Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of ThunderSteffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I always have been, and always will be, a person who judges a book by its cover. A cover is the pivotal element of a book's design that will either make or break whether I pick it up, and most of the books I read I discover on the grounds of an interesting cover or title. Whilst the title is so wonderfully symbolic of the events in the novel, the candyfloss-like pink exterior of A Quiet Kind of Thunder immediately gave me the wrong impression of a sickening level of fluffiness. I like fluff in fiction just as much as the next person, but personally I believe there is a fine line that can be crossed where sweet becomes a sugar overload and thus sickeningly sour. From the cover, that's how I assumed A Quiet Kind of Thunder would be. But, like with Anna and the French Kiss, I was wrong, and this was beautiful.

I was very sceptical going into A Quiet Kind of Thunder that it would be just another YA romance where fluff and cheesy lines superseed any pressing themes and the undercurrent motifs. So you can imagine my surprise when within a few pages, I knew that this would be far different to what I had predicted. Of course, the romance was what pulled the plot forward, but there were so many other elements at stake - such as toxic relationships, prospects of higher education, and feeling like an outsider - that had equal dominance. 

Admittedly, the novel had far too many moments in it that rung eerily true of my own past experiences with Anxiety, and yet was highly educative in areas that I hadn't really considered before, such as selective mutism. A Quiet Kind of Thunder perfectly hits what it's like to be shy and also to be scared to speak among people you're not familiar with, and it was weirdly comforting to see this from a perspective that was outside of my own head.

(Also, I need to just add that I am too much like Steffi, and this goes beyond the shyness and anxiety. Maybe this after all, was why I enjoyed this story as much as I did, amongst countless other factors. We want to go to the same University, which to be honest, is the only reason I decided read this book, because I knew Bangor University was mentioned in it. At the time of reading, I had, like Steffi, just booked to go on holiday to Edinburgh. The coincidences just kept on coming...)

For a while I was worried that this was going to go down the path of "your head is a mess, but don't worry, love will solve everything!" but A Quiet Kind of Thunder actively went against this. It shows and promotes that love won't solve a mental illness; it can be an added bonus on the side, but love isn't the answer - and I appreciate the distancing from traditional YA tropes there. Where so many young adult books fall into this trope, A Quiet Kind of Thunder responds with lightning, showing how love can be chaotic, and no matter how much it can ease mental and physical health for some, ultimately a relationship will never save everything and resolve every issue. 

Despite the lacking of much elegance in prose, the simplicity of the language used to a degree is so vital in a world where mental health is more often than not romanticised for the sake of sales. As an upcoming English Literature student, I personally prefer the use of metaphors, symbolism, and allegories to explain mental illness, as I adore deconstructing what the author has said in order to understand what lies beneath. However, in A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Barnard's leaning towards simplicity is certainly valued in her blunt depicition of mental illness. In this novel, the basic prose was needed in order to get the message across in its most basic terms, but also to highlight pointedly the reality of Steffi's situation. Her selective mutism is what it is. Depicting the struggle that anxiety imposes on its sufferers is so crucial to impressionable audiences, and those who just want to know more about a different side to mental illness.

Mental illness is becoming a common theme in young adult fiction. It runs in the veins of the pages, each word bearing the soul of a beating heart that needs to be heard and felt. Although whilst that rings true, as readers we rarely encounter selective mutism within fiction. How Barnard handled this issue was remarkable, right down to the formatting of the book to show texts and the communications between Steffi and Rhys. Through the formatting and layout, Barnard layers the plausibility of tension between the couple, especially in matters of isolation even when together. The issues that were raised through their communication and as debates within A Quiet Kind of Thunder brought to light so many matters that aren't discussed enough within society, with particular regards to deafness and selective mutisim. As a reader who read endless amounts of young adult fiction in their early teenage years and yet never once came across a novel like this, what Sara Barnard has created in A Quiet Kind of Thunder is much appreciated. 

This is a rare book that from my perspective as an analytical reader, was largely flawless. Every character, major or minor, was detailed to the bone and had an intricate personality. Furthermore, the themes that were raised surrounding the heart of the novel about mental and physical illness, such as oppressive relationships and decisions about further education, were handled with intricate care and precision, making this a book that any young adult, regardless of gender, age, or background, should read.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Cursed Child: One Year On.

