Saturday, 31 December 2016

6 Books You Need to Look Out For in 2017

2016 has been a bit of a crap year for everyone, really, hasn't it? So much death, so much politics... more death... I think we're all hoping for 2017 to be at least slightly better. We might not be able to control which national treasures suddenly pass away (someone hide David Attenborough, PLEASE) or who ends up in charge of the country, or whether we remain part of the EU... but there is something we can do to make sure 2017 is good.

And that thing is: to read lots of good books.

Because when the world isn't so great, there are millions of other worlds for you to dive into whenever you like. And luckily, I am here to help you with that bookish decision. Here is a mixture of books I've either been lucky enough to read early and recommend before their 2017 release, or books that I haven't yet read but look forward to reading.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard | 12th January 2017
Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

This wonderful book is about a girl called Steffi who has selective mutism, and a boy called Rhys who's deaf. You can read my review to find out more, but this book is so good that when I had a job interview a few months ago, I somehow ended up rambling about it. I think I was nervous, I don't know. But hey, maybe the interviewer ended up buying a copy after work, in which case I like to think of the interview as a success... So yeah, this is a book you'll end up telling everyone about. Literally.

Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt | 1st February 2017
Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Lexi Angelo's dad is one of the most successful organisers of conventions, and Lexi helps out with each and every event despite coursework, exams, and family problems. She knows all there is to know about conventions, and they even have a 'Convention Family' consisting of the regular staff members. But then a certain nineteen-year-old debut superstar author attends one of the conventions, and things get shaken up... Unconventional even boasts cameos from real-life YA authors. Fans of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, say hello to your next favourite book!

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr | 12th January 2017
Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Emily Barr branches out into YA with this incredible story of Flora Banks, a girl who can only remember things that happened before she turned eleven. Now seventeen, her life consists of writing everything down on sticky notes, and she will live in Penzance with her parents and no independence forever. But when Flora's brother in Paris becomes extremely ill, her parents need to stay with him. For once, Flora is on her own - and this is her story. Check out my full review here.

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas | 6th April 2017

In The State of Grace, our protagonist has Asperger's, and she has pretty much everything she needs; until something turns her world upside down, things at home are changing, and the world becomes a lot more confusing. I've been excited about it since its announcement, and I have a feeling this is going to be worth the wait - though I'd rather have it now, of course!

Songs About Us by Chris Russell | 13th July 2017

Songs About Us is the sequel to Songs About a Girl, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. The first book saw Charlie Bloom, schoolgirl and photographer, score a job photographing one of the world's biggest boy bands, Fire&Lights - life goals, right there. But then she discovers a mind-blowing secret in the lyrics of their songs... Well crafted, incredibly entertaining, and full of intrigue, this is a trilogy you need to delve into immediately.

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare | 23rd May 2017

If I ever fail to include Cassandra Clare in one of these lists - call the police, because something's up. Lord of Shadows is the second book in Cassandra Clare's The Dark Artifices trilogy. The first book, Lady Midnight, was even better than I ever could have imagined, and I couldn't get enough of Emma and Julian, the main characters who are probably the most promising young Shadowhunters of all time. The world building is incredible, too - who knew sunny Los Angeles could be so dark? Clare is one of my favourite authors, and Lady Midnight is definitely her best book yet, so I'm excited to see what the second instalment has in store for us!

Other books I haven't read but am looking forward to include Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, the second book in The Graces series by Laure Eve, Holly Bourne's mysterious 2017 release hinted at in the back of ...And a Happy New Year? and a brand-new YA novel set in Italy from one of my favourite authors, Keris Stainton. Looks like 2017 is going to be a good year for reading - and hopefully just a good year in general...

Will you be reading any of these? What should I be looking forward to in the New Year?

Monday, 26 December 2016

Looking Back on 2016

Just like last year, I've been writing this post over the past twelve months, and now it's time to share it with you. It's a bit long, but I've done some really cool stuff this year, and I think in some ways I've gone on a bit of a journey. *vom* So, if it's your kind of thing, which I hope it is... here is my 2016 wrap-up!

January: Ah, January. Always a rubbish month but it was particularly bad this year. I have nothing to say about it except my mental health took a sudden turn for the worse. I spent the month doing the bare minimum and sometimes not even that. If you have problems with your mental health and you suddenly feel like you're getting worse, seek help immediately. Don't leave it to spiral out of control. The morning I woke up feeling like I did, I self-referred and three weeks later I was receiving treatment again. Yay for the NHS. 

February: I was lucky enough to get a proof copy of Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare which I was ecstatic about and that's pretty much all I talked about for the entire month. My health was still pretty bad so... *shrug* However, I did get my first car! Yassss. His name is Phillip.

March: I was invited to Penguin Random House UK to hear about their 2016 releases and, let me tell you, their office is a place of dreams. I was also in the Independent again talking about last year's #HelpAmber campaign and everything that's happened since, as well as the Huffington Post talking about YouTube and how it's changed the entertainment industry. In the middle of all that, I went to see Allegiant. It was alright, I guess. I mean... that franchise has gone very downhill and very quickly, let's be honest.

