Sunday, September 23, 2018

How I Spent a Day in Cambridge for £22

Good morning, and welcome to my very first post as a newly-minted travel writer!

Last Monday, I took an impromptu day trip to Cambridge. (Seriously, I booked train tickets at 9 p.m. the night before—I'm trying to become more spontaneous throughout my semester abroad, and I'm off to a great start.)

I had a fantastic time, and I managed to avoid spending money aside from the £22 I spent on train tickets. Here are the spots I visited:

1. The Cambridge Visitor Information Centre

Because I decided to visit the night before, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in Cambridge. So I asked the experts. There was a short queue, but the staff was welcoming and knowledgeable. I asked my favorite question—"What are your favorite hidden gem sites that people don't usually ask about?"—and stored the answers for later. 

Cambridge Central Library

2. Cambridge Central Library 

Every time I visit a new city, I have to visit the public library; it's a non-negotiable. Located on the second floor of a shopping centre, this library took a few minutes to find, but it was just as inviting as the visitor centre.

I browsed the UK covers of some of my favorite YA novels, spoke with the staff about libraries in the UK v. the US, and stopped by a small exhibit-slash-reading room housing documents about Cambridge history and genealogy.

3. Trinity College and the Wren Library

The Wren Library was the best recommendation I received from the visitor centre. Owned by Trinity College, it's a working library that displays a small yet impressive collection of historic texts. I only spent maybe 45 minutes there, but being surrounded by the work of so many brilliant minds was my most thrilling experience all day. Here are some highlights:

Sadly, no photography was allowed at the Wren Library,
but here's a photo of the beautiful Trinity College!
  • The original manuscript of A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner
  • A first-edition copy of On the Origin of Species, with annotations from Charles Darwin's professor, Adam Sedgwick. He deeply struggled to reconcile Darwin's ideas with his religious beliefs, and this book now gives insight into how religious academics grappled with the idea of natural selection. 
  • Isaac Newton's own copy of PhilosophiƦ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, with hand-written corrections for the second edition

Travel tip: the library is only open for about two hours each day, so make sure you fit it in to your timetable!

4. Reading by the River Cam

Because I'm student myself here in the UK, I did some studying of my own during my trip to this college town. I found a bench outside the Wren Library, which sits near a bend in the River Cam. Then I read a few chapters of Small Island by Andrea Levy, which I'm reading for my "Modern British Novel" class.

5. The Corpus Clock

Neither words nor my bad iPhone photography can truly convey the creepy beauty of this art installation-meets science experiment-meets timekeeping device. Unveiled by Stephen Hawking almost 10 years to the day before my visit, this clock is guarded by a metal insectoid "Chronophage" and keeps time through traditional clock-making mechanics.

I highly recommend sitting on the fence across the street, pondering the passage of time, and reading the clock's Wikipedia page as you watch the Chronophage march steadily forward.

The Mathematical Bridge

6. The Mathematical Bridge (plus other wandering sights)

Next, I spent some time wandering the streets of Cambridge, admiring the stunning architecture, scanning the storefronts for quirky shops, and keeping my eye out for local oddities. I made sure my path included the Mathematical Bridge, known for its unusually sophisticated (for its time) engineering.

Essentially, this bridge uses a "series of tangents that describe the arc of the bridge, with radial members to tie the tangents together and triangulate the structure, making it rigid and self-supporting." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

I couldn't cross it, as it was part of a closed-off campus, but admiring its strong and clever structure from afar was more than enough.

The entrance to Gonville and Caius College

7. Gonville and Caius College

This division of Cambridge University, where Stephen Hawking first worked upon completion of his PhD, was closed to visitors during my time in Cambridge. But that didn't stop me from walking around the closed-off gate, feeling entirely star-struck. (Let's be honest: the entire day I felt star-struck, amazed that I was walking the streets of the town where one of the greatest minds of our time lived and died.)

My only complaint: just beyond the gates there was a memorial on the walkway to Francis Crick—and as an adamant defender of Rosalind Franklin, I cannot abide that. However, I refocused on the brilliant work of deserving scientists such as Hawking, Franklin, and more, marveling that I was quite possibly walking in their exact footsteps.

7.5. Evensong at King's College Chapel

Sadly, I couldn't attend this nightly choral service at King's College, as the student performers had only just arrived back on campus. (Daily performances resume along with classes this week.) However, I've heard wonderful things about this free serenade, so I had to mention it—I definitely would have gone had I been able!

The beginnings of a sunset over Pembroke College

8. Pembroke College

This school's grounds and chapel are free and open to the public, so I stopped by en route to the train station. I wandered through the maze of greenery surrounding the institution's buildings, imagining I was a real British uni student there, before the clock tower struck seven and I knew it was time to head home.

