Saturday, 28 June 2014

My Childhood Favourites

Malory Towers by Enid Blyton / Heidi by Johanna Spyri / Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

I remember finding these three books on the bargain shelf in the supermarket when I was very little. To have the books you had to make your own donation, so I got each of these for 2p because I was at the age where I thought that was a substantial amount... A few weeks later, I read these and loved them. I hadn't even read the rest of the Malory Towers series but I enjoyed it anyway.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett / The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter

The Secret Garden will always be a favourite of mine, and Beatrix Potter is one of those authors who will remain on childrens' bookshelves around the world for years to come.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White / Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I don't think I read Charlotte's Web by myself. I was so young it was read to me, but I remember adoring it - even the spider. ;) I've re-read Ballet Shoes a million times, and there was a time when I was completely obsessed with it.

The Witch's Christmas by Norman Bridwell / The Terrible Tiger by Jack Prelutsky / The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

I love these because they were passed down to me, so not only are there my baby scribbles in there (yes, I drew in books...) but my mother's too. 

What Colour is Love? by Joan Walsh Anglund / Anywhere You Wander by Dean Walley

These aren't really story books, but they're so lovely and thought-provoking. I've read these a million times over the years and I'll never get tired of them.

Happy Birthday with Ant and Bee by Angela Banner / Around the World with Ant and Bee by Angela Banner

I still love these! I always fangirl a little bit when I spot these on my bookshelf because they mean a lot to me, although I don't actually know why. I read these over and over when I was little, and although they're both awesome, Around the World will always be the best of the two...

Little David Copperfield and Other Stories by Mary Angela Dickens

This book is extremely old and falling apart, as you can see. It was passed down to me from my great grandma after she died a few years ago, and she won it at school when she was little. It's been glued back together several times but it always falls apart again eventually; it's the most fragile book I own. I read this for the first time when I was maybe 8 or 9 and ended up loving it when I hadn't expected to.

Mr. Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves

The first book I ever read in this series was Little Miss Dotty and I remember seeing the stand of books in the garden centre when I was around 4 or 5. After pestering my grandad for what seemed like years, he finally bought it for me, and I was obsessed. Then my collection grew... and in 2005 I actually got one of them signed by one of the Hargreaves, as a reward for raising money for something which I can't remember now.

Roald Dahl books

All of the books in this post are my childhood favourites, but all of Roald Dahl's books were THE favourites. The very best. My favourites were - and still are - Matilda, and The Witches. I would love to go to the Roald Dahl museum one day.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Maybe not something you would expect a young child to read, but we read the children's version at primary school one day and it just wasn't enough, so I was given the proper version (pictured above). I think I've read it three times now, and it's such an important book that I think everyone should read at some point.

 Star Poems by John Foster / Wizard Poems by John Foster
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame / The Borrowers by Mary Norton

According to the stickers on the backs of these books, they're from an independent bookshop in London. Amber: Supporting independent bookshops since 1998. ;) A few months after reading The Wind in the Willows, I was actually cast as 'Field-mouse 2' in the local production of the book. There's a photo of me from the performance but there is no way it is ever going on this blog. You'll just have to take my word for it when I say my role as 'Field-mouse 2' was an Oscar-winning performance. And The Borrowers - such an awesome concept! 

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Every Dog Has His Dream by Kourtney Braff Harper / Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach / Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

Every Dog Has His Dream is out of print now, I think, but it's so good. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a book I actually haven't read, but for some reason I can't bear to get rid of it. I actually stole borrowed the older-looking edition from my grandad when I was very small, and a few years later he bought me my own copy. I guess he didn't realise I already had his, or maybe he was hinting at me to give it back...whoops.
Fox in Socks is the best book ever. If you have it, go and make someone read it to you quickly. I don't care how old you are. Do it 'for da LOLs.' Or something.

Dragons, Giants, and Witches by Christopher Rawson / The Bad-Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle
My Ladybird Treasury of Bedtime Stories by Peter Stevenson

What are your childhood favourites?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Published by: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 13th May 2014
Pages: 225
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.

We are liars.

We are beautiful and privileged.

We are cracked and broken.

A tale of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies? Which is truth? You decide.

Dear book,

You kept me in the dark. You kept everyone in the dark. I was left hanging by a thread, confused, flames dancing in front of my eyes as I turned the last page. I thought it was a joke, but the unfortunate realisation only dawned on me as I reached the acknowledgements that it really was the end. The end of summers spent huddled in the sand, eating fudge. Stolen kisses.The end of pretences, kept as masks until the very end; the end of the Liars.

