Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Top 8 Books on Mental Health

Last year I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why mental health issues should be more prevalent in YA fiction. Out of the few books I've read that do highlight mental health issues, the ones below are by far the best and so I thought I'd share them with you.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven features Finch and Violet - two people who unexpectedly meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Finch is bipolar and suicidal, and Violet is full of anxiety and grief due to the recent death of her sister. It also includes depression and bulimia. And while it is sad in places, I think it was more alive and hopeful than anything else.

And then there's Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I think I have four or five copies of this, and all of them but one are signed. I know, it's great, they just fall into my possession. Anyway, main character Cath suffers from anxiety. Now, despite having anxiety myself, I didn't actually realise when I read it. It was so subtle. If you're looking for a book that does mental illness subtly instead of making it a big deal, then this one might be for you.

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg and Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella are again about anxiety, but on different levels to Fangirl which is why I've included them. In Girl Online, Penny has crippling anxiety that always strikes when she's least expecting it. One of the things that has stuck with me since reading this is that, despite her issues, Penny jetted off to New York and even though she had a couple of panic attacks, she dealt with them and was fine. I think that's important for people to see - it gives hope.

Finding Audrey was slightly more technical, and by that I mean Audrey sought treatment and did all kinds of things to make herself better. This is the only book I've read about anxiety specifically where actual, real treatment is involved - in this case it was mainly CBT and exposure therapy.

Other brilliant books I recommend but which aren't pictured include Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern, which is about Cerebral Palsey and OCD; Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne which includes Generalised Anxiety Disorder and OCD; Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, a non-fiction book on how he overcomes his anxiety and depression on a daily basis, and Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, a wonderful book about friendship and a girl in recovery after attempting suicide.

Which books on mental health do you recommend? I'd love to know!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

Title: Seven Ways We Lie
Author: Riley Redgate
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication date: 8th March 2016
Pages: 343
Genres: YA Contemporary
Format: Hardback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone's standards. It's got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide - whether it's Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who's planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.

Isn't it annoying when a book has an exciting and intriguing premise but, in the end, falls flat? From what I've seen, most people seem to have enjoyed this book, but for me Seven Ways We Lie was nothing special.

The book itself is made up of seven alternating points of view, each of them students from Paloma High School and each of them with things to hide. Olivia and Kat are twins dealing with their mother's disappearance; Lucas is pansexual in a school full of homophobes; Matt is looking after his baby brother whilst his parents fight all the time; Valentine is awkward and unpopular; Claire is jealous and self-conscious, and Juniper Kipling is perfect - on the outside.

There were a few things I appreciated. The book showed that you never know what's going on behind closed doors, no matter how well you know a person, and even if someone looks like they have the perfect life there's undoubtedly things going on that they don't talk about. Plus, it was diverse, with different cultures and sexualities represented, and a running theme of slut-shaming and why it's wrong. The inclusion of pansexuality was interesting to me as I've never seen it acknowledged in fiction. But some of it didn't seem natural and felt like the writer was slotting it in for brownie points. I'm sure they weren't, but... I don't know. Some of it, like Olivia's thoughts on slut-shaming, felt like Redgate talking rather than Olivia. As I said, I appreciated the inclusion of these things because that's real life; it was more the writing style that grated on me.

As well as that, the only characters I particularly cared about were Olivia, Kat and Matt. In fact, I thought several times whilst I was reading that a book solely focusing on them would be much more entertaining and fulfilling. The subplot of the teacher/student romance was interesting but I guessed who the teacher was right at the beginning and, basically, there wasn't much there to keep me reading except me wanting to add another book to my Goodreads challenge. And substance is kind of important, don't you think?

Seven Ways We Lie has good points and bad points, but overall it was - for lack of a better word - nothingy. When I didn't have time to read the book for a couple of days, I didn't actually care and, in fact, I forgot about it.

It's not an awful book, but it's nothing special, I'm sad to say. Many people have enjoyed it, but it's not something I would recommend.
Tuesday, 22 March 2016

EVENT REPORT: Penguin Random House 2016 Showcase

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a rather snazzy invite in the post to Penguin Random House Children's 2016 showcase. There, they would be talking about the highlights of what they are publishing this year, and Clare Balding, Malorie Blackman, Simon Mayo and Robin Stevens amongst others were also due to attend.

Fast forward to 21st March and there I was, in the building where most of my favourite books had been brought to life. Before I started blogging, I hadn't heard of most of the publishers I'm now in contact with, but I've always been aware of Penguin. They published my favourite books as a child and continued to do so as I grew up. As far as I knew, nothing short of magic happened in those offices - and now I was inside the place where it all happened.

