Friday, 27 March 2015

March Favourites | 2015

Hello and welcome to my March favourites! At the end of every month I show you the things I've been loving recently, from beauty products and books to music and apps, and I'm sure food will feature, too, at some point... Enjoy!
Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Top 4 Tips for Blogging Safely

We all know that the Internet can be a dangerous place, especially for us bloggers who have to give out our personal details on a daily basis. In the past, bloggers have been stalked *cough* Kathleen Hale *cough* and so I thought it might be good to share a few tips on staying safe as a book blogger - although this can apply to anyone who uses the Internet.

We already know the basic tips (don't share your full name online, blah blah blah - we all do it, anyway) so I've come up with some that you might not have thought of.

Don't share that photo

I've seen so many bloggers tweet photos of a pile of book post with the address label on the envelope clearly visible. I know, it's exciting getting book post and you want to show everyone immediately, so it's really easy to forget, but in doing so, you're freely giving away your address to thousands - potentially millions - of people. 

If you want to share a photo like that, I recommend covering up your address with a piece of paper, or blurring out your address with an app.

Location settings are not your friend

Most social networking sites and apps give you the ability to switch on your location settings. If you do so, you're inadvertently giving away the address of your current location, which might be your home or the home of a loved one. It's so easy to accidentally do this on Instagram or Twitter. I'm always seeing fellow book bloggers posting photos to Instagram, and above the photos is the name of their location. All it takes is a simple tap, and boom - I now have a map on my screen with a pointer right over your current location, as do all of your other followers. I'm not going to do anything with those details, but there are many people who might.

If you must turn on your location settings, or you really want to check-in on Facebook, I have a few tips for you which I always do myself. Firstly, if possible, do it when you're not at home or at the house of a friend/family member, so you're not giving out personal addresses.

Secondly, only check in when you're about to leave your current location. That way, if anyone does decide to come and find you (which I doubt, but it's better to be safe than sorry, right?) you'll be long gone.

So what if you're home alone?

As a book blogger, there are plenty of people who know my address, and do you know how many times I've almost tweeted something like, "finally got the house to myself!" but stopped myself just in time? It's just not a good idea, especially if you're young and especially if Twitter adds your location. It's unlikely, but who knows who might turn up at your door? (Plus, there isn't much point in updating social media with that, anyway... so what if you're home alone?)

No one needs to know you're on holiday

Last year I went on holiday and did some things I probably shouldn't have done: I tweeted when I was leaving, I tweeted on the fourteen-hour journey (although, honestly, what else was I supposed to do to pass the time?) and I posted photos on Instagram throughout the holiday.

That's a bad idea, but it's not as bad as what I used to do here and on my old blog: I used to publish a post a few days before leaving saying something along the lines of "Sorry, I'll be on holiday from the 12th to the 25th, so there won't be any new posts until I get back!"

Firstly, people don't care if you're not going to be posting for a week or two. It sounds harsh, but it's true. If you didn't announce it beforehand, no one would have noticed you were gone. Secondly, and most importantly, by doing what I did, you're announcing the dates that your house will be empty to all of your blog followers. Hmm.

These are things that we all do, me included, without really thinking about it. In fact, I've done all of these. The blogging world often feels like a safe place to be, but nonetheless, these are still tips that everyone should be following.

Do you have any tips for online safety?

Friday, 20 March 2015

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Published by: Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 10th May 2012
Pages: 213
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Road trip
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

19 Katherines and counting...

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type is girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a blood-thirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun - but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

I didn't think I'd like The Fault in Our Stars, but I did. I didn't think I'd like Paper Towns, but I did. I didn't think I'd like Looking for Alaska, but I did. I thought I'd love An Abundance of Katherines, but I ended up detesting it. Take from that what you will.

Alright, people, brace yourselves. I'm about to give one star to a John Green book.