April: I slowly but surely dragged myself out of my mental pit and things looked a smidgen brighter. I went to see a few films at the cinema including the brilliant 10 Cloverfield Lane and Zootopia. I also saw Troye Sivan at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town and fell in love with the music of his support act, Astrid S. A couple of days later I met Cassandra Clare again in Milton Keynes. I LOVE HER. At some point, I got to see Ruby Wax, too, at Cambridge Lit Fest. I haven't read her books (yet) but she gave a really interesting talk on mental health.

May: Ah, May, the month of my AS exams. Even though I did both English Literature and Media Studies, I only had exams for English. Weirdly, my AS Media exams will be next year along with A2. So, that won't be stressful at all... hopefully I'll be able to continue blogging and vlogging through them, like I did this year and with my IGCSEs! In May, I also saw my favourite local band and then saw them again a couple of days later, both times with friends. Socialising. Gasp. In addition to that, I was interviewed by MTV. Wuuut?

June: This month I went to my first ever Christening for my... step... great... niece? Cousin? I don't really know. #Awkward. I also had my first pub lunch of the summer and had what were literally the best chips in the entire actual whole world. Omg. The week after, I went to Instagram's #MyStoryUK exhibition launch party which you can read about here. One of my photos was being exhibited! Because of that, I ended up on BBC Newsbeat, Yahoo Style, The Pool, Refinery29, the Evening Standard and in Stylist Magazine. Oh, and I was commissioned by MTV (!!!) to write a piece about the disappointing results of the EU Referendum. And I went to UEA to film a video with Holly Bourne which you can see here. Life's a little bit cray, sometimes.

July: On the 2nd, I went to see The Vamps, not because I particularly like them (to be honest, I wouldn't be able to name one of their songs if you asked me) but because I live in the middle of nowhere and nothing exciting ever happens, so if a famous band comes, YOU GO. They were actually really good. A few days later, I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and it was INCREDIBLE. You can see my review here, but if you can't be bothered to read it, the bottom line is that you need to go and see the play. Then YALC came and I met so many lovely people, including authors I've known since the very beginning but had never met in person! Click here to read my event recap.

August: My much needed month of chill. There were lots of cinema trips with friends, days by the river with family, and... a daunting white envelope which took me half an hour to open because I was scared, but told me that I'd got an A in AS English Literature! I thought I'd fluffed the exams, especially as we were told a certain poem would come up, so I studied it endlessly... only for the poem in the exam to be one I'd never seen before. I'm especially proud of my result as I only got a C in the subject at GCSE and I was gutted, so I feel like I've redeemed myself.

September: At the beginning of September, before the start of my final A Level year, we decided to go on a weekend away, which I wrote about here. Not much else happened; I was fully in the swing of revision, because - and if you're about to start college, this is the main thing you need to know - revision starts immediately. Like, seriously. Keep your notes up-to-date, go over it frequently, and do this all from the very first week. Sorry to be the one to tell you that, but... it makes things easier, trust me. Later that month, I went to Paige Toon's event in Cambridge, which was great - and I even asked a question in front of everyone!

October: Pretty cool month, this was, because a local independent bookshop opened, and I began volunteering there! As I write this, I'm in the middle of organising loads of cool author events, which I'm really proud of and hoping are popular with ze locals as the first author I brought in (Emma Moss, author of Girls Can Vlog) is the first YA author to have ever (officially) visited our town. She opened our shop, and while she was here I also interviewed her for my YouTube channel. A couple of weeks later, I travelled to London for lunch with Rainbow Rowell (?!) which was lovely and she's so nice to chat to. And a few days after that, I turned 18! My verdict? The responsibility is gross and it's only going to get worse, but it's also pretty cool, so yay.

November: Another fantastic and fun-filled month! Firstly, I went to a job interview at a popular British bookshop chain... and didn't get it. So, not a great start. I don't usually say stuff like this but I'm still really confused as to how I didn't get the job, because... being bookish is what I do best. It's my life. And I have bookshop (and other retail) experience. So... what wasn't there to like? Sigh. Then it was Bonfire Night, which is one of my favourite nights of the year - I always try to see as many displays as possible, because you can't get much more magical than bursts of glitter lighting up the entire sky. After that, on the 7th, I met the members of my favourite band, aka Cimorelli, at the Brooklyn Bowl in London. And when I say met, I mean ACTUALLY MET AND TALKED TO AND GOT PHOTOS WITH. I've seen them perform before but this was my first time meeting them and TWO OF THEM RECOGNISED ME. Lisa turned to Amy and said 'Hey, this is Amber Kirk-Ford' and Amy was like 'Amber! You're a writer, aren't you?' I mean, I wouldn't consider myself one, but she wasn't far off. I was shocked????? I should probably stop tweeting them quite so frequently... Anyway, a week later, I was walking the blue carpet at the Fantastic Beasts premiere, which was weird. As I said, it was a great month, and you can read about the premiere and my not-cool-enough-for-this-hotel-and-why-am-I-on-a-row-of-cool-YouTubers-omg antics right here. Then I attended the midnight release of Fantastic Beasts even though I'd already seen it. It was even better the second time. J.K. Rowling is magic.

