Monday, 18 December 2017

2017: Film Favourites

Admittedly I entered this year with a lot more hope for my cinematic-viewings than I'm ending 2017 with. I love film. I really love film. But more often than not, I struggle to find the time to hit the play button and get the screen rolling. Of course, as a first year undergraduate student, there is screen time, oh trust me, there is screen time. When I've done my work for the day and 11 PM rolls around and I can't sleep, Netflix is right there, as is my Amazon Student Prime subscription (which should probably be made the most of given there's only four months left on it. Anyway, I digress..); However, if it's that time of night and it's between a film on my "To-watch" list or yet another rewatch of Gilmore Girls, then the latter, my comfort watch, is probably going to be the winner. Despite all this though, I entered 2017 with the intention of broadening the genres of film I consume, and have come away from the bulk of this year having seen some incredible films, and I've finally watched the films that I'd been meaning to jump into for years. So without further ado, here are my favourite films of 2017. (Disclaimer: these haven't all been released in 2017, but were watched for the first time in this year).

Wonder Woman
Honestly, I am proud to say that it took me 18 years and six months to actually watch a superhero film. Maybe it's an awful thing to say, but it's true: this film made me feel empowered beyond belief. I've never seen anything quite like Wonder Woman and probably never will again. Within a week, I went back again with my friend Lottie to see it all over again, and it was still just as incredible as the first time around. Gal Gadot is fierce and brilliant as was everything about this film, right down to the cinematography and the music. This certainly took me by surprise, but I couldn't love it more if I tried. Watched in July

La La Land
I should stress: I hate musicals. I don't know why, but something about them just doesn't sit right with me, ironically a former long-term dancer. But La La Land did something to me that I'll never truly be able to explain. I don't know why it was or how it was, but La La Land spoke to me at a time when I needed to here about the struggling artist wanting to achieve their dreams, even if they knew those dreams were far fetched. It isn't a flawless film, and I do have my problems with it, but everything down to the exact note and semibreve was perfect and delightfully moving. You can probably rightly imagine that I spent months afterwards listening to the soundtrack on loop and learning the piano versions myself. Watched in January

Hidden Figures
Again, rather like Wonder Woman, I never expected to quite like this one anywhere near as much as I did, and now I'd very contently say that it's in my top five favourite films ever. Hidden Figures is (again, for lack of a better alternative word) empowering and glorious and whilst I may be dire when it comes to mathematics and physics and anything science-based, I like any other female can appreciate the genius that is within this story, and watch it again and again with intense admiration. (Also, Taraji P. Henson was astounding as Katherine Johnson and didn't get nearly enough praise for said role.) Watched in February

Stranger Than Fiction
Absurd and ridiculous, but utterly endearing. Leena of Just Kiss My Frog had recommended this god knows how long ago as a film worth watching for writers, as it grapples with a writer dealing with intense writer's block. It's an insane comedy but knows when it needs to be serious or romantic or hard-hitting, and packs all of those punches in exactly the right places. It is like I said totally bizzare, but simulataneously definitely worth a watch. Watched in August

Remember when I briefly joined the film society at University? Yeah... that was a brief, brief stint in which my friend and I watched one film and then realised it clashed with the Writer's Guild (which turned out to be hugely pivotal in how my life is now), so... priorities. I don't know if, had it not been a free screening at University, if I would've ever actively chosen to watch Birdman, but my god I love it. It's ambiguous and weird and crazy as hell, but the way this was crafted is something that I couldn't not love. If you've watched this, then you'll know I'm talking about that constantly travelling camera. So! Good! Watched in September

Dead Poets Society
Frankly I'm not 100% certain that I want to place Dead Poets Society on my list of favourites for 2017, because often there were moments where I felt strong dislike for this entire production. However, whilst I stand by that, let's consider this to be my honourary mention, as this was a film that I'd been wanting to watch for years, and even though it wasn't everything I expected and hoped for, the acting was outstanding and it certainly hit my feelings hard. Watched in November

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
Above all else, this predominantely exists on this list for sentimental value, as these are the first films I watched with my boyfriend. I'm not entirely sure as to what happened in any of these films, because we spent the majority of each one talking, but from the general gist I got, these were fantastic... especially the final one in the trilogy. Though I may not totally understand yet what was going on, it was enough for me to go and buy my own copies of the trilogy to rewatch and learn, and enough that I'm genuinely invested enough to want to watch The Force Awakens and then, hopefully, The Last Jedi. All watched in November

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Currently I'm... #1: First Year, Semester 1 First Term

Current plan: Write one of these each term for the duration of university.

Listening to...
It sounds ridiculous, but the Made in Manchester playlist on Spotify has been played in the late hours of the evenings on loop since moving to university, especially in late October and throughout November, when the homesickness really started hitting me the hardest. It's weirdly comforting to hear the music of the place you call home, all in one playlist. Outside of this, I've continued listening to Alohomora! the MuggleNet Harry Potter re-read podcast as I walk between lectures and on train journeys, and for studying in the library, when not loving listening to the sounds of crackling, folding pages, I tend to turn to classical playlists to concentrate on my work. My personal favourite is Ludovico Einaudi's albums, but basically any classical playlist does the job.

