Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Recent Reads:: Intense Actors, Brushes with Death, and Feminism

Thankfully, thankfully I still have some of summer left before my second year of university, and as a result, my reading has been incredibly varied and adventurous since I finished for the summer at the start of June. I've not necessarily held myself in the way I used to, pressuring myself to finish as many books as possible in summer before I lose time to read so much. Now doing a literature degree, the bulk of my reading occurs academically, so I've slowed the pace during this glorious summer: if I want to read, I read whatever I fancy, no matter how long some things have been on my bookshelves, if I don't want to read, then that's also great! Not reading has given me a lot of time to unwind and channel myself into the season itself. Though there's plenty more on what I've read this summer so far, here's a few of the picks that have surprised me...

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

According to Goodreads, I've had this on my to-read shelf since August 2016. This was one of those books I resisted buying until I'd completed first year, waiting until all coursework and portfolios had been submitted, and my final exam was done. A few days later I ordered a handful of books on Wordery, including this, the book I'd been dying to read (if you've read this book then you'll appreciate my terrible sense of humour). Wordery

Set in Illinois, the novel follows 7 acting students in their final year at a prestigious, secretive university, and the one of them who was wrongly convicted of the murder of another one of their circle. If We Were Villains has quietly entered the book world, amasssing a somewhat cult following for it's thrilling premise of a plot. However, this was not at all what I'd expected, and not nearly as good. 

Not only is book incredibly similar to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, but it also relies far too heavily on Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare and reading about Shakespeare, but the fact that this book was  maybe a quarter passages from Shakespearean plays tells you something about the author and their choices here... like they couldn't include some of the lines and tell readers the rest for themselves but rather bulk out the book with 400 year old passages of world-renowned plays. Maybe this book was inspired by The Secret History, maybe this is in turn meant to inspire one to read The Secret History if they haven't already. However, I feel following this book, I have absolutely no desire to pick up its senior any time soon.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With DeathThis was read, well, listened to on an audiobook on a peaceful journey too and chaotic journey back from London. This kept me company at a train station in the middle of nowhere when I'd suddenly had to cough up £40 to not even get halfway home. Thanks, Conservative government. I Am, I Am, I Am is a chilling read, stroking death up close and examining our relationship with it in modern society. 

Yet simultaneously, this book is incredible lyrical, as if the words just pour out of the pen for O'Farrell, like even in the darkest of subjects, she gathers and sews constellations with her work. I'm astounded by how she managed to paint this tale in such a poetic manner despite it's hideousness for her, and yet, extraordinarily, she does. Upon hearing the final sentence, it suddenly dawned upon me that of any author whose work I've encountered, O'Farrell is the one I desire to write like most. Wordery

the witch doesn't burn in this one by Amanda Lovelace

the witch doesn't burn in this one by Amanda LovelaceAbsolutely adored the princess saves herself in this one and I think I outright assumed I'd have the same emotional attachment to its sequel. However, like my friend and MuggleNet colleague Ellie said, it just never quite felt the same. In many ways, whilst some poems were beautiful, it felt repetitive. the princess saves herself in this one had left me stunned, in awe of Lovelace's delicate and simplistic turn of phrase, packing a mighty punch in very few words.  Whereas here, there were some incredible pieces, but I never once had that feeling that makes  me feel so attached to Lovelace's debut collection. Nevertheless, I have immense faith in the final collection in this trilogy, the mermaid doesn't lose her voice in this one. Wordery

This has certainly been a variety, with incredibly variant outcomes and I like to think that even if some of these disappointed me, all of them are adding to my humanity and growth as a bookworm. What have you been reading recently?

Friday, 15 June 2018

Oh, the Places:: Dublin

May brought final deadlines of first year, frantic studying and writing, and exams. It also brought an opportunity that consumed my wanderlustful heart: to go to Ireland. On St. Patrick's day back in March, I had found a massive deal that meant we could cross the Irish Sea for £2 a way, which was incredible, and studying right near Anglessey provided a few friends from university and I the perfect opportunity to do this in a wild 24-hour stint involving severely limited sleep, scrambling for euros, and crashing in ferry armchairs. Like I said, wild 24 hours.

