Sunday, 31 May 2015

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Finding Audrey
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Published by: Random House
Publication date: 4th June 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Mental Health/Family
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Audrey can't leave the house. She can't even take off her dark glasses inside the house - a house that her totally chaotic but well-meaning family fill to the brim with their big personalities and loud voices.

Then her brother's friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again - well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey suddenly feels she can do things she'd thought were too scary.

Even when it's two steps forward and one step back, suddenly finding her way back to the real world seems achievable. 

Finding Audrey is one of those books that you finish feeling stunned. I was so impressed that I was rendered speechless for a while, before excitedly reaching for my laptop so I could tell you all about it.

I think, finally, we have a book that deals with anxiety and panic attacks properly.

Despite having seen Confessions of a Shopaholic and loving it when I was younger, this is the first of Kinsella's books that I've read, and I have come to the conclusion that she is amazing. At first, the writing style irritated me and it was very random. Audrey would be talking about something and then suddenly say, "Whatever. Anyway. Moving on." or "Actually, that's kind of irrelevant." That made it hard to follow because Audrey kept jumping from one topic to another, but this straightened out within the first few pages and I ended up really enjoying the chatty style.

More importantly, though, is that Kinsella clearly did her research. I was shocked when, in her therapy sessions, Audrey was asked exactly the same questions I'm asked in mine. A quote which especially resonated with me:

"I've sat in enough rooms with teachers, doctors, regurgitating the same story, using the same words, till it starts to feel like something that happened to someone else."

Plus, I think it was great that we got to 'be with' Audrey in her therapy sessions, because lots of people suffering with anxiety who read the book and aren't being treated for their illness could benefit a little from that, as there was some valuable stuff in there.

Mainly, I'm really happy that the person with anxiety - Audrey - was proactive. She was constantly trying to get better, and even had exposure therapy. She reminded me a lot of myself. I've done exposure therapy - in fact, I'm still doing it - and it's incredibly helpful, yet this is the first book I've read on anxiety where the person suffering has actually done it. Usually in fiction, the person with anxiety mopes around waiting to be cured. Seeing such a proactive character trying so many methods to get better will be valuable and inspirational for many, I'm sure.

Lots of books focusing on mental health are sloppy. That's not the case with Finding Audrey. Kinsella wrote about anxiety and panic attacks so, so well and, for me, described it perfectly. I was hugely impressed, and I'm happy that a book like this exists.

The romance aspect to the book was cute, and it was nice to see Audrey so happy all of a sudden. Linus was great and I loved that he was willing to go along with what Audrey had to do to feel comfortable and less anxious. However - and this doesn't really apply to Finding Audrey, because Audrey sought proper treatment - it irritates me that most YA books that I've read about mental health problems usually go along the lines of: person has mental illness. Person meets love interest. Person is now cured. Some people will relate to that. Just because that's not my experience doesn't mean it's not anyone else's. But, especially when these books are aimed at young people, I think other forms of treatment should be explored, like in Finding Audrey. Recovering is seriously hard work, and I think books that go along the lines of what I described before romanticise that.

But back on a positive note: as part of her therapy, Audrey had to make a short documentary of her family as if she was a fly on the wall, and this meant we got to see a couple of pages of script every once in a while. I don't usually enjoy things like that, but this was done really well and often made me laugh, especially when her sarcastic older brother, Frank, was involved.

I wish my friends would read this book. I feel like this would give anyone not going through anxiety a really good understanding of it, even down to things you shouldn't say to the person with the anxiety, e.g when Linus says, "Why can't you just snap out of it?" and Audrey replies, "Don't you think I've tried?!" I think I actually cheered at that point.