Admittedly, the adjustment to my degree has hit me like a train. Since starting university, I haven't read anything that hasn't been part of a reading list, and whilst I love my degree, I really miss the freedom to read for pleasure as well as for academia. So far my dominant module has been Children's Fiction, but I've been attempting to get some non-degree reading done, such as recently starting The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I am to, hopefully over Christmas, read A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, the sequel to one of my favourite books, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

Not anywhere near as much as I used to, but the old favourites still manage to sneak in here and there. I'm a lot busier than I was prior to university, and tend to avoid becoming the "Netflix in bed all day kind" of student, In spite of this, however, the late hours of the night are filled with rewatches of Gilmore Girls, my favourie TV show. I tend to watch whichever season is closest to my own personal life, and find solace in Rory's own chaos rather than my own, so as it currently stands I'm rewatching season four, when Rory starts at Yale University, on repeat. Beyond Gilmore Girls, my other Netflix favourites have been rewatching The Crown ahead of series two, and Medici: Masters of Florence. My amount of news consumption has dipped dramatically since starting university, as I live in this weird bubble where unless you actively search for news, you can go a week without hearing about anything in the outside world. I'm lucky enough to have a TV licence, and so watch BBC news constantly, if I'm not using the Guardian app. And finally, I have, at long last, watched Star Wars. Whilst the person I was watching it with and I talked through the majority of it and I generally don't entirely know what the hell went on, they're pretty bloody cool, and I'm glad to finally say I've seen the films.

As it currently stands, I'm taking a sort of unconventional route at university. Since October, I've chosen to come home every weekend, back to Manchester, which has been really rewarding in the long-run: I get a break from university life and the flat in student accommodation, and I get time to clear my head and refocus ahead of the following week. My life is divided into weeks being for university, university people, and friends I've made there, and my weekends are for family and for friends from home. Regardless of whatever other people do, I'm enjoying my system: I like not feeling trapped in one spot, and am so thankful that I chose a university that is relatively near home, even if in Wales, and I have the freedom to come home if and when I need/want to. As well, frankly, as an insomniac, though I don't get a lot of it, I don't think I've ever enjoyed sleep as much as I do now when I'm constantly exhausted. Sleep is a gift from the gods.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Letters to Winter: 2017

Dear Winter,
It's 1 AM, and less than 24 hours until December. The dregs of November are leaving now, and I can hear you calling to me from the near future. I'm not normally this late at writing or working or anything that involves deadlines. I am meticulous and a planner and the Hermione Granger of thinking ahead. Yet here I am: forcing myself to write in the dead of night because for once, I've let my scheduling guard down. That's how things have been recently: some of the writings I had been working on until Autumn hit have come to a hiatus, but so many have commenced too, with extra calibre, because I finally, finally started university. Not only that but after all the anxiety and fear and... everything that was wracking my brain last time we spoke, I got to where I wanted to be. I did it.

On Tuesday afternoon I was sat with... for the sake of privacy let's say... "somebody", in my bedroom at University. We were sat watching a film and the light was gradually dimming, and I don't know where we'd come from to get to this point, but I just turned my head and went "Oh god, it's December on Friday." to which I gained an equally unenthused response from them. I think this is the first time in my life when I've truly felt the pressure of time when November is coming to a close, December is hitting, and with it you, Winter. How I've perceived time since starting my undergraduate degree has changed drastically. Most of the time it feels frozen, and I have to carve with a pickaxe into it in order to feel like I've achieved anything, even the food shopping. Sometimes, just... occasionally, it feels like time is melting. Those moments when it feels like time is melting are beautiful; when everything feels like it has fallen into place and you want the moment to pause but you know the blood of the clocks will simply run faster for the fact that you are enjoying yourself. This year has been manic... and I have done so much, but in terms of life changes, Autumn has been the greatest shock to the system.

Winter, you know I've been through the mill a bit. "A bit" is a wild underestimation, but Autumn has been the most tumultuous, unpredictable, and yet catastrophically thrilling time of my life. I worked so hard to get to this point, and this time last year, as I wrote, I was desperately craving an offer, nevermind even a place at my university. And yet a lot of the time, due to my mental state, I'm not happy. I've had days where a lobotomy would be welcomed, days where I want to just feel nothing, and I have had weeks where I haven't wanted to move... and that's... concerning, and I'm working on it. But nevertheless, it isn't half frustrating when you achieve a huge dream, a huge life goal, and then things aren't quite what they seem. Like I said, I'm working on it, but I need to focus right now on the incredible things that are going on. I have made friends, and I have something that is also, shall we say... more than that, too. I'm living independently but valuing the time I spend with my family at the weekends more than ever, and I'm having amazing new experiences. I got my dream, I got exactly what I wanted, and although things aren't perfect, some phenomenal things are occurring in my life right now that light it up more than words could possibly explain, I just need time to work some things out.