My family are originally from Ireland and the majority of them still live there, so part of me had always harboured the desire to go and see the country from which my grandmother emigrated to England, and to see the place of my ancestry. Being confined to 24 hours, we knew we wouldn't see the entirety of Ireland, but maybe in the future. Fortunately, ferries from Anglessey arrive straight into Dublin, so we had a fantastic chance to visit the Irish capital (also at a highly charged political time which ended in a wonderful result.) It was exhausting, frantic and a heck of a lot of fun despite some chaotic moments. This is 24 hours in Dublin, Ireland.


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 wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English home, and Welsh university city.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters

Eliza and Her MonstersIn the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try. Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

There's a story behind my experience of reading this book and why I picked  it up. And it's a hard one.

For the past few months I've been flooded by the brain-based tsunami that is depression. It hadn't flared up horrendously in a while and then, at the end of January, I cracked, completely. So I made a doctors appointment, phoned my mum, packed my bags and headed  home from university for two weeks, to escape from my triggers and take a break. This was my ultimate worst point. When I needed to do something, anything, I couldn't: I could barely function beyond sleeping. I struggled to go out, to watch anything, to read anything. But me, being the bookworm I am who has always found massive comfort in books, I needed  to read  to help myself in this time. Nothing on my bookshelves was appropriate for my mental state, everything was too serious, and lacked any of the fluff I really craved. And then I remembered this book, which I had so desperately wanted to absorb myself in for months: so I opened  Amazon (all hail student Prime free-trial), bought Eliza and Her Monsters. The next day I began to find solace in Eliza's world. 

Reading this book was a risk, any book was. I didn't know what was going to trigger me, and if reading about someone who like me, also experiences very bad anxiety, would have adverse affects on my mental health. But the reality was that reading about Eliza's journey was immensely comforting. Mainly because there were strong ties between LadyConstellation and I. I've very often disappeared into fictional worlds, often creating fanfiction and fan art for them *coughs* Harry Potter. Like Eliza, anxiety often cripples  my mind and it distanced me from others in school, and like Eliza, my online life and friends is a wonderful world to delve into.

This book is truly understanding of what the readers who will consume this are probably going through. Not every YA book out there features the struggles of having friends scattered across the world, but few you can physically interact with, and few accurately depict the close bonds of fandom communities. But Eliza and Her Monsters did so perfectly. The closest I'd ever felt to my own story through literature before then was Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, and I still feel the deepest of connections to Cath in that book, however, in the present day when now at 19 my life tied a lot more to Cath's did when I first read the book at 14, this book was an empathetic hand on the shoulder that understood. This book is truly special, a rare jewel that has the potential to provide comfort to any anxiety sufferer, regardless of background or situation. Above all in this sense, the world felt real. Eliza's life and story felt so utterly plausible and tangible that I became fully immersed in her bubble. Additionally, even when Eliza's story wasn't directly being focussed upon, Zappia integrated two other stories in the webcomic and a series of books which Eliza adores, that despite their limited presence (to a degree) were such convincing additions that they became stories I'd genuinley want to read. 

On top of a beautifully layred plot, all the realms of characterisation within the book were spectacular. Every side character had their own arc and development, feeling as colourful and bold as Eliza, not a monochrome hum in the background. And no, whilst love isn't the answer in mental health, and relationships in mental health books aren't always a good idea, often creating the notion that a relationship is the answer to depression, anxiety, etc, the relationship between Eliza and Wallace was extraordinary in its heartwarming simplicity, delicacy and weaving into the fabric of the plot. Wallace wasn't the answer to Eliza's mental health, a relationship isn't a cure, but he was the support that we all need when going through a mental illness, and emphasised the notion that even when we are ill and telling ourselve otherwise, we are worthy of love, and love can bring so much light to our lives. (Also the relationship had slight hints of my own relationship with my boyfriend which made my heart sing.)

In other words, pick up this book(!)

Sunday, 11 March 2018

I'm Not Who i Once Was

This is a topic that I'm frankly very afraid of talking about, but I need to do this, above all else, I need to do this for myself.

In December, I was offically diagnosed with depression.
I think I'd known for several years, roughly 5 or 6, that I had it. It had been plaguing me since the early years of high school, dominating my mandatory academic years. I was an outsider, generally friendless, and so escaped into books and fantasy lands to find comfort in lands that weren't my own. I'd never denied that it was there, but I finally plucked up the courage to go and talk to a medical professional about it. Having that diagnosis, as painfully ironic as it sounds, was one of the most satisfying feelings possible: to have an offical label assigned to the warfare going on inside my brain... to know there are things that can be done to help me, and people who are going to guide me through that beyond those I love, is so reassuring.

