Saturday, 31 December 2016

6 Books You Need to Look Out For in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs About Us by Chris Russell | 13th July 2017

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

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare | 23rd May 2017

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

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

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

Monday, 26 December 2016

Looking Back on 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your 2016 highlights?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 December 2016

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

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

Sit down, kids, it's story time.

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

While I was on holiday, I got a reply. They wanted to see me! I literally had an interview IN MY DREAM INDUSTRY. AGED SEVENTEEN. Scream scream scream scream.

Long story short, it went really well, I left feeling SO positive about my future for the first time in a while, and... they had offered me a position on the spot. They didn't specify what I'd be doing, because the things I could bring to the table were new to them, but I was happy to do anything. It would be paid, they said, and they definitely wanted me on board. The people I met were impressed with me, enthusiastic about their books, and just lovely people in general - they got me really excited about the stuff they produce. They called me a few weeks later to talk details, we met again, and I eventually did an unpaid 4-week trial. Again, they were very impressed; I'd done everything they'd thrown at me and more: I'd got them coverage on huge websites, I'd built them a small blogging database, I'd got them followers across all social platforms. All was well. I was going to work in publishing! I pushed the boat out and bought a falafel and houmous wrap in celebration.

This process took two months overall. During this time, I was offered 4 or 5 permanent part-time jobs, but I had to turn them all down because I had this awesome publishing job lined up that was literally my dream.

In today's climate, you all know that jobs are hard to come by. I was very lucky to get the jobs I was offered. But I had to turn them down; of course I did, I already had a job - it just hadn't started yet. So, for those two months, I had a very small and sporadic income from doing sponsored stuff here on the blog, but that was it. Two months of practically no money (what's new) and no job.

It was fine though. I had one lined up. My dream job. Right?

A few weeks passed. Nothing. And then I got an email from the publisher. They offered me a sponsored review for £20, which I declined, because that's way below minimum wage and you have to stand your ground with this stuff, not to mention that it wasn't really my thing, and the fact that I'd gone to them looking for a job, not a blog post. Then they slipped in that, actually, they didn't have the funds to take anyone on right now, and hadn't done all along.

That position I'd been offered? I knew they didn't 100% know what I'd be doing yet, but I didn't know it hadn't even been accounted for in their budget or whatever. Why would a company offer someone a job if they couldn't afford it?

Because of my age. That's what I and everyone else thinks. They'd got what they wanted from me. A 17-year-old would be more than happy with twenty quid for their trouble, right? That'd make up for it...

All the jobs I'd turned down. All the time and money I invested in my trial for nothing in return. The bloggers who joined the blog tour I had to organise even though they ended up being pushed into things (not by me) that they didn't want to do - but they did it anyway because they knew I was on a trial, and they were willing to help me out. (People who did that blog tour, I LOVE YOU, THANK YOU, AND I'M SORRY.)

At the time of writing this, it's mid-November (and now, as I edit this before publication, it's mid-December!) It was summer when I sent my CV to the publisher. That's... three months of being unemployed when I could have been three months into one of the several jobs I was offered. Three months wasted.

So, kids, that's the story of how a company saw my age and experience, and decided to completely take advantage of it, whilst screwing up a large chunk of my year and my finances. And did they apologise? Nope. I was really surprised about that, actually... isn't that the first thing you'd do? They were completely relaxed about it in their response as if everything was fine. And it's not fine.

In case they ever somehow read this: I thought it was a great publisher. From the moment I saw it, I was enthusiastic and passionate about their books. The two people I met from the company in those two months were nice, and we got along well. However, this is a completely rubbish situation that I feel the need to warn people about.

So, moral of the story: know your worth, value your work, stand your ground, and try to realise ASAP when someone is taking advantage of you. If something seems too good to be true, it might well be. Be ambitious, let people know you exist - absolutely, I strongly believe in that! - but please don't make the same mistake I did, because the anger, sadness, unemployment and sad-looking bank account isn't great, let me tell you. Realising that you've been a doormat - an unpaid doormat - is not a fun realisation to have. I was so close to achieving my dream, guys. In fact, I did achieve my dream. I got a job in publishing. It just never actually happened because a company decided they wanted free stuff rather than the opportunity to nurture a young, aspiring publishing professional.

Side-note: if you don't take advantage of young people, I might like to work for you, so email me and let's talk. ...What? There's no harm in trying.

Have you ever been in a similar situation?