December: Things didn't get less busy despite it being the holiday season, because I got a job! Only temporary until the New Year, unfortunately, but for a while I've been working there nearly all day every day. My contract ends in a week or two, and - I'll be honest - I hated it at first. You don't even want to know how many cuts and bruises I have (17 cuts, 6 bruises at my last count). However, I've come to really enjoy it, and I've made friends there now. I don't wanna go. And here's the cool part: my job is in a place I really struggled to visit for even 5 minutes at a time for a number of years because, for some reason, it really triggered my anxiety. And last week I worked 35+ hours there with no anxiety to be seen. In fact, I worked 35+ hours there AT CHRISTMAS WHICH IS KNOWN TO BE HORRIFIC FOR RETAIL WORKERS, which is even more amazing. I don't often big myself up, but I think that's an incredible bit of character development, there. 5 stars. Around my shifts, I managed to fit in not one, not two, but three Christmas parties - and I managed it. Anxiety, where you at? I'm sure it'll rear its ugly head again sooner or later, but I'm enjoying this while it lasts. I also visited Ickworth House for some traditional festive fun. And then... Christmas Day happened, of course! I also got some incredible news which is going to be announced next month... I can't wait to share it with you.

It's been a weird year; the start was horrific, but it ended amazingly - it just goes to show that you never know what's around the corner. Thank you for all the support this year, and I wish you all the best for 2017! ❤

What are your 2016 highlights?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Title: The Goldfish Boy
Author: Lisa Thompson
Published by: Scholastic
Publication date: 5th January 2017
Pages: 394
Genres: Children's/Middle-grade/Mystery/Mental health
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe OCD. He hasn't been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child's life... but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

YA books about mental health are hard to come by - and children's books are even harder. That's why I was so excited to hear about The Goldfish Boy, a children's book that features a 12-year-old male protagonist suffering with OCD. Young people can have mental health problems too... yet there isn't much available for them in terms of literature.

I don't have any experience with OCD so I can't comment on whether or not the representation of this illness was good, but the things I could relate to - agoraphobia, therapy, recovery - were done very well. It leaves us on a positive note, too, which I think is incredibly important in books about mental health - especially those aimed at children - as we already have enough to worry about, without a book telling us the future is going to be rubbish, too!

However, whilst I was excited that this book deals with mental illness, and whilst I think it was covered well, it definitely wasn't my favourite. The Goldfish Boy took me a couple of weeks to get through (practically unheard of for me!) due to nothing much happening in the first half. Something else that irked me was the repetitive statement that Matthew, our protagonist, was to blame for the death of his baby brother, Callum. 'What I did to my brother' was casually plonked in here and there in a clumsy attempt to hook the reader, and it didn't feel natural. I appreciate why Matthew thought he was to blame, and I was interested in that, but the attempt to draw me in just didn't quite seem to work.

However, I genuinely had no idea throughout the entire story who had taken the little boy next door, Teddy. No clue. I usually guess, or at least have a rough idea, so the fact that this book managed to keep me completely in the dark is a huge plus.

Was this a bad book? Despite my low rating - no. It's a sweet read that I think children will appreciate and be helped by. Unfortunately, it wasn't 100% my cup of tea!
Thursday, 15 December 2016

Knowing Your Worth, Valuing Your Work, and Being Taken for Granted

I'm really angry right now, and those that know me will know that I'm rarely angry. Disappointed, maybe, or annoyed, but I don't remember the last time I was angry... until now. Don't worry, you won't get the full force of it, but what I'm about to talk about is important, and even though I can't discuss the situation explicitly or name any names, this needs to be talked about.

Sit down, kids, it's story time.

A few months ago, I found a publishing house relatively close to me that didn't require experience or a degree. This, of course, is my dream, and I think I actually squealed when I discovered that they existed. I spent a week or two updating my CV and getting lovely people in publishing to look over my cover letter. (I'm still so thankful to these people. A section of the bookish community has my back, and that's amazing; I have yours, too!) The publisher didn't have any vacancies but it's always worth letting businesses know that you exist, should any suitable positions arise in future.
Monday, 5 December 2016

My Picks for Future Rounds of the #ZoellaBookClub

If you've been on the blog or on my YouTube channel recently (why not?) you might know that blogger Zoe Sugg has just released her second list of books for the #ZoellaBookClub in conjunction with WHSmith. And I love it. Not only does it get people reading, but our reading tastes seem to be pretty similar, meaning at least one of my favourite books gets a pretty new cover every time, and I get a bunch of book recommendations that I'll probably like. What's not to love? Seriously. Look at this stuff.

Loving the way YouTube stretches thumbnails. Stylish.

There are LOADS of books I would love to see included in future versions of the book club. I keep seeing Zoe's fans reading the books and I just want to comment and be like THESE ARE AMAZING BUT ALSO PLS READ THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS AND THIS THANK YOU GOOD DAY. But I stop myself because, y'know, I'd rather not receive a restraining order.
Anyway. Behold, utter greatness:

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso | Buy the book | My review

One of the most inspiring books I've ever read, and who doesn't love a bit of non-fiction?

