Sunday, 29 November 2015

3 Books That I....Liked...But Didn't Totally Fall For.

Wow, that's a long title. And not very appealing. It doesn't exactly hook readers in... And that's kind of what I want to talk about!
I recently donated a pile of books to my favourite cafe (Beanzz CoffeeHouse, 39 Grove Road in Eastbourne, aka the most underrated goldmine that funny little seaside town and indeed the entire of East Sussex has to offer. @beanzzcoffee on Instagram, check them out and thank me later) where they had a book donate and swap shelf adjacent to the bar. The books donated and money raised goes towards Matthew 25Mission Eastbourne, a local group dedicated to helping those in need by any means necessary: food, clothes, even just a listening ear and advice.

I had been meaning to clear out my bookshelves, but couldn't bear to throw anything away, so donating to this awesome cause was the perfect thing to do. I found it so hard parting with even a tiny pile of my books – but to be fair, these particular books were ones I didn't necessarily dislike but didn't love either. They were books I wouldn't read again, but wouldn't discourage anyone else from reading! They were just not my style.

Now, disclaimer: what I desperately want out of this post is responses. Comment, share, tweet me (@GracieActually) and tell me if you agree with any of the following, if you disagree and now hate me for not totally loving your favourite read, or if you aren't sure, aren't totally sold, just like me...then let me know. 
Right, now we've got that out of the way... Let's crack on. These are three of the books I donated, with my reasons why...

Ketchup Clouds, by Annabel Pitcher.

I do adore Annabel Pitcher. As a person and as an author. I have recentlyacquired Silence is Goldfish, her latest novel about a girl named Tess who discovers some shocking truths and thus stops speaking for fear of more lies coming out.
Ketchup Clouds was the first work of hers that I read. It tells the story of a fifteen year-old girl named Zoe, who is telling an awful secret she cannot keep to herself any longer to a murderer on death row – through a letter, of course, not on the telephone in the visiting centre.
Things I liked: The flashback feel – every letter Zoe wrote was a different chunk of the story, and that worked nicely, kept things interesting. The confused suspense – we know someone dies, we just don't know whom, and that's always exciting.
Things I didn't love: That the love triangle in this novel was between Zoe and two brothers...that's a very awkward and uncomfortable thing, believe me I have been there myself! Also Zoe herself, the character – I didn't 'get' her the whole time, and I wasn't on her side when the bad stuff went down, so that put a downer on the story.

I would quite like to read My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece although my younger sister says it is quite an upsetting read. Maybe I should wait until I am 100% cheerful within myself, and have a fun graphic novel to dip into between chapters.

You're The One That I Want, by Giovanna Fletcher.

I must start this by saying I properly whole-heartedly LOVE Giovanna Fletcher. I'm subscribed to her on YouTube, I follow her on Twitter, her marriage to Tom Fletcher is what ultimately unfailingly gives me faith in and hope for relationships, and her son Buzz is the most precious ingenious internet sensation I ever did see. Okay? I love her. I do.
Hence me buying her second novel. I somehow missed Billy & Me, but I was intrigued by You're The One That I Want from the day she revealed the cover online. So I was doubly devastated when I didn't quite fall head over heels for this book.
This is the story of Maddy, and Rob, and Ben. The three of them have been best friends since childhood; they lived on the same street, they grew up together, they kept in contact throughout uni and after. Rob and Maddy became a couple at one point, while Ben has always been secretly in love with Maddy. A wedding comes around and decisions have to be made...

I won't lie, the main reason I didn't fall head over heels for this story was because I was on the wrong team. Giovanna started a hashtagging thing on Twitter – you were either #TeamBen or #TeamRob and my allegiances were well and truly with the guy who lost out in the end (won't say which that was, no spoilers here, don't worry!) I was immensely frustrated and slightly hurt when things didn't play out the way they should have (in my opinion!). I also didn't totally love Maddy, in fact I was furious with her for most of the time I was reading.
Mind you, the story was mostly very exciting and was peppered with fun twists and turns!

Gi, when we meet someday and have a cuppa, we must discuss this and you'll have to cuddle me and reassure me that things worked out for the guy who didn't 'win'.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan.

I am the biggest and most intense David Levithan fan. When I finally met him a few months back, having spent years devouring a hefty portion of his work (not the entirety of it yet because my gosh that man has a long back catalogue!) I had no clue how to act cool, and nothing prepared to say. Because nothing I could say would encapsulate my adoration for him, surely!
I also love the novel Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which he co-wrote with Rachel Cohn. Co-writing would be such a nightmare for him, but Levithan seems to find it a total breeze. So I figured I was in good hands when I picked this book up in Waterstones.
Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List is the story of two besties, Naomi and Ely, and the pacts they make when they both fancy the same person. Naomi is straight, Eli is gay. Ergo, they must make a list of their mutual crushes whom neither one of them is allowed to get with. The catalyst for this story – for the epic falling-out of these two best friends – is Ely kissing Naomi's boyfriend, Bruce. It sparks off a high stakes war of sorts.
Oh, another plot point: Naomi loves and is in love with Ely. Ely loves but is not in love with Naomi.