Depression is an illness. It is an illness of the brain. Bringing up my depression is a struggle because generally I feel embarrassed by it because I just want a nice, normal brain, and because there's so much bloody stigma attached to illnesses one can't physically see. Well, you can physically see my depression: you can see it in the purple bags under my eyes that come from being barely able to sleep. You can see it in my makeupless face, barely acknowledging how deathly I look. You can see it in the emptiness of my smile and the hollowness of my eyes when I "shut down," and when in dips, I drag myself through the motions. It is an illness, and it is evil, but I refuse to let it define me.

I refuse to be seen as "the girl with depression," because for a while I've struggled to see myself as otherwise, no matter how many people, especially my boyfriend, tell me that it doesn't matter, it isn't all that people see. There is so much more to me. I am Holly. I am the girl who is obsessed with Harry Potter, and who has a laugh like a witch's cackle. I am the girl who who wears scarves in all weathers and has an unhealthy attachment to black boots. I am the girl who will through her love at you, if you are loving too. And even in the pain, I am still there beneath the days where I can't move from my bed; beneath the minutes where the power cuts in my body and I need to leave the room, the movements around me blurring into one. I am still there. I, Holly, am still there.

But I'm also not the same person I was.

In January, I had the worst depressive dip I have encountered in my many years facing this illness. I could barely move from my bed for 2 weeks. I couldn't read, I couldn't watch anything. All I could do was feel so all-consumingly empty and sleep. Now, in mid-March, I am not the same person as I was before that, as before my depression started getting progressively worse in late-October. To a degree, I've lost nearly all sense of what I love on the internet and in my hobbies. Only now am I finding the overwhelming urge to read again, and I've realised how much I've missed that feeling. I'm currently on leave from my job at MuggleNet until I feel steady enough to return to my job as a Lead Editorialist there. And... then there's here: Lost in a Library. I've no idea who reads this blog right now or if anyone even touches it, but I've said I've no intention of giving up on this little space, and I firmly stand by that. This is my corner, my patchwork in a tiny cosmos in the galazy of the internet. I may not be around nearly as much as I used to be, and my content may be changing massively, but I am still here.

Things are going to be slightly different from now on: I'm not going to force myself to post stuff that I scheduled in when I was "well," and I'm not going to force myself into posting regularly for the sake of posting regularly. I'm not going to force myself to write anything unless I genuinley want to, and if I don't feel enthused about an idea that I once had, then that's okay. I will always be first and foremost, books first, but I want to bleed a little more creativity and generally life-based writing into this canvas. This is my space and I need to shape it now to how I am now, Holly: aged 19. Consider me like a very quiet jack-in-the-box: sometimes it might be a few days between posts, someitmes it might be a few months. I don't know... I'm just trying to manage, but I refuse to give up on this place, this blog, this little lovely place which has brought so much into my world.

I refuse to give up.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Oh, the Places: The Elephant House

I first visited Edinburgh last July. It was at the height of summer, when A Level results were still just under a month away and my soul was craving adventures into uncharted territory. My family had been planning to holiday in Scotland for several years, and it was one of the things that I'd hoped to tick of my 18 before 18, but alas. However, 2017 was the year we finally got the ball rolling, and soon enough, we had set foot in Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh was somewhere that I'd always wanted to visit, but above anything else, I desperately wanted to see The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote and edited Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. As someone who aspires to be an author themselves, and as someone whom Harry Potter has so heavily impacted upon, it felt personally necessary to head to The Elephant House at least once during my five days in Scotland. In the end, we ended up sticking our heads in once in the evening, when it was too packed to even comprehend queueing, and we breakfasted twice in there. Those two mornings, in particular the first, in which we got a spot in the for once empty cafe, looking across to Edinburgh Castle, is a memory I cannot help but treasure. As a writer and a Potterhead, this is a place you can't not visit. 

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 wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English city.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Best Books of 2017

So 2017 has proved to be a weird year for my reading. I completed my Goodreads Challenge 2 weeks before the end of the year... and even then, that was dragging myself to the end. Normally I surpass my Goodreads goal by several books. This year? I'll be seriously impressed if the books I actually need to read for my degree have been read by the time this post goes live. My mental health took a huge toll in October, and nosedived from there onwards, meaning I wasn't reading for pleasure, and was seriously struggling to read for my degree, too. However, whilst this has been the case, there were a handful of books that I loved during 2017, which, naturally, I have to share with you. These were my favourite books of 2017...

1. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Oh this was soooooo good. I don't think I ever have flown through nearly 700 pages of utter wonder at such pace, and I doubt I ever will again. I, known Harry Potter obsessive, couldn't even get through Order of the Phoenix this fast. Over the course of the trilogy, I'd become so invested in these characters and this world that at every plot twist here I was left reeling, sometimes needing to put the book down for hours at a time out of sheer emotion. And, on top of everything else, it wrapped up beautifully. The perfect ending to an astonishingly good trilogy. REVIEW
Read in July

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 
I don't think I ever expected to love Persepolis anywhere near as much as I did. The artwork isn't necessarily in a style that appeals to me, which is interesting given the graphic novel format, but the content and the story that was told mattered in my eyes so much more. Persepolis opened my eyes to a fragment of history which isn't discussed and is far from talked about, and did so from the perspective not of a wikipedia writer or history graduate, but of someone who lived through this time and can give a refreshing, eye-opening account of her life in Iran. This taught me about a time I ashamedly knew nothing about, and made me increasingly aware of this period of history, so for that I'm exceptionally grateful. 
Read in April

3. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Now, looking back nearly a year on, I find it hugely ironic that I was so reluctant to pick A Darker Shade of Magic up. It's fantasy, it's historical - both elements that prior to this I generally tended to avoid. V.E. Schwab has a way with words that is an intimate, charming magic, whispering to the reader in the same manner as wanderings of the mind. It's dark, as stated by the title, but the humour, the characters, and the emotional development that occurs over the course of the novel is striking. Also: parallel universes, magic, and a masquerade ball, how could I not love this? REVIEW
Read in February

4. The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

Coming from a similar vein to Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey, which was in my 2016 favourites, it's understandable that I loved this collection. I bought this in the interval between parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back in August, mainly for the dedication to "The Boy with the Lightning-Shaped Scar." The Princess Saves Herself in this One is a collection that will haunt me for a long time to come. It isn't the most embellished or lyrical poetry, but it packs a punch, and speaks to the soul in a way that often rendered me speechless. I loved this so much that I wrote a book review of it as part of my poetry portfolio for the first semester of my degree, that's how good this was. I will dive into this again and again, whether looking for inspiration for my own writing, or for motivation in every capacity of life. Just beautiful. 
Read in September 

5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Contrary to many who read Miller's The Crucible for A Level English Literature, my final A Level text was Death of a Salesman. This play seems to generally acquire a widely mixed, mediocre response, and more people I know than don't said they hated this. Personally, I was shocked by how poignant and gently beautiful Death of a Salesman was. It isn't an easy read; it's harsh and bitter and is buckling under the pressure of post-war capitalism in 1940s America. Though the premise seems bleak and basic, this play is deep beyond face value, and I doubt I'll ever read anything quite like it again. (Not to mention the fact that I ended up with an A for A Level English Literature, which may have helped solidify and reaffirm my love for Miller's play.) REVIEW
Read in March/April

6. As I Descended by Robin Talley
Since reading The Lunar Chronicles several years ago, I've fallen deep in love with retellings. However, until reading As I Descended, I'd never read a retelling of Shakespeare, and now having done so, I can't believe I waited so long. I knew from the start that I'd love this book; Talley's debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves was one of my favourite books a few years ago, but I didn't realise just how much. As I Descended not only gives wonderful ethnic and LGBTQ+ representation (finally some accurate bisexual representation), but is incredibly chilling, creating the perfect atmosphere for a Macbeth retelling set in a Virginia private school. Please just read this!
Read in August 

7. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
This had far too many moments in it that rung eerily true of my own past experiences with anxiety, and yet was really educative on areas that I hadn't really considered before, such as selective mutism. A Quiet Kind of Thunder perfectly hits what its 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. 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.  REVIEW
Read in April

8. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

The latter quarter of 2017 brought the start of my degree majoring in English Literature, and whilst there was a heck of a lot of books I read for my modules that I sadly didn't enjoy, I really really loved J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. It's problematic, and I have my qualms on every page, especially surrounding the context of the time's ideas on gender, but nonetheless, this is a wonderful tale of escapism and fantasy for any reader, regardless of this being categorised as a children's book. 
Read in October