Monday, 24 April 2017

The Day I Became a (Temporary) Food Blogger

Last week, I was gifted a Gousto box to review, so today I'm becoming a temporary food blogger and showing you my loot. I love food and I love post, so this was an excellent delivery to receive, especially as it arrived along with my exam timetable... *panics*

Gousto is a website founded by a group of chefs who pick a bunch of recipes each week, and from those, subscribers can pick the ones they like the sound of and have the ingredients and instructions delivered to their door. (If you're not in to take the delivery, your food won't get ruined because there's a handy cool bag in the box.) They only send the amount you need for the meal/s you've chosen, and packaging is minimal, limiting waste. That also means that you'll get cute, tiny portions of things. LOOK AT THE TINY MAYONNAISE. I can't be the only one who loves tiny versions of normal-sized things, right...?

The first meal I picked was feta and sweet potato taquitos for two:

 And the second meal was Tuscan panzanella salad with mozzarella, again for two:

How good does all of this look? Opening it felt like Christmas, despite it being a sunny spring day. I should probably add here that you can get meat dishes, too, but I'm a life-long Pescatarian, hence my choices!

I include myself in this when I say that no one in my household is very imaginative when it comes to meal ideas (they won't mind me saying that, I don't think...) so being able to pick from a range of imaginative recipes was awesome. I don't usually like cooking as I'm far too impatient, and - guilty as charged - I'm definitely all about convenience. My dyscalculia makes the measuring aspect of cooking quite difficult and stressful, too, which doesn't help. But I actually really enjoyed cooking these meals! The fact that I already had the correct quantities, along with step-by-step instructions, was very much appreciated, and I felt like I'd achieved something each time, because as I said, I'm usually the one who eats the food, not the one who makes it...

The bit you're all wondering about: the finished meals tasted lovely and, thanks to the recipe cards which come with the ingredients, I'll definitely be making them again (the second one without mozzarella, I think.) Both have become family favourites!

This box was kindly gifted to me with no obligation to post about it but, once I saw the contents, I was itching to take some photographs. And then, well... here we are! If you're a 'content creator' of any sort, you can sign up to be gifted a box too with no obligation to post about it, regardless of how many followers you have or what you usually blog about. All you have to do is fill in this form and let them know that Amber Kirk-Ford (that's, um, me) sent you. If you're not a content creator but you'd still like to try Gousto, use the code TORNADO to get a £20 discount on each of your first and second orders.

So, a bit of a different post today, but I hope you liked it!

Do you like cooking? Do you have any veggie meal ideas?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

31 Books I Cannot Wait to Read This Summer

My first exam is in 29 days, and my last is in 51. That last exam will be the last exam. The last exam of my life. Unless I decide at some point that I do want to go to university, in which case... really, future Amber? You're going to put us in all that debt? Rude.

51 days, then, is how long I have to wait until I can tackle all the books I've been wanting to read for forever. We're on the home stretch, now. It's weird, though - I realised the other day that it's been close to a decade since I completely had time to myself; no homework to guilt-trip me into putting my book down, no seemingly-endless revision plans... I am very grateful to have been educated so well (and in so many different forms!) especially when so many people in other countries aren't; in fact, so many people in this country aren't. But it's weird to look back and see how much time it's taken out of your life, and how much time you'll have afterwards (well, until someone finally decides I would make an excellent employee, which I WOULD, by the way.)

Every year as it gets closer to exam time, my unread books look more and more inviting - but I resist, for the most part. Here are the books from which I'm having to restrain myself this time...

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

If you watched my January book haul, you'll know the story of how this came into my hands - and yet, as excited as I was, I still haven't had time to read it! I am no less excited, though, as this book focuses on racism and classism, and was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

This was unsolicited, and usually the unsolicited review copies that end up coming through my letterbox aren't really up my street. However - this one seems to be! Described as a 'compulsively-readable romance', protagonist Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, and can't resist opening up and writing back to this 'perfect' stranger. But neither of them knows that they're not actually strangers... intriguing.

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

Ah, the sequel to an amazing book, and even featured in my list of most-anticipated reads of 2017... and yet, despite my proof copy, I still haven't got to it. However - silver lining - the later I leave it, the closer it'll be to the next book in the series, meaning I won't have long to wait...

Wanderlost by Jen Malone


My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

A dark Hollywood novel in which our protagonist is offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a film. But soon enough, according to the book's synopsis, among the fake smiles and glitter-fuelled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous. I seriously do not know how I haven't got to this sooner. Come on.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

This book has fallen into my hands so many times, it must be fate. The first time was years ago when it first came out in the UK and I was sent a review copy. It didn't look like my kind of thing. It somehow ended up under my bed, discovered years later and given to charity. A few months later, I wanted to do a nice thing for a friend (shout-out to you, Charli) and so I tricked her into telling me what book she was after at the time. It was this one. Of course. So I bought it for her as a surprise. THEN, everyone seemed to be freaking out over the series and how good it is, so I bought ANOTHER ONE. FOR MYSELF. AND I STILL HAVEN'T READ IT. AND NOW IT'S BEEN UNDER MY BED FOR GOD KNOWS HOW LONG, AND THE CYCLE IS REPEATING ITSELF. I will get to it one day. I will.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

I remember seeing this on Twitter and remarking at how brilliant it sounded, and the next thing I knew, it was sliding through my letterbox from the lovely team at Bloomsbury. I was so happy! But also under a mountain of schoolwork. I cannot wait to finally read this - especially as Bloomsbury was kind enough to send it to me when I was fangirling over it.

