped off his guitar at the end of 'Prague' and threw himself into the crowd it certainly showed how pumped they get during their live shows.
Having been together for four years, I'm surprised Blaenavon haven't gotten themselves more recognition in that time. Despite the fact that their music isn't cohesive it's definitely well-performed, and all three members are very talented musically. I hadn't listened to Blaenavon before this show, but they've cemented themselves on my radar now.

Hell Is My Head
Let's Pray
Orthodox Man
Take Care
I Will Be The World

After watching The Hunna's full set at Reading festival, I knew they were going to pull something special out of the bag for their headline tour. I hadn't anticipated that something being a sixteen song set in which they played their debut album 'The 100' in its entirety (even performing the four bonus +1HUNNA tracks).
Considering the fact that The Hunna have only been a band since last year, a set like this is impressive. It's unusual for a year old band to even have 16 songs, let alone have the stamina to play them all live. Add to that the fact that they have a fanbase demanding a live set of that length at this early stage (coming in at just over an hour), who are already so passionate about the guys that they know every word to the album they released a month ago, who raced to be the first at the merch table when vocalist Ryan Valentino announced the band were coming straight out to meet everyone after their set.
These four lads from Hertfordshire are inspiring a ridiculous amount of dedication in their fans (the self-proclaimed Hunna Squad). You don't often find bands that have this level of support so early in their careers, and it added to the sense of adrenaline in the room: every single person at this sold out show knew that they were experiencing the start of something. Just how big that something is going to get remains to be seen, but this time next year I think everyone are going to know the name of The Hunna.
I'm certainly not going to forget this set. From the moment their intro tape started playing - The Lonely Island's 'I'm On a Boat', cheesy but very well received  - the crowd didn't stop moving, singing and screaming (the latter spiking when Ryan decided to take his shirt off midway through the set, followed by the other band members at the start of the encore). Contrasting already popular songs 'You & Me' and 'She's Casual' with the stripped back 'Sycamore Tree' (my personal highlight of the evening) and the dance-centric 'Piece By Piece' (soon to be the next single), The Hunna showed that they're certainly jack-of-all-trades when it comes to tempo and style. Despite the fact that some of their songs are similar (opener 'We Could Be' with its lyric crooning about bonfires, and 'Bonfire' being, suprisingly enough, about bonfires, showing some repetitive themes in the lyrics) it's almost impossible to care when you're having this much fun.
The constant cries of "ONE FUCKIN' HUNNA!" got tiring towards the end of the set (imagine if One Direction kept screaming "Directioners!" or twenty one pilots took their time on stage to yell "clique!") and it's a quirk that I'm hoping is going to die a speedy death: it certainly shows their gratitude for their "squad", but it's irritating when it's inserted after every other song. For a band that are experiencing such a sharp trajectory, they're more humble than I'd expected they would be, taking the time to shout out to a girl at the very back of the room, check in with everyone on the balcony and thank anyone who purchased their album (which, in a ballsy or stupid move, they weren't selling at the show).
Finishing with a three song encore - ignoring the cries from the crowd for "one more song" - sent The Hunna off on a very high note. You'd think their energy would be starting to flag after being on stage for an hour, but thanks to their relentless touring schedule and constant festival appearances, this band are not so easily fazed. Bounding back onto the stage, Ryan easily got the crowd chanting along to the catchy 'Rock My Way' chorus (and I still have "are you gonna you gonna you gonna you gonna you gonna rock my way" cycling round my head today), and after the moshing subsided at the end of the song to ear splitting cheers, he shared "it's gonna be hard to beat Bristol". Vocalists normally say this at the end of every show - it adds to the competitive nature of the crowds - but after seeing a response like this I genuinely believe it'll be hard to beat. Bristol was only the third date on this 11 date tour, so I'm interested to see how crazy the crowds get later in the run.
Closing with 'Bad For You', which Ryan introduced by announcing "this is where the ship gets sunk", I was surprised that the set could get any crazier, but this band definitely know how to craft their setlist. I thought they'd peaked at multiple points, only for them to continue getting louder and more energetic.
With how far The Hunna have come in their first year, I wouldn't be surprised if they were selling out arenas by the time they were ready to release their second album. I don't know how they've done it, but they've managed to get an unprecedented amount of attention in their first twelve months. Here's to the second year.

