Wednesday, 30 September 2015

EVENT REPORT: September Screenings at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the Harry Potter Studio Tour to attend one of their September Screenings. As well as the normal tour, attendees of the September Screenings were also given a free hot meal and drink, a cup of Butterbeer (which I tried for the first time - more on that later), and a ticket to see one of the films in the cinema as well as popcorn or a bag of sweets.

Basically, lots of Harry Potter and lots of free food. You can't get better than that, really.

We were given tickets for the final day of September Screenings and so we saw the final film, which just so happens to be my favourite. But before that, I had a quick look in the gift shop and picked up a few things. Bet you can't guess which house I'm in...

I wanted to get Ravenclaw robes too, but they were the price of a small house. One day, people, one day.

Then it was time for the tour!

The tour starts in the Great Hall and this is my favourite set by far. It's huge, and a few of us even got to open the doors.

I love looking at how detailed even the tiniest props are, some of which might have only got a second on screen or even less than that. It all looks so realistic and I wish I knew how it was done!

If I remember rightly, a team of 20 hair and make-up artists managed a cast of 800 actors every single day. Crazy.

I have been to the Harry Potter studios once before on my 14th birthday and so I'd seen most things already, but Platform 9 3/4 is a fairly new addition and I was so excited to see it! It was exactly like being at King's Cross but with less Nando's and more Butterbeer. You can go on the actual train used in the films, get your photo taken as you go through the wall with your luggage and, of course, buy lots of goodies in the gift shop...

And then I tried the Butterbeer. I only had one sip and I'm 99% sure it gave me Diabetes. That is all.

My parents got me a car. Look, I can drive it and everything. #blessed.

At the end of the tour is an art exhibition, I guess you could call it, with concept art lining the walls and early models of some of the sets. This leads to a big, dark room with a huge model of Hogwarts in the centre. It's incredible and none of my photos do it justice. It really is something you need to go and see for yourself.

After the tour, we made our way to the cafe where we picked up our free bags of popcorn which were DELICIOUS. I don't usually like sweet popcorn but this was like heaven in a bag. We then entered the cinema on the set of the Great Hall to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and were looked after by Jack and Hazel, two hilarious members of staff. The film stopped twice due to technical issues but I honestly don't think anyone cared because Jack and Hazel were so entertaining. The first time was when Snape gets his wand out - ahem - on Harry, and McGonagall leaps in front of him. You know, the scene in the Great Hall where we were watching it. Jack suggested we give up on the film and re-enact it ourselves seeing as we had the set right there. It didn't actually happen but we were all crying laughing. I guess you had to be there but they were both brilliant. Seriously, if anyone from Warner Bros. happens to be reading this, Jack and Hazel need a pay rise - and a chat show.

It was so weird watching the film where it was actually filmed, and I also appreciated getting to see it on the big screen because when it actually came out in cinemas I hadn't yet read the books (I know, terrible) so I didn't go. The atmosphere was great, too. It was like being at a sleepover with a bunch of Potterheads.

It was such a great day and I really, really enjoyed it. The September Screenings have finished now but from 16th October to 1st November is the Dark Arts event which is what I went to last time and it's brilliant - you can even get a selfie with a Death Eater if you want, although they might insist on posing as if they're killing you. That may or may not have happened to me... They've also just announced a Christmas event where you'll get to enjoy a Christmas dinner in the Great Hall. If that's not the coolest thing ever then I don't know what is.

Have you ever been on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour?

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld

Title: The Secret Fire
Author: C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld
Published by: Atom Books
Publication date: 3rd September 2015
Pages: 415
Genres: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Taylor Montclair is a regular girl from the quiet backwater of Woodbury, England. Sacha Winters is a darkly mysterious boy from the City of Lights - Paris, France.

While Taylor is focused on her dream of attending Oxford University, school couldn't be further from Sacha's mind... Sacha knows exactly when he's going to die. He's done it before.

On the appointed day, Sacha's time will run out. And his death will fulfil an ancient destiny that could unleash chaos and catastrophe.

Taylor is the only person who can save him. Neither of them know that yet. They haven't even met.

Hundreds of miles and a body of water separate them. Deadly forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart. They have eight weeks to find each other and unravel an ancient web of mystery and danger.

The clock starts now.

Introducing your new obsession, The Secret Fire series by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld.

Sacha Winters is cursed. He will die on his eighteenth birthday, just like the other first-born sons in his family. Until then, he can't die.

Across the channel, Taylor Montclair is the only one who can save him. But how?

This book is easily the best YA collaboration I've come across. In addition to Daugherty's usual fantastic writing, we also have Rozenfeld, a new-to-me French author. Her English is perfect and I love the sound of her books. Unlike other co-authored books I've read where it's startlingly obvious where one author's writing has stopped and the other has began, The Secret Fire is absolutely seamless and I fell in love with it instantly.

