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!


Monday, 20 March 2017

REVIEW - Pottermore Presents..

HogwartsAn Incomplete and Unreliable Guide
Hogwarts An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle . . . all at the turn of a page.

The reason it drops a star, and this I thought would probably be the same across all three of the Pottermore Presents series, is because of the fact that a lot of what is printed here has already been available on Pottermore for a few years. Despite that complaint which did hinder my enjoyment, I loved this compilation of the secrets of Hogwarts Castle. Though much of it is already released content, the majority of the passages in Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide were based on things that I wouldn't have actively chosen to search for on the website. For example - I never would have gone in search of extra information on the Black Lake, or the Hufflepuff Common Room, but I'm grateful that this has given me the knowledge of those aspects of Hogwarts. [Also, can I just add that, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the new content regarding Sir Cadogan being an Arthurian Knight of the Round Table. My Merlin fangirl heart is singing.] 

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies
These stories of heroism, hardship and dangerous hobbies profile two of the Harry Potter stories’ most courageous and iconic characters: Minerva McGonagall and Remus Lupin. J.K. Rowling also gives us a peek behind the closed curtains of Sybill Trelawney’s life, and you’ll encounter the reckless, magical-beast-loving Silvanus Kettleburn along the way.

Most of the information in here is already Potterhead knowledge, but it was nice to have a compilation with the new material in an ebook form. Honestly, I'm a little bothered by how some of the marginalia promoted the idea that only Gryffindors are capable of being brave, but that's on the part of Pottermore, not J.K Rowling, so I can look past it.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists
These stories of power, politics and pesky poltergeists give you a glimpse into the darker side of the wizarding world, revealing the ruthless roots of Professor Umbridge, the lowdown on the Ministers for Magic and the history of the wizarding prison Azkaban. You will also delve deeper into Horace Slughorn’s early years as Potions master at Hogwarts - and his acquaintance with one Tom Marvolo Riddle.

This installment is by far the best in the collection. I read this on my iPad on the long journeys to and from London for the premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and it certainly held my attention when needed. Unlike the other two Pottermore Presents ebooks, I feel like I learnt so much new information that enriched our previous ideas of British wizarding history within these pages. Out of all three, this is the collection that achieves what the aim of Pottermore Presents actually was: to immerse us deeper into the wizarding world. The information and backstories on Slughorn, Quirrell, Azkaban and the Minstry of Magic were utterly fascinating. Whilst these aren't essential reading for a Potterhead, it's certainly given me greater perspective and knowledge on areas I'd questioned before now. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

EVENT RECAP: Samantha Shannon at Waterstones Deansgate

From her first publication, Samantha Shannon has been cited as "the new J.K. Rowling." Whilst her books are certainly taking a different direction from that of the Harry Potter series, Shannon's septology is equally striking. Bursting with clairvoyants, dystopian realities, an oppressed London and now the Victorian language of flowers, Shannon stopped by Waterstones Deansgate as part of her tour for the third book in the series, The Song Rising.

Sitting down to discuss her latest installment in the series, Shannon began by recounting her publishing journey. At the time that The Bone Season was first published, Shannon was a 21-year-old recent graduate of Oxford University, somewhat "shaken by the Oxford experience and the Oxford-bubble" (which inspired the prison camp appearance of Oxford in her work), and such success at such a young age was admirable. Having heard J.K. Rowling's story to publishing, Shannon realised you could write for a living and started writing at 12, completing her first "terrible" and rejected novel, Aurora at 15. The Bone Season was written over the course of her second year at Oxford; carefully balancing academic and novel writing through dividing into university work in the day, and personal writing at night. Shannon may say that she was an awful student, but what she has gained from late-night writing in cold student accomodation is extraordinary

Photo credits to @amyjanealice on Twitter
Initially inspired by the London district of Seven Dials, a place filled with sales of tarot cards and crystals, The Bone Season and The Mime Order had a firm basis in the heart of London. For Shannon, her home city is a place that she feels she'll never quite scratch the surface of, given the many layers of history and hidden places. However, The Song Rising takes a different direction, heading further afield in the UK to the North. Manchester has a heavy presence due to Shannon's family history, and her desire to draw on the industrial past of the city. This in turn was used to create a "choking" feel to the location. Edinburgh also features in the book too. I (someone who hasn't read The Bone Season yet) feel far more inclined to begin reading the series following on from this talk, but particularly from this fact and the knowledge that the dystopia isn't just walled within London. As she says herself, oppressiveness in dystopia is always concentrated through a specific country or city, but what happens to the wider world beyond that? Are they passive acceptors? Do they even know what's going on? Thankfully, as with Shannon's intentions, she confirmed that the world beyond Scion lands will be encountered in the coming latter half of the septology. Is Shannon trying to promote a message like Orwell? Through a meshing of paranormal fantasy and dystopia, maybe. Fantasy tries to take us out of reality, which plays harsh contrast with dystopia acting as a warning to us all.