Room by Emma Donoghue

My mum read this before it was cool. I didn't. So annoying. Before anyone even knew it was going to be a film, she read it, loved it, and recommended it to me so much that she ended up just giving me her copy. And then I didn't read it. And now it's a really popular film. Why am I like this?

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley

This has had so many good reviews, and it's about a guy who's agoraphobic, and I very much enjoy seeing how authors tackle the topic. SOON.

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

This will be my first Adam Silvera book! I don't know anyone who doesn't love his work, so I can't wait to read it for myself, especially as it contains themes of OCD, LGBT, and a whole lot of drama...

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Soooo... confession: I haven't read this. I know. I can't quite believe it, either. I can't wait to see what all the hype is about, though.

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Set in 1970s Alaska, four very different people come together under unlikely circumstances. The cover and title are beautiful - and, according to reviews, so are the words inside.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

I've had this proof for a long time - a long, long time - and even now, my Twitter feed is often full of people tweeting their thanks to the author, and recommending it to anyone who will listen.

The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

I bought this a while ago on the recommendation of @DailyJulianne on Twitter. The book is described on Goodreads as 'a fast-paced international escapade ... perfect for fans of Ally Carter', which sounds exciting! I think I got this during my GCSEs which is why I never got round to it... oops.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Okay, so I actually picked this up and read a fair amount, but then I got busy and it somehow dropped off my radar... aka I lost it. From what I read, it seemed pretty good, so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in again... although I'll have to start from the beginning.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick is one of my favourite actresses, and I find her hilarious. Like, even her tweets have me in stitches, and they're cut down to 140 characters, so... a book of full-length essays is probably going to hospitalise me. We shall see.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The release of its film trailer last month caused a lot of hurt to disabled people due to inaccurate and unrealistic representation. As this is a book I've wanted to read for years, I will still be reading it, but I'm glad this discussion took place as I can now go into it more critically, and aware of its issues.

The IT Girl by Katy Birchall

The IT Girl has been compared to Waiting For Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill, one of my favourite books, and seeing as I have the trilogy (thanks Egmont!) I cannot wait to give it a go. Plus, the author is lovely!

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

I think I picked this up at the Pan Macmillan blogger's brunch in December 2015 and, similarly to The IT Girl, it has been compared to a book I loved: Asking For It by Louise O'Neill. This book tackles some important subjects and I can't wait to finally read it.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The second book by the author of Everything, Everything... interestingly, this book has been praised for its representation of POC, so perhaps this will be better. Also, I literally just found out that this is set in New York City, aka my fave. Pleasebebetterpleasebebetterpleasebebetter.

Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Something tells me this is going to be an awesome book to kick off the summer... it's set in France and New York. I LOVE BOOKS SET IN THESE PLACES. ASDFGHJKL.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

The first thing I noticed when I received this was the strap-line, which is 'five strangers walk into detention. Only four walk out alive.' Need I say more?

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

To be honest, I don't even know when I got this. It's been that long. It sounds interesting though, set in the unusual location of a boarding school for ill teens.

The Last Beginning by Lauren E. James

I LOVED the first book in this series, The Next Together, and pined after the second instalment for ages... and then, when I got a copy, I didn't actually have time to read it; always the way. I highly recommend the first book - it's so cleverly done.

Ink by Alice Broadway

Ink is the book everyone's been talking about recently - and the cover is beautiful; you can see it in action here

This Beats Perfect by Rebecca Denton

From what I've heard, a girl finds herself backstage at a gig, and expects to hate it... but accidentally goes viral. I love music in YA, so I can't wait to get to this one! 

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I've never read anything by Stiefvater. I know, terrible. I actually read a chapter of this AGES ago and just couldn't get into it, but lots of people have told me to persevere, so I will. It'd better be good, guys.

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Lange

Another popular author whose books I haven't read... oops. Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is said to be like The Breakfast Club rebooted, and the coming together of these four strangers will change their lives forever.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I bought this when it was reduced after the film came out, because I wanted to see if all the hype was true. Unfortunately, I haven't got round to it yet, and to be honest it's not really one of my priorities. It sounds interesting, though, and once I have time - I'll read it!

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

I LOVE CAITLIN MORAN. Seriously, if you haven't seen her TV show Raised by Wolves (axed, sad face) you absolutely need to - I'm sure it's online somewhere. She is awesome and I cannot wait to read this (as well as Moranifesto!)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I have this rule about reading a book before seeing its film adaptation, so when I won a copy of the DVD but not the book, naturally I had to get the books. And I still really want to see the film... but I haven't read the book. @ myself: hurry up, please.

Which books will you be reading after exams? Have you read any of these, and what did you think?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon

Title: And Then We Ran
Author: Katy Cannon
Published by: Stripes
Publication date: 6th April 2017
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Megan knows what she wants out of life and she intends to get it, whatever her parents say.

Elliott has given up on all his plans for the future - but then Megan bursts into his life with a proposal that could change it forever.

Together they embark on a road trip to escape their hometown and chase their dreams. But life is a journey and not even Megan can control where theirs will lead...

And Then We Ran is a book which intrigued and excited me the moment I pulled it from the envelope. I'm a sucker for road-trips, and this book is a road-trip both literally and metaphorically.