Taylor and Sacha are so interesting and their personalities excellently thought out. Their journey is just beginning and I'm unbelievably excited to see where they end up next. This is perhaps a small thing, but I also liked that The Secret Fire sees the girl saving the boy rather than the other way round. I don't think that happens often enough in YA.

Another thing I loved, which I probably don't need to mention as you all know I love books that allow me to travel, is that this book alternates between settings in England and France. #Wanderlust. (Yes, I did just use a hashtag in a blog post. Sue me.) (Don't.)

The reason I deducted half a star (well, a heart if we're being technical) from my rating of The Secret Fire is my own fault, I think. I found it took ages for this book to get going, so to speak, but the thing is I was only able to read a few pages every week or so. At the time, I was in a really bad reading slump and I was probably the busiest I've ever been, so it took a ridiculously long time to read. If I had been able to read it in one or two sittings like usual, I would have enjoyed it much more and I doubt the pacing would have been a problem.

I definitely recommend this book, and it's great if you've just finished the Night School series but don't want to let go of Daugherty's writing just yet. The Secret Fire is intriguing, different and completely enrapturing. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, and I get the feeling Daugherty and Rozenfeld will continue to hurl massive surprises at us...
Saturday, 19 September 2015

Where is your Bright Place?

This blog post is perhaps a bit of a strange one but, inspired by Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places of which you can see my review here, I've been asking myself a question lately: where is my bright place? I actually have a few, but today I'll just take you to one.

It's 2am. The house is silent. Your bedroom is dark, except for the faint glow of your lamp in the corner. There are noises outside every now and then - foxes, rubbish blowing around, gates swinging - but asides from that, it's just you laying in bed, safe under your covers with a book propped up next to you.

In that moment, time stops. The room around you dissolves.

You read, and read, and read; you don't lift your head. Your mind is somewhere else - the halls of Cimmeria Academy, or beneath the Eiffel Tower, or perhaps the markets of South Korea. You're Allie Sheridan, you're Anna Oliphant, you're Grace Wilde - maybe even Katniss.

You continue to be there until the book is finished and then you put it down by your side and smile to yourself, satisfied. Light blinds you as you lift your phone to check the time.

Hours have passed. Things have happened in the world. People have died, babies have been born, the sun rose in one country and set in another. But you were in a bubble, protected from everything because you were looking at pretty ink shapes on a page. You weren't in this world - you were in another one.

Pictured it? That, there, is one of my favourite places to be.

Where is your bright place?

Monday, 14 September 2015

MINI REVIEWS: Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout and P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Title: Hello, I Love You
Author: Katie M. Stout
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication date: 1st July 2015
Pages: 294
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Travel/Friendship/Family
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

Grace Wilde is running. From the multimillion-dollar mansion her record-producer father bought, the famous older brother who's topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother's breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.

She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate's twin brother, Jason, turns out to be the newest Korean pop-music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. At first, she can't stand Jason, but as the months go by, even she can't deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol. Can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and the undeniable pull of the music she was born to write?

Hello, I Love You has quickly become one of my favourite books of 2015 so far, and maybe even one of my favourite books ever. Dun, dun, duuuun.

But why, I hear you ask?

Because it is Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins... but set in South Korea. And it is beautiful.

Hello, I Love You focuses on the daughter of a record producer who wants to escape her family and music, so she leaves the US and goes to boarding school in Korea. Except her new roommate's brother is a famous musician. Some things you just can't escape no matter how hard you try.

I loved reading about Korea, a country which I've never been to and know absolutely nothing about, and Grace and Jason's relationship was the definition of adorable - and I hate that word, but with Hello, I Love You it's the only word to describe it. It's the perfect book for escapism, and if you liked Anna and the French Kiss then I can guarantee you'll like this. The writing is of the same quality, it's almost a cliché but not quite, and it's really, really cute. I'm desperate for a sequel.
Title: P.S. I Still Love You
Author: Jenny Han
Published by: Scholastic
Publication date: 26th May 2015
Pages: 337
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

Lara Jean didn't expect to really fall for Peter. They had just been pretending. Except suddenly they weren't. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

Then another boy from her past returns to her life, and Lara Jean's feelings for him return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at the same time?


After reading To All The Boys I've Loved Before last year, I was so excited and I had no idea how I was supposed to wait for a year to read the sequel. Then June rolled around, this book plopped through my letterbox, and... my excitement had completely and utterly evaporated.

I read it anyway because, y'know, I paid for it. But it was nowhere near as good as the first book. I spent most of my time wishing Lara Jean wasn't with Peter (because, trust me, he is massively annoying) and it's pretty hard to enjoy a book when you hate one of the main characters. Then she finally got with the other boy she liked, John, and all was well! The scenes with both of them in gave a glimpse into what I had loved so much about the first book.

But that quickly disappeared when Lara Jean got back with Peter at the very end. WHY. I couldn't see any point in it and it was frustrating. Because this is a romance novel and the book centres around the couple, you can see why this affected my enjoyment of the book because Lara Jean, Peter and their relationship is pretty much all it was.

