Book Review: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads

#RandomReads

Publisher: Orion Books

Pages: 386

Release Date: First Published January 1st 2013

Summary (From Goodreads):

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics…nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.And David wants in. He wants Steelheart – the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning – and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Review:

This book. Oh. My. God. OMG. This book.In case you haven’t guessed, I am struggling to put into words how I feel about this.

I’ll try and start at the beginning.

The prologue had me hooked. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and some of the brutality of it took me by surprise, but in the best way. There were some horrible touches that really set up the Epics and their powers, and the world Steelheart was about to create.

David, our protagonist, is really funny and understandable. After that prologue, you know what he wants and what’s driving him, and you want him to succeed. He is awkward and nerdy (though he won’t admit to it) and comes out with some hilariously bad metaphors that had me giggling throughout the book.

While superpowered humans isn’t a new idea, this had enough of its own unique rules to make it original and interesting. They all have their weaknesses, tiers of powers and a pecking order, as well as a few key things which really come to matter towards the end.

It’s definitely a bit of a male heavy book. The majority of superheroes we hear about are male, and most of the reckoners are too, with two exceptions: Tia, the tech girl/medic, and Megan, the badass and brroding love interest. There was something a little bit cliched about David and his attraction to Megan, and I got a bit bored of hearing how hot she was, but it wasn’t her only quality he admired. The fact that – at a critical, highly emotional time, when most books/films would have a declaration of love before the climax – he acknowledges that he probably doesn’t love her at this moment, but he like her a lot, kind of made it for me. It just made it more realistic.

I enjoyed the book the whole way through, but it was the end when it really blew my mind. I almost missed my stop off the bus because I didn’t want to put it down. There were some brilliant twists, one which I did call half way through (proud of myself) but the other just threw me completely. It came out of nowhere, and yet it didn’t at the same time: there were so many little clues, I felt stupid for not seeing it before.

The plot wraps up nicely for this first book, while still leaving unanswered questions about the future, ready for the sequels (which I will be devouring as soon as possible). If you’re after a good fantasy romp with plenty of guns, bike chases and explosions, with some romance thrown in for good measure, and a ton of superheroes, then this is for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I can’t believe I haven’t read it until now. Go forth and read my friends, you won’t regret it.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

Check out my soundtrack for Steelheart here


You can pop over to Stacie’s blog and see her review here

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black)

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Details:

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 419
Release Date: September 3rd 2013
 
Blurb:

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

Review:


This is the second Holly Black I’ve read this year (also in my whole life…) I really loved The Darkest Part of the Forest but while I enjoyed this one, it didn’t quite hit the mark as much. I’ve given it the same rating, although I’ll admit if I did half stars it would probably be 3.5 (I feel half stars is the start of a slippery slope so I’ve been avoiding them).

I was drawn to it mostly because of the title. Even before that meant anything to me (the Cold stuff and Coldtowns are explained in the story) something about it just sparked my interest.

And then it turned out to be about vampires. I‘m just not a fan of vampire stories (I think I was a bit too old to be caught up in the teenage Twilight phase) so when I realised that was what the book was about, I did do a bit of judging. But in its defense, it didn’t really follow the typical vampire love story I was bracing myself for.

It was an interesting take on vampires: I loved seeing how the digital age affected them, as it’s bound to do. The idea of live streams inside all the great vampire parties, and a huge blogging community dedicated to all things dark and vampire really captured me, and it’s something I’ve not seen before.

Black creates brilliant characters that are all well-rounded and believable. I liked Tana, though some of her choices confused me, and Aidan’s charm and games felt very familiar, but I was wary of Gavriel at first. There were a few times when the things he said – poetic, odd things – felt like they were verging on the edge of brooding YA vampire, but it soon became clear he was just a bit mad. I did like his character and while there was some romance there, I was glad it wasn’t all about him. I also loved that there were LGBTQ+ characters and references just dropped in there – being bisexual or transgender wasn’t a big plot point, it was just who someone was, which I love.