December is going to be huge. You, Winter, are going to be huge. By the time Spring arrives, I'll be 19, and soon enough 20. A year ago in my last letter, I said I was ready for adulthood. I still stand by that, but what I've learnt is that are we ever really ready? My goal was feeling that I had it all together: I got the job at MuggleNet permanently, I got into my dream university, I have met some incredible people and have my wonderful friends and family, but there are still and always will be cracks. There is no such thing as having it together, I realised a week ago when at the end of a truly horrific day, I lugged myself to the Morrisons at the end of the road, bought a pizza and ice cream, realising that I had nothing that I felt in the mood to cook, and sat feeling the most isolated I've felt since I got to university. I messaged my friends and one very wisely said "adulting isn't having it together. Nobody has got it together. Adulting is conquering one crisis at a time and trying to make the best out of what is going on." That is what I need to do, and that is what I'm aiming to do in your hours this time around, Winter. If I am low, I am low. If I'm happy, then that's a major success. I'm working on it. I will conquer this, it's just going to be a long and difficult journey.

I'm working on it. For now, I shall inhale the scent of Christmas and hope for a little snow.



Friday, 10 November 2017

Five Years of Lost in a Library

Five years have passed and this blog is still here.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was very very ill. Instead of getting the education she so desperately craved and the happiness she so longed for, she was confined to the walls of her house, and the closing borders of her mind. She didn't hate life, but she didn't want this one to be hers anymore. She knew about blogging from a girl called Catriona who ran a blog that had recently featured in an edition of Shout. Little did she know that soon that girl would become a great friend. So she went onto Blogger, filled out the details, and created A Day Dreamer's Thoughts. It was merely a place to put everything she thought nobody would listen to. That was all.

Two years later and after much blogger confusion with another site, A Day Dreamer's Thoughts became Lost in a Library. Over time it matured from lifestyle to solely books, and then once again, has developed into books and occasionally lifestyle too, because though I may be an English Literature student, over time I have exceeded to be more than just books. Books mean so much to me, but over the years I have become more than that: I love to travel, literally and metaphorically, and we cannot forget my obsession with Harry Potter

This isn't going to be the soliloquy-like post that I'd planned, because reality is hitting and life sometimes gets in the way. Though I may not be as active on here as I once was, and though I'm not even certain if anyone is here, reading what I write anymore, I am still here. This year I haven't posted on here nearly as much as I did last, or in 2015, despite having 93 draft posts - numerous of which are fully written and ready to go, but in terms of care, that means nothing. I still love this blog and the place I have created here on the internet for myself, my Hobbit hole of sorts, but I'm just not as active as I used to be. Nevertheless, I feel less nowadays like I write posts for the sake of posting but rather because I actually want to share them, and share them when I want to share them. 

I wouldn't say I've changed in the past five years, but I - like Lost in a Library - have evolved. The person who created this blog on 10 November 2012 is a shell of the person who sits in the same spot in 2017. The people I knew back then are now bad memories that I bottle up and push out to water every so often; the friends I have now were still future acquaintances. Now instead of being too ill to go to school, I am in the first semester of my first year pursuing a bachelor's degree. I am the girl who was back then, and more, and that feels so rewarding, to be able to look back over five years of hard work, archiving of my life, and say that I'm still here, still writing, and still following the dreams that I had back then. A lot can change in five years, and it certainly has. 

Where this blog will be in five years is currently a mystery to me. I've always said that I have no intention of ceasing blogging, and whilst that remains true to this day, things continue to change in my world. In the past two months since starting university, I've barely had any time to write here, let alone on any of my other projects outside of academia. I review books and do my Waterstones work, and work as a Lead Editorialist for MuggleNet, but those elements alone are hard to balance as we speak, and it's only going to get harder as the workload of my degree increases. If my plan for the next half decade goes as I hope, then when this blog is ten years old, I will have graduated from my undergraduate, and hopefully will have done a masters, too. In 2022, I should be hunting for jobs, which is... terrifying. I don't know where I will be with Lost in a Library in 2022, or 2020, or you know, even on this day in 2018, but I wholly intend to continue working at this little place, regardless of how sporadic the posts get.

To those of you who read Lost in a Library occasionally; to those of you who have followed for a long time or stumbled across this website today; to the friends I've made over these past five years and just know, thank you. Thank you for being here, because that was all I ever wanted.

Mischief Managed,


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Autumn Reading Tag -- Fall[ing] into Autumn

1) Are there any books you plan on reading over the Autumn season?

