Tuesday, 31 January 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten best comic covers I own

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

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the visuals. I was considering a few different topics, but because I don't get the opportunity to show off my comics much, I thought this was the perfect chance to show you the most beautiful single issues that I own.
I'm a sucker for a good cover. I've been tempted to buy a few single issues from graphic novels that I've read just because their covers are beautiful (in particular this issue of Batgirl!) but I've been exercising all of my self-control to stop myself doing that. I just don't have enough room in my house for them all!
Sadly, this topic has encouraged me to start buying single issues again. I haven't bought a single comic this year so far, but I've now spent a lot catching up on the series I wanted to continue reading - whoops...

10) Gotham Academy: Second Semester #2
I just love the colours on this cover. All of the hands pointing towards Maps is a bit creepy, and it means it's impossible not to read on and find out what the HECK is happening. 

9) Mockingbird #3
I hadn't heard of Mockingbird before, so I didn't get too excited when they announced she was getting her own run of comics. Then this cover was released, and WOW. I love everything about the composition - the colours, the placement, the disorientation of the character being upside down. 

8) Harley Quinn #8
I can't fault this. Both Harley and Poison Ivy look absolutely amazing, and the little disclaimer warning label has you laughing before you've even opened the issue.

7) Patsy Walker aka Hellcat! #
The way the villain is so much bigger than the heroes makes her much more terrifying. Also, how cute is the little Patsy illustration?! This artist is amazing. 

6) Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy #2
When it was announced that Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy were having a short cross-over run, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The first ever graphic novel I read and my favourite graphic novel so far? YES! 
All of the six issues have beautiful covers, but this one is my personal favourite.

5) Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1
I'm so far behind on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur that I'm going to need to buy the graphic novels to catch up, but I love how startling this cover is. It's so simple and that's what makes it so damn effective. 

4) Harley Quinn #7
My favourite thing about this cover is everything going on in the background. You've got the Joker up on stage, Batman wandering around in his pants and Catwoman chilling out in a cage - what's not to love?! 

3) Patsy Walker: Hellcat #3
This is the third issue out of a five issue limited run, and I adore this cover. Hellcat is my favourite superhero, and this is one of the most iconic images I've ever seen. 

2) Doom Patrol #3
I mostly picked up Doom Patrol after finding out Gerard Way was involved in it, but I absolutely love all of the covers. This is my favourite so far: adorable! 

1) Mockingbird #8

Mockingbird ended far too soon, but it went out with a bang: this badass cover was the last issue of the short-lived solo run. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday! Which of the above covers is your favourite, and why?

A Day To Remember - Wembley Arena, London, 27/01/17

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I missed openers Moose Blood due to "lack of staff" causing train delays, but thankfully I made it to my seat moments before Neck Deep took to the stage. 
Neck Deep took over the world in 2016. Starting the year with an international co-headline tour with State Champs, they filled it with festival appearances in more countries than I could count and ended it with a main support slot for Pierce The Veil on a two month tour.
All of that adventuring has caused almost a year to pass since the last time the Wrexham quintet played on UK soil. The moment they bounced out onto the stage it was apparent that a huge chunk of the crowd were there to welcome the boys back home, the roar that erupted for them rivaling the one that the headliners received later in the night.
It's impossible not to have fun during a Neck Deep set. Their music is paint by numbers pop-punk, but their personalities give the band the universal appeal that's helping them break out all over the world. I've missed listening to vocalist Ben Barlow's humorous banter, cheesily asking the crowd "Did Moose Blood make you Blush?" with a proud grin on his face. He almost gave the audience a collective heart attack when he screamed Jeremy McKinnon's name in the middle of 'Serpents', then giggled to himself at the end of the song, asking "Who actually thought Jeremy McKinnon was gonna come out right them? I trolled you all!".
It was a special night for the band, too. Ben shared that they all had family members backstage, joking that he didn't find the crowd scary at all but "somewhere my mum is here, and that scares the shit out of me". Despite his joke it was an emotional moment: Ben's father Terry passed away last year and he was wearing a Terry Barlow Records charity t-shirt at the show, meaning he was at the forefront of every fan's mind.
There's no way he couldn't have been proud of the band for this show, though. Mosh pits broke out during every song - except for the acoustic 'A Part of Me', the only older song that the band played, which had the loudest crowd chant that I've ever experienced - and the audience were constantly surging forward, trying to get closer to the action.
It was obvious that this was going to be a match made in tour heaven: Jeremy actually helped write most of 'Life's Not Out To Get You' (probably the reason the set was so skewed towards tracks from the newer release!) so the bands share a lot of fans. I believe Neck Deep easily could have been main support at this show. 