You are liars, you are beautiful and privileged, you are cracked and broken. You are a tale of love and romance, and a tale of tragedy. You are deceit. Poetic. Alarmingly literal at times but, hey, I won't hold that against you. You are everything I expected and, at the same time, not what I expected at all. You are a piece of art for the eyes and mind to devour. You are genius in book form.

...You're welcome.

Friday, 20 June 2014

YouTube Stars and Publishing Deals

When I met YouTube star Jim Chapman (1.5m subscribers) it wasn't in the usual circumstances for me. But it was usual for him, as he exited a cinema and was immediately surrounded by a hundred fans clutching notebooks and pens or thrusting their phones at him for selfies. When I sent a letter to Carrie Hope Fletcher (500k subscribers) it wasn't until just over a year later that I got a reply, because she receives so much fan-mail it takes her that long to sift through the letters, cards, and gifts.

But these people haven't been in movies, they're not famous supermodels, and they're not musicians known worldwide. In fact, if you're an adult you probably haven't heard of them, because they're just normal people like us. Except they've used social media to gain fans and launch careers.

YouTube isn't just entertainment anymore. It's a business platform.

As YouTubers become more and more popular, with some having a few million subscribers to their name, they're quickly becoming the best advertisers for brands wanting to influence the vulnerable minds of young adults. YouTube stars are making television appearances, posing at movie premieres, accepting international awards, launching beauty and fashion lines, and...well. The next step seems to be writing books, as famous YouTubers such as Zoella (5m), Grace Helbig (2m), Carrie Fletcher (500k), Michelle Phan (7m) and more are offered publishing deals.

Not long ago it was announced that Carrie Hope Fletcher, who also plays Eponine in Les Mis at the West End, would be writing a book, 'All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully,' set to be published in May 2015 by Sphere. Around the same time but across the pond, comedy YouTuber Grace Helbig announced her upcoming book, 'Grace's Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up,' which should hopefully be published in October this year by Touchstone Books. Not forgetting beauty guru Michelle Phan's non-fiction cosmetics guide, 'Make Up Your Life,' published by Harmony Books in October this year.

This brings me to the most recent and more surprising YouTuber book deal. Zoe Sugg aka Zoella has landed a two-book deal with Penguin, with the first to be released in November. But unlike the others, Zoe's books will be fiction. The first, 'Girl Online,' is about a 15-year-old female blogger who suffers panic attacks. As these get worse, her family whisks her away to New York where she falls in love with guitarist Noah.

With book deals being offered to famous YouTubers all over the world, outsiders can only assume these will be a great boost for the publishing industry as each star they take on comes with a pre-made multi-million fan base. Some, however, aren't so happy about it, worrying that their chances of being published have been squashed by these book deals seemingly handed to YouTubers on a plate, some of whom had never before expressed a love of writing.

Personally, I'm very excited that some of my favourite YouTubers are publishing books - especially Zoe's, which I can already relate to a lot and I've only read the summary!

What do you think about this new direction in the bookish industry? 

Monday, 16 June 2014

My Experiences with Anxiety and Panic Attacks

I've been writing this on and off since late March, but I've wanted to write it for a lot longer. However, I never had the courage or the confidence because it's so personal to me, and I'm embarrassed even though I shouldn't be when so many people worldwide deal with it. Ironically I'm really nervous about publishing this post, and you're probably wondering, "If you're nervous about it and it's personal, why are you doing it?" I just think it's strange that I have always put so much of myself into my blog...except this. Plus, maybe reading this will help one of you who might be going through the same thing. Lately I've seen some other book bloggers tweeting about their anxiety, and I recognised myself in them. Seeing those tweets helped me realise that I'm not alone in this, and so maybe I can pass that on. If they can talk about it so freely, why shouldn't I?

This blog post is going to be long, so you should probably get a snack or something. I didn't feel like I could leave anything out, and this isn't something that can be split into two posts. You could read it in two halves if you wanted... :)

What I'm talking about is anxiety and panic attacks. In December 2012 I suffered from a particularly bad virus which was going around school, and unsurprisingly, it was awful. I didn't eat for a week, I lost a lot of weight, and I didn't go anywhere during that time. You'd think after recovering that I would go out again after being stuck inside for so long, but I didn't. I was scared I would be sick in public. We thought it was Emetophobia which is fear of vomit, and this developed into Agoraphobia which is where the sufferer is scared to go out. I wasn't scared to go out, I just...couldn't. And I didn't want to.

Of course, school had started again after the Christmas holidays, but I found it extremely difficult to go in. I just physically couldn't, and my family didn't really understand. 'Just go in,' everyone would say. 'Try.' No one seemed to understand that I simply could not do it. I felt nervous constantly, and it was draining. I felt like I was tearing my own family apart because my stupid body wouldn't do that thing where it steps out of the house and has a normal life. I was confused. What was going on, and why was this happening to me? 