After picking up lots of books and checking out the amazing view, the showcase began, and it began with a question: which book made you love reading? For me, I'm fairly sure it was I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Child which I must have read over a hundred times, although that's only one of many childhood favourites. What about you? 

We then got to see the pre-school books being released this year, including The Bumblebear by Nadia Shireen, out in May. It's such a sweet picture book about a bear who loves honey and wears a bee onesie, and Shireen showed us how to draw him. Here is my masterpiece:

I also liked the look of Goodnight Spaceman by Michelle Robinson, out in April and inspired by British astronaut Tim Peake, and The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter and illustrated by Quentin Blake, rediscovered after 100 years and out in September.

Then we were shown the highlights of all the wonderful primary-age fiction coming out this year, including some fun new editions of Roald Dahl's books, which I believe came out last month to celebrate his centenary and The BFG film hitting cinemas this summer (I'm so excited for that!). Out in April are Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden, from which the author himself treated us to a reading, and Broken Heart Club by the wonderful Cathy Cassidy. The much-loved Rick Riordan is releasing The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle in May, and with an appearance from Percy Jackson himself, this is apparently not to be missed. Confession: I've never read any of Rick Riordan's books, but seeing as everyone seems to love them, I might have to give one a go at some point.

September brings national treasure Clare Balding's debut children's book, The Racehorse Who Wouldn't Gallop, which she read from and talked about at the event. In October, McFly's Tom Fletcher is releasing his first children's novel, The Christmasaurus. We watched his announcement video which is so genius that you should go and watch it right now. Come straight back, though.

Done? Good, because now I'm going to talk about what I am most excited for: 2016's YA titles. Out already is a book which I picked up at the event, Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. It's a gorgeous hardback which I am so looking forward to reading, and it's said to be perfect for fans of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Out in April is Malorie Blackman's long-awaited new book, Chasing the Stars. It was so interesting to hear her talk about the writing process, and I really wanted to meet her at the buffet afterwards but unfortunately I am Not Good At Mingling™.

May brings the paperback edition of Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella which, if you've read my review, you'll know I absolutely loved and hugely related to. Definitely worth reading.

In July, And I Darken by Kiersten White is published, which was described as being like a 'feminist Game of Thrones' and 'the new obsession for fans of The Hunger Games.' Sold.

Also out that month is Blame by radio presenter Simon Mayo. What happens when society wants you banged up in prison for a crime your parents committed? It was really interesting to hear about the inspiration behind it and, described as being 'blockbuster reading for the Netflix generation', I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

Lastly, we have Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places which I reviewed here. Instead of Violet and Finch, this one focuses on Jack, who can't recognise faces, and Libby, who is so heavy she had to be lifted out of her house by a crane. This is out in October and I need it nowwwww. Thanks.

They're not all the books being published by Penguin this year - there are lots more, trust me - but these are the ones I'm most excited about. We also got a sneak peek and a very early copy of a 2017 release (I KNOW) called The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr which I cannot wait to read. We saw the trailer and it looked spectacularly eerie and intriguing. I've read one of Barr's adult books before and really enjoyed it, so I'm sure her foray into YA will be equally good.

After hearing about all the bookish goodness Penguin has planned for us this year, we were treated to lots and lots of food including mountains of fruit and mountains of (delicious) brownies. I was NOT OKAY. But I remained calm and professional in the presence of both free food and amazing authors because I am a naturally cool, collected and sophisticated person. Obviously. I really wanted to say hello to people but I have issues.

Amber, I hear you ask, what did you get in your many goody bags which made your fingers swell up and your upper arms actually develop muscles?

And that was the end of that. It was amazing to be there and know that so much bookish magic was happening so close to where I was sat munching on half a strawberry and trying not to create mess. Stored somewhere in the very same building was likely to be an early draft of a new book by a future favourite author that I haven't even heard of yet. Somewhere, eye-catching covers were being designed, and another (brilliant) video being planned for the awesome Penguin Platform channel.

Maybe next time I go to Penguin it'll be to sign my book deal and I can be like, wow, remember when I last came here as an awkward 17-year-old and drew a bear in a onesie and now I have my life together? Life goals, right there.

Big thank you to the wonderful word magicians at Penguin for the invite, and I can't wait to get started on their 2016 titles.

Have any of the books in this post caught your eye?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

10 Reasons to Read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

1. It's set in gorgeous, sunny Brighton.

2. Beautiful Broken Things is a wonderful celebration of friendship and is the very definition of a good read. 

3. It covered mental health and showed that there is always a solution. Suicide doesn't have to be the answer.

4. I loved the intense friendships in place of romance. It's something I don't see explored in such depth very often.

5. The cover is BEEYOOTIFUL.

6. It's the story of a wild, fun, excitable, terrified, sad, broken girl. And I am a thesaurus, apparently.

7. It featured a bunch of different backgrounds and classes, and it was interesting to see how these interacted.

This is a cat being interested.