Edit: Funnily enough, I finally got a job - but it's a zero hours contract, and it's only for Christmas. So my point still stands and I'll be back to square one in January...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A Very Meowy Catmas: Keeping Your Pet Safe and Happy at Christmas | ad

I don't know if you've noticed, but I LOVE CATS SO MUCH. People say they're emotionless and annoying, and they'd be right about the latter, but I swear my cat has facial expressions. Look at his anger at having to wear a Santa hat, aged 2.

It only stayed on for a couple of seconds but at least he wore it, unlike the inflatable unicorn horn I bought him one year. Urban Outfitters, if you're wondering.

Anyway, as much as he hates it sometimes, we love including him in our Christmas celebrations. 

He gets a Christmas dinner aka turkey mousse or sardines, turkey-flavoured treats, new toys and even an advent calendar full of catnip. In return, he gets me Christmas and birthday cards - sometimes even a present. Is that normal? I don't know. I don't care.

Anymeow, I've teamed up with the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for my overseas readers) to give you the pawfect suggestions for treating your kitty this Christmas, whilst also making sure they're kept safe. The period between Halloween and New Year is particularly dangerous, or at least anxiety-inducing, as you can bet from October 31st there will be constant fireworks and loud celebrations until January. The wonderful people at the RSPCA have put together this infographic which I found really interesting and helpful, especially as I'm prone to giving in and letting Oscar have a few scraps from my dinner... (nothing poisonous though, don't worry!)

A visual guide to a happy Christmas for pets

Despite only having one cat (for now...) I relate to these stats so much that I think I might be an officially qualified Crazy Cat Lady™ now? Oscar hasn't pulled down the tree in the five years that we've had him, but we do get him presents, he definitely watches TV, he has an advent calendar, and if I was buying something for a colleague, I would probably spend less on them and more on him. I enjoy treating my sarcastic ball of fluff, okay?

All pawfect puns aside, the RSPCA have helped me out a few times when I've been out and about and seen an unfortunate animal in trouble, and they even took in a couple of cats when I knew they were being abused by their owner, so I recommend supporting them in any way you can. And if you'd like more tips on keeping your favourite Fluffy McFluffFluffs safe this Christmas, along with clever animal-friendly treat recipes, follow the link above.

Before I go: the title of this post is inspired by my mum's range of handmade Christmas cards, which you should buy so we can have gas, electricity, water, food, etc, and you can give the perfect card to your favourite crazy cat lady. Or keep it for yourself. Whatever. We're all winners. ;p

Meowy Catmas!

Monday, 5 December 2016

My Picks for Future Rounds of the #ZoellaBookClub

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

Loving the way YouTube stretches thumbnails. Stylish.

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

Anyway. Behold, utter greatness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla | Buy the book

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

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

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

Unboxed by Non Pratt | Buy the book | My review

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

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

What would you love to see in the #ZoellaBookClub?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Mile Long Bookshelf's 7 Year Highlights

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

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

But I got through it, and I'm glad, because I really don't want this crazy adventure to stop. Here are some of my blogging highlights from the past 7 years...

Getting my first review request from an author...

I've just delved into my inbox, and this was on 23rd January 2010. I hadn't realised it was so soon after starting this blog?! I remember the moment like it was yesterday, though; I was SO excited that an author had initiated a conversation with ME! And she wanted to send me her book! The author in question was Leila Rasheed, author of Chips, Beans and Limousines, a book I still own today and which I doubt I'll ever get rid of. It's special to me.

...and super cool postcards!

A few months after my first review request, I got chatting to Kimberly Greene, author of My Sister's a Pop Star which I still recommend today. Kimberly sent me five postcards from around California, and wouldn't tell me when she'd sent them so that I'd be surprised when one arrived. On the backs of these postcards, she told me all about the area which was SO cool and incredibly kind.

Getting my reviews quoted in books

Just because I've been at this for a long time doesn't mean this is any less exciting for me. Seriously, I freak out at every stage of the process. Even after the book is published, if I see it in a shop, I'll run over and admire my name printed in an actual book for people to buy. My first quote was for the re-jacketed editions of Sue Limb's books in 2011, and since then I've been lucky enough to have my thoughts in or on The Graces by Laure Eve, Stephanie Perkins' Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After, Diary of a Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja, Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss, and more! WOO.