We Could Be
Still Got Blood
You & Me
Never Enough
World Is Ours
Be Young
Piece By Piece
She's Casual
Sycamore Tree
Rock My Way
Coming Home
Bad For You

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books I WILL read this autumn

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

After I chose the books for my autumn TBR last year, I ended up reading 9 out of 10 of them, which was a pretty high success rate! I'm hoping that'll continue and that I'll be able to read all of these books before the New Year begins.

10) 'How Hard Can Love Be?' by Holly Bourne
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I'd love to be able to catch up with Holly Bourne's Spinster club novels before the release of novella '...And A Happy New Year', so I'm going to try and squeeze in the other two books in the trilogy as soon as I can. 

9) 'Under Rose-Tainted Skies' by Louise Gornall
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I haven't seen a debut novel get as much attention as Louise Gornall's at all this year. I haven't read any books based on agoraphobia yet, so I'm looking forward to picking this one up and seeing what all of the fuss is about!

8) 'Replica' by Lauren Oliver
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I'm going to be starting Lauren Oliver's latest novel within the next couple of days, because I've had my proof for months and I've been waiting for it to get closer to release date. I read 'Before I Fall' and 'Panic' and liked them both, but I'm hoping 'Replica' - with its alternating perspectives and multiple ways to read - will be the one I really fall in love with. 

7) 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe' by Douglas Adams
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I really enjoyed 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and I read it very quickly, so I don't know why I'm procrastinating reading the sequel. It's something I need to commit to working on. 

6) 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson
Image result for speak laurie halse anderson
I've had 'Speak' out from the library for a couple of weeks, and it's less than two hundred pages - I have no excuse for not having read this yet! 

5) 'Isla and the Happily Ever After' by Stephanie Perkins
Image result for isla and the happily ever after
I've fallen really far behind on my series challenge, so the next couple of months are going to be used to catch up with it. I meant to read 'Isla and the Happily Ever After' back in February, so it's only a couple of months late!

4) 'Stealing Snow' by Danielle Paige
Image result for stealing snow danielle paige
I haven't read any of the Dorothy Must Die series yet, but I've heard so many amazing things about Danielle Paige's adaptations that I'm definitely going to read her latest release. Just looking at the cover makes me feel like I'm in a Christmassy mood, so it's going to be the perfect read in the lead up to December. 

3) The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
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This is three books, so I might not have time to read the entire series, but I want to at least read the first installment. 

2) 'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen
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After going on an H.G. Wells kick for my August and September classics, I've decided to go back further and finally read a Jane Austen novel in its entirety. I've only ever gotten 2/3rds of the way through 'Emma', but my colleagues said I'd like this one a lot more. 

1) 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' by J.K. Rowling
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I reread the first two books in the Harry Potter series, watched the first two films... And then stopped before picking up the third book. I'd like to change that by the end of the year. I've previously claimed that I'll read 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' this year, but that might have been a bit optimistic!

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What books do you really want to read this autumn?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

'The Dead Boyfriend' by R.L. Stine

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Here I am, dear diary, about to confide in you again.'
I really love the epistolary style, whether featuring letters are written to another character or - as in this case - diary entries, so with this opening sentence I'd assumed I was going to love this book.