When We Collided by Emery Lord | Buy the book | My review

This book made me so happy at a time when I really wasn't. It covers mental health accurately, respectfully, and in a hopeful way.

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham | Buy the book | My review

This is such a gorgeous book about a group of friends who come together with the aim of lifting each other up and achieving their dreams.

The Graces by Laure Eve | Buy the book | My review

I think Zoe would love this one. The Graces are powerful siblings and minor celebrities in their town but for all the wrong reasons. Bad things happen around them. More specifically, bad things happen to anyone who challenges them...

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne | Buy the book | My review

I am a big fan of Holly's books, as they focus on two of my favourite topics: mental health and feminism. I hugely related to this book and it is SO important.

Night School by C.J. Daugherty | Buy the book | My review

This series is seriously so much fun. A mysterious boarding school with a secret group of elite students? And with a sprinkling of romance? Um, yes please.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla | Buy the book

An important collection of essays by writers exploring what it's like to be BAME in Britain today. If you haven't heard of this book, then I have to ask: where have you been?

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard | Buy the book

Okay, so it's not out yet, and Sara's other book was in the first round of the #ZoellaBookClub, but I don't care. Steffi has selective mutism, Rhys is deaf, and both of them feel like they don't have a place in the world - until they meet each other. Everyone needs to read it.

Unboxed by Non Pratt | Buy the book | My review

I feel like the book club might be daunting for a lot of people e.g. if they have Dyslexia, or simply don't like long books. Unboxed is a completely brilliant short story about a group of friends who come together after the death of their friend and dig out their time capsule. Plus, it's written in a Dyslexia-friendly font on slightly coloured paper to make reading easier.

Some of these don't necessarily fit Zoe's/WHSmith's target audience, and there's the small matter that this, err, isn't my book club... but it was fun thinking about what I'd like to see next time!

What would you love to see in the #ZoellaBookClub?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Mile Long Bookshelf's 7 Year Highlights

Happy birthday, little blog - you're 7 today!

I'm not going to pretend this year hasn't been a struggle. When you've been blogging for so long that you've pretty much written about everything, it gets extremely difficult to think of fresh and interesting ideas. Because of that, I've been uninspired, demotivated, and... honestly, worried. For the first time in my life, there have been times this year where I've been unable to truly see a future for this corner of the Internet.
Monday, 28 November 2016

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks
Author: Emily Barr
Published by: Penguin Random House UK
Publication date: 5th January 2017
Pages: 306
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Disability
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora's brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora's fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words "be brave" inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway - the land of the midnight sun - determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must "be brave" if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Earlier this year you might remember I went along to the Penguin Random House UK offices to hear about their 2016 releases - and, included, was one very special 2017 release. That book was called The One Memory of Flora Banks and, having enjoyed one of the author's adult novels before, I was very much looking forward to her foray into YA. Needless to say, there was no way I could wait until nearer publication to read the early copy I found in my goody bag, so this review has been a long time coming!

Who is Flora Banks, I hear you ask? Flora is the rather wonderful protagonist of this story, and she can only remember things from the first 11 years of her life. Now 17, she only has new memories for a couple of hours before they slip away again as if they never happened. Her life consists of constantly writing things down on her arms and on sticky notes, and she will live in Penzance with her parents, no independence and the occasional thought that she is ten, not seventeen, forever. But when Flora's brother in Paris becomes extremely ill, her parents need to stay with him. For once, Flora is on her own - and this is her story.

Due to Flora's memory, certain things had to be repeated throughout the book. I can't deny that it added authenticity and made Flora's anterograde amnesia even more believable, but it could be a bit much sometimes. However, The One Memory of Flora Banks is completely brilliant and spectacularly done. Having never read about anterograde amnesia or even heard of it, Flora and her zest for life made me think about things I'd never even considered; just thinking about how Barr wrote this and kept track of everything makes my brain ache, never mind people who actually have anterograde amnesia and live every day with ink stains on their fingers, sticky notes everywhere and only a few lingering memories. Highly original and thought provoking, I'll be singing this book's praises for months to come. This is definitely one book you won't be able to stop thinking about in 2017.
Thursday, 24 November 2016
Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Title: A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Author: Sara Barnard
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication date: 12th January 2017
Pages: 320
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Mental Health/Disability
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

If you liked Beautiful Broken Things then you will love this, because A Quiet Kind of Thunder is even better... and I didn't know that was possible. It's the best book I've read since Emery Lord's When We Collided, and I've read some pretty awesome stuff since then!

I'll get to the point.

Steffi is a selective mute and has a whole bunch of anxiety issues. She gets bullied, her parents don't think she'll be able to cope with university, and her world is getting smaller and smaller by the day. The only person she feels completely comfortable with is her best friend Tem, but having ended up at different colleges, Steffi is on her own...until Rhys joins the school. With him, Steffi has the opportunity to come out of her shell, try new things, and finally live like the teenager she is.

