The Bookish Heavenly Virtue Tag

Uncategorized

Thank you so much to @hardcoverhaven for tagging me! It’s been so long since I’ve done one and I forgot how fun they were. This is a great opportunity to showcase some books I’ve been reading in this strange year 2020.

Chastity

Which books do you wish you had never read?

The Kiss Thief by LJ Shen

The Kiss Thief - Kindle edition by Shen, LJ. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense  Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Look, when I started this book, I didn’t think it was going to the best thing ever to hit the romance genre. I was just looking for a good time and I was sort of willing to forgive the alpha jealousy personality of the male hero but then THAT scene came on and I kept asking myself, what is happening?? There were so problematic things happening, and then all of a sudden all the little prior things in the story I ignored for the sake of an entertaining story became glaringly problematic and I DNFed the book right then and there.

TEMPERANCE

Which book/series did you find so good that you didn’t want to read it all at once and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?

Third Shift Society by Meredith Moriarty

Representative image

This is actually a webcomic that’s been nominated by the Eisner award for best webtoon. It’s about a woman who teams up with a pumpkin man to fight supernatural mysteries in their town together. I tried to pace myself but ended up reading the whole thing in a few hours. I kind of fell in love with its cheesiness and just reveled in the sheer fun. It just reminded me of the days when I would ship couples endlessly on Tumblr and reblog every single interaction gif. Yeah, I’m shipping the two main characters so hard. The art style is easy to follow with its reminiscence to manga. It’s kind of like the Avatar the Last Airbender in art style, with a blend of Western and Japanese manga art style. I also like the supernatural mysteries and side characters. Can’t wait for more! You can read it free here.

CHARITY

Which book/series/author do you tirelessly push on others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?

The To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series and The Happiness Trap

Book Review: "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" by Jenny Han | Fox River  Valley Public Library

A lot of my friends don’t read as much as I do so I always recommend To All the Boys because it’s easy to read quickly (plus it’s cute). I also usually recommend self help books because some of them have actually helped me. My favorite one by far would have to be The Happiness Trap. It helped me through some dark times and helped me form the values I have in my life while offering tips and tricks for how to be mindful.

DILIGENCE

Which series/author would you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?

Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora series

The Lies of Locke Lamora eBook by Scott Lynch | Rakuten Kobo

I feel like I’ve been waiting for the next book in the series for years now (at least 4 years now). And no sign of when he will publish it…The last book ended on such a cliffhanger too.

PATIENCE

Is there an author/book/series you’ve read that improved with time, starting out unpromising, but ultimately proving rewarding?

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

Amazon.com: The Queen of Attolia (Queen's Thief) (9780062642974): Turner,  Megan Whalen: Books

When I first read the first book in the series, I almost coudn’t finish it because to be frank it was kind of boring. The second book, however, was a masterpiece. Reading the second book was like seeing the real Mona Lisa for the first time after seeing a toddler’s depiction of it. This analogy sucks but you get the point. The rest of the series continued to be like that too, only getting richer and more complex with every book. I cannot wait for the last book and will be rereading the series before then.

KINDNESS

Which fictional character would you consider your role-model in the hassle of everyday life?

Kestrel from The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

Amazon.com: The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy Book 1) eBook:  Rutkoski, Marie: Kindle Store

Honestly, Kestrel is a queen. I just admire her cunning and intellect and the ways that she sticks to her principles. If you’ve read the story, (without spoilers for nonreaders), you’ll know that she was born to believe in war and conquering other lands. It was a way of life but she grew to develop her own sense of self and the journey was beautiful to read about. This trilogy in general is one of the most underrated YA fantasy series.

HUMILITY

Which author/book/series do you find most underrated?

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski March series by John Lewis

March

I wanted to say The Winner’s Trilogy but I mention that series a lot so I’ll say the March graphic novel series. It follows the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. I think why I like this series so much is that it shows the nuances of the Civil Rights Movement rather than showing it was a (literally) black and white issue but more of a gray progression to success. You get an appreciation for how difficult it is to have a movement like the Civil Rights movement, feminist movement etc. despite social stigma and uncertainty of whether it was going to be even successful.

I tag:

Alicia @AKernelofNonsense (when she is back from hiatus)

Rachel @LifeofaFemaleBibliophile

And anyone else who wants to do it!

The Korean novel that inspired a new feminist movement: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 Review

book review, Uncategorized

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 | Book by Cho Nam-Joo, Jamie Chang ...

Title: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Author: Cho Nam-Joo

Series? No

Pages: 176 pages

Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang

Rating: 4/5

 

 

 


 

As a US citizen, I may be familiar with the workings of feminism here but it’s definitely an experience learning about it from a citizen in a country foreign to me. What I know, I know only from Korean dramas, other Korean novels, and the news. This book and its surrounding controversy really shed a light on the complications the word feminism holds in Korea.