I hated Midnight. Something about her character just captured everything I hate in people (she’s obviously a greatly written character if she’s produced such a reaction in me). Everything she said and did just infuriated me, but I know that kind of person would crop up if this situation really happened. It just definitely wouldn’t be me!

One of the things that puts me off is the writing style. I just find it a bit odd when a chapter will suddenly jump back in time and give some background information for what’s just happened or what’s about to happen. This was the same for The Darkest Part of the Forest but, with the fairytale nature of that book, I felt it fitted in. With Coldtown it felt a bit odd, and I wished this background stuff could just been incorporated into the main storyline rather than taking you out of it.

This isn’t the typical vampire love story I thought it would be, and I like the fact that vampires aren’t glamourised too much – they’re real monsters to Tana and she fights so hard to keep herself becoming one. I’d give it a read if you’re looking for a different take on a vampire-occupied world.

My Verdict:

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this you might like Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow

Top Five… Books About Death and Grief

It’s not exactly a cheery topic, but I wanted to write about my favourite books which deal with death, and grief as a result of that. A lot of them are ones that a year ago I would have avoided (I was on a strict no contemporary diet!) but I’ve read some incredible books on the subject lately and wanted to share.


Warning: There may be a few spoilers ahead. Sorry!
5


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Abbie Rushton

The death in this book happens before the story starts, and we see the effect it has on the protagonist. Megan’s grief and guilt make her close off on all fronts: to friends, her mother and even to herself, as she finds herself unable to speak. Her story is one on the road to acceptance and recovery and is a really touching one.
4


Sarah Benwell
This book is as much about life as it is about death. I liked how non-preachy it felt and, controversial though it may be, the ending felt very right to me, as did the friends reactions to it. The idea of the Suicide Club emails really helps to showcase different ideas on death.
3

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Clare Furniss
This was on my Top Five last week as well but I couldn’t write this list without it. Again, it’s the raw honesty of the book and the way it shows Pearl’s grief that makes it so good. There’s nothing glamorous about it and there’s no closure as such, just the first steps on the road to acceptance.


2



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Patrick Ness

This one’s a little different from the others, in that it’s the protagonists death we’re dealing with, and it may not even be their death (I know that’s confusing if you haven’t read it but it’s hard to explain). I enjoyed the idea of looking at life from death’s perspective, rather than the other way round.
1


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Jandy Nelson

This book just blew me away in the way it dealt with death and Lennie’s grief. I felt this was one of the ones I related to the most. Her feelings of guilt at any sign of happiness, as if enjoying something was betraying her sister’s memory and belittling her death, was achingly familiar and so refreshing to read. 

Which books have you enjoyed (if that’s the right word?!) on the subject of death?


Soundtrack Saturday: Seed (Lisa Heathfield)

Soundtrack Saturday is a weekly meme created and run by Erin at The Hardcover Lover

Last week I chose to make a soundtrack for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

This week I decided to do one for Seed by Lisa Heathfield. I read this a few months ago and thought it was just beautiful (go read it if you haven’t already!) It was fun choosing songs as the book takes you through so many different emotions and I wanted to cover them all.

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Love Is – Meg and Dia

I feel like I’m shadowed by hazy stars above me
And they’re all shining bright for me
I’ve seen days of chaos, winter rains that wouldn’t leave
But I came clean ’cause I believed



Wonderland – Taylor Swift


We found Wonderland
You and I got lost in it
And we pretended it could last forever
We found Wonderland
You and I got lost in it
And life was never worse but never better
In Wonderland

Dandelion – Kacey Musgraves


Sent you dancing on the breeze
And like a stupid little girl
I spent my wishes on a weed
Thinking it could change my world

Dandelion,
A million little wishes float across the sky
But it’s a waste of breath and it’s a waste of time, I know