Overall, Cambridge is the most beautiful university town I've ever visited. It's extremely walkable, with more than a day's worth of activities within a few miles of the train station, and the stunning architecture alone provides hours of free entertainment. I highly recommend a day trip if you're in London!

Did I miss any sights? Let me know in the comments. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Forever Literary is a Travel Blog for Now, I Guess

Hello, lovely readers!

First off, I know it’s been ages—more than three months—since my last post. My sincerest apologies for keeping you waiting!

Now that I've taken the stereotypical tourist photo, I can
move on to pretending to be a local.
But I have (I think) a valid excuse: I’m spending this semester studying abroad in London! I’ve been here for almost three weeks, and I’m already deeply in love with this city. 

(Why you didn't see me all summer: I was busy preparing to travel abroad, balancing a job and an internship, and recovering from spring semester. Yes, last semester was so exhausting I needed the entire summer to recuperate, but that's a separate story.)

For the next few months, I’m not going to post about books, but I am going to post about my study abroad experience! Stay tuned for recaps of my day/weekend trips, maybe some advice posts, and general musings inspired by my semester.  

When I return to the USA, I think I might evolve this blog into a combined literary and lifestyle blog. Or maybe not. We’ll see. But for now, I hope you enjoy my stories of European travel, and send me your London recommendations!


P.S. Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more timely updates on my travels! 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Forever Literary Turns Six!

As of today, I’ve officially been running a blog for six years! (What!?)

Those six years have been full of truly unbelievable experiences—from interacting with my favorite authors online to attending national conventions to becoming friends with bookish people around the world. Even after all this time, it’s surreal that authors I love take the time to read my words and respond to me on social media, that I can bond with anyone in this community over mutually-adored books, and that I’ve even had the chance to meet several authors and bloggers in person.

This past year was especially exciting; I attended Book Expo for the first time and helped to publish three issues of Stay Bookish Zine, a digital magazine about all things YA (which you really should read).

I don’t know for sure what this site is going to look like in the future. My spring 2018 semester was the busiest time of my life so far, and I didn’t have the time to post as often as I would have liked. And I’ll be studying abroad in London in the fall, so I’m sure my blog will continue to be on the backburner until December.

But as always, I know I’m going to stick around the YA community. I know I’m going to continue talking about books on the internet in some capacity, even if consistent long-form blog posts become unsustainable. And I hope to be more active this summer, so stick around for better and more consistent content for the next few months!

Thank you so much to everyone who has made my six years as a blogger so wonderful. Here’s to many more!

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Speculative Alternate-History of Royal Deception: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley | Goodreads

Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release: May 8, 2018 (previously published in the UK)
Source: Publisher
ISBN: 9780763688073
By turns thrilling, dramatic, and touching, this is the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood as you’ve never heard it before.

Miss V. Conroy is good at keeping secrets. She likes to sit as quiet as a mouse, neat and discreet. But when her father sends her to Kensington Palace to become the companion to Princess Victoria, Miss V soon finds that she can no longer remain in the shadows. Her father is Sir John Conroy, confidant and financial advisor to Victoria’s mother, and he has devised a strict set of rules for the young princess that he calls the Kensington System. It governs Princess Victoria’s behavior and keeps her locked away from the world. Sir John says it’s for the princess’s safety, but Victoria herself is convinced that it’s to keep her lonely and unhappy. Torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with the willful and passionate princess, Miss V has a decision to make: continue in silence or speak out. In an engaging, immersive tale, Lucy Worsley spins one of England’s best-known periods into a fresh and surprising story that will delight both young readers of historical fiction and fans of the television show featuring Victoria.
My Name is Victoria is a delightful alternate history that tells a curiously embellished story of Queen Victoria’s childhood. Drawing from real English history, this novel asks a compelling question: what was the relationship between Victoria and her real-life appointed companion, Miss V.? And it provides a pleasantly implausible answer in the form of a richly-developed story.

What I love most about this novel is the way it tells a fantastical what-if tale deeply rooted in realism. Each plot thread is spun from real people and real events. And Lucy Worsley, a curator at England’s Historic Royal Palace, weaves extensive academic knowledge with inventive imagination to create a royal tale you won’t quite hear about in history textbooks. Readers get to enter the vividly-imagined life of Miss V., a young woman who truly existed, but whose relationship with the future queen Victoria is poorly documented. Along with the author, they muse about the personality, passions, and relationships of both Miss V. and Victoria.