When Caitlyn meets Blade, it's insta-love.
He's staring at her in the restaurant where she's sat with her friends, Julie and Miranda, and it's not long before she abandons them to approach the attractive boy in the bright red hoodie. They run off together, crash a college house party, passionately make out in front of strangers.
Their whirlwind romance begins.
Caitlyn's completely and utterly in love. She refuses to heed the warnings given to her by Deena Fear (you thought this would be a Fear Street novel without one of the Fear family appearing? You'd be wrong!) who saw Blade first, and believes he should be hers.
Caitlyn is (innocent, idiotic, self-absorbed... You pick the adjective) and genuinely believes nothing can get in the way of their love - despite the fact that they've known each other for less than two weeks - so when she sees Blade at a club kissing another girl, she goes crazy. She can't believe he'd do that to her, so she stabs him to death.
Yep, the dead boyfriend referred to in the title is Blade. There's a shock!
She stabs him to death on his doorstep. At the funeral, she's on edge in case the police arrive to arrest her, and her anxiety levels go through the roof when Deena reanimates Blade's corpse and makes him sit up.
The next thing, his body disappears and the girls realise that Deena did much more than temporarily reanimate Blade: she brought him back to life! But even in death he only wants Caitlyn, and being stalked by your dead ex-boyfriend isn't the best way to spend senior year...

I couldn't connect to the characters, who were all flat, one-dimensional caricatures of teenagers. You'd think after writing books for teenagers for this long R.L. Stine would know how they acted, but that presumption would be wrong.

Ways the teenagers aren't realistic:

  • 'That's when I knew Blade and I belonged together' is a quote that comes out less than an hour after they've known each other. Retch. 
  • Deena tells Caitlyn she saw Blade first, and Caitlyn thinks 'hm, what does that mean?' before twigging that DEENA LIKES HIM?!?!?! a few chapters later. What else did she think 'I saw him first' meant?
  • Caitlyn stabs Blade, then decides 'to stop that horrible sound he was making. I swung the knife back, then plunged the blade deep into his stomach'. Yeah, cause killing someone is the best way to stop their pain noises. How about DON'T STAB PEOPLE IN THE FIRST PLACE! 
  • Also who the hell calls their kid Blade? (and who decides a character called Blade should be stabbed to death? That's just too obvious). 
  • The "best friends" are just plot devices there to give Caitlyn alibis. Neither of them have personalities or plots, they're just there to give Caitlyn someone to avoid at school when she's feeling guilty about BEING A MURDERER. 
There were a bitch ton of plot holes, too. Caitlyn insists upon the fact that she keeps her diary locked, and wears the key on a chain around her neck. She mentions this point so many times, then just happens to leave it open at the end of the story (which I'm going to get on to in a minute). 
There's the random almost-mugging that occurs in the parking lot after work, which is solely put in to give her a reason to buy a knife. Yeah, the knife is important to the story, but other than that the event is completely self-contained: it doesn't give Caitlyn anxiety or PTSD, we never encounter the mugger again... It's all a bit pointless
The sister, Jen, is mentioned in a throwaway comment at the beginning of the book when R.L. Stine is allowed Caitlyn to give away all of the exposition by describing her character in full to her diary. 'I'm Caitlyn Donnelly. I'm seventeen, a senior at Shadyside High. I'm not terrible looking' she lists, then goes on to recite her hair colour, eye colour, names of her family and friends. There's a phrase in writing called "show, don't tell" that is obviously disregarded in this first chapter. But the sister is never written in, so why does she even need to be mentioned?
The most irritating aspect for me is that the diary format is hardly used. Occasionally in the middle of a sentence Caitlyn will write 'Diary', to link it back to the beginning, but the tone is nowhere near what's necessary for that style. The chapters also don't make sense: they're all short and sharp, but because they don't start with the 'Dear Diary' prefix it makes the set-up very illogical. It's annoying, because that's the entire reason I decided to read the book - false marketing!
It's also a blatant American Horror Story ripoff. Girl has a dead boyfriend has been used before, but girl has a dead boyfriend who struggles to speak to her and is mute for a large portion of the book? I've only ever seen that done in the third season of American Horror Story, and I couldn't get past the fact that they did it much better, dealing with it in a harrowing and emotional way.
Then there's the end of the book.
So, it turns out that instead of being a diary, it's actually a story being written by a teenage girl. A novel in a novel. Novel-ception.
I'm going to admit, I thought this was a massive cop-out. I have a feeling that the book was nearly finished, R.L. Stine realised he'd set up too many plot lines (Deena's taxidermied parents, her random supernatural powers, Blade's unquestioned disappearance, Caitlyn's second murder victim) and had no idea how to wrap any of it up, so decided to take the easy way out and make it a story in a story. 
It's just too easy. I don't really respect authors (or directors) that use the 'it was all a dream' escape clause, because it leaves the story half finished and the audience cheated. I'd been really looking forward to how it would all work out without Caitlyn going to prison, and then it's over. Done. Finito. 
I haven't been this disappointed in a long time. 