Gold Steps
Lime St.
Kali Ma
Rock Bottom
A Part of Me
Can't Kick Up The Roots

New Found Glory are a band that I've rapidly fallen out of love with. Something was off when I saw their set at Reading festival two years ago, and despite the fact that they're legends - they're celebrating their twentieth year as a band, which doesn't happen too often! - they just aren't my cup of tea anymore.
A lot of this comes down to Jordan Pundik's distinctively nasally vocal. It's an acquired taste. I was familiar with most of the songs in their set before the show, but I was struggling to distinguish which was which: their set had an almost psychedelic quality, the songs flowing in together and seeming never-ending, making me wonder when it was going to be time for A Day To Remember.
Based on the lack of crowd participation when he held the microphone out, it seemed as though they were fighting a losing battle. Compared to the explosive reaction that relative newbies Neck Deep received, New Found Glory should have had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand, but it just didn't happen. Their more well-known songs got people moving ('All Downhill From Here', 'Hit or Miss' and 'Kiss Me' in particular, as well as closer 'My Friends Over You' which never disappoints) but the majority of their set fell flat, putting a dampener on the evening.
It pains me to say that, because all four of them were so grateful to be there and so thankful to the crowd for watching their set. Normally Jordan and guitarist/backing vocalist Chad Gilbert (also known as Mr. Hayley Williams) are the only ones who talk on stage, but they forced their microphones on bassist Ian Grushka and drummer Cyrus Bolooki, who both expressed gratitude from the bottom of their hearts.
Chad gave a very impassioned speech regarding following your dreams, announcing "Whenever shit gets hard, don't give up. Success is based on your own terms. You're doings things for yourself and not for people who think they suck or they don't suck. Fuck what everyone thinks apart from yourself and your friends and your family". If the band are powered by this mindset it's no surprise that they're about to release their ninth album, and I genuinely hope there are many more: it's refreshing to see a band fighting against adversity rather than buckling under pressure and calling it a day.
That being said, they did perform 'Making Me Miserable' - the soon to be released first single from their upcoming album 'Makes Me Sick' - and it shows promise. Compared to the ceaseless generic punk sound encompassing the majority of their back catalogue, the new material is more upbeat, with a fresh sound that breaths life into the band. It's reminiscent of their seventh album, 'Radiosurgery', and if the rest of the album has this vibe it'll be very enjoyable.
After this show the band announced that they'd be returning to the UK in October, playing six of their albums in full at various shows across the country. I'm not going to be getting tickets to any of the dates, but if you're a big fan don't sleep on it: these are certainly going to sell fast.

All Downhill From Here
Hit or Miss
Something I Call Personality
Hold My Hand
Happy Being Miserable
Kiss Me cover
Dressed To Kill
Vicious Love
My Friends Over You