What I liked: The story is written from two perspectives – the co-author thing is used well here. Cohn & Levithan have done better, but they can work together well.
What I didn't love: Naomi's demented desire for Ely – honey, he's gay and he definitely won't be touching you in those places or marrying you and having kids, get over it. Ely, stop kissing Naomi – your platonic friendship is already a mess, you don't want to be with her, and yet you're happily still messing with her mind. Actually, you know what? Naomi and Ely, you are both as bad as each other.

I won't lie, when I first looked up this book on Goodreads (foolproof decider of the 'to read or not to read' in times of complete confusion) and saw all the one-star scathing reviews, I did recoil and spring to David's defence. However, now that I've read it I can actually see where the harsh reviewers are coming from. My love for David will always burn bright, my allegiance to him will not falter, but this book was a disappointment.

So, there we have it. That was hard... Whenever I dislike a book these days, I keep quiet about it; I try to focus on the good points when writing a tiny Goodreads review or if my friends ask me about it – I hate bad-mouthing any book or author and never would unless they perhaps included over one hundred different racist slurs in their debut novel or got uppity about my generation and berated feminism.

Anyway, that's irrelevant because I didn't dislike these books. I just didn't love them. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

May your coffee be as strong as your brow game.

So, what is the latest hot topic in the world of beauty? What’s the new trend – the latest trick, the current feature we should be focusing all our time and energy (and money) on? 
Well, these days it’s all about getting the perfect pair…of eyebrows. Yes, eyebrows. The fuzzy lines of hair above your eyes that prevent sweat from blinding you. Yeah, those. Suddenly, these really basic and often overlooked facial features now play a major part in making an impression on others. They are an asset and a weapon, if done correctly. They can also be your biggest fault when certain nasty folks are gossiping about you behind your back. 
Basically, we need to jump on this bandwagon as it is in our best interest to strengthen our brow game. Yes, brow game is now a thing. It’s a hashtag and everything…
Personally, I was always self-conscious when it came to my brows. I felt they were needlessly long and hideously thick, and it always bugged me that their dark cool brown hue didn’t match my naturally fair hair. My only feelings towards my brows were ones of hatred and frustration. They seemed to be in constant need of plucking to prevent the mono-brow from creeping in, and they never seemed to be as perfectly trimmed as my peers’. I attacked them with my special ‘tache bleaching cream once or twice; I grabbed a cheap razor and shaved away the straggling hairs beneath and in doing this accidentally gave myself that ‘popular’ facial feature with the two shaved lines side by side…it wasn’t my strongest look.
I wish I’d known back then that, these days, thick brows are every girl’s dream.
Proving that the above is completely true, let’s take a look at some celebrities whose brow games reign supreme:
Anne Hathaway. This woman is generally flawless, yes, and her face is just a vision of loveliness. I’m glad we agree on this. Now look closer. Zoom in on that film poster and see those delightful creations sitting happily above her luscious deep brown eyes, bold and stunning against her clear, snowy skin! Solid 10/10 right there. 

Julia Roberts. Another Hollywood star, another brow pro. Her eyebrows may be a little more on the dead-straight low-sitting side, which doesn’t work on everyone, but they suit her face shape rather fantastically. There’s a reason she played ‘Pretty Woman’ and I, personally, think it’s down to her ‘brows. 