One year ago, the whole dynamic of Harry Potter - the place where I find so much literary and emotional comfort - changed drastically for me. For a lot of people, this hasn't been the case; but when I cracked open my copy of the rehearsal edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, I was drowning in a sea of excitment and a tidal wave of fear for what would happen next. While I disagree with this being the "eighth story" as was so poorly marketed, Cursed Child was to me the next step in the story. I was fully satisfied with the original series, and had resigned myself to fanfiction, yet at the same time I always wanted more from this world from J.K. Rowling's head. Cursed Child, being said next step left me in a state of immense uncertainty as I waited for publication. Then, when I finally got my copy at a midnight release party on 31st July, I delved in and haven't looked back since. 

So many people I know, both casually and through work loathe Cursed Child, and I can understand why that would be the case: It bends previous canon in countless ways, there's obliteration of characters that we should have seen e.g., Hugo Granger-Weasley, Teddy Lupin, even Neville, and there's a part of the plot that whether or not you have an alternative theory that's more plausible to back it up, is ridiculously stupid. But to me, someone who in a lot of respects needed to hear what was in Cursed Child, I couldn't have been more elated at the final product. Like anyone, I have my qualms (specifically the Hugo issue), but I will always defend this scriptbook/play with every fibre of my being.

There were two occasions in which I was spoiled on Cursed Child's plot, but predominantly on the major plot twist that turns everything pear-shaped, via a comment on Pottermore's Instagram account. I didn't want to believe what I read was true, because what was said was unreasonable beyond measure, but a part of me did, and I had great concerns that it would ruin my read. Cursed Child was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to have the same experience as every other Harry Potter fan from the 2000s when new books were released, and it was tainted 3 days into the play being in previews. Nevertheless, I am so thankful in hindsight that that wasn't a hindrance to my enjoyment, and although I disagree with the plot point that is established there, everything else that unfolded in the play made up for that rather large hiccup.

It's very strange to think that a year ago (at the time of writing this), I was still shielding myself from everything Potter-related on the Internet, desperate to not be hit by anymore spoilers than I already had by the time of mid-July. Now I have all the answers, most of which were just what I needed, and though I'll always always want more Potter, as it currently stands I'm fairly content. In the years between all the books and films being within easy reach, I was still constantly wanting more - especially about the 19 years in between Flaw in the Plan and Nineteen Years Later. Naturally, the route here was into fan fiction, which I inhaled and then wrote myself too. Fan fiction continues to provide wholly valid possibilties for what happened in those years even if they are fan-written. Whilst I continue to return to fan fiction on a daily basis, I don't feel as much of a need now for it to fill the void that was there for so many years, because for me at least, Cursed Child did that. Of course there are still major, major gaps in the story and I wonder if we'll ever know what happened in those first few years after the Battle of Hogwarts down to the bone, but for now, I'm fairly content with what we have been provided with.

Not everybody likes Cursed Child, and I understand why one wouldn't. The play relies massively on the events of Goblet of Fire rather than carving a wholly new tale. Goblet of Fire is to me the second worst book in the series, but Cursed Child made me appreciate it more. Appreciation seemed to be a running theme that came out of the eighth story for me, and whilst people do loathe Cursed Child, I took so much away from it. There are characters now that I appreciate more than ever. Take Draco Malfoy, for example: I hated him with an intense rage before reading Cursed Child, but now, knowing his bleak future and other sides to his character, I feel so much pain for him, to the point where I've now written several Drastoria fanfics that I could never have done before. 

Furthermore, Cursed Child made me finally understand and respect the relationship between Harry and Ginny. A keen Romione shipper, and having grown up on the films then the books, Harry and Ginny's relationship felt fitting, but never sat right in my eyes. The chemistry that Ron and Hermione have, or Arthur and Molly, or Remus and Tonks or Sirius (Wolfstar all the way) had wasn't apparent... until now. The way Jack Thorne wrote the relationship between Harry and Ginny, presumably under the direction of J.K. Rowling herself made me realise why they are so perfect for each other in a way that I'd never noticed before. It was like the invisibility cloak had been torn away and suddenly all made sense. Now I'd say that I'm a proud shipper; it will never be to the extent of my dear Romione, but I value the bond that they have and am content to read fanficton about it. (If you hadn't gathered already, I read a lot of fanfiction: for the best Hinny, check out My Dear Professor McGonagall.)