Overall, this is an amazing book and I can't recommend it enough. It's fun, it's quick, it's cute, but it also focuses on deeper topics with maturity and responsibility. I can only hope Kinsella writes more for the YA genre.
Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Top 5 Things on my Bucket List

1) Go to Paris

I want to visit every country, but the most achievable place right now is Paris - it's only a train-ride away, after all. I was planning to go for my 16th birthday but that didn't happen, so it's my ultimate goal to fit it in sometime this year. And when I do, I'll write a massive blog post full of photos, and hopefully you'll enjoy it, because who can resist the Eiffel tower? And macarons? Exactly.

2) Write a book

My exams finish on June 10th. So close, yet so far... after that, I'll have plenty of time on my hands, at least for a while, and I plan to get the crazy story whirling around in my brain onto paper. Or a Word document. It will most likely be a Word document.

3) Watch the sun rise

There's a hill directly in front of my house, so when the weather's a bit hotter, I plan to get up super early and make my way up there to see the sun rise. The view is amazing even when it's cloudy, so I think it'll be worth it. Edit: I actually did this a few days after I originally wrote this post! You can see photos here.

4) Go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour again

I've only been on the Harry Potter Studio Tour once and that was nearly three years ago on my 14th birthday. You can see photos from the day here - I look like a fetus, you have been warned - and it was amazing. Best birthday ever. But it was still relatively new when we went, and now they've got more stuff than ever before. They even have the actual steam train from the films and you can go on it. I need to see this so badly.

5) Buy a better camera

I love my current camera, I've had it for years, and it's always served me well, but I think the time has come for it to be replaced. I keep changing my mind between the Canon 70d and the 600d, but I've been putting off buying one since last summer because I hate spending lots of money in one go. I don't know why - it just scares me. If anyone has either of those cameras, I'd appreciate your thoughts! Hopefully I can take it to Paris... and the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Yeeeah. A girl can dream. *sigh*

What's on your bucket list?

Photo credit
Saturday, 23 May 2015

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Title: The DUFF
Author: Kody Keplinger
Published by: Hodder Children's Books
Publication date: 25th February 2015
Pages: 343
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper may not be the prettiest girl at school, but she has a loyal group of friends, biting wit, and a spot-on BS detector. She's also too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut Wesley. But when he casually refers to Bianca as the Duff of her crew - the designated ugly fat friend - the gloves are off!

But things aren't so great at home and Bianca, desperate for a distraction, ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it, and before she knows it she's in a secret enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly wrong. It turns out Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Since it was announced that The DUFF would be adapted for the big screen, this book has been everywhere. It's been majorly hyped, and I've wanted to give it a try for a while, so considering I missed it the first time around, I was hugely excited when I received this for review.

And... by the end of the book, I was considerably less excited. I did like some of it. I'd almost go as far to say that, dialogue-wise, Kody Keplinger is the newer, sassier Stephanie Perkins. The characters are amazing; Bianca Piper is sarcastic, witty, cynical... this girl gets me, she really does. The entire book is hilarious and honest, and a few of my favourite quotes include:

"Spanish, huh?" he said, glancing down at the scattered papers as he grabbed them. "Can you say anything interesting?"
"El tono de tu voz hace que queria estrangularme." I stood up and waited for him to hand over my papers.
"That sounds sexy," he said, getting to his feet and handing me the stack of Spanish work he'd swept together. "What's it mean?"
"The sound of your voice makes me want to strangle myself."
"...we're all fucking Duffs."
"I’m not the Duff," Wesley said confidently.
"That's because you don't have friends."
"Oh. Right."
"Your sense of humor needs some work, then," Wesley suggested. "Most girls find my jokes charming."
"Those girls must have IQs low enough to trip over."

As you can see, the writing was a bit clunky, but as long as the book is actually readable then I'm not usually bothered much by that. For me, the most important things about a book are the characters and the plot. I have to be invested in them - and, with The DUFF, I was. So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I thought I would?

As for Wesley Rush, he was really nasty to Bianca in the beginning, and I didn't like how that was romanticised. Should that mindset be promoted at all, especially in YA? But even that isn't why The DUFF didn't meet my expectations, and Wesley changed for the better in the end. The letter and the scene with Bianca's dad showed that, deep down, he was a good person and that he was usually just putting on a front. I won't say any more about that because, here at The Mile Long Bookshelf, we don't do spoilers. Much.