This story definitely made its mark in Korea, becoming the first Korean novel to sell a million copies in Korea since 2009 and already has a movie adaptation out. I sped through this riveting book in a few hours. I definitely did not expect the book to be written like this. It has a detached, dark tone to it like The Vegetarian but definitely grounds itself in its contemporary setting, not surrealism. It follows Kim Jiyoung who is living with her husband and daughter in present day. One day, she suddenly possesses the ability to act uncannily like the different women she has met in her life. Her concerned husband recommends seeing a psychiatrist. This synopsis, I thought, was what was going to make up the entire book. I was wrong; it only takes up the first maybe 20 pages. The rest of the novel tells of Kim Jiyoung’s life (sped up almost) from her childhood all the way up to where she is now. This little novel is reminiscient of a documentary because even though Kim Jiyoung is fictional, the author infuses the story with real facts about Korea and women, footnotes where appropriate. These include stats on abortion, maternity leave and working women in Korea. It was definitely a learning experience; one of the most fascinating facts I learned was that Korea was one of the worst OECD coutnries to live in for a working woman; women earn 63% of what men earn vs 84% as the average. The story also represents a documentary in that there’s no real style, it is blunt and factually precise as any documentary with no style and euphemism to hide the horrific realities behind. You can only stare at the cold, hard facts. Kim Jiyoung’s life just gives reader a person to connect onto, but it’s almost unnecessary as Kim Jiyoung could represent any everyday woman and the societal oppression she faces.

A woman's place

I definitely appreciated seeing feminism explored from an Asian perspective because Nam Joo talked about the unfair precedence that a son needed to be born. In order for a mother to gain any respect, she must give birth to a son so important that boys are in this culture. I definitely was not removed from that talk and it’s still prevalent in the Asian world. Mothers would continue trying until a son was born. Similarly, this is why China has a 2:1 ration of boys to girls which is leading to a shortage of girls due to the one child policy that is still having consequences to this day. When the son is born, they get the best food, do no work, and sit near the head of the table. Sons were expected to carry on the family name. Isn’t it interesting that a patriarchial cultural norm like taking on a man’s last name when you’re married only perpetuates more patriarchial norms like revering sons because they are the ones who can carry on this name to their children? I also appreciated the commebtary on Asian familial dynamics especially regarding the mother-in-law. It’s still a very real thing about the mean mother in law, a character still portrayed in korean dramas but rooted in truth. I found it so ironic that a woman would willfully wish her daughter in law to have a son and scoff at the daughter, a true testament to the hold this dangerous cultral sentiment holds, that a boy is more important than a girl that she would willfully disrespect a daughter, a member of her own sex!

Review: "Kim Ji-young, Born 1982" Shows How Korean Society Has ...

Those discriminations are more prevalent in Asian speaking households in my experience, however, the rest of the book is not surprisingly very similar to other sexisms women around the world face in the workplace and in school. There are many scenes when Kim Jiyoung is going through interviews and men promoting other men but not women regardless of merit because the women would “eventually leave anyways” when they had a child.

I also appreciated that the author explained why men and other women would be unaware, even complicit in this discrimination. I like that she doesn’t attribute the sexism to a few bad apples but to a system where most everyone is culpable. Because everyone is to blame, passing on these toxic ideals to children perpetuates a vicious cycle of sexism. One of the book’s many strengths is the insidious little ways that women are forced into a certain box and the context surrounding that. Taken out of context, the things that women complain about would seem ridiculous. For example, Kim Jiyoung’s  sister in the story wants to become a journalist. The mother herself advised against it, recommending the job of a teacher instead because of the shorter hours so she could take care of her family. The mother insinuates that the sister’s first job is to take care of her future family even though the sister had not even expressed any interest in children. Some people may say why didn’t the sister just go with her dreams? No one was technically stopping her. Well, as you move along in the story, you see the amount of familial pressure and societal pressure, whether direct or indirect, that the sister faced to fit into that mold and her anger makes sense.

It’s insidious because it is masked.  The story took into account the history of women making sacrifices for their family and the unfair expectations placed on them. I felt more and more hopeless and more of a sense of injustice as Kim Jiyoung felt more and more disenchanted with the discrimination. What women are doing is not selfish, neither is it necessarily brave or admirable, they are just the best with what they have. I find that Kim Jiyoung has been praised as brave simply because she is fighting against a system that should not have to be fought. A system that should not be as oppressive as it is now.

