A quick shout out to a band who have always been big supporters of this blog. Hearts Under Fire release their brand new single Knots today on iTunes. It’s the first taster of their debut album Outlines, which will be released on October 13th. The all-girl alternative punk-rock foursome have been firm favourites of mine for a long time now and their previous EPs Letters and We’ve Come Too Far To Live In The Past will always be playlist regulars for me. Now as we approach the dawn of their long-awaited album, we are treated to a kick-ass first single just to whet our appetite a little bit more. Here is an acoustic performance of Knots filmed almost a year ago when the song was first written. Download the finished product here.

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theirontrialTITLE: The Iron Trial
AUTHORS: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare
EDITION: Doubleday
PUBLISHED: September 9th 2014

As two of the best-selling and most talked about YA fantasy authors, the collaboration series of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare was always going to make big waves in the teen book lovers community. I’m going to a signing for it at the beginning of next month and wanted to get it read before then, so that I’d have something to talk about with both authors. Although I have a fair few Holly Black books and Cassandra’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, The Iron Trial was my first dip into the worlds of both of their minds and I have to say that I am looking forward to reading more from them.

The Iron Trial is the first book in a new series, Magisterium, a prestigious magic academy that only takes the very best young magical minds. All his life, our protagonist Call has been told by his father that the Magisterium is dangerous and that he should never trust magicians, due to the tragic fate of his mother when Call was just a baby. When the time comes for Call to take The Iron Trial which will judge his ability to make it into the Magisterium, he tries his hardest to fail miserably and he does indeed come bottom of the rankings. Yet the mysterious Master Rufus selects him as one of his apprentices and Call is thrown into the dark magical world that he and his father have tried so hard to avoid. Making friends, uncovering secrets and learning his true power, Call eventually becomes attached to the alluring academy and the ominous shadows that surround it.

Although it may seem obvious even from the synopsis, it wouldn’t feel right not to draw on the comparisons between The Iron Trial and Harry Potter. There are a lot of similarities and the world that the Magisterium inhabits does definitely have an echo of Rowling’s infamous series. In fact, there are even character similarities between Rowling’s three heroes and The Iron Trial’s -Aaron is Harry, Tamara is Hermione and Call is perhaps a version of Ron. However, although these reflections do scream at me, I wouldn’t really say that The Iron Trial is like Harry Potter but with Ron as the main character. Call is not Ron. Although Call and Ron do have some common traits, Call is a brave, intelligent character in his own right and watching him grow over the course of the book is both exciting and heart-warming. Both Aaron and Tamara are much more like Harry and Hermione than Call is like Ron and I think it was seeing the characters that I’ve loved for so many years within them that caused me to connect with these new faces.

While it’s clear that the authors have drawn on inspiration from other successful fantasy series, the events and characters of The Iron Trial are unique. Despite being very familiar with series of this nature, I was taken by surprise on several occasions and it didn’t feel like I was reading a story that I’d read before. Being able to write a series that is ultimately similar to something that is already popular and yet still managing to keep it original must have been no mean feat and I wholeheartedly congratulate the authors on that. The writing style is fresh, engaging and on point while the story draws you right in just as Call is drawn into the Magisterium.

The level of mystery and secrecy is insane. There were so many twists in this book and I found myself gasping at so many points at something completely unexpected. Revealing so much in the first book of a series is something that isn’t often done and it was perhaps a smart move by the authors. We now at least think we know the true nature of the main characters and are merely anticipating trouble to ensue in light of that but are there yet more secrets to be revealed that we haven’t even considered? Judging by the amount of mystery and intrigue that The Iron Trial contained, I can only imagine that there is yet more of that to come.

 

hailmarymallonTITLE: Jonathan
BAND: Hail Mary Mallon
LABEL: Rhymesayers Entertainment
RELEASED: September 9th 2014

As well as the Run The Jewels sequel, another big hip hop story of late is the very recent drop of a new single from a group who have been absent since their heyday a few years ago. Hail Mary Mallon is made up of New York rappers Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic. Jonathan is their comeback single and the first taste of their second album Bestiary, which is now available for pre-order on iTunes with a November release date.

It follows their 2011 debut album Are You Gonna Eat That? which did its rounds of the underground hip hop scene on its release and raised the group’s profile considerably. With that in mind, Bestiary has been a long time coming and those who love their fierce rhythms and quirky offbeats will welcome Jonathan with open arms. It’s promoted with a very intriguing, kooky video which features tarot cards mixed with playing cards and an array of interesting characters. The group have pushed their tongues firmly in their cheeks and simply said of the video: “Our video for Jonathan was shot on location in an arcade, the forest, the desert, the sky and the ocean. It is the best video you will ever see for our song Jonathan”.

hailmarymallonduoThe song follows a simple low-key rhythmic pattern for the most part with both rappers trading verses in a steadfast manner but it does occasionally throw itself off-balance with an electronic aside that give it character. There are plenty of trippy squeaks and kooky electronic spurts that save it from being a straightforward plodding rap track. One thing I really like is the magical mystic theme to the lyrics which is reflected in the video. This isn’t something that is visited much in the hip hop I’ve listened to, which makes a refreshing change for me in terms of subject matter.