Eventually, after explaining the situation to my Head of Year, I was allowed to only attend school for lessons I felt comfortable going to, which were Art and Music. Usually I would only manage to go to school for maybe two lessons a week, which is only two hours. In short? My attendance record went from 100% to probably the worst anyone has ever seen. My family tried to make me go every day, but I wouldn't and couldn't. People in my class were starting to notice my absences, but I couldn't really tell them what was going on when I barely knew what was going on myself. I was scared and embarrassed and just not myself. Just two weeks beforehand I had been fine and my life had been perfect, but everything had changed. These few hours at school were the only times I ever left the house.

One day at the beginning of February, I was in ICT and something weird - although not unusual for me, anymore - happened. I felt sick, hot, and shaky, for absolutely no reason at all. All I'd been doing was answering some multiple choice questions on the computer and listening to my iPod - there was no reason for me to feel that way. I told my teacher I didn't feel well - like I'd told so many other teachers those last couple of months so I could be excused - and I walked out of school. I came home, not knowing that my teacher had reported me missing because I hadn't signed out at reception, and that if my mum hadn't rang the school telling them where I was, they would have called the police. I was in the middle of my first major panic attack but I didn't know that was what it was, which is why I thought nothing of walking out without telling any staff. I didn't care about the havoc I'd left behind for my ICT teacher back in the lesson. My mind just wasn't in the right place at the time. What I didn't know was that this was my brain activating my fight-or-flight response, which is something I'll explain later. That's why I was only focusing on getting myself out of there, and nothing else.

Unexpectedly, that ended up being my last day at that school, and the last day I saw some of my best friends. We scrapped the whole 'part time' idea and my Head of Year said I didn't have to come in for the foreseeable future, but I would still be on the register in case I wanted to come back at any time.

Then came the countless amount of trips to the doctors, who thought maybe I still had some of the virus from December. There were blood tests, all of which pointed to the fact that I was physically healthy, and not once did the doctor consider I might have anxiety. At this point I wasn't leaving the house at all, so those trips to the doctors were more stressful than they should have been. It was the middle of Year 9 and I had left school for the foreseeable future - what was I supposed to do? How would I do my exams? I didn't see family except those who lived with me, and I didn't see friends. I just threw myself into blogging - it was the only thing I could do. Remember in this post where I said "in 2013, there was a day when I literally had nothing to do, and it was incredibly boring. [...] So I wrote and scheduled twelve blog posts." That wasn't just one day, and the real reason was that I wasn't leaving the house and this was the only thing I could do.

So there was the school problem. There was also the problem that no one actually knew what was wrong with me; it was more than Emetophobia, that was for sure - I had barely left the house for three months. Eventually, even though I hadn't been diagnosed, my family and I deduced that I had agoraphobia, anxiety (mainly social), and panic disorder.

I still wasn't attending school so I felt a lot better knowing I didn't have to go. I got onto the waiting list for a therapist on the NHS but it was supposed to take a year for them to get to me as I was right at the bottom of their list. So my Mum started working with me on exposure therapy which at the time I hated, but now I'm very grateful for it. It wasn't an official thing. We would just do things in small steps. On the first day, we stood outside our front door for a few minutes until I decided I couldn't manage it. The next day we did it again, and walked down the road a little bit. This might be making me sound pathetic, but anxiety is a serious mental illness and 1 in 6 teenagers suffer from it.

Meanwhile, my Mum was looking into an online school called InterHigh. Online, I wouldn't have to be in a public environment and I wouldn't have to physically be with people, but I could still continue with my education and hopefully do my exams. It sounded perfect...but there was no way we could afford it. Luckily, my then-old school where I was still enrolled thought it was a great idea and said they would pay the fees for me to go there. If it was good, they said they would offer it to other students who were suffering with extreme anxiety if they needed it. Long story short: I was the guinea pig, but happy to be. The best education available in the world...for free? And I wouldn't have to see anyone or be anywhere public while there? Perfect. My first day was in March that year, and I loved it. I missed my friends from my old school - I still do - but my anxiety decreased slightly knowing that I hadn't completely messed up my exams after all.

On April 25th 2013 - round of applause for my excellent date-remembering skills, please - I went for a two-minute drive up the road for the first time in months. We went to a family member's house to hang out in the garden for a while. The family member in question was on holiday and had said it was fine if we wanted to go there as we don't have a garden where I live. It was a really hot day. I still couldn't cope with seeing people other than my parents but it was okay because, as I said, the family member wasn't actually home. We stayed for three hours and I felt really proud of myself. With my confidence boosted, we started going for short walks around town, but I couldn't go inside places i.e. shops, supermarkets, the cinema etc. because I was worried I would have a panic attack in them, or something else would go wrong in front of other people. I also tried to avoid people from the school I had just left, as I wasn't sure how to answer the 'why did you leave?' question just yet.

