Saturday, 24 June 2017

Summer TBR [2017]

After several traumatic months of constant revision, and serious deprivation of fresh air, I'm back (again accidentally depriving myself of fresh air by being inside writing this) and am free to read all the books! Slaying the dragons as I had promised in my hiatus, was brutal, and at times incredibly unfair, but I made it through and hope to get to my desired castle come results day. For now, I'm one week into summer and am seriously struggling to adjust to the amount of free time currently within my grasp. So what better than to spend that time reading? I haven't read anything that wasn't for A Levels and college since early March, so many books have accumulated in the since then. Without further ado, here is my Summer 2017 TBR.

Girlhood by Cat Clarke
If you didn't know already, Cat Clarke is one of my favourite authors. Every time a new book of hers is published, I binge read them in a day or two. They're dark, often twisted, and are painfully accurate depictions of real life issues as well as consistently keeping me on the edge of my seat. With Girlhood, I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the book a couple of months before publication. Sadly, I hadn't had time to read this, so it has been perched on my TBR stack, waiting to be picked up for a while now; guarenteed to be my first read of the summer. [REVIEW]

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn is a book that I have spent maybe two years waiting for it to be released in the UK. It did the booktube rounds back in 2015, to rave reviews, and I have desperately wanted it since. Finally, this was published here by Hodder in April, but much to my disappointment, this was really bad. Anyway... moving on!

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
This is a book I've been searching for in my specific edition for months. I finally found it in a charity shop in a rare break from revision and it is STUNNING. Admittedly I've never read any of Thomas' fiction, but my eyes have poured themselves over her non-fiction book on writing: Monkeys with Typewriters. The End of Mr Y  is anything like her non-fiction writing, then I reckon I'm going to love this book.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
As I said in my favourite books of 2016 post, after Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Becky Chambers' first book - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - was my favourite book of the year. As someone who has never been into sci-fi, this revolutionised my opinions on the genre entirely. Having met Chambers at a signing just after reading TLWtaSAP, I also got A Closed and Common Orbit, the somewhat sequel, signed at the time, and have been saving it until the summer. I cannot wait to read this.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I've tried reading this 600 page book twice before, but the right moment has never quite come. When I first wrote about how I was outgrowing YA, this book was recommended to me countless times. And from what I've read, The Secret History is intense and enthralling, but I just didn't have the time to invest into such a long book at the times I picked this up before now. Now, I have many, many weeks ahead of me, and what better way to spend that time then reading?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give rightfully exploded on the internet and the NYT Bestsellers List when it was first published earlier this year, and for very good reason. From the onset, this is going to be a contemporary read like no other, and the kind of read that should've existed before now. But alas, it's finally here and feels like it should be mandatory reading for anyone. In April I was lucky enough to transcribe and blog Angie Thomas' event at a local Waterstones for their teen department, and having spent the entire event swinging between laughing, having epiphanies, and crying, I walked away with a sheer thirst for this book. 

Quiet by Susan Cain
Not much to say on this, really. Fun fact #1: I'm an INFJ and am hugely introverted. Quietness is my comfort zone, although many people can be critical of that. Cain's book is meant to highlight the importance of having introverts in the world, and as a result, this just feels like a book I definitely need to read before starting University in September.

Letters From My Father by Barack Obama
Because we all miss and love Obama...

Naturally, there's also books that in the many long long months of revision that I have added to my TBR but haven't got around to buying. These include: The Crucible by Arthur Miller - because I loved Death of a Salesman at A2, A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (you have no idea how long I have been waiting to read the final installment in this trilogy), This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab, The Power by Naomi Alderman.

I should probably take the opportunity to note here that these aren't all my unread books. In mid September I'll be moving to University, and whilst my degree will be very book heavy (English Literature student, here), I'd like to take a few books with me for recreational reading, if I get the time - if not, then that's also perfectly okay! This reading list may be subject to change over the course of the summer and will alter once I found out where I'll be doing by degree, because following Results Day you can guarentee I'll be adding books from my reading lists to this pile. Given that I don't - at this point in time - know if I'll be going to be at my first or second choice university, I intend to (if I can) try and cross-reference the reading lists of both universities in order to read anything that comes up on both. 

I'm never very good at sticking to TBRs, as evident by the fact that within a week of summer beginning, I've borrowed seven books I didn't plan on reading from the library. Although it may work for others, I don't believe in conforming myself to a tight TBR unless it's for academic purposes, so whether I'll stick to this or not is questionnable, but eitherway, if there's books left over then I'll just take them to University.