An Abundance of Katherines is one of the most boring books I have ever read, and I am not exaggerating. Nothing happens. There's no point to the story. It's just a washed-up child prodigy going on a road trip, obsessing over mathematical formulas and people called Katherine for no real reason. That is genuinely it. But I guess you want to know why I hated it in a bit more detail.

The first on a list of many things I found annoying about this book is the flow - or lack of it. A good example of this is when Colin and his friends, Hassan and Lindsey, had to interview the locals for a project - a completely unnecessary project which was never fully explained - and we, as the readers, are subjected to pages and pages of fictional people we know absolutely nothing about, talking about how their town used to be in the old days. There was no point to this whatsoever, and after a while I just started to skip these pages because they were so dull.  It seemed like Green was just writing and writing until he thought of something interesting he could make happen.

I guess he never thought of anything.

What's second on my list? Colin and his obsessive complaining. He used to be a child prodigy but he's past the point of being a child, and we're not allowed to forget it, considering he complains about no longer being a child prodigy on what seems to be every other page.

Next up is the constant use of 'fugging' in place of a certain f-word. I mean, fine, if you're going to say it once every few pages or so. But several times in one sentence? Really? It was irritating. Even more irritating were the footnotes, which only succeeded in pulling me out of the story, on the rare occasion that I was in it in the first place, and mathematical diagrams that made no sense to me were uselessly littered throughout.

To actually get through this book - because, yes, I did finish it, surprisingly - I read around fifty pages a day. Any more than that and I started to fall asleep. And I don't nap. Ever. So that shows how bored I was. Green's other books are great, but this one? In my opinion, it's not worth the time.
On a more positive note, who's seen the trailer for Paper Towns? I was skeptical when the casting was announced a few months ago - I mean, Cara? Really? - but after watching the trailer I can't imagine anyone else playing Margo. It's perfect and I'm more excited for Paper Towns than I was for The Fault in Our Stars! What do you all think?

Monday, 16 March 2015

DISCUSSION: Is It Dishonest to Schedule Posts in Advance?

Back in December, I excitedly tweeted that I was scheduled up on the blog until March. I've talked before about why I like to schedule my posts - there's less pressure, and if I'm busy elsewhere my blog won't be neglected. Some bloggers don't like to schedule posts and that's fine, but this is the best way for me and it works nicely with my lifestyle.

I'd just like to add that I don't always schedule posts, because sometimes life just doesn't work out that way. For example, I don't tend to schedule event recaps, and sometimes if there's a current hot topic going around, like when it was made public that Zoella's book was ghostwritten, I'll publish my thoughts straight away rather than schedule it to go live when it's become old news.

However, someone replied to my tweet and said that she hates when posts are written ages in advance and that she couldn't understand why bloggers schedule posts because it "takes away the honesty." I asked why, because I was baffled and because I'd never thought of it that way before.

Here's my scheduling process:
  • Write blog post.
  • Schedule it to publish within the next two months (I don't like scheduling ahead any further than that.)
  • Briefly read over it about a week before it's due to publish. 
  • Read over and occasionally tweak it a little bit the day before it's due to be published. 

See? Even if a post was written ages before it actually goes live, it's still up-to-date because I make sure it is. I don't think it's dishonest - just because I've written a review or a discussion two months before it actually appears publicly on my blog doesn't make it any less genuine. They're still my thoughts and it's still me who wrote it. 

I never got a reply from the person who thought it to be dishonest, so I'm putting the question to you guys. I'm genuinely interested and I'd love to know your thoughts as it's good to see things from another perspective. Maybe I'm missing something?

Do you schedule posts? Do you think scheduling posts in advance takes away the honesty?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

EVENT REPORT: Insurgent Q&A and Insurgent World Premiere

On March 10th I woke up and retrieved my phone from under a pile of stuff - kept there because I have been known to sleep-tweet - and checked my emails, just like I do every morning. And then I sat bolt upright because there, sitting in my inbox, was an invitation to a Q&A with Veronica Roth, Shailene Woodley and Theo James the very next day in London. I'd already been planning to go to London the next day anyway, so adding this into the schedule wasn't too much of a problem.