Review of Cho Nam-Joo's 'Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982' - The Hindu

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I hope with books like these that just the discourse will spur a cultural change or one another’s point of view at least. It seems the world, every group digs its heels into the ground before considering anotehr viewpoint but it seems hopefully that this book is makign the wave it needs to in Korea.

Additional Links about the author and the book’s controversy that I found interesting:

  1. The Heroine of This Korean Bestseller is Extremely Ordinary by Alexandra Alter from NY Times
  2. In this Korean bestseller, a Young Mother is Driven to Psychosis by Eun Hong from NY Times

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My favorite book of the year so far Review: My Dark Vanessa

book review, Uncategorized

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Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Series? No

Pages: 384

Rating: 4/5

 

 

 

 


Yay, four months into the year and I have one of my favorite books of the year! This book was a definitely a wild ride and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. Russell has crafted a difficult story about an abusive relationship that provides no easy answers and that’s why I absolutely loved it.

As soon as I started reading, I was hit with an isolating and oppressive story that did no let me go. We switch back and forth between two timelines, one in Vanessa’s high school and college years when she at fifteen enters a sexual relationship with her English teacher, Strane (42). The other timeline is in the present in 2017 when Vanessa is an adult and she finds out someone has come forward with a sexual assault allegation against Strane. A journalist seeks Vanessa out to corrobate the other victim’s story but Vanessa refuses. It’s interesting to see what Russell has to say about victimhood in this novel. The story is clever because you read about Vanessa’s ordinary life and in turn, she normalizes the abusive experience. It is only in occassional moments that she seems to glean that something is not right with the relationship. Strane is not a straight perpetrator either. Strane slyly manipulates her all in the name of love, constantly referring to her as powerful, having power over him yet Vanessa accepts it. The reader sees that she is being manipulated but you also see why Vanessa doesn’t understand that she is in an unfair power dynamic, even citing that she was the one making him fall to his knees. So she has all the power. Right? She even believes she wants Strane. I think it portrays the complexity of abuse very well, going into parts that are often not written about. Even though Vanessa has moments of knowing this relationship is wrong, she makes leaps to justify it. I also aprpeciated the mention of dissociative disorder which I don’t read a lot about but is very common in victims of abuse.

It’s interesting that Vanessa never considers herself a victim, stating it’s just a mental state. Being in her head truly allowed me to understand her logic. I read an interview with this author after I read it, the comments about how her early readers thought Vanessa was too unlikeable and that Strane should have had a POV to elicit more sympathy for Vanessa. I’m really glad Russell chose not to write it that way because in that way, we get to explore different types of victims with different types of stories. It still pains me that we only accept a victim, especially a woman, if she is passive and likeable. I like that we’re exploring a story where the it is the victim’s story and this victim doesn’t fit into a box we know well.

Russell also revealed she wanted this book to open conversation on consent.  also shows us the complexities of consent. Strane clearly asks her for consent during sexual encounters and asks if she is comfortable. Of course, a yes means yes right? Of course, it’s more complex than that. Even after they are apart and Vanessa leaves for college, Vanessa’s every waking moment is consumed by this man. The story in the past spans from high school to college and when she becomes legal, it becomes like every other type of relationship. It’s really fascinating to be lured by Vanessa’s POV seeing how how Strane manipulates her ideas of responsibility, power, sex, and relationships and you see that ripple into her adulthood. Too fittingly, there are many references to Lolita in here, a kind of meta comparison to what is happening between the two characters but of course with widely different interpretations. Truly, you feel as though you were stuck in her head. I like seeing how she grows and changes (or lack thereof).

A lot of the reviews of this book have complained that the secondary characters didn’t have any depth. I disagree. I think enough of their personalities were gleaned to make a foil for Vanessa, but her entire world revolves around Strane and her perceptions of the other characters would predictably be limited so I had no problems with that. It also gives a sense of claustrophobia and isolation to Vanessa’s story. The tone of the story was sensually bleak and oppressive. I also found it fascinating how big cultural events like the Bush presidential election were mentioned because it added a sense of false normalcy and place to this book.

I thought her storyline in the present was equally as fascinating as well. Vanessa doesn’t believe she has been abused, raped, or coerced. She denies anything remotely bad has happened to her but it’s interesting to see how she copes with it. She frequently dissociates and has to drink and smoke to cope with her life. I think this book really stands out from other books of this nature because of Vanessa’s ignorance and denial of her abuse to the journalist. In the era of the #metoo movement, it’s very hard to accept that  refusal to acknowledge what has been done to her but it only brings into question difficult facets of victimhood and justice. Is it your reponsbility to come forward with your story to corrobate other victims and to inspire others to take action? What happens to justice if you don’t? Even at the end of the book, you don’t find the satisfying answers and solutions that you feel Vanesssa deserves but the uncertain ending makes her experiences all the more harrowing.