If you loved R.L. Stine's writing when you were younger, leave this book far alone. Don't have the wonderful memories tainted, because it sucks. 
If you're a writer, don't use the 'it was a dream' get out of jail free card: just commit to the story that you're telling and respect it enough to end it. Don't then put ANOTHER twist right at the end, just to recapture the audience's interest after losing it so spectacularly.
I've seen a lot of people putting this on lists of spooky books that they want to read over Halloween, but I would sincerely suggest (demand, plead) that you don't choose this one. Yes, it's a short and fast read, but with the simplistic and childlike language it reads more like a Goosebumps book than a Fear Street novel. (I'm glad it's not a Goosebumps book, though. I don't want those ruined for me too). 
This has made me much less likely to pick up any of the other recent Fear Street reboot novels, but it has made me want to reread my childhood favourites and hope that I can banish the memories of this book from my mind forever. 
I would actually give this book no stars if I could, and I don't think that often. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

'Hello Me, It's You' compiled by Hannah Todd

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First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Hello Me, It's You for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

When my request to read this book was accepted, I'd presumed that I'd only have enough comments to write a short review on Goodreads when I finished it: at just over 100 pages, it's certainly not lengthy.
Instead I wanted to write this post and properly shine a spotlight on this non-profit organisation, and everything that they're doing to help young people who are struggling with their mental health. 

This book might be small, but it's not unsubstantial. All of the profits raised from the title are going straight to the charity, to allow them to write more supportive books in the future (this is the first title that they've released so far, but there are others in the pipeline).
Featuring 27 letters, each of the contributors writes to their 16-year-old selves, enthusing that it gets better - much like the project of the same name, but focusing on mental health rather than sexuality - and life is worth living. The authors being alive and able to write their letters is inspirational enough: all of these people have suffered and have survived, and I think that'll become a shining beacon of hope to anyone out there who is struggling.

The letter I connected the most with was definitely number 24. 
"I didn't even realise I was - was depressed, that is. I thought everyone must have suicidal thoughts. Of course everyone routinely thinks about killing themselves."
As someone who has recently met with counsellors regarding anxiety and depression, this resonated deeply with me. It's something I strongly believe, but to have someone put what I assume into words and to directly contradict it... Let's just say it's making me look at life differently.

The only critique is that it could have featured a wider range of voices: it felt as though a lot of the same themes were reoccurring (attending university being prominent throughout, expected as it began as a university project) and it would have been good to get representation for all shapes, colours and classes. I'm sure that's something that will improve as more volumes get released, because more and more people will become aware of the project and will get involved.

I'd recommend this for people of all ages, even if the letters are written with 16 year olds in mind. Parents who didn't experience mental health issues in their youth could gain some idea of what their children feel, which will teach them to be more empathetic. Young people who are struggling will get support and encouragement by reading this book, which could put them on the road to recovery. Similarly, young people who don't suffer will have their attention brought to those who do, making a more informed support network for those in need.
This project is extremely necessary, and couldn't be more timely. Earlier this year it was discovered that anxiety and depression amongst teenagers has increased by a whopping 70% in the past 25 years, and I think it's time that we take responsibility as a society and start working together to do something to help.