Honestly, right now, 90% of the books I intend to read throughout Autumn are my course texts and textbooks for wider reading. As I write this, I've just finished my second week of Semester 1 and already it's complete chaos in which I have little to no time to read anything none degree-related, which is okay by me. However, that being said, I wholeheartedly intend to read A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers in October. Last October I read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - the sort of prequel to this - and for very sentimental reasons, I want to crack book 2 this month. Whether that will happen, who knows, but I enter October with full intentions of making this occur. 

2) September brings back to school memories: what book did you most enjoy studying? And what were your favourite and least favourite school subjects? 

My favourite book I enjoyed studying over prior to commencing my Degree was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Out of all the texts I studied in High School and Sixth Form College, this one from my AS year of Sixth Form College was by far the best and most interesting; and perhaps this was aided by the fact that I was studying Sociology at the time and was bubbling with opinions on capitalism. Aside from this, I also really adored Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, and Othello. I'd initially started out dreading studying the play, preferring to study Hamlet or King Lear, but once we'd gotten through the political warfare, Antony and Cleopatra was fascinating to analyse (Also we had a fantastic question on the exam paper which is what I believe got me an A at AS.)

My favourite subject has always been English Literature - hence doing a degree in it. As for my least favourite, that would probably be Science. I had terrible teachers and not so great fellow pupils, and aside from Biology, it just wasn't a subject that I ever fully got my head around. 

3) October means Halloween: do you enjoy scary books and films? If so what are some of your favourites?

I've never enjoyed horror and media that aims to induce fear. Some people get an adrenaline rush out of it, whereas I develop intense paranoia. So no... nothing to recommend here.

4) With November it's time for bonfire night & firework displays. What's the most exciting book you've read that really kept you gripped?

Just read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Just read it. Inhale it. Allow it to consume you whole. Space opera, LGBTQ+ aliens, and a character who is basically Space!Tonks. Just read it.

5) What book is your favorite cosy comfort read? 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is my favourite book. I never fail to find comfort in its pages. There may be countless deaths, scenes of torture, possession, and of course a war that acts as a parallel to World War Two, but to me, this book is cosy.

6) Curled up with a good book, what is your hot drink of choice?
Hot chocolate or a strong fruit tea - with the teabag left in. 

7) Any plans you're looking forward to over the next few months?

I'm turn 19 in December... so that's happening. I'm starting to feel my age. Currently I'm ambling my way through the first semester of the first year of my degree - that in itself is incredibly exciting. The latter quarter of the year is always my favourite, and I'm aiming to fully embrace Christmas, especially with heading to the History of Magic exhibit just before Christmas Day...

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

REVIEW: Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (#1)

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

"Masquerade balls, and pirates, and feminism, and multi-sided coats, and Londons in the plural. THIS is my kind of book. V.E. Schwab, where have you been all my life?" - This was my initial response to A Darker Shade of Magic, a book that I had been so wary about entering. My love for fantasy has increased hugely in recent years and this, from the offset, appeared to be my kind of book, but with such a hyped book, it was hard to know for certain if I would love it as much as my friends had. Much to my surprise, I did. 

Upon first closing the book firmly shut in February after reading this, I went into a serious internal debate about what rating it deserved. A Darker Shade of Magic inevitably, like any book, had its faults and criticisms: personally, the last hundred pages fell a little flat in comparison to the rest of the novel. However, to me, that was more of a reflection of my mentality at the time of reading (where I had no time because of A Levels but also desperately desired to make time for this novel) rather than the quality of the book, because so much happened in the final quarter. All in all, the plot of this first instalment in a trilogy was amazing and constantly kept me wanting to crawl back into bed and read a little further, despite its occasional confusing ways. Though the final 100 pages wilted in comparison to the pages prior, that was more a reflection of myself at the time rather than the content, because regardless of this, so much happened, and it was glorious. 

A Gathering of Shadows (#2)

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port. But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

Following the rollercoaster that A Darker Shade of Magic, this was slightly disappointing. A Gathering of Shadows was still enthralling, funny, and intensely fantastical, but it lacked some of the excitement and whimsy that occurred in the first book. The Essen Tasch sounded like quite the change from travelling between Londons, and it was, but the issue at hand was that it didn't actually occur until 3/4 of the way through the book. Essentially, there were three-hundred pages of slow build up to the games, which then felt wildly rushed in order to wrap the story up and bring on the cliffhanger (which I predicted entirely). The plot was solid, but there were several ways in which it could have been reworked with the Essen Tasch pushed further into the story and the buildup lessened, with the issues that came up in the build-up being distributed throughout the Games. To me coming off the high that was A Darker Shade of Magic, that sounds better than what we were given. 

Nevertheless, I adored the character development in the aftermath of what transpired at the end of the first book. Often where sequels fail is in the character, and a failure to push characters forward to their extremes in the aftermath of serious change; as J.K. Rowling once said: "character is everything." However, Schwab did this perfectly, and the damage that had occurred was evident in its haunting of each character, regardless of the significance of their role. A Gathering of Shadows may not have had the same "magic" for lack of a better phrase, as the first book, but it was still enjoyable and a complete page-turner. 