What's on your summer TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, 19 June 2017

REVIEW: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

GirlhoodHarper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can't escape the guilt oYA f her twin sister's Jenna's death, and her own part in it - and she knows noone else will ever really understand. But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels...loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died. Then Kirsty's behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper's? And why is she so obsessed with Harper's lost sister? Soon, Harper's closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.

Well then...

If you've been here a while, then you'll know very well that I'm a sucker for any Cat Clarke book. After finishing the Harry Potter series, her books (or at least those which had been published at the time) were a gateway for me into YA fiction. Her books, all of them, are page-turners that can easily be flown through in a couple of days. Clarke keeps you in her grip from start to finish, and never ceases to let you go, even for days after when your reeling from what just occured in 300 pages. Girlhood was no exception to this. This differed from Clarke's former books in many respects - it just had a different tone - but nevertheless, from page one, I knew I was once again being immersed in the words of one of my favourite authors.

The setup for Girlhood will appeal to any reader from the onset: Scottish boarding school surrounded by beautiful landscapes (but as a result very isolated from urbanisation), and a close-knit friendship group where whilst there's beauty on the surface, there are transparent splinterings underneath the surface. Logistically, the actual setting not only appeals to me as Hogwarts alumni and a lover of boarding-school books when I was younger, but it means that the tenseness of these friends can unfold in a manner which is naturalistic, and in the midst of the chaos that unfolds within these pages, creates a faultless eerie atmosphere for the tenser scenes. 

In many respects Girlhood is the perfect YA book. Clarke's books are known for discussing issues that need to be spoken about, or issues that occur in society that we need to be more aware of, such as teenage pregnancy, kidnapping, substance abuse - a more young adult version of Jacqueline Wilson's books if you will, but with an added sprinkle of thriller and mystery. But to top off this excellent formula, this book is incredibly diverse for a boarding school. Girlhood has the diversity we need to see in every YA book. Clarke seemlessly yet with such power pushes the undercurrents of class divides, ethnic diversity, and LGBTQ representation. It was so refreshing to see a lesbian and bisexual pair of roomates who don't end up together, and actively rebel against the assumptions surrounding them that they will. Girlhood criticises societal generic assumptions about LGBTQ+ peoples in a manner that we need to see everywhere, not just in the occasional book. Personally, Clarke's seventh book should be - regardless of genre - the book that every other YA should aspire to be in terms of diversity.

Whilst I did love many aspects of this book, there were problems, some of which may just be personal to me. Having read every one of the author's books, I think I've reached the point where I see the twists coming and usually predict them correctly. Where the plot twists are coming, they should shock me, but instead have little to no effect. This is not a criticism of Clarke's books, because I have devoured and adored each and every one of them, and it isn't something that would be picked up on by the casual reader. I'll of course, continue to purchase and support this amazing author, but Girlhood wasn't the same emotional rollercoaster (that really it should be) as Torn, Entangled and Undone were, just because I've become used to the formula that occurs. 

Overall, the book had an exciting, fast-moving plot, but I feel like the ending was too abrupt for me to be satisfied. Given all the buildup that had been occuring throughout the novel and the disturbing acts that had occured, I was disappointed to see such a sudden reconcilliation after what had happened. The ending was the sole part of Girlhood that felt like a rush to the finish line, rather than wrapping the book up properly and a little more realistically - because I don't think anyone would be that placid in accepting what just unfolded in the plot. Furthermore, because of the way this took place, some seeds of information felt like they were just seeds, rather than points that really could have done with flourishing. As an Anxiety sufferer, I was frustrated by how Ama's Anxiety was briefly mentioned as causing her trouble, but never given any more explanation than that. Instead where something needed to be depicted, it was concealed in order to continue to follow a narrator who seemed to be too ignorant to pick up on what was clearly going on from the start. 

Girlhood is yet another whirlwind of a book from Cat Clarke, who at this point belongs with the writing gods in my eyes. Although I knew what was coming, and saw through every hurdle in the plot, the novel still kept me intrigued from start to finish, and left me with an emptiness of knowing I don't have another new Clarke novel to immerse myself in. It undeniably has its issues, but the portrayals of grief, wealth, sexuality, and the complexities of friendships were tremendous. I like every other reader, wait on baited breath to see what Clarke comes up with next...