Brooke Shields. The original Brow Queen of the big screen. My 80s expert mother tells me this gal was legendary for her eyebrows – she stuck out like a very glamorous sore thumb in the movie bizz when she strutted onto the scene with fully fledged bush brows, but she bossed it and pioneered the look. We have her to thank for first introducing women to the potential of brows. 
Nadiya Jamir Hussain. Nadiya graced our TV screens  on prime time BBC, on the nation’s favourite show The Great British Bake Off. She’s the most beautiful person inside and out – but right now let’s focus on the outside. Since week one of the show, she was praised by the public for her brilliant facial expressions caught on camera; every tense moment, every close call, every jubilant exclamation, her face said it all. A big part of her outstanding face work was her brow game.The other night it was revealed that Nadiya is the new GBBO Champion. But that’s probably down to her cakes, not her brows…
And finally, I couldn’t not mention the brow goddess, Cara Delevigne. Her brows are a force to be reckoned with. They are such a huge part of her (fantastically perfect) image, and have been since she began her journey to the very tip top of the modelling empire. In fact, Cara’s eyebrows are so iconic and so important that when you Google her name, a whole separate search is suggested entitled simply ‘eyebrows’. Her brows are thick, dark and sit heavy above her eyes. It shouldn’t work, but it so totally does. She claims she was never allowed to pluck them growing up. If that’s the case then well done, Delevigne parents!
Has this post got you feeling like you want to invest in your eyebrows? Well, lucky for you it happens to be time for some product reviewing. In my quest for the perfect eyebrows, I have used most products present in beauty stores these days. In my attempt to lockdown my brow game, I’ve found that only a few have actually done the trick. Here are a few of the best and brightest:
Firstly, we have the No7 brow pencil: simple as, really. A good starter tool. It comes in three tones, but the pencil is rather soft so must be sharpened often. However, it does the job! £7.99 in Boots.
Soap & Glory ‘Archery’: I loved this bad boy. It comes in two tones, light and dark, and is double-ended – one end is a slick soft pointed brush which contains a bit of toner, and the other end is a pencil for colouring in. £10.00 in Boots.
On a Soap & Glory roll, I have also heard good things about their other pencil product Arch De Triumphe£9.00 in Boots, but have yet to try it. C’mon though, the name alone is perfect.
Benefit: Now I’ve never actually used a Benefit product on my brows myself, but I have heard good things about their Speed Brow wand,£12.00 in Boots, and Brow Zings Shaping Kit£24.50, in Boots.  Benefit staff are also the loveliest people – one day when I was wandering around John Lewis feeling low and avoiding every mirror on the shop floor, the Benefit girls pulled me into their little section and insisted on ‘fixing’ my brows. I would have been offended at their phrasing, but they did a damn good job.
Bare Minerals ‘Frame & Define Brow Styler’: Another pencil with the twist-up feature which eliminates the need for sharpening, plus a built-in brush to smooth out the colour. £14.00 in Boots. 
I love Bare Minerals. Their goodies are all perfectly engineered – light on your face, no toxins or nastiness blended in and most products actually contain things that do good for your skin.  
TheirBrow Powder , also £14.00 in Boots, is also a winner. It does mean you’ll have to buy a separate brush to use it, though.
L’Oreal ‘Brow Genius Kit’: This is what I am currently using, and may well use for the rest of my heavy-browed days. The kit consists of a teeny pair of tweezers, a teeny double-ended brush and two pallets to swipe the brush in: wax, and powder. The wax is thick and provides a base coat, then the powder can be gently brushed on over the top and sticks to the waxy solution beneath. It’s quick and easy to use, the simplicity is a major plus, but it really produces perfection. £9.99 in Boots.
Finally, clear mascara (any brand) is a must. I personally go for the cheapest possible (which means Seventeen or Collection) as this ingredient in the brow prep is really just a final touch to lock in place the perfection you’ve been striving for in front of your bathroom mirror for the past ten minutes now.
In terms of guiding you in the right direction towards a stellar brow game, I feel like my work here is done. You have eyebrow inspiration and eyebrow product perfection above. All you’ve got to do is watch a few YouTube tutorials on how to NOT let your eyebrows resemble Nike ticks or sperm, and you are good to go. 

Images...01: snapchat @gracieactually 02:,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,g_face,h_300,q_80,w_300/MTE4MDAzNDEwNDE0NDM3OTAy.jpg 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

To Be Read: December 2015.

I have an enormous TBR pile. Now I'm aware an 'enormous TBR pile' may sound to an offline non-bookworm like a completely disgusting symptom of a very dirty disease, but rest assured that is not the case here.
No, this TBR pile is the stack of books that is currently overwhelming my entire desk. My 'To Be Read' beauties.
It is both wonderful and heartbreaking to wake up each day and be faced with a leering jeering bottomless heap of excellent texts that have yet to be devoured.

Also, it doesn't help matters that I still feel the need to buy books every weekend in Waterstones, or take advantage of deals on Amazon, or gratefully accept freebies or lenders from friends...
I currently have approximately twenty-five books heaped up on my desk, yearning to be read. Three of those were lent to me by awesome friends Mel & Louise, a couple were given to me by the super-lovely Lisa Williamson, and another three were given to me by the totally rad Debbie.
Side note here: I have realised that I LOVE proof copies. I feel like I'm part of an exclusive elite club, seeing books behind the scenes!
So I have a lot to get through. This is not even mentioning my list of 100+ Want To Reads on my Goodreads profile. Oh, dear.

I have decided to a) put myself on a Book Buying Ban for a minimum of two months, and b) make lists of which books to read per month. So, here are the TBR beasts I will be tackling in December 2015...

  1. Lobsters, by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison. 

    I had really hoped after seeing the title of this novel that it meant 'lobster' as in the famous Friends expression: 'He's her lobster!' And my gosh it does! What joy. This book tells the tale of Sam and Hannah, and their summer spent searching for The One before they go off to uni. Apparently fate plays its part a fair bit in this story. On the back of the lovely proof copy Louise lent me, it says 'in the end, it all boils down to love...' Which is cute and clever. I'm in!

  2. The Lost and The Found, by Cat Clarke.
    Six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, nineteen-year-old Laurel returned. This story is about how life is when the missing are found – it is centred around Laurel's younger sister Faith, who has been chased most of her life by what happened to her sister. I won't lie, I am reminded slightly of the exciting American series Finding Carter when I read the plot of this novel, but I won't let that deter me! (Thank you again, Debbie!)

  3. Silence is Goldfish, by Annabel Pitcher.

    I may or may not have been initially put off lovely Annabel after reading Ketchup Clouds (I'll be mentioning that one in a blog post soon), but I have heard only excellent things (mostly from my fellow Bookstagrammers!) about Silence is Goldfish.
    Tess Turner has found something out. Through her dad's blog. She has been lied to and has been saying things her whole life because she felt she should...well, no more. Now she is silent. Now she is finding her place in the world.
    I am immediately intrigued reading the blurb on Goodreads, and cannot wait to be absorbed once again by Annabel's brilliant style. (Thank you again-again, Debbie!)

And while we're at it, here are my TBRs for the rest of November...

