Monday, 31 July 2017

Event Recap of YALC 2017

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

Photo by Georgia

After my train to London decided to terminate fifty minutes from my destination (THANKS TRAIN PEOPLE) I met up with Holly and Lottie at King's Cross, and we made our way to Olympia. It was so awesome to meet Lottie, a friend I'd never actually met before, and she is genuinely one of the nicest people ever. ME GUSTA. Also, we got married at the Stripes stand. Life comes at you fast.

I missed my first event, as always. Seriously. I need to stop scheduling things at YALC for before 10am because I will never be there at that time no matter when I leave the house. Trains, innit. Luckily, I'd prepared for this situation and brought Wing Jones with me to be signed by Katherine Webber!

At 11, I attended Publishing 102, a discussion in the Agent's Arena about how to get a job in publishing (Publishing 101 was about how to be published, and it's the one I missed.) If I remember rightly (!) we heard from an agent, an editor, a designer, a marketing manager and an author/librarian, and it's inspired me to maybe start going for more work experience placements and internships. Problem is, I have a job because I need money, which I need to be able to do these things. But I can't do these things because I have a job, therefore for most of the week I'm unavailable... is this what it's like to be an adult? Fml.

Next, I went to the Egmont/Electric Monkey stand to meet debut author Laura Steven, grab a proof of The Exact Opposite of Okay, and get it signed! It was only brief but it was lovely to meet Laura, and I can't wait to read her book, described as hilarious, groundbreaking, and feminist. And Louise O'Neill loved it. So, y'know. I think you're looking at the next big thing, here.

We had a walk around the stands, entering competitions, participating in activities, nabbing freebies, catching up with people we knew, vlogging... I won a cool bookish mug from Fairy Loot, which I was very happy about. We all had Twitter notifications on so we knew immediately if a publisher was doing a 'proof drop', but the one time a publisher had proofs I wanted, I ran there to find they'd already gone. I RAN. FOR NOTHING. *collapses* New Stephanie Perkins book, I will have you one day.

Natalie Dormer walked past me twice, apparently, but I was oblivious. And Benedict Cumberbatch came up to our floor to chill every now and again, but I didn't see him, just saw the tweets, pictures and videos... conventions are amazing.

Then it was time for our #teenbloggerschat meet-up! If you don't know, #teenbloggerschat is a Twitter chat I help to run every Sunday at 7pm UK time where teen bloggers come together to discuss topics (blogging related or not) relevant to them. And we decided to have our first offline meet-up at YALC! It went so well and I was so happy. Next year will be even better now we know what to expect. LOOK HOW CUTE.

And we made this video for Jack, one of the #teenbloggerschat moderators who couldn't be with us (but wasn't dead). (In joke). Produced by yours truly, directed by Hannah.

It was quietening down by that point, so before going back to the train station, Lottie and Holly dragged us downstairs to the actual comic-y bit of Comic Con. If you saw my first ever YALC recap, you'll know that I wasn't a massive fan of it down there, but it was much better this time because it was less crowded and we were in a different bit to last time. And there's some seriously cool artists in the world, guys.

After some train confusion, we parted ways, and I went with Hannah to her hotel before deciding to go out for dinner, introducing her to the greatness that is Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It was such a nice evening! Oh, and we got followed by some random men.


The bit you've all been waiting for: ze haul!

As always, it was so lovely to meet so many of you, and I already cannot wait for next year! 3 days this time, maybe? We'll see. And look out for my vlog of the day coming soon! I think it's going to be a funny one...

Were you at YALC? Are you going next year?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Songs About Us by Chris Russell

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

Charlie Bloom is just an ordinary girl.

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

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

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

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

In this second instalment, our protagonist Charlie is preparing for her exams and a life that's back to normal after a wild stint of touring with world-famous boyband Fire&Lights as their photographer. Two of the band members, however, make moving on a bit more difficult than simply moving on from a job... and soon enough, she's behind the camera, back on tour, and leading a life of drama and confusion once again.

