Queen Sugar

queen_sugar_xxlgTitle: Queen Sugar
Starring: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardener, Kofi Siriboe, Tina Lifford
Genre: Drama, Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0

I am a contrary person. I don’t do prestige things. For a reviewer, I rarely read reviews and I rarely listen to critics. I don’t like being told what to do (being raised in a strict household tends to do that?) or what to think, and the more Important(TM) someone says a work is, the less inclined I am to pick something up, and the less I’ll enjoy the process of consuming it.

I like trash, okay? It’s not hard for me to admit that the more people rag on a thing (to be clear, “ragging” does not entail, for example, comments about racism or sexism, etc., because those are “concerns”) the more I like it. My favourite films include Snowpiercer, Pacific Rim, and Jupiter Ascending. I’m not a connoisseur of quality, okay, I’m a connoisseur of having a fucking good time.

And part of this is because as marginalised people, we so rarely get any of it. A good time, I mean. Stories about us have to be Important(TM) to justify their being told. Stories about us have to be about oppression to be interesting and worthwhile. We’re not afforded any escapism, and I’ve learned to recognise that “realistic” is code for “cruel” and “good” is a judgement on the extent to which something shows us suffering. And I’m really, really not into that.

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House of Shattered Wings

house-of-shattered-wings-2Title: House of Shattered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy

Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0

This one took me a great long while to read. That’s not to say that it was a bad book (the rating obviously says otherwise), but more so because I’m easily distracted and adult fantasy always takes me forever to read. De Bodard has created a very original post-apocalyptic urban world and also taken other well used fantasy elements, such as, angels and dragons, and made them completely her own. The positives of this book included world building and characterisation, however there are problems with pacing throughout the novel.

The novel has a well-sized cast that never feels too big as de Bodard makes sure to develop each character to the extent that the audience understands who they are. This development ensures that while I was reading I was never confused about who was who nor about who belonged to which house. Additionally, de Bodard never went down the path of casting characters as heroes or villains. They were all morally grey and that made the book even more enjoyable as I wanted to know what each of the characters would do next. There are two characters who are in positions of power in the novel and are LGBT, however I would consider these characters to be secondary characters. There is also a fair amount of POV changes, however de Bodard makes it work and it never feels as though the same story is being told twice. Rather, it gives a good overview of the action taking place and the impact that major events have on the different characters.

De Bodard has an interesting take on angels. They fall to earth and parts of them are essentially harvested to produce objects of power. Angels have formed Houses in the post apocalyptic world which fight against one another, once outright, but now in more subtle ways. Everyone gets pulled into this war including one of the main characters, Philippe. He is a Vietnamese soldier conscripted into the war who settles in Paris after it ends and there is definitely more to him than meets the eye as the reader and the other characters in the novel soon find out. De Bodard also features dragons which are inspired by the Chinese tradition. They have connections to sources of water and reside in the Seine. And through this, de Bodard also makes a point to speak on environmental concerns in our modern world which are so important.

The pacing of the book leaves much to be desired in places. It begins with a very tense scene which is resolved and after this the books falls into a bit of tedium. There were parts where I had to push myself to keep reading or was distracted by other books because events were unfolding a little too slowly for my tastes. I enjoyed the ending through and felt de Bodard perfectly captured the urgency that the characters felt by the unfolding events. The ending also leaves many questions unanswered about a fair number of the characters. Hopefully the sequel answers these questions and gives de Bodard a chance to grow the already interesting world building.

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

tumblr_inline_oqf5a9ffcl1qdivgo_1280-e1495893357133

Title: Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

Creator: Hasan Minhaj

Genre: Comedy

Rating: ★★★★★

Knowing absolutely nothing about Hasan Minhaj, I was so hesitant to watch this. A brown male comedian. I was either going to be bombarded with racist jokes or misogynist jokes or both terribly combined to ruin my day. But Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King was an experience. It was something written by someone like me for people like me. And it matters that he’s a second generation migrant living his dream in a career that no migrant parent would want us to have. It matters that Minhaj talks about his personal experiences with racism. It matters that this is shown on a platform like Netflix. And it matters that the woman that Minhaj calls the love of his life is a Hindu Indian-American.