I'll explain the fight-or-flight response now that I mentioned earlier. When you are in danger, or when your brain thinks you are in danger, it will activate your fight-or-flight response. Fight = fighting whatever is happening. Flight = escaping the situation, like I did on my last day at school. This is helpful if you truly are in a dangerous situation, but if you have anxiety like I do, your brain will activate your fight-or-flight response randomly at any moment, no matter where you are or who you're with. You might not even be in danger, but having this response will make it feel like you are. For example, often when I'm in a supermarket I'll want to 'flight' i.e. get out of there as quickly as possible. My heart rate will speed up, my temperature will rise, and I might feel sick or light-headed. There are other reactions but this is what happens to me personally. The thing with anxiety is whenever you have the 'flight' response, you will remember every tiny detail from that moment. I mostly get anxious and panicky in supermarkets because that's where I had one of my first panic attacks, back when I had no idea how to try and handle it. Thanks a lot, brain. I handle it a lot better now and I can't remember the last time I had to leave the supermarket because of my anxiety, but it's still not exactly my favourite situation to be in. It's not just supermarkets though. This can happen anywhere.

That summer was so boring and lonely. I didn't feel comfortable seeing friends or family because I was worried I might have a panic attack and/or get sick while with them. I didn't like being in public places. Sometimes I found it hard to come out of my room because I felt nervous and sick constantly, so sometimes my friends would just have 5-hour Skype calls with me. Other friends didn't - and still haven't - spoken to me since I left school, even though I considered them my absolute best friends. I guess I liked them more than they liked me, which is usually the case. Oh well.

Some days my step-dad would take me to work with him which is in the middle of nowhere. He works on his own, and I mostly felt okay because of that (he was paying me too. Never a bad thing...) I wasn't on medication for my anxiety because my doctor didn't think it would be a good idea (he's stupid) but I was, and still am, using Rescue Remedy Soothing Pastilles which have a calming effect, and I have those whenever I'm starting to feel bad. I don't know if they really do work or if it's psychological, but whatever. They help, which is the main thing. If you suffer from anxiety, I recommend those.

I also started seeing a private therapist but she was not helpful at all. In fact, I think she made my anxiety worse because I knew that every Thursday I would have to walk the journey to her house, go into her house for fifty minutes, and talk to her. Sounds simple, but for me it just wasn't. It was a big deal. Every Thursday before I left for our session I would have massive panic attacks where I would struggle to breathe, and usually I'd end up on the floor of our hallway. Yeah, dignity wasn't really an option for me anymore at that point...
After a few sessions, I begged my parents to stop our sessions, and they did. I instantly felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

In October I went inside a huge supermarket for the first time in months. I felt really, really, really nervous, and I had to leave after 25 minutes, but that was okay. This will sound weird, but taking photos seemed to help me. If I was doing something and testing my anxiety, like making myself go into that supermarket for the first time in months, I'd often get one of my parents to take a photo of me. I suppose that's because 1) it took my mind off things and 2) it was something to look back on so I could prove to myself that I could do it.

After this I started going to the supermarket and into town and other small shops a bit more. I was also seeing one of my best friends very occasionally, but never for very long. We wouldn't go anywhere, we'd just chat on my doorstep for a few minutes.

In January I discovered Mindfull which is an online counselling service for teenagers. It's meant to be a stepping stone for teenagers to work up to going to see a counsellor face-to-face, and it's really helpful. It's free, and you can start pretty much instantly with your chosen real-time, qualified, adult counsellor who you can arrange appointments with either by messaging or over webcam, and I highly recommend it. My counsellor is lovely. She likes The Hunger Games, Divergent, and YouTubers. Basically she's awesome, and she's helped me a lot.

I'm still finding it really hard to see people, but in April I saw two of my friends for the first time this year. There are still a lot of my friends who I haven't seen since I left my old school in February 2013, and I'm still finding it hard to see family, too, although I'm working up to it. It's not really places that are difficult for me now, it's more...people. I don't know why, to be honest.

