Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Looking Back on 2017: My Favourite Year

It's time for another 'Looking Back On...' post! I usually hate New Year, but after the atrocity that was 2016, I actually felt really positive about the year ahead and was ready to work harder than ever. I hit the ground running...

January: Every year I make a list of my goals for the twelve months ahead, and this year was no different... except for the fact that I managed to tick off the biggest goal before the first month was even over. I chaired a bookshop event. In fact, I chaired two! This was a huge deal for me, as I hadn't done any kind of public speaking in four or five years, and it really showed how far I've come. The first event was with Sara Barnard, and the second was with Perdita and Honor Cargill - all utterly lovely people.
Monday, 11 December 2017

5 Non-Fiction Books About Writing Fiction

In November 2015, I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens in November. The challenge is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month, and if you do, you win! You don't win anything tangible, but trust me, knowing you've made it to the finish line is all the prize you need.

Since then, however, I haven't touched my work. The Word document has sat nestled in its folder on my desktop gathering dust (pixels?) and watching sadly whilst I click anything but it. That doesn't mean that my novel hasn't been on my mind, though - I've thought about it so much. I know it needs a lot of work, and I know it isn't finished. The reason I haven't touched it isn't because I got bored, or because I didn't know what to do with it, but simply because I told myself that I mustn't start working on it again until I'd finished my A Levels, which have taken up most of my focus for the last year.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Paris Diaries: Day 4

And so we come to the end of our travels... click here to read about day 3!

The last day was so chilled. We didn't leave the apartment until the early afternoon, when we grabbed brunch from a nearby crêperie which turned out to be the best place ever. It was tucked away down a non-touristy side-street and it felt like we'd come across a hidden gem. I had a crêpe filled with creamed potatoes and French onion, and then shared a chocolate and cinnamon crêpe for dessert. 13/10 would go again.

Unfortunately I managed to leave the apartment with a dead camera so the following photos are from my phone...

Monday, 20 November 2017

Paris Diaries: Day 3

Click here to read about Day 2.

Our third day began with toast and a trip to the Picasso museum. Picasso is my favourite artist so we had to go there. Plus, because France appears to be a country that gives back to its young people as opposed to rinsing them of thousands like some countries I could mention, we got into the museum as well as most other attractions - like the Louvre - for free.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Paris Diaries: Day 2

Read about the first day here.

Having had takeaway Pizza Hut the night before, we made up for it on our first morning by going to a nearby cafe for breakfast and ordering croissants. We also walked around with neon 'tourist' signs on our foreheads...

The second day of the trip was our busiest. In the morning we jumped back on the Metro and visited the Louvre... because how could we not? We didn't have long and only stayed for a couple of hours, which was just enough time to see the Mona Lisa and grab the biggest macaron you ever did see.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Paris Diaries: Day 1

Long time no see! I'm on a blogging break, but like I said in my announcement post, there are a few things I want to tell you about. First thing's first: I fled the country and ticked Paris off my bucket list.

I've been trying to go for my birthday for the past few years, but things kept happening: work, money, my health went downhill, and then we had illness in the family. But in July this year, everything came together and I finally got it booked for 22nd-25th October with a couple of friends. Not my birthday, but close enough.

We stayed in an AirBnB (this one!) for the first time and I can't recommend it enough. They're often cheaper than hotels, you get an entire home or apartment, and depending on who you book with, you may get to meet the owner of the place and get some personal recommendations, too. Our apartment wasn't in the centre or on the outskirts - in other words, close enough to the tourist attractions by Metro to not be annoying, but far enough away that I'm pretty sure we were the only English people around. It was tucked away in a rustic-looking courtyard with yellow shutters, balconies, and spiral wooden stairs which had the quiet atmosphere of a church and which were a pain to walk up with our suitcases. But hey, we were in Paris!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Taking a Break

Let's have an honest chat. Not that any chat we've had before has been dishonest, but you know what I mean. Pull up a chair, grab a macaron or any other baked good of choice, and let's get cracking, shall we?

This past year has been amazing. I've done things I never thought I could. I've seen new places, I've made new friends, I've done new things, I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I've got stuff done. You'll hear all about it in my annual recap.
Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Why I'm Vegetarian

It's not something I really bring up, because why would I? Unless you've seen me complaining about the iconic moment a friend's parent offered me one single onion for my lunch as a kid, you might not have known that I'm vegetarian. Never eaten meat in my life, except for when I was in nursery and this boy brought in a box of mini sausage rolls for the class. I thought it was Quorn, guys, but how wrong I was.
Friday, 29 September 2017

Tiny Hipsters Take Manchester

This summer, I met one of my oldest friends, Hawwa, for the first time. We had a very aesthetically-pleasing day in Shoreditch wandering around looking for good graffiti and interesting buildings, cameras constantly in or out of our bags as we battled against the rain. You can read about that here. And a few weeks later, we met up again, this time in Manchester...