I haven’t watched many comedy sets and the closest comparison I can find to Minhaj is a stage actor. He had a fantastic stage presence that held the audience captive for the entire set. He uses the entire stage to his advantage and the longer the set goes on the more it feels like a story unfolding in front of our eyes. One that is told by a very capable storyteller who knows exactly when to make us laugh and when to tug on our heartstrings. It is definitely a story with a message, but a message that doesn’t feel as though Minhaj is preaching to us, rather a message that we can definitely relate to as second generation migrants that have gone through similar experiences.

Minhaj tackles his experiences of racism growing up and the defining moment after 9/11 when many South Asian and Middle Eastern people were affected by racism. His story is painful and heartbreaking and a reminder of how little has changed in Western nations in the years that have followed. He also tackles the complexities of racism. It is not just overt racism that leaves scars, but the smaller words and actions that can have an impact that’s just as serious. It’s also very important that Minhaj acknowledges the much greater and systematic racism faced by black Americans. In the South Asian community where anti-blackness is rampant it is important to acknowledge that the racism we face is nowhere as globally prevalent or systematic as the racism experienced by black people the world over.

I loved that Hasan Minhaj mixed in parts that were in Hindi as he was telling his stories. It served to make the experience more authentic and made me feel like this was something that was made for me and people like me. Although, he did provide translations for most of the Hindi that he used, appealing to a wider audience. Providing translations of language in performances and in writing is a complex issue. Junot Diaz doesn’t provide translations in many of his works, forcing readers to work out for themselves the meaning of those words. However, Minhaj’s work made me think of my third generation cousins who can’t understand Hindi. In many ways this is something that relates to their experiences as well. Had Minhaj not translated how much of this experience would they be missing out on because they cannot understand the language of their ancestors? There are no simple answers to this question and of course as the migrant experience changes – becoming third or even fourth generation migrants – so will the media that is written by us and for us.

I came out of this feeling incredible and affirmed just knowing that the trials of growing up Indian-Australian were echoed halfway across the world. It also left me thinking if white people always experience this feeling when they watch media made for them (which really is almost all of it)? Anyway, I’m off to convince every second generation Indian migrant I know to watch this.

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

tumblr_otb4utrqck1tfx1a7o1_540Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

If you asked me to draw up a wishlist of things I wanted from a queer YA historical novel, it would include the following:

  1. tender queer boys
  2. strong girls who are fallible but have agency & their own goals
  3. PIRATES!
  4. adventure
  5. road trips! (AKA the only reason I’d read a Grand Tour novel)
  6. dropping trou before European dignitaries at Versailles
  7. intersectional identities
  8. a nuanced handling of chronic illness and disability

And man, like. It deliversThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (hi, love that title) is an adventure romp about two boys and one judgemental, not-here-for-your-shit sister who go on a Grand Tour. But because of one of the boys’ assholery (Monty’s), they end up being chased across the Continent by a sinister duke with nefarious plans.

This was an incredibly well-written novel––there is one thing I love most in all the world and it’s the slightly offbeat, self aware humour of historical fantasy set in Regency England. Think Sorcerer to the Crown and Sorcery and Cecelia and you’ve got a good idea of what I’m talking about, because our narrator/erstwhile protagonist/resident douchebag Henry “Monty” Montague has wit and humour in spades. Also self-hate, because this novel goes to some dark places for something so otherwise lighthearted and enjoyable.

Continue reading “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”

First Time – Rereview

00206315Title: First Time
Starring: Angelababy (Yang Ying), Mark Chao (Zhao Youting)
Genre: Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 1.5

When I first reviewed this movie a year and a half ago, it was in the immediate aftermath of reading Everything, Everything. And given the issues I have with that book, I’m really hard pressed to think of why I gave 《第一次》such a high rating and a gushy review. Surely––surely––I was aware of what shit representation it was for people with terminal illnesses, right? Honestly, I think I might have just been viewing the film through the eyes of a girl who a) really likes Angelababy b) really likes Mark Chao and c) really likes the film.