From the outside, Megan Hughes might be the girl whose sister died not long ago, but she is also pretty, popular, and one of those people who seems guaranteed to get the future they want. She hasn't spoken to her childhood best friend Elliot Redwood in years - he has a bad reputation due to his dad's mistakes, and the town of St Evaline hates his family. But he was also there on the night Megan's sister drowned. He couldn't save her - but maybe, with Megan's out-there proposal, they can save each other.

The premise of And Then We Ran is a crazy one, and maybe it shouldn't be believable... but it is; Cannon makes it work. Amidst the epic road-tripping, the slow-burning romance, the friendship, and typical small-town seafront life, I hugely appreciated another relevant topic which Cannon touched on: university applications. And Then We Ran perfectly captures how it feels to be left behind when your classmates are moving away to start a new chapter without you, how it feels to have your future hinging on a handful of exam results, and how money is - sadly and unfairly - a huge factor when people are deciding whether or not to go to university. The fact is that the existence of student loans doesn't always provide encouragement or relief but rather stops people from going entirely due to the debt that ensues, and this book gets that - it's a massive issue. Despite university often being mentioned in books, I've never seen UK YA do the 'pre-university' stage, never mind with such detail and accuracy. And this book gets both sides of the story: how it feels to be going, and how it can feel when you're not.

Additionally, Cannon nails the politics of a small town where everyone knows everyone, and the relationships were fully believable. And Then We Ran is not only an entertaining story but also a piece of writing which aspiring YA writers should look to as an example of good pacing and style - I have! I remember loving Cannon's debut, Love, Lies and Lemon Pies because it added a big dose of unpredictability to the typical YA contemporary, and this is no different. And Then We Ran is a treat to read by an author who clearly understands her readers, and it is an excellent example of genuine, unique and current YA. 100% recommend.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Book Blogger's Confessional

There are a lot of secrets in book blogging. That sounds rather ominous and far more dramatic than reality, but it's true. With stats, there are hierarchies; with cliques, there are enemies; with unsolicited review copies happily received, there are unsolicited review copies that aren't. Often shown is simply the positive side of things - book blogging is great fun, after all - but there are negatives, too, as I once discussed in my post about why you shouldn't start a book blog (ooh, controversial.)

That blog post, however, was only my opinion. And one of the great things about book blogging is that there are so many opinionated people from all kinds of different backgrounds and with all kinds of different experiences. So a while ago I decided to set up an online form where bloggers could anonymously reveal anything that irks them about book blogging... and today we're going to hear from them.

Welcome to the Book Blogger's Confessional.
'I received a book to review, and then received an email two days later from the publisher asking if I'd had a chance to read it yet. Umm... blogging isn't the only thing going on in my life. And I take longer than two days to read a book. So... thank you, but... ?!'

'I think self published authors are underrated and don't get the recognition they deserve. Some bloggers refuse to read them because they don't have a publisher and I think that's awful.'

*coughs awkwardly*
'A publishing company keeps sending me unsolicited review copies and it's getting out of hand. I can't shift a lot of them because many are proofs, and I can't go back to them again and again saying "PLEASE STOP SENDING ME THESE!" I am so grateful to have the opportunity to review books, because it's something I envied in other bloggers before I did it myself, but when I've explicitly told them that I despised the first book in X series, and then they continue not only to send me more from that series, but similar books too, I lose the appreciation that I once had...'

SAME. I get that it would be difficult to keep track of people's likes and dislikes, but it can get very overwhelming very quickly...
'Smaller blogs are completely underrated by both bigger blogs, as well as by publishers. As a blogger on a smaller blog I don't receive review copies of books, which is kind of crappy. Us little guys can do just as good a review!'

I only read two bigger blogs these days; the rest are smaller and newer, and they're great.
'I don't like the sense of being left out I feel in the community nowadays. I've blogged for years and there feels like a sudden shift and I'm not part of the cool kids anymore and I haven't been told why. It's like school all over again. Is it because I don't this or that or a random reason someone has invented? The good side is that I don't really care that I seem to be offered less books and invites but I just wish I knew why I was picked as one the ones to boot off the list.'

R E L A T A B L E.
'I just don't get how there is any space for any more big book bloggers. I kind of feel like I came to late. :('

It's never too late! Just keep at it.
'I hate when people send you emails for 'opportunities' and they haven't even looked at your blog, let alone actually correctly named it! Also when I'll come home and there will be a parcel, don't get me wrong I am super grateful, but if it's something that I'm completely not interested in or is completely unrelated from my blog I won't do anything with it so it'd be much appreciated if you'd let me know first or ask me if I would like it!'

'where do I even start. I love book blogging, I really do - but it frustrates me how book bloggers are the underdog in the blogging world in terms of making a (semi?) career out of it. beauty bloggers and fashion bloggers and travel bloggers and parent bloggers are flown round the world and given opportunities book bloggers could only dream of. when anyone brings up their opinion on book bloggers being paid there is outrage and that isn't fair at all.
something I've also noticed are the 'cliques' - in general pretty much all book bloggers are really lovely and welcoming towards newer/other book bloggers but some seem less so - especially if a book blogger strays too much into their 'blogging territory' in terms of the main themes they post about, or if another blogger seems to be achieving more "success" than them. GET OVER IT - you don't own a certain 'subject' of book blogging, anyone can post about it - and if you're jealous of someone else's success then keep it to yourself, don't try and turn other people against them.'