Best of all, My Name is Victoria lets readers grow with its lively and lifelike characters. At the outset of the novel, Miss V. is a child of 10 or 11, timid and uncertain of how to conduct herself around the queen. Over the multi-year course of the story, however, she grows as a person and as a friend of Victoria’s. By the end of the book, readers will feel as though they’ve received a factual glimpse into the life of a key historical figure.

Equally fascinating is this novel’s exploration of the “Kensington System,” an elaborate collection of rules and protocols devised by Victoria’s mother and Miss V.’s father. Ostensibly meant to keep Victoria safe from assassination attempts, these rules become a morally-dubious obstacle that challenges Miss V.’s loyalty to Victoria. The System also sparks a larger web of secrecy and scandal—again, based on real-life rumors—creating a high-stakes period drama that poses more questions than it answers.

My only complaint about My Name is Victoria has to do with the ending. The last 50 pages of action lead up to a climactic reveal that seems slightly rushed. Since this reveal requires some suspension of disbelief, I wish the story had provided more buildup and foreshadowing. But I can’t criticize too much, because the rushed, breathless racing toward a fantastical conclusion makes My Name is Victoria stick in your mind long after you’ve finished reading, sparking further questions and what-if wonders. And honestly, that’s half the fun of this book.

All in all, My Name is Victoria sent me into a spiral of reading Wikipedia pages and imagining other concealed conspiracies of Kensington Palace. I highly recommend this story to fans of alternate histories who want to question everything they thought they knew about Queen Victoria. The perfect novel to read as you fawn over Prince Louis or wait for the upcoming royal wedding, My Name is Victoria won’t disappoint.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Robin Hood Retelling about Friendship and Family: Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison

Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison | Goodreads

Publisher: Abrams/Amulet Books
Release: April 17, 2018
Source: Author
ISBN: 9781683352495
In this beautifully constructed middle-grade novel, told half in prose and half in verse, Lauren prides herself on being a good sister, and Sierra is used to taking care of her mom. When Lauren’s parents send her brother to a therapeutic boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum and Sierra moves to a foster home in Lauren’s wealthy neighborhood, both girls are lost until they find a deep bond with each other. But when Lauren recruits Sierra to help with a Robin Hood scheme to raise money for autistic kids who don’t have her family’s resources, Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong. Lauren must learn that having good intentions isn’t all that matters when you battle injustice, and Sierra needs to realize that sometimes, the person you need to take care of is yourself.
What a beautifully-written, deeply-developed, heartfelt story. Every Shiny Thing is a sparkling, emotional novel that’s sometimes bright and bubbly, sometimes hard-hitting and heartrending—and it’s a joy to read. 

When I started reading Every Shiny Thing, I first fell in love with the impeccably-written dual-POV narrative, which spotlights two equally fascinating voices. First, we have Lauren, a girl from an affluent Philadelphia neighborhood who misses her brother after he leaves for a boarding school for autistic kids. And second, we have Sierra, a girl from a low-income part of town who moves to a foster home next door to Lauren’s house after her mother is arrested. Sierra’s side of the story is told in Cordelia Jensen’s signature free verse, which (as I’ve discussed at length before) stunningly plays with scenery, space, and sound. With lines like “if you ride a roller coaster long enough it starts to feel like a carousel,” Sierra’s sections use poetry in a way that’s artistic yet accessible—a perfect combination, especially for a middle grade novel. And Jensen’s verse is complemented perfectly by Laurie Morrison’s lovely prose, which transforms Lauren into an empathetic character and adds a rich, engaging texture to the story.

This half-verse, half-prose storytelling balance helps to keep the story’s two perspectives distinct, but it’s not the only aspect of the writing that does. Sierra and Lauren each have a marked personality with unforgettable traits—and their unique perspectives will have readers laughing, crying, cringing, and cheering, all within the span of a few pages. Whether you’re wishing you could support Sierra as she learns to look out for herself or reeling with secondhand dread as you watch Lauren’s well-intentioned Robin Hood scheme turn into an all-out obsession with stealing, you’ll be wholly invested in the lives of each vivid narrator.

I also appreciated the fact that Every Shiny Thing sends some hard-hitting, important messages about family and friendships, the extent to which we can do good in the world, and more—but is never heavy-handed in doing so. This novel treats pre-teens like the smart and perceptive (yet not infallible) people that they are, allowing its characters to learn and grow organically. As a result, the story is insightful yet not instructive, a perfect balance for a middle grade story that tackles tough subjects.

All in all, Every Shiny Thing reminded me why I love both middle grade fiction and dual-POV novels. I adored both narrators, both writing styles, and the work of both writers (and I can’t wait read more from both of them—hopefully in the form of another co-authored novel). I highly recommend this book to fans of middle grade contemporary stories that deal with difficult issues in a way that’s bright, colorful, and ultimately hopeful.