Except it made me have panic attacks all day, all night, and for the entire following morning. That sucked. But yay, Insurgent!

So, my step-dad and I made our way to Twitter HQ where the Q&A was being held. It's a very posh building. Very marble-y. Very shiny. Very nice. I really didn't want to leave, actually - I'd love to go again - because I couldn't stop staring at the design. If you look behind me, you can see lots of hashtags painted on the wall, including #waffles and #shipit; these people get me. There were a few sculptures dotted around, too, including a Dalek which you can see behind me, and some white glittery reindeer in the other corner.

As I was having my photo taken with the Twitter logo, Veronica Roth came out of the lift (that's an elevator, people from other countries) and walked past me. I stared at my step-dad in shock.

"Who's she? An actress?"

You can imagine my exasperated sigh. I then tweeted about it... from the actual Twitter offices. Because that's not weird at all.

As we followed her to reception, our names were ticked off the guest list and we made our way to a meeting room where we then took our seats. A few minutes later, Veronica walked in followed by Shailene and Theo, and the Q&A began.

It was a strange atmosphere. Everyone was excited, and there was a lot of laughing as Theo made jokes, but hardly anyone was looking at the stars. Most of us were looking at laptops or phones, hurriedly live-tweeting the event. I was doing that as well as blogging, vlogging, taking photos and - duh - listening. I'm not really sure how I pulled all of that off.

If you'd like to see my tweets from the event, which include questions and answers from the stars themselves, click here.

The Q&A lasted for half an hour, after which we whizzed over to Leicester Square for the world premiere of Insurgent. We were a bit early, so I decided to watch them set up. It was actually really interesting, and I saw Jim Chapman again. Here is the side of his head:

And here are other people setting up:

A little while later, everything started happening. I have to say, despite this being the world premiere, it wasn't as good as the Divergent one, even though that had just been the European premiere. It was like they'd blown all of their budget on the first one. It wasn't well organised, and the celebrity guests (other than Veronica, Shailene, Theo and Jim, the presenter) were Z-list.

It was still fun, though, and I'm so happy I was able to go. I mean...

Oh, hey, Theo. We were also given these:

At the Divergent premiere last year, the cast, the director and Veronica came on stage before the film to say a few words. I don't know about anyone else, but I assumed they went up to the balcony to watch the film with the rest of us. However, when the film finished, the stars never came out - except Ben Lloyd-Hughes who no one recognised, which was awkward - and so we had our suspicions that maybe they'd left straight away. Turns out that's exactly what they do, because this time, a few minutes after everyone had gone inside, I saw them come straight out again. So, that's a thing that happens. Fun fact for you all, there.

Sorry about the massive lighting rig, but you can see Theo James getting into the car, so that means it's a good photo, right?

According to their assistant, they were going straight to the airport from the premiere. They must be exhausted. So was I, when I got home - I could barely talk.

If you want to actually come around London with me, go inside Twitter HQ and watch bits of the premiere, you can watch my vlog below. Overall, it was a pretty good day, and for most people this will be a small thing that would never be considered an achievement, but I'm really proud of myself for going to both of these events despite how anxious I felt.

Bring on Allegiant!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Shift by Em Bailey

Title: Shift
Author: Em Bailey
Published by: Electric Monkey
Publication date: 7th May 2012
Pages: 304
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Psychological
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vaile before she'd even started at our school. The first was that she had no parents - they were dead. And the second was that they were dead because Miranda had killed them.

Olive used to be the school queen-bee. But that was before her breakdown. Now she's the class loner, and can only watch as new girl Miranda latches on to Olive's ex-best friend Katie. Soon Miranda is talking like Katie, dressing like Katie - even going out with Katie's boyfriend.

And then Katie dies. Everyone seems to believe it was a tragic accident, but Olive isn't so sure. What if the wild rumours are true? What if Miranda really is a killer...?