Again, I as an outsider, was fascinated by how multi-faceted and instensely layed the Scion version of the UK is... it even has it's own alternate timeline! For example, the politics of the seven orders of clairvoyance and how each rank aspires to something; the fact that Scion has no religious undertones, contrasting to dystopias like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; and not to forget the fact that Scion society lacks homophobia and misogyny due to their being no real distinctions between genders in the accepted pansexual world. Even before I've immersed myself in The Bone Season series, I'm aware of this rich, wonderfully diverse world. 

Shannon ended with remarking that she roughly knows what's going to happen through her use of skeleton planning, but "as I write the flesh is added. Sometimes the joints change slightly, but they're always firmly there." She knows where she's going but not always how to get there. Maybe this will be similar for her characters, who their creator proudly declares she likes pushing to their extremes. Whether or not it'll be a happy ending is unclear, but we know it's going to be quite the ride.

Thanks so much to Waterstones Deansgate, and Teensgate for inviting me to this event free of charge in order to do this piece. For more from both, follow @WaterstonesMCR and @Teensgate on Twitter.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Holly: Creative Editorialist (I Got a Job!)

The epicentre of Harry Potter. The queen of Harry Potter fan sites, receiving millions upon millions of unique visits every single month. J.K. Rowling has praised it herself, even giving the site an exclusive interview back in the 2000s. You cannot go very far within the Harry Potter fandom without the site name reaching your ears as it spreads its arms wide across Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and several well-loved podcasts. 

It's also now where I work.
MuggleNet: the home of my first job.

I've been fairly private about this here at Lost in a Library, even if quite vocal on social media. Now that this is the start of a great story bleeding into a life dream, it feels appropriate to go back to the beginning and tell you what's been going on for the past few months, because even I find it hard to believe...

By the time November crawled around, one of the best months of my life had just ended. I was anticipating a sea of work and dreading trying to complete what were at the time disastrous drafts of my personal statement and university application. The month ahead looked bleak (obviously with the Fantastic Beasts premiere, a little sparkle was added back into my life,) and so as I scrolled through my emails at the crack of dawn on November 1st, the last thing I expected was the offer of an internship at Having applied for a different position six months earlier to no luck, I'd set aside my chances of getting an accepted, and totally forgot about what I'd applied to in late October. At first it was shock, then excitement, then fear - what if I wasn't good enough? I didn't even know how long the internship would last - what if I ran out of ideas for articles? For the first time in years, Harry Potter wasn't the source I could turn to for comfort, as Harry Potter was the problem. Elated, I accepted the offer, and was suddenly immersed in the workings of MuggleNet.

It was hard. Suddenly going into a position where you get to write for a major website and be told that a lot about what you thought of writing was wrong was hard. I was relearning everything I thought I knew about journalism and having to change my style so it wasn't so essay-like and more informal and chatty. Nevertheless, I did it, and with every article I could (and still can) feel my writing excelling beyond what I'd originally believed I was capable of doing. There were times in the first couple of months when I broke down crying, so desperate to get it right and not feel like an idiot, and I wasn't helped by the fact that in December there was no internet in my area for the entire month. But then there were a multitude more times in which I was just thrilled at the fact that I was there, fulfilling one of my greatest passions by writing about the my favourite thing. Then I sat, with my heart in my mouth waiting to hear news in January, to be told that I had an extended internship: one month to perfect where things had gone wrong previously or leave. No one will ever know just how many times I checked my edits, and the amount of Anxiety I felt submitted my final article, as having the knowledge that February was all or nothing made me realise more than ever before how much I wanted this job.

And now I'm here, on the first of March - my first official day. Upon receiving an email confirming my membership as staff under a week ago I was beyond happy. I am living my dream.

One year ago, I was listening to Alohomora!, wondering just how the people on the podcast got to work for MuggleNet... and now I'm here. Those people are colleagues, and I have a job writing for my favourite website; writing about the story that changed my life.