Before I show you my photos, though, I'm going to tell you a story because if you're new to this blog and you don't know how tragic I am, you need to know how tragic I am. So a few weeks ago, I tried to do a favour for a friend and drove her to Peterborough... except I didn't realise I'd missed a turning, accidentally ended up on a motorway which was terrifying and NEVER AGAIN, and didn't realise anything had gone wrong until the signs for Peterborough were replaced with horrific signs like 'THE NORTH' and 'Kettering'. Where even is Kettering? I don't know. I don't care. In the end, we realised we were in fact near Nottingham and I cried a lot and it was horrible and my step-dad had to rescue us by finding us on very limited information and letting me follow him home. Genuinely traumatic. Anyway, that's just setting the scene for my actual story, which is: when I got on the train to Huddersfield... I didn't actually check what train I was getting on. I just saw that it was a Virgin train and hopped on. I was distracted by my quickly-cooling McDonald's, okay? I was in Doncaster before I realised that I shouldn't actually be in Doncaster. And later, when I had to catch another train, I just... didn't get on. It was right in front of me for several minutes and I had no idea because I was on Snapchat being hilarious. Then it disappeared off the departures board and the penny dropped.


So then I had to wait an hour. In the cold. Alone. Hungry. *slides tiny violin from tiny case*

Sunday, 24 September 2017

5 Photo Editing Dupes for PicMonkey

It was dark. I was uploading a video to my YouTube channel, scheduling it to go live in a couple of hours. My video still needed a thumbnail, so I clicked over to PicMonkey, my usual online photo editor of choice. Edited the picture, nothing too fancy, clicked 'save'...

...and a box popped up suggesting I 'treat myself' to the privilege of being able to save my image for just £8 a month.

The world ended. It was a very dramatic moment. Twitter was abuzz with bloggers and vloggers having a go at PicMonkey - and rightly so, to be honest. I can see why they did it from a business/finance point of view, but also... way to lose all your customers in one swift move?! It was like the devastating loss of Picnik in 2013 all over again...
Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The New Blogger's Guide to Following Bloggers on Twitter

Well done me for accidentally covering up my own face. I guess you could see it as an improvement.

When you first create a blog, you'll fall into one of two categories: either you'll have no idea a whole blogging community exists, which is the possibly outdated category I used to be in (?!) or you'll know there's a blogging community but you'll have no idea where to start. Because it's a pretty massive community. Like, global. Who do you follow? How do you find new blogs to read? You know they're all out there somewhere but it would be so handy if there was just a list...
Thursday, 14 September 2017

My Favourite Photography Books, and the Joy of Capturing Memories

It's no secret that I love taking photos. Up until a couple of years ago, I would photograph practically everything... and online it would go, regardless of whether it was good, bad, or part of a series of identical photos for no apparent reason. They'd all be uploaded. These days, I'm more selective with what makes the cut, and I no longer photograph everything. That doesn't mean I'm no longer into photography, but rather the opposite: I've actually fallen in love with it even more.
Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Girl's Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

Title: The Girl's Guide to Summer
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published by: Orchard Books
Publication date: 15th June 2017
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Sydney Aarons is leaving her Manhattan townhouse for a summer backpacking around Europe with her best friend, Leela. They're visiting London, France, Italy, Switzerland and everywhere in between - it's going to be the trip of a lifetime.

BUT... The trip gets off to a bad start when Leela's ex-boyfriend shows up on their flight out of JFK. When they touch down in London, Leela Instagrams their every move in the hope Matt will come and find them... Which he does, along with the most gorgeous guy Sydney has ever seen.

Will Sydney's summer fling last the distance? And what will happen when they all head home?

Much earlier this year, lusting after a new book or two, I came across I See London, I See France - Sarah Mlynowski's latest YA novel. Her debut, many books ago now, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and it had been far too long since I'd had a good dose of her writing. Unfortunately, this new one wasn't publishing here across the pond, and after tweeting the publisher to check only to get no response (le cry) I kind of gave up on it. Then I saw a tweet in my timeline which included a photo of a Sarah Mlynowski proof... called The Girl's Guide to Summer. And lo and behold, it was the same book! Cue happy Amber.
Monday, 4 September 2017

On Bloggers and Authors Being Seen as Public Property

A couple of months ago, there was discussion in the YA community about privacy. Specifically, the private lives of authors. The discussion highlighted that many book reviews, especially for books about personal topics such as sexuality or mental health, would talk about the book and then lead on to speculate about the author's private life. Do they share the same sexuality as their protagonist? They wrote it so well, they must do! Does the author suffer from this mental illness, too? Has the author had this happen to them? Has the author had that happen to them? Overwhelmingly, the discussion concluded in this: an author's life is not public property to be speculated about whenever you feel like it.
Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

Title: Moonrise
Author: Sarah Crossan
Published by: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 7th September 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

'They think I hurt someone. 
But I didn't. You hear?
Coz people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.'

Joe hasn't seen his brother for ten years, and it's for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed's execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think...

It's always a delight to receive Sarah Crossan's latest YA novel, and this time was no different. It came in a beautiful slipcase, and the cover art is breathtaking, as usual. I was so excited to read it. If you pick up a book by Sarah Crossan, you know it's going to be fresh - something different - because, unlike the majority of YA out there... it's in verse! And if you like an emotional read, Crossan will always deliver.
Friday, 25 August 2017

16 YA Must-Reads on Mental Health

When I stopped seeing my therapist, she asked if I would give her a list of YA book recommendations which look at mental health issues in a hopeful way. She said that someone else she was seeing liked books too, but he only had a few self-help books which he would read again and again and again. And it made me realise that even for avid bookworms, it can be weirdly difficult to find new books when you're not in the industry in any way. Already, books which had helped me and which I knew had helped others were flitting into my mind, and I started work on the list. (I'm also looking to work with my local NHS mental health service to make a mental health book club in my community, specifically for young people... lots of planning to do, but hopefully it goes ahead!)