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Not as good as Season 1 but sets the stage for Season 3: The Wire Season 2 review

tv review, Uncategorized

*Spoilers for S1 but not S2

One of the main reasons why I enjoy watching TV is because I get to follow the characters’ lives through a long period of time, really getting to see a character fleshed out, grow, fall, and get back up again. I think this arc is the most rewarding aspect of storytelling.

The Wire delivers on this rewarding aspect of stories. The show builds its foundation on its compellingly tragic characters. Despite how they may want to change, the tragedy is that they can’t help themselves which makes their eventual downfall even more painful. Season 2 also got built on top of the layered relationships developed in Season 1. In this season, we follow the some of the same characters from the first season, most notably some of the major players from the Barksdale organization like Avon, Stringer, and D’Angelo, as they navigate their new roles. Avon and D’Angelo are trying to adapt to jail. Avon is still trying to win D’Angelo’s favor. Stringer is trying to maintain the drug dealing. Their stories, however, are more sidelined this season in favor of another central mystery in the ports of Baltimore.

The Wire Cast Was Confused About Season 2 | Vanity Fair

The other storyline of the season revolves around a port union and the fiasco that ensues after 14 dead women are found in one of their stacks. There are three new main characters of the season, Nick (the port leader), Ziggy (his son), and Nick (his nephew). This storyline was definitely a springing point for the show to explore the concept of the traditional vs new technology. Frank is continually trying to support his union even through illegal smuggling but he appreciates the hard work. He resents when people remind him that these workers are a thing of the past, soon to be replaced by machines. Ziggy, on the other hand, enthusiastically starts selling drugs on the side and making deals with the mysterious “The Greek” to make more money. He is always, much to his chagrin, the butt of the joke and his progressive descent to his brekaing point at this provides a big source of tension throughout. Although they were my least set of characters, they were definitely interesting and their stories were well pulled together by taut acting and punchy dialogue.

THE WIRE: Season 2 Review | Collider

I’m happy to say that although the Baltimore police spend a few episodes apart from each other, they still come together eventually to work on the port murder case. I really enjoyed the new character of Russell, a newbie police officer who helps them. I’ve been attached to the old characters in Season 1 and I loved seeing their chemistry again after time apart. I appreciated that this season also expanded on their personal storylines. McNulty is trying to get back with his ex-wife, to which she says “How can I trust you again?”. Kima’s and Daniel’s struggle to find a balance between working dangerous and detrimental cases and the needs of their partners who advise against it. I really liked following Kima’s struggle to do real police work with her wife’s concern for her safety and well being. I would have liked to see more backstory for Herc, Carver, Bunk, and Lester though.

The Wire': Why The Second Season Was Important

As always, The Wire’s craftsmanship is as good as it ever was. The tension is deftly pulled through the characters and each storyline takes its time to build its relationships before it is interested in sensational action. Depressing as the show is, the season was even heavier on the timely humor; it had me laughing out loud at several points. Eventually all the story threads are interwoven with each other which was fascinating to see unravel. The concept and theme of “playing the game” was also explored through different lens this season.

SPOILER THOUGHTS

  • Prez is so much likeable this season (that punch to Valchek was amazing)
  • I admit the Valcheck storyline was a little frivolous and uninteresting but it is the initial storyline that catalyzes the other ones so I guess it served its purpose
  • I think Frank represents traditional values, Ziggy the new, and Nick is halway between both which were interesting ideals to explore
  • I feel bad for McNulty but at the same time I agree with Elena.
  • I feel bad for Carver and Herc not being told Nick was already in custody even though I don’t really care for them
  • Ziggy was so annoying, I could barely stand him although the acting was really good.
  • i’m excited to see of Brother Mouzone
    • The scene with Omar shooting Brother Mouzone was probably my favorite scene of the season.
  • I also loved Omar’s courtroom answers to the lawyer.
  • The death of D’Angelo was so sad!!!! I was starting to like him this season too.
  • It’s interesting to see some of the police struggle with new tech this season
  • There were so many more special moments of humor this season which I loved.

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A movie review on my favorite movie of the year so far: Emma.

movie reviews, Uncategorized

Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner, and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020)

I had a very bad week last week and this movie was like a savior angel upon my movie watching. It was definitely exactly what I needed.

First of all, this Emma version is so different than other Jane Austen adaptations in style.  Stylistically, it’s sort of like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is focused on the color contrast between outfits and every scene is a dance (literally and figuratively) between characters. It’s as if this movie was choreographed and framed to be a musical but there’s no music. One of the reasons why I loved it so much as well was because it was such a visual feast. In every scene, you are rewarded with panoramic views of Highbury and Emma’s idyllic estate. Again, the bold visuals and almost abrupt and choppy editing make this Emma very unique. I also have to mention the costuming was slightly different than the other versions. I don’t remember the other versions having such bold hat designs (but I’m not complaining). The music is not as soft and whimsical as you would expect but more blunt.