The last time I saw A Day To Remember was at Reading festival back in 2014. Things in camp ADTR went quiet for a couple of years, but that changed back in September with the release of their sixth album, 'Bad Vibrations'.
At the time of release it was labelled their "best album since 'Homesick'", and having experienced the tracks in a live environment I can confirm that's the truth. I resisted listening to the album before the show, only being familiar with 'Paranoid' and 'Naivety' out of the new tracks they played on the night, but I was completely absorbed in the set despite not knowing a large chunk of the material.
That's the sign of a good band. If they can perform the songs you love perfectly and can blow you away with songs you've never heard before, they can do anything.
The lyrics on the new album are overly repetitive - the aforementioned 'Naivety' featuring the line "Where's my naviety?" eight times, and 'We Got This' repeating the entire chorus six times - but musically they show a huge progression. 'Bad Vibrations' is one of the heaviest songs they've released in at least five years, and both 'Exposed' and 'Justified' completely redeem the band after the uninspired 'Common Courtesy'.
It's not better than 'Homesick', but it's certainly a step in the right direction. The band seemed to be losing themselves for a while there - perhaps due to the recently resolved legal battle with Victory Records, a struggle which lasted for over five years - but they're finally back.
This was A Day To Remember's biggest ever London show. They've played Alexandra Palace twice - a surprise acoustic set at Warped UK back in 2013 and a headline show the following year - but the time had come for them to take the step to Wembley Arena.
Vocalist Jeremy McKinnon knows how to control an arena crowd. With the words 'CIRCLE PIT' flashing on the screens behind them before 'Paranoid' started, Jeremy's encouraging screams whipped the crowd up into a frenzy. The reaction was instantaneous, but the energy didn't peak at the start of the set. During 'Right Back At It Again' Jeremy shouted "I wanna see as many people crowd surfing as humanely possible!", taking it one step further towards the end of the night by encouraging people to go "crowd surfing on a crowd surfer" throughout 'Naivety' - a maneuver that involves someone crowd surfing and one of their friends standing on top of them, attempting to use them like a surfboard. Sounds pretty impossible, right? While the majority of people just ended up crowd surfing regularly, I spotted one intrepid fan making the journey across the crowd on top of his friend - they didn't get very far before being helped down, but it looked awesome while it lasted!
It's only been a couple of weeks since the tenth anniversary of 'For Those Who Have Heart', and they celebrated by playing 'Fast Forward To 2012' - a fan favourite from the album, but one that hasn't been regularly included in their live shows for the past few years. This was obviously a show aimed at promoting the new album, but this was a lovely way to say thank you to the fans who've supported them through the past ten years and while continue to follow them in the future.
'Homesick' is my favourite album, so I was overjoyed that they played more from that album than any other in the set. Finally getting to hear 'Have Faith In Me' live was amazing, and based on how loud the audience were chanting the words back to Jeremy it's obvious that the song still resonates deeply despite being almost eight years old.
My personal favourite moment of the set was the start of the encore. The band went off at the end of the main set to allow the crowd to chant for the encore to start, and when guitarist Neil Westfall appeared on stage before Jeremy he quipped "I'll play this goddamn song solo, I swear to god!".
When Jeremy eventually did appear, holding an acoustic guitar, it was obvious that they were going to be opening the encore with 'If It Means A Lot To You', the closing track from 'Homesick' and their most understated song to date. It was a beautiful rendition, the audience singing every word back to the band and lighting up the arena in a memorable and poignant moment. I've been to a lot of shows, but I'm going to remember that experience forever.
Finishing the encore with the stereotypical pop-punk 'All Signs Point To Lauderdale' (I HATE THIS TOWN, IT'S SO WASHED UP!) and riotous 'The Downfall of Us All', they definitely went out with a bang. This was my first time seeing an A Day To Remember headline set, but it's made it impossible to pass up the opportunity in the future. It's also revived my love for a band who I've lost touch with - I'm going to be listening to 'Bad Vibrations' on repeat for the foreseeable future.

Mr. Highway's Thinking About The End
2nd Sucks
Right Back At It Again
I'm Made of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of
It's Complicated
Fast Forward To 2012
We Got This
Bad Vibrations
My Life For Hire
Have Faith In Me
All I Want
The Plot To Bomb The Panhandle
If It Means A Lot To You
All Signs Point To Lauderdale
The Downfall of Us All

Monday, 30 January 2017

'The Outs' by E.S. Wesley

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Curiosity Quills Press for sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. 
'He couldn't control what he did during the Outs any more than he could stop the Outs from happening at all.' 

'A buzzing sound swarmed Caleb's head, almost knocking him over. Lights blinked to life around him as the shroud lifted from his eyes.'
This opening sentence is as disorienting to the reader as it is to Caleb. The first few chapters are just giant question marks, but if you persevere through them the answers quickly start becoming clear.

A few months ago, the Outs began. During the Outs every electrical device fails to work - no cars, no phones, no lights - and brains can't use the electrical impulses to store memories. Everything that happens in the Outs stays in the Outs: as soon as they end, everything is forgotten.
Caleb wakes up after the Outs in a little girl's room. She lives a couple of doors away from him, but he can't understand why he'd be there, or why he'd be murdering a fellow Deadheader in her bedroom.
'Deadheaders. Dmitri says they shoot people during the Outs just for thrills. I know everyone just comes back to life when the Outs are over and all, but that's just wrong.' 
Yep, Caleb is part of a gang who go around killing themselves and other people just to experience the thrill of revival that comes when the Outs finish. If you die in the Outs, you come back. If you die outside of the Outs, that's just death.
Caleb grabs Amanda and runs. Deeds, the leader of the Deadheaders, wants her for something, but he's determined to protect her.
Kitzi is Caleb's best friend. She suffers from aphasia following a car accident in which she was hit by a drunk driver, and it means she finds it hard to understand speech and to speak herself. In the Outs, however, she's back to the old Kitzi, able to have conversations freely. She's also the only one that can remember what happens in the Outs, but she can't work out if that's just because of her aphasia or if something bigger is at play.
Caleb quickly discovers that Amanda has powers. She wants him to stay, and no matter how many times he tries to leave her he finds himself back in the driving seat of their getaway vehicle. He considers blowing up the SUV to distract the police and cover their tracks, and moments later it goes up in flames; Amanda wants it, so it happens.
'Amanda was doing this. She wanted the SUV to explore, and it did. She wanted Caleb to stay with her, and he stayed. She'd wanted rain and the sky opened up. She was writing this story.'
Leeza, Kitzi's mother, is involved in the team investigating the Outs. She has the only car that works when the electricity goes off, powered by a different kind of energy to allow it to keep running. Kitzi feels as though her mother has abandoned her since her aphasia began, and struggles to accept her mother's involvement in the phenomenon.
But before long, Kitzi will learn that she's a lot more connected to the Outs than she could possibly imagine. Caleb and Kitzi work together to fight Deeds and save Amanda, but as the Outs become more volatile it starts to look like no one will survive...