Oh, I do love books where you connect with the characters so greatly that reading the next instalment after a year is like coming home to your friends. Due to certain events, I was a bit unsure of Charlie's best friend Melissa in the first book, but with Songs About Us I grew to love her, and their friendship continues to be adorable. We gain more insight into Aiden's personality; Yuki is still his excitable self but with some secrets of his own; and Olly and Gabe clash like never before. AND I LOVE IT.

You know what I love less? The fact that I have to wait a year for the third (and final, sad face) book. Chris Russell, excellent writer that he is, loves a cliffhanger. I, on the other hand, am one of the most impatient people you will ever meet. And Songs About Us is explosive. On the surface, you've got recording studios, a boyband mansion, creepy journalists and a limo with a hot tub - but you've also got pressure from the media, hidden pasts, problems threatening to spiral out of control, and enormous secrets on the verge of being discovered by the wrong people. It's wishful thinking written down, but with hidden depths an undiscerning reader might not expect.

If you've ever dreamed of being with the band, if you've ever wanted to be that fan who somehow becomes friends with their idols - this is for you.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Beauty and the Beast Screening & Afternoon Tea with Disney

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

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

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

The film started at 10am, hence my early start, and it was somehow even better than my first viewing. I still can't seem to figure out which part is meant to be the 'gay moment' that the world got itself into a tizzy over, so if anyone feels like enlightening me... it must have been very subtle! The film is so beautifully shot though, and the casting is spot on. The costumes, the choreography, the soundtrack, the random bursting into song, and of course the traditional tale, ensure the classic feel of the film is still very much prevalent, simply with modern reworking and a witty, hilarious script to boot. I have to say, I'm really enjoying Disney's live-action remakes. Having liked the modern update of The Jungle Book and now Beauty and the Beast, it made me realise how cool it is that I grew up watching the old animated classics on video - and now, hitting adulthood, I get to experience it all again but in an entirely new way. I really need to sort myself out and finally watch Cinderella...

After the film, we were taken through to the Fortune Room for afternoon tea. I chatted with Sanne (Books and Quills), Lucy (The Book Belle) and Daphne (Winged Reviews and Illumicrate), and met new-to-me bloggers Linda (Linda's Book Bag) and Steph (A Little but a Lot). As I mentioned before, there was also a book swap, and I brought along my spare copy of Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne and basically shoved it in the face of anyone who asked about it. Read it, people, read it. I didn't take any books home because, let's be honest, I really shouldn't acquire any more...

I vlogged the day, so if you're into that kind of thing, subscribe to me on YouTube and the video will be up this week.

Thanks Disney for a lovely afternoon!

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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

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

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

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

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

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

I've been looking forward to this book since the day it was announced. I'd been following the author on Twitter for a while and I already liked what she had to say, so to hear that she was making a foray into YA was exciting. I blogged about it here on the WHSmith website due to it being one of my most highly-anticipated 2017 reads! The main reason for me being excited about it, however, is due to Grace's Asperger's. I'm close to a few women with the same diagnosis, and I'd never seen this representation in YA before. I've read a couple of books with male autistic characters, but even then, those books are few and far between. Overall, there doesn't seem to be a lot out there on the topic. And who better to write about it than Lucas, who was diagnosed with Asperger's herself and whose daughter has it, too?

Grace is such a great character, written with warmth and heart, and through her Lucas encourages pride in autism. There are a few comments on Grace having been sent to the 'Jigsaw Centre' when she was younger, which aimed to mould her into a more neurotypical and therefore 'socially acceptable' being, subtly commenting on the negativity of so-called treatment for autistic people and trying to find a 'cure'. The book's overarching message is to be yourself, and to let everyone else do the same.

It's worth noting that Rachael Lucas has an awesome presence on social media, so to hear more of what she has to say, do follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram. And if you're looking for an authentic and honest story which is entertaining and full of heart, The State of Grace is well worth reading. I can't wait for what Lucas is planning next!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

GUEST POST: Chris Russell on Why Fandom Matters

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

It goes without saying that fandom is at the heart of my YA trilogy, Songs About a Girl. Apart from anything else, the story was originally inspired by a three-month period I spent ghost-writing for a 1D fan-club in Australia, during which time I a) developed a real insight into the way fans interact with each other online and b) fell hook, line and sinker in love with One Direction. Specifically Harry.