Plot twist coming up. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that in March I was invited to the Divergent movie premiere in London. And I went. None of you knew this, but that was a BIG thing for me. Here is a list of things I was anxious about:

  1. The car journey to London, which would be the longest journey I'd been on for a looong time.
  2. The 45 minute tube journey into the centre of London. I do love using the underground, I always have, but I was (irrationally) worried about being trapped in a confined space full of people. In the quiet. What if I had a panic attack? What if I wanted to get off? What if I drew attention to myself?
  3. The busy streets.
  4. The crowds.
  5. Seeing other bloggers in person.
  6. Walking the RED CARPET in front of THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE including KATE WINSLET AND SHAILENE WOODLEY AND THEO JAMES AND VERONICA ROTH. What if I had a panic attack or something else in front of THEM? I think this was the main thing...
  7. Being confined in a noisy, busy cinema for hours. The same cinema in which sat bloggers I knew and famous people. Bearing in mind I hadn't been with so many people since before I got ill.
  8. I was worried about having to leave halfway through the film as I really wanted to see it, and if I left I would never forgive myself. Plus, I was worried if I had a panic attack in the middle of the cinema, people would notice. If you haven't noticed already, I hate attention when my mind is full of anxious thoughts.
  9. Wanting to get away and not being able to.
  10. Doing the Fan Experience.
  11. The tube journey home.
  12. The car journey home. 
  13. What if my anxiety was so bad I didn't even manage to leave the house that day? I'd already tweeted about the event excessively. If I ended up not going, I'd have to explain stuff. Also, I probably wouldn't have ever forgiven myself for missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The whole week leading up to the premiere was stressful and I was extremely anxious 24/7. We went in numerous shops to find new outfits for me and both my parents, and as I've already said, I still found going in shops challenging. This time I had to be in various shops for hours at a time. We also talked about the event a lot as we planned the journey and what we would be doing on the day, which only increased my anxiety. At one point I just thought 'I'll be in the middle of London. If I have a panic attack, I'll just have to deal with it.' I said in my vlog of the day that I didn't sleep the night before the premiere. You probably thought it was due to excitement but it was because of all of this - I'd pretty much been having one constant panic attack all week.

But the day of the premiere came, and I did it. All of it. I even bumped into some other bloggers, but I pushed through the anxiety somehow and, while I definitely wasn't my usual self around them (which is a shame. I hope they didn't think I was being rude.) I think it went okay. I even walked the red carpet in front of thousands of people, and I sat in a cinema for hours with thousands of people, and I didn't panic. The tube journey was fine, too. YAY.

So that was surprising, and very cool. It ended up being the best day of my life. I think preoccupying myself with vlogging the day and taking photos for my blog post helped, as it was a big distraction and didn't let me be alone with my own annoying thoughts for too long. 

This time last year I could barely leave the house, and it's only in the last couple of months that I've started trying to fight my anxiety instead of letting it take over. I just don't want to live with it anymore. I'm done. The premiere really boosted my confidence, and when I said thank you to the PR company in my vlog for inviting me, it wasn't just because I got to go to the premiere. It was because their invite made me want to do this massive thing which, otherwise, I wouldn't have thought of doing. Everyone needs a little push sometimes, and without that event I probably wouldn't be any closer to feeling comfortable with busy places and long journeys. It really was a massive help.

Something that annoys me is when people joke about panic attacks. 'Oh my gosh this book was so good, I had a panic attack on, like, every page, haha.' I see tweets and comments like this all the time. I don't think people realise how insensitive they're being by saying that. I don't know if it annoys anyone else but when I see people saying that - especially to me, when I actually suffer from panic attacks - it puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. It seems like having anxiety and panic attacks has become 'cool', and that's not okay. It's like saying to someone with depression, 'This book was so sad it actually gave me depression.' Why don't you stop joking about mental illness and think how lucky you are to not suffer from these things.

I saw this photo on Twitter the other day and it sums up anxiety perfectly. I'm not sure who this image belongs to so if it's yours and you want me to take it down, I will do so instantly.
Anxiety isn't just limiting my ability to go out and have fun and interact with people face-to-face. Something that commonly goes along with anxiety is having difficulty concentrating. I'm really starting to feel the effects of this so I'm hoping it will be a phase. I'm a teenager, I should be worrying about exams and other teenager-y stuff, but instead I'm worrying about all of these other things like seeing family and talking to random strangers and being in public places and being trapped in a confined space like a train and having panic attacks in public. I know these are not rational thoughts to have. I'm hoping I'll improve even more this year.

Being a book blogger with anxiety is really hard. I'm lucky enough to get invited to quite a few bookish events, and 99% of them I have to turn down because of my anxiety. Some recent ones I've had to decline invitations to are the City of Heavenly Fire launch party (which I was DESPERATE to go to), and a blogger evening at Movellas HQ. My anxiety is also part of the reason I didn't go to Hay Festival like I'd planned. I love being invited to these things, it just frustrates me sometimes that I can't go.