The concept of 'The Outs' is a fascinating one.
Can you imagine every person in the world losing huge stretches of time, no one knowing what had happened beyond the notes that they'd manage to scribble to remind themselves before the Outs ended? Mass forgetting on that scale is inconceivable. The fact that technology ceased to work meant that there was no chance of anyone vlogging the incident, no live tweeting or photos taken on phones for posterity.
The Deadheaders remind me of the people in 'The Purge'. Being able to do anything without suffering the consequences is a recipe for disaster. There's no way to prove anything that happened during the Outs because no one can remember, so there's no way justice can be served. It's very philosophical. There's no punishment for acts committed in the Outs, which makes everyone act without restraint. If we knew we could get away with it, how far would we go? 
Meanwhile, Amanda reminds me of Eleven from 'Stranger Things'. If you're a fan of that show - and face it, who isn't?! - you'll love this story. The power that she can wield with her mind is astounding, and really cements the stereotype of the creepy child. It all stems from a father's love for his daughter: Amanda dies and Teague is desperate to bring her back, but in doing so he gives her the ability to rewrite the world as she sees fit. It's a warning against people who have the desire to play God, and shows you that sometimes the best thing you can do is just let your loved ones go. Power being held by a child is the cause of most of the weirdness of the Outs. Nightmare creatures swarm across the landscape, packs of lions appear from nowhere to defeat them, and Caleb ends up wearing a suit of armour convinced that he's about to fight the Jabberwocky. Yep, just a little fantastical! It wouldn't have worked the same if Amanda had been older, so making her an innocent little girl who has no idea what she's capable of is another fascinating choice.
I love the way the Deadheaders had multiple personalities, their Outs self and their regular self. Caleb struggles against Crimes, the other him that was created while he was rendezvousing with the Deadheaders, while we discover that Amanda's father Teague is Deeds, the man determined to use her powers for ill. This fight against compulsion is something that we all experience in some way, shape or form - the inner voice that tells us to do a terrible thing that we have no intention of actually doing - and to see the struggle becoming physical is terrifying. Crimes can push himself to the forefront of Caleb's consciousness and take control of his body, leaving Caleb stuck in the background fighting back. It's a sadistic version 'The Host': the Deadheaders take over their hosts to wreak more death and destruction rather than to be able to survive.
However, it makes things convoluted. Teague is Deeds is Nicky, and the more information we receive the more muddling it is to look back over the events that have already occurred. A huge part of this story regards playing with the way that time works, and I found it hard to keep my head straight, particularly when Kitzi ended up in Amanda's dreams, an alternate universe held together with golden threads.
Talking of Kitzi, she was definitely my favourite character. I hadn't heard of aphasia before, but I empathised with her struggle and was cheering for her when she managed to be a badass outside of the Outs while her condition was still plaguing her. E.S. Wesley wrote her perception of dialogue very well, and the frustration that the reader experiences when unable to understand what's happening mirrors Kitzi's frustration. I'm glad that her aphasia wasn't 'fixed' at the end of the novel, because that would have been unfair for people with aphasia who deserve to be represented. I also adored all of her comic book references - they lightened the tone in scenes that would have otherwise been filled only with despair.
I also thought the relationship between her and Caleb was a brilliant inclusion. Too often you read stories where people who have disabilities aren't thought of as lovable, but Caleb realises he loves Kitzi whether she can speak or not. She's always the same person, whether she's talking in the Outs or struggling to communicate but staying by his side outside of them.

I was a little disappointed by the end of the novel, because things are left so wide open, but I have hopes that means a sequel might be on the way. Ordinarily a story like this would have gone right over my head, and while I admit that I didn't understand what was going on for huge chunks, E.S. Wesley is great at helping you join the dots together and see the bigger picture.
If the characters hadn't been so strong, I might have given up on this one, but I couldn't resist seeing what happened to Caleb and Kitzi. Both of them are equally strong, and show that even when you're fighting yourself you can triumph and be a superhero.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

'Lying About Last Summer' by Sue Wallman

*This review will contain spoilers!*
'When somebody dies, you view photos of them in a different way. You want a reminder of how they looked, but you also search for hidden truths in their eyes, answers to questions you can no longer ask them.'