This is one of the most honest YA books I've ever read, and I'm very much looking forward to the next book. But, at the same time, I'm not sure the excessive hype was warranted. It was good in terms of dialogue - it was witty, funny, and I always love that. Sadly, everything else was a let down. It's not bad but it's nothing special.

Overall, the movie is so much better and that's not something I usually say. Nothing could ever replace such an iconic movie but it's like a new Mean Girls, and if I had to recommend either the book or the movie to you, it would be the movie - every time. Gah, these three-star reviews are annoying, aren't they? To conclude, it's an enjoyable book but not one that you need to rush out and buy immediately. Sad times.
Saturday, 16 May 2015

Dealing with Exam Stress

Bit of a different post today, but as I have my IGCSE exams from Monday until 10th June I've been thinking about them a lot. I'm stressed, you're stressed - we're all stressed. So, here's something I wrote in the hopes that it will help not only me but also some of you. 

Note: this entire post is based on how things work in the English education system. Most of this should still apply to people in other countries, but grades I mention might not. 

Here's the thing. No one should be pressuring or expecting you to get the very highest grades in every single exam you do. That's just going to make you feel worse. They're probably only looking out for you, but in this situation you can ignore them and do what feels right for you and only you. Hey, you might be capable of getting the highest grades in every single subject and if so then that's amazing and you should feel proud of yourself, but I find that the best thing to do is aim for a C. If you get that, then great - you've passed! If you get higher, that's a bonus and you should treat yourself to cake. Put enough pressure on yourself that you revise a substantial amount, but don't drive yourself into the ground with stress. 

Imagine someone who revises all day. every day. They don't schedule time out for themselves, they haven't seen their friends in months and it's quite possible that the last time they read a book or watched TV was some months ago. They cry a lot, but they keep going even though they feel a bit dead.

That is the kind of thing that does more harm than good. It's incredibly important and perfectly okay to balance revision with fun stuff, not to mention the fact that you need to eat and keep hydrated. Otherwise you'll drive yourself mad. Scheduling time for you is important, and that leads onto my next point...

When revision gets too much and you're contemplating ripping up the past paper you're doing, have a nap, go for a run, or watch funny YouTube videos. You've clearly reached your limit so any revision you do after that isn't going to benefit you at all. Take some time out and come back to it calmer and refreshed.

At the end of the day, no matter what anyone tells you, your results do not define you. How can a single letter sum up how creative, intelligent, funny and kind you are? It doesn't say anything about you as a person except how much you managed to remember about a certain topic on a certain day. And it's not the end of the world if you don't pass your exams first-time - resits exist for a reason, and that reason is that lots of people have to do them every single year. There's no shame in it.

Exams are great for certain people and their results will allow them into the university of their choice or the career that they like the look of. But the world does not revolve around exam results, thankfully. In my opinion, staying happy and healthy is the most important thing. You could have all A*s but be really unhappy. You could have all Cs or lower but be happy, healthy and still experiencing lots of different things. Exams are important, of course, but not life-defining. There are always other options and if you're passionate enough about something, you'll get it.

Overall, do what's best for you, but remember: keep hydrated, don't push yourself past the point of exhaustion - seriously, guys, revising all night is not going to help - and make sure you're taking time out of your day to relax. If you balance it well, you'll be fine.

This may be hypocritical coming from the girl who fully expects to cry through her Maths papers, but there's more to life than exams. And now I'm going to stop sounding like a school counsellor. *steps off soap box*

Do you have any exam advice?

Saturday, 9 May 2015

EVENT REPORT: Carrie Hope Fletcher talk and book signing

On April 24th I read and loved All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher, and on May 7th at Waterstones Piccadilly I got to meet the woman herself.