8. It mentions macarons.

9. Sara Barnard just gets it and I think she's going to become one of Britain's most treasured YA writers.

10. It's an intense read that shows just how complicated but wonderful friendships can be.

Title: Beautiful Broken Things
Author: Sara Barnard
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication date: 11th February 2016
Pages: 400
Genres: YA Contemporary/Friendship/Mental Health
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

I was brave. She was reckless. We were trouble.

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie - confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne's past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Why I've Stopped Using 'Strong Female Character' in my Reviews

I'm a feminist so when I see women in books being awesome and kickass, I'll point it out. But, mulling it over as I sat down with a cookie this morning (actual breakfast food is overrated) I realised that the phrase 'strong female character' isn't necessarily what it seems.
When I've used the phrase in the past, I've meant it to mean a bunch of things. In that respect, it's a bit of a lazy term, really, isn't it? And when someone is referred to as a 'strong female character', it tends to be because they have stereotypically masculine traits. You might not use the term for that reason - I don't, or not consciously - but it has those connotations now. Traits of a 'strong female character' include but aren't limited to...

  • Physical strength
  • A leader, but still obeys the male characters
  • Emotionless
  • BANTER. #Bants
  • Athletic

Why is a woman only strong when she's displaying masculine traits?

And, on the rare occasion when 'strong' doesn't have that masculine connotation, why is it a surprise when a female character is strong? Why do we place emphasis on the gender? It's been hammered into us that a woman with masculine traits who wouldn't pick up a lipstick if it had life-saving qualities is 'better'. (Side-note: when we're told we're 'not like other girls', it's a compliment. Why? Ugh.) When I spot a strong female character in a book, I'm happy and slightly taken aback because I'm not expecting it. Why am I not expecting it? Why aren't we expecting it? What even is a strong female character, really?

I'd also like to know: why do we limit them to 'strong'? Why is 'strong' the absolute best thing a girl can be? There are so many personality traits to choose from. Why do we take a character's personality, thoughts, feelings and experiences and lump them all into the word 'strong'?

It's been drilled into us that women who like things that are typically feminine are weak. It's the 'you're not like other girls!' thing that I mentioned earlier all over again. 

When I asked on Twitter if you like the term 'strong female character', this is what you said:

And you told me your thoughts on the matter, too. (Thank you!)

So, a mixed bag. I couldn't fit everyone in this post so if you'd like to see more responses, click here.

Honestly, this post was surprisingly difficult to write. I've deleted and re-written several sentences where I'd subconsciously worded them in a sexist way because, no matter what your stance is when it comes to gender equality, so much rubbish has been ingrained in us from birth. Who remembers the saying 'if a boy is mean to you, it means he likes you?' Don't even get me started on that one.

Do you like the term 'strong female character'?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Title: Lady Midnight
Author: Cassandra Clare
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication date: 8th March 2016
Pages: 720
Genres: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

It's been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn't lead her in treacherous directions...

Making things even more complicated, Julian's brother Mark - who was captured by the faeries five years ago - has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind - and they need the Shadowhunters' help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn't recognise his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Those who know me will know that I love Cassandra Clare's books. The worlds she creates are consistently believable, thrilling, edge of your seat material, and Lady Midnight is no different. Being the very first book in Clare's new The Dark Artifices series, I was a little apprehensive. Firstly, what if it wasn't as good as I'd hoped? And secondly, the sooner I started reading, the sooner it would be over. And finishing one of Clare's books without the next in the series readily available is... well, stupid, really. You don't want to put yourself through that pain. But I did. Because I am a dedicated fan.

The last we heard from Emma and Julian was pretty brief and in the final book of The Mortal Instruments. There wasn't a lot of focus on them, with it being Jace and Clary's series, but I knew they had more to give. Even just at its beginning, it's clear to me that Emma and Julian's story is no less exciting than Jace and Clary's or Will and Jem's. And, in the five years since Jemma (Emmian...? No?) were introduced to us in City of Heavenly Fire, a lot has happened. They're not twelve anymore. They're grown-up, Shadowhunters, and learning to deal with the responsibility that brings.

There are so many things right with this book. I fell into the Shadowhunter world like you fall into your own bed after a few weeks of being away (or, y'know, a few hours). It felt like coming home, especially because those we know and love from The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices cropped up a few times. Clare's books are all so complexly intertwined and I can't imagine the work that goes into keeping up with what is now such a huge, detailed world. This never fails to astound me, and it makes me appreciate her books even more.