A Conjuring of Light (#3)

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED... The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise. WHO WILL CRUMBLE? Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive? WHO WILL RISE? Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

I don't think I'll ever truly be able to describe the emotion and excitement that coursed throughout my veins as I ploughed through this book. 666 pages in 6 days - which, having barely read anything that wasn't for A Levels prior to this for maybe 4 months, was quite the achievement for me. 

It's true, I have a tendency to love the final book in series more than any others: it happened with my favourite series, Harry Potter, and pretty much every other series I've ever read, including The Lunar Chronicles. Thus, naturally, the Shades of Magic series seems to have followed suit in that. A Conjuring of Light did have its flaws, but they were few and far between, and given the general contents of the rest of the novel, I could let said flaws slide. The first time around, I found it difficult to immerse myself in the chapters told from Holland's past perspective, and thus I reread those after finishing the book. That is something that in the grand scheme of this novel is incredibly minor. 

V.E. Schwab's writing is beautiful, the world building is phenomenal, and I couldn't care more for these characters if I tried. There were FAR too many times in this book in which the events left me teary, and made me feel so attached to the characters in this book. What happens here is dark, it's disturbing, and it's brilliant. The character development over the course of this trilogy - even in minor characters - has been extraordinary, and I never thought that I'd find myself caring for Holland, and yet somehow, V.E. Schwab makes me do it. 

I love the way this ended, and the emphasis on how much the characters have transformed since A Darker Shade of Magic, this book - although it was already forming in A Gathering of Shadows, - has also ignited my love for a new OTP (outside of Harry Potter), in Rhy & Alucard, and I adored how their relationship evolved over the course of ACOL.

Conclusion: Here my words are poor, because words will never be enough to describe how much I love this trilogy, and how much I'd give to get another novel or novellas. After Harry Potter, this has to be my favourite series.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

THE READING LIST: Year 1, Semester 1

It's been a while, but I've finally started university! Every day nearly a month in I am still baffled that I managed to make it to the place I wanted to be, and every day I dive deeper into my Semester One reading list. Compared to my other reading list posts, this is considerably longer, so sit tight!

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (Children's Fiction)
At the time of writing this, I've already read Robinson Crusoe as my first text, and as much as I'd hoped to love it that wasn't the case. But hopefully, this will change with further analysis of the novel as "the first children's novel". 

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Children's Fiction)
SO excited to read this and finally get into the original text. I never grew up reading Alice in Wonderland as so many children did; and whilst I've seen plenty of adaptations for the screen and read several retellings, this is my first time giving Carroll's original work a go, and I'm certain it'll be fascinating, especially given the controversy surrounding the author. 

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Children's Fiction)
I haven't read Peter Pan since I was maybe five or six and even then it was read to me. Since then, like with Alice, I've dipped into multiple retellings, including John Logan's play Peter and Alice, and Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily, but now feels about bloody time that I read the original text, which I've always found so interesting, for myself. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Children's Fiction)
I'm especially interested to see how this text pans out because not only is it a book about the abolition of slavery in America at the time of its peak, but furthermore it's a novel about abolition explicitly and openly written by a woman at the time. As far as I'm aware, Beecher Stowe never used a male pen name, which is interesting for the context of the time and how successful this book was. This is coupled with Junk in my third week of studies, so it'll certainly be perplexing to read and study these together. 

Junk by Melvin Burgess (Children's Fiction)
Honestly, I'm surprised I've never read this before, given how it's set in Manchester - my home city - but I haven't. It's going to be dark, intense and murky, but I'm looking forward to reading a book based in a location I'm so familiar with. 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Children's Fiction)
The Chronicles of Narnia have always been very hit and miss for me personally. I loved the films and remember watching them all, most often the first one, as a young child, but the books to me are far from the same. Probably my main struggle is the intense religious subtext, as whilst I can immerse myself in this wonderful fantasy side, I seriously struggle to separate the religious propaganda and cynicism from the rest of the children's novel. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Children's Fiction)
I won't lie. One of the main reasons I signed up for this module over "Literature of Laughter" which I was so close to taking was because it meant I'd get to study Harry Potter. I GET TO STUDY HARRY POTTER, A SERIES I AM OBSESSED WITH. How could I pass up that opportunity? 

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Children's Fiction)
Another one of the strongest reasons I chose "Children's Fiction" as a module was because of the fact that Pullman is an honorary professor at my university, and as part of studying Northern Lights he'll be giving one of my lectures in December! I've been dying to read His Dark Materials for years, and have been gradually accumulating the books, so maybe once I've studied this I can give them a marathon over Christmas...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Children's Fiction)
As a child, I read or had read to me every book of Roald Dahl's... yes, even Boy and Going Solo. I love Dahl's work and always will, and whilst Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't my favourite Dahl novel (it's Matilda) it's certainly a close one entering the top 3. To study this and look at the book from an analytical view is so exciting!