When I'd finished my list, I knew I'd share it here, too. I've done a similar post before but that was ages ago, and I'm pleased to see that lots more YA about mental health has been released since then. Here's an updated version. Hope it helps some of you, and feel free to pass it on to your local surgeries or mental health services - books can't replace medicine and/or treatment, but like running is good for the body, reading is good for the mind.
Sunday, 20 August 2017

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Title: Alex, Approximately
Author: Jenn Bennett
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 27th July 2017
Pages: 388
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Bailey Rydell has found the boy of her dreams. 'Alex' is smart and sweet and loves the same movies as her. The only problem?

They haven't actually met...

So when Bailey moves to California to be with her dad, who happens to live in the same town as her online crush, she decides to use all her detective skills to track him down. Turns out, it's not easy finding someone when you don't even know their real name. And with the irritating but charismatic local surfer distracting her at every turn, will she ever get to meet the mysterious 'Alex'?

I've found it really difficult to read books this year. Before and during exams, I suppose I got out of the habit, and it has proved much harder to get back into the swing of things than I thought it would be when I wrote that excitable and wistful post on 'books I'm going to read this summer'. So innocent, so naive. Months passed. I barely put a dent in the TBR that is made up of several piles lining the entirety of my longest bedroom wall.
Tuesday, 15 August 2017

In Photos: Wandering Around Shoreditch With a Camera and a Bag Full of Onion Rings

I mean, that's literally what we did for hours. What else was I supposed to call this post?

On Wednesday 9th August, I finally got to meet one of my oldest blogging friends, Hawwa. Back in the day, she'd email me under the code-name Jazz and fangirl over my hair. Six years later, we're actual friends, she's long since revealed her actual name to me, and she wouldn't be caught dead fangirling over anything to do with me even if you offered her a hundred quid. You can see a brief history of our 'friendship' (online annoyance might be a better term?) here.

We had a very ~aesthetic~ day. If you can't hipster in Shoreditch (that's in London, for any of my far away readers), where can you hipster, am I right kids?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

Title: One Italian Summer
Author: Keris Stainton
Published by: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 4th May 2017
Pages: 241
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Grief/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Milly loves her sisters more than anything - they are her best friends. But this holiday is different. The loss of their dad has left a gaping hole in their lives that none of them know how to fill. Heartbreak is a hard thing to fix...

Still, there is plenty to keep the girls busy in Rome. A family wedding. Food, wine, parties and sun. And of course Luke... Luke is hot, there is no way around that. And Milly will always have a crush on him. But this summer is about family, being together, and learning to live without Dad. It isn't about Luke at all... is it?

If you haven't read anything by Keris Stainton before, one of the many things she is good at is balancing gritty realism with perfect escapism. One Italian Summer's rather beautiful cover might lead you to believe that it's a fun, romantic, summer adventure - and it is - but it also focuses heavily on grief.
Saturday, 5 August 2017

BLOG TOUR: A Change is Gonna Come | #ChangeBook

It annoys me that the book in the photo is slightly off-centre so now I'm pointing it out to you. You can't un-see it. Sorry.

A Change is Gonna Come is a collection of stories and poems about change from twelve amazing BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) writers. It is timely, aptly-titled, and one of the books of the year. Because a change is going to come - and this book's publication is another step towards that goal.
Monday, 31 July 2017

Event Recap of YALC 2017

YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention, is always the highlight of my year. It's the event nearly everyone goes to, regardless of location. An entire floor of Olympia full of bloggers, booktubers, bookstagrammers, authors, publicists and other cool people? Um, yes please. And because it's such a huge event (the event of the year, every year!) it's a great opportunity to meet your online pals.

Photo by Georgia

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Songs About Us by Chris Russell

Title: Songs About Us
Author: Chris Russell
Published by: Hodder Children's Books
Publication date: 13th July 2017
Pages: 441
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Music/Mystery
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Charlie Bloom is just an ordinary girl.

Who happened to spend last winter hanging out with the hottest boy band in the world. No biggie.

But that's all ancient history. And now Charlie doesn't have time to even think about Fire&Lights. Or what went down with Gabe... Until she's pulled into their world of glamour and paparazzi once again.

As old feelings are rekindled, Charlie notices that the band seems different this time. But then again, so is she...

The second book in Chris Russell's Songs About a Girl trilogy is finally here, and once again the fictional boyband Fire&Lights is hogging the stage of the book blogging world. The day this trilogy ends is going to be a sad one, let me tell you.
Sunday, 23 July 2017

Beauty and the Beast Screening & Afternoon Tea with Disney

Who went to bed at 11pm, didn't fall asleep until 5am, and woke up to an alarm just half an hour later ahead of a busy day in London? That would be me! Thanks brain...

Last month I received a very exciting email from Disney, inviting me to a private screening of Beauty and the Beast at Covent Garden Hotel, followed by afternoon tea and a book swap with the theme of leading females, like Belle. All of this was to celebrate the release of the film on DVD.

Well, I couldn't pass up the opportunity of cake, a feminist book swap, and the chance to watch a gorgeous film, could I?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

Title: The State of Grace
Author: Rachael Lucas
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication date: 6th April 2017
Pages: 288
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.

Grace has Asperger's and her own way of looking at the world. She's got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that's pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn't make much sense to her any more.

Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it's up to Grace to fix it on her own.