If you'd like to pre-order 'Hello Me, Its You' before its release date in mid-October, it's currently only £1.99 to purchase on Kindle. If you struggle with mental health issues or just want to support those who do, it's a worthy cause. Hopefully, with enough support behind it, this project could become the UK equivalent of To Write Love On Her Arms.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five characters I would NOT want to be

I wish and wish with all of my heart and soul that I could become the characters that I'm reading, going on road trips across America, defeating the corrupt government or meeting monsters and magical beings in a quest for true love.
But sometimes, there are characters that I would hate to be. I just could not stand being put in their situation, and I know it would drive me insane. I pull my blanket over my head as I'm reading, reminding myself that I'm safe and secure at home, and feel glad to be a regular human being with a normal job on regular Earth.

5) Quentin Jacobsen from 'Paper Towns' by John Green
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I'm really bad at working out what clues mean (one of the ways I know if a crime/thriller is good or bad - if I can tell who the culprit is it's far too easy!) so if I was Q there would be no chance of me tracking down Margo Roth Spiegelman. 
I probably wouldn't even notice she was missing. 

4) Kelsea Raleigh from The Queen of the Tearling series by Erika Johansen
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There's no way I'm responsible enough to be a queen, especially not at 17 years old. I'll leave the ruling to the professionals!

3) Darrow from the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown
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For much the same reason as Kelsea. I'm not responsible enough to be the leader of a revolution, and I don't have a high pain threshold, so all of the 'almost getting killed' fun would be too much for me to deal with. 

2) Jacob Black from the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer
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Despite the fact that he's ripped AF, he loses his girl to a dead guy. Even worse, a dead guy with pasty, glittering skin. That must really suck! 
To make matters worse, he falls in love with a child. Definitely not the best life to have... 

1) Anyone from 'Don't Even Think About It' by Sarah Mlynowski
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I talk to myself in my head a lot, getting lost in grand daydreams and delusions. It would be really inconvenient if people could hear those private monologues! 
The characters have ways to block their thoughts from being heard - humming or wearing sunglasses - but I know I'd end up forgetting and it would be really embarrassing.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Are there any characters you would really hate to be?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

'The Summer Before Forever' by Melissa Chambers

Image result for the summer before forever melissa chambers
*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to thank Entangled Teen for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

'It's not like I didn't know better. How many times has it been drilled into my brain - into the brain of every child over the age of three. Don't get into a car with a stranger.'
I got a very bad feeling from this first sentence, which made me wonder if the adorable summer image on the cover was just a little misleading...

Chloe's finally going to meet her soon-to-be stepmom, and the boy that'll become her brother. Taking her best friend Jenna along for moral support, she can't wait to escape for the summer, even if her relationship with her father has always been strained.
Days before they left, Chloe was attacked by Trevor - the boy she'd been crushing on for years - and he nearly raped her. Understandably that makes her feel uncomfortable around men, and when she first meets Landon she's surprised to find that he puts her at ease. Yes, she freaks out around his friends, but being in his company settles her down. She's not afraid when she's with him.
Landon can't believe his luck: he finally finds a girl worth dating, and she's going to be his sister?! His mother warned him not to even think about making moves on the girls, but he can't get her out of his head. When he finds out about Trevor he feels like a massive sleaze - she's terrified of boys, and all he can think about when he's with her is what it would be like to make out with her - but something draws him to her, and it's uncontrollable.
As they grow closer over the summer, it's only a matter of time before they can't deny their feelings any longer. Sneaking kisses when their parents' backs are turned, they're playing a very dangerous game, and it's only a matter of time before they'll get caught and sentenced to never see each other again.
But with Landon hiding a huge secret from Chloe, does their relationship have a chance, or is it doomed before it truly begins?