PREACH. I've blogged about book bloggers getting paid a few times, and I always get a positive response... alongside some backlash. Ask yourself why you're so against other people doing what they want to do, something that doesn't negatively affect you or anyone else. *shrug*
'I've had my blog for almost 5 months and I haven't received any books to review :('

Keep going! 5 months is a very short amount of time. And not every book blogger receives books to review. Review your own for now, and hopefully you'll get noticed. Meanwhile, there's lots of other cool stuff you can do: Twitter chats (I recommend #teenbloggerschat...), making friends, entering giveaways, interacting and generally having fun.
'I feel super guilty at how many unread review copies I have that have already released, but there's school and life and I swear I'll get to them eventually.'

Same except I don't think I'll ever get to all of them hahahahahaha help.
'Sometimes I don't have the energy to read, or write about reading, but because I'm a book blogger I feel like I'm failing if I'm not able to manage those things. There's a pressure that comes with doing this, that you don't notice is there until you can't handle it anymore, and that pressure only increases when publishers come a-knockin'. They use bloggers for such a big part of their ad campaigns nowadays and even though the author interactions and ARCs are really great, sometimes it feels like we're doing their jobs for them, only we're not getting paid for it. It honestly really worries me the extent to which publishers are now exploiting bloggers, especially the younger ones.'

Book blogging looks easy from the outside, but like many hobbies and professions, there are hidden pressures and negative aspects that you'd have no idea about until you're doing it yourself.

There we have it: what book bloggers really think. Or, should I say, what some of them think. Thanks to whoever contributed (t'was anonymous so I can't thank you personally!) and let me know your answer to the big question below...

Are you surprised at these 'confessions' or did you find yourself nodding along in agreement?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Title: Wing Jones
Author: Katherine Webber
Published by: Walker Books
Publication date: 5th January 2017
Pages: 384
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Sport
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. When tragedy strikes, she discovers an extraordinary talent she never knew she had. Wing's running could bring her family everything it needs. It could also keep Wing from the one thing she truly wants.

Having worked at BookTrust, and continuing to be a key part in the success of YALC, Katherine Webber has long been a pillar of the YA community - and now she's written a book!

Fifteen-year-old Wing Jones feels like she is sticking out rather than standing out like her perfect older brother Marcus. He has a beautiful girlfriend, a promising future, and shelves of sports trophies. He is the family's golden child. But when the family is hit by a wave of bad news, Wing gets her chance in the spotlight, and over several months, embarks on a journey to find out what she loves, who she is, and how strong she can really be.

In terms of race and sexuality, Wing Jones is fantastically diverse - we know this within just a couple of pages. I really appreciated the authenticity Webber could bring to the plot, having studied in various different places including Atlanta, where the book is set, and Hong Kong. In addition to this, one of the subjects Webber studied is Chinese Literature and Language, which I imagine must have influenced Wing Jones. Unfortunately, racism is a long-term issue in the publishing industry, and hopefully this - along with other brilliant and necessary books like The Good Immigrant and The Hate U Give - will show that BAME (Black and Minority Ethnicity) books do sell. To say otherwise - and the industry often does, explicitly or not - is wrong.

Further reading: This fantastic review from Joséphine at Word Revel

Now I don't know about you, but I always read a book's acknowledgements, mainly because I'm lucky enough to recognise some of the legendary people often mentioned, and also because... they're interesting! Webber's acknowledgements told me that she wrote most of Wing Jones in the British Library, which I wrote about recently after visiting for the first time. (Weirdly, I randomly plucked this book from my TBR just a few hours after writing that post, in which I dreamed of writing a book in the British Library one day...) Not only that, but Wing Jones began as a NaNoWriMo project! It's so awesome and inspiring to see NaNoWriMo novels go on to actually be published and successful.

Wing Jones would be perfect for fans of Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Stephanie Perkins, David Levithan, Jandy Nelson... it's an example of truly brilliant YA Contemporary, and needless to say, I will be pushing this novel into the hands of everyone I know; in fact, I've already started! Wing Jones is one of those books you wish you could have the experience of reading for the first time all over again; an amazing book that I am so glad exists, a book about realising that you are stronger than you think.

Monday, 3 April 2017

#AskAmber: Fear, Publishing, and Potatoes

Despite the fact that my previous #AskAmber became inundated with questions about wheelie bins, I've decided to do it again. No wheelie bins this time, you'll be glad to hear - just some deep questions including potatoes and fear (but not together, because potatoes are glorious.)

Ooh, that's tricky - I feel like they have pretty much everything covered! I'd love to see more of an emphasis on bookstagram, though. Bookstagram is basically the hugely popular bookish side of Instagram, and sometimes instead of writing a full review of a book here on the blog, I'll feature it over on my Instagram instead. It can get the same results but with a completely different audience, and I'm kind of obsessed with it.

A few years ago, I was working away on my blog, and the clock hit 3am. I was probably slightly delirious, and for some reason I decided that I needed a brand new blog logo (and an entirely new template...) there and then. No planning. No consideration. I literally just jumped right in and played around with whatever came to mind. I'm really happy with it though - I even have it on a jacket because I'm a boss woman or something. I used to change my blog logo and template every few months, but I haven't changed the current design in years, which says a lot.

I'll eat them mashed, roasted, fried, sauteed, baked... I won't eat them boiled or raw. I have taste.

This is hard because I'm equally proud of a lot of posts but for different reasons, and it's the same with posts that embarrass me. For example, I'm vaguely embarrassed about the post where I 'revealed' (for lack of a better word) my ongoing experience with anxiety and panic attacks. I was in a really bad place when I wrote it, and I was very open - like, the level of open you might be in the privacy of a therapist's office rather than the Internet. I purposefully haven't read it since I published it because I know it's a mess, but I also know it's helped people.