Emma filming locations | Tatler

This Emma version is definitely bolder and sexier but it doesn’t skimp on the wordplay and the essence of the characters that make the world of Emma so endearing. Usually with Jane Austen adaptations too, there’s a heavy focus on minute gestures and eye fucking. This one is the same and yet it was fast paced, the trivially significant gestures, when they did come (like a certain hand resting on Emma’s back), were very rewarding and satisfying. As an aside, I loved that dance scene. The plot were also very fast paced but the story didn’t feel rushed.The casting and acting were equally brilliant. They all reminded me of their respective characters but in a different way. Usually Caroline is portrayed as beautiful but entitled, this Caroline’s actor played an unconventional but no less effective Caroline. Shoutout to the two Sex Education actors that appeared in this movie; it was odd seeing them in historical clothing but it still worked nonetheless. The same goes for Emma’s casting.  Usually she is played by a blonde with long, conventionally curly hair and wide, innocent eyes. This Emma captures more the shrewdness and cunning of the character with her narrow eyes and springy short ringlets. It worked well. Elton was a bit goofier than I remember him to be though? But Frank, Jane, Harriet, and Mrs. Bates were all on point.

The new Emma may look pretty – but Jane Austen deserves to be ...

The chemistry and friendship between characters were also very endearing. Emma and Harriet was natural and vibrant. Each character’s interaction with Emma helped me believe their longstanding history with each other. You, as the audience, can fill in the gaps of their history and whatnot. The relationship between Emma and her father was also lovely to see. Of course, we can’t forget the relationship between Emma and Knightley. You can definitely see the friendship in their past but hints at something more throughout the movie. This Knightley is definitely plays into his more earnest and sincere side rather than being reproachful but it’s definitely when it needs to be. I have to say the “badly done” was very well handled in this movie. I would have liked to see more of Emma’s famous “aha” moment when she finds out she loves Knightley but still, the movie made unique choices in its portrayal of their relationship which I appreciated. The sideburns were weird though.

This Millennial 'Emma' Respects Its Elders - The New York Times

These days I really value when a movie takes a story done many times and revamps it into something bold and so clearly in the director’s individual vision. I loved this Emma’s more riskier take on the novel, but it definitely paid off for me. It has definitely inspired me to revisit other Emma adaptations (I’ve seen the 2009 movie, Clueless, and Emma Approved) and watch the ones I haven’t seen (1996 movie, 1997 movie, and the 2009 BBC series).

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More shows should be made like this – The Wire Season 1 Review

tv review, Uncategorized

Image result for the wire

I’m so happy I finally starting watching this show. I’ve been putting it off for so long for 2 main reasons. One is I don’t watch a lot of dramas; I much prefer comedy. I also feared how the show would treat women (I was right). But since I had spring break and I was in a show slump, I felt like spicing things up and decided to take the plunge. And it was totally worth it.

The Wire’s intriguing first episode follows the trial of D’Angelo Barksdale for the murder of a gang member. Soon the trial expands into a deep, dark rabbit hole of the illegal narcotics organization of the Baltimore projects. What follows throughout the entirety of the season is an emotionally charged and urgent chase by the Baltimore police department to arrest and convict the ringleader, Avon Barksdale. The show alternates between the POVs of the detail following the case and the people on the streets. The main theme threading throughout the show is “playin the game”, referring to essentially the rules that govern the world they live in. On the streets, the game is to “play or be played.” All of these characters are enslaved by the game even as they furiously try to win and make a place for themselves within it. Ironically, the unspoken rules of the game did not stop on the streets. Corruption runs abound at the police department. McNulty, the main detective, is fed up with police officers only looking to go up the ranks instead of doing the actual work of a police officer. His chain of command continually tries to dissuade him from continuing the case and orders him to make quick arrests to increase their stats. After a few episodes, you are left wondering if the police department, the people sworn to protect, are anything morally better than those who sell drugs for a living. How does a corrupt institution foster further corruption? This juxtaposition is one of the reasons why the Wire is so compelling, every single character walks a fine line of gray yet never steps beyond the unbelievable.

Image result for the wire

Why does this show continually show up as one of the greatest shows of all time? Well for one, this show could have been self indulgent in its violence and darkness as shows of this dark subject matter tend to do. The Wire doesn’t need to flaunt or prove its grittiness. Most of the violence is done off screen. The tension mounts subtly, often just through character conversations. As the police make more arrests, the Barksdale group get more desperate in covering up their secrets. The drama doesn’t need to scream for you to notice. It trusts that the amount of time it spends on its characters builds a foundation for emotional depth and tension throughout. There are so many scenes of them just discussing the case or taking pictures of the suspects on rooftops but it’s in those moments that reveal who they are. You also feel as if you are there with them from day to day.