'My sister doesn't use the word disappear but that's what she means.'
The tension is immediate, and knowing that this scene is set in the last summer that's referenced in the title just increases the adrenaline that instantly floods your veins.
It's impossible to put this book down once you've read the first page, and I eagerly devoured it in one sitting.

Last summer, Skye's sister Luisa was murdered. She'd been dealing drugs for her boyfriend, angering the local dealer in the process. A heated argument turned deadly when he shoved her and she hit her head on the side of the pool, falling unconscious and drowning.
The worst part? Skye was hiding in the pool house, frozen in fear, unable to save her sister.
It's now been a year since Luisa's death. Skye's parents send her to Morley Hill, a summer camp with a program to help grieving teenagers. She's surrounded by people her own age who have also experienced death, and rather than being inspirational the getaway just causes more problems for Skye.
For one thing, it's located less than an hour away from the house where Luisa died. Just smelling the country air brings back memories of her old life in the country, before her family left Yew Tree House and moved to London. The camp even sources the ingredients locally, meaning she has to use sauces supplied by the farm shop where she used to work - the place where Luisa's ex-boyfriend Toby is still employed. Then there's the pool where all of the campers can go to relax; water that she used to love swimming in, but can now hardly bring herself to look at...
That's all before someone starts texting her, pretending to be Luisa. She knows her sister isn't alive - she saw her body floating face down in the water - but a part of her still hopes. But when the messages start to get sinister Skye needs to work out who's behind them, before her own life is put in danger.

I read 'Lying About Last Summer' in preparation for the #SundayYA Twitter chat about Zoella's book club, but I'd been intending to read it since publication. Based off of the synopsis - the eerie messages arriving from her dead sister's account - I'd presumed it was going to be a fast-paced thriller, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was much more than that.
Primarily, 'Lying About Last Summer' is about loss. Of course there's the literal loss of Luisa and the subsequent loss of the family home when they relocate, but there's also the loss of innocence, self-confidence and identity. Skye doesn't know who she is without swimming, but she can't bring herself to get back in a pool because the scent of chlorine sends her reeling. Brandon, one of the other campers, has had to deal with the death of his brother and his parent's divorce, leaving him the only mixed-race member of his family when his mother gets remarried to a white man. He feels displaced in his own home, no longer sure of where he fits into the dynamic.
Blame also plays a big part in things. Skye blames herself for not being able to save Luisa, while Fay - Skye's roommate - blames herself for her father's death, because they were arguing and it caused him to crash his car.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. You might be thinking that a book about death would be depressing, but it's very uplifting and inspirational. Rather than wallowing in grief, we see each of the characters coming to terms with their situations in their own time, learning to live for those they've lost. This is why they're at an adventure camp: they can focus on the activities on offer to them, taking their mind off of their grief and showing them that life is still worth living.
In fact, the menacing messages are the least interesting thing about this story. Yes, they drive the plot and ratchet up the tension when Skye has no idea who she can trust, but even without them I would have loved this. I always adore non-chronological narratives, so jumping backwards and forwards to Yew Tree House - getting to know Luisa before she met Nico making her death even more emotional - kept me turning the pages. More than that, though, all of the characters are so strong. I wanted to know more about each of them: who they'd lost, how they were coping, what they were going to go on to do with their lives. I didn't figure out who was sending the messages, but the who wasn't the big question. I was much more interested in why someone would be pretending to be Skye's sister, and I found the answer to that mystery very satisfying.
Skye in particular was very realistic. No one knows how they'll act in a threatening situation until they're in it, and the way that she berates herself constantly for not being braver and trying to help her sister is very authentic. She struggles with the guilt and it makes her feel like a stranger to herself: she can't equate herself with the girl who hid and did nothing. It makes me wonder what I'd do in that situation. Could I put myself at risk to save someone I loved, or am I not that brave?
Joe, one of the other campers, is extremely manipulative towards Fay, and convinces her that she needs to commit suicide to restore the balance she upset by causing her father's death. The foreshadowing is not very subtle, so it's obvious that Joe's going to turn out to be the big bad - especially when you consider the fact that his previous girlfriend killed herself! But it's an interesting argument: if you cause someone's death, do you deserve to die? I think it's much harder - and braver - to continue living with that knowledge, but the idea of a huge unbalanced scale is a fascinating one. Skye ends up saving Fay, which restores her balance in itself: she failed to save her sister, but learns that she can act under pressure and save people - she's just learning it a little bit too late.
The only reason this book didn't get five stars is because it feels a little rushed. All of the characters get established and the ball gets rolling on the plot, and then Skye comments on the fact that there's only two days of camp left. I wanted more. It's only a small book, but I think it could have easily been one hundred pages longer and still held my attention. I don't often complain about books being too short, so that's a compliment in itself!

