Thursday, 30 July 2015

Guest Post: UKYA Community Shares the Magic of Books

Today I am sharing with you something a little bit different and special. Over the last few weeks I've been working on a project with my friend and English teacher Kate Hamer to raise book donations for the pupils at her school. What started off as the idea of handing a few books out turned into a major event when hundreds of books came flooding in thanks to the generosity of the UKYA community. I've invited Kate to share a post today about the event that gave her students the chance to read.

UKYA: Making a difference by Kate Hamer 

Something magical happened to me last Thursday thanks to the UKYA community - I got to watch 130 of my students fall in love with books.

I should probably introduce myself briefly - I'm Kate, I'm 23 and I'm a long suffering bibliophile. In January 2015, I started working as a English Graduate Academic Mentor at an inner-city secondary school. Fancy title, huh? It basically means that I am not only responsible for teaching classes, but also for conducting intense literacy intervention. I soon realised that many of my students didn't own a single book of their own - books are a luxury which for many of my students are not possible. As an avid reader, it became my mission to change this. Books had been instrumental to my survival during my challenging, lonely teenage years - they helped me not only lose myself for a little while, but to find myself too. I wanted to give my students the same opportunity.

Luckily for me, I have been quite involved in the UKYA community for years, through my English degree where I specialised in young adult fiction, to my internship with a New York literary agent, and through attending author events and signings. I knew that the UKYA community was extremely passionate about encouraging young people to read and hoped that they would be interested in getting onboard.

The amazing Jess of JessHeartsBooks (HI JESS!!) grabbed hold of the initiative when I approached her and promoted it to her thousands of followers. Overnight, my Twitter blew up, with hundreds of bloggers, authors and publishing professionals contacting me to make donations. Going into work the next day and telling the school's super-hero librarian is something that will stick with me forever.

I'd initially hoped for around 50 books. When we passed the two hundred book milestone, I suddenly realised that this had become much bigger than I had ever dreamed - it meant that over a hundred students would go home with books of their own this summer. Suddenly, the school's PR was all over the story, as were the local press. As I began to plan an Alice in Wonderland themed event to distribute the books, deliveries kept arriving. Boxes, packets, envelopes and crates filled to the brim with books began to stock up in reception. For that month, I spent more time in reception signing for packages than in my classroom!

With the event drawing closer, Willy Wonka style Golden Tickets were created to invite students to the top secret event. Excitement quickly built amongst students and staff - students who were lucky enough to receive a ticket were seen (and heard!) skipping down the corridors singing 'I've got a golden ticket.' The only staff members fully informed about the event was Elaine the librarian, and Paul the Principal (who had been sworn to secrecy with the threat of “off with his head").

The day before the event, impatient staff and students crowded around the library, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was happening behind closed doors. Reams of bunting, character silhouettes and balloons helped transform the library into Wonderland. Mountains of homemade cakes and delicious fizzy drinks awaited the students. The three hundred books donated were scattered on the tables – hidden amongst them were signed copies, first editions and proof copies of books not yet released!

 At 10.10AM, the first group of students arrived, animatedly discussing what might be behind the doors. As they entered en-masse, there were audible gasps and their faces were full of wonder. I spoke to the students for a few minutes about my previous work experience, the incredible UKYA community and the power of social media. Students were then welcome to browse the books and select a number. As they were reading , cupcakes, jam tarts and fizzy drinks with flamingo straws were brought around for them to enjoy. After enjoying half an hour of reading, students then wrote a short thank you note to all who donated, whilst proudly clutching their new books. For the rest of the day, I had teachers reporting back to me that students had returned to lessons and sat at the back of the room reading their books instead of enjoying the traditional end of term film.

It was a day I will never forget for the rest of my life - my students are not from privileged backgrounds, but they are characters, full of imagination, sass and potential. I have no doubt the gifts which bloggers, authors and publishing professions gave them will change their lives. In the words of Dahl, 'We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams' ... Today, UKYA, you are the music makers, you are the dreamers of dreams.

Quotes from students:
"Thank you for my new book. It will be great! I will take lots of care of it.' - Christine, aged 12 

 "I chose The Baby because it's fascinating. Unlike a lot of books I read, this one really interested me' - Viktoria, aged 15

 "Thank you for my book, Vendetta by Catherine Doyle, I can relate to it' - Shakirah, aged 15 

 "Thank you so much for my copy of Louis Sachar's new books. I cant wait to read it in my caravan!' - Jak, aged 12 

 For more information about the event you can follow Kate on Twitter @kate2606

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Review for Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne 
Publisher: Usborne
Release: 1st August 2015
Genre: Contemporary, UKYA, Mental Health, Feminism
Source: Copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

"All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she's almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there's only one thing left to tick off her list... But relationships can mess with anyone's head - something Evie's new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won't tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?"