Anyway. Fifteen months later at the time of writing this, I'm far from being back to my old 2012-self, but I feel like I'm recovering gradually. We're going on holiday to Cornwall in July which will include two ten-hour car journeys, and before the premiere I was really nervous about it, but now I'm not, even though I'll be forced to go outside for a week, non-stop. Somehow, I'm looking forward to the challenge, because if I get through all of that, I know it will be a big help just like the Divergent premiere was.

Last year I did not want to go places or see people. There wasn't one tiny part of me that actually wanted to. It was like anxiety had come storming into my brain, shoved a bag over 'Old Amber' and taken her away, because before I started suffering from this I loved going everywhere and being with everyone. But now, a year later, it's like I've 'paid the ransom' for 'Old Amber' and she's coming back, because I now want to go places. Like, everywhere. All over the world. It's nice to have a part of me back again, if that makes sense. While this time last year I didn't want to go out and interact with people, now I do. That's a big change that has happened in my mindset.

I know I haven't properly explained my illness and I haven't done it justice at all. I highly recommend watching Zoella's video on anxiety as our thoughts are pretty much the same and she is much more coherent than me. This time last year I tried to watch it and couldn't finish it without having a panic attack myself. I finally managed to finish watching it a few weeks ago.

In a way, I'm kind of glad I went through all of that. Because I wasn't going to regular school, I had time to complete an Art course online at Penn State University in which I got 96%. I also managed to get a job as a columnist at a newspaper. If I hadn't developed this anxiety, I wouldn't have left regular school, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to do these things, nor would I have had the time. Developing this anxiety also allowed me to leave a school which was then in special measures (for those not in the UK, it basically means the government declared it as one of the worst schools around), and transfer to one of the best schools in the world where I'm now getting a really good education. So yes, anxiety is extremely hard and obviously I wish I never had developed it because life would be so much easier now if I hadn't. But it gave me the opportunity to do a couple of cool things. With anxiety, it's good to think about the silver linings, as hard as they may be to find.

I just wanted to share this with everyone. It's been a huge weight on my shoulders and it will continue to be until I fully get back to my old self - if I ever completely do - but I think writing this post has helped slightly, although I'm kind of terrified about publishing this and the response it could get. Maybe it will give a bit of hope to someone else who is suffering that things do eventually start to improve, and you're not alone.

Lastly - if you're still reading - thank you for reading such a huge post. I've been writing this post on-and-off since March, and it's finally done and - clearly - ready to be published. Sorry it's so long but there's just so much to anxiety and I wanted to try and get everything in. I was thinking of writing about how I deal with my anxiety, but then this post would be even longer. If that's something you would like to know about, let me know and I'll start working on another post.

Hopefully this post will help at least one of you who might be going through something similar. Thank you for reading, if it was all of it or just one paragraph. And of course, if you have any questions at all, feel free to ask me. :)

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: The Geography of You and Me
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Published by: Headline
Publication date: 15th April 2014
Pages: 337
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

'Lucy felt it deeply just then, as if for the very first time: the bigness of the world, the sheer scope of it.'

Owen lives in the basement. Lucy lives on the 24th floor. But when the power goes out in the midst of a New York heatwave, they find themselves together for the first time: stuck in a lift between the 10th and 11th floors. As they await help, they start talking...

The brief time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Fransisco, to Prague and to Portland, they can't shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can't, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy - and pain - of first love.

And as they make their separate journeys in search of home, they discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world. 

So many bloggers are huge fans of Jennifer E. Smith, and after seeing a ton of excitable tweets about her new book The Geography of You and Me, I added it to my wish list. Who could resist that pretty cover? THE TYPOGRAPHY. *hugs book*

See, I actually hugged the book. Dedication. 

Eventually the book landed through my letterbox and I started reading straight away, desperately wanting to like it. Instead of enjoying the book, I've ended up with a question: did I read a different book from everyone else? Seriously, this book has an endless stream of five-star reviews on Goodreads, and yet... this book was so underwhelming.

As someone rightly told me on Twitter the other day, if I want to read badly enough, I'll find time for it no matter what. I've always managed to find time for reading...but not with this book. Believe it or not, it took me just over three weeks to read The Geography of You and Me. I kept putting it off and making excuses because I was bored, and I didn't want to face up to the fact that such a hugely popular book was boring me. This book was so slow. Nothing much happened except for two people exchanging postcards from across the globe, and while this was a sweet concept, it failed miserably at managing to hold my attention for longer than twenty pages at a time.