The State of Grace tells the story of a girl who struggles to fit in, who tries to find her feet in a world which constantly tells her that she needs to. Grace has Asperger's, and being in her mid-teens, things are getting more and more difficult: boys have become complicated, friendships are suddenly full of unspoken drama, and Grace's younger sister is close to going off the rails. Something weird is going on with their parents, and Grace's teacher thinks she's just attention-seeking. Meanwhile, all Grace wants is to be with her horse, Mabel, and for everything to be fine.
Thursday, 13 July 2017

GUEST POST: Chris Russell on Why Fandom Matters

One of my favourite authors is on the blog today talking about fandom and why it matters to him, and I think it perfectly captures why fandom is so great. Chris Russell's debut novel, Songs About a Girl, was released last summer, shaking up the blogosphere and quickly becoming a favourite of mine. And the second book in the trilogy, Songs About Us, is finally here and set to do the same! If you haven't read these books before, you'll love them. Over to you, Chris.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What You Don't Know About Me: The Tiny Elements That Make a Person

What don't you know about me, readers? Some of you have known me since I was a single digit. In a world overtaken by technology, and having grown up on the Internet, it is increasingly difficult for people like me to have secrets; people whose ratio of online devices to willingness to overshare is just right. The following aren't secrets, exactly, but things that might only come across when you meet me; the tiny elements that don't mean much on their own but result in the formation of a person; little things that are so minuscule they aren't often caught on camera or in blog posts, if at all.

Firstly: I can be timid, shy, quiet, a wallflower; that person whose name you can't remember years after leaving school when you're trying to name everyone who was in your class for a laugh. This has always been my personality - sometimes it's noticeable and sometimes it isn't. Some people who know me in real life might be nodding their heads at this, whilst others might be thinking, 'Amber? Shy? Pull the other one.' I guess I'm a pretty nervous person (wow, no one saw that coming) but to the extent where I'll be messaging someone and I'll Google a totally ordinary word just to make sure that I am indeed using it in the right context. I've also been known not to report people I really should have reported. The girl who drunkenly assaulted me when I was minding my own business a few months ago, leaving me with a purple-green bruise on my side? I wanted to go to the police and I was actually going to but, surprise, that didn't happen. Similarly - and I'm not narrowing it down to a specific time should they see this, realise it's them, and feel like the bad person they are (see?) - two teachers I've had in my life have been beyond bad, and when given the chance to report them... I didn't. Furthermore, when my first driving instructor out of two, who had no idea about my literal diagnosed anxiety, noted my quietness and suggested I ask my GP for anti-anxiety medication, I was just like, 'mmm, maybe'. Awkward nod. Grimace. It was personal, it was out of order, and it was quite frankly hugely irresponsible, but did I do anything about it? Yeah, a few hundred quid later, when I got my stepdad to text her and tell her that we'd ran out of money, because I was too scared to text and tell her that, actually, she just wasn't working for me. They call me Non-Confrontational Amber. (They don't.) (Actually, one has. I wrote this as a joke but someone actually has.) Someone once said I was intimidating, and I've probably been referred to as 'confident' more than 'timid' or 'quiet', so I thought I'd clear that up. I am shockingly polite, sometimes to my detriment. Better than being rude, though, right? 

Secondly, I'm really bloody good at blagging my way through things. It's an exact science, guys. 32.5% of what I do is based on luck, 32.5% is based on hard work, and 32.5% is based on me being excellent at blagging my way through a situation - although maybe that also comes under 'hard work', because it's not like it's easy. In Year 12 our final exam asked us to analyse a poem I had never seen before in my life - it was supposed to be one we'd read before - and I still got an A. Before I was eighteen, I had a job interview for my absolute dream job (and it didn't go to plan - you can read about that here). I had another at a local Mercedes-Benz - you know, the car company. I am the LAST person you would think of if looking for someone to work in a car showroom. In fact, you wouldn't even think of me in that situation ever. I don't know how cars work. I struggle to fill mine with petrol because the fact that every garage is different manages to confuse the hell out of me. When I first got behind the wheel, I thought simply tapping the accelerator lighter than a feather would zoom me across the car park at 100mph. But yeah, there was a time when Mercedes wanted me. Didn't get the job, but considering everything I've just said, that was probably for the best.

What's next? There was a time during the running of this blog when I actually fell out of love with the idea of writing. Don't get me wrong, I've always, always, always loved books and reading, and naturally writing came with that. I wanted to be an author for SO long... but at some point in my early teens, I gave up on that dream completely. I didn't feel good enough, I couldn't see it happening, and I genuinely did not want to do it anymore. I loved books and I loved blogging, but was I at all interested in writing my own novel one day and becoming a published author? Nope, not anymore - it was completely gone. I think this was down to a huge lack of self-esteem, to be honest, and at that age you've got so many different influences that something else probably took its place for a while. It didn't help that every time I tried to write a full-length book, it ended up being 20 pages, max. I've now got about 60,000 words under my belt, and the dream is well and truly back - having my own book is my ultimate dream. (I'm actually working on it really hard right now!)

Sometimes I feel kind of conflicted about what I put into the world. You could say I'm pretty mainstream, and girls who fit into that category are looked down upon by... everyone, basically. I feel like people see this and automatically think that the person they're looking at is unintelligent, basic, boring. I've thought this before! Yay, society, and making people internalise common misconceptions and misogyny! But you can like Ariana Grande and get all A*s. You can be completely silly and hyper 80% of the time and still have serious thoughts about the state of the world. You can be bottom-set maths throughout secondary school and write a twenty-page essay about politics. You can look like you have it all, and have nothing. It takes a lot to truly know someone, and personalities are massive, with branches coming from branches coming from branches. You don't necessarily see everything, and I think that's important to realise in an Internet generation.