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (Reading, Writing, Thinking)
This, like Heart of Darkness, is for my "Reading, Thinking, Writing" module, which is mandatory for first years. Though we don't read these until later on in the semester I'm definitely anticipating the moment we do. About a year ago I read Carter's The Bloody Chamber, some of which I loved, some of which I hated, but all in all was a wonderful read. In one of our first lectures, we looked at an essay a former student had written during the module on The Magic Toyshop. Seeing someone else, having myself not read the novel yet, tear the book apart and analyse it with a keen eye resting on gender politics and feminism, I can't help but be intrigued for what may come out of what sounds like such a refreshing read. 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Reading, Writing, Thinking)

I am dreading reading Heart of Darkness. My parents said that every English Literature student studies Heart of Darkness at some point, and the university has also said that they're putting it in this module to help get it out of the way for us, but honestly I'm just dreading reading this. It sounds like far from what I would typically read but at the same time that's one of the things I adore about my degree: I'm reading so many books I would have perhaps never picked up on my own, and thus broadening my horizons, ideas, and travelling into further realms of fiction.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REVIEW: I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers

I'd Rather be Reading: A Library of Art for Book LoversFor anyone who'd rather be reading than doing just about anything else, this book is the ultimate must-have. In this visual ode to all things bookish, readers will get lost in page after page of beautiful contemporary art, photography, and illustrations depicting the pleasures of books. Artwork from the likes of Jane Mount, Lisa Congdon, Julia Rothman, and Sophie Blackall is interwoven with text from essayist Maura Kelly, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, and award-winning author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett. Rounded out with poems, quotations, and aphorisms celebrating the joys of reading, this lovingly curated compendium is a love letter to all things literary, and the perfect gift for bookworms everywhere.

Whilst this book is small in stature and page length, the content inside is a treasure trove of wonders that any bibliophile could happily lose themselves in. I'd Rather Be Reading is an ode to the bookish; a collage of unturned pages, and a tapestry of the binding connections that a love for literature can form. I do't know what I quite expected when this arrived in the post in August, but it was a joyous surprise to receive a little book of curious power that will remind any reader of why they adore books. 

The summary on the cover of I'd Rather Be Reading describes the book as "a library of art for book lovers" and not only does it fufill this premise, but does so in spectacular fashion. Though this book is about the printed word, the homage to literature extends beyond the realms of text and into art, typography, quotations, and simply the most stunning photos of books and libraries one could possibly want bound together and pressed into their palms. This now should probably be broken down into mini-reviews of each essay. Ahem...

Each essay brought a different kind of joy to me that I never thought would come through this book. The editor herself Guinevere de la Mare discusses her life lived throughout books and how she wants to imprint the same burning desire to read into her young son. The most beautiful element of this essay is de la Mare realising how her ancestry of bibliophiles has shaped her future as she reads Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to her afformentioned child. But above all, the profound message that lies among her masterful words is that we can live lives filled with literature, but life is too short to be wasted on poor quality books that we are reading for the sake of reading something. Rather, we should curate our personal libraries and literary tastes, instead of reading whatever  is on the market or what our peers are reading. 

Maura Kelly's essay "A Slow Books Manifesto" continued on de la Mare's gentle preaching of reading good quality books, but also having a decent quality of life through reading. Following the notion that we are spending our lives consumed by "empty-calorie entertainment" Kelly suggests, rightfully so, that we use the time that is so consistently wasted scrolling through our smartphones and instead pull out our books. On the whole, the general idea of the essay concludes with the knowledge that a life is better lived with books, but one needs to make the time to read, even just a small amount, each and every day in order to lead a more fulfilled life. And I must say, I wholeheartedly agree!

"Cheating" by Ann Pratchett was probably by far my favourite essay in I'd Rather Be Reading. As the owner of Parnasus Books, renowned in the book community and highly recommended by one of my favourite authors, V.E. Schwab, Pratchett discusses the struggle to list what our favourite books are, when we can categorise them so easily into different smaller categories. Instead, she provides lists of recommendations that she has inhaled over her years as a bookseller and bookshop owner, gorgeously compiled with such a love it exudes from the page. I, like I am sure any reader would, came away with a whole new section on my Goodreads TBR as inspired by this essay. The thought of all the books I hadn't read but longed to that were on Pratchett's lists just made me want to read everything, and to be able to create that in a reader is just a magical, magical thing.

Finally, Gretchen Rubin's "13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done" does exactly was it says in the title. It isn't anything revolutionary, but it certainly feels fitting to, after pages upon pages of creating bookish wanderlust, to help readers find more ways to get said reading done. There's some advice on this list that I'm opposed to, but I think the best thig Rubin did with this list was add the reading advice of world famous authors in the latter half, as those words, words created by genuiuses when it comes to stringing sentences then chapters then books together, is so awe-inspiring that anyone will be bursting to read by the final page. 