There are other posts, like my first ever book haul, which... I mean, why? Why did I publish that? There's literally no substance to it. At all. Go and read it, I dare you. Photos taken with a grainy Nintendo DS in artificial lighting against the background of my kitchen floor, and no mention of what I actually think of the books. Christ.

Posts I'm proud of can be found in this handy Twitter thread!

'If anything' - how optimistic of you. The paranoid part of me is like, Amber, don't reveal your fears on the interwebs, people could use them against you. But I'm annoyingly trusting so whatevs. I fear bad things happening to anyone close to me (extreme illness, death, something bad happening to anyone close to them which will then negatively effect themselves...), vomit, driving in the dark, and driving in fog. ...Does that mean I have four fears? Oh my god. I am Four from Divergent. I AM BADASS-ish.

I would never eat macarons again. I don't get to eat them that often anyway. Peel the avocado, peel the avocado...

I started book blogging because of YA author Luisa Plaja, who used to run Chicklish, one of the biggest book review sites in the UK. I contributed to that for a while, and through Chicklish I discovered an entire community of book bloggers: Sasha from The Sweet Bonjour and Ria from The Beaucoup Review are two I remember the most, but unfortunately they're not around anymore.

The first place is... Paris. I'm envisioning a delightfully bright and airy Airbnb with curtains that flow in the gentle spring breeze from the balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

Amsterdam is a place I've wanted to visit ever since I read Anne Frank's diary as a child. I'd love to go to her museum, in addition to the TFiOS bench (or whatever's in its place now?) and the beautiful sights in general.

My third choice is... Edinburgh. I didn't really know anything about it until Zoe Sugg vlogged her trip there a few months ago, and it looks like such an amazing place.

To be honest, though, I want to go to most places. These three are just the tip of the iceberg...

Thanks for sending in your questions, and sorry I couldn't answer them all! Click here to read the last Q&A I did.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Exclusive Preview of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour #ForbiddenForest

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive an invite from Warner Bros. to attend the exclusive preview of the Forbidden Forest, their latest addition to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, nine days before opening to the public. I'd been twice before - the first time was on my 14th birthday with my parents and a friend; the second time was with my blogger hat on as I attended their September Screenings event.

I was very excited to be going a third time. Somehow, I always end up with a two-year gap between each visit, which gives Warner Bros. plenty of time to add new things like Platform 9 3/4 and the Forbidden Forest, so it never gets boring. I mean, obviously - it's the wizarding world.

I messaged Holly, who also came with me to the Fantastic Beasts premiere, and asked if she wanted to be my +1. A couple of weeks later and we were back home to Hogwarts...

Unfortunately, the day of the event was also the day of the Westminster terrorist attack in London. It was happening whilst we were still in the city, but we were none the wiser until we were waiting for the tour to begin when I was scrolling down Twitter and saw the #PrayForLondon hashtag. I don't want to ignore it and pretend it was a flawless day where nothing bad happened, because it wasn't, so I'm acknowledging it here. Three days later, I was in Parliament Square with an estimated 100,000 other people, so if the attacker wanted to bring London to its knees, he did a rubbish job of it.

Hogwarts was a good place to be, that day. As Dumbledore said, "happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."

The Forbidden Forest is incredible. As you'd expect from a film studio (I can't believe we were probably really close to a Fantastic Beasts set that is either already in use or will be soon...) the lighting created the perfect atmosphere for an eerie forest. Pretty hard to do, I imagine, considering it's in a massive building. The floor is spongy like a real forest, and the trees (not real, but they sure look it) are so tall you can't even see the tops. Tree roots twist and turn on the floor and above your head, because once you're in, you're more consumed by the forest than simply stood in it.

As awesome as the lighting is, it was very difficult to get good photos. I'll include some anyway, but for a better idea of the forest you should watch my vlog of the day.

There are lots of interactive features, too - you can change the lighting from day to night with the flick of a switch, you can create thunder, you can make Buckbeak bow, you can make spiders descend from the ceiling... again, watch the vlog, because I was NOT expecting that to happen and I think my surprise is pretty funny. I wouldn't pick up a spider but I'm alright with them - however, if spiders aren't your thing, there is an alternative route which skips out that bit entirely. I think that was a really thoughtful addition.

This is what the inside of a tree looks like, for any technical people who may be interested...

Another amazing part of the day: we got to go in 4 Privet Drive! I had no idea it was still open to the public, and I was so excited to finally go inside.

And, of course, no blog post about the tour would be complete without a photo of the constantly impressive Hogwarts castle.

As always, regardless of whether you've even read Harry Potter or not, I highly recommend taking a trip to the studios one day. It's such a fun day out, and the fact that they're constantly changing things around and adding new expansions means that I'm still not bored of the place after three visits. The Forbidden Forest is seriously awesome (not least because it's meant to be forbidden, and yet you're allowed in... #rulebreaker) and I can't wait to see what Warner Bros. add next!

Watch my vlog of the day to see a duel between myself and Holly; a dementor cause Holly to jump out of her skin; and a guest appearance from Ryan Gosling.

Are you going to see the Forbidden Forest?