The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie – The Joy Formidable


Call in the social
Call in the mediation
How else can a shadow
Behind her not follow
Call on the lonely
A plea for you to befriend her
Makes only you feel better
Make only you

Nothing outside will care enough
Nothing outside will care enough
Nothing outside will care enough
Nothing outside of you

Light Me Up – Birdy


Keep my eyes shut
Safe in this trust
You’re all that I need
My senses

Shining on me
I still carry your love
I feel your love

The Motherlode – The Staves


The sun was an altar
Before which he knelt
And raised up the dagger
That hung from his belt
He cursed his delusion
And the sadness he felt
Weeping at what he’d become
Just a fool in the gold of the sun

I’m Not Calling You a Liar – Florence and the Machine


I’m not calling you a liar, just don’t like to me
I’m not calling you a thief, just don’t steal from me
I’m not calling you a ghost, just stop hainting me
And I love you so much, I’m gonna let you kill me

Real World – The All-American Rejects


This can’t be the real world now
I don’t believe it when I can’t see the truth
Welcome to the real world now
The old are carried in only to poison youth
Am I the only one who thinks it’s tragic?
‘Cause I know
This can’t be the real world




Book Review: Origins – Summoner Prequel (Taran Matharu)

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Details:

Publisher: Hodder Children’s 
Pages: 102
Release Date: 1st April 2015
 
Blurb:

The prequel to the explosive new fantasy trilogy, Summoner. Set in a time before The Novice, this prequel is the perfect introduction to the world of the Summoner.
Arcturus is just an orphaned stableboy when he discovers he has the ability to summon demons from another world. He is sent to Vocans Military Academy where the lost arts of summoning, spellcraft and demonology are taught to the noble children of the Empire. As the first commoner gifted with this ability, his discovery challenges the nobility and the powers that be. At the Academy Arcturus quickly makes enemies. With no one but his demon Sacharissa by his side, Arcturus must prove himself as a worthy Summoner …
Review:


This is a quick, easy to read prequel to The Novice, Book One in the series by Taran Mathuru that everyone seems to be talking about right now, which is easy to see why when it’s described as Harry Potter meets Pokémon.
I actually enjoyed this more than The Novice, which I read first. It’s interesting to see how Arcturus started out, especially as he has similar underdog qualities to the next book’s protagonist, Fletcher. It adds colour to some of the background things that we find out in The Novice, and I think you could read either first and be satisfied.
Arcturus is a well rounded character, brave and honest with a backstory you can sympathise with, and if you’ve read The Novice, you know what kind of man he turns into. To criticise, I’d say he was a little too similar to Fletcher: it felt I could have been reading about either of them, so I would have like a few more defining features.
As someone who has already read the first book, I found a little of the lesson stuff repetitive. I’d already read about the hows and whys and didn’t feel it offered anything new. It was sparing though, and didn’t go into as much depth as The Novice does. It was really great seeing some of the characters we know as adults in the next book, with Elaine and Valens being a personal highlight.
Overall, this is a great little story to flesh out some of the history of The Novice for those who’ve read it, and a good introduction to the world if you haven’t.

My Verdict:

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this you might like The Novice – Summoner Book 1 (Taran Matharu)

Book Review: Song Quest (Katherine Roberts)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads

#RandomReads

Publisher: Chicken House

Pages: 240

Release Date: First Published September 28th 1999

Summary (From Goodreads):

Welcome to a world from another time — where legendary half-creatures still exist. A world where nature itself can be controlled by unearthly music. A world where the forces of good and evil are held in harmony by the Singers who have mastered the secret Songs of Power. A world on the brink of destruction, threatened by a dark lord whose evil knows no bounds. Rialle and Kherron, two novice Singers, are all that’s left to stand in the enemy’s way. Stranded in a strange land with only one another to rely on, these former rivals must work together if they are to survive. In a timeless coming-of-age journey, Rialle and Kherron discover the strength of spirit that lies within them in their quest to help good triumph over evil.