Needless to say, I LOVE Steffi and Rhys. They're real in a way that lots of characters just aren't, and I said (or thought) the same about the characters in Beautiful Broken Things, so I guess it's a rare and incredibly awesome knack that Barnard seems to have. I keep wanting to pick up the book to see what Steffi and Rhys are up to, and then I'm like... Amber, you finished this weeks ago. They are fictional characters. Chill your beans. Something I want to address, though, is the romance. Steffi and Rhys's relationship doesn't make A Quiet Kind of Thunder 'fluffy' or 'lighthearted'. It's rocky, real, and the progress that Steffi makes is all down to her own hard work.

Unsurprisingly, this book is incredible; so incredible, in fact, that it managed to pull me out from the depths of a two-month reading slump. Plus, it's the first book I've read about both deafness and selective mutism, and I found it so fascinating. I also really appreciated the amazing depiction, inclusion and exploration of therapy, medication, and different ways anxiety can manifest that might not be obvious to everyone. Barnard handles everything beautifully and respectfully, as always.

In short, I didn't want it to end, and... I'd love a short story or something in the future, just saying. A Quiet Kind of Thunder is going to take the YA world by storm, and I'd say it's perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Jennifer Niven.
Thursday, 17 November 2016

EVENT REPORT: European Premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

On 13th October, I tweeted this:

Exactly three weeks later, I received an invite to the European premiere of the latest film from the wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring Eddie Redmayne.

Just because a dream is unrealistic doesn't mean it can't come true.

I was given an extra ticket, so obviously I messaged Holly and asked if she wanted to be my +1. If you don't know Holly, she's a book blogger I've been talking to for about four years now, and she is the biggest Harry Potter fan you will ever meet. Seriously, it's her life. We'd never met before due to her living at the other end of the country, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity!

On Tuesday 15th November, we made our separate journeys to London and met at St Pancras, ready for what was sure to be an interesting evening. Getting to Leicester Square, we were a little early, so we headed to Burger King where I panic-bought two portions of fries. For myself. Good times.

Then we made our way to a posh hotel to collect our tickets and oh my god it was fancy. Both of us said that we felt very out of place. It was one of those dark, shiny buildings with quirky decorations, low lighting and mirrored walls. We had a go in a photobooth, which was an entire room rather than a booth, and had touchscreen walls and a disco ball.

The lift, which we shared with a bunch of YouTubers I admire but was too surprised to talk to, was lined with black satin.

Everyone was very sparkly. I was in a £9 dress from Forever 21. Always keeping it real, me.

And then it was time for the red carpet. Which was actually blue. Good thing I didn't wear my other dress (a navy-blue velvet bodycon) or I would have blended in...

It was insane. The only other premiere I've ever been to, Divergent, was busy and amazing and surreal - but this was a whole new ballgame; you can see that in my vlog of the day, which I'll share below. There were shouts and screams from every direction, a red carpet triple the length of a normal one, and huge temporary walls meaning no one except those invited and those who had been lucky enough to get a spot at the barrier could see. Oh and, y'know, Queen J.K. Rowling IN MY BREATHING SPACE SHARING THE SAME OXYGEN.

Holly cried. I didn't because I'm as collldddd as ice, I'm willing to sacrifice our love. You never take advice, someday you'll pay the price... It's a song. Never mind. Moving on.

The film, although difficult to follow in some places, was incredible. Redmayne made the perfect Newt, and this new franchise so far has definitely managed to retain the Potter magic we all know and love. It's funny, more so than the Harry Potter films, and boasts the perfect combination of comedy and action. You should definitely go to see it when it's out in the UK tomorrow (I am!) or immediately, if you're in a country where it's already been released. Scrap your plans. Go.

Thank you so much to the people who invited me, and to Holly for coming, because it's always lovely to meet a far-flung Internet buddy and it wouldn't have been nearly as fun on my own. Plus, I'm pretty sure she would have killed me if she hadn't been able to make it herself. So...

Watch my vlog of the day below. I managed to do a lot of public vlogging, which is something I really struggle with, so I'm kinda proud of it and would love for you to give it a watch.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

5 Home Ed Myths | Guest Post by Keris Stainton

On the blog today is Keris Stainton, one of my favourite people, and she has a guest post that perfectly dispels five of the (many) myths surrounding home education. Because, honestly, we're not all weird...
Click here to buy the book (I'm in it!)

First of all, let me say that before I started home educating my kids, I probably bought into all these myths too. Part of the reason I wanted to write my book, Happy Home Ed, was to dispel some of them!

Myth 1: Home education is school, but at home. 

This was the very thing that made me not consider home ed. If doing homework with my son was such a nightmare, how could I ever do schoolwork with him? But home ed doesn't have to be that way at all. Some families do choose to do this - they sit at a desk, follow the curriculum, learn formally. Some may even keep school hours. But I don't actually know anyone who does that. We 'unschool' which is also described as 'autonomous learning', i.e. I just let my boys get on with whatever they want to do and trust that they are learning from it. I know a family who, rather than pay for private secondary school for their teen son, decided to invest the money in paying tutors for a "bespoke education". I know families whose children attend InterHigh and so learn online. Being able to design an education that works for you and your family is one of the very best things about home ed.