What else? Oh, I'm a sucker for random acts of kindness. I first became aware of the concept in one of Cathy Cassidy's books - I can't remember which one - and it's been a constant inspiration in my life ever since. I believe that you get back what you put into the world. I recently made this video which is the second one I've made where I leave books around for strangers to find and keep, and a post listing other ways you can perform random acts of kindness will be up soon!

In a similar vein, one of my biggest dreams (alongside being an author, obvs) is to be so well-off financially that I can pledge to all the Kickstarters, GoFundMes, crowdfunders and charities. ALLLLLL THE THINGS. Especially right now when they're becoming more and more common. There are big fundraisers like One Love Manchester and for the victims of the Grenfell fire, and so many smaller ones for healthcare, education, rent if someone's a bit short that month. I give what I can, but can you imagine being able to give to all of these things? Improving someone's life with the click of a button? (Obviously, another one of my biggest dreams is for these fundraisers to not be needed in the first place, but I can't see that happening in my lifetime, unfortunately.)

So there we go. Still don't know my middle name, though, do you? ;)

Tell me something about you!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Read the First Chapter of 'The Crash' by Lisa Drakeford

As you'll know if you've read my last post, one of my favourite authors Lisa Drakeford has just published a new book called The Crash! It's YA. In fact, I'm quoted on the inside front cover saying that I think Drakeford's writing is the epitome of good YA, so there we go. The concept is brilliant and unique, exploring the present and the aftermath of a car crashing through our protagonist's living room wall. Why did it happen? How does everyone involved tie together?
Monday, 3 July 2017

The Crash by Lisa Drakeford

Title: The Crash
Author: Lisa Drakeford
Published by: Chicken House
Publication date: 6th July 2017
Pages: 285
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Mystery
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Best friends Sophie and Tye are watching TV when a car crashes through the living room wall. In the car are twins, Harry and Gemma. Next door, eleven-year-old Issy witnesses the accident.

In the aftermath, Tye is fighting for his life, Gemma's dark past threatens the present, and Sophie starts to fall for someone she shouldn't. And all the while Issy hides a terrible secret...

Having loved Drakeford's debut titled The Baby a couple of years ago, I was very excited to learn of her new release, The Crash. Told in the same style as The Baby, but a standalone with a completely new set of characters, the point of view alternates between chapters and we see a messed-up situation from several different angles, each with added opinions or backstories which add up to the climactic ending.
Saturday, 1 July 2017

#ZoellaBookClub 2017 is Here!

Weirdly, just two days before it was revealed, I was wondering if WHSmith's #ZoellaBookClub would be making a return. Then this delightful package arrived... so I think it's safe to say that it already has!

It's gone under a bit of a re-brand and is now the Zoella & Friends book club. Those friends are YA authors Jennifer Niven, Amy Alward, Juno Dawson and Chris Russell. Not only that, but the way the books are picked has changed, too, with Sugg and Niven picking one book each (Moxie and Orbiting Jupiter, respectively), and the rest of the books being picked by Alward (The Start of Me and You and The One Memory of Flora Banks), Dawson (Girlhood and History is All You Left Me), and Russell (After the Fire and Letters to the Lost).

The new format means that the titles picked will be more diverse, and the YA community is so close-knit that it makes sense for more authors to get on-board and do what they usually do but on a bigger platform: recommend each other's books.

As always, the picks definitely excite me - what's not to love about a box of YA wonders?! With each round of the book club, there are always books which I already own and/or have already read, and with this box those books are After the Fire, Letters to the Lost, The One Memory of Flora Banks, History is All You Left Me, and Girlhood. However, it's always lovely to see the new covers (if you didn't know, #ZoellaBookClub picks get new covers!) and it means I can give my favourites to my friends without actually, y'know, giving away my favourites.

Of the books in this series, I am most excited to read After the Fire, Letters to the Lost, The Start of Me and You, History is All You Left Me, Moxie, and Girlhood. So... basically all of them. I'm so glad that the book club is back, because not only does it motivate me to read more, but it also pushes me out of my comfort zone, and the club as a whole is doing so much in terms of getting young people reading. IT'S BECOMING SLIGHTLY COOL AND MAINSTREAM, GUYS. *cough* I read before it was cool.

Also, tiny shoutout to Chris Russell, because I've said before that his book Songs About a Girl would be awesome for the #ZoellaBookClub, and he's gone a step up and become part of the panel. YOU GO, CHRIS. *cough* I met him before it was... oh fine, I'll stop now.

Which books are you looking forward to in the first #ZoellaBookClub of 2017?
Thursday, 29 June 2017

My Cringiest Blog Posts

As many of you will know, I've been blogging for ten years or so, and everyone knows that the younger you are, the less of a 'filter' you have, not to mention less of an ability to spell or to run a blog to the same standard that you can ten years later... I know many bloggers and vloggers delete their old content or at least make it private, and to be honest I've considered doing the same, but I always end up leaving it there. I've made no effort to hide my old blog posts - the archive is always readily available, just over there to your right. This doesn't mean that I'm not embarrassed by some of them, because I am, but I'd like them to stay. I like knowing that I can easily read about what I was getting up to so long ago if ever I want to, and I feel like it gives this place an extra dimension.

You know when you're down to two scheduled posts, and you're so desperate for blog post ideas that you end up deciding that embarrassing yourself is the only way forward? That. You know what I'm going to say next, don't you?