I was torn between giving this book three and four stars.
I wanted to love it more than I did, but it was another case of waffling contemporary syndrome. It could have been so much shorter. I found my attention drifting, because it was so obvious that they were going to end up together, and the will-they-won't-they fake tension was yawn-worthy. I don't often abandon a book halfway through, but I actually left this one alone for nearly a week before I could summer up the energy to finish it.
However, despite the fact that it needed trimming down, the things that were included were done very well.
I loved the inclusion of dyscalculia. I was vaguely aware that there was a mathematical version of dyslexia out there, but I'd never seen it in the spotlight before. Reading Landon's struggle as he juggled his excellent English grades with his constant failure in maths, the turmoil he experienced when certain his dream career was out of his reach because of his learning difficulties, was both endearing and heartbreaking. He hates being pitied, but you can't help it: he's such a decent, well-mannered and caring character that you yearn to see him overcome the hurdles in his way.
I also really appreciated the fact that Chloe was brave enough to talk about Trevor, and what he attempted to do to her. Whereas some characters are raped and don't come forward because they're scared of the repercussions, Chloe knew that there was a victim out there who needed supporting. Luckily she wasn't raped, managing to get away from her attacker and get help, but that makes her choice seem even braver: prosecution levels aren't high, and some people would gloss over the fact that they'd nearly experienced something like that, pretending it hadn't happened.
I liked the focus on music, as it's something I'm also very passionate about, and the song titles sprinkled throughout helped you get into Chloe's mindset as she experienced her very first summer of love.
Yes, the romance was cliched, but that's what I'd been expecting going in: sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. It was obvious that there was going to be a happy ending, so I wasn't surprised in the slightest when everything worked out perfectly: it was a cute read.

I should have waited until I was in a more contemporary romance mood before I read this one. It was exactly what I was expecting, but it felt decidedly average: I might have enjoyed it more if I'd held on until I was craving something mushy and romantic.
If you enjoy vaguely forbidden romances (they're soon to be step-siblings, but they aren't actually related!) you'll definitely enjoy this novel.
Because music means a lot to Chloe, Melissa included a playlist at the end of the book featuring all of the songs that Chloe listened to throughout the story. I've made a Youtube playlist of all of the songs, so if you're not sure whether it's a book you'd enjoy you can listen to the music and let that help you decide.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten songs of summer '16

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

I always feel as though some music is constantly linked to certain years in my head. 'Ho Hey' by The Lumineers is a 2013 song, 'English Kids In America' by Lower Than Atlantis will always remind me of 2014, just like 'Nerve' by Don Broco takes me straight back to summer 2015 every single time.
These ten songs are always going to bring me right back to the summer of 2016.

10) 'You're So Cheap' by Dead!

Yes, 'Something More Original' was released more recently, but 'You're So Cheap' is so much better. Having heard it at Slam Dunk, Download and Reading, it's the most pervasive of the songs I've chosen.

9) 'Get Over It' by Lower Than Atlantis
I didn't like this song when it was released (it's a bit standard, admit it!) but something clicked for me after hearing it live. Despite having listened to 'Work For It' - the song they only released last month - more, I can't actually remember what that one sounds like off of the top of my head. I couldn't include a forgettable song on this list.

8) 'You & Me' by The Hunna

A quintessential summer song. I feel sun in my bones when I hear this. 

7) 'Secrets' by State Champs

Tell me that opening line isn't catchy as shit. You'll be lying. Yes, this song was released last summer, but after seeing them with Sleeping With Sirens and (briefly) at Reading festival, this is always going to remind me of 2016. 

6) 'Let Go' by This Wild Life ft. Maya Tuttle

I really enjoy the entirety of This Wild Life's new album, but I think this song stands out the most for me (followed extremely closely by 'Fade', which is devastatingly honest). This is the only new release that I've bothered to listen to in its entirety - it's been one of my most anticipated albums of 2016 since it was released.