If you've ever lost someone close to you, you'll relate to this book. It's an honest portrayal of the grieving process: needing to come to terms with loss and being moving on with your life.
Of course, this book poses a lot of philosophical questions. Skye believes she's getting messages from her dead sister, which opens up discussions of the afterlife and signs from the other side, while Joe's conviction that Fay has a debt to pay makes you wonder if the theory of every action having an equal and opposite reaction is true. It's one that's going to stay with me for a long time.
I read this book really quickly, within a couple of hours, and I already want to pick it up again and look for the things that I missed in the background. For a debut novel, it's astounding.
Sue's second novel, 'See How They Lie', is being released in March, and I'm definitely going to be reading it as soon as it comes out.

WTF Did I Miss This Week? #17 (w/c 23/01/17)

The publishing world:

Many more new releases than last week:
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Related imageImage result for the murderer's ape
 Image result for the you i've never knownImage result for the outs wesley

Many more gorgeous cover reveals (and one I'm really not too sure on...):
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Image result for a short history of the girl next door jared reck
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In other news

  • Roxane Gay parted ways with Simon and Schuster due to their book deal with Milo Yiannopoulous.
  • Thanks to everything that's going on in America at the moment, George Orwell's dystopian '1984' is topping sales charts almost seventy years after its release.
  • Maggie Stiefvater announced her next novel: a YA standalone called 'All The Countless Saints'. It's not going to be released until October. 

The music world:

I could only find one new release this week, but it's a blinder:
Image result for all these countless nights
Can you think of any albums that I've missed?

There wasn't much new music, but some previously released tracks now have videos:

The success of Ed Sheeran's new song is about to get bigger with the release of the 'Castle on the Hill' video:

Waterparks aren't 'Royal', but this video is:

Things get intense in this clip for Vukovi's 'La Di Da':

While The 1975 showed their support for the LGBT community by releasing this live video for 'Loving Someone':

There's also an official video for THAT Taylor Swift and ZAYN collab:

Also this week: Mayday Parade released a new video for 'Black Cat' to celebrate the 10-year reissue of 'A Lesson In Romantics', JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights released a new solo track and Craig Mabbitt of Escape The Fate revived side project Dead Rabbitts.

I can't get enough of these tour announcements:
  • I See Stars are supporting their new album by touring the US throughout March and April. Support comes from Echoes.  
  • Devil Sold His Soul are celebrating the ten year anniversary of their debut album, 'A Fragile Hope', by playing four shows in April. They're also releasing the album on vinyl for the first time for Record Store Day on April 22nd!
  • Thrice will be playing two UK shows in April
  • Ed Sheeran's announced an intimate (for him!) UK tour in April and May...
  • ...while The King Blues are playing actually tiny venues during the same two months.
  • Talking of album tours, Coheed and Cambria have announced a run of US dates at which they'll be playing 'Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV | Volume One: Through Fear in the Eyes of Madness' in full. Supported by The Dear Hunter, this is a tour you don't want to skip out on. I'm just crossing all of my fingers that the band announce they're playing it in full at their Download Festival slot in July...
  • Talking of Download, Good Charlotte have announced a European tour around their Download appearance in June
  • Looking ahead, New Found Glory will be returning to the UK in September and October to play headline dates. Each night will feature two different albums in full, so make sure to check out the touring schedule before you buy your tickets! 
In other news
  • A Rocket To The Moon reunited for one night, performing at The Maine's 8123 Festival...
  • ...but this week marked the end of Cheap Girls. RIP. 
  • France's Main Square Festival announced a bunch more bands, including Don Broco, Highly Suspect, and Biffy Clyro...
  • ...Bunbury Music Festival will be hosting 30 Seconds To Mars, The 1975, AFI and many more...
  • ...while Reading and Leeds announced that Kasabian will be their second headliner. Boo. (They then announced Korn as a late addition, which is more promising!) 
  • While She Sleeps unveiled the supports for their UK tour: In Hearts Wake and Fizzy Blood!
  • While Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls will be the support for blink-182
  • Brendan Lukens announced he will not be joining Modern Baseball on their upcoming UK and European tour with The Superweaks and Thin Lips.  
  • New Found Glory announced their new album, 'Makes Me Sick', will be released on April 28th. The first single, 'Happy Being Miserable' will be preceding the album on the 16th of February.
  • As well as announcing that UK tour, The King Blues announced that they'll be releasing 'The Gospel Truth', their first album since 2012, on the 14th of April. 
  • It looks like The Academy Is... might be giving 'Santi' the 10th anniversary treatment.
  • Neck Deep released a charity t-shirt in memory of Ben's father, Terry Barlow, and fans sold it out completely in under an hour. That's a beautiful tribute.
  • Last but most definitely not least, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes' second album, 'Modern Ruin', did HUGE things for independent music. I haven't seen an indie release chart this high in as long as I can remember. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