I have no idea what I'm trying to convey through this. Maybe it's just to say "I did it!" or maybe to make a point of being a little Slytherin every now and then. Determination is a virtue, use it. If you want the snitch, get on your broomstick, reach out, and grab it. 

Whilst we're here, I'm just going to link all of my MuggleNet pieces so far because I'm rather proud of them. Each one is somewhat like a horcrux, it represents a part of me and a part of this journey, and I'd be delighted to share these with you. 

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

REVIEW:: How to Success! A Writer's Guide to Fame and Fortune

How to Success!: A Writer's Guide to Fame and FortuneThis parody self-help book for writers is filled with hilariously misguided tips, factual-looking charts, and other advice that knowingly pokes fun at writerly foibles while still cheering would-be authors on. With this book, struggling writers can find suggestions for effective paragraph shapes, tips on where to find inspiration (in your reflection, in the shapes of gum stuck to the ground, in a consultation with your doctor), thoughtful poses for author photos, pull-out procrastination excuses, and much more. How to Success! is filled with enough almost-helpful advice to keep aspiring writers amused, unblocked, and on their way to literary fame.

Bursting with sarcasm and satire, this is the perfect pocket read for the struggling writer in dire need of a pick-me-up.

I've always loved writing. In primary school, when we were asked to do creative writing pieces, those would always be the samples of my work presented to my parents on Parent's Evening. And, at age 12, I dived into Harry Potter for the first time and decided that I wanted to eventually become an author. Now six years on and many a story idea later, I'm not exactly nearer to seeing my debut in bookstores, but I'm making steps towards ensuring that when I finally do hit "send" on that manuscript, I'll have a little faith in myself: starting with the fact that I've applied to do a part-Creative Writing degree.

But here's the reality: writing is hard. Writing is bloody hard. 

Anyone who desires to write for a living will know this. It's the surging ennui; it's the folder on the laptop labelled "Writing" that has incompleted ideas inside from years ago. It's the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you will never see the day that your work is accepted by people beyond friends and family. And, of course, it's the dreaded writer's block.  In How to Success! A Writer's Guide to Fame and Fortune, Corinne Caputo not only addresses these trials and tribulations, but makes them acceptable, embraces them, and welcomes them into our day to day lives.

It's hard to be jovial about flaws, especially when those of us who pick up this book silently pray that there won't be any in our inevitably error-laced, plot-hole-consumed works, and yet Caputo somehow still does it. I could read this book at a time when I had a complete belief in the inadequacy of my writing, and emerge from the pages thoroughly humoured and ready to get back to work. This is meant to just be a joking book, mocking the rituals of the typical struggling writer, and yet A Writer's Guide to Fame and Fortune makes it feel wholly acceptable to - as a writer - have days where you want to just curl up in a ball under your desk and eat cake. Not only did I resurface from the depths of these pages laughing to the point of hiccups, but I had a newfound knowledge that I'm not the only one who suffers from some of the writerly life problems that I considered too weird beforehand to ever be possessed by someone else.

Brilliant, quick-witted, and not so carefully smothered in dry humour, this is the perfect read for the struggling writer. Need a little faith in your work? Buy this book! Know a friend who has an all-encompassing love for writing? Buy them this book!

Just buy this book. You won't regret it. 

Many thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me How to Success! A Writer's Guide to Fame and Fortune for review. You can buy the book here and here from 28th February 2017.

Monday, 20 February 2017

My Dream Loot Crate

A while ago, Loot Crate popped into my emails, stopping by to say hello and wanting to get in further contact with me. I've heard of Loot Crate and countless other crates and have never seen the appeal...until now. When Loot Crate gave me the opportunity to design my own, as elaborate as I desired, with the possiblity that it could potentially be created, I couldn't refuse. So this is my attempt at creating my own Loot Crate... as mad or boring, my ideas may be.

Hermione's Beaded Bag
Undetectable extension charm or no undetectable extension charm placed on it, either will do... (plus we all know I'm a witch here so I can just cast one myself.) I could really do with Hermione's beaded bag for when I'm travelling and need to carry more than the size of my suitcase allows me, or even for when I need to tidy things away and just need to place them somewhere safe for a while. And of course, wouldn't this be excellent storage for when the bookshelves start overflowing?

Spectre Specs
For the nargles.... our heads are full of them. 

A Pet Mooncalf
So incase you've been living under a rock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in cinemas in November, and I am in love. *coughs* five cinema viewings *coughs*
Some raved about the Niffler, others ranted about Pickett the Bowtruckle. For me though, it was the adorable Mooncalves that were bounding around Newt's suitcase. How could you not want one to love?