Myth 2: Home educated children are isolated and unsocialised.

As soon as you start talking about home education, the "socialisation" issue will come up. It's funny because I don't think anyone ever mentioned it when Harry was at school. It was just assumed that because he spent his days in a big building with kids his own age that socialisation would take care of itself. Nope! (Also, one of the home ed parents I interviewed for my book made this excellent point: 'How many times at school were you told "You're not here to socialise."?')

Some home ed children will be isolated, of course, but so are some schooled children. There will almost certainly be lots of home ed activities available wherever you live. Harry has become much more social since leaving school. People are everywhere. It's kind of hard to avoid them.

Myth 3: You'd go mad with your kids at home all day.

I worried about this a little. My in-laws worried about it a lot. And, yes, sometimes the boys do drive me nuts. But they did when they were at school too. Getting them dressed and fed and off on the school run in the morning was incredibly fraught. And as for doing homework... it almost always ended in tears and yelling (me as much as Harry). So of course we don't get on brilliantly all the time now they're both at home. But we get on a lot better than we did when they were at school. And we also have the time and space to work through any issues/resentments that inevitably come up.

Myth 4: They won't be able to do exams.

Well first of all, they absolutely can. You can take exams as an individual. But I would also ask you to think about why you're so focussed on the prospect of exams. I mean, I know why - because the entire education system seems to just be pointing at them with huge flashing red arrows. But is that what education is supposed to be for? Is there no value in learning for the sake of, you know, learning? I look at exams as a means to an end - when my boys know what they want to do, they'll take the relevant exams to get them there. And that may not be when they're 16. It may be when they're older (I didn't know what I wanted to do at 16 and I did my degree at 27). It may be when they're younger - you don't have to be 16 to do GCSEs. You also don't have to do them all at the same time. Education isn't a window that shuts at 16/18.

Myth 5: Letting them do whatever they want doesn’t prepare them for doing a job they don’t want to do.

Wait. That's not a myth, I'm totally cheating. But it IS something that people say to me all the time. And my answer is "Good". That’s part of the reason for doing this. I don't want them to do jobs they don't want to do. So many people just accept that everyone will have a job they hate or are bored to death by, but it doesn't have to – shouldn't! – be that way. If my boys end up doing something they love, something that fulfils and inspires them, then I will have considered home ed to have been a great success.

As soon as this popped into my inbox, I KNEW it would be good - and I was right! I found myself nodding along with every point Keris made, and I'd just like to add... being home educated and later homeschooled (they're slightly different) is still the best thing I've ever done. Just saying.

Keris Stainton is the author of seven novels for children and teenagers, including Starring Kitty, Counting Stars and Lily & the Christmas Wish. She's obsessed with Twitter, tea, American TV and One Direction. No, really. 

Blog | Twitter | Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Zoella Book Club Unboxing

A few months ago, Zoella launched a book club with WHSmith, and I unboxed it in this post. I also said that I was very much hoping for a second book club selection... but, if that was to happen, I assumed it would be next summer. And here we are, only a couple of months later, with a second round; exciting or what?

Thank you SO much to the lovely people at WHSmith for sending me this incredible box of goodies. Their packages are the ones I always look forward to the most, as everything is so beautiful (hello, new cover of The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily) and thoughtfully picked.

But what do I think about the actual books?

Unlike last time, when I'd read most of the books in Zoella's collection, I've only read two: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, and The One We Fell in Love With by Paige Toon. Finding Audrey is a book I'm sure you'll have heard me talk about before, as it's one of my favourite books that includes anxiety and panic attacks. It's really, really well done, and I relate to Audrey so much.

The One We Fell in Love With is a book I actually purchased just two weeks ago, when I attended a talk and signing with the author herself in Cambridge. Now I have two copies! It's a gorgeous book about a set of physically identical but very different triplets who fall in love with the same guy. It's not your usual romance, and I was immediately intrigued by the concept... because what would happen if triplets fell for the same guy? With one sibling it's obviously a no-go area, but when there's three involved and they all look and sound exactly the same, things get a little more complicated.

As for books I haven't read yet, I'm most excited about If I Was Your Girl, Frozen Charlotte, and The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily. That's what I love most about the Zoella Book Club: I don't know about anyone else, but it definitely motivates me to read outside of my usual genres, and... just to read in general, really, as I've been in a slump for a while. That's one of the many reasons I'm hopeful for a third book club. That would be awesome. Just saying.

What do you think of the second Zoella Book Club?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

How I Make My YouTube Videos | Collaborative Post

Yep, that's a thing. I make bookish videos on YouTube. Have been since 2013, in fact. I have more blog followers than YouTube subscribers so chances are you didn't know that, but yeah. You should go and subscribe. I'd appreciate that.

Self promo over. Today, I'm going to give you a behind the scenes (ooh, how swish) look at how I set up my videos.