Every so often a book comes along that feels like it was written especially for you, Am I Normal Yet? was one of those books for me. Holly Bourne tackles the big issues that teenage girls face daily: feminism, mental health, friendship and boy drama and shows how these themes are intertwined and affect one another making life as a teenage girl treacherous to navigate.

The book follows Evie’s story as she tries to live a normal life, something that is fundamentally difficult with OCD rituals controlling her. I developed OCD in my teens and although it manifested itself in a different form to Evie’s I found myself nodding along as I recognized the anxiety and intrusive thoughts that Evie had as being similar to my own. Holly Bourne handles OCD compassionately and realistically as we see how the condition affects Evie’s life.

Along with her OCD, Evie is trying to manage the growing distance between herself and her best friend Jane now that Jane has a new boyfriend, as well as dealing with her own boy problems as she dips her toes back into the pool of dating. At college Evie meets two girls, Amber and Lottie, who quickly become new friends as they bond over heartbreak and feminism.

The way that Holly Bourne worked feminism into her story was really well done. Rather than telling the reader about feminism she showed how feminism was relevant to the numerous situations the characters found themselves in making it accessible and relatable to young girls. I loved how Evie and her friends were just getting started on their journey into feminism and so they were each at different stages and continued to learn as they went along.

For me, Am I Normal Yet? is Holly Bourne’s best book to date. At last a YA book has come along that challenges the mixed messages that modern society sends out to girls and introduces young openly feminist characters who I’m sure will become heroes to teen girls everywhere. Am I Normal Yet? is a must read for anyone who recognises just how tough being a girl really is.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

YALC Tips for Coping with Anxiety

So a lot of you will know that I suffer from very severe anxiety and during the build up to YALC 2014 I got incredibly anxious and posted about it here. Last year I had a lot of people come up to me saying that they felt the same way and so I decided to share with you my tips on how to cope with YALC related anxiety in the hope that it might help someone who is currently feeling the same way that I did last year.

1.) Be Prepared 
About a week before going away I like to start getting organised. I plan out my outfits for the weekend, go shopping for anything I need and make a list of what to pack. I like to spread this out over the week so that I’m not flustered trying to get everything ready the night before or the day of. This also means that on the day I’m leaving I’m not in a rush and have time to take a breather and calm my thoughts. Leaving everything to the last minute just makes you stressed which you really don’t need on top of anxiety.

2.) Be Realistic
Create your own schedule for YALC listing the key things that you want to do over the weekend and the time and day that they’re on. The thing about YALC is that so many amazing things are happening all at once and it’s impossible to do everything you want to so don’t expect to. I think it’s important to be realistic about what you can do with your anxiety. Don’t put pressure on yourself to join a massive queue if you know that it’s going to trigger your anxiety. Know your limitations and do what you’re comfortable with and make time in your schedule for lots of chances to step away from the crowds and take a break.

3.) Arrive Early 
If you can, try to arrive at the venue early. The crowds waiting to get in are pretty insane and the sooner you can get in the less time you have to stand in them. It’s also a good idea to take some time before any events start to get your bearings. Know where the nearest exit, toilet and food stand is in case you need them. Try and find a quiet spot to set as a meeting point with your friends in case you lose each other in the crowd or go to different panels. The more I know about an area the more comfortable I feel.

4.) Be Comfortable
I love the idea of cosplaying and I love looking at other people’s costumes but for me personally being comfortable comes first. I know that if I was to dress up I’d constantly worry if my outfit was okay and I couldn’t deal with strangers looking at me or taking pictures. It also gets very hot in the venue and I know I’d feel more comfortable in my comfy trainers and a favourite t-shirt. On the other hand if you’d feel more confident taking on the persona of a badass character or want to represent your favourite fandom by wearing a themed outfit then you do that! Ignore what your friends and other people are doing and do what feels the most comfortable to you.

5.) The Power of Distraction 
Make sure you take with you something that calms you. This could be a book that you can get lost in, a favourite playlist on your phone to listen to or some soothing hand cream to massage into your hands. Have something with you that can be pulled out any time that you can feel anxiety creeping on to distract you from how you’re feeling and take your mind off what’s bothering you.

6.) Organization 
This tip also ties back in to being prepared. I like to make things as easy as I can for myself by being organized. A great tip I learnt from going to a lot of author signings is to pack your books in the order that you’ll need them for each signing. Then once they’re signed place them at the bottom of your bag. This will save a lot of time and saves you taking all of your books out to look for a particular book every time. I also like to place a post it note with my name on the title page of each book ready for the author to sign and dedicate your book to you. This is especially helpful to them if you have an unusual name or it can be spelled in different ways take Claire and Clare for example.

7.) The Reading Zone is a Safe Haven 
So anybody going to YALC who has anxiety should know that The Reading Zone is a safe haven from the craziness that is LFCC. I honestly don’t think I would have survived a day without it last year. The YALC organizers have already confirmed that it will be back again this year. It’s a quiet place to take a breather or sit and read for a while. I strongly recommend checking it out if at any point you feel like you need to take a break.