Let's take a trip down memory lane and look at my old blog posts! To whet your appetite, a couple of hilarious anecdotes from my old blog that apparently needed entire blog posts to themselves...

Yeah, this is what you're getting into by reading the rest of this post. I hope you're ready.

First up, I thought it'd be appropriate to share my first ever post on this blog, which is a review of Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami. Excellent author, excellent book... and a review, posted on 1st December 2009, consisting of three very short paragraphs and the words, "I highly recommend it to anyone who absolutely loves Narinder Dhami books!" YES, I RECOMMENDED THE BOOK TO PEOPLE WHO WOULD HAVE BOUGHT THE BOOK ANYWAY. I also made sure to note that the book had "happy parts, sad parts [and] funny parts" because when I asked for advice on how to write book reviews, I was told to mention how it made me feel and, um, I don't think such a vague sentence listing three emotions that I didn't even attribute to myself is quite what they meant. If you look in the dictionary, you'll find me under 'vague'.

Next is a post titled 'Book Swag', which was originally called 'Some Great Gifts', published on 14th January 2010. Neither of them are particularly intriguing titles, are they? The post is a short one (surprise!) consisting of four grainy, dimly-lit photos taken on an ancient Nintendo DSi. The first sentence - of two, you understand - uses an EMOTICON. No, not an emoji, an EMOTICON. Made of PUNCTUATION. Good god.

The cringe is not over. Published on 2nd February 2010 was my review of Luisa Plaja's Split by a Kiss, a book I adored but to which I only dedicated a two-paragraph review. Writing at length is something I genuinely really struggled with when I was younger, and still do to some extent - this is partly why I binned my dream of ever writing a novel partway through my teenage years (that dream has since returned, I might add!) I suppose the review isn't the worst, but I don't think I could have been any more vague. Are you sensing a theme here? I'm going to interrupt this cringe-fest to give myself some credit, because just a month later you can already see that my reviews are slightly improving. It's still very short, but my review of Paper Towns by John Green in March 2010 is sliiightly more detailed, and you can tell - well, I can at least - that I'm trying!

Skipping forward to 2012, I'd twigged the existence of ~seasonal content~ and published a list of my top 5 romance books on Valentine's Day. Admittedly, in my old age, I don't remember three of them, so... that's awkward. Who's up for an updated version next year?

It gets a little less cringe from there, and I just stumbled across my 'Design Timeline: 2009-2013' post which is genuinely quite interesting. As I say in the post, it's fascinating (for me, anyway) to see the change in blog designs which correlates with me getting older and developing my own style. It also amazes me to see that I've only ever had four blog designs, including this one, in nearly a decade. Just a heads up: I've been desperate for a new one for about a year now, so a fifth and hopefully final design might be happening soon. You know, when I stop being lazy. (I'm too fussy and no design I've seen perfectly fits the image in my mind, that's the problem.)

So, there we have it. If you want more cringe with a hint of nostalgia, check out my latest video below in which I read a bunch of old stories I wrote, aged six. It's... weird. And vaguely disturbing in places. Don't say I didn't warn you.

How long have you been blogging? Do you have any cringe stories to share?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

EVENT RECAP: The Blogosphere Blog Awards 2017

I stopped reading magazines a few years ago. I was sick of the rotated content, the amount of hypocrisy that could be found in one issue alone, the constant feeling of being told what to do and how to look. Then I found Blogosphere Magazine, possibly the only physical publication for bloggers, and it quickly became the only magazine I ever bother buying.

That's why I was hugely excited when, earlier this year, I woke up to a tweet from them saying that I was shortlisted for Book Blogger of the Year in their inaugural #BlogosphereBlogAwards! Apparently there had been a nominating process beforehand but it seemed I'd missed it completely, so it was a massive surprise. To be nominated along with approximately 6,000 other blogs and then shortlisted with just four other people is mad, really.
Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Feel More Included in the Blogosphere

Being a new blogger can be hard. It's like that first day of school where everyone else seems to have their friendship groups sorted and you're not sure where, or if, you'll fit in. And like school, the blogosphere is full of unspoken rules. It's a hard one to navigate, that's for sure, and seeing as I've been kicking about for a while in this glittery community of greatness, I thought I'd put together a list of ways you can feel more included.
Friday, 16 June 2017

Teens in the YA Community

The YA book blogging community is, funnily enough, very focused on teenagers. Why shouldn't it be? YA literally stands for Young Adult, and it makes sense that this is what the community would centre around. Having said that, for a community and industry focused on teenagers (and profiting from them) there are a lot of issues.

These are issues that I've never really spoken about, and to be honest, I don't think I've been massively affected by them. Yes, I've been publicly slagged off by adults who should know better multiple times, but others have had worse. I was still in single digits when I started book blogging, and by the time I was officially a Teenager™, I'd been in the community for so long that I don't think I ever felt inferior or excluded. Maybe I was and I was just blissfully unaware.
Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Recipe for My Perfect Book

What would you need to see on the cover of a book to make you gasp and immediately buy it? What elements make a book perfect? What's your type? I was thinking about my personal preferences earlier, and I think they'll be fairly obvious to long-term readers of this blog because I rarely venture outside of my comfort zone, but here we go - the recipe for my perfect book...

1 tbsp of faraway places

I'm not talking about a faraway fictional world, because although I've enjoyed the odd one here and there, I'm more into realistic fiction than fantasy. I'm talking about countries I've never visited, but hope to. Books are passports, and a book that can take me somewhere different always piques my interest.