But lastly, Cursed Child provided me with a character I could relate to in a way that I'd not even found with Hermione Granger - my fictional doppleganger. Scorpius Malfoy: nerdy, awkward, clumsy, and anxious. When I read Scorpius' character, I see everything that I was as a young student entering high school. It's painful to read at times, but the connection I have with him is comforting. Malfoy felt like the first bold, pure depiction of someone with severe anxiety - which I have dealt with for years, and to have that in words, in the Potter universe, and watch that character not conquere it, but learn to manage it, was so important to me, and continues to be so. I'd like to say that I'm a Hermione Granger: exceptionally high-strung, bushy hair, studious, and rigorous in academic practice. But I also see so much of myself in Scorpius, who in a way is so similar to Hermione. I know others who have felt the same, but Scorpius was everything I never expected and yet needed him to be, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. 

You may not like it. You may loathe it. And that's okay. But for some of us Cursed Child means more than words can purely explain, and I'm so pleased to have had a year of these characters reunited with us once again, for is it ever truly over?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

10 Harry Potter Spells I Wish I Could Perform

We're now almost a year on from the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, and for me at least, it was quite the game-changer. Of course, my love for Harry Potter is still clearly going strong, but if anything, Cursed Child made it even more intense than it was before. Potter-wise, a lot has evolved and changed for me in the past year. One year ago, I was frantically theorising what could possibly happen in the play/scriptbook, and now I work for MuggleNet, and theorising is a large part of my job as a creative editorialist. Recently I've been seeing a lot of these kind of listicles going around the blogosphere, and of course, one fellow member of staff did this one recently, and it got me thinking about what spells I personally would want to be able to cast more than any other. Obviously, I'd want to be able to do everything possible, but for the sake of time, here are my top ten favourites...

1. Accio - I can't remember a time when I've known where my keys are for more than a week. I am forever loosing them. This would be perfect for those occasions. And also just for the simple things - being able to summon my textbooks and laptop when I'm heading to a lesson, or just for gathering belongings when I'm in a hurry.

2. Undetectable Extension Charm - I have a massive storage problem. This would have also come in incredibly handy on countless occasions such as packing for holidays or sleepovers with my friends.


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4. Stupefy - I think we all know a few people who we've wanted to cast a stupefying curse on...

5. Apparition charm - The amount of money I could save if I had the power to apparate... Obviously, the thought of getting splinched is horrifying, but so long as there's always some Dittany in my bag, I'll be fine. 

6. Reparo - Clumsiness comes naturally to me, in particular tripping over things and causing breakages. This is a spell that if I could bring magic into this mundane muggle world, would be right up my arsenal.

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7. Muffliato - for private conversations that one doesn't wish to be overheard, or simply for those moments when I want to listen to music and my favourite podcasts without fear of disturbing my neighbours.

8. Bedazzling Hex - According to the original books, this gives the illusion of a chameleon-like effect on objects and people, which personally I'd find interesting for times when I don't have the freedom to clean up clutter, or when I want to be a fly-on-the-wall without owning an Invisibility Cloak. Also, I imagine this would give an impression similar to that of the Demiguise - my favourite creature from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

9. Bluebell Flames Charm - Hermione uses these occasionally throughout the series, first in Philosopher's Stone and then repeatedly whilst the trio are camping in order to have waterproof flames that they can carry around. I highly doubt that I'd ever really need this unless, say, walking in the rain at night, but the notion of it and being able to create these flames is something that if I was a witch I'd want to conduct. 

10. Crinus Muto - Only ever used in the Harry Potter Lego Video Games, anything that was used in those was approved by J.K. Rowling and ergo is canon. This spell gives one the ability to change the colour and style of their hair with a wave of the wand, something that I, a person whom has wanted to be ginger for years would desperately love to give a try. 