8.) Remember Your Goal
My last piece of advice is to try and remember why you are there. What made you want to come to YALC in the first place? Maybe it was to get a book signed by a favourite author, to get some invaluable writing advice from professionals or to meet online friends. Whatever your reason for attending keep that goal in mind. Keeping my goal in mind makes me more determined to push through those anxious moments and when you achieve your goal take a moment to celebrate! Be proud that your anxiety did not stop you from doing what you wanted to do. Enjoy your moment, trust me – it’s a big deal!

I hope that these tips might be useful to you and help you to have an amazing weekend at YALC! 

If you have anxiety and are attending YALC please don't hesitate to contact me at @JessHeartsBooks on Twitter and I'll support you in the build up to YALC in any way that I can. 

Know that you're not alone and that we can do this!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Red Queen Blog Tour: Win the book and a Red Queen necklace!

Hi Guys! Today I am celebrating the release of the Red Queen paperback by taking part in the blog tour and today I'm thrilled to be giving one of my lucky readers the chance to win a copy of the book and a special Red Queen necklace! I can't wait to read this amazing book soon and am thrilled to be giving you the chance to read it too! To enter simply read the rules and fill in the Rafflecopter. Good luck!


 To enter you have to fill in the Rafflecopter 
 Open to UK residents only 
 End date: Monday 20th July 2015 
 The winner will be drawn and contacted by email with 1 week to reply else another winner will be selected 
 Make sure you complete what the form asks of you - I do check! Any winner who has not completed an option will be disqualified

Monday, 6 July 2015

Review for One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan 
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
Release: 27th August 2015
Genre: Contemporary, UKYA
Source: Proof Copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

"Grace and Tippi are twins - conjoined twins. And their lives are about to change. No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world - a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined."

After reading the synopsis I knew that One was going to break my heart but what I didn’t expect was for it to break my heart on every single page to see how conjoined twins Grace and Tippi were treated by those around them.

One opened both my eyes and my heart to a life I’ve never looked at too closely before, a life as a conjoined twin. Grace and Tippi’s relationship was like no other I’ve ever encountered, it’s a bond that runs even deeper than love; it’s the very essence of who they are. I loved getting to know them as individuals and also as a team as they live their lives as one person.

Grace and Tippi are at the front and centre of this book but Sarah Crossan also takes a look at how the twins’ being one affects those closest to them: their mom, dad and younger sister. Grace and Tippi’s situation also has a knock-on effect for those they love as the family struggle with medical bills and witness first-hand how cruel people can be when somebody is different.

One was the first book that I’ve read written in free verse. I’ve always been put off by this style of writing before but One sounded too incredible to miss and I’m so glad that I gave it a go. The writing style worked beautifully and I can’t imagine this story being told in any other way. Every page is ripe with emotion the few carefully selected words carrying so much weight. Nothing goes to waste here with every word adding something vital to the story. Sarah Crossan’s writing is fluid, flawless and something to behold.

Not only is One easily my favourite book of 2015 so far it’s also one of the best books that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s truly a masterpiece in YA Fiction with massive crossover appeal. I haven’t been this emotionally moved by a book since The Fault in Our Stars and urge you to pick up this beautiful book so that you can experience Grace and Tippi’s story for yourself.

Friday, 3 July 2015

June Round Up and Book of the Month

June's Book of the Month is Remix by Non Pratt

Remix was the perfect summer read! I picked this up to get me even more excited to go see Taylor Swift in concert with my best friend and it certainly did the trick! I loved the focus on best friends here rather than romance and how real both Kaz and Ruby felt. This is a must read UKYA book. For more of my thoughts check out my review here.

Read in June
48.) Remix by Non Pratt (4.5*)
49.) The Cake Shop in the Garden by Carole Matthews (3.5*)
50.) Seed by Lisa Heathfield (4*)
51.) Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnson (4.5*)
52.) The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine (3.5*)

To my shame I only read five books this month - half of my usual total. It's been a very busy month though and I've also made my return to blogging, planned YALC Month and have started working on my very first novel. With July being YALC Month I hope to fit in more reading time even though July is also going to be busy for me.

 Monthly Book Awards 
Best Plot: Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnson
Best Writing: Remix by Non Pratt
Best Cover: Seed by Lisa Heathfield
Best Characters: Remix by Non Pratt
Best Ending: Seed by Lisa Heathfield
Best Romance: The Cake Shop in the Garden by Carole Matthews
Most un-put-down-able: Seed by Lisa Heathfield
Most Memorable: Remix by Non Pratt
Best Moral: Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnson

Top 3 Most Recommended Books: Remix, Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe and Seed.

Books I’m Looking Forward to Being Released in July
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
The Great Village Show by Alexandra Brown
The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ali McNamara
The Heavenly Italian Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements
 Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

 What did you read and love in June? 
 And what are you looking forward to reading in July?
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