Thank you so much to Nina for sending me Girlhood on behalf of Quercus for review. Girlhood was released on 4th May 2017, so go and grab your copies!

Friday, 26 May 2017

You Know us Because of Pain: Thoughts on Recent Events in Manchester, My Home

You may not have heard of us until Tuesday morning. 
If you had, then it may have been because of a certain football team or two, or the longest running soap, or because we have "interestingly Northern" accents. We are known for all those things...
But now we're also known for a terrorist attack; the most bloody since 7/7. 

I first found out about an explosion at Manchester Arena on Monday night. I was staying at my grandparents, and went in to say goodnight to my grandma, who told me uncertainly that they'd just announced on the radio that there had been an explosion. That's all it was at the time. An explosion. I went to sleep, hoping in the cruellest irony that maybe it had just been a gas explosion, and not what I knew at the back of my mind it must have been.

By Tuesday 6am, it was everywhere, and 19 people were dead (which continued to go up), and what I thought would be the case was becoming a reality. As an anxiety sufferer, I have a brain that works on fear. Two years ago when threat levels started getting higher, I was a mess; I got so paranoid that I struggled to get on public transport, but things calmed again here in the UK at least. 2 months ago, I was in London, not too far away from where the Westminster attack happened, and as I headed home on a train to Manchester late that night, everyone looked shaken and tired, comforted by the words of a food-cabin staffer, who walked up and down the train, asking us about our days. That day I felt glad and safe to be back in Manchester. The reality is that you always hope something like this will never happen, even if there's a probability that it will. 

Now it has, and everything feels different. 

Manchester is the place in which I have always lived; all 18 years, 5 months and 2 days of my life. I don't like it, and have reached the point where I need to explore somewhere else, but I'll never deny that I'm from here. I am a tree and this is where my roots lie; but my leaves are ready to scatter. At least once a week, I am walking the roads of the city centre; it is where I've had some of my happiest moments, and where I've met some of my best friends. I have spent so many nights in Manchester Arena; from Disney on Ice with Brownies and Strictly Come Dancing Live with my mum as a 6 year old, to McFly concerts with my aunt. It's loud and it's raucous and it is beautiful, but now it feels tainted. Everything feels tainted. I will return to the Arena when Imagine Dragons do their world tour in the coming year, but it will feel different. Whilst it's the site of so many wonderful memories, it's simultaneously the site of a massacre.

The events that have transpired in the past 72 hours have been some of the most harrowing I've ever witnessed. I have had 80+ messages on Facebook, and phone calls from international relatives checking my brother and I weren't there. I've sat sickened to my stomach watching the news unfold and distracted from revision with the fear that another missing person may be one of the dead. I've watched all of this, knowing that this all went on 4 miles away, 20 minutes on the train.

When you see your city making international headlines, and the word Manchester being printed in the New York Times, and world leaders (even Putin) condemning what has happened, that is when it hits you the hardest. Right now I'm dealing with intense displacement, as something like this was always coming and yet it feels incredibly surreal. A day before, I was walking the streets after book club, and the last thing on my mind was that there'd be a terrorist attack the next day. They hit us and they hit us hard. As I said before, everything feels tainted, and what felt like home doesn't anymore. For me, this city is a house, but it's no longer a home. I don't feel comfortable, and I feel uneasy. Nobody should have to feel like that in their home, nobody should have to feel worried that by stepping on public transport or going for a meal something horrific may happen, but that's what a lot of us are thinking right now.

Four months from now, I am moving to university. Wherever I end up, it'll be a fair distance from Manchester; the disconnect that was meant to come then has come a little earlier than planned, and I have the urge to escape. We are fighting against what happened, but that doesn't mean we are doing it comfortbaly.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, the news is rife with locals, leaders, and reporters who are talking about "unity." ANd it's true, we have so much unity in Manchester right now, and we are not cowering in fear against these heinous acts. But at the same time, I think there is a great flaw in the fact that aside from the moments of an incident, we don't talk about fear. I will rebel and I will go into the city tomorrow and lay flowers, but I am also scared, because I no longer feel safe in the place Mancunians should feel safest. We need to make it acceptable to be scared, and we need to say that it is okay to be scared - it's natural. And so this is me admitting it. I will not cower, but I have fear, because as I said, my home will always be my home, but it will also never feel quite right again. 