Hail Mary Mallon are still a very under-talked about group and Jonathan probably won’t be heard by that many people. However, it is pretty catchy and the video is full of cool tricks that you want to watch over and over again. Have a listen yourself and tell me you don’t want to watch this video again!

Following last year’s comeback album Save Rock And Roll and their explosive hit single My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark, Fall Out Boy are back with a new single. Centuries premiered on Radio 1 yesterday and it is the first hint of what is to come on the band’s sixth album, the release date of which is still yet to be decided. In a recent interview, bassist Pete Wentz said “We don’t have an exact timetable yet. I have a two-week old son and Patrick has a baby on the way in October, so there’s a lot going on.” As with all Fall Out Boy songs, Patrick Stump’s unmistakeable vocals are the most striking aspect and this time they’re backed by a more muted guitar and softer drum than their previous work. The hook is another incredibly catchy one and Centuries could definitely be a big autumn anthem. Listen to it now!

queenofthetearlingTITLE: The Queen Of The Tearling
AUTHOR: Erika Johansen
EDITION: Bantam Press
RELEASED: July 17th 2014

This book was an instant buy for me as soon as I heard of its existence. Being a huge fan of Emma Watson who apparently couldn’t put it down, I simply had to give it a go. Despite it being a very new release, a film adaptation is already confirmed with Emma as the star and Harry Potter producer David Heyman in the director’s chair. Having read it, I’m positive that it will be a blockbuster not to be missed.

Set in the 24th century, the story follows Kelsea, the heiress to the throne of the Tearling, who has been raised in a woodland cottage by her foster parents after the death of her mother Queen Elyssa. On the evening of her nineteenth birthday, the remainder of the Queen’s Guard arrive to take Kelsea back to the Keep where she will rule as queen. For the last eighteen years, the Tearling has been ruled by her uncle, the Regent who is controlled by the evil Red Queen of neighbouring kingdom Mortmesne. Protected by the Mace and an army of men who were fiercely loyal to her mother, Kelsea embarks on the journey to rescue her kingdom from the tyranny that it’s under while dodging the forces that are out to kill her.

Kelsea is a wonderfully funny and endearing protagonist. Johansen has created a heroine that is strong-willed, down-to-earth and extremely easy to relate to. She isn’t the typical beautiful princess, as she is repeatedly described as plain and overweight and her attitude is indeed far from queenly. She is constantly being told how different she is to her mother who was spectacularly vain and stupid. Kelsea’s love of books and knowledge stems from her childhood in the woods and it’s this upbringing that no doubt gives her the humble personality that so astounds her Guard on first meeting her. Her naivety is countered by her growing maturity throughout the book as she learns more about the situation she has been born into and what she can do to rectify it.

Although the book is supposedly set in the very distant future, it has an overwhelming medieval theme running through it. There doesn’t appear to be any technology or futuristic elements but the mention of doctors and such remind us that this isn’t the medieval time that we know of. The idea that the 24th century will actually be very much like the 15th and 16th is incredibly original and interesting to consider. What implications would that have and what happened to cause the world to reverse so dramatically? There is the feeling that some sort of apocalypse or global revolution occurred and there are brief mentions of the time before but the reader is left to come to their own conclusions about that, opening it up to multiple interpretations.

Scattered with smile-inducing one-liners, a fast-paced fantasy plot and a main character going through both the physical journey to her throne and the emotional journey of growing up, The Queen Of The Tearling is a must read for Game Of Thrones fans, particularly female ones. Like George RR Martin’s epic series, there is plenty of debauchery and threat but with much more likeable characters and an undeniable feminist slant. I’d love to see more kick-ass female protagonists in fantasy series and Kelsea more than satisfies that. I’m very much ready for the sequel already!

 

 

 

taylorandmarieTITLE: Tilt The Moon
BAND: Taylor And Marie
LABEL: Dink’s Records
RELEASED: August 25th 2014

Folk and country music have become more prominent in the mainstream over the last few years but it’s always mixed with pop or indie such as Mumford And Sons or Of Monsters And Men. It’s rare that we get an authentic retro sound that is still cool enough to potentially sit alongside those big names. Pembrokeshire duo Taylor And Marie present a soulful blues-folk sound that fits this bill perfectly.

Influenced by great country duets such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Johnny Cash and June Carter, young artists Samuel Taylor and Jodie Marie have a shared love of old-school greats which brought them together to write their own creation. Samuel says:

“We spent late nights listening through loads of old records. Just showing each other tracks we loved. I’d put on ‘One Too Many Mornings’ by Dylan and Jodie would put on ‘Silver Dagger’ by Baez, I’d play ‘Beeswing’ by Richard Thompson and Jodie would show me ‘Love Has No Pride’ by Bonnie Raitt and on and on. Jodie has a great knowledge of music and showed me so many soulful, blues, country records. It was great to listen and naturally form the ideas of what we wanted to create.”