For the first couple of years, I used an iPhone 5S to film my videos, and that was fine - they're not terrible cameras. But DSLRs are so much better - and they don't have to be expensive; mine was secondhand and a little bit broken but easily fixed. There's nothing wrong with that! Now it's back in perfect condition (all thanks to a tube of superglue) and it was a few hundred quid cheaper than it would have been brand-new. I use the Canon 600d which is pretty basic, but it'll do for now. Lots of YouTubers use an external mic (Røde is a popular brand) but I have no issue with the camera's internal mic.
Saturday, 5 November 2016

Stories of Hope #withOxfam | Collaborative Post

Since last summer, when I found myself having to do a crowdfunder, I've realised how important it is to give back when you can, whether that's to charity, loved ones, or fellow humans who for some reason have ended up on the street. Not that I didn't know that giving back was important before, but to be honest, it wasn't something I often thought about, unlike now.

So, when Oxfam got in touch asking me to help fight poverty with their Stories of Hope campaign, I was immediately happy to do it. In the process, I was told the story of Qassim, a man in Iraq.

For Qassim, his work is a form of art. Barbering is his passion, and despite the situation in his country, he has been able to utilise his skills and turn it into a future for himself. With Oxfam's help, Qassim is the proud owner of his own successful barbershop in Husseini village in eastern Iraq.

In Iraq, war and conflict is an ongoing problem and Qassim has experienced this. In 2014, an attack was launched on a nearby province, meaning a huge influx of people descended upon Husseini village. Qassim found his barbershop overrun. The Kurdish police became suspicious of him and he was later arrested.

Upon returning to Husseini village, Qassim discovered that his shop had been trashed and his barbering equipment had been stolen. Although he was devastated at the damage done, Qassim didn't let the situation get the better of him. Instead, he decided to rent out another property where he now puts his skills to use once again.

"When Oxfam came, I reopened my shop. Oxfam provided me with money... They helped
me to buy everything in my shop. I bought chairs, the mirrors, the machines, the creams,
everything actually. My barbershop is a small shop but I like it... I love everything about it."

The fact that he got up and started again, after being wrongly arrested and discovering that his prized possessions had been vandalised or stolen, is so inspiring. And it's not just Qassim. Last year, Oxfam was able to help 11.6 million people do the same. This is all thanks to regular donations from people like us. Just £2.50 can provide 25 water treatment tablets, which makes about 500 litres of water safe; enough to last a family of four for a month. I was shocked at how cheap that is. That's cheaper than a magazine, or the tiny pot of pasta I bought on the go earlier...

Furthermore, £7 could provide people with cash or vouchers to use in an emergency, helping them to buy food locally, and £20 could provide warm bedding and protection from the elements.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Thank you to Qassim and Oxfam for sharing this with me, and I hope you're as inspired by this as I am.

Click here to donate online to Oxfam.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Some Thoughts on Self Care

I am a firm believer in self-care. Yeah, our bodies and minds can be more than annoying sometimes, but they're constantly working and they deserve to be looked after. You deserve to be looked after. I'm telling you even if you disagree, so there.

An excellent idea, if I do say so myself, is to make a stash of nice things that you can then hide, forget about, and have fun re-discovering when you really need it. Mine consists of...

  • Candle (Tesco | Similar)
  • Notebook (Sainsbury's | Similar)
  • Gold pen and pencil set (Tiger)
  • Bath bombs (Lush)
  • Chocolate (Tesco | Similar)
  • Something cosy (Primark | Similar)
  • Unboxed by Non Pratt (Amazon)
  • Good Things Are Happening (Amazon)
  • Customised book token (National Book Tokens)
  • Money from myself because I'm nice like that

...some other things you could include are: photos of friends/family, a face mask, any sweet letters/cards/notes you've received from loved ones over the years, maybe even a letter from yourself.

Let's start with the books, which is always a good place to start if you ask me. Unboxed by Non Pratt is a beautiful short story that can be read within an hour, and it's the perfect book to lose yourself in when you're stressed and in need of some escapism. Good Things Are Happening is a gratitude journal which asks you to note down three moments of joy from the day you've just lived. They don't have to be big, and it's nice to collect the lovely but small moments that you might have forgotten about otherwise. I like that it makes you actively seek out the positive things from what you might feel has been a bad day overall.

If you need to let out all the negativity, however, that's what the notebook is for - and you might as well do it with a shiny pen in a shiny book. Write down what's bothering you and never look at it again, that's what I do...

While you're escaping or reflecting, you can't go wrong with a candle and a Lush bath bomb (or several). My favourite candle is the Apple and Cinnamon one by Glade, which I picked up in Tesco for £4 when I had a surprise guest and wanted the place to smell like I'm a well put-together baker extraordinaire. I only got it a week ago and it's nearly gone, which is sad, but it smells SO DELICIOUS. As for the bath bombs, the ones pictured are Twilight, Frozen, and Big Blue. My favourite and the one I find most effective for de-stressing is Twilight.

The chocolate speaks for itself, really. It's good. It's been scientifically proven to improve your mood. It can fight off dementors. Case closed.