5) 'Night People' by You Me At Six

Returning with the rockiest song they've released since 2011, I was grateful that the five lads from Surrey decided to go back to their roots. If they'd stuck to the indie sound they experimented with on 2014's 'Cavalier Youth', I would have been very disappointed. 

4) 'Everybody' by Don Broco
Cowboys are the best things.

3) 'Closer' by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey

With a whopping 250 million views on Youtube - and increasing rapidly! - 'Closer' is the song of the summer. The combination of Halsey and The Chainsmokers is magic, and I can't wait for the official video to be released: it's just going to make it even more popular. 

2) 'Serotonia' by Highly Suspect
While I was tempted to include 'Hello, My Name Is Human' because it's only just been released, 'Serotonia' is the song I can't stop listening to. Opening with the self-absorbed line "I wish that everyone I knew was dead, so that I'd never have to pick up the phone", I was struck by how candid this band's lyrics are.

1) 'Stupid For You' by Waterparks
From that opening "hey!", I was hooked. Unapologetically pop, with synths and electronics weaved throughout, Waterparks first taste of their debut album is addictive. "You're yellow, I'm natural blue", vocalist Awsten Knight croons his girlfriend, yellow Power Ranger Ciara Hanna, and if the rest of the album is as adorable as this song it's going to be very fun indeed.

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! What have been your favourite songs this summer?

Monday, 19 September 2016

'Radio Silence' by Alice Oseman

Image result for radio silence alice oseman
*This review will contain spoilers*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to HarperCollins, for accepting my request to review this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 
'You probably think Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl. I just wanted to say - we don't.'

"Hello. I hope somebody is listening."
The first sentence of 'Radio Silence' is from the 'Universe City' podcast, and becomes extremely relevant as it's repeated throughout the story.

Frances Janvier - head girl, straight-A student, Cambridge University hopeful - is obsessed with a podcast.
She listens to 'Universe City' constantly: it's the only thing that helps her drop off to sleep at night, she's dedicated her spare time to running a fandom art tumblr page, and if you asked her what she was most passionate about it would be the first thing to pop into her head (even if she wouldn't give it as her answer).
So when Aled Last - twin brother of Frances's childhood best friend, Carys, who ran away from home the day after collecting her Year 11 exam results - gets drunk and starts quoting 'Universe City', Frances is amazed. She's finally met someone else who likes the obscure internet thing that she lives for! 
But if she was shocked to find out Aled was a fan, she's doubly surprised when he tells her he's not just another listener: he's the mysterious, anonymous Creator, and he's been living opposite her the entire time.
Becoming fast friends, Frances starts making art for 'Universe City', growing her fandom blog from a few hundred followers to thousands. Messages flood in demanding she tells everyone who the Creator is, and after her, Aled, and Aled's best friend and sort-of boyfriend, Daniel get drunk and upload a video of them messing around in a field, the messages change from questions to accusations: her real name is Frances Janvier, and she should just admit it.
Aled panics. If people find out who he is, his mum will force him to end the podcast, and it's all he's ever really cared about. Frances attempts damage control and admits that they're right, but begs everyone to leave the Creator alone and let his identity remain a secret. That doesn't seem possible in this over-connected internet age, and soon enough Aled's name is floating around in the 'Universe City' tag, along with pictures of him and Frances taken from his personal Facebook.
Aled goes to university and cuts all contact with Frances and Daniel, and within a couple of months he's ended the podcast. Frances blames herself for the world finding out his secret, and is determined to fix things between them and get the show back on air. Can the girl who hates failure succeed at this seemingly impossible task?

I loved it, for many many reasons.

