Saturday, 15 June 2019

Claire Legrand's Explosive Fantasy 'Furyborn' on Audiobook - Review ★★★★☆

Furyborn by Claire Legrand | Audiobook Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

I haven’t read a good young adult fantasy novel in ages, except for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, but then I read (and loved) Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls and knew that the next logical choice had to be her epic fantasy Empirium series. Furyborn, the first in the series, is everything that young adult fantasy stopped being ages ago. Too often, young adult fantasies feature rushed and weak storylines, with authors drawing out plots so that they can turn a single story into a trilogy. More often than not, those plots focus on love interests and the ever-present love triangle, rather than exploring the magical worlds that the authors work so hard to create.

Furyborn is different. Claire Legrand writes powerful, complex female characters and Furyborn features two strong protagonists. Rielle Dardenne has grown up with her best friend Prince Audric and his betrothed Lady Ludivine. When Audric is the target of an assassination attempt, Rielle rushes to his defence and exposes to the world her unique and formidable magical powers. Such power can only mean one of two things, that she is a prophesied queen of great good or of great evil. To prove her worth and save her life, Rielle is forced to undergo a series of trials that may yet kill her in the meantime.

Furyborn by Claire Legrand | Audiobook Review | Superior Young Adult FictionOne thousand years later, Eliana Ferracora is a bounty hunter, working on behalf of the Empire to eradicate the rebel Red Crown. Her life is changed forever when her mother is abducted and the mysterious figure The Wolf convinces her to join him in looking for her.

Told in alternating chapters as we switch between the stories of Rielle and Eliana, Furyborn kept me up for far too many nights as I devoured just one more chapter. The story begins at the end of Rielle’s story, only to take readers back to the very beginning, ever conscious of the tragedy that awaits. When we meet Eliana, she is at the start of her story, with no idea of what awaits her. Despite thinking you might know everything, Legrand takes the reader on an explosive journey as you slowly start to unravel what really happened.

At over 500 pages, Furyborn is an epic tome yet I was surprised at how captivating and uncomplicated it was for such a lengthy fantasy novel. I really appreciate this – fantasy novels are often far too complicated for their own good and keeping notes to keep up with a novel is not my idea of fun.

Despite this, I was nevertheless pleased to have listened to this on Audible. Fiona Hardingham does a fantastic job of bringing this story alive and her voices for each of the characters was superb, especially the creepy Corien. I'm really enjoying listening to audiobooks lately but I'd especially recommend them if you're struggling with a lengthy or complex novel.

Ultimately, Furyborn is fascinating, fun and intriguing. I wouldn't go so far as saying it ends on a cliffhanger but the story is far from resolved and I'm pleased to arrive late to the Empirium party because sequel Kingsbane is already released and next on my to-listen pile.

I give Furyborn an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to kindred seekers of superior young adult fantasy fiction.

★★★★☆

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Thursday, 13 June 2019

Horror Film Review: Boo! (2019) ★★★★☆

Boo! (2019) | Horror Film Review | Starring Aurora Perrineau

Halloween night, suburban Detroit. A family is settling down to eat when the doorbell rings; on the doorstep is a sinister package promising the recipient certain harm if the curse isn't passed on. Caleb is terrified for he alone knows the legend of the Boo! and of the terrible fate of the Vietnam veteran who failed to pass it on. Unfortunately for Caleb, he can't convince his religious father, alcoholic mother or rebellious sister to take the curse seriously and the Boo! is destroyed.

It's not immediately obvious the danger the family faces but soon an insidious terror pervades the home. As each family member is forced to face the worst of their memories and burdens, it becomes clear that none of them may survive the night. In scenes reminiscent of The Babadook, the horror represents all of the dysfunction and emotional trauma evident in this family and every way in which they failed each other. It is gory and graphic with unsettling scenes of trauma, self-harm and mutilation.

Boo! (2019) | Horror Film ReviewWith a healthy doses of scares and reliance on wild imagery, Boo! is an exhilarating ride though the dark undertones of a dysfunctional family. Interestingly, the film also delves deep below the surface and into the horror of everyday living in a city that is devouring itself. Could it be that the curse is a blessing that could save the family from their nightmare existence?

Alas, for all of its promise, Boo! falters in the final act, which is to say that I didn't like the ending. I'm not saying the outcome should have been different, just that the way there should have been better.