The perfect gift for fellow book lovers, or just to oneself, if you're looking for a way to indulge in your sheer adoration for old dusty pages, mysteries and the feeling of reaching the final chapter and just wanting more, then I'd Rather Be Reading is the book for you.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Reading List:: A Level Year 2 Wrap Up

After months of intense revision, in which I was doing 10-14 hours a day of work, my A Level exams were completed in June. Since then life has been moving fast, but I've taken so much out of every moment of my break - reading, travelling, and spending much-valued time with family and friends. A few weeks ago, my A Level results were released, and it was a thrill to find out that all the hard work and exhaustion had paid off, and I had gained a place at my first choice university. I absolutely loved doing my A Levels, especially English Literature, and now ahead of starting my degree in the same subject, it felt like a good time to reflect on the texts I studied in the past year, after all, it is because of these texts combined with my work that I proudly came away from A Levels with an A in the subject.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The moment I found out that I'd be studying Wuthering Heights back in May 2016, I was disappointed. I'm far from what you'd consider to be a fan of the Bronte's, and I really struggled to see the positives in Wuthering Heights as a novel. The motifs and recurring themes were fantastically intriguing to analyse, but on the whole more frustration came from reading the novel beyond anything else. For as long as I live, I will never be able to understand why countless people consider this to be their favourite novel, nor why Heathcliff is such a romanticised character within the realms of fiction. The reality is that he's abusive, violent, manipulative, and the most toxic character I have ever encountered in literature. He's effectively the Snape of the Yorkshire Moors. However, whilst this is all said, going to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, where Emily Bronte and the Bronte's created their novels, poetry, and artwork helped so much when it came to appreciating the production of a novel that I loathed. Now, on the other side, loathe has maybe melted into strong dislike, but I have to admire Emily Bronte for writing and successfully publishing the novel in such circumstances. Regardless though, this definitely taught me that I don't get on well with gothic literature. 

Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello was never the Shakespeare play that I expected to do at A2, nor the one I was hoping for (I wanted Hamlet, King Lear, or a comedy), but as soon as I found out that this was our given play, I desired to know everything. Looking back, I very clearly remember watching the Sparknotes video summary and then rushing to my mum to say "He did what???" Othello is a truly extraordinary play, bursting with themes and messages about gender politics, race, class, and jealousy. I'll never quite recover from Emilia's fierce lines and rebellion against Iago, or the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the events of the play occur, as in following the villain, as audiences we're always aware of the dramatic irony that we always know what bloody end will transpire. Both my A Level Shakespeare plays, this and Anthony and Cleopatra were excellent masterpieces, but I must admit that due to the lack of active war on the stage here Othello has most certainly become one of my favourite Shakespeares.

A Choosing by Liz Lochhead

If you've read my TBR for A2 English Literature then you'll know that I was incredibly apprehensive about this text. This is by far the worst poetry collection I have ever read, and in many ways I'm rather bitter about the fact that I studied it. The problem with A Choosing was the fact that Lochhead has the capacity to write a few stunning poems which are bursting to the brim with analysis on gender politics, feminism, and class struggles, but that's just a few amongst a collection of 80 pages. So many of the poems we were set to study by the exam board had little to no room to analyse, and this was even the case when a few of use tried doing it together, or my mum - an English Literature teacher - tried to analyse them too. Whilst I'll be keeping the book, and reading over those few gems that were truly excellent, I will forever be frustrated about this book when we could've studied other poets on the syllabus such as Rossetti and Keats. Not to mention the fact that there was a MAJOR error on the exam board's part in which they set a poem in the exam that wasn't even on the syllabus which I'm astonished didn't cost me my A grade but in the meantime put me through an exceptional amount of stress.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

I've wanted to read The Crucible for years, and said play seems to be the more common of Miller's to be studied at A Level, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to study Death of a Salesman, especially with a teacher who was as incredible as mine for my A Levels. Simply put: Death of a Salesman is one of the best plays I've ever read. DoaS  explores the corruption of the American Dream and how detrimental is to become invested in it. Ultimately it leaves a very bittersweet punch, reminding readers and audiences that it is right to have dreams - that's how we get through life - but you can have too many dreams. As Willy Loman's son, Biff, remarks on his father "He had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong." It was a sad note to end A Level English Literature on, especially when you consider the fact that what Miller wrote here in 1949 is still tragically apparent in modern day society. After a short story that I covered at AS Level - Perkins Gillman's The Yellow Wallpaper - Death of a Salesman is my favourite text studied in A Level English Literature, and I feel so privilleged to have stuied it to the point where I walked into my exam, saw the question for this text, and blitzed it with more confidence than ever before in an exam. 

LITERATURE STUDENTS: What are you looking forward to studying in the coming academic year? 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Oh, the Places - Manchester

 It's August, and in all of a few weeks, I shall be heading off to University. I've opted to study outside of my home city, and so these are my last few weeks at home before moving away for 3 years. I'll be back for holidays and a weekend every few weeks, but it'll never be quite the same again. So I guess this is my swan song; my goodbye to the city I've lived in my whole life. 