'Finding Audrey' by Sophie Kinsella

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
'You still want to know, don't you? You're still curious. I mean, I don't blame you. 
Here's the thing: does it matter exactly why those girls were excluded? It's irrelevant. It happened. Done. Over. I'd rather not go into it.'
'OMG, Mum's gone insane. Not normal Mum-insane. Serious insane.'
This made me physically recoil. A book about a character suffering with social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder and depressive episode throwing the word 'insane' around without hesitation? That doesn't seem right to me.

Fourteen-year-old Audrey Turner hasn't been back to school since an unspecified incident including bullying and anxiety. She now stays at home reading all day, keeping herself to herself in her darkroom den and dreading starting at a new school in September. 
Audrey's mother is not impressed that her brother Frank (yep, Frank Turner...) is obsessed with video games. He constantly plays a MMORPG called 'League of Conquerors', certain that his team will be able to win the six-million-dollar prize offered at a tournament in America. She cajoles him and threatens him to use the computer less, but after she catches him playing in the middle of the night she throws his computer out of the window.
This wouldn't affect Audrey too much - in fact, Frank's behaviour takes their parent's attention away from her - if it wasn't for the fact that Frank's LOC teammate, Linus, won't be coming to hang out at their house anymore. Linus is cute and, despite the fact that she runs away when she first meets him, he's patient and kind to her. 
Audrey has been struggling with her anxiety for months, but things start looking up when Linus is around. He challenges her to meet him at Starbucks, something her counsellor has been suggesting she try for a while, and she rises to the occasion and manages it. When they eventually start a relationship, she's over the moon.
But with Audrey so obsessed with getting better and being normal, will her and Linus last or will the pressure be too much?

'Finding Audrey' puts the 'young' in young adult. From the opening sentence with that 'OMG' exclamation through to Audrey's constant exaggerations (in May she says she's been suffering with her anxiety "forever", to which her therapist replies she's been seeing her since March...) I was rolling my eyes regularly throughout this novel. It's melodramatic.
This takes away from the impact on the anxiety. Audrey is such an over-the-top character throughout, so her spiralling anxious thoughts don't stand out from her sassy internal monologue and it makes it hard to take anything seriously. Combine that with her mother's obsession with Frank's gaming, Audrey's much more relevant worries pushed to the background for a slapstick family drama to play out... This was a tongue-in-cheek approach to social anxiety, and I don't appreciate such a careless way of dealing with a serious subject.
Take Audrey's relationship with Linus. It's verging on instalove. She runs away from him when he first approaches her, then proceeds to film him and rewatch the footage, and think about him constantly. Despite the fact that she flees from their date at the coffee shop, he follows her home and they converse via notes through her letter box; the next time they meet on page they have their first kiss and she hardly flinches. Kissing is one of the most anxiety-inducing things in the world, and she manages to make-out with the boy she likes - multiple times - without the merest flutter of panic in her stomach. This isn't realistic.
If you can find me one social anxiety sufferer who can kiss someone without the sweaty palms, I'm-going-to-be-sick feeling, I'll be surprised.
I'm grateful that Linus doesn't fix her, because Audrey is shown going to therapy throughout the novel and she puts in a lot of effort challenging herself to step out of her comfort zone. She also has a relapse when she decides to stop her medication cold turkey, and I'm glad Sophie Kinsella bothered to show that it is not a good idea to do that. These are the only reasons I gave the book three stars instead of one; too many novels neglect to feature characters that take medication and still have therapy, and often medication as seen as an easy, independent fix.
That being said, the only reason she takes her glasses off is because she loses them. There's no big moment where she looks in the mirror and decides to face the world, she just doesn't realise they're missing until her dad points it out.
I was extremely unimpressed by this story. I don't appreciate books that hint towards a big bad event in the past and then won't deal with it; I feel as though it's a way of copping out when the author doesn't know what the catalyst could have been. I also had no idea what the whole video game subplot was about, or why every other chapter was written as a script... A whole mess of things happen in this novel, and not many of them were necessary.