Monday, 27 March 2017

Lessons Learned by Cimorelli

Title: Lessons Learned
Author: Christina, Katherine, Lisa, Amy, Lauren and Dani Cimorelli
Published by: Self-published
Publication date: 31st January 2017
Pages: 90
Genres: Non-fiction/Advice/Essays
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought.

Buy the book

A collection of stories, encouragement, and lessons we've learned.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that my #1 favourite band is Cimorelli: six sisters whose music originated on YouTube and then grew and grew. I finally got to meet them last November which was awesome even though I look like some kind of cave-dweller in all our photos.

What makes Cimorelli unique (apart from their angel voices, obvs) is their positive and uplifting message, and their dedication and willingness to stay true to themselves. Even on stage, they'll sit down and do, like, mini TED talks. And they've finally written a book! I've been waiting for them to do something like this for SO LONG, so you can imagine how much I was freaking out when the announcement came. I pre-ordered a signed copy immediately, of course.

The girls' positivity and insight doesn't stop with Lessons Learned, which consists of seven chapters each contributed to by some or all of the girls, and topics span friendship and self-love to money and spiritual life. It feels personal to them, and you can tell that it's a project they have put a lot of work into.

Related: My interview with Lisa Cimorelli

You don't need to be a fan of Cimorelli to enjoy this (although, y'know, their music is pretty great, just saying...) Lessons Learned is a 'YouTuber book' with a difference - their musical side is barely mentioned, and instead we have a considered collection of six world-views which are sure to give you a different perspective on life.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

GIVEAWAY & GUEST POST BY ASHLEY POSTON: 10/10 Would Watch Again: Best Sci-Fi Shows

I received Ashley Poston's Geekerella a few weeks ago, and it sounds right up my street. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting to read it, although I don't have long to wait because my coursework deadline is TODAY, so as of right now, I have a little more time for reading...

The book even came with an amazing candle (I can't get enough, help) and I'm hugely excited about it. Here's what Geekerella is about:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad's old costume), Elle's determined to win... unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons - before he was famous. Now they're nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he's ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake - until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

HOW. GOOD. DOES. THAT. SOUND. I'm so ready. I should also probably shush and pass you over to the author, Ashley Poston, who is here with her list of the best Sci-Fi shows ever.

As a girl who wrote a book about an imaginary sci-fi TV show, I’ll admit that I've watched quite a few sci-fi shows in my time. My father is a sci-fi junkie. Whether it was a b-movie flick on SyFy or Lost in Space, thanks to him I've seen them all. So, to save you the absolute horror of watching someone's face melt off in space (also, that doesn't happen - you can survive in space without a helmet for a few minutes with little more than a sunburn), I have compiled a list of 10 of my favorite sci-fi shows for you to dip your space boots into, my fearless cadets.

1. Star Trek: The Next Generation: Some say Deep Space Nine is better, others Voyager, some Enterprise... as for me, I will always have a soft spot for Data, a sentient android. If you don't want to sit through all the wonderful seasons, I suggest you at least watch The Offspring, The Measure of a Man, and Best of Both Worlds I & II.

2. Firefly: Even with its pitfalls, Firefly still has me sobbing every time I hear someone say, 'I am a leaf on the wind.'

3. Battlestar Galactica: Speaking of sentient androids... if you are in the mood for a war in space, look no further. Battlestar has become a staple with sci-fi nerds everywhere. It's smart, it's nuanced, and the gals in this show kick some serious butt.

4. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Not all sci-fi is in space, as FMA:B proves. Using the power of alchemy, two brothers commit the ultimate taboo to try to bring their dead mother back from the grave, and set in motion a plot that will shake their country's power to the core. Also, I will go down with my Riza/Roy ship.

5. Doctor Who: I fell in love with Eccleston's portrayal of the Ninth Doctor, and the romance between Ten/Rose broke my heart. If you haven't dipped your toes in, I'd say start at the beginning of the reboot (the Ninth Doctor) and if you find yourself straying when Moffat takes over as show-runner, don't worry - a lot of us did.

6. Sense8: The Wachowskis at their best. While Jupiter Ascending was beautiful, Sense8 is compelling and structurally sound, and still so gosh-darn beautiful I can't even.

7. Stranger Things: 80s nostalgia, D&D references, and a hella creepy monster? Yes, please!

8. The 100: This show will make your ships and break them - because like George RR Martin, they're very good at killing off your favorite characters.

9. Cowboy Bebop: What would this list be without Cowboy Bebop? The godfather of the modern space western, this anime combines the best of sci-fi with a killer jazzy soundtrack and a heart-wrecking finale. And it's gorgeous, as if you needed any more convincing!

10. The X Files: Because you know you want to believe.

Happy watching!

Ashley Poston's fangirl heart has taken her everywhere from the houses of Hollywood screenwriters to the stages of music festivals to geeky conventions (in cosplay, of course). She lives in South Carolina, where she hangs around the internet tweeting at @AshPoston.


Geekerella is published by Quirk Books on 4th April. To win a copy of Geekerella and an (amazing) limited edition candle, follow me on Twitter @MileLongBookS and RT the below tweet. UK only, ending on 29th March. Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

Title: We Come Apart
Author: Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published by: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 9th February 2017
Pages: 312
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess's home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship grows into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and hopeful futures. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?

A timely read, We Come Apart follows the life of Nicu, a boy from Romania who has just moved to England with his family so they can earn enough for his arranged marriage; and Jess, whose outlook on life is tainted and bruised due to her abusive step-dad, Terry. Racist comments are thrown at Nicu daily, and Jess always finds herself in a bad situation, whether that's at home with Terry, or on the run from a security guard. Both stuck in a world that doesn't want them, they find comfort in each other. But they're against the clock, because Nico has a wedding to attend; his own.