A home can be a house, but a house is not always a home. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017


Yep, it's me, going on another break. Don't worry I'll be back, just not before I've fended of the fierce dragons* that are my A Level exams. The past eight months have been consumed by angry merepeople, sleeping potions inhaled at the wrong times, and many a tear which I will not be pouring back out into my Pensieve. So I've packed my bag, polished my sword, and am [definitely not] ready to face the fires of destruction. However, I'm wielding my Gryffindor a little more than usual, and am hoping that coupled with my Ravenclaw sorting can pull me through what are going to be a traumatic final couple of months of A Levels. Hopefully, at the end of this, the tears, intense anxiety, and serious ennui, only making me work harder will be sending me on the way to my next desired adventure.  This is a temporary farewell, until the sun of mid-June comes around and I shall be somewhat free. Until then, Mischief Managed.

*No dragons were harmed in the making of this hiatus post. I actually adore dragons and would never willingly harm them... unless they were attacking my beloved fictional characters. Obvvviously. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Event Recap: Angie Thomas at Waterstones Deansgate

I made sure to arrive early for the event, but despite that, the events room of Waterstones Deansgate was packed on the evening of Monday 11th April. It was shock - I don't think I've ever seen the room so full before, but that was to be expected given the nature of the book up for discussion. Angie Thomas' debut novel The Hate U Give (on the cover the formatting spells out THUG) is a fictional depiction of the black shootings at the hands of police in America. It is a topic that is so widely reported, and continuously shocking that it's hardly surprising how well the book has done since it was published in the United States less than two months ago. Now, The Hate U Give is being published in the UK, and Angie Thomas had flown over to promote the book. 

Aside from the current and recent shootings in the US that have made headlines, Thomas' story was heavily inspired by her background in Mississippi. In America, Mississipi has a bad reputation. "Mississippi is the parent you love, but can't get away from." Her background was known for all the wrong reasons. Thomas feels a disconnect between from what is seen as 'common black trauma' and her own experiences. She was partially inspired by a conversation she had with a family member who was a policemen about how behave around policemen as a POC. The fact that someone who was a policeman had to discuss the potential threat of their colleagues behaviour with her was jarring. For Angie Thomas, the conversation that's probably had with black children in the UK in comparison to that of the US is very different. In the US you're taught that a small misstep could end your life; if you move your hand out of your pocket, you're assumed to have a gun. To her - and to everyone - that is a horrifying reality. 

The Hate U Give began as a short story written in Thomas' senior year of university, as triggered by the murder of Oscar Grant back in 2009. The divide between her black neighbourhood in Mississippi and her private "very white" college in reactions to the shooting weren't missed by the author, who noticed that some said Grant deserved it, despite the fact that he was an unarmed young man. She felt that the stories she wanted to write wouldn't be listened to, but instead was encouraged by a professor to share the story, which at the time was told from several different perspectives and won awards as her senior project. It was Thomas' aim to give a voice to those who had been silenced, and in the praise that has been accredited to The Hate U Give, she has done exactly that.

Following the murder of Tamir Rice in 2014, she felt pushed to make what had been the university-praised short story into a full-length novel. The aim was to condense systematic racism into a 300-page book, which took a while, but was successfully achieved. Condensing such an issue is hard, but Thomas' aim here was to be quick with the information whilst still explaining the matter in enough depth. For Thomas, young adult fiction was always the category she wanted to place the novel in, as she can never see herself writing for adults. Another reason for making the book YA was down to the fact that the victims of these shootings have and are often young people, and young people are effected the most by them - they see themselves in the victims. With the rise of social media, young people are activists and are politically aware, including in areas such as the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. We wouldn't know about half the stuff we know about if it weren't for social media. Encouraged by people using social media to get their voices heard because otherwise they're silenced. This cannot be the only way though, hence writing a book about otherwise silenced voices. As Thomas rightly put it, YA books can open people's eyes in ways that others really can't. 

Given how many and varied the responses are to movements such as Black Lives Matter, Angie Thomas was worried about how the book would be receive. Some people respond to the idea of Black Lives Matter by saying that 'white lives matter,' but that isn't where the problem lies. As Thomas remarks, "if house is burning we don't focus on the one that's fine - we look at the problem not the peaceful." Despite her concerns, a negative response is the polar opposite of what The Hate U Give has received. It's amazing reception, both on the internet and within other spheres meant that the novel debuted at No.1 on the New York Times' Bestseller List back in February. On top of this, the film rights have been acquired with some big-name actors potentially attached to the upcoming adaptation, which filming should commence on this summer. 