Lucy has known Owen for less than a week - they met when they were stuck in an elevator - and then they both ended up being oceans apart. Meanwhile they had clearly fallen in love with each other. Bearing in mind these people had barely had two conversations, I thought that was a little strange. They didn't properly know each other,  and suddenly they were in love and flying halfway across the globe to meet again? What? Firstly, it was implied that Owen and his father were pretty poor so I have no idea where Owen got the money for plane tickets. Secondly, YOU ONLY SPENT A COUPLE OF HOURS TOGETHER. *headdesk*

The whole thing was just cliché after cliché. Towards the end of the book nearly every sentence was making me cringe.

If you're into reading each and every tiny detail of someone else's life minute-by-minute, then this book is for you. Personally, though, it wasn't my cup of tea even though I was really looking forward to it. The Geography of You and Me was actually one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year, so I'm incredibly disappointed, underwhelmed, and also relieved to have finally finished it so I can now move onto something else. Please don't let my review put you off, I'm clearly in the minority here; everyone else seemed to love this, so chances are you will too. :)
Tuesday, 10 June 2014

HOW TO: 5 Ways to Protect Your Blog on Blogger

The possibility of four and a half years' worth of blog posts disappearing, never to be recovered, is a nightmare no blogger wants to become a reality. But that's what I was faced with a few days ago, when in just two minutes, I received 1,440 hits from Israel, and the stat counter was quickly increasing. My blog has been attacked before, but I don't think it's ever been that bad - if it has, I've blocked it from my memory.

It worried me because I suddenly realised how little security precautions Blogger has compared to other platforms such as Wordpress. I hate hate hate Wordpress, but at that moment I really wished I had the same control over my blog's security as Wordpress bloggers do. If my blog got hacked, I would be more than devastated. So I did what little I could to up the security on my blog. There wasn't much I could do because on Blogger we have limited access to files, but I did what I could and I thought I would share what I did in case any of you Blogger bloggers face the unfortunate possibility of being hacked. 

As a side-note: this won't prevent spam views like I was getting (you can read more on how to read Blogger stats here) and I'm pretty sure I wasn't being hacked, but it made me start thinking about how to protect my blog, just in case.

I went to Settings > Mobile and Email and typed my email address in the boxes labelled 'Comment notifications' and 'Email posts.' I never used to get comment notifications via email because there didn't seem to be any point as I moderate them from my dashboard, but at least comments I get in the future will be in my inbox if I ever need to restore them. Enabling the 'Email posts' option means from now on, whenever a new post goes live on my blog, it will also appear in my email inbox, meaning I can put those straight back up if something bad ever happens to my blog. 

Then I whizzed over to Settings > Other and clicked 'Export blog.' This downloaded an .xml file to my laptop which contains all blog posts (including scheduled posts and drafts) and all comments ever published to my blog. I quickly made a new blog and imported The Mile Long Bookshelf, and it worked perfectly! Phew. In the case of something bad happening to The Mile Long Bookshelf, I can import the file and everything should be back to normal. 

Next I went to Template and clicked the Backup/Restore button which downloaded another .xml file containing just my template e.g background, header, title colours, link colours, and some of the sidebar widgets. Oh, and if you're wondering, I hated the look of the mobile version of my blog which is why I disabled it.

I read my blog code and kept my eyes peeled for any suspicious links. Just a tip for those who don't know, your template (if downloaded from a third party) and any widgets/code you got from other blogs and tutorials could contain harmful links, adverts, and pop-ups. It's good to check every now and then to see what's really on your blog. Luckily, there didn't seem to be anything suspicious in my code, so moving on...

I changed my blog and my Bluehost passwords even though they get changed regularly anyway. Better to be safe than sorry, right? 

When all of this was going on, I was frantically Googling at the same time for security tips tailored specifically to Blogger. I couldn't find anything up-to-date, so hopefully this post will be helpful to those worried about blog security. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Why do we hide our book blogs?

I've wanted to write a post about this for a while, and after reading Sophie's excellent post on book bloggers hiding their blogs from people they know in daily life, I thought I should get on with writing it! This is a response to her post - a pretty late response, actually, because this is scheduled.

It's no offline secret that I have a book blog. I've never attempted to hide my blog from people, and to be honest, that never even crossed my mind. But I know that puts me in the minority, and that most bloggers I know are book blogging in secret.

But we spend hours on our blogs. It's March right now (although I suppose this will have to go up in June - it's a scheduled post) and today alone I spent almost 6 hours blogging, not including the time I spent replying to emails. If you needed proof that we book bloggers work hard, there it is. Are we proud of our blogs? I'm proud of mine. There are days where I think it's rubbish and I can't write and my designs look like a five-year-old made them, but deep down I am proud of it, because I put the work and effort into it. We all do.

