Saturday 31 October 2015

Book Review: Magnus Chase & The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Last Updated: 28 May 2021

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan book cover

AD* | Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by a man he’s never met - a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die...

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Book Review: The Keeper by David Baldacci

Last Updated: 28 May 2021

The Keeper by David Baldacci book cover

AD* | Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She was told there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she believed it - until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie. 

Now just one thing stands between Vega Jane and freedom - the Quag. In order to leave Wormwood and discover the truth about her world, Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across a terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega Jane's darkest imagining. It's a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in.

The Quag will throw everything at Vega Jane. It will try to break her. It will try to kill her. And survival might come at a price not even Vega Jane is willing to pay.

Friday 16 October 2015

Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Last Updated: 21 May 2021

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld book cover

AD* | Don’t call them heroes.

But these six Californian teens have powers that set them apart. They can do stuff ordinary people can’t.

Take Ethan, a.k.a. Scam. He’s got a voice inside him that’ll say whatever you want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t—like when the voice starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly best friends these days.

Enter Nate, a.k.a. Bellwether, the group’s “glorious leader.” After Scam’s SOS, he pulls the scattered Zeroes back together. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases.

Filled with high-stakes action and drama, Zeroes unites three powerhouse authors for the opening instalment of a thrilling new series.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Gig Review: Rae Morris at Cambridge Junction

* First published on Kettle Mag here.

AD* | Over the past year, Rae Morris has been slowly but surely making a name for herself in the music industry.

The 23-year-old songstress released her debut album, Unguarded, back in January of this year. The album peaked at number 9 in the UK chart, and brought Rae to the public’s attention. Unguarded was very strong for a debut album. It features 12 tracks of Rae’s distinctive piano-led pop, some including a twist of folk, others much more pop-oriented. You can find my original review of Unguarded here.

And now Rae is off on her own headline tour, riding on the success of Unguarded.In her own words, she’s only ever dreamed of a tour as big as this, so to make it become reality is a massive accomplishment for her. And it really shows – it’s clear to see how much it means to Rae, which makes the tour only more special.

Cambridge Junction is a fairly intimate music venue, allowing fans to get up close and personal with artists. It’s the perfect contrast to the glut of massive arena tours dominating the music industry at the moment. It also showcases talent like Rae’s perfectly.

Support came in the form of Dan Owen, followed by Roo Panes. Singer-songwriter Dan Owens got the night off to a brilliant start. His last song was especially memorable as he transformed into a one-man band, playing the guitar, bass drum and harmonica as well as singing all at once. The second support act, Roo Panes, kept on building the atmosphere. Singer/guitarist Roo Panes was joined by a cellist, forming an intriguing duo to play songs from their classic folk-pop repertoire.

By the time Rae Morris came on, the crowd were more than ready to see the main act of the night. Rae came on stage to plenty of applause, launching straight into her track ‘Skin’. Clad in a bold, patterned jumpsuit and with her trademark curls set free, she was every inch the picture of a folk-pop songstress at the top of her game.

The show continued with hit after hit from Unguarded, plus a rendition of ‘Up Again’, the track she wrote for electronic group Clean Bandit. The more upbeat numbers seemed to be the biggest hits with the audience, with songs like ‘Under The Shadows’ getting people moving and dancing along to the music. However, a personal highlight of mine was Rae’s moving performance of the emotional track ‘Don’t Go’, which has recently been re-released for the breast cancer charity ‘CoppaFeel!’.

My only criticism is that the set was quite short, especially when compared to the extensive sets of some other artists. Perhaps this was due to the high level of organisation – everything started and finished on time, and there was no messing about on the production front. To be honest it was a nice change to attend a gig where everything did run smoothly for once! It could also be down to the fact that Rae (as she admits herself) isn’t much of a talker between songs. Either way, it was still an enjoyable show and a great evening.

* I received tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review

Are you a fan of Rae Morris? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday 4 October 2015

Gig Review: James Bay at O2 Academy Brixton

AD* | 2015 has really been James Bay’s year. At the start of the year virtually no-one had heard of him. Now, nine months later, everything has changed for the 25-year-old from Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Over the course of one short year Bay has had a number one album, Chaos and the Calm, received the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2015 Brit Awards, and it has just been announced that Chaos and the Calm has become the biggest album of 2015.

Riding on the success of Chaos and the Calm, his debut studio album, which I also reviewed for Kettle earlier in the year, James Bay is out on tour again. Last week saw him complete a sold-out three-night residency at Brixton’s O2 Academy, before continuing on his world tour, which culminates with another three-night London residency at the Eventim Apollo in March 2016.

Now, for someone who’s currently at the top of the UK music industry, I surely wouldn’t be wrong for expecting a polished, slick performance from a James Bay show. It started off well on Wednesday night, but I was left with the distinct feeling that things weren’t quite going as planned on the technical side. In between every act crew members were scurrying around the stage, trailing wires, fiddling and testing equipment and instruments. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to enough gigs to expect a bit of this. But surely that’s what a soundcheck is for - making sure all the problems are ironed out so everything runs smoothly on the night?

Support came in the form of singer-songwriter Samm Henshaw, followed by the slightly eccentric Elle King. I’ll be honest, by the time I got into the venue I only caught the last song of Samm Henshaw’s set. But Elle King, for all her issues, was a fitting support act for James Bay. Her songs can best be described as a kind of country/pop hybrid, complete with banjo playing and a big dose of shameless American honesty.

So after that, the crowd were well warmed up and ready for James Bay. He was due on stage at 9 o’clock, but it was almost half past by the time he finally came on. By this time the crowd were restless, people kept checking their phones and fidgeting, especially those limited to a tight schedule by trains needing to be caught.

Despite this though, the actual show was great. From the moment he came on stage, silhouetted against the curtain with his guitar and trademark hat, it was worth the wait. The setlist interspersed all the best-loved songs from Chaos and the Calm with new songs and songs not on the album. He also performed several covers, which was kind of a given when you only have one album’s worth of material to pull from.

James was still recovering from a cold on Wednesday, which had sparked thankfully-unnecessary fears about the potential cancellation of the show. But from the energy he showed and the way he was leaping about the stage, you wouldn’t have guessed it. The entire show was performed with high-energy that got the crowd going. Down in the stalls everyone was dancing and singing along, and up in the circle we all defied the ‘no standing’ rule to get up and show our appreciation.

When the encore arrived, James had one more trick up his sleeve. He announced he’d be playing one of his favourite songs, a Faces cover, then proceeded to bring out no other than the legendary guitarist Ronnie Wood to play it with him. Needless to say, this made the crowd go wild, and was the perfect way to top off the night.

If you can, I really recommend going along to see James Bay live. As good as he sounds on the album, he’s even better live. I get the feeling 2015 is only the beginning for the man in the hat.

You can see James' upcoming tour dates and buy tickets here.

* I received tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review

Are you a fan of James Bay? Let me know in the comments below!