  1. Say Her Name, by Juno Dawson.
    After reading her latest work All of the Above, then meeting her (and having her scrawl a message in my sacred scribbles notebook) at Young Adult Literature Weekender in the London Southbank Centre, I am officially a new fan of hers and need to read some of her 'back issues', if you will. One of these is Say Her Name, an especially spooky novel about Roberta 'Bobbie' Rowe who most definitely does not believe in ghosts – but after a jokey Halloween dare to summon Bloody Mary, she receives a message on her mirror indicating that ghosts are very real and should be feared.
    I haven't read a ghost story in freakin' forever, so this excites me greatly. (Thank you again again again, Debbie!)

  2. The Humans, by Matt Haig.
    Professor Andrew Martin's dead body is now inhabited by an alien imposter. The alien has a mission, but is also accidentally learning all about human life... And about his host body, a man who was not much liked by anyone.
    As mentioned in a recent post, I adore Matt Haig. I can never say it enough – that man reads my mind, and blows it, daily. Whether it's because I re-read a chunk of Reasons to Stay Alive, or I see a tweet of his about how important literature is in our day-to-day lives and in the grand scheme of things too...the other day it was because that awesome book Reasons to Stay Alive was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of the Year Award.
    Anyway, The Humans will be the first fiction of his that I will read. I cannot wait.

Expect reviews of at least three of these come January!
***Update on my whole 'book reviewing/recommending' revival thing: I am loving it! I knew I would. I am still nervous whenever I post a bookish thing online, having been burned by criticism before, but I'm getting there and getting better, I think...?! Comment below maybe, and let me know how I'm doing, beautiful readers!***

Don't forget to tweet me! @GracieActually 
Or check out my life in Instagram snapshots! @gracieactually 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The 5 Great Reads School Introduced Me To.

There are certain books you come across in life that you wouldn't have read otherwise.
I mean, let's say a friend thrusts a book at you one day, says it's their most recent read and begs you to read it too so they can discuss it with you, or just simply so you'll share their joy over it or join them in their hatred of it. Or maybe a significant other buys you the complete works of an author you have never heard of (or worse, one you utterly loathe) as a Christmas present.
Or, or, or... You have had to read a book, a play or a collection of essays for school/college/uni... Now this is where I'm coming from in this post! I thought I'd list 5 of my favourite educational reads. 5 texts that I was set to study (a couple of which I had to purchase myself before the course even started) and subsequently fell in love with, learned so many important lessons from too – and to think, I had no intention of reading them otherwise!

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.

I had been aware of this book years before I actually sat down and read it – aware because for GCSE English we had to read the book (then watch the hideously frightening film of) Animal Farm. My class were all briefed on George Orwell; his life, his work and his love of the extreme and very blatant metaphors. It's one thing reading about animals taking over a farm and soon becoming a dictatorship, but Nineteen Eighty-Four was next level.
Nineteen Eighty-Four told the story of Winston Smith, a citizen in a totalitarian world who is employed to rewrite the past to fit the desires of the Party and yet deep down he is furious with the way things are and yearns for change, to rebel. He is under the control of Big Brother, the mass surveillance that acts as head of the Party.

We used this book as stimulus when devising our piece for the third year Drama module Group Project. There were eight of us – always a dangerous prospect when working in a group, but we did alright – and our aim was to portray a futuristic society under constant surveillance and ordered to behave in a certain fashion. I missed the group viewing of the film Nineteen Eighty-Four due to work, which was a real shame. To be fair, after properly reading the book, the idea of seeing the film terrified me at the time. Maybe I'll brave it in the near future.

The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler.

I decided to read this incredible work around the time I was writing about Feminism in my English Lit A Level – I tried to draw parallels with the classic texts I had to read alongside it, but nothing could quite compare to this. I ended up ditching my original idea and instead wrote about something much more boring that would get me a better grade, but I couldn't cast this book aside. I was reading it on my trains to and from college – and getting some strange looks or even titters and giggles from other passengers. Those immature philistines.

This book is a series of, well, monologues about life with a vagina. Women tell Eve Ensler their stories, some hilarious and others horrendous; their fears and fantasies, their answers to the most baffling questions (my favourite was 'if your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?' on page 15 – and my favourite answer was 'purple velvet pyjamas') and she gives all of these things life and a voice. It's a celebration of female sexuality 'in all its complexity and mystery'!

This gorgeous important work also brought about V-Day in 1999, a global movement to stop violence against women. Boom!

Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay.

This book came into my life through somewhat educational means – as in, I wanted it and had been recommended it by several friends, but never got around to getting myself a copy, and then quite astoundingly my ex-Head of House from my high school purchased it and had it delivered to my house as a nice 'get well' type present before my second operation. When I asked him why he'd thought to get me that exact book, the book I'd been so desperate to read for such a long time but never mentioned to anyone, he said 'Well, it seemed like your thing!' What a legend that man is.
So yes, this book may not be of a strictly educational introduction into my life, but damn it it's taught me so much I wish I'd studied it for my degree because I could write an entire dissertation on it.