Going to the Divergent premiere

I walked a red carpet... and not because I jumped the barrier in a spontaneous act of badass-ery, but because I was invited to?! To be honest, I'm not a massive fan of the franchise anymore - the first film was incredible, but it's gone rapidly downhill since then. Going to the premiere was such a big thing for me, though, and it was the first opportunity I'd had to test myself since the utter shitstorm of December 2012 when the whole anxiety thing began. I'm still so grateful that I was invited because if I hadn't have been, I don't know when I would have felt able to start making steps to progress. And, y'know, I WAS IN THE SAME ROOM AS KATE WINSLET. Still not over it. (Here's my blog post and vlog of the day!) (I've since been on another red carpet. A Harry Potter red carpet. WTF?)

Going to YALC

The highlight of 2015 and 2016. This is such an amazing book convention and it seems like everyone's there, so it's the perfect opportunity to meet your favourite Internet people! Here's my recap from 2015 and my recap from this year if you're bored... (you shouldn't be. You're reading my blog. It's great.)

Going to college

'Going to college?' I hear you ask. 'How is that relevant?' If you missed it, in August 2015 I was forced to crowdfund my college education due to a bunch of different rubbish reasons. The whole story is linked above, but the bottom line is... we did it! I'm nearing the halfway point of my final year and it's going so well. I'm so happy that I was given this opportunity and, even though it can be very stressful sometimes, education should never be taken for granted. That huge essay you have due in tomorrow? You're lucky to have it.

Getting to visit publishers

I think I've only been to Penguin Random House and Pan Macmillan... I could be wrong. But I freak out (inwardly, because I'm on my best adulting behavior) whenever I step foot in one, because this is where the magic happens. I wrote about this in a bit more detail here, if you want to follow that train of thought further.

Getting verified on Twitter

I know this is incredibly mundane and not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. After all, a verification tick on Twitter is literally just a formation of blue pixels on a screen. However, it was really cool because I never expected to get verified (or not until I had a book deal under my belt, at least... PLS SOMEONE GIVE ME ONE) and now I can tweet my favourite band (no prizes for guessing which one) knowing that they'll see it. Omg. So much powaaahh.

Learning stuff

The book community is so incredibly clever and diverse. I've learned so much over the years that I'm not sure I would have known otherwise; things about feminism, mental health, racism, other cultures... my world has been made much bigger and much smaller all at the same time.

Making friends

I officially have more far-flung Internet friends than I do offline friends. Which is kind of sad, but also kind of awesome. Blogging has definitely brought a lot of cool people into my life, and for that I'll always be thankful.

Whether you've been reading my blog for years or days, what's been your highlight on my blog?

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

Desk Tour: Where I Blog | Collaborative Post

I blog in the car, I blog on the floor, I blog in the middle of a field, and sometimes - just sometimes - I'm a civilised human being who blogs in a chair at a desk. Today, I'm going to give you a tour of the place. There's a lot going on (for inspiration, that's what I tell myself) but there's no rubbish. Not even an empty Doritos packet. Amazing.

I'm going to start with the books. Most of the ones you can see are 2017 proofs that need reading and reviewing, those I'm most excited for being Wing Jones by Katherine Webber, Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt, We Come Apart by Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan, I'll Be Home for Christmas by a range of brilliant YA authors, and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. On top of them is a tealight holder from Anthropologie, and a candle from Sainsbury's aka my fave. I live for their quiche.

Anyway... my favourite part of the desk - in fact, my favourite part of my whole room - is the photos. I LOVE photos. Being able to document a moment and keep it for the rest of time is insane to me. On the cork board, one of the polaroids is from a trip to Cambridge, another is from when I saw The Vamps, but most are from YALC, and they're there because I ran out of space on my polaroid wall (I know, how hipster of me). In the frame is a set of four photos from when Holly and I found ourselves in the most ridiculously posh hotel in Leicester Square, and I thought we might as well make use of the photo booth and pretend we actually had enough money to stay there. (£2,000-ish a night, people. WTF.)

The least favourite part of my desk? The chair, if that counts. If you want the back of a 90-year-old, and what feels like a non-existent bum, come and sit on my chair for just 10-seconds and you'll have one. Don't say I never treat you, okay? And apparently you can get good office chairs from Furniture at Work. Having just had a look, I think this might be where our old computer chair came from, the very chair I sat in when starting this blog. Mems. ❤

What do you think about my desk? What does yours look like? (I'm nosy, sorry not sorry.)

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. 

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