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.

When Dimple Met Rishi

28458598Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, YA
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0

Hi, it’s my favourite trope: arranged marriage, but they end up really falling in love! Dimple Shah is everything her mother doesn’t want out of a daughter: wild, stubborn, refusing to wear makeup. So she should have known when her mother allows her to attend the coding camp of her dreams that something was Up.

Because it’s there that she meets Rishi Patel: the Good Son, the hopeless romantic, and the guy who introduces himself to her as her “future husband.” So she does what any normal girl would do: she throws her coffee in his face and runs away. But then, as fate (or the partner preferences Rishi put on his application letter) would have it, the two are paired up, and much to her own annoyance, Dimple finds herself maybe possibly liking Rishi? Unstoppable object, meet immovable force.

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Master of the Idle Clouds | 闲云公子

%e9%97%b2%e4%ba%91%e5%85%ac%e5%ad%90Title: Master of the Idle Clouds | 闲云公子
Author: Yu Qing
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 1.5

Here’s the thing: I really like this novella. I still really enjoy this novella. I plan to make so many edits for this novella that I drown in them. But my god, in good conscience there is no way I can ignore some of its massive problems.

Which brings me to prelude #2: how can something that went so right in the first 3/5 of this novella so quickly take a turn for the worse in the last 2/5th of it? It was meant to be a romantic comedy, so why is the last 2/5th so determinedly unfunny?

Huangfu Yun is the Guardian of the Left in the Baiming Sect, which is known among the mainstream Chinese warriors and gallants as the Demon Cult. Orphaned from youth due to infighting within the sect, Huangfu Yun learned how to protect herself, to avoid attention in order to survive until adulthood. But when she was fourteen, she accidentally crossed paths with Gongsun Yun, a disciple from the Yun Family Manor, who are in charge of compiling histories. In saving his life, she accidentally brought him into her debt and left a deep impression on him. Six years later, she and her slave He Zai enter the Chinese heartland in order to attend a funeral, and her path crosses Gongsun Yun’s again, and this time, he’s less willing to let her go.

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How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart (J.C. Lillis)Title: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart
Author: J.C. Lillis
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart has a lot of things to recommend it: a fluffy gay romance, a quirky sensibility, and a knowledge of fandom that speaks to the author being engaged in it. The novel was well-written, and it didn’t condescend to fandom (and in particular, the fangirls)––in fact, it satirises anboys who condescend to girls for being into ships and writing fic. It felt a lot like Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but where Alberti’s book felt at times to me to be trying Too Hard, Lillis’ book felt very naturalistic.

Yet somehow, I wasn’t engaged.

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《杉杉来吃》Boss & Me

e69d89e69d89e69da5e59083Title: 《杉杉来吃》
Actors: Zhao Liying, Zhang HanGenre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0/5.0

Rare is the trope I hate more than the “in love with the boss” trope. I make no secret of the fact that I despise emotionally stale male protagonists who can’t do any of their own emotional labour. I hate authors who idealise extreme power differences in a relationship. And most of all, I abhor the Chinese trope of the 霸道总裁. Somehow, though, every winter since its release, I’ve found time to rewatch Boss & Me.

It’s not for the acting, that’s for sure. Zhao Liying is incredibly talented, and her bubbly and sweet Shanshan comes across as genuine and kind, with a heart as big as her appetite. But Zhang Han leaves me cold, like he always does in every drama that isn’t titled Queen of SOP, mostly because he doesn’t know how to move his face, and he has the perfect excuse not to in human iceberg Feng Teng. (No microexpressions? Blank expression? Zero personality? I mean, okay.)

It’s not the story, either, because it’s a fairly standard one. After Shanshan donates blood to Feng Teng’s younger sister Feng Yue during a difficult pregnancy, she comes to his attention, despite not being outstanding at work or particularly competent outside of it. When she begins to eat on the balcony outside his office in order to escape office rumours, he becomes enamored with her optimism and her sweetness, and, not really knowing how to interact with her, orders her to come up and eat lunch with him daily, which of course, only begins to fan the flames of the gossip.

Why! O why! Do I like it so much?