Now, the money and the book token... they might sound a bit random, but hear me out. Have you ever been tidying your room, or digging in the pockets of an old coat, and found a tenner? It's the best feeling, am I right? Of course I am. So you tuck some money in your stash of niceness and forget about it, and then you'll find it when you really need cheering up. Same with the book token. If anyone wants me as a life coach, hit me up and we'll talk.

If you're the kind of person who needs permission for this kind of thing, I'm giving you permission to go and treat yourself ASAP. Why shouldn't you have nice things? Are you a bad person? I doubt it, and even if you are, Donald Trump probably buys himself bottles of blood from unsuspecting victims posh watches or whatever with absolutely zero guilt, so if he can have nice things, so can you.

How do you like to treat yourself?

Friday, 28 October 2016

Who Am I?

I recently discovered this tag on Elly's blog and immediately knew I had to do it, especially as today is my birthday - I'm 18! Now I'm officially an adult in the eyes of the law, it might be a good time to dig deep and find out who I am, yes? Oversharing is my thing; it's a flaw, but it also makes blogging a hell of a lot easier, so whatever. No one tagged me to do this but I'm doing it anyway because I like to fight the system now and again. Amber the Badass, that's me.

What is the meaning of your name?

Urban Dictionary says... a lot of things that are complimentary, I suppose, but they're tinged with desperation and appear to have been written by people who have most likely stalked other Ambers. Like, there are full-on love poems over there. The actual meaning of my name, however, is 'precious jewel'. Some sites say the name is of English origin, and some say it's of Arabic and Latin origin, so that's not confusing at all.

What is your Myers Briggs personality type? | The quiz

I took the test on 16 Personalities and it said I'm an INFJ. It's scarily accurate. You can read the whole thing here if you happen to feel so inclined, but basically:

  • I'm an advocate, and helping others is important to me.
  • I'm creative, passionate and determined, but also sensitive, a perfectionist, and highly susceptible to burn out.
  • I'm not one for casual encounters, and instead like to form 'genuine, deep connections' with the people I care about.
  • I avoid having power over others and prefer to see others as equal.
  • Most corporate career paths are not for me but for 'those focused on status and material gain.' This is SO TRUE. I strongly believe it's better to do what makes you feel fulfilled and happy rather than what will earn you money.
  • And I'll be a good parent, apparently. I knew that already because I came from one. *finger gun to ze mothership*

Some famous INFJs, according to the website, are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Rose from Titanic. Only 1% of the population is INFJ, apparently. I'm like all of those rare Pokemon that I still haven't managed to catch and never will.

What is your zodiac sign?

I'm a Scorpio. Or... I was. NASA has allegedly decided to ruin the entire world and change the zodiac due to the fact that our sky has changed since the zodiac was first invented, or something. I'm not really into that kind of thing, but that's what I understood of the whole debacle. Anyway, I appear to now be a Virgo, but I think I'm going to ignore that. Because really.

What Hogwarts house would you be in? | The quiz

I know I'm a Ravenclaw, but for this tag you're meant to do a certain quiz and record your scores, so here goes...

*does test*

Oh thank god, I'm still with my fellow Ravens. Here's the score breakdown: 

Ravenclaw: 17
Hufflepuff: 15
Gryffindor: 9
Slytherin: 6

However, according to Pottermore, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor are my main two houses rather than Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. *shrug*

What are your learning styles? | The quiz

Read/Write: 12
Kinesthetic: 9
Visual: 7
Aural: 6

I have a 'multimodal learning preference.' I have no idea what that means.

Are you more of a left-brain or a right-brain person? | The quiz

I'm 56% right-brained and 44% left-brained, meaning I use my brain equally but am slightly more creative. That's pretty accurate.

What is your blood type?

I have no idea, but I was actually thinking about this the other day and I wish I knew! 

What career are you meant to be in? | The quiz

A WRITER, APPARENTLY. YES. (Side note, if anyone would like to give me a book deal, I am available and always will be.)

Which Divergent faction do you belong in? | The quiz

Candor. "You belong with the honest. You believe that honesty really is the best policy. You stay honest to yourself, your friends, and family. While you may tell some white lies here and there, you're blunt and truthful. You're trusted by all those around you, and your friends come to you all the time for some honest advice. You probably have a hit blog, and you love sharing your thoughts. Your direct way of speaking may scare away some people, but the friends you make stay by you for life."

I promise you I didn't add the bit about a blog. How... what... why are all these quizzes so accurate?!

What does your birth order say about you? | The quiz

Well, I'm an only child, so I guess I'm the firstborn, the middle child, and the baby. To be honest, that's probably not far off. 

That was so much fun, and I actually learned a lot about myself! Hopefully you found it interesting, too. I tag:

  • Charli's Quiet Musings
  • Stars and Above
  • Lost in a Library
  • Hawwa Etc
  • La La in the Library
  • The Savage Savannah
  • Top Floor Treasures

No worries if you don't want to!

Hopefully you enjoyed this post. Are you similar to me or are we very different? Did any of this surprise you? Let me know!