Image result for the wire

The Wire excellently paces its tension and themes throughout but truly it would be nothing without its character building. The characters show their humanity in closeups, in the dialogue, and the phenomenal acting. This is what the Wire does best; it’s the epitome of nuance. It finds ways to creatively show and build a character’s perspective on life. One of my favorites, Wallace, is often referenced by the others as not “hard enough” for the streets. He lovingly takes care of the kids under his charge and is sensitive to the brutal killings done in the name of Barksdale, often hinting that he wants to leave the game. Of course you root for him, innocent as he is and wish him the best. When he gets called into the police station to be a confidential informant, he offers a licorice to a Lutenant Daniels. The small scene reveals a ton about him because the other ones often curse at and insult police officers when taken in for questioning. Little things like that make a TV show great. Supposedly, the first season is suppose to be the worst one according to critic reviews. If that’s the case, I’ll be in for a real treat in the next seasons. It’s definitely not your typical TV show but for me, it was well worth the risk and I don’t usually even like crime dramas.

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Book Recommendations from Winter 2020

Book Recommendations, book review, Uncategorized

If there is anything positive to come out of this quarantine, it is that I have been catching up on all the reading I have missed during my first quarter of classes. So I decided to recommend the top books I’ve read this winter, hopefully you can find something you like from the list.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

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Omg, if you are looking for a fun and cute story to lift your moods. Look no further, because this fits all the checkboxes. You can read the first volume for free here on the author’s website. The drawings are done digitally with a very smooth look reminisent of 2D animated movies. The story is so heartwarming; it’s all about friendship and acceptance and all kinds of love. The dragons here are cute creatures who can brew different kinds of magical tea. The landscapes are cozy and inviting and remind me of landscape paintings.

 

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An Excerpt

 

To be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If FortunateThis is a novella following a group of space explorers documenting new species from the different planets they travel to. It’s not action packed but it is full of adventure and wonder. I was actually surprised Chambers was not a scientist herself (coming from a person who majored in Biology) as she paid such an accurate homage to scientific process, a tedious and sometimes thankless process but the rewards of discovering something new are unmatched. I was utterly fascinated by the different species they encountered; she definitely played with our traditional ideas of how living things should be. This novella also gleans into the day to day life of a scientist albeit in space. You really get a sense of the loneliness and disconnect they have from Earth considering how little time passes for them versus on Earth. You also get glimpses of their backstories, what it’s like to leave Earth forever and what is happening on Earth as they are up there.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into a genre (mystery/thriler) other than fantasy was a huge Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)success for me. I think she succeeded because she played up her strengths as a writer. This book, although being a mystery firmly set in contemporary setting and space, has a dark, foreboding sense of atmosphere. There’s also a fantasy element to the book–magic–which is something Leigh Bardguo excelled at writing more which I think traditional mystery writers would have a harder time executing. The magic feels like a lived in part of this world and I adored the history behind the magic and Yale and its societies as the center to all this magic. The main character is one of those millenial women fuckups that the media loves nowadays but I’m not complaining about it because Bardugo takes the time to write Alex’s history and it makes her story standout. The other characters are just as memorable. I was completely entranced and will be eagerly awaiting the next book.

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold – Winner of the Printz Honor Award

DamselThis book has a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads and I can definitely see why even though I personally loved it. First of all, it’s not really a teen book for teens, it’s more of a teen book for adults, like Martin Scoresese’s Hugo was for adults. Its premise is an interesting one: every generation, a damsel is rescued from a dragon with no memory of who she was before. She must marry the prince and bear his heirs. The cycle repeats on and on. At first glance, it is highly blunt and ominous in its message, driving home the message of the insidiousness of rape culture.  But the meat of the story is hidden within these metpahoric and symbolic lines. How does a woman find her voice in a world where she is not given a choice? The writing is a definitely a step up from a lot of YA books due to its focus on the character’s introspection so I’m not surprised it won the Printz.

Glass Town by Isabel GreenbergGlass Town

Glass Town is a graphic novel loosely following the Bronte sisters and their fictional imaginary world of Glass Town. As with all books of this nature, this imaginary world is only reflective of what the characters’ currrent mindset is like and Glass Town in the book really reflects the sibling relationships and how each character deals with grief and death. Definitely a quieter, literary graphic novel for a rainy day. I completely adored their imaginary world. The fluid, sketchy art is not for everyone but I didn’t mind it.