Review:

I picked this book for Stacey as part of our Random Reads feature. I feel like I should announce my bias towards it, as it’s one I’ve loved since I first read it (probably about 14 years ago) and I’ve tried to read it with fresh eyes, but I know part of me is just loving revisiting that world that enchanted me so much as a child.

That said, I’m just going to gush and say I adored it all over again.

The fantasy world that Roberts introduces you to is well developed and just beautiful. Blue haired Singers who use magical songs? Check. Playful but abused fantasy creatures? Check. Creepy priests and warriors with bones in their hair? Check.

Apparently that’s all I need for a good fantasy story.

Well, not all I need. I love the dual point of view, and how different they are. Rialle has always been my favourite, as the ‘good girl’ and just the fact that she was a young girl, like me (or not so much like me now!) but this time round I really appreciated Kherron’s version of events. A bit of an anti-hero, he manages to fight for the right side in the end, but it doesn’t feel like he changes too much as a character – not in a bad way, he just keeps his personality while adjusting his actions.

The relationship between Rialle and Frenn, and Rialle and Singer Toharo are some of my favourites, as are the interactions with the half-creatures. While there might be some romantic undercurrents, it’s great to see a book that doesn’t revolve around that kind of thing. I find friendships more interesting than romances.

There are so many wonderfully fleshed out characters, I can’t go into them all here, but favourites for me include the Khizpriest, our villain who wants to destroy the Singers (and gives me the chills), and Lord Javelly, a young lordling who eats half creatures and thinks he can trick the Singers.

The treatment of the half creatures is a really interesting issue. When Rialle is horrified at people eating merlee eggs, I am too, and think it’s awful to eat their unborn children, but then I remember I do that to chickens on a weekly basis…interesting (though probably not the place to go into that kind of thing).

This is a fantastic start to a trilogy that introduces a world full of magic and possibilities, and sets the foundations for the next two books, which skip ahead a generation so we see what happens to the Singers and their Isle over a longer period of time (which I love). As a book from my childhood, it brings a lot of nostalgia, but all that aside, I think it’s a fantastic fantasy novel that anyone could enjoy.

My Verdict:

Copy of an art exhibit

You can pop over to Stacie’s blog and see her review here.

Book Shop Visit: Astley Book Farm

To celebrate a rare Sunday off work together, last week I surprised my partner with a trip to the Midlands second largest second hand book store, that was apparently not too far from our house.
Now when I say not too far, I mean about a twenty minute drive from our house, but, since our beloved car died (RIP Mary Shelley) we got a bus (30 minutes) then another bus (20 minutes) and then had a walk in the country (40 minutes). 
Yes, we really need to get a new car!
He didn’t know where we were going, so when we started walking down a country lane with no pavements, he seemed convinced I was leading him to some horror-film style death in the country. And sights like this only enforced the idea:
A very welcoming looking home…
But eventually, we made it Astley Book Farm, and I have to say it was definitely worth the journey. We were welcomed immediately, and also recognised from the photo I tweeted, and they seemed suprised (maybe impressed?) that we’d come all the way from Coventry on the bus.
The place is just what it says it is: a farm of books. There are barns full of second hand books, some very old and well read, some beautiful first editions in a glass case. It is a book lovers paradise.
My first stop was, of course, the children’s section, which is a hayloft in the main barn. Up a ladder, and with low ceilings (that are probably made for children and not lanky people like me!) the shelves are crammed with books that filled me with nostalgia.

I spent quite a while up there, trying to see evey title on the shelves. There were so many that I recognised from my childhood, it was hard not to just buy the whole lot. Some I’d forgotten existed, like this little beauty I picked up:

Others were ones I’d been searching for a while and literally squealed when I picked up. This one below is one whose title and author have eluded me for a while, and had me Googling things like “drowning child” and “weird dreams after best friend drowns”.