In the end, it turned out I no longer cared about the characters whom I had enjoyed reading about so much in the first book. I no longer cared about the plot, either. And that's a real shame considering I loved To All The Boys I've Loved Before. The disappointment is real.
Thursday, 10 September 2015

20 Before 20

I used to have a different blog, way before this one even began, and on it was a list of 50 things I wanted to do before I became the grand old age of 13.

Now I'm getting scarily close to adulthood, so why not make a new list? 20 before 20. Let's go!

If it's bold, I've done it. Yay me. (5/1/18)

  1. Travel Europe and blog about it.
  2. And possibly the rest of the world.
  3. Repaint my bedroom. It's been taken over by blu-tack. Why did younger me like posters so much? Edit: I actually painted it a few days after writing this post. This list made me weirdly motivated.
  4. Write a YA novel.
  5. Write a non-fiction book.
  6. Cook something complicated and don't die in the process.
  7. Do something for charity.
  8. Do public speaking, like a talk or a panel, at least once.
  9. Make the leap and go ombré.
  10. Go to Scotland. I've never been even though it's, like, there. It's not that far.
  11. Also Wales. Wales looks pretty.
  12. And Liverpool? That's meant to be a nice place. SO MANY PLACES, SO LITTLE TIME.
  13. Meet Cimorelli properly. I went to their show in London a few months ago but didn't get meet and greet tickets. So much regret.
  14. Get decent filming equipment for my YouTube channel. I am desperate. I don't even have a tripod anymore. Sad times.
  15. Get a new blog design.
  16. Get back into drawing. I used to do it all the time and then I got so busy and just... stopped.
  17. Learn to drive.
  18. Gain the courage to go to at least two blogger brunches/breakfasts/whatevers. I get invited to loads and I just... can't. So I need to do that at some point.
  19. Go to Madame Tussauds in London. I've wanted to go since I can remember and yet I've never been. I don't even know if it's good but I need to go just so I can finally tick it off my mental bucket list!
  20. Start a business. I have plans, people. Plans. It's just a case of making them happen.
I doubt many of these things will happen but, hey, I like lists. What's on yours? I'd love to know!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Title: Am I Normal Yet?
Author: Holly Bourne
Published by: Usborne
Publication date: 1st August 2015
Pages: 434
Genres: YA Contemporary/Mental Illness/Romance/Coming-of-age
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she's almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there's only one thing left to tick off her list...

But relationships can mess with anyone's head - something Evie's new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won't tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

So. I'm kind of in love with this book. Bourne's previous works were awesome, but this was even better and, when I'd finished, I felt a great sense of relief. Not because I was glad it was over, but because it had managed to say everything I've been trying to put into words for the last two and a half years.

Before I get into that, I'll give you a bit of background. Evie has OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Controlled by her rituals and constant bad thoughts, she's on medication and sees a therapist once a week. Her aim is to be 'normal' - or to at least seem normal. She goes to college, to parties and gigs, and even goes on a couple of dates.

But Evie doesn't mention the bad thoughts that are buzzing around her brain. She doesn't mention that they're getting worse. That's her little secret.

Can we talk about Chapter 9? I don't usually talk about books that specifically, but this chapter is possibly the best chapter of a book I have ever read. I related to it so much that I had to put the book down and just... I don't even know what I was doing. Sitting. Staring at the book in awe. Thinking about how sad it was that a book understood mental illness more than any person I know. Evie, the protagonist, has OCD and GAD, neither of which I have, but that didn't change anything. After I'd got over my shock I did a victory dance. Well, more of a victory wriggle, but the point still stands. Just read the page I tweeted. Read it. I can't get over how true it is.

I can't count the number of times I've thought the words on this page before but not said them aloud because I didn't want to offend anyone. It captures the frustration perfectly. It sums up what I've tried - and failed - to say many, many times. I want to photocopy this page and stick it on lamp posts. That would probably be a bit weird. And possibly illegal. Whatever.

I know I'm repeating myself, but... gah, this book! It understands everything. Jess from Jess Hearts Books puts it perfectly in her review, which is much more coherent than mine and which you can read here. She says, "Every so often a book comes along that feels like it was written especially for you. Am I Normal Yet? was one of those books for me." That's what I was trying to say in a very long-winded way. Can you tell this book has excited me? I'm just so happy that it exists and that I read it.

And this book has a character called Amber which is pretty awesome. I know it's lame to like a book partly because of that, but it's like at school when a teacher uses you as an example and you feel a little bit famous. Don't pretend you haven't experienced that. Unless your name is Phoenix or something. In which case, you'll just have to trust me.

God, I haven't even got to everything else I loved about this book, so I'll write it in bullet points.

  • This book is just as much about feminism as it is about mental illness. It is my dream book.
  • The friendships made were so uplifting and lovely.
  • It's funny! And who doesn't like funny books?
  • The cover is BEAUTIFUL. 
  • It has the best depiction of mental illness I have ever seen.

Bourne truly is one of the best YA writers and I'm very much looking forward to the other books in the trilogy.