If this had been around when I was younger, I would have loved it. I've always been an extremely anxious person, and being able to read a character who was less confident and struggled with eye contact and talking would have been revolutionary.
Now, I can see that this isn't a great representation. I'm not quite sure why Sophie Kinsella felt the need to randomly spread out into the YA world, but I sincerely hope she sticks to the adult fiction in the future.
If you want to read a good book about anxiety, you want to read 'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' by Sara Barnard. I can't recommend it enough. It's a much more worthwhile way to spend your time than reading 'Finding Audrey' would be.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

'Run' by Kody Keplinger

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

Bo: 'I'm waiting for the sirens.'
Agnes: 'Every small town has that family. You hear their last name and you just shake your head because you know the whole lot of them are trouble.'  
Because this is a dual narrative, it only seems right to look at the first sentences that we get from both characters.
I love the way both of them seem to confirm that Bo Dickinson and her family are trouble - it makes it that much more effective when those assumptions are proven incorrect.

The story starts with Bo, who turns up at Agnes's house in the middle of the night with only a small bag of possessions and Utah, her German Shepherd. Agnes has stolen the keys to her sister's car, and they're going on the run. Bo's mother has just been arrested and she's determined that she won't get put back in foster care, so she hopes that her she can find her father and he'll let her live with him.  Agnes thinks that they're leaving to find somewhere that they can live together, and Bo fails to correct her.
Agnes's chapters are retrospective, starting before her and Bo are friends. Everyone in Mursey knows the Dickinson's are trouble, and Agnes's best friend is never afraid to spread gossip about Bo and her slutty behaviour. But when Agnes gets lost in the woods behind their respective houses, unable to find her way home due to being legally blind, Bo doesn't think twice before helping her home. 
It's the start of a beautiful, turbulent, brief friendship.

Having heard the uproar regarding Voya's review last year, I expected this book to be much more risqué, and I was surprised that it contained virtually no explicit content. Agnes loses her virginity to Bo's cousin, but Bo remains a virgin despite all of the accusatory rumours surrounding her. She kisses the girl that she likes off the page, just recounting it to Agnes later, but doesn't go any further than that.
This leads me to pose the question: why was Bo's sexuality such a big deal? I'm extremely grateful that Kody Keplinger included her in the novel - being bisexual myself it's exhausting to not encounter much representation - but why did the reviewer think the straight-edge virgin was a character that people needed to be warned against? Most of the bisexual characters I've read have been portrayed as stereotypically promiscuous, their interest in multiple genders implying that they need to sleep with everyone, so while it was relieving to have a less overtly sexual portrayal, I don't understand how Bo could have been viewed as inappropriate.
In fact, I think Kody handled Bo's bisexuality beautifully. Her and Agnes have a conversation in which she reassures her that she's not attracted to her, and Agnes accepts that without question. A straight woman isn't attracted to every man she meets, so why should a bisexual be attracted to every person they meet? I particularly loved Agnes and Bo's conversation regarding her bisexuality, in which Agnes quips  
"You kissing a girl might be a sin, but me sleeping with a boy I'm not married to? That's definitely a sin.".
Despite Agnes attending Sunday school every week, she's open-minded, and that shows that not all religious folks are inherently homophobic. It's okay to believe, but you need to forge personal opinions too.
This is an #ownvoices novel, as Kody herself is legally blind. It makes Agnes's arguments with her parents all the more heart-wrenching, because the battle for freedom and autonomy is one that Kody herself will have warred over the years. Whereas before I've read novels where the blind character was portrayed as a weak, helpless sheep, Agnes is strong and can overcome adversity. It's an empowering representation, and I'm sure it's going to help many blind teenagers.
The back and forth nature of the narrative made it an extremely quick read. I couldn't put this book down! I just had to know what happened to Bo and Agnes when they were on the run, but I also enjoyed the way their relationship developed in the throwback chapters. It was a very realistic friendship, and I found myself rooting for the two of them, particularly because Agnes's parents weren't convinced that their friendship was a good idea at the beginning. You shouldn't judge someone based on their reputation; often rumours are completely unfounded, and people just don't have the energy to argue.
I wasn't happy with the ending, but that's my own problem: I always want fairy tale endings for the characters I care this much about, but that's not the way that life works!

This is a wonderful contemporary roadtrip, even though the two characters are on the run and don't have much time for sightseeing! If you like novels that focus on friendship rather than romance, you'll love this one, particularly if you enjoy bittersweet, realistic endings. 
I haven't read any of Kody's other novels, but I'm definitely going to change that. Her writing is simple but enjoyable, and it's been a long time since I've fallen in love with characters this quickly.  It's not quite a five star - I would have wanted Bo's sexuality to become more relevant for that - but it was pretty damn close. I sincerely hope there's a sequel, because the ending is left open and there's still a lot of potential with this duo: I can dream!