Thomas is proud of what The Hate U Give has achieved thus far, and how far its message has spread, but she is quick to point out that she doesn't want to be famous, "I want to get my groceries done without being recognised," but at the same time, she wanted to share her voice. Things are soaring for Thomas, but despite the NYT, film rights, and working on second novel, there's something better than all of that: being in position where black teenagers come up to her and thank her for the book - for her, that is better than anything. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Event Recap: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London's Forbidden Forest Preview.

It's no secret that I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. I live it, I breathe it, I even have a job writing about the wizarding world! Since the first time I entered the Great Hall five years ago, I've considered Warner Bros Studio Tour London to be my favourite place anywhere. I'm yet to cover plenty of the globe, but there's something about walking within the walls of the studios, surrounded by Potter fans and the sets where everything was filmed that has always felt incredibly home-like for me. It had been three years since my third trip to the studios and I didn't think it'd be another while until my fourth... until Amber, queen of the blogosphere and my great friend, messaged me asking if I wanted to be her +1 to the preview event for the Forbidden Forest expansion. (Because who else could you possibly invite to something Harry Potter themed?!) Obvvviously I said yes, and a couple of weeks later, we were on a train from Euston to Watford, heading back to the mothership. 

Three times admittedly in the past had been a lot, especially when at the time it looked like nothing would be changing, but you can never have enough Potter and so to me, visiting in three consecutive summers felt like going home after a rough school year. But in the time between my third and fourth visits a lot had changed. Of course, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is now in the world and not just in development and the sequel is being filmed within Leavesden; and the studio had expanded to feature Platform 9 3/4 and entry into 4 Privet Drive. Although we were there specifically to attend the preview of the Forbidden Forest, I was just as excited about going and seeing things that were newer additions. 

This is probably why when, as Amber probably expected and was totally camera-ready for, I started crying as soon as I turned a corner and locked eyes with the Hogwarts Express. I first went to the real Kings Cross and Platform 9 3/4 back in November (again with Amber, following the Fantastic Beasts premiere), and adore it there. Warner Bros Studio Tour's reconstruction of the station however felt even more surreal - probably down to the fact that obviously the train is there, but just everything felt so pure and beautiful and naturally I had a minor breakdown. 

We also got the opportunity to go into Privet Drive, which was a massive shock given that it's meant to be closed to the public right now. To go in there and know that those rooms were where so many crucial scenes, especially in the earlier films happened, and DHP1, was to say it in a cliche - magical. 

Okay, onto the Forbidden Forest, because that is the reason we got to go. Out of every set that you will stumble across whilst at Warner Bros Studio Tour, the Forbidden Forest is by far the most immersive one. Every set is stunning, but the Forbidden Forest is the only one where it is very hard to notice the construction work (unless you actively go looking for it,) and so the set feels like you truly are walking among the trees of the Forest. Additionally, this is probably the most interactive set as well: there are places where you can reach over the bars and touch the trees, and spots along the way where visitors have the opportunity to control the lighting and weather (yes, there's wind and storms), not to forget the spiders. Marketing promotes this as being the home of trees, Aragog, and Buckbeak, but there is so much more! I should probably keep the secrets, but one thing I will say is this: you will never look at a Patronus in the same way again. 

It's worth mentioning for anyone planning a visit that this isn't the best place for photo opportunities, which is great for adding to the dark, intense atmosphere of a dangerous forest. And don't worry if you're scared of spiders, there's a spider-free alternative route, which is an excellent afterthought to the set. Whether you love or hate spiders, like or dislike the Forbidden Forest within the Harry Potter films, this wonderful little addition to Warner Bros. Studio Tour is something you must see!

The day was amazing, but it was however tainted by the Westminster Terror Attack, which occurred whilst we were still in central London (although we didn't realise this until we arrived at the Studio Tour.) Regardless of how jarring those few hours were, as Amber said in her event recap, it didn't have its desired effect, and a few days later we were back at Parliament Square, protesting against Brexit (more on that soon.) 

Thank you so much to Amber for inviting me as her plus one, and to Warner Bros. for you know... inviting Amber so she could invite me. If you want more about the day, and my idiocy, then take a peek at Amber's vlog of the day!