Directed by Luke Jaden in his directorial debut, Boo! stars horror regulars Rob Zabrecky and Jill Marie Jones (Ash vs The Evil Dead) as parents James and Elyse. Relative newcomer Jaden Piner (Moonlight) gives a thoroughly disturbing performance as Caleb and Aurora Perrineau gives a standout performance as his sister Morgan. Charley Palmer Rothwell has departed (Dunkirk) England for Detroit and stars as Morgan's surprisingly honourable boyfriend Ashton.

Boo! (2019) | Horror Film Review | Starring Rob Zabrecky

I enjoyed Boo! and give it four out of five stars. I was wavering between three and four stars, having firmly deducted a star for the ending, but it is scary with decent character exploration and great imagery so I feel it deserves better than an average rating.

★★★★☆

Boo! (2019) Trailer

Boo! is available on Digital Download from 17 June 2019.

Boo! (2019) | Horror Film Review | Starring Jaden Piner

Boo! (2019) | Horror Film Review

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Saturday, 8 June 2019

Emily Barr's 'The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods' - Audiobook Review ★★★★☆

The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods | Audiobook Review | Superior Young Adult Fiction

In the mid-to-late 1990s it seemed like everybody was checking out, some more than others. In a resurgence of 60's hippie culture, New Age travellers and other likeminded individuals were rejecting the millennium and all that it brought and going off-grid. I've often wondered what became of those people, the ones who simply disappeared and speculated about the lives of the children that grew up in cults and alternative communities.

Emily Barr's The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods begins in one such community. Set in a clearing in the woods in a remote south Indian forest, a group of people believe themselves to be all gods and goddesses. They are completely self-sufficient, shunning contact with the world outside, and the children in the community have never seen more than ten people in their lives.

The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods | Audiobook Review | Superior Young Adult FictionUntil one day when tragedy occurs during an annual celebration and sixteen-year-old Arty is forced out of the community and into a world she has never set foot in, in order to gain urgent medical attention.

Often hilarious but equally heartbreaking, The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods is Arty's story and how she comes to terms with this brand new world, considering that much of her previous knowledge was gleamed from Richard Scarry picture books. Everything is new to her and how is it that we all carry around phones that we use to do everything but talk to other people?

Threaded throughout the novel is a mystery and the promise of a dark secret. As the chapters flip between now and then, we have to wonder how it was that things went so wrong, how did Arty's mother land up in the clearing in the woods and is Arty herself now in grave danger?

At times uplifting in a way that reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire and at others downright terrifying, The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods is wonderfully unique and speculative (although I have started to notice other novels coming out with a similar theme). Arty often shows eye-rolling naivety - I honestly thought I'd dislocated my eyeball during one particular scene - and she possesses impossible amounts of good luck and fortune. But if you can suspend disbelief and forgive Barr for her slightly rose-tinted storytelling, there is a deeper message to be found about privacy, technology and how we build trust to develop deep and meaningful relationships.

I listened to The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods on Audible, narrated by Tamaryn Payne. Tamaryn did a great job of reading the multitude of characters in the story, so much so that you can begin to tell them apart by her voice. I obviously can't know for sure but I think I enjoyed this novel more on audiobook than I would have if I'd read it and I'd definitely recommend it.

I give The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of young adult thrillers, lovers of India and anyone with a healthy fascination of cults and communes.

★★★★☆

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Sunday, 2 June 2019

Burn the Floor: Orchard Theatre, Dartford, 1 June 2019 - Review

Burn the Floor | Orchard Theatre | 1 June 2019

I have a confession to make. I might be the only person on this island to have never seen an episode of Strictly Come Dancing which is crazy, because I love watching dance events. When I heard that Burn the Floor was coming to Dartford, lead by stars from Strictly Come Dancing, I rushed ahead and bought tickets because I knew my mum would love it. Little did I know that I would absolutely love it too.

Burn the Floor: Ballroom. Reinvented.

The aim of Burn the Floor is to revolutionise ballroom dancing and deliver to audiences a high-voltage dance experience featuring jaw-dropping choreography and cutting edge dance moves. The show features just about every kind of dance move possible, including Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Cha Cha, Samba and Jive.

Burn the Floor is embarking on a tour of UK and South Africa this year with a stop at the Sydney Opera House but audiences in the UK are especially lucky because our shows feature none other than Kevin Clifton, winner of last year's Strictly Come Dancing and fellow SCD dancers Graziano Di Prima and Johannes Radebe.