The thing is, I don't tend to like long books - and, at 720 pages, this is one. In fact, I don't tend to bother reading them at all, the size too intimidating even for a bookworm like me. But I always make an exception when it comes to Cassandra Clare because sometimes, like with Lady Midnight, even 720 pages isn't enough. Downside of getting such a sought-after book early? Having to wait longer for the next book in the series. May 2017 can't come quick enough.

So, the only downsides, in my opinion, are the release date of the second book (I WILL BE AN OFFICIAL ADULT BY THEN) and the fact that Lady Midnight is pretty exposition-y. I get that it's the first book in a series, and a lot has happened in the other books that needs to be explained, but it didn't always seem natural. However, I'm also kind of glad the reminders were there because, as much as I love Clare's books, there are a lot of them and it's been a while.

In my opinion, your reading experience when it comes to Lady Midnight will be so much better if you've read the other books in the Shadowhunter world. As I said, Lady Midnight contains lots of references that add so much to the book when you actually notice and understand them - plus, some of the references in Lady Midnight will spoil The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices if you haven't read them already, so... The Dark Artifices looks like it's going to be amazing, but you might want to take a bit of time to read the other books first. (It'll take a while but it is SO worth it, I absolutely promise you.)

Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease read this. It's not often I actually ask you to read a book but Clare's are some of my favourites of all time, and they've remained that way since way back when I read City of Bones. I am in love with them. The mystery, the suspense, the personalities, the various subplots that take you in all kinds of directions you weren't expecting, the connection these books have with each other... these are things that need to be seen by everyone. So go. Read. Enjoy. Thank me later.
Friday, 4 March 2016


Recently, I was lucky enough to receive the new paperback edition of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. It's my absolute favourite of Rowell's books and you can see my review here. However, this new edition isn't just a usual paperback. Nope! It's exclusive to Waterstones and you can colour in the cover, spine, back cover and the maps inside. How great is that? It's such a creative idea and I'd love to see more books with colour-in covers in the future.

As for my creation, I didn't plan for it to look so much like the original cover. The writing is actually bright pink but it doesn't show up well on camera, and the blue is more of a light mint. I really enjoyed the novelty of drawing on the front of an actual fiction book rather than in a colouring book. That said, I wouldn't recommend using Sharpies. They're my favourite pens but they bled through the cover so I can't colour in the map inside. Sad times.

Seeing as my last colouring-in video was so popular I thought I'd do it again, so if you want to watch a time-lapse of me colouring in Carry On, watch the video below! And if you get one of the snazzy new editions, make sure to share your creations using the #CarryOnColouring hashtag.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Love Song by Sophia Bennett

Title: Love Song
Author: Sophia Bennett
Published by: Chicken House
Publication date: 7th April 2016
Pages: 384
Genres: YA Contemporary/Romance/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

A million girls would kill for the chance to meet The Point, but Nina's not one of them.

She's the new assistant to the lead singer's diva fiancée, and she knows it's going to suck. She quickly learns that being with the hottest band on the planet isn't as easy as it looks: behind the scenes, the boys are on the verge of splitting up.

Tasked with keeping an eye on four gorgeous but spoiled rock stars, Nina's determined to stick it out – and not fall for any of them...

Believe me when I say this is such a fun read. I've loved all of Sophia Bennett's books, but Love Song is by far my favourite and I truly wish it was a series instead of a standalone. Travel? Music? Romance? Count me in!

Sensible and studious Nina is only at The Point's meet and greet to accompany her mega-fan little sister. She definitely isn't there to land a job touring with the band, but that's exactly what happens. It's not easy, and it's something that will change her life forever.

I really liked Nina and... well, everyone, really. I think I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bennett is incredibly good at creating complex characters. I miss them already! That's one of the many reasons I wish this was a series... I'd love to know more about where they all end up. Nina's little sister, Ariel, was so sweet and they were all really interesting in general. There was a lot going on and by the time I'd finished they felt like friends.

Books like this where you get to see how the 'other half' lives - in this case, world-famous boy band The Point - are so interesting to me. It made me think about how hard it must be for the entire world to know you, or at least think they know you. It's likely you don't know the celebrities you're a fan of at all. When you see your favourite band acting all friendly on TV, do they really like each other or do they hardly speak, no matter what their smiles suggest? Love Song sparked a lot of thought.

Love crazy worldwide adventures and lots and lots of music references? Then you'll like this. Love Song is the atmosphere that comes with Adele's music in book form. What a gem.