This book is a collection of insightful and incredible essays about anything and everything that Roxanne felt those feminist feels for. There's one essay about Orange is the New Black, one about the hideous song Blurred Lines, another discussing the faults with the Sweet Valley High book series, and some guidelines on how to be friends with another woman.
I just hope that someday I can meet this awesome author professor genius woman, buy her a drink and rant at the world with her.

The Twits, by Roald Dahl.

Yes, I am starting with something light, easy and obvious. Also magical.
When I was younger I was definitely a big fan of Roald Dahl. I watched the film James and the Giant Peach almost every day one Christmas season and read the book cover to cover. Matilda was the same, one of my favourite films and the most perfect book – and early this year I was lucky enough to see the insanely ingenious musical in the West End (Tim Minchin is such a babe, his music blew my mind, and also I hated and loved that the stars of this show were all very young kids who have more talent in their teeny feet than I do or ever will in my entire body and life. Seriously!).
Anyway, The Twits was new to me when we were given free copies in Year Two for World Book Day.

The Twits is the story of Mr and Mrs Twit, an old married couple who spend all their time playing tricks on each other. Worms in spaghetti, frogs in beds, eyeballs in drinks. Walking sticks made taller so they think they're getting smaller. They hate children, they never wash, their house has no windows, and they trap live birds to make into pies by lining the branches of nearby trees with glue.
One day, the Muggle-Wump Monkeys (the family of monkeys the Twits keep in their garden as they used to be mean monkey trainers, obviously) are freed from their cage by the Roly-Poly Bird (the magnificent flying specimen that hails from Africa, same as the monkeys) and they set about having their revenge on the Twits.

This book was downright bizarre, in the best way possible. Roald Dahl is one of the authors, the gifted storytellers, who taught me to have an imagination as a child. I wrote a short story myself about Jake the grasshopper and Clarchi the cockroach who were trapped underground in the muck but met in an escape tunnel, fell in love and vanquished their evil families – all because of Dahl's imaginative influence, his teachings that having an imagination is important.

Also I happen to believe whole-heartedly in what Dahl has to say in this story about nasty personalities and bad intentions showing on a person's face..

Punk Rock, by Simon Stephens.

Right, so I've written about this play and its importance in my life before. It got its own post! (Read it here, please and thank you!)
But I can't not include it in this collection of texts that I studied and adored – to the point where I bought my own copies, read and re-read them countless times, and let them have their huge influences on my life.

Punk Rock is the story of a group of well-to-do kids attending a private school and stressing about their upcoming mock exams. One of the tag lines is 'intelligent, articulate, fucked'. That about sums it up. The whole play takes place in their school library, and between the same seven students coming in and out – and some of them never out again by the end. Intrigued? Well, bloody read it then. You won't be sorry.
I played Cissy, the school bully's girlfriend. She is treated like dirt by her boyfriend, who is deep in the closet and struggling with his own personal issues, but she thrives on being popular and she puts up a sassy bitchy persona front when with her peers. She has a killer onstage kiss.

Performing Punk Rock was one thing, reading it pre-performance was something else entirely. I fell madly in love with the play, and it inspired me to devour every single one of Simon Stephen's works after that. Imagine my peeing-pants excitement when I wrote my Punk Rocked post last year and received a tweet from him telling me to 'never stop writing'...? You're nowhere near.

So, all of these books were brought to me through my studies. There are so many other texts that I would not have discovered otherwise, many more that I am delighted to have read or performed, but these are the ones I have learned the most from and will forever hold a special place in my heart. I must thank all the authors – but also all of the teachers who decided to include these in their syllabus!


Hi, my name's Gracie.

I make coffee for a living and coffee keeps me alive, I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year, five tattoos is not enough, Miss Patty is my spirit animal, I have a hat face, I enjoy weekends, my bedroom is my haven, I am super proud of my eyebrows, I miss studying, acting was always such fun, I dream of being paid to blog, the news of the Gilmore Girls revival got me excited and tearful, next year I'll be travelling, I rock a headscarf, I'm on a health kick, I've finally worked up the courage to book blog again, I've nearly finished radiotherapy, and I have no idea what happens next.

I do one of these posts every month every six months whenever I remember. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

5 Books That Changed My Life (in one way or another!).

The gorgeous Lucy Powrie (@LucyTheReader, Queen of Contemporary, the perfect vlogger and blogger and creator/host of #ukyachat) has written a post entitled 'The 5 Books That Changed My Life'.
This girl has inspired me – that's really nothing new, if anything it's a daily occurrence – but this time it's to write my own post! 

Without further ado, here are 5 Books That Changed or Shaped My Life... In no particular order, as they were all equally important for their own reasons...

One Day, by David Nicholls.
I have all of David Nicholls books but this one will forever stand out among the rest. I read this in 2012, while on holiday in Majorca with rad friends – I say read, I mean consumed. I lapped up every word for days lying on the beach, and then finished it at 2am while playing Scrabble, several cocktails down. I cried my eyes out – I howled hysterically for about an hour. I then thrust the book at my best friend and demanded that he start reading it immediately. (The next day he smacked it shut and cursed me for breaking his heart)
This book reminded me of my childhood dreams to be an author. At uni I'd been focusing so hard on perfecting my media writing skills so maybe I could get a weekly column in The Times someday, or edit features for Stylist magazine, or interview my idols after they did their cover shoots for Vogue. I'd been frantically devouring and dissecting scripts and dreaming of being backstage when my show opened in the West End, or sitting next to a director on set for my latest Hollywood smash hit.
Now while those jobs still appeal to me, I cannot believe that I lost sight of my original dream – to spend hours poring over a laptop typing furiously, to have a novel in book stores all over the country, to inspire readers and maybe, just maybe, make them cry.

