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.

I like to be behind the camera and in front of it, and I love the process of setting up a flat-lay or composing a shot, editing photos so they look their very best, and looking at these captured memories years later. Even the anticipation that comes with developing a photo if I'm using my old Polaroid Supercolor, aka the best charity shop find ever. Taking photos is a bit like blogging, I suppose, isn't it? It's all a form of documenting something. I don't think I'm amazing at it - far from it, and I would love the opportunity to improve, somehow - but I'd like to showcase some of my favourite photos here on the blog at some point. I'll have to ask my friends, first, as they're in some of the photos. We'll see!

I love looking at other people's photos, too - even more if they're in a book. Who wouldn't want their main hobbies combined into one? My favourites are photographers that tell a story, for example Brandon Stanton, the creator of the Humans of New York series, and Cathy Teesdale, creator of Humans of London. Ordinary people become momentary models, and we hear the stories of people we'd probably never meet. I also love Alexandra Cameron, one of the most popular and sought-after photographers in the blogosphere. She doesn't have a book out, but I reckon there's definitely demand!

Every single one of my photography books, you might have noticed, revolves around a place. Because that's another thing: I love travel. And if you can't actually go to a place (ahem, New York) then looking at photos is the next best thing.

Though I haven't used them for this purpose, photos of people like the ones you see in any Humans of... books would make great writing prompts. I was recently sent New York in Colour (are you seeing a theme here?) which is a collection of photographs by Nichole Robertson. It's said to capture the city as never before, and I can definitely see that. Organised by colour, it gives a glimpse of the tiny details you might not notice whilst being a visitor in a huge and overwhelming city. After all, in a place where noisy, bustling crowds and glaring billboards dominate, who's going to notice the beauty of a stack of golden pretzels, the primary colours of the seats on the subway, or bright yellow bananas sold on the side of the street? Robertson also created Paris in Colour which I need to get my hands on, although I'm starting to run out of space for books... she says, as if space for books didn't become limited the moment she learned to read...

I rarely use my camera on a manual setting, and if you wanted to know what aperture was, you wouldn't ask me because I don't have a clue. Nonetheless, I love all aspects of photography, from the joy of finding what I know will be a good shot to flicking through the work of others, and I'd definitely like to broaden my collection of books on photography. Might need to move somewhere bigger first, though, preferably with its own library. One day.

Do you have any photography book recommendations?

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.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I love to travel vicariously through the books I read, hence why the original title grabbed me in the first place. A book about a summer spent backpacking around Europe? Get on my shelf immediately, please. I really liked that aspect - it was fun, summery, and everything you might expect from two American teens taking on Europe. Hostels; making three outfits last several weeks; awkward flings; making new friends; accidentally going way over budget, and making memories to last a lifetime. In that respect, it was what I wanted and what I had expected.

However, some of it felt rushed and unfinished, including the ending which was pretty anti-climactic. As well as that, I had no idea until I started reading that Sydney's mum was agoraphobic and suffered with panic attacks. Some of you will know that I have experience of this myself, and I always appreciate literary representation when done well. But I wasn't 100% sure about this one. It seemed to me that she was treated like a burden a lot of the time, and I get that many kids probably do feel like that towards their ill parents if they're having to look after them all the time - not all of them, of course, but it's no easy achievement. However, the constant sense of the mother being a burden jarred. I'm not saying that it shouldn't have been written like that, because that would erase the experiences of a whole group of young people who struggle with caring for their parents, but I think it could have been handled slightly better. It read like the mother was pathetic and weak, and... I don't think people who are inwardly battling demons whilst outwardly smiling and trying to look okay for the sake of others are weak. Maybe that's the problem - that there wasn't much strength placed on the mother, if at all; the focus was always on what she couldn't do, not on what she could. And plot-wise, there didn't seem to be much need for it - or much room. It always felt like an add-on. Instead of a lacking sub-plot which in hindsight detracted from the main chunk of the novel, we could've had a strong, focused, steady plot, done well with no distractions. Like I said, I appreciate mental health representation in books - but please either do it well, or not at all.

I liked the idea of The Girl's Guide to Summer, and most of it I genuinely enjoyed... but it could have been so much better, too. It's an entertaining read full of travel, drama, and adventure, but as much as I love Mlynowski's previous work, don't expect this one to be your new favourite read.

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.

I fully agree. An author's private life is totally irrelevant to their work of fiction. It's a complicated topic, because I can see why it might be relevant if they've written a problematic representation of something, but discussing an author's private life can also be dangerous. What if they do share the sexuality of their protagonist, but they're not open about it because of things we don't know about (and shouldn't have to know about)? What if they have experience of a mental illness they've written about but simply don't want to go into detail about their trauma? An author shouldn't have to publicly go into their history for the sake of a reader's curiosity. And speculating about it on the Internet... I mean, this stuff's here forever even if you delete it. And that author has a whole life ahead of them, in which what you've speculated about could crop up again, and again, and again. Because you were curious.