And boy, were we lucky. Like I said, I arrived last night without the faintest Scooby who Kevin Clifton, Graziano Di Prima and Johannes Radebe were but after last night, I'm ready to declare my undying love for each one of them and all the dancers, singers and musicians on stage. My only problem with the show was that it had to end. I was not ready for that.

The magic of Burn the Floor is that it was so intimate. We learned very quickly that Kevin Clifton was Kevin from Grimsby who won Strictly but we also learned all about the history of the show, how it saved Kevin's life (or at least his love of dance) and how it paved the way for his appearance in Strictly. We also heard from Johannes about his trials growing up in South Africa amidst the stigma and bullying and how a one-line email changed his life forever. Graziano also spoke about his journey and how he came to meet the love of his life who is now his fiancée.

Woven in between the words and stories was some of the most incredible and breathtaking dancing I've ever seen. I loved the show from start to finish but there were some absolute highlights for me.

  • Johannes Radebe: yes, I'm biased by the fact that Jo is South African but man, he is also graceful and beautiful. I was utterly transfixed every time he was on stage. What an incredibly talented human being. I'm now going to watch Strictly Come Dancing in future to ensure that he becomes one of the partnered dancers.
  • Kevin performing and dancing to "Mr Bojangles", featuring stunning footwork and choreography
  • "Hallelujah" and "O Fortuna"
  • "I'm Only Human After All": watching this performance was life changing for me. For one, I'm currently listening to my new-favourite-song by John "The Ragin Cajun" Jones for the 10th 11th time since last night but it's more than just an ear worm. It's something Kevin said earlier in the evening - dance can be so powerful, conveying the most intricate storylines and emotions on stage - I felt this to my core during this performance, it was so good.

Sadly, there are only a handful of performances left on the UK tour and as I write this, there are less than a handful of tickets available. Perhaps we could all fly to South Africa and see the show there?

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Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Her’s Memorial Event to be Held in Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church in June

Her’s Memorial for Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading

Friends and family of Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading, known as the band Her’s, have arranged a memorial event in their honour.

Friends of Her’s will take place on Sunday 16th June at The Bombed Out Church in Liverpool. The event will include DJ sets from the likes of The Orielles, Happyness, Brad Stank and Pizzagirl; an exhibition from official band photographers; and a presentation of the band’s artwork. In addition, there will be exclusive video screenings, street food and bars.

All proceeds from the event will go towards the organisation of workshops and projects in support of the local homeless community, based at St Luke’s (Bombed Out Church). Particular focus will be placed on the use of music and the arts as a means of rehabilitation. This ongoing series will be run as part of Stephen and Audun’s legacy, testament to their immense enthusiasm for music and the well-being of others. Donations to the project can be made at https://friendsofhers.com

Details of the event can be found here.

“Whilst we continue to feel devastated by the loss of our friends, it was very clear from the outpouring of love for them that there should be an event to celebrate their lives and the amazing music they brought to the world”,say their label Heist or Hit. “Stephen and Audun were always very humble and particularly loved house parties with friends. We hope that, in addition to the official event on 16th June, fans of Her’s throughout the world will gain some comfort by holding house parties of their own on the same day.”

Fans from around the world are encouraged to throw their own ‘Friends of Her’s’ parties on the same night to pay tribute in whichever way they see fit, and share their events on social media using the hashtag #friendsofhers with any contributions directed to the same donations link: https://friendsofhers.com

In addition, an arresting and poignant video for their track ‘She Needs Him’ has been posthumously released today. In December 2018, the band began working with French motion designer and illustrator Sébastien Séjourné, creating an official video for the track from their 2018 debut album ‘Invitation to Her’s’. Mick, Martin and Patrick from the record label decided it felt right to complete the video as a tribute to the band and their fans.

A fund has already been established by the family of the band’s tour manager Trevor Engelbrektson. More details can be found here

‘Friends of Her’s’ will be held on Sunday 16th June at The Bombed Out Church in Liverpool. Tickets for the event go on sale tomorrow Wednesday 29th of May at 9am and can be purchased for £5: here but with the option to donate more should you wish.

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Saturday, 25 May 2019

Natália Gomes's Devastating 'We Are Not Okay' ★★★★☆

We Are Not Okay by Natália Gomes | Superior Young Adult Fiction

All is not well at Birchwood High School, located in a small town near Glasgow, Scotland. Underneath the veneer of respectability and proper school rules, lies a culture of shaming, gossip and bullying. It is in this fictional setting that Natália Gomes sets her latest young adult novel We Are Not Okay which explores the treacherous paths teens must traverse in an age where every step is captured and shared on social media.