Like One, Crossan's previous novel, We Come Apart is written in verse. I love this style of writing, and Crossan and Conaghan pulled it off well; this style doesn't detract from the emotion or the complexity - in fact, there were some really harrowing scenes in there. Additionally, Nicu's broken English and Jess's slang adds to authenticity and encourages us to delve deeper into the story, beyond language. For what is a fairly short read, it truly packs a punch. However: We Come Apart is a glimpse, a window, a crack in a door. It's one of those books that continues without you, way beyond the ending. It's one of those books where you'll always wonder how things actually turned out. Lots of people like that - I do too, sometimes - but with this particular book, I simply wasn't satisfied. Sad times.

Unfortunately for me, the ending let it down, but that's not to say it's a bad book overall. We Come Apart is unique, beautifully written, and vital reading at this time of burning hatred and constant change.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Liar's Handbook by Keren David

Title: The Liar's Handbook
Author: Keren David
Published by: Barrington Stoke
Publication date: 15th January 2017
Pages: 125
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

River's life is blown apart when his mum invites her new boyfriend into their home and their lives. River is instantly suspicious of Jason – he seems fake, too good to be true.

At school, River's routine fibs are escalating into something more serious, and his teacher gives him a notebook in the hope he can channel his fantasies into creative writing instead.

And so, River begins The Liar's Handbook, and an investigation into Jason.

The Liar's Handbook is the latest YA release from one of my favourite authors, Keren David - but this time, it's in the form of a short story, and has been designed in a way that makes reading easier for those who struggle with it. And it is brilliant.

River is a liar. At school, half of his year still believes that he was a champion snow-boarder at the age of six, until his career was wrecked by a polar bear during the world junior snow-boarding championships. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one - and River is certain that his mum's new boyfriend, Jason, is a massive liar. The Liar's Handbook follows River's investigation into his mum's boyfriend, and his search for the truth.

Like with Unboxed by Non Pratt - another fabulous Barrington Stoke title - it feels special. A pleasingly small paperback, it has thick, creamy pages; the chapters are punchy, dynamic, and brilliantly twisty; and the overall design is bold and eye-catching. I'm an avid reader who has no trouble with reading (unless finding the time for it counts...) and even I felt the satisfaction and encouragement that comes from reading an entire book in a short amount of time. Because, as bookish as I may be, reading a full-length novel can be difficult when life insists on butting in at every available moment, and it was amazing to be able to read a review book in under an hour. I think I've said this before, but... more YA short stories, please, publishing industry!

The Liar's Handbook is well worth the read, as are Keren's other books, regardless of whether or not you struggle with reading. Barrington Stoke is an absolutely genius publisher, and I cannot wait for more.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How Much Time Do We Spend Online? | Collaborative Post

A few weeks ago I was testing a pedometer app as a favour - this is completely unrelated to blogging or anything I do on social media so that's not what I'm going to be talking about, but it did get me thinking about how much time I spend sitting down; like, it's actually embarrassing and I am slightly ashamed. I definitely consider myself to be hardworking, and I'm always busy - I genuinely rarely have time to do something just for me - but, testing that app, I realised something: I don't move a lot. I blog, sat down; I film and edit videos, sat down; I go to an online school, sat down, and now I've passed my test I'm driving everywhere. (Although I would just like to add that this isn't because I'm lazy but because I'm savagely fending off lone-driving anxiety before it can even begin, as I read about someone who passed their test and then didn't drive until 12 years later. Ain't nobody got time for that.)

I guess this is why some authors, or other people who work from home, invest in those desks that are also treadmills. To be honest, I will never get to that stage. Ever. But I thought it'd be interesting (and far too revealing, I'm now thinking) to see how much time I spend online over the space of 7 days. So here goes...

Monday 6th March 2017: Monday was weird. It was the first day of a very busy week, and I think I had pre-exhaustion - if that's even a thing - where I knew the next day would be mad, and so I was conserving energy. This was through no choice of my own, by the way - I had stuff to do, but I wasn't doing it, and I was online pretty much all day, frustratingly. I just... couldn't. A couple of hours was spent in an English lesson, though, and another hour was spent revising Wuthering Heights in my own time. So... just putting that out there. Approximately 5 hours.

Tuesday 7th March 2017: In contrast to Monday, Tuesday was utterly exhausting. I got just 3 hours of sleep before getting up at 4am and going to London. I spent the morning at an International Women's Day breakfast at the Institute of Directors (!) hosted by Theirworld, a charity which works to improve the lives of young girls and women around the world. It was insanely inspiring (and very Posh with a capital P) and I met some amazing women. After that, I spent a couple of hours at the British Library, working on my essay for the Rife anthology, before whizzing off to a lunch meeting at Instagram. A few more hours after that were spent upstairs at the Tottenham Court Road branch of Waterstones where I once again worked on my essay... for 3 HOURS. Then I got McDonald's before heading to the High Street Kensington branch of Waterstones (from one store to another...) for Sophia Bennett's Following Ophelia launch. I probably spent an hour online all day, and did roughly 20,000 steps - in stupid heels that made me bleed rather a lot, nonetheless. I will never make this mistake ever again. Approximately 1 hour.