And to be fair to 19 year old me, there were aspects of the film that are still genuinely enjoyable. The set design and costuming are lovely––I visited Xiamen last summer with my friend and it really was a beautiful city. I enjoyed its subversion of audience expectation––in many ways, Song Shiqiao is both the Tragic Sick Girl(TM) and the Maniac Pixie Dream Girl(TM), but in this narrative, where Shiqiao’s overprotective mother and her boyfriend Gong Ting try to craft and sell her a narrative, she is the one with the agency, making her own choices. She is the one with the last word, the final say.

The part I can no longer sign off on is that ending––in a media landscape that isn’t oversaturated with stories about chronically ill people and disabled people dying specifically because they are not abled, Song Shiqiao is just a girl who wants the physical freedom of dancing, who wants agency over her body badly enough she is willing to do anything to have a single moment in the spotlight. As it is, though, it’s just one more story about a chronically ill girl who dies, because apparently dying while trying to be abled is better than staying alive as a someone who is chronically ill? Okay.

Queen’s Thief Series Review | Thick as Thieves Reivew

tumblr_oqqp8yyzs41tfx1a7o1_540Series: Queen’s Thief
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Genre: Fantasy, YA

Under the books section of my rec page you will find some of my favourite books, but like many a bookworm, I will get squeamish if you asked me to pick my One True Love. I’ll play coy if you ask, but secretly, I know that my favourite book of all time (if you set aside Dream of the Red Chambers, The Last Unicorn, Ella Enchanted, The Secret Garden, etc. etc. etc.) is Queen of Attolia, the second book in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. It has everything that a then-10 year old girl could want: romance, revenge, murder, delicate political machinations, trauma, working through trauma, swashbuckling, worldbuiding, asshole gods (from a girl from a culture with asshole gods: this is so #relatable), complex interpersonal relationships, introspective, lonely characters, SADNESS––I could go on, but I think you take my point. It’s a flipping good series, okay.

It’s a hard series to talk about without some major spoilers, so I’m going to give an attempt at a spoiler-free review, but if you trust me enough, buy the books, exit from this page without reading anything, and then come back to me in two months with eye bags, tears, and several broken (and then unbroken, and then rebroken) hearts and then we can talk spoilers at each other. If not, don’t blame me if you’re spoiled, because it’s impossible to talk about the premise of some of these books without spoiling all previous novels in the series.

The Queen’s Thief series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves) is set in a vaguely Mediterranean, alt-Byzantine world where the gods are real, and are sticking their noses into the business of three small kingdoms, Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis, which are on the brink of war both with each other and with a neighbouring empire, the Mede Empire (like an alt-Byzantine Empire). Its follows multiple protagonists across the progression of the books, but its main focus is Eugenides, a young thief who holds many unexpected titles and roles, as he attempts to maneuver these politics, sometimes for his own gain, but more often for a larger purpose.

Continue reading “Queen’s Thief Series Review | Thick as Thieves Reivew”

Love Letters in the Sand

20393Title: Love Letters in the Sand
Author: Khalil Gibran
Genre: Poetry
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0 out of 5.0

Gibran Khalil Gibran is the third-bestselling poet in the world after Shakespeare and Laozi, and a bilingual Lebanese American who wrote poems in English to boot, and a major influence on American countercultural icons in the 1960s, but I hadn’t heard of him until recently.

I’m not actually big on English language poetry in general (I’m actually unsure if these poems were originally written in English or in Arabic, but English is a language that’s difficult for me to connect emotionally to), because I often feel like I can’t “get” it. But beautiful language is a pretty universally loved thing, right, and this was gorgeous. And not just the words––this particular collection also features the calligraphy of Lassaad Metoui, which is incredibly appealing.

The poems are tender and sad, delicate and affecting. The language is simple, but constructed to deliver a real punch of emotion. I enjoyed the way he writes about love, enjoyed his sometimes contemplative, sometimes moody tone. I think an added positive for me was the fact that the volume itself was so short, because as I have been constantly stressing since the start of my last semester at college, I am in a constant state of stress, and I have zero time to dedicate to anything outside of school and clubs and politics. Not good for my blood pressure, but good to increase my appreciation for short, concise volumes.

Definitely worth a read, because even if you don’t like it (which I highly doubt), it’s not long enough to do any permanent offense to your sensibilities or whatever.