 

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The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie, #1)I admit that although this was a solid first book, it falls a lot into the trappings of YA storytelling. She definitely overemphasizes and overdramatizes to hone in her point when it doesn’t need to be there. The worldbuilding is also quite lackluster. It follows a lot of common worldbuilding of a lot of older YA where the poor are enslaved and used for the rich’s use, with no sense of subtely. It reminded me of a lot of The Hunger Games where the rich people wear very garish, vivid colors whereas the poor wear drab clothing. All of them are vapid. Been there, done that. However, I will say the world has a lot of potential especially as Nirrim and Sid continue to unravel the mysteries of the magic system. I’m happy to say though that Rutkoski’s knack for slow burn relationships, sophisticated dialogue, and quiet storytelling is back and better than ever. I’m very excited to see where Nirrim’s and Sid’s relationship goes. I also thought Nirrim’s relationship with her abusive foster mother was also much more nuanced than many other YA books that tackle this. I also loved how Rutkoski explores different facets of lying and power different than in the Winner’s trilogy. I was so flippin happy to see mentions of the characters in the The Winner’s trilogy and I think Kestrel and Arin are going to play bigger roles in the next book. I’m very curious about their character development because one character’s perception of them in this book was less than stella. I’m hoping it’s just the character’s bias but it’ll definitely an interesting character arc so we’ll see.

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Favorite Books of 2019!

Book Recommendations, book review, favorites, Uncategorized

Now we have come to the last part of my favorites series of 2019. I hope you’ve enjoyed and hopefully you’ve found something new you liked. These are in no particular order except the last one is probably my favorite book of the year.

So first on my list, I would like to give a shoutout to a few self help books I’ve found immensely helpful this year. This is coming from a person who sort of looked down on self help books thinking they were a waste of time. I was sometimes right but there’s definitely a plethora out there. It’s important to keep in mind when reading these that you just have to take some of the advice but leave others and you’re good.

  1. Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

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So 2019 was the first year I had even heard of the word self compassion but it was a concept that really stuck with me. I am someone who constantly self criticizes and this book, when applied consistently, really did help me through that self destructive behavior. I can tell the author is really passionate about this through her writing and inspired me to pick it up. She also gives out exercises in the book for you to do on your own, none of which are time consuming but are really effective if you keep an open mind. I will definitely be dipping in and out of this every now and again.

2. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

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This is another one of my holy grail books that I will be dipping in and out throughout my life. The Happiness Trap is less about why happiness as a destination is not possible but about thinking about negative thoughts differently. And it’s not about thinking positively. His main focus of the book is conveying that you can be content with your life if you live a meaningful life. Of course, a meaningful life means something different to everyone and this book helps you find that. A lot of the exercises and concepts he brings into this book is so unique than your typical self help book including concepts like diffusion. This book changed my life.

Now onto a short story.

3. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

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A very powerful short story about a utopia where everyone is happy. What’s the twist. Le Guin’s writing is so incredibly vivid.

4. Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

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I know reviews of this book were kind of mixed but honestly, I thought it was much stronger than the second book especially when it came to the character development of the three sisters, Madoc and the Ghost. Of course, it also had the best parts of what makes this series so wonderful, the intense plotting, the backstabbing, and of course my favorite OTP, Cardan and Jude. Let me just say I was very satisfied with their relationship trajectory in this book :). I was also pretty impressed with the conclusion especially regarding Madoc and how the book resolved the tension that’s been building up between him and Jude throughout the series. I can’t wait to reread this book in the future and gush all over again.

5. The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang

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This series impresses me to no end. This second book raised the stakes even higher and the consequences even more dire. I still wish Kuang would include more female characters but I’m so happy that this book, the equivalent of a Chinese action movie almost, has a female protagonist. That is rare in and of itself. I love the relationships that develop and Rin’s ever growing descent into her powers and corruption. The plotting is perfectly paced but the second book also improves on building the world around Rin expanding beyond the school setting of the first book. There is no way to describe this book other than epic.

6. Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

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I had to briefly touch upon this series because Turner is an amazing writer. Within each book of this series, she develops creative ways of writing Eugenides, the main character, in different perspectives. She is very deft at writing concisely but each sentence means something. Eugenide’s relationships with everyone, especially the Queen, is more complex than most YA relationships written out there. Aside from that, she is a master of plot even though her books barely have any actual action. It’s a beautiful series.

7. Good Talk by Mira Jacobs

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This is the only graphic novel on my list. The book is made up of conversations she has with her family, friends, husband and son about race and the America of 2016. You can tell a lot about people through the conversations they have. This is definitely true of the conversations she has with her son because her son is so young and asks questions we often don’t have answers for. The art is also very interesting; it’s drawn in a semi realistic/cartoon cutout way which simultaneously heightens the emotions behind the conversation and detaches you from it. It’s an interesting dynamic but no less powerful. It definitely made me mad about the state of American right now.