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I think it's safe to say that we all have a spell or two that, if our Hogwarts letters arrived right now, we'd all love to perform. What would yours be?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

"Green e-yd Monster": Othello at Shakespeare's Globe

Thursday 20th April 2017 Matinee Performance.
Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 'Tis the green e-yd monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds upon." - Act 3 Scene 3

We'd heard from a fellow classmate that the production took some "modern risks, such as Katy Perry," beforehand. At the time, I wasn't too sure about how to respond to that, as my goal in going to see Othello at Shakespeare's Globe was to gain knowledge of my Shakespeare A Level text ahead of final exams in the manner it would have originally been performed. Nevertheless, this is a production that if it ever returned to the Globe, I'd be in the queue rushing to buy multiple tickets - that's how good it was.

I don't have the greatest track record with live theatre. Having attended a lot as a young child, as I entered high school that drifted into nothing, and before Othello, the last theatre production I'd seen was the tour of the West End production of The Lion King back in 2013. 

Like any theatrical production, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. And Othello is a play where the clues are in the staging. There is staging interally and externally of the play, and seeing it live was to me essential to understanding Iago's influence. Also, whilst Shakespeare was a master of the written and spoken word, there's a serious lack of stage directions within his plays. How a line is interpreted can differ from one reader to another, which again is why it needs to be seen not read. My opinions may change when I see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child next month, but in my eighteen years, I don't think I've ever witnessed something as hauntingly beautiful as the opening scene of Othello. From the second that candles lowered from the ceiling and were gradually extinguished to a lulling choral rendition of Video Games by Lara Del Ray, I knew that I would love this production. Such an opening - starting at the end of the play to the bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on a bloody bed - initially threw me off entirely,  and I was stunned by how McDougal chose to cut straight to the chase and start at the end in a cyclical structure. Nevertheless, it was a powerful decision. One of the beauties of Othello is that due to the audience's consistent alliance alongisde Iago, dramatic irony means we always know of the destruction that will inevitable come under Iago's tyranny. Here, claustrophobia stiffled into suffocation, and as an audience we were smothered with the painful awareness of what a brutal conclusion would transpire.

Admittedly the most fitting phrase to describe this production hails to the Guardian's review, calling this saga a "candlelit tragedy," and nothing could be more perfect. Several scenes, particularly following the pivotal turning point of  Act 3 Scene 3, were enacted with the characters moving across the stage with Elizabethan-style candlesticks, allowing the flames to dance and burn along with their own ignited rage. Once again, spending these 2.5 hours in the darkness only lit by chandeliers and small flames added to the claustrophobic atmosphere, but also strikingly symbolised Othello's final motives in killing Desdemona; a woman who is sees as simultaneously villainous and pure in his dubious line of "put out the light, then put out the light."

McDougal's interpretation of the play certainly blurred the lines of acceptability in Elizabethan times and modern losses of stigma in a questionable manner, effectively diluting some of the important motifs and themes of Othello. The two key cases of casting which impacted on these ideas was in how Emilia was portrayed by a black woman as well as Michael Cassio was now Michelle Cassio, and the relationship between Cassio and courtesean Bianca was LGBTQ+. These depictions kept the play current, and appropriately fitted our modern day, increasingly liberal society in a beautiful orchestration. However, they also detracted from the essential point of Othello. For example; how does it seem like a plausible motive for Iago to cause so much destruction on the grounds of Othello's race when he is married to a black woman? And how has a woman made it into such high realms of power in Venetian society, when as Brabantio remarks, women are seen as "maiden[s] never bold"? One can argue that Ellen McDougal's direction of Othello was far more feminist and diverse than the original play that Shakespeare wrote, but that simultaneously raises issues of detracting from some of the key themes of the play. These most notably include gender politics, double standards in men and women (particularly in the grounds of Cassio and Bianca). 