Okay, let's be real. Unless we're timelords (spoiler alert: I'm not a Timelord), we cannot possibly fit a TARDIS into a Loot Crate, but for the sake putting literally whatever I desire into this crate, this has to go in. Imagine it: opening a subscription box, expecting the same set up as the month before, and there it is -- your ticket to travel through space and time to absolutely anywhere in history or the future. 

Ron Weasley
Probably breaks about 50 laws against trapping, capturing, and containing fellow humans against their will, but it's true. If I could open a Loot Crate and find Ron Weasley inside, my life would be complete. It's no secret here at Lost in a Library that for the past 6 years, I have been deeply in love with our favourite ginger sidekick. He's kind, awkard, and dons the heart of a lion with such pride. Why wouldn't I want Ron in my Loot Crate? After all, Weasley is Our King isn't he? 

To find out more about Loot Crate, go to their monthly subscriptions page and just try and resist buying one of their amazing boxes!

If you could design your own Loot Crate, what would you add in?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Lessons Learnt from 2016

1. Political polls are never accurate. Don't trust them. (This is how, when my family were horrified by my opinion, I was bracing myself for the awful moment when the Republicans won the US Election.)

2. I'm never going to be thin, and that's okay. I'm never going a size 10, and that's okay. I am slim, and I am happier with my body than I have ever been before. Some bodies aren't meant to be thin; mine is one of them, and I'm okay with that.

3. If you want a tattoo, regardless of the looks that family member gives and not so quietly says when you say that you want one that you "clearly aren't part of this family then," you get that tattoo. Where the body is a blank canvas, a tattoo is the paint.

4. Never wear dangly earrings if you're going to try clothes on whilst out. No good can come of it.

5. One of the best thing you can do is learn your body's manual. Learn what leads to you feeling a certain way, or what something is a sign of.

6. If an opportunity arises, and you have the means to  take the opportunity,  just do it. So many incredible experiences occured in 2016 just because I said yes.

7. Often it's easier to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised instead of getting self-assured based on previous positives. It sounds mad but at least it keeps you on your toes.

8. Bravery in the face of Anxiety is always something to be proud of. You are rebelling against everything your mind is wrongfully telling you - that is an achievement, no matter the size.

9. Travelling and getting out of your town/city is an exceptionally good way to clear your head. 

10. Stress is okay, but there comes a point when it's destroying you. Step back, actually take the time to relax, and clear your head. 

11. Use your voice. Say it bold and say it loud, because unless you fight for what you value, nothing changes. If you say it, you spread the message to those whom need to here it.

12. You're a Ravenclaw, then a Gryffindor. As identified by your 3 Pottermore sorting tests. Nevertheless, it's okay to show your Slytherin sometimes - have the determination you need to pull through.

13. If you feel your mental health is getting worse, then recognise the symptoms of what triggers this to happen, and keep that in mind of the future.

14. The friendships you value the most need to be fought for. If you feel the other person doesn't realise that they're drifting, then you need to fight for the friendship to show them how you feel.

15. Don't binge listen to a soundtrack for a film before going to see it. The film may be wonderful, but this previous act will totally take away from the film, dividing the film and it's music into two different entities. 

16. Just because a year is defined and categorised negatively because of world events, that doesn't mean that you can't consider your own year wonderful

What did you learn in 2016?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Oh, the Places:: London

I've always thought London to be the epitome of adventure. It's that place across the country that offers a realm of rich expeditions. A treasure trove of history and culture. Living in the UK, it feels (and is often true) that everything is in London, which is disappointing. I live on the other side of the country, meaning that most of the events which I'd want to go to are inaccessible, and trips to London are few and far apart. November brought a twist in the tale, with an unexpected invite to the European premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Over the course of five days, a spontaneous excursion to the capitol was planned. 

This is 24 hours in London...

This is merely a slice of London, covering Euston, Kings Cross, and Leicester Square. It's a snapshot of this beautiful and vibrant city which I hope to continue to explore over the near future... at least twice more in 2017 is planned... as you will see in the near future, and once is also planned in 2018. Hopefully with each of these encounters, I'll be able to cover more of this city which I have a burning desire to keep on searching. 

For more on this wild adventure, check out my posts on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them premiere, my Fantastic Beasts review, and my recap of the incredible year that was 2016.

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 small English city.