Having written over 300 book reviews, I'm no angel - I've probably speculated about an author's private life too. It's easily done. You see how well they've written about a topic, how detailed it is, and you think: they must have experienced this in real life, surely. You have good intentions - you're praising them on their writing - but intention doesn't mean anything when you're throwing someone under the bus. Whether I've already done it or not, I don't know, but as soon as I saw that thread on my Twitter feed I pledged never to delve into an author's private life in a review. I might mention it or allude to it, like if it's being used by them and their publisher to sell their book/s, but I will never, ever speculate or dig anywhere below the surface.

The point of this post, however - because this wasn't just me repeating what's already been said - is that all of this applies to writing about bloggers, too. I've just read an article about me by a brand which shall remain unnamed, which started off really nicely and full of praise. And then... it descended into speculation. Actually, it wasn't speculation but more stating something personal about me as fact when not only is it not a fact, but something I've literally never said in my life. It's the opposite of something I strongly believe.

Can you imagine how I felt when I read that? I was hurt and angry. I was also shocked, because all I do is blog and vlog about books - I'm not exactly an 'interest' to be written about. On top of that, I was worried. There, on the Internet for all to see, was a piece written as if it was factual - lying and saying that my belief about something is the opposite to what it really is. Their intention was good, it was a nice piece, and it had links to my blog and YouTube... but it also threw me under the bus, made up lies about me, and presented these lies as fact to their massive audience which may never find out the truth.

I don't mind people writing about things I've dealt with in my personal life. I'm an open book. But when you speculate, present fiction as fact, and quite literally make things up about a real-life person... no, I'm not happy about that. Authors, bloggers, and literally all other human beings are not public property. You don't get to make stuff up about them. If you want to make things up and mould someone so they fit your agenda: write a book.

Or maybe don't.

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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.

Unfortunately, this one was too much for me. If you know me, you'll know I'm cool with having my heart broken by the books I read - I even expect it. It's a well-known fact that authors love to kill their people, after all! But the topic of this book was just too sad for me. I have a line, and for some reason Moonrise crossed it. Maybe it's the sense of hopelessness? I can deal with sad books as long as there's some tiny shred of hope, and in Moonrise I couldn't find any. And I get that. It's an accurate depiction of a death-row situation where there is very little hope, if any. It's realistic. So that's not to say it's a bad book, because it isn't, not at all - the writing is beautiful as always. For me, however, the sadness managed to suck out all enjoyment I might have had.

I'm fully aware that that's my own issue rather than one with the book, but hey, a book review is about how you were made to feel as well as how the book was crafted, right? And I have to say, I really liked the concept of this one. It provided raw insight into a horrible situation and gave a lot of food for thought. I liked the characters too, each one with a lot to give. Unfortunately, I just couldn't enjoy it. I hope that makes sense.

A lot of people have enjoyed this, and you might too - I really recommend One, her first book in verse. Sadly, as wonderfully crafted as it was, this one just wasn't for me.

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.

The following recommendations are hopeful, which is something I think is extremely important in literature about such rough experiences.

When We Collided by Emery Lord

Mental health themes: Bipolar | Depression | Grief

"It showed that bad times aren't forever but for a short while in a huge and wonderful life, and I think that's something we all need to be reminded of now and again." - My review

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Mental health themes: Domestic violence | Self-harm | Attempted suicide

"It ... showed that there is always a solution. Suicide doesn't have to be the answer." - My review

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Selective mutism

"I ... 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." - My review

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: OCD | Anxiety

"It has the best depiction of mental illness I have ever seen. Bourne truly is one of the best YA writers." - My review

Panther by David Owen

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Depression | Supporting someone with mental illness

"Panther is a bold and emotionally powerful novel that deals candidly with the effects of depression on those who suffer from it, and those ... alongside them." - Goodreads

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Panic attacks

"I think to have someone shining so much light on anxiety when they know exactly what it's like, and having the book aimed at younger people, is so valuable. [Sugg's] not guessing what it's like to be filled with anxiety all day every day, she knows it inside out, and I have no doubt in my mind that this will help ... people." - My review

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Depression | Attempted suicide

"This is the story of what Matt Haig has dealt with in life, from severe anxiety to depression, and how he overcomes it on a daily basis. Hope in a book is the only way I can describe it." - My review

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: OCD | Recovery

"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!" - My review

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Panic attacks | Agoraphobia

"I think it was great that we got to 'be with' Audrey in her therapy sessions, because lots of people suffering with anxiety who read the book and aren't being treated for their illness could benefit a little from that, as there was some valuable stuff in there." - My review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Confidence issues

"You know those books where all of the characters are the same? Characters with no flaws, and all with the same voice? Finally, I have found a book that is as far from that as you can get. Each person in Fangirl had a million flaws, and I loved it. Cath, with her shy, quiet, fan-fiction filled lifestyle, Reagan with her, erm, strong language, and Levi with his 'I don't read' attitude. Yeah, that's his biggest flaw, but I'll let it slide." - My review

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: OCD | Depression | Bulimia | Drug addiction

"[OCD is] the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn't repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It's caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty." - Goodreads