Overall, the company and cast behind this production brought Othello back to life like a reignited match to a candle - slow-burning and exceptionally dark (both literally and figuratively). Each and every performance perfectly aligned with the characters Shakespeare had so carefully crafted, but through modern elements added a harrowing glimpse at how the events which transpire in Elizabethan Venice and Cyprus do have the means of still occuring in a present day world where racism, sexism and homophobia still run deep in some veins of society. As I said before, I couldn't be more glad for academic as well as theatrical purposes, that I got to experience this play, not only through being in the room, but through being in a seat where occasionally characters were so close and even spoke to those in our row. If McDougal's production ever returns to the Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I'm sure I won't be the only avid Shakespeare lover who rushes to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Oh, the Places:: Oxford

19th November 2016: Merely the word "Oxford" triggers images of history, dusty old books that smell of intellect, and Harry Potter, to me. It had always been a place that I'd visit someday but not quite yet. I know quite a few people who had always discussed "Oxbridge" applications: my childhood best friend's life goal when we were 10 was to get into Oxford, and since then I've met a lot of people who have applied. But it was never for me. To me, the nature of those universities appears as toxic, with people living in bubbles that come with a slight culture shock upon graduating. It was an atmsophere that I'd never wanted to be a part of, and still didn't when I discovered Oxford Brookes University. 

The degree I intend to commence in September isn't done in every University, and I'm very picky when it also comes to course content and location. On the page, this University had the course, it had the location, but in reality coming away from an open day, it was possibly the most poorly co-ordinated event I had ever seen, and my mum and I came away feeling massively disheartened. It was my fifth choice on UCAS, but as soon as the offer came in I declined it. 

Where we'd intended to spend 5 hours at the open day, we got in 90 minutes. Suddenly left with hours ahead of us before our train (that's what you get for booking advanced tickets), we decided to head into the city centre, and it was every charmingly pastiche cliche you could possibly imagine it to be.

Oxford University Press' bookshop. 

The cutest, tiniest alumni merchandise shop, which was also bursting with Harry Potter merchandise too. The owner and I accidentally ended up having a 15 minute conversation about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I had seen a few days earlier at the London premiere.

What must be one of my favourite photos ever: Bodleian Library and the surrounding colleges of Oxford University.

Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wonderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her English city. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

REVIEW: This Careless Life by Rachel McIntyre

This Careless LifeLiv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy are auditioning for a new reality TV show. Producer Cassandra has warned them the process might be tough, but they are excited and keen to get on with things, confident that they can handle anything. But when Cass produces a photo of a body, everyone realises that they may have something to hide after all…

Editing Note: Thanks to Egmont for sending me This Careless Life for review. 

I have decided, in the planning of this review, that the easiest way of getting through this is through Alan Rickman (RIP) GIFs, because frankly they just seem to summarise my opinions on this book.

I first read Rachel McIntyre's debut, Me and Mr J, two years ago prior to publication. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was a fascinating read and I praised it generously in my review for pushing the boundaries in YA. I had high hopes, however, these did not transcend into her second novel, The #1 Rule for Girls, which felt like conformation to the same poorly written YA that seems to be consistently published nowadays. With one hit and one miss, I had partially given up on McIntyre, but then This Careless Life arrived through the letterbox... I was in the midst of exams and didn't care to read something that I knew I wouldn't like, but then a friend informed me that this was a retelling of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, and suddenly I had to read this. Two weeks into the summer holidays, and this was the third book of my break I picked up.

Sadly, I was right about it being a disappointment. 

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Maybe this would be a perfectly average, or okay book if it wasn't for the fact that it is intended as a retelling of An Inspector Calls, but all my main issues with this book stem from the poor parallels to the wonderful play. If you look over statistics, An Inspector Calls is one of the most well-loved texts studied for GCSE English Literature - a subject in which texts studied are usually loathed by students. Of course I am biased and will take the antithesis opinion to this as an enthused English Literature student, but the point here is that where so many students who don't like reading despise this subject, they love Priestley's play. That is why to me, it shouldn't be touched unless you're going to do it well, and that is where This Careless Life failed.

An Inspector Calls is a masterpiece of shocks, twists, and psychological thrill, if you're going to retell it, this is exactly how it shouldn't be done. This Careless Life feels like an attempt to "dumb down" a classic so that young audiences "get it," when the reality is that this does not need simplification. An attempt to dilute the reality of the play into something that conforms to what is assumed to be the stereotypical teenage ideology and mentality within this book is highly problematic, and is far from a credit to the play that presumably the premise and idea for this novel branched from. In this case, the apple fell far, far from the tree of literature.