We Are Not Okay is told by four narrators in short, alternating chapters, making it almost impossible to put down. Sophia is almost ready to take her relationship to the next level with her boyfriend Steve until he betrays her in the most public way possible. Lucy is hiding a terrible secret but she knows that as long as she works to destroy the lives of others, it will serve to deflect attention away from her.

Ulana is a Muslim student, recently moved over from Morocco, who stands on the sidelines of Birchwood society. She knows that just one wrong step could bring dishonour to her family. Trina knows she will never go to university and despite her reputation, has only gone as far as kissing boys. She definitely didn’t consent to what happened at Lucy’s party.

We Are Not Okay by Natália Gomes | Superior Young Adult Fiction It’s a train wreck waiting to happen and when it does, it impacts not only the lives of four girls but the whole community surrounding Birchwood High School.

We Are Not Okay ticked many boxes for me. The four protagonists showed great character development over the course of the story and had to make brave decisions in very trying circumstances. I didn’t always agree with or respect the decisions they made but ultimately they were all written in line with their characters and I respect that.

Ultimately this was a fast-paced novel that showed how quickly incidents can escalate in the small microcosm of a high school and it was good to read a book of this kind set in a school in the UK. Because of its focus on bullying and social media, this would be a great book to read in the classroom. Natália also writes under the name N. D. Gomes and I liked what I read here enough to add her novels Dear Charlie and Blackbird to my to-read list.

I give We Are Not Okay an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of 13 Reasons Why, John Green and Jennifer Niven.

★★★★☆

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Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience, London - 10 Things to Expect (No Spoilers!)

Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Immersive Experience

Tonight was incredible because it was finally my chance to head over to Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience in Leadenhall Street, London for a night of steampunk excess and a fan extravaganza dedicated to Jeff Wayne’s seminal work.

If you’re a fan of the musical, you’re going to love this, a lot. You may also, at times, appear more terrified than other visitors. If you’re not a fan yet, I predict that you’ll love this immersive audio-visual experience so much that you may well end up buying a t-shirt in the gift shop afterwards.

And if you really haven’t heard of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds yet, it was a 1978 concept album based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells. Set in Victorian London, it tells the story of the Martian invasion of earth and features searing electric guitars and unmistakeable basslines. I’ve been a fan for 40 years.

The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience - Review

I have to admit, I don’t quite know how to express how much I enjoyed this event without spoiling it. In a sentence, I will say that it is very, very good and you should go see it whether you’re already a fan or soon to become one. Perhaps if I simply leave you with a list of what to expect on the night?

  1. You’ll walk through Victorian London and see and hear Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds in ways you’ve never experienced it before
  2. You’ll meet Ogilvy the astronomer who will confidently tell you that the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one
  3. Shortly after that, you’ll decide that standing in the front might not be the best idea after all. In fact, head straight to the back
    Death ray - Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Immersive Experience
  4. You’ll realise that there is absolutely no reason to have anything on your person including phones and bags. Leave them all at the free coat check so that you can run about without worrying about them (but keep some money for the intermission bar)
  5. You’ll have tea and biscuits in George Herbert’s house and learn the meaning of true terror
  6. You’ll encounter a virtual Martian wasteland and will very much want to run as far away from the horror of your surroundings as possible. And you’ll think oh my god, please don’t let it touch me
  7. You’ll take a journey through Forever Autumn and meet Thunderchild
  8. You’ll take a much needed break at the Red Weed Bar. Definitely try out their signature cocktail.
  9. You’ll experience absolute terror, again and you’ll learn that unlike in your nightmares, it seems you really can scream when you need to. Loudly.
  10. You’ll start all over again in a brave new world before a breath-taking finale over Dead London

Details and tickets

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience opens at London's Old Metal Exchange on 31 May 2019.

Address:
56 Leadenhall Street,
London,
EC3A 2BJ

Tickets:
From £49.50 adults / £39.50 children aged 12-15
Buy

Recommended attire:
Comfortable walking shoes as you'll be running, standing and crawling for 110 minutes. Leave jackets, phones and bags at the free coat check.

Disability and Accessibility information:
The venue will be arranging regular wheelchair accessible events. Please visit this link for all disability and accessibility information.

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