The diversity

  • Daniel is gay, Aled is demisexual (which I've never seen featured in YA before, and is brilliantly explained!), Frances is bisexual and Carys is a lesbian. 
  • Frances is mixed race, having an Ethiopian father and a white mother, and she wishes she "was closer to her ethnicity in general", wanting her father's surname of Mengesha rather than her name of Janvier. 
  • Daniel's real name is Dae-Sung, but his mother changed it after he was bullied as a child, saying "How about we give you a real English name, huh?"
  • Raine - full name Lorraine Sengupta - is in the middle of an art project for coursework on 'racism against Hindus in Britain'.
Sometimes it feels as though this wide range of diversity is shoehorned in, a way to make the book appeal to a wider range of readers and get better sales. That's not the case with this book, which is so natural and realistic.
If you went to school, you'll have interacted with people of different races and sexualities every day - it's just what happens when you put that many people in an environment together! - so it's illogical to only represent one type of person in such a mixed setting. 

The language
  • The Twitter messages sound like a real feed. The Facebook conversations between Aled and Frances perfectly embody their characters, and there's such a contrast between them that you'd be able to tell who wrote which messages just based off of the contents.
  • You feel connected to the characters, because they come alive on the page. You genuinely believe they're real people, and you find yourself wanting to listen to 'Universe City' and join in with the crazy, dedicated fandom experience.
Alice Oseman is only 21, so she knows how to write like a teenager because she was one herself until very recently!

The social commentary
  • "I think everyone's a bit bored with boy-girl romances anyway," he said. "I think the world' had enough of those, to be honest."
  • 'People move on quicker than I can comprehend. People forget you within days, they take new pictures to put on Facebook and they don't read your messages.'
  • "D'you like him?" [...] "No, I don't think so," I said. "That's a bit irrelevant, isn't it?"
  • "I'm in platonic love with you." "That was literally the boy-girl version of 'no homo', but I appreciate the sentiment."
  • 'Uni, job, money, happiness. That's what you do. That's the formula. Everyone knows that.' 

Frances doesn't have a romance. The story focuses on her relationships with her friends and her attempts to accept who she is and be herself in every situation, rather than compartmentalising Real Frances with School Frances. But that doesn't stop people from assuming that her and Aled are dating, incorrectly presuming his sexuality and cementing societies unavoidable need to romantically link people.
It deals with the fact that people feel pressured to go to university. I really related to this: I chose not to go to university at the end of sixth form, but because of circumstances in my workplace a lot of my colleagues have been recommending that I reconsider. I nearly put in an application a couple of weeks ago... But I don't think it's for me. Getting to read Frances's uncertainty about university was actually reassuring: it doesn't have to be something that everyone does!

The one thing I don't love about this story: I'm worried about is how it'll work in a couple of years time. It's so relevant to now, that I'm not sure if it's going to be a Zeitgeist, stuck forever as one of the best books of 2016 and forgotten by the generations to come. Podcasts are surging in popularity this year, and the Facebook and Twitter conversations between Frances and Aled are very realistic, but with teenage conversations and internet language changing monthly - taking a completely different shape within a year - it might be that it's much harder to relate to in the future.

I'm glad that I read 'Radio Silence' when I did, because if my suspicions are correct it won't be as effective by this time next year. It'll be a massive shame, because I want more people to read this book: I'm going to be recommending it at every possible opportunity! I only picked it up because it was the #SundayYA book club pick this month, and I'm really grateful for all of the people who voted for it (even if I did finish it the day after the book club chat - gah!).
I'm hoping it'll go the other way, growing in popularity throughout 2017 as podcasts get more attention and become the dominant media form, but with attention quickly shifting to the 'next big thing' I'm interested to see whether podcasts are just a flash in the pan.
There are other aspects of 'Radio Silence' that will appeal long into the future, though: the realistic depictions of different parents - contrasting Frances's laid-back and supportive mother with Aled's prescriptive and demanding mother - and the wide range of different, and authentically written, characters.
I haven't read Alice Oseman's debut novel, 'Solitaire', yet, but if the writing is as amazing as this I know I'm going to fall head over heels for that as well.