Unfortunately I didn’t find the book I’ve been looking for here, but I remain hopeful I will get it one day!
After buying a few books, we had a break in the lovely cafe and sat outside, enjoying the mild weather (if not sunshine). I had a healthy lunch of cinamon bun and cotton candy milkshake (I’m sure all the walking meant I deserved a ton of sugar!)
After another browse of the children’s section, I headed to the back of the barn to look at the sci-fi/fantasy section, and then the plays, where I picked up this, a play I have not read or seen before but would really love to do both (obviously I have read the source material though!)

After a quick look in the Ten Bob Barn (that’s 50p to young people!) we headed off on our long journey home.

Astley Book Farm is a wonderful, unique little bookshop that is sure to hold something for every type of book lover (and cake lover – seriously, I could have eaten everything in that cafe!) I’d definitely recommend a visit to anyone in the area. It made a lovely day out and we picked up some great books in the process.

My partner chose Fantastic Mr Fox, which I shall be stealing…

Top Five… Books from 2014

Not so long ago I voted in the Bookish Peeps Book of 2014 and as I did so I realised I’d read very few of the books published then. I have since made up for that a little, and have decided to post my personal Top Five here.
5

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Clariel
Garth Nix
This is the only one on the list that I actually read in 2014. It’s not been reviewed yet, as I didn’t have my blog then, but I know at some point I’ll do a reread of all the Old Kingdome series. I loved having another adventure with the Abhorsens and this one really intrigued me. It’s interesting to see the back story of a character who’s a villain in a later book, and I loved it when I realised who Clariel was.
4

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Lou Morgan
One of the books in the wonderful Red Eye series, Sleepless is a story that blurs the lines between dreams and reality and makes for a confusing and scary read. Some gruesome touches made it a perfect horror story, and I’d recommend this and all the books in the Red Eye series for anyone who loves horror or wants to try something new.
3


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Clare Furniss
This placed high in the Bookish Peeps vote, and it’s easy to see why. Pearl’s grief is really ugly and sometimes hard to understand, and I think that’s the perfect representation of grief. Her story is painful and her actions don’t always make sense, but it’s relatable and gritty and it just makes you feel.


2


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James Dawson
I love horror and this book just totally did it for me. It’s based on an urban legend that I grew up with – I remember standing in front of the mirror in primary school and saying her name – and always wondered what would happen if it were true. Dawson brings that to life and fleshes it out into a creepy little story that I’d recommend to anyone.
1

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Louise O’Neill
This is by far the best book of 2014 for me. It’s one of those ones I can’t begin to articulate how much I adore. I’ve passed it on to my sister to read because I think she could learn a lot about feminism and attitudes to women in it. I think my favourite thing was the ending as, like the rest of the book, it felt brutal and true to real life – no fairy tale endings here!

Are there any books from 2014 that I should bump up the TBR pile?


Book Review: End Game (Alan Gibbons)

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Details:

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Pages: 208
Release Date: 9th April 2015
 
Blurb:

‘He was here again last night, the man with the dead eyes. He was in my room and in my head.’
There are not many things Nick Mallory knows for sure.
He knows there was a car crash. He knows he is in hospital. And he knows he feels furious with his father. What he doesn’t know is why.
As his memories start to return, Nick finds himself caught in a net of secrets and lies – where truth and perception collide and heroes and villains are not easy to tell apart.  

Review:

I haven’t read an Alan Gibbons book in about 10 years (my sister had Shadow of the Minotaur and I loved it) but after hearing him to speak at the UKYA Extravaganza this year, I wanted to read some of his more recent works. So I was happy when I won End Game in a Twitter competition (Thank you to Books with Bite!)

End Game is really interesting as it’s told from the perspective of Nick, who is lying immobile in a hospital bed. Although he can think and see, he is unable to communicate or move, and he loses himself in dreams and memories about how he got to be there. It was great to see a mystery revealed this way: it had the same kind of dribs and drabs of information leaked that you’d expect in a mystery story, but had to be a bit more creative about the way it happened.