A small town (optional, for garnish)

It depends on the story, okay? Sometimes I'm all about a small town tucked away in the English countryside. The social and political aspects of small-town life are very different to those anywhere else, and it's pretty hard to nail unless you grew up in one. A couple of books that do this really well are Harriet Reuter Hapgood's The Square Root of Summer, and Katy Cannon's And Then We Ran.

A dash of love interest

I've enjoyed plenty of books without love interests but, if well-crafted, a love interest can make everything that bit more... interesting. I mean, 'interest' is literally part of the name, after all.

200ml of sub-plots

I can't deal with a book when it's just one line of thinking. I need more, and I need it to be clever; they don't all need to tie up at the end, but it should be satisfying. I want to be in awe of how the author weaved and balanced them in such a talented way. I loved Simon James Green's Noah Can't Even for many reasons, and this was one of them.

50g of problems

I don't think I'm the only one who wants their favourite characters to have an easy ride yet simultaneously craves drama to get in their way. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy, right? And a happy ending is always more satisfying when the characters have gone against the odds. (No deaths, though. STOP BREAKING MY HEART.)

A pinch of LOLs

But in addition to drama, I need humour. A few witty remarks, a lighthearted moment, some well-placed sarcasm... I'm all over it. 

180g of fast pacing

I love a book that isn't slow, that keeps me reading, that has enough going on to make it really hard to put down. Don't let me get bored because as soon as I put it down, I will find it difficult to ever pick it back up. Soz.

4 tbsps of cover quotes from a favourite author

If one of my favourite authors likes a book, then hopefully I will, too. And quotes given to a book are usually from authors who write similar books, which is a good sign.

What would make your perfect book?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

11 Reasons I Loved Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

Title: Seven Days of You
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Published by: Hachette Children's Group
Publication date: 9th March 2017
Pages: 321
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Sophia has spent her life ping-ponging between different countries and schools so saying goodbye to Tokyo - her home for the last few years - should be easy. But then Jamie shows up. He and Sophia used to be friends... and his return stirs up feelings she thought she'd forgotten.

Suddenly, hours and minutes become meaningless. Only time spent together, exploring the hidden streets of the city they love, is real.

If these are going to be her last seven days in Tokyo, Sophia's going to make them count.

1) I made the mistake of starting this the evening before a full day of volunteering, and stayed up far too late because I couldn't put it down... no regrets, though.

2) Seven Days of You is set in Tokyo, aka the coolest place ever. Tokyo's eclecticism makes the perfect backdrop for a city adventure.

3) In this book, fans of Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, and Katie M. Stout will find their new favourite read... 

4) And a new book boyfriend: Jamie Foster-Collins.

5) Sophia, Mika, David, Caroline and Jamie all have lots going on, and it all receives equal attention. Vinesse nails the complications of teenage relationships.

6) In fact, some of it was ONE HUNDRED PERCENT relatable. This bit is me. Everyone I've sent it to agrees.

7) It was laugh-out-loud funny, and - clearly - the voice was spot on...

8) I am a huge fan of books set in faraway places I've never encountered, and Seven Days of You definitely ticked my 'wanderlust' box. Someone take me to Tokyo, please (but really gradually with lots of short flights because I am not getting in a flying death container for, like, 16 hours straight.)

9) Despite only being set over seven days, the book packs so much in, and it's easy to feel like you are in Tokyo. (Especially if you are literally reading it in Tokyo.)

10) It's one of those books that will immediately have you yearning for a sequel. So, um... just saying. *hopeful face*

11) Basically, Seven Days of You has everything you could possibly want from a YA contemporary, neatly wrapped in Vinesse's skillful writing. If you're in need of some escapism, I highly recommend this.

Have you read Seven Days of You? Do you think you will?

Thursday, 1 June 2017

All of the Authors I've Ever Met (Probably)

During the last couple of years I've been able to meet a lot of my favourite authors at panels, signings, blogger events, or to make YouTube videos. Mainly, it's down to YALC. If you don't know, YALC is the Young Adult Literature Convention held as part of London Film and Comic Con, and it happens every year. It is the BEST. Before it became a thing, despite being a book blogger, I didn't get to meet anyone like that very often - mainly because of my anxiety, but also because of where I live, which isn't too far from London but isn't too close, either. (And we all know how London-focused the publishing industry is, but that's a rant for another day...)

Every day, I would see lucky London bloggers tweeting about the latest signing they'd gone to, or the latest launch, and I was constantly wondering: how do they do that? I knew how, obviously - they lived in London so they could go to events whenever they liked, because there's always something bookish going on. In contrast, I'm pretty sure the two bookshop events I chaired at the beginning of the year were the first YA events our area had seen in a decade. And, y'know, the London bloggers were adults (mostly.) And most of them probably didn't have anxiety. But when I was asking myself how they did it, I think my actual issue was that I just couldn't imagine it; I couldn't imagine going to loads of events and meeting more authors than you can even remember when asked. Because... what an amazing scenario?!

And now, mostly thanks to YALC and my new railcard, I kind of can - not as much as bloggers who live in the city (or any city, really - literally everywhere else is busier and more bookish than where I live) but still much more than I could a few years ago. Up until July 2014, I'm pretty sure I'd only met one author, the lovely Cathy Cassidy, whilst other bloggers were meeting 20 or 30+ per year. Or per month. I don't make a habit of counting how many authors other people go to see, but you know what I mean.