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Under the Lights

underthelightsdahliaadlercoverTitle: Under the Lights
Author: Dahlia Adler
Genre: romance, contemporary, realistic, new adult
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0

I had the opposite problem with this book as I did Labyrinth Lost––I tried really hard to dislike this novel, but I don’t think I can. There was a lot about it I felt I should dislike––one of the POV characters was a misogynist who wouldn’t stop talking about getting head, I’m kind of uncomfortable with the way Vanessa’s parents were portrayed, etc. etc. etc. ––but honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to write this off.

Under the Lights is the second of the Daylight Falls novel (though you don’t have to read the first novel to follow this one), and it follows the best friends of the main characters of the first novel––Josh Chester and Vanessa Park. Josh is Hollywood’s resident playboy, but he hasn’t had a project in ages, and he’s being forced to star in a reality TV show with his mother. Vanessa is the star of the long-running Daylight Falls, but she’s worried about maintaining her career after the show ends––there’s hardly work abound for a Korean American actress, especially one who’s struggling with her feelings towards her agent’s daughter.

I’ve been writing too much recently; the words aren’t coming out in quite the numbers they used to. There’s not really much I can say about this novel–it was adequate, I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s something I’d read again, but I also don’t regret having read. This was in some ways a good thing–it lent left to what little dead time I had, and it was a fluffy read that helped bridge the moments between heavier course reading. And if it didn’t leave too strong an impression, it’s because it didn’t do much wrong.

There was some stuff that made me pause and wonder if a white woman should be writing the way she writes about Korean American households, but it wasn’t anything that was super out of line. And yeah, Josh is an asshole, but he’s reacted to as an asshole, it’s canon that he’s an asshole, and there aren’t excuses for his assholery.

I don’t know. I thought I’d have more to say, but I really don’t. It was cute. I liked it fine. That’s all.

Forbidden

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Title: Forbidden
Author: Beverly Jenkins
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

Surely my not having read any Beverly Jenkins before this constitutes as some kind of crime simply because I enjoyed Forbidden so much. Eddy and Rhine actually managed to steal my heart with their sweetness. And I also appreciated the fact that Jenkins doesn’t shy away from dealing with issues of racism during the time period. The story is set in the 1870s American West. Eddy, who lives in Denver, decides to move West to realise her dream of one day owning a restaurant. However, one her way there she is robbed and left for dead in the desert. She ends up in Virginia City in the bedroom of one Rhine Fontaine who rescues her from the desert. Their romance goes from there.

The romance was definitely wonderful and one of the major reasons I enjoyed this book so much. Eddy and Rhine are definitely attracted to one another from soon after the see one another, however due to all the obstacles in their way it does take some time for their romance to amount to anything. Tragically, Jenkins decides to gloss over the wedding night as all moonlight and flowers which was a bit disappointing as it was in my view an important part of their relationship.

The key issue between Eddy and Rhine is that Eddy is black while legally Rhine is white. Early on we find out Rhine’s history and parentage as well as the fact that he chooses to pass as white. This decision is also a significant part of Rhine’s character. Jenkins never shies away from the reality of the life Rhine lived before he decided to pass as white. Nor does she shy away from the internal conflicts that Rhine continues to experience because of his decision.

Jenkins’ characterisation was my favourite part of the novel. The novel has a fairly large secondary character cast and Jenkins manages to make each of these characters individualised. Each character had their own personalities, dreams, and families. They went beyond their occupations and their relationships to either Eddy or Rhine. I finished the novel wanting to read books about the secondary characters.

However, Forbidden is not without its faults, hence the rating of four stars. Jenkins plays to the ‘psycho ex girlfriend’ trope to an extreme level. In my view it ruined what would have otherwise been a great ending. Rhine’s ex Natalie, a young rich white woman, cannot handle Rhine leaving her and so resorts to extreme measures. It is something that is played out too often across our tv screens and personally a trope that I despise. So, to see this trope in historical romance which is very much escapist literature for me was not something that I wanted.

Overall, since reading this I’ve already personally recommended Beverly Jenkins to three friends and read two more of her books so I think that should say enough about how much I enjoyed this book.