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?