Their EP is made up of songs that were spawned from these late night sessions and the strong presence of the moon on it is explained by the duo:

“It’s the light that brightens up a night sky, it controls the tides”, explains Marie with Taylor suggesting “The moon, I’m drunk on the moon… Seems to make a lot of sense considering most of the songs we’ve written seem to have arrived with us late at night, during all night sessions playing songs.”

premiere-taylor-marie-all-i-need-from-their-debut-epIt begins with All I Need, a country strum and the first taste of these wonderfully authentic retro folk vocals. There is the obvious hippy vibe and a nice simple beat underneath the smooth harmonies. Add a catchy laid-back rhythm and it’s the perfect track to doze to on a warm summer evening under the stars. It’s followed by their cover of American 60s rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic hit Bad Moon Rising. Putting a country spin on it with the inclusion of a harmonica, Taylor And Marie perform subtle harmonies over the steady drum and summer party feel.

Winding down in the second half of the EP, it moves into Never Let You Down. Marie’s gorgeous bluesy tone filters through the steady plodding rhythm of this soothing love ballad. It’s a story of undying friendship and love which is illustrated in an atmospheric soundscape and swaying flow. You really feel the connection between both halves of the group in this song and it is perhaps their own story of how they’ll always be there for each other.

Ending on the tired notes of the title track Tilt The Moon, the EP comes to a sleepy end. A simple slow strum and soft piano are all that is needed to back up the exposed vocals. The chorus has some dramatic crashes which add a quirky twist to this otherwise mellow, calm ending to a very arty, vintage-inspired EP.

It’s perfect for chilling out to and getting a modern flavour of times gone by. This resurrection of folk and country music is something that is very much welcome. These songs are honest and full of emotion as well as being dedicated to telling beautiful stories, which isn’t a common motif in contemporary music. Taylor And Marie are not aiming to be retro blues stars. They’re simply bringing back their musical tastes into a world which has lost touch with them.

Landline-Rainbow-RowellTITLE: Landline
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
EDITION: Orion
RELEASED: July 8th 2014

When I went to YALC at Earl’s Court last month, I knew that Rainbow Rowell would be there but I didn’t know that her latest novel Landline would be available to buy and then get signed by the lady herself. So of course, I picked up a copy and queued up to get it signed. I noticed that Rainbow had written “Meow!” on the title page along with her signature. Anyone who knows me personally will know only too well how much I love cats and so I was delighted but a little confused about why it belonged within Landline. Having now read the book, I fully understand!

Having not read her debut novel Attachments yet, Landline was my first adult Rainbow Rowell novel. It follows comedy TV writer Georgie McCool who is married to both her husband Neal and her exciting career. One Christmas, she is forced to sacrifice joining Neal and their two young daughters on a festive trip to Neal’s mother’s home, in order to work on one of her shows that looks set to make all of her dreams come true. Before Neal and the girls Alice and Noomi leave for Omaha, Nebraska, tensions between Georgie and her husband are high and they part on shaky terms.

While her family are away, Georgie spends most of her time at her mother’s house with her mum, stepdad and younger sister Heather. Finding a mysterious yellow landline phone in her old bedroom, Georgie rings Neal at his mother’s house. Instead of the Neal she married, she reaches the Neal from fifteen years ago. After getting over the initial shock of owning what appears to be a magic phone, Georgie realises that she has the power to mend their fraying marriage and rekindle the love between herself and Neal.

Landline is both hilarious and emotional in equal doses. Georgie and her best friend/writing partner Seth have a great dynamic relationship that produces countless jokes and is the perfect example of a grown-up, platonic friendship. Although there are moments when you wonder if Georgie and Seth do have a sexual attraction to each other, it’s always clear that Georgie is madly in love with Neal and cannot imagine being with anybody else. Even in the chapters which look back to their college days, it’s always obvious that she only ever has eyes for her future husband which causes the reader to urge them to work out their issues.

A message that Landline leaves you with is the mantra that true love will always win out in the end. It has a tearful but beautiful ending that leaves you on a cloud of hope that no matter how bad things may seem to get, they’ll work out as long as the love remains. I saw so much of myself in Georgie even though I am a good 10-15 years younger than her. It says a lot about Rowell as a writer that she has managed to make a connection between me, a 23-year-old British girl and Georgie, a 30-something American mother and wife.

I’d recommend Landline to both Rowell’s YA readers and adults alike. The characters in Landline are so easy for anyone to relate to and will provide you with the perfect mixture of laugh-out-loud moments and a tearjerking conclusion with plenty of philosophical asides about life and love thrown in. Give it a go, whoever you are because I guarantee that it will become a favourite!

 

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