8. Normal People by Sally Rooney

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I mentioned in my favorite movies of 2019 that I’m a sucker for romance. It’s a shame that so many are not written well (yes I know I sound pretentious). I’m happy to report though that this is written very well. It’s part romance, part coming of age novel set in Ireland. The author has a lot to say about gender politics and the class system through her characters. She definitely is interested in character interactions which are my favorite part of any media I consume. It’s also a very millennial book capitalizing on the struggles we face so definitely not everyone but it resonated so well with me.

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Favorite TV Shows of 2019!

favorites, tv review, Uncategorized

In the continuation of favorite things of 2019, we are moving right along to TV! I have 4 amazing new TV shows to me that I loved in 2019. I will link summaries

1.Sex Education

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Asa Butterfield is like the next Michael Cera. He can play the awkward teenager really damn well. I’m not complaining though, he plays the character very charmingly. This show is everything to me. It is funny but more than that, it is daring. It shows sex as it is in real life, and topics around sex such as masturbating, your first time, painful sex, even a sensitive episode centered abortions (so well done), foreplay, oral sex. Honestly this show is better than sex manuals and the sex ed I got in high school. Why? Because it shows that being a teenager is not just black and white, not just about whether you’ve had sex or not. It’s about everything in between. But aside from its honest depictions about sex, the show portrays some interesting relationships and friendships especially between main character Otis and his mother (who seems to know a little too much about his life), his best friend Eric (who struggles with how to express himself), and Maeve. Another thing that’s great about this show is that every dramatic thing happens for a reason rather than just to spur the plot along. It’s a gem of a show and I’m so excited for Season 2 coming in just a few weeks!

2. Schitt’s Creek

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When I first started watching Schitt’s Creek, I was just looking for another comedy to watch but what I got was so much more. Essentially, it’s about a rich family that loses all their money and has to move to a small quirky town that they bought originally. It is a sitcom that plays a lot with self awareness. For example, there’s a sign near the entrance of the town:

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The mayor of the town is unaware of the blatant sexual innuendo even though we and Johnny Rose do. I really love the clever play on humor but it always grounds itself in its very soft heart. You grow to love this family spoiled and obnoxious as they are as they learn to become the same but slightly better people. The 7th and final season is coming out in a few days! I’ll be so sad to see this end.

3. Billy on the Street

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I have never taken quite so much to a reality game show as I did Billy on the Street. I thought it would be a cute show I dipped in and out of but nope, I binged watched all 5 seasons within about 2 weeks. It had me laughing out loud and smiling and wishing I was as brave as Billy.  I just love how he sticks so much to his character no matter how often he might be tempted to break it. I love the segment, “For a Dollar” especially since you get some funny answers. I also just love pop culture so there’s that. Also Billy and Elaina forever.

4. Unbelievable

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This miniseries is about a series of rapes by the same perpetrator that are investigated by 2 cops. You follow two storylines, one of the cops solving the case and the other of one of  the victims, Marie Adler. It is based on a true story, the original source was from a 2015 Pulitzer Prize news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”. The title of this show says a lot of things are unbelievable. The fact that such atrocious rapes even happen. The upending of a victim’s life. How apathetic the system is towards rape victims. But maybe what’s most unbelievable is the fact that Marie, condemned for lying for having the courage to speak about the truth is then dismissed by an investigator and left to deal with the traumatic emotional repercussions.  Although the show’s plot is mainly focused on mechanism on figuring out who the rapist is, the show’s emotional core is conveyed through Marie. It is heartbreaking how seeing her gradually suffer more and her emotional scarring slowly bleeds into her real life in insidious ways. The show also has a lot to say about the difficulties female cops experience on the job. I did really like how even though one of the cops did have kids, her main struggle was not whether or not to stay home with the kids as so many shows do to make some struggle for female cops. It’s a heartbreaking show, one that will make you question humanity but restore it again for you.

 

 

Book Review: The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang

book review, Uncategorized

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Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: RF Kuang

Genre: Epic, historical Fantasy

Pages: 654

Series? Yes, 2/3

Rating: 4.25/5

All opinions are my own.*

 


Major spoilers for The Poppy War. Spoiler Free for The Dragon Republic.

The Dragon Republic is bigger and richer than its predecessor in every way: writing, plot, and characters. When we left off at the end of The Poppy War, Rin has defeated The Federation and Altan has died. Now she and the rest of the Cike face civil war. Daji is still at large leading the country but amidst that, diverging forces enlist her to start a civil war to overthrow Daji. But neither is as they seem