Favourite line*: “Dexter, I love you so much. So, so much, and I probably always will.” Her lips touched his cheek. “I just don't like you any more. I'm sorry.”

(*I knew I had to find this line when I dug out my ancient battle-scarred copy of this book. I was totally prepared to flick through and pull it out with my tired old eyes. But blow me, past-Gracie had folded down one page. The page with this line on. Like she knew, when she was at the dining table in Majorca weeping over her Scrabble tiles and comforting herself with a fifth peach schnapps that someday she'd need to reference her all-time favourite line in her all-time favourite fiction book. So thanks past-Gracie, you romantic loser.)

How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran.
How could I not include this – this masterpiece, this magical mould-breaking part-memoir part-magniloquence – in a list of books that changed my entire life? It played a huge part in my Mind you, so did How To Build a Girl, but this bad boy was next level. I read it on holiday with my family. I laughed – and learned – so much in just a week spent sunbathing topless around the side of the villa with this book balanced on my knees (and at times shielding my top half from prying eyes, see this post for the ridiculous story there!). I then lent it to several of the women in my family, and urged my friends to buy it for themselves as surely fine educational literature like this is worthy of shelling out precious pennies from the pissed away student loan...they all loved it. Someday I will loan it to my sister, too. Or maybe I should buy her her own copy as mine is well and truly broken in; the spine is knackered and a few pages are now stapled in place.
This book made me even more determined to meet Caitlin. Since reading it I have seen her utterly marvellous live show twice (Brighton Theatre Royal, 2014 & Hackney Empire, 2015) and been honoured to oblige when she demanded the entire audience stand on their chairs (a major health & safety risk on flippable plush theatre seats) and shout 'I AM A FEMINIST'.
Wow, I am so close to launching into a part-review of these shows and part-gush of love for this woman BUT I won't. Not this time. I'll just link my previous review/gush posts about her here... Cool.

Favourite line: ...and then a bat flew through the window, into my face.
More sensible favourite line: When a woman says “I have nothing to wear!”, what she really means is, “There's nothing here for who I'm supposed to be today.”
OR: a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said 'yes' to both, then congratulations! You are a feminist.
OR: I want a Zero Tolerance policy on All The Patriarchal Bullshit.

Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.
I have a broken brain. In every sense. I actually felt stupidly lucky when I was hit with some hideous depression after my first brain op (after the second one I knew to expect it) and I was told by nurses that it was totally normal given the state of my brain – the physical state, that is. I had an excuse. I felt like I was cheating – many things contributed to my depression, many things I needed help with and could easily be deemed triggers, or problematic at the very least, but I was given a free pass with my brain tumour and the operation which altered the physical state of my brain. I still reckon that my personal circumstances at that point contributed a fair bit too – I was finishing uni, I had no idea where to go or what to do next, some of my friends had faded away...
This book read my mind – and also blew it. Constantly. I finished it (after several days spent doing little else but drinking it all in, and often happy-crying because Matt Haig just got it) on the London Overground on my way to get a tattoo that for me symbolised hope. I closed the book and hugged it close for the last twenty minutes of my journey. It was perfect. It was eye-opening – and it was me.

Favourite line (in this case more of a paragraph): I didn't totally fit in. I kind of disintegrated around people, and became what they wanted me to be. But paradoxically, I felt an intensity inside me all the time. I didn't know what it was, but it kept building, like water behind a dam. Later, when I was properly depressed and anxious, I saw the illness as an accumulation of all that thwarted intensity. A kind of breaking through. As though, if you find it hard enough to let yourself be free, your self breaks in, flooding your mind in an attempt to drown all those half-versions of you.

Second favourite line (the infamous one): How to stop time: kiss. How to travel in time: read. How to escape time: music. How to feel time: write. How to release time: breathe.

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, by Angela Carter (obvs).
I had to read some Angela Carter for my English Lit A Level (The Magic Toyshop), and then again for my Textual Intervention II module in the third year of my Drama & Creative Writing degree (The Bloody Chamber). I figured it would make sense to go above and beyond the required reading and buy her thick hardback of fairy tales. Little did I know that this purchase – and the following nights spent reading every tale before falling asleep – would not only help me determine what to write for my assignment but also have such an effect on my overall writing style.
One of several projects I have on the go at the moment is a fairy tale, and that is something I never thought I would say (or y'know, type...). It is all down to Angela, my white witch inspiration.
Her fairy tales are beautiful, unique, diverse and, well, downright disturbing – in the best way possible.

Favourite line: Stars on our door, stars in our eyes, stars exploding in the bits of our brains where the common sense should have been.
OR: She was like a piano in a country where everyone has had their hands cut off.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli.