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Agoraphobia

"Agoraphobia is such a huge problem, especially during adolescence when everyone you know is getting their first job and their first car, going to parties and going travelling - and you can't stand outside of your own house for more than 20 seconds without having a panic attack. It needs representation. Even more importantly, it needs accurate representation - and, seeing as Gornall is Agoraphobic herself, you won't be surprised to hear that she got it spot-on." - My review

Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: A range, including anxiety, depression, addiction, self-harm, and personality disorders

"We all have a mind, so we all need to take care of our mental health as much as we need to take care of our physical health. And the first step is being able to talk about our mental health. Juno Dawson leads the way with this frank, factual and funny book, with added information and support from clinical psychologist Dr Olivia Hewitt. Covering topics from anxiety and depression to addiction, self-harm and personality disorders, Juno and Olivia talk clearly and supportively about a range of issues facing young people's mental health - whether fleeting or long-term - and how to manage them, with real-life stories from young people around the world." - Goodreads

Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: OCD | Anxiety | Confidence issues

"Amy has Cerebral Palsy, and the only way she is able to talk is by using her Pathway - a device that speaks whatever she types. Over the years this has discouraged people her own age from wanting to make friends with her, and so her mother pays a group of specially-picked students from her classes to help her get around school, and to introduce her to other people who would hopefully become her friends. She ends up getting all of this and more. While helping her new friend Matthew to accept and overcome his OCD, she is also gradually falling in love with him. And maybe that feeling is reciprocated." - My review

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Anxiety | Agoraphobia

"Sixteen year old Solomon has agoraphobia. He hasn't left his house in three years, which is fine by him. At home, he is the master of his own kingdom--even if his kingdom doesn't extend outside of the house.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to go to a top tier psychiatry program. She'll do anything to get in.

When Lisa finds out about Solomon's solitary existence, she comes up with a plan sure to net her a scholarship: befriend Solomon. Treat his condition. And write a paper on her findings. To earn Solomon's trust, Lisa begins letting him into her life, introducing him to her boyfriend Clark, and telling him her secrets. Soon, Solomon begins to open up and expand his universe." - Goodreads

Countless by Karen Gregory

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository

Mental health themes: Eating disorder

"When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn't believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don't add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She's even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time... " - Goodreads

Do you have any hopeful reads to add to the list?

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.

And then Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett arrived in the post. I'd never heard of it before, but the cover grabbed me and I quickly scanned the back to discover what was inside. Immediately, I wanted to read it - and the next day at YALC I found myself fangirling over the book when I saw it on the publisher's stand, even though I hadn't even read the first page?! With me, subconscious anticipatory fangirling is always a good sign.

The bare bones of the concept? You never know who you're talking to online... and what happens when you end up getting scarily close offline? If I didn't make YouTube videos, I could be a cat with insane typing skills and you'd be none the wiser. Seriously, though, you might be looking at that thinking it's not the most original concept ever - and it's not. The whole 'hidden identity' thing has been done loads, both in books and film. What pulled me in was the embellishment, the dressing up... the consequences and the madness of it all. I love a 'sliding doors' moment, me.

Bailey is a fan of classic films. On an online forum, shedding her real name and going by 'Mink', she is close friends with Alex - maybe more. But when she moves to his town to live with her dad, she decides not to tell him how close she is, and instead tries to focus on getting a summer job and scoping him out from a distance. Damage control. California, however, proves distracting: a new friend in quiet but hilarious Grace Achebe, a confusing colleague in infuriating and frustrating Porter Roth, a father to get used to again, and a whole local history to uncover. Bailey's narrative is funny, warm and relatable - as is Porter's - and I loved their spiky, sarcastic chemistry. All of the characters jumped off the page, and for a pretty wild concept, it was very believable, too. Ahem, sequel, please...

This is the easiest and most adorable read I've had in a long time, with a fascinating concept to boot. Always helps. Plus, there were elements of other books I've loved: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Wing Jones by Katherine Webber, and Blue by Lisa Glass. If you liked any of those, you'll love this. Who can resist well-written romantic surfer YA with depth?

In short, I adored it. Alex, Approximately is one of those books I'm going to be recommending to everyone for quite a while... starting with you!

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?

I desperately wanted this t-shirt, but I didn't desperately want the comments I knew it would attract if I wore it out. Yay, society.

After Spitalfields Market, we went for burgers (GBK, obvs) before heading to a mosque so Hawwa could pray, and then we found Brick Lane and got snap happy. I love graffiti when it's well done. Maybe controversially (?) I think the streets need more of it. More art can only ever be a good thing, right?

 And then we went... somewhere. I don't know. Google Maps wasn't working for either of us so we just walked and ended up under a bridge by some awesome community gardens. So many Instagram opportunities, guys. So many.

After that, we headed to the British Library - I wrote a love letter to it the first time I visited; that's how cool it is. Hawwa had never been before, though, so we went. We were going to get one of their amazing brownies to share, too, but they'd ran out. I MISS YOU, BEAUTIFUL BROWNIE.

I'm hoping that next time I see Hawwa, it'll be nearer her, in Manchester. *eyes motorway suspiciously*

Have you met any of your 'online' friends?