One hugely disappointing element is the potential that this could have had to be great. Every ingredient needed to make an excellent story lay on the blurb, but the contents didn't reflect that summary in the slightest. All the magic that could've been brought into this was completely gone. Cass simulatenously was and wasn't the Inspector. The secrets the four characters actually had were nothing to fuss over and a waste of time, where actually, if you're going to contribute to one person's suicide they would have been far more significant than driving past them and breaking down (this is an example of just one of the four catalysts presumably leading up to the mystery within the novel). And on top of this, the Inspector of sorts actively went and told the characters of the girl using different names, and planted stories into their mouths - the beauty of the Inspector in Priestley's play is that each character works out their connection to the woman in the photo by themselves, and never reveals to them that it's the same woman. They just work it out on their own. Everything that could've made this genuinely compelling was stripped and instead we got a poorly written rebelling that didn't really need to exist.

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I hate to be sharp, shrew, and bitter, but as someone who adores the printed word and literature to the point where I am about to start a degree in it, I cannot emphasise how - for lack of a better phrase - distasteful This Careless Life is in relation to the play it is hideously attempting to immitate. If you want a story that has you gripped and enthralled from start to finish, and reeling for days after, then do yourself a favour, and buy a copy of An Inspector Calls, not this.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

REVIEW: The Black Key (Lone City #3)

The Black Key (The Lone City, #3)Violet and the Society of the Black Key are preparing to launch an attack on the royalty, and Violet has a crucial role to play. She must lead the surrogates as they infiltrate the Auction and break down the walls of the Lone City. But with her sister, Hazel, imprisoned in the palace of the Lake, Violet is torn. In order to save her sister, she must abandon her cause and her friends and return to the Jewel.

For a conclusion I've been waiting over a year for, and two years if we're counting the whole trilogy, I feel kind of deflated by this ending. True, I got everything I wanted in the ending, but it just didn't feel as strong as The Jewel or The White Rose

That being said, this conclusion peaks where so many ends to other YA dystopia/fantasy trilogies fail. Violet doesn't have a 'Chosen One' complex: Until the very end, she's adamant that this isn't just about her, no matter how much she has to go it alone, she's aware that it isn't all down to her, and for once - unlike so many YA protagonists - accepts the help, and accepts that they're ALL 'chosen ones.' The romance didn't dominate over the plot, and instead flowed subtly throughout the story, meaning that the relationship between Violet and Ash never felt forced, and came off as natural. As well as this, there was SO much death, and each one had it's brutal impact. I like that Ewing chose to kill off so many characters throughout the course of the book and not just in a one-chapter-battle; it helped to build tension, but also strengthened the cause that the Black Key was fighting for. 

Once again, Ewing is excellent at character development. Each character, no matter their prominence or lack thereof has a rich backstory which as it unfolds makes me as a reader feel both hatred and adoration for each and every character. It's something impressive that fails to often come across in YA, and is certainly something that I'll miss now that this trilogy is over.

But on the whole, this felt a little rushed. I could have done with a little less unneeded description and a little more plot development. Whilst this is the final book in the trilogy, The Black Key doesn't even hit 300 pages, and the ending, in particular the final overthrowing of the royalty felt hasty. It was crammed into less than 80 pages, and where there was a lot of 'connecting to the elements,' and exposition those descriptions were wasted words where we needed more description of what was actually happening.

Furthermore, most of the events that occured in The Black Key were highly predictable. I guessed most of the plot twists that were coming the second I closed The White Rose, and so nothing that was intentionally there to enthrall the reader came as a shock to me. No matter how much I appreciate this book concluding the trilogy, it didn't have nearly as much of the twisted flare that I so adored in The Jewel and The White Rose, but rather, as previously mentioned, felt like a hasty publication to conform to a "one-a-year" trilogy.

I'm glad I read this trilogy - I loved it, and have loved the wait of anticipating every new novel and novella. It's a refreshing spin on the typical tropes of royalty, bureaucracy, and political corruption in a YA categorised series. Each book is wonderful in it's own right, but this final one just fell a little weaker in comparison to The Jewel and The White Rose. Nevertheless, I'll miss it, and am curious to see where Amy Ewing's writing takes her next.

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.