Another fiction. An American one! I came across this book in the study in my family home when I was maybe ten or eleven years old. Now I won't lie, the shocking warm pink hardback cover did draw me in considerably. And the simple cover art – just a stick girl looking like she'd been half-heartedly doodled, with a star floating above her head. It was unlike any other book I'd seen at that point. I was curious, so I grabbed it off the shelf and took it to school to read under the table (I'll blame the book for my low grades in Maths that year, not my disgracefully non-logical mind).
Anyway, this story was extra special. Not only was it a damn fine and quirky romance, but also the overwhelming theme was that of discovering who you are. Stargirl Caraway used to be Susan – then she was Mouse, then Hully Gully... Stargirl is a one of a kind character. She wears what she wants, she does what she wants. She meditates. She is mindful. She cycles out to the desert and finds the 'enchanted places', where she can sit, bask and lose herself.
After reading this, twice, it stayed with me. Then some time later when Love, Stargirl came out, the book that told the next chapter of the story from Stargirl's perspective instead of lovestruck Leo's, I was enveloped in that beautiful strange world all over again.

Favourite line: Like so many of Archie's words, they seemed not to enter through my ears but to settle on my skin, there to burrow like tiny eggs awaiting the rain of my maturity, when they would hatch and I at last would understand.

So, there you have it. Five important reads. Writing this post actually got me thinking about another potential bookish post, would you believe... Blame Angela Carter for that. Or rather, the way she came into my life. I'm sure that post will be up soon – but until then, dearies, I would LOVE to hear which five books (or one, or ten, however many!) have shaped your life or changed your way of thinking, even if only on one occasion or about one subject. Feel free to comment, or tweet me @GracieActually !

Also, of course, each and every one of you need to read these books. Pick one, read it, see if you have the same reaction or a very different response!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Book Blogging: a New Beginning.

Book blogging is such an awesome thing. I am addicted to so many book blogs and follow so many book bloggers. My two favourite things! Books and blogs. I use book blogs when I'm stuck between shelves in Waterstones searching for a hot new read, much more than I do my Goodreads app. I chatter with fellow bloggers and often find myself jotting down their latest recommendations - films and music, yes, but mostly books. 

(Vintage Gracie, complete with purple locks and misguided morals, but an eternal love of books)

I've always tried so very hard to do it myself. Reading is something I've always been passionate about – at school I'd hide away at break time and read in the library (I became a fully-fledged student librarian in Year 9, not bragging or anything guys but yeah). I'd get picked on and be made to feel freaky as I'd be hiding from the playground goings on – I had no time for any of the pettiness or popularity contests out there in that world. I wanted to disappear into books. I remember so clearly when I was first introduced to Hermione Granger and I felt like I'd finally found my soul mate, my spirit animal and my literary sister.
Even now, nothing makes me happier than sitting in a coffee shop and diving into a book.
The difference is that reading is making a major comeback in this day and age. For a long while there it was a bit hard done by; it was deemed 'boring' by those who preferred to spend their free time gaming or binging on TV (no disrespect, mind you – Sims 2 is my guilty pleasure/ultimate calling, and I have been known to devour several series of certain shows in a day or two, cheers for that Netflix), and everyone was busy spending money on anything and everything else – nobody had time for books.

I would say I was true and faithful to the gorgeous literary world – but alas, my degree didn't allow me much recreational reading time. Especially with my course, it demanded I read all kinds of things – plays, theatre company textbooks, gothic classics, general classics, fairy tales, essay collections, poetry anthologies, and of course every kind of script under the sun... In fact I think the only me-time type reading I did, when I selected the book off the shelf purely because I was interested in it and not because I had to be, took place over the end of Christmas and Easter holidays each year. I'd be taking a breather from assignments, often living at uni when not many others were around meaning it was quiet and peaceful everywhere, and for two years in a row I was rehearsing for upcoming performances, so I found myself reading while sat still between my scenes.
Since uni, reading has been...everything! I read on breaks at work, on trains (oh, I am always on trains these days), over a cuppa, and of course right before bed for a good hour or so 'to tire my eyes out'... Even in hospital. Especially in hospital. The second time around, anyway. The first time I genuinely panicked and feared for my life because after my operation I couldn't read. As in, I would be sat there with a book in my lap, looking at the words and turning the pages, but nothing would go in. I couldn't get a grip on a plot, engage with characters, heck I couldn't even hold on to a single sentence as I swept my eyes over it. It was horrible. The books that I persevered with back then may need a re-read someday; I was not in a good place when I 'read' them so my reviews of them on Goodreads may have suffered because of that...

Getting to the point now, I promise... I have recently found the most wonderful friends in the UK YA community on Twitter. I have been wowed by so many of my fellow bookish bloggers – they are all so sweet, so friendly and so talented, all of them! They really care about each other, and get such joy from reading and discussing their reads! I am honoured to be in contact with these gorgeous people, and so grateful that they have welcomed me into their awesome community. I get so excited for events – the most recent of which was YA Shot in Uxbridge, arranged by the amazing Alexia Casale, which was oh so magical – and I am glued to my phone for #ukyachat almost every Friday at 8pm.
A lot of these guys work in the book world – be that writing, publishing, editing, agent-ing – and I am beyond envious as that's a dream career for me, for sure. I'd love to work at a publishing house with a side gig as an author... Someday, maybe!
Also (yes, definitely getting to the point now) the majority of them interview authors and review books on their blogs, or vlogs (BookTubers are so rad), which has totally inspired me to get back to reviewing my reads.
Which brings me back to my original aim for this blog post – which fast became a gushing love story between me and the UK YA community, sorry not sorry – I will be warming up my reviewing muscles with some short 'n' sweet recent read recommendations... Ready? Here we go!