Since July 2014, I have met...

  1. Rainbow Rowell
  2. Carrie Hope Fletcher
  3. Cassandra Clare
  4. C.J. Daugherty
  5. Kass Morgan
  6. Chris Russell
  7. Sophia Bennett
  8. Keris Stainton
  9. Laure Eve
  10. Sophie Kinsella
  11. Keren David
  12. Perdita Cargill
  13. Honor Cargill
  14. Lauren James
  15. Holly Bourne
  16. Sara Barnard
  17. Harriet Reuter Hapgood
  18. Paige Toon
  19. Emma Moss
  20. Lauren Laverne
  21. Simon James Green
  22. Tom Fletcher
  23. Jacqueline Wilson

And at panels or other events, I've seen but not necessarily met...

  1. Juno Dawson
  2. Sally Green
  3. Veronica Roth
  4. Sarah Rees Brennan
  5. Holly Smale
  6. Malorie Blackman
  7. Simon Mayo
  8. Nadia Shireen
  9. Dave Rudden
  10. Clare Balding
  11. Annie Try
  12. Samantha Shannon
  13. Robin Stevens
  14. Ruby Wax
  15. Sarra Manning
  16. Sarah Crossan
  17. Annabel Pitcher
  18. Liz Kessler
  19. Lisa Williamson
  20. Ed Vere
  21. Adrian Edmondson
  22. Natalia O'Hara
  23. Lauren O'Hara
  24. Emily Barr

Weirdly, it's almost perfectly equal, although I've probably missed some... whether I have or not is going to bug me for the rest of my life. But I'm so thankful to have been able to meet or watch all of these awesome and inspiring people, and I just wanted to thank them all, along with various event organisers and publicists, for bringing the love of reading across the country and inspiring the next generation of authors. I feel so inspired by simply being in the presence of these word wizards - here's to seeing (or meeting!) many more!

Which authors have you met?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

10 Things I Love About Summer

1. It's lighter for longer, so I can get Domino's at 10pm if I want to without having to worry about losing my life in The Void. Driving in the dark freaks me out - I live in the sticks, where the council helpfully DOESN'T USE ENOUGH STREETLIGHTS, so it's pitch black in places. In fact, it's worse than pitch black - it's vantablack, aka the darkest pigment to ever exist. Fun fact for you there. One bit in particular freaks me out, where it's so dark that I've always called it - you guessed it - The Void. But it's summer, so I don't have to worry about that for a few months.

2. The weather. Here in the UK, our winter doesn't get as cold as, like, Canada, but it's still that level of cold where you shiver so much that it physically exhausts you. You're tense, you're shivering, your teeth hurt because they're sensitive to cold and you're scared of the dentist... maybe the last one's just me. Also, I'm pretty sure I got SAD last year. Soooo, no to winter, yes to summer.

3. The burst of motivation. You know on New Year's Eve when you think of the year ahead and all the things you're going to do? I get that in the run-up to summer, too. There's just so much more you can do in summer...

4. chips by the river; trips to the beach; pub gardens; working outside; walks in the forest; travelling (or dreaming about it); visiting the zoo; general chilling outside without actually chilling...

5. And summer brings so many pleasing things: bright yellow fields; the sound of lawnmowers and the smell of freshly mown grass; Magnums and Ben and Jerry's; the smell of sun cream; happier people; driving with the windows down; bright blue skies; time; flowers in bloom and vegetables ready for picking; shorts; in-season strawberries; sitting outside late at night and not dying from hypothermia; not having to lug a coat around with you everywhere...

6. The sense of possibility. Even if you're not in education anymore, I think the sense of freedom sticks with you. Unless you're in work, maybe... but yeah. I have so many books about creative writing, and a work-in-progress of 60K words which I'm ready to tackle. BRING IT.

7. In addition to my fear of driving in the dark, I'm also kind of scared of car washes, so I mostly wash the car/s (I'm the family car washer because I'm a golden citizen) by hand. Which is really annoying at any time other than summer. FREEZING COLD WATER. HARSH WINDS. I'm not about that life until the daily temperature is at least 24C.

8. Holidays. We used to go away every year - not out of the UK, don't overestimate my bank account/ability to get in a flying metal death machine plane -  but due to ongoing family illness (always me or someone else) we're not really able to do the loooong drive to Cornwall anymore. I MISS IT. I'm crossing my fingers sosososo hard that we go this year. I don't even mind the drive that much, mainly because 1) I'm not driving, thank god, and 2) because for 14 hours I get to eat at all my favourite places that I only get to go to when I'm travelling: Costa, Starbucks, Burger King, McDonald's... for 14 hours. It gets expensive (service station prices) but I'm not paying and there's literally no other option, which is WHAT I LIKE TO SEE. Also, the sea is bright blue. Over here on the east coast, our sea is brown. Ew. BUT BACK TO THE POINT: HOLIDAYS. I LIKE HOLIDAYS.

(Subtlety is my strong point, don't know if you could tell.)

9. Taking pretty photos for future blog posts. Everything looks so much nicer and more photogenic in summer. I love the top photo, a field of rapeseed, taken last summer. I've been waiting for an excuse to use it in a blog post, and now here we are...

10. I love summery reads and, strangely enough, most of them are released in or around summer... not only that, but during summer I have more time to pick up a book. It's a win/win situation. (Here's my TBR for the next few weeks!)

What do you love about summer?