I'm not going to lie, the first part wasn't pleasant. The event was in the basement - which I only found out after trudging up four flights of stairs - and even though I was there early, there weren't any seats. On top of that it was boiling hot, dark, and very crowded. As you can imagine, that wasn't very nice! But there was free cake. Doesn't it look amazing?

At least I think it was free. I really, really hope it was free and that the one I ate wasn't actually stolen. That would be awkward.

As you might know from many sarcastic tweets of mine like this one, nothing annoys me more than standing in a crowd trying to see something and being met with a wall of tall people in front of me. It really sucks. But this time - and this actually made my day - a girl near me asked if I wanted to stand in front of her because she'd be able to see over me anyway. Seriously, my day was made and she is clearly a true Hopeful. Unfortunately I didn't get the girl's name, but in the unlikely event that she's reading this, thank you for being awesome!

I am so sorry about the poor photo quality; I considered not including this photo and the next one as they make me cringe they're that bad, but I figured you'd want to see them anyway. You'd think after bringing out so many different models that iPhones would have a good zoom by now, but apparently not.

Anyway, the talk began and was hosted by the one and only Internet-genius and friend of Carrie, Ben Cook. He talked a bit about how proud he is of Carrie before 'throwing some shade' at YouTubers who have their books written for them, which was hilarious even though it's not something I'm personally bothered by. For the record, Carrie wrote and illustrated the book herself!

After they'd chatted about the book and taken some questions from the audience, Carrie whipped out her guitar and played a quick cover of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift followed by her original song Boys in Books are Better. It was so unexpected and the crowd went wild. Watch my vlog of the day here if you want to see that.

Soon enough it was time to get books signed and I was fifth in the queue, thank god, because the signing was estimated to go on for three hours and my feet were just about ready to drop off!

For once I didn't make a fool of myself; I am very happy about that because this is rarely the outcome when I meet an author. I'd been planning to tell her that I reviewed her book but then when I got there I didn't trust myself not to be an idiot. After getting my own book signed I got one signed for Ami, the girl who won my Twitter giveaway.

After that I traipsed around the stationery section and found a sketchbook almost as big as me, before receiving a surprising amount of tweets from viewers, I guess, who said they'd seen me at the signing but hadn't said hello. Really weird but really cool.

Before the signing, I'd been to Laduree to get some macarons. If you know me at all, you'll know that I have an unhealthy obsession with macarons and the joy I felt as I entered the shop was probably a bit over the top. But there we go.

And then I came home! Overall, it was a great day and I'm so glad I went. Carrie is honestly one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and if you ever get the chance to meet her, you definitely should.

Click here to read my review of All I Know Now, or click here to see my vlog of the day!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Title: All I Know Now
Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher
Published by: Little Brown
Publication date: 23rd April 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Non-fiction/Memoir
Format: Hardback
Source: Bought.

Dear You,

My name is Carrie and I'm twenty-two years old. Apparently that makes me an adult. Yikes. *hides stuffed animals*

Anyhow, grown up or not, I did manage to make it through 'the Teen Age' more or less in one piece and, a few years ago, I started talking and writing online about some of the things I learnt back then... and a few things I've realised since. My daft videos and blogs about broken hearts, bullies and body image - among other things - seemed to help people, so I collected all those thoughts and bits of advice and ramblings into a book. This book. And gosh, isn't it pretty? Go on, stroke it. You know you want to.

I'm not an expert on 'life' (things I am an expert on: cake, Disney, making the perfect cuppa - that's about it) but I think I do know a bit about what's worrying you and maybe, with a little bit of luck, some of my stories will make you smile, make you think and, most of all, give you faith that it will all work out all right in the end. Because it will. Promise. All I Know Now is not all that much, but I hope it's enough to help.