I had just recovered from reading one of my favourite books, The Originals, when I saw this book cover for the first time. I remember thinking they looked very similar, and instantly popped it onto my wish list, without looking at what it was about. Somehow nearly three years zoomed by and then I decided to look into it. I know, I know. But then I discovered it was a psychological thriller which made me even more excited, and boom - into the virtual shopping cart it flew.

Reader, here's some slightly hypocritical advice from yours truly: try not to get your expectations so high that you can't see over them.

The first half of the book was great. There was lots of mystery, lots of intrigue, and lots of unanswered questions that I was excited to see tied up at the end. The characters were interesting, the dialogue was dark and creepy, and then came along the most amazingly disorientating plot twist that made me doubt everything and want to go back to the beginning.

But, as we all know, what goes up must come down. Shift went from being a definite 5-star review to a 2-star review. The book had been holding my attention because I wanted to find out what happened to Olive but, in the end, it turned out to be a massive disappointment, even after the mind-blowing plot twist. For a start, Olive became annoyingly gullible, and more often than not I found myself wanting to shake her.You know when you're watching a horror movie and you're constantly screaming at the television because the characters are doing everything they logically shouldn't be doing? Olive was that person. It fit with the plot and I understood why she was like that, but it got overwhelmingly irritating.

And then the ending was like a balloon slowly deflating after having reached its limit. "Heart-racing climax" is one of the phrases used on the back of the book, but I don't feel like there was one at all. There was so much potential, and yet it was all a bit "and they lived happily ever after." I mean, seriously. For a start, Miranda - dark, creepy, emotionally manipulative shape-shifter - literally walks off into the sunset, and in response, Olive vaguely wonders what Miranda is doing in her new life, in the same way that you might wonder what old school friends are getting up to these days. She even admits to missing her. Olive, she tried to kill you twice, and actually did kill someone you once considered a best friend. But sure, miss her.

So, not only did Shift have an extremely irritating and stupid ending, but the whole shape-shifting thing was never explained, either. Why was Miranda a shape-shifter? How? And what was going on with her freakish aunt? I guess we'll never know, and I can't decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

In the end, it just seemed like satire, although it clearly wasn't supposed to, and all in all it was consistently clumsy. Unfortunately, it's not something I'd recommend you spend your money on.
Thursday, 5 March 2015

Why I Can't Live Without Books | World Book Day

For as long as I can remember, World Book Day has been a massive part of my life. I have vivid memories of me walking home from primary school and asking my mum, "when will it be World Book Day again?" only to be extremely disappointed at it being months and months ahead.

Still in primary school, I remember how ecstatic I was when the day finally came that the teacher would hand out the book tokens, and my jealousy that she was allowed to hold so many in one go.

My love of World Book Day carried over into secondary school, when all of my friends would give me their tokens because I was the resident bookworm. I remember having a particularly rubbish day, and then finding a token crumpled on the floor on my way to Art, and instantly being cheered up.

As you can probably tell, I love World Book Day. How could I not, when it's a day dedicated to books that the entire world can celebrate?

This year is even more exciting than usual, because there's a new addition to the celebrations: the World Book Day Teen Fest, a free, online festival for bookish teens.

On the 4th and 5th of March from 6-8pm UK time, WBD Teen Fest will bring amazing authors including Holly Smale, Marcus Sedgwick, Malorie Blackman and Derek Landy straight to your screen! With hangouts and interviews, how-tos, blog posts, playlists, prizes and much more, each night will be packed with awesome bookish stuff as well as the chance to chat with other readers and writers. Oh, and did I mention... it's FREE. You don't even have to get out of bed if you don't want to.

I was so excited when I first heard about WBD Teen Fest because, as you already know, it's really difficult for me to get to events in person, and I have to turn down 99% of event invites that come my way. So, when I found out that this was online, I was so, so happy.

The theme this year is 'why we can't live without books'. This immediately inspired a short skit on my YouTube channel, which you can see here. I'd love for you to watch - it might be a 4-minute video, but it took an entire day of scripting, filming and a surprising amount of costume changes...