Most of the time, I say I hate Manchester; to an extent that's true. When you've lived in a fairly small city for as long as you can remember, there comes a point when you realise you have seen everything that needs to be seen. You've done the tourist attractions and all the lines of the underground-like network, exploring what's at their endings. You can't picture yourself living there forever and you want to see more than just this city, but at the same time, you'll miss it. Whilst I still in many respects dislike Manchester because I've spent so long here, what transpired here in on 22nd May shook me to the core in a way that shifted my opinion on my home city. What happened that day made me realised how much I care for where I live and why Manchester will always be a key part of my identity and geographic heritage. I'll miss being able to walk into the biggest bookshop in the North and inhale the overwhelming smell of books. I'll miss travelling on our transport system over the city, no matter how outrageous the prices are. I'll miss the places where there's good food or a quiet spot to read or a nice place to sit and wait without being attacked by pigeons. Yet, I'm here, and I'm ready for the next step.

I'll be back soon, probably every time I have an opportunity to meet with my book club friends, and or a weekend visiting family every so often, but for now, I'm heading into the unknown. The place isn't unknown, but the lifestyle, the work, the people, the culture is in many ways going to be so different from everything I've known, which is exciting but hugely terrifying. 

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. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephanie Kate Strohm

Day three comes around and with it, the third and final interview in my series from Waterstones Deansgate Manchester's YA Summer Cringefest. Previously we've had Simon James Green and Beth Garrod, and now it's time for Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of It's Not Me It's You. Warning: this interview contains Gilmore Girls, plenty of Googling, and mentions of "smooching". 

Photo credits to @Teensgate at Waterstones 

Did you always intend to write?
Never intended to write. Loved humanities subjects rather than the sciences, but wasn't pursuing writing. Instead, Strohm studied theatre and became an actor. It was only when she read Twilight that Strohm became inspired to write her own novel. Whilst on tour as an actor, Strohm was alone and decided to have fun with writing a first draft of her first novel, not thinking that it would one day be published. 

Did you always intend to write for a young adult audience?
Yes, on the basis that I read the most as a teen. Strohm mentions that she was a summer camp worker, and was heavily inspired by her time doing this. 

How was the journey into publication?
Strohm notes that she finished her first book after graduation from University. Upon finishing the book, she admits that she "Googled how to get published," and in realising she needed to send it her manuscript to agents, Strohm was lucky enough to recieve offers from 10 different agents. After that, the rest of the publishing process continued on smoothly. 

What was your first inspiration for your latest novel?
It's Not Me, It's You is Stephanie Kate Strohm's fourth book, but the first published in the UK. The idea for the novel actually wasn't hers but rather her agent's after a someone had requested someone write a prom-themed book in the form of an oral history, and thus, the task was passed on to Strohm.  Strohm notes that she had always wanted to write an oral history, and loved using first and third person featuring flashbacks. As someone who proudly announces that they're obsessed with proms, having chaperoned many whilst working as a teacher, Strohm says that she had to include a prom as one of the themes of the novel. Ultimately, however, Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries were Strohm's most significant influence. 

Advice for Aspiring Writers?
Always finish what you started. If you need to skip a section due to writer's block, then do that, but always remember to return to what you left unfinished in the writing process. For Strohm, who declares herself "Queen of the Pantsers" when it comes to plotting novels, going for a walk always helps when struggling for ideas. Finally, "share your work."

How would you describe your book, It's Not Me, It's You, in five words?
"Prom, drama, "lols", boyfriends, and 'smooch.'" (Admittedly we both laughed at that last choice.)

What is your Hogwarts House?

Which fittingly leads onto the following question's answer to "What do you think is missing from YA?"
"You can never have too many smart girls."

Do you see yourself in any of your lead characters?
Initially, Strohm believed that she and Avery (the protagonist of It's Not Me, It's You) had "nothing in common, especially when it came to Avery's exuding confience. However, as the novel progressed and since publication, Strohm laughs about how she now sees her own bossiness and productivity in Avery as well. Raised in the area of Conneticut where Gilmore Girls was set, and attending a school that was incredibly similar to that of Chiltern in the television series. She observed that to her, watching the series, especially as someone who was "definitely the Paris Geller type at school," which was not only interesting to me, who's favourite tv series is Gilmore Girls but also because of the brief connections to Paris that came across in our conversation about Strohm's latest main character.

What can we expect from you next?
The sequel to It's Not Me It's You is published in September, and after that Strohm is working with Disney Hyperion to pubish Prince in Disguise this coming December. Additionally, Strohm's 2018 release will come next Autumn, and is about cooking.  

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for giving me the opportunity to conduct these interviews, and of course, to Stephanie, for allowing me to interview her - it was a truly wonderful talk. Click here to find out more about It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm. If you want to read the previous two interviews in this trilogy, click here for Part 1 and Part 2.