I know other factors come into it, but I challenge you to tell one person about your blog this week. It might just be a small mention in passing or it might be a full-blown discussion. Because guess what? Your blog is good. Not many people can say they interview authors and speak to publicists on a daily basis, and your blog deserves all the attention it can get. 

What other people think of your blog shouldn't really matter. Who cares if people think it's geeky? What's wrong with being geeky anyway? If they have a problem with it, that says more about them than it does about you, and they wouldn't understand how 100% awesome it is unless they tried it themselves - it's a shame they'll never bother.

We're different, and different is good. Be proud of your blog. :)

Let me know if you decide to accept my challenge!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Published by: Harper Collins
Publication date: 22nd October 2013
Pages: 526
Genres: Young Adult/Dystopian/Fantasy/Romance
Format: Hardback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered - fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature - and of herself - while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love. 

Allegiant. The finale to a roller coaster ride of a trilogy. The book which seems to have more negative reviews than any of the others. The one where all strings are tied.  In this last instalment the truth and life beyond the fence is finally revealed.

Firstly, the world-building in Allegiant is phenomenal. As we were taken beyond the fence, a whole new world was opened up to us, and I really enjoyed learning about that environment and watching the characters adapt to a place they had never really heard of or seen before. I could sense that Roth had a lot of fun writing and exploring the compound and that really shined through the writing which I think contributed greatly to me loving the book as much as I did.

When I was around one hundred pages away from the end, part of me remained hopeful that the ending in my copy of the book would be different to everyone else's; that the spoilers I had seen from so many people had just been part of an elaborate, long-winded hoax. Of course, my ending was unfortunately the same as everyone else's.

Before I read Insurgent or Allegiant, I had been discussing the ending of Allegiant as I had already seen the major spoiler. Judging before reading (yep. I confess.) I thought Roth had taken the easy way out. I'm conflicted - I do think there was potential for the ending to have been better, but now my thoughts have changed. It was a bittersweet end and, in some ways, beautiful. I think it suited the book's events perfectly so, sorry past-Amber, but you were wrong.

While I liked but didn't necessarily agree with the ending, I respect Roth for taking the risk. I don't think I've ever read a book where the author has killed their main protagonist, and I feel that the next book I read will be dull in comparison to this complex, intelligent and constantly thrilling novel. Honestly, I don't know what else to say, as nothing I write will do this fantastic book justice. Overall, this is the best book in the trilogy, and one of those books which is near impossible to put down.
The comments contain spoilers.
Monday, 2 June 2014

The Book Blogger World Tour

Another project? I must be crazy, but this idea has been kicking around in my head for months, and I'm so happy that I can finally start working on it!

What is the book blogger world tour?

Firstly - this is not a tour you will need plane tickets for! After signing up you will be assigned a random book blogger. Your challenge will then be to take a photo of your blogger's URL in an interesting place. For example, if you live in London you could take a photo of it with Big Ben. If you're in Sydney you could take a photo of it with the Sydney Opera House. If you don't have a famous landmark near you, how about a local one, or you could even just find anywhere that looks interesting. If you're going to a concert, how about taking a photo of the blogger's URL in front of the massive crowd? If there isn't anywhere that looks cool near you, are you going on holiday this year? Could you take a photo there? There is so much you could do! Here are some of my own (lame) examples...

Civray is a town in France, if you're wondering. The town I was in had a road sign for it because it's the town they twin with. It's 628 miles away exactly!
You will probably need to use a marker pen because as you can see, a simple biro doesn't show up very well! You will be sent a print-out like the ones I'm holding in the photos, but if you don't have a printer you could just write it out. If you're wondering, I used my own URL because if I used anyone else's I might have needed permission, and then I would have had to reveal my project to someone early! ;)

There are only 20 places available on this 'tour', so I'm sorry if you don't get a place, but I'm not willing to spend ten hours sending out emails like I did when nearly 200 people signed up to the Blog Notes Project! However, if all goes well I might do this again so if you don't get to participate this time, you might do in future. 

In the end, all photos will be compiled into one blog post for everyone to see. You can have your face in the photo if you want to - it is not a requirement - but please bear in mind that all photos will be on my blog after the tour is over. I might even participate in this one myself, actually!


Now, the part you've all been waiting for...the sign-up form! Sign-ups open June 2nd 2014 and close June 17th 2014. Confirmation emails will be sent in July. There are only 20 places available on this world tour, and bloggers will be randomly picked from the sign-ups using a random number generator. So it doesn't matter if you're in a different time zone and you're seeing this hours after everyone else - you have as good a chance as anyone!