But there are more reasons for me not being able to imagine living without books that I didn't include in that video. The first is that books have made me who I am today, so if I'd never read a book in my life, who knows who I'd be? I might like maths, for a start. That would just be weird.

On a more serious note, though, I think it's books that have made me an accepting and tolerant person. It doesn't bother me if you're trans. It doesn't bother me if you're homosexual, or demisexual, or any of the rest. If you have an illness of some sort, or you have psychic abilities, or you're a wizard, I'm not going to treat you any differently. Books allow you to experience life as someone else for a little while and can help you to gain perspective.

Everyone needs an escape sometimes, but for some it's impossible to physically do that. In real life, I've been to England, obviously, and France. In books, I've been all over the world, from igloos in Antarctica to the designer streets of Hollywood, and the sunny beaches in Australia to the dusty plains of Afghanistan.

Aaaand lastly, I really want to write a book one day. So, if books didn't exist, I wouldn't be able to, and that would be sad.

Luckily for us, books do exist, and the wonderful people behind World Book Day have offered one of you a YA book bundle! You can enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
WBD Teen Fest is on the 4th and 5th of March from 6-8pm each night. That's UK time, but you can check what time it'll be in your country here. To find out more about WBD Teen Fest, check out their website for the full line-up of what's happening across the Internet for World Book Day, and why not share why you can't live without books? You can do this in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #cantlivewithoutbooks as both me and the WBD team will be retweeting and reposting some of our favourites.

Why couldn't you live without books?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

BLOG TOUR: 4 Writing Tips from Rachel Mann at Simon and Schuster

As part of the blog tour for The Case of the Exploding Brains, author Rachel Hamilton's editor at Simon and Schuster is here with 4 top tips for becoming a published writer. But first, let's take a look at  the fabulously funny middle-grade read, The Case of the Exploding Brains!

Noelle "Know-All" Hawkins has another case on her hands.Her famous scientist dad - Professor Brian "Big Brain" Hawkins - is in prison as a result of his portaloo mishaps. A trip to the Science Museum results in an international mystery involving the moon, some mindreading, and an awful lot of grumpy people. But how are they all connected? Noelle, Holly and Porter are on the case. Will they piece together the crazy clues in time to save the planet? And why is Dad walking round prison with a blanket on his head?

As Rachel might tell you, becoming a published author isn't always easy, or fun. But there's so much to love about the process (I hope – ask Rachel!) and one of my favourite things about my job is working with funny, proactive authors like her, on hilarious and inventive stories like The Case of the Exploding Loo and The Case of the Exploding Brains.

Here are my tips for aspiring writers:

GET AN AGENT: I’m sure lots of people reading this blog know that the best way to get your book to the people most likely to love it, is to get an agent who knows the industry insiders. They'll edit, advise and champion you, and keep you motivated during what can be quite a daunting process.

KEEP AT IT: If you love writing, then you must keep going. Contrary to popular belief, publishers are actually nice people who love books just as much as you do, but the market is tough. You will get rejected. A lot, probably. Try not to take it personally, and pour your energy into writing the next thing. You'll be improving all the time, and trends will shift.

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE: Listen to criticism, of course, but play to your strengths and keep writing what comes naturally. If you try plugging into a trend, it'll be gone before your book's anywhere near finished, let alone published.

ENGAGE WITH THE COMMUNITY: We have such an exciting and positive kids' book industry in the UK. Get to know your fellow authors, support them online, and read their books. Writing can be a lonely game, but there's a great community out there that will also, without doubt, help you sell more books.

My final (shameless point) is that you should all read The Case of the Exploding Loo and The Case of the Exploding Brains! Rachel is an example of someone who does all of the above so brilliantly and is a complete pleasure to work with. I hope you'll soon be joining her as a published author!

Thank you so much to both Rachel Hamilton and Rachel Mann! If you want more writing tips, check out 6 writing tips from 6 YA authors which I posted last month.

The Case of the Exploding Brains is available to buy now.