But let's not get sidetracked. Even if he does have LOVELY HAIR.

Because, of course, it's not actually that long [ahem] since I was a teenager myself, and I'm not sure fandom is something I've ever entirely let go of. Unsurprising, really, when I consider that I have fandom to thank for many of the best things that have ever happened to me.

When I was thirteen, I met a blue-eyed singer and guitarist called George, in English class, and we quickly became best friends. We fanboyed over all the same comedy shows (Blackadder, Red Dwarf), offbeat novels (Catch 22, The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy) and movies (Empire Records, Wayne's World), and were effectively joined at the hip from dawn until dusk. Most importantly, though, we fanboyed over music: we were OBSESSED with Bon Jovi. Our infatuation with America's finest faux-cowboy rock band was matched only by our infatuation with each other, so it was only a matter of time before we went to see them live.

On a hot night in the summer of 1996, we headed to Wembley to watch our heroes perform, and this experience set off a chain reaction without which I probably wouldn't be a musician, or even an author, and I certainly wouldn't be writing this blog post. So inspired were we by Bon Jovi's big-hearted stadium rock show, we headed home, sat in a tree in George's garden and vowed to start a band, tour the world, be best friends forever and, one day, play at Wembley Stadium ourselves.

Over twenty years later, and our band, The Lightyears, are still together. We've been lucky enough to play gigs across four continents, stay in some ridiculously fancy hotels, have countless adventures on the road and even perform at Wembley Stadium a few times - and while we never really got famous outside of our own village, it's been one hell of a ride. And I thank fandom for that. It was as if the intensity of our teenage obsession, crystallised on that hot summer night at a Bon Jovi concert, was the rocket fuel that powered the crazy pursuits of our adult lives.

If you read YA, the chances are you've been in a fandom or two in your life. Teenagers, and those of us who read teen fiction, feel things in an especially intense way. We seek out widescreen emotions, broken hearts, epic narratives of hope, love and redemption. That's what fandom is all about. And I, for one, plan to keep on fanboying until the day I die.

I LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH. The importance of fandom and the ways it can completely change your life can be seen in the Songs About a Girl trilogy, and that's one of the things I love about it. Songs About Us, the second book, is out today, and you need to buy your copy now (links below!) I'm reading it right now and it is pure awesome. Music, fandom, friendship, aaand the journey of a lifetime. ❤

Sunday, 9 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me something about you!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

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

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

Spoiler: I loved it, and maybe you will too, because I've got the entire first chapter here for you to read. I'd love to know what you think!

What did you think?

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Crash by Lisa Drakeford

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

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

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

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

The messed-up situation? Sophie and Tye are watching TV when a car comes crashing through the living room wall. The house is destroyed, a chilled afternoon becomes a life or death situation - and no one knows how it happened. This concept immediately intrigued me, and I imagine it must have been a lot of fun to explore when writing - it definitely was when reading!

I actually wasn't massively keen on the alternating POVs in The Baby, but it really worked for me in The Crash, and with different points of view which all bring equal value to the story, it's hard to pick a favourite character. It includes Sophie, a mature and caring sixteen-year-old who only wants the best for everyone, including herself; eleven-year-old Issy from next door whose bravery knows no bounds; Gemma, a good person who makes the wrong choices; Harry, Gemma's twin, who is kind, sensitive, and caught up in things he shouldn't be; and Tye who I would love to have seen more of but, y'know, he was kind of busy being in a coma.

I do love a good YA mystery, especially when it has an original concept that I've never seen before. It was a tiiiny bit slow paced for me in places (and I mean tiny, hence I've only knocked off one heart) but overall, Drakeford's books show her knack for hooking the reader and keeping them there until the very end, and if you liked The Baby, you will like this too.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

#ZoellaBookClub 2017 is Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which books are you looking forward to in the first #ZoellaBookClub of 2017?