Lots of love, Carrie

As you know, it doesn't bother me at all that vloggers are getting book deals,  and it doesn't bother me that some books by other vloggers were ghostwritten; it doesn't have a negative impact on me or the world, and it's none of my business how others live their lives. As I see it, it's another book to add to the shelves, and I do like books, as you might have noticed... However, I think All I Know Now is in a league of its own to other 'YouTuber books' simply because Carrie wrote and illustrated it all by herself, and she approached the publishers rather than being approached by them. It lends to a much lovelier reading experience.

I've enjoyed Carrie's videos for a while now, and I fully believe that, like her book is in a different league to other vloggers' books - she is, too. She's so down-to-earth and humble about everything, and she's always willing to have discussions with her viewers. She is also a true example of the saying that if you believe enough, think positively enough and work hard enough, your dreams will come true. For example: when she was eight, she played Young Eponine in Les Mis. Afterwards, she said she would be back as adult Eponine. And twelve years later, that's exactly what she's done!

So, as you can imagine, Carrie has had a rather eventful and extraordinary life. She's an honourary big sister to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, she's written a book, and every night she performs in London's West End. She grew up watching her brother become part of a globally-famous band, she dabbled in a bit of TV acting, and she is also a musician. But, like everyone else, she's had her heart broken multiple times, she was bullied, and she found herself in an array of awkward situations.

Carrie is wise beyond her years and in All I Know Now she tells us what she's learned from her mistakes. I originally wrote that as, "wise beyond her ears." That would be a bit weird, wouldn't it? Anyway - in one of her videos, Carrie said that the aim of the book was to help, and that if even just one person drew comfort from it, her job would be done. As much as I was looking forward to reading the book, I didn't expect to be helped by it - not many books have that kind of impact on me. However, I did draw comfort from it, especially from pages 169 and 278 which I noted down so you can have a look, too, if you like. When reading the last quarter or so of the book, in which those pages fell, I shouldn't have been reading. Instead, I should have been mulling over a really, really important decision about something which I'm not going to go into here. At the time, I was stressing out and half of me was reading the book while the other half kept going back to what I was supposed to be thinking about. I wasn't sure what I was going to do and I felt well and truly stuck. Limited. Trapped. So, as I read, those particular pages resonated with me because they seemed to go so perfectly with the problem I was having at that moment in time. Don't you just love it when that happens?

That was quite deep. On a less serious note, I love the cover. It's so bright, bold and wonderful. It also made me realise that yellow is, in fact, my favourite colour. I always thought it was blue, but apparently not. So, there you go. You learn something new every day.

Overall, this book is so Carrie. Disney, Harry Potter, musicals and tea all seemed to wriggle into her writing - which, by the way, felt really personal as Carrie writes exactly how she talks. I also love that, instead of chapters and parts, there were scenes and acts. Even the resources section - a great addition, by the way! - was called 'props'. How cool?

Don't deny yourself the pleasure of reading All I Know Now because it's (in a grumpy voice) 'just written by a random YouTuber.' Reading it is worth every hour in the day, and it truly is a big sister in book form. Grab yourself a cuppa and a cuddly Disney toy of your choice, Carrie-style, and prepare for all of your worries to disappear.
P.S I'm meeting Carrie tonight! I'm sure an event recap and/or vlog will be up in the coming week. :)

Monday, 4 May 2015

8 Snapchats Only True Bookworms Will Send

1. Life hack: if something smells bad, just dive into a book. Literally.

2) John Green: ruining the lives of fangirls everywhere since 2005.

 3) Treasure by Bruno Mars was quite clearly about books. He's lying if he says otherwise.


5) I have so many friends. I don't mind that my friends are fictional. Look at my friends. Hundreds of friends. I'm popular with my friends. Look at that selfie with all of my friends. My friends love me. LOOK AT THEM ALL.

6) Sometimes we go to the salon together.

7) Who needs plastic surgery when you can buy a book for roughly £6.99? There we go, another life hack. You're welcome.

Okay, so not everyone has Snapchat. Truth is, I don't even use it. But are you on Instagram, and do you follow far too many bookworms? Das ist the question. Only one way to find out.