Solitaire, by Alice Oseman.

This was the book that hauled me out of my reading slump. I was somewhere deep in a murky emotional hangover after polishing off all of the 'New Day New Normal' tour books (The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill, Another Day by David Levithan – see this post for some more gushing on those beauts), and because of this I didn't have high hopes for how many books I'd need over the course of one weekend away. I had just two in my backpack, but then one three-hour train journey later... Solitaire was well and truly devoured.
I've always liked/been awed by Alice Oseman – she's my age, she has the most brilliant mind and she's published before her degree is over. Also her fan art is rather gorgeous. And it says 'professional emo' in her Twitter bio. I feel like she and I could be the best of pals.
Solitaire is the story of Tori Spring, a blogger doing her A Levels and in the 'after' phase of some family drama. She is finding herself, and definitely not getting feelings for a certain quirky guy.
The story was leisurely to start with – there was a fair amount of showing, not telling, which is always good – but the middle to the end was a real race. Actually, that's how I'd describe the book; the storytelling. Real.
I cannot wait for Alice's next release, Radio Silence, in 2016!

As You Wish, by Cary Elwes.

Okay, I'm a major fangirl when it comes to The Princess Bride. It's a pathetic understatement merely saying it's my favourite film. I'm frankly shocked that I've made it to 22 without getting 'as you wish' or 'inconceivable' tattooed somewhere.
For months I was eyeing up this book in Forbidden Planet – all signed copies, so therefore priceless, but somehow going for £5 less than anywhere else! I was torn, having a TBR pile three stories high and so on a self-inflicted book-buying ban, and yet yearning for this gorgeous account of the making of this perfect film written by the one and only Westley... It's a first-person account but includes cute and enlightening add-ins and comments from his co-stars, the writer and director. It also includes photos taken on set and at the recent twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion, which made me so warm and fuzzy.
This has been the most delightful read between reads – a trusty hardback that I can keep on side for when I'm between novels or just in need of a break from one story. I don't think I'd actually commit to it the same way I would a weighty fiction – and that's because I am enjoying it so much I'm only allowing myself small doses so it won't be over too soon!

Beautiful Broken Things, by Sara Barnard.

I got so so lucky here, guys. Once again I must thank Twitter – and even pat myself on the back for my decision to start actually putting myself out there and replying to people I admire now and again. It's such a simple thing, makes total sense because it's one of the best things about social media, but my gosh it took me ages to finally tweet @ some of my favourite authors, journalists, TV types, bloggers and vloggers. So many good things have come of being more chatty and at times scarily forceful friendly on Twitter, and a proof copy of Sara Barnard's debut novel (which she presented to me over a cocktail on a school night in London so it was basically my dream scenario, people) is one of the best of these things. 
Beautiful Broken Things is the story of long-term besties Caddy and Rosie, and what happens when the beautiful, exciting, reckless yet damaged Suzanne comes crashing into their lives. 
First of all, I loved that this story took place in Brighton. I'm a Sussex girl and Brighton is my sacred place. I also loved each character – each sixteen year-old girl, their differing personalities and in one case colourful and troubled past – they were written in such a way that they came across so strongly and I became so invested and attached to them all. I could identify with each of them, for one reason or another.
Oh, and I adored the fact that this was the tale of friendships, with no romantic subplots – only the occasional mention of a boy and a wee bit of kissing. Brilliant! I really feel like I've got a glimpse of something big, here. Just you wait, readers. 
I am so delighted with my proof copy, however I will be needing to purchase the stunning blue and gold hardback when it's released February 11th 2016. Because...pretty.

Okay, that's three recommendations done! That was nowhere near as frightening as I'd anticipated, and actually got me so excited and tap-happy on my keyboard, that after publishing this I will be steaming ahead with the writing of my NaNoWriMo project (expect a post about this soon!)... 
So hopefully I'll be confidently posting reviews more frequently from now on! Hold me to this, please. I'm looking at you (pleadingly), my UK YA friends! 

Also, following my mention of reading physical books making a comeback earlier on in this post somewhere amongst the nostalgia and gushing... I spoke to BBC World (wow, that sounds so uppity) at the Young Adult Literature Weekender in the Southbank Centre a few weeks ago about just that - books vs e-books, and why actual books will always win.
(I'll now add the disclaimer that I spoke to the camera for a good ten minutes and in the end they only used a few seconds) (See also: my fantastical friend Louise Jones talking more eloquently than me, and not Ryan Hutchings as he clearly didn't make the cut, your loss BBC!) 

(You would not believe how hard it was to get a screenshot in those few seconds, never mind a half-decent face-wise screenshot...)

Just FYI...
Twitter: @GracieActually (if you enjoy manic chattering)
Instagram: @gracieactually (if you like books, cats and coffees). 

[Full list of favourite book blogs and bloggers COMING SOON!]
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