Sometimes though, that didn’t work for me. There were times when characters said things which sounded purely expositional, as if they were there to lead Nick into another flashback. The way some of the scenes were described over dialogue sometimes felt a bit clumsy too: I couldn’t imagine anyone actually speaking like that.

The issues in End Game are quite sensitive and it’s one of those books where it’s hard to point out the good guy and the bad guy, hard to tell if an action was pure evil or a simple mistake. I could see the point of view of both Nick and his father and felt sorry for both of them. It really was a tricky one.

I really enjoyed Nick as both character and narrator, which is a good job, as we spend a lot of time stuck in his head with him. There were several times when he made me laugh out loud, and I could really see his conflicts with his father and his relationship with his family and girlfriend. He felt very real.

The ending took me by surprise and had me racing to finish and see what happened. I don’t want to spoil it but there was a moment of “Oh no! Not after everything that’s happened!” (Nice and cryptic for you)

For me, this was a great re-introduction to Alan Gibbons, and I am going to make an efffort to read more of his books from now. I recommend you all do the same 😉

My Verdict:

Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this you might like Flesh and Blood by Simon Cheshire

Soundtrack Saturday: All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven)

Soundtrack Saturday is a weekly meme created and run by Erin at The Hardcover Lover. This is my second attempt, as I really enjoyed my last one. Last week I chose to make a soundtrack for Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This week I decided to do one for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. It’s my first five star review in a while and there were a few times when reading it that I felt my music really lined up to it. I may have been a little heavy with the water imagery though… 

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So Long – Jenny Owen Youngs 
(the Beginning Song)

Hoping against a hope,
It’s rail thin. 
All that you know from now:
You’d be waitin’. 
So long. 
So long. 

So you walk the path through the sea of sleepers
And keep your eyes ahead. 
Cos you know that light is finders keepers,
But what you found instead

Is no one was made for this,
To be lonely. 
Keep it against your chest,
This is only
So long. 

Everything Reminds Me of You – Emmy the Great 
(Song to Eleanor)

Everything reminds me of you,
Somewhere out roaming tonight,
You fought the bottle, and I
Came out behind.
Now everything reminds me of you,
Tonight,
Oh but the fire,
Will carry less higher,

In time. 
Young in America – Danielle Bradbury 
(Travelling Song)

Ready set go, gotta get out of this small town
The open road, air to breath, the sun is shining down
It’s you and me in a land of the free, so baby let’s run
While we’re young in America

 Young Love – Coby Grant 
(Violet and Finch’s Song)

In the start, in the dark I didn’t know

What you felt like on the inside, but the outside view was quite nice

Then we spent days in bed and time went slow

We started out adventure as we ventured out together

Knowing only  

That our love was growing

Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn – Hellogoodbye
(Finch – Staying Awake)
I’m serious as a heart attack
I’m looking in my almanac
I’ve gotta find out all the things
Find out where she got her wings

Shimmy shimmy quarter turn

I feel like I will never learn
How can I check lost and found
When I’m too busy getting down?


Nothing but the Water – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
(Finch’s Song)

I have fallen so many times
For the devil’s sweet, cunning rhymes
And this old world
Has brought me pain
But there’s hope
For me again

Well, won’t you take me down to the levy, take me down to the stream, take my down to the water,
we’re gonna wash our souls clean

Goodnight and Go – Imogen Heap
(Violet’s Song to Finch)

Skipping beats, blushing cheeks I am struggling
Daydreaming, bed scenes in the corner café
And then I’m left in bits recovering tectonic tremblings
You get me every time

Why d’ya have to be so cute?
It’s impossible to ignore you
Must you make me laugh so much
It’s bad enough we get along so well
Say goodnight and go

Ain’t Gonna Drown – Elle King 

(the Ending Song) 

Train’s coming but I’m stuck on this road
Moon’s rising and my blood is growing cold
Preacher man can’t save a soul like mine
Miracles are just too damn hard to find

Ain’t gonna drown in the water…