Wednesday 8th March 2017: At 8:40am I had tutor group, and then from 9:30-1pm I had Media Studies, so - as I go to school online - I was on the Internet for just over four hours. As awesome as Tuesday was, I'll admit that I overdid it, and for all of Wednesday I was in a lot of pain, meaning I didn't get a lot done. Surprise... this meant I was on the Internet quite a lot! However, it was International Women's Day and I was doing a lot of social media-ing about that, and I really needed to chill out, so I feel like it's okay... *awkwardly justifies Internet obsession* Approximately 6 hours.

Thursday 9th March 2017: I was pretty productive, rushing about, finding books with matching props to photograph in bulk for Instagram. I love doing this, but the hour or so of editing afterwards is... less fun. I was out for a chunk of the day, but I did spend a couple of hours online studying with the Teen Bloggers team. Approximately 3 hours.

Friday 10th March 2017: Haven't mentioned it yet but Oscar (our cat) has been quite ill for a while now, so we've been back-and-forth to the vets for surgery. He's in the cone of shame, so we have to observe him as much as possible because he's bumping into things, struggling to go to the litter box by himself (he can't fit through the door) and his cone is causing him to face-plant the carpet rather a lot... Friday was basically me being a cat-sitter (with some social media-ing, obvs.) Approximately 3 hours.

Saturday 11th March 2017: I volunteer on Saturdays so I don't get a chance to look at the online world until the early evening. As soon as I got home I had a study session booked in with Holly (book blogger and classmate - it's a small world) who kindly spent an hour teaching me a couple of things I really wasn't getting. After that, I spent all evening making sure I 100% had it, which meant I was on the laptop but offline. That said, before going to sleep I always spend a while on the interwebs... Approximately 3 hours.

Sunday 12th March 2017: Sundays are always really busy for me; I use them as a day to catch up on anything I haven't done during the week - usually little bits here and there - and now I have my licence, I've taken over the task of doing the weekly food shop. I didn't spend much time online because of that, and also because I waxed my car so hard I probably developed abs. In the evening, I read for hours non-stop, which is something I haven't done for ages. And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon, for those interested - an excellent example of unique and current YA. 100% recommend. Approximately 1 hour.

Conclusion: I'll have an incurable hunchback and an adjustamatic bed for the elderly at this rate (unless I repeat Tuesday every day, in which case all I'll be needing is an early grave.) I was online for approximately 22 hours, and let's be honest, I've probably subconsciously underestimated how long I spend online to make myself look better. Who wouldn't? However, 85% of my time online is spent working, either on the blog or on college stuff, and the other 15% is spent socialising. It'll do my back in at some point, but it's important to remember that if you see a young person on their phone, it's not necessarily a bad thing; mindless scrolling isn't the only thing you can do on the Internet... the possibilities are endless.

That said, I apologise to future-me for the bad back.

How much time do you think you spend online?

Saturday, 11 March 2017

5 People Angie Stanton Would Invite to a Literary Dinner Party

Today on the blog, please welcome Angie Stanton, author of recently released Waking in Time. Read on for some information about the book, and to find out who Angie would invite to a literary dinner party!

Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request to 'find the baby,' Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbi's journey backward through time.

Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find the lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again... even though the professor gets younger each time Abbi meets him. 

Have you ever wondered who you'd invite to a literary dinner party? I have. And while I'd probably seem a lot smarter and well read if I invited historic literary icons like Jane Austen, Shakespeare, or Tolstoy, my tastes run much lighter. Here's my list. Now I need to think about what I'd serve to such an eclectic group.

Jude Deveraux

I met her once at a book fair. More specifically I fangirled over her. I don't recall that she had a chance to say much as I blathered on and insisted on a picture. Her book, A Knight in Shining Armor, was the first time-travel story I ever read and is still one of my favorites. Jude Deveraux is also known for writing dozens of fabulous romance novels involving the now famous Taggerts and Montgomerys. I’ve been following her on Facebook for a couple of years. She shares her experiences on the process of writing characters and storylines, but even more fun is how she writes about taking cruises around the world. Can you imagine!

Carrie Fisher

There were no stipulations on whether my people could be dead or alive, so I pick Carrie Fisher. Recently I read her book Wishful Drinking. This woman is hilarious as she shares stories about not being allowed to wear underwear while playing Princess Leia in Star Wars, being raised by her eccentric firecracker of a mother, Debbie Reynolds, and about the bumpy road of addiction and shock therapy, all told with the same self-deprecating humor. She'd keep the dinner party attendees in stitches.

Katniss Everdeen

Rather than have all authors, it would be fun to hear Katniss talk about her life, assuming she knows she's a fictional character. I wonder if she'd be angry with Suzanne Collins for putting her through hell in The Hunger Games and giving her PTSD. Hopefully she'd find the evening a great way to relax after dealing with the Capitol.

Idina Menzel

She's not a literary character or author, but she's played fictional characters, most notably Elphaba in Wicked, which was a book before it became a Broadway musical. This woman knows how to bring a fictional character to life! I get the feeling she's a feisty broad with a great sense of humor. If the dinner party started to get boring, she could sing and keep us entertained all night.

Jamie Fraser

As portrayed by actor Sam Heughan in the epic series Outlander, which is one of my favorite books. Face it, what better addition to a dinner party than a good-looking Scotsman? He's charming, funny and speaks with the endearing lilt of a Scottish brogue. It would probably be a struggle to keep the other ladies from flirting with him, and would round out our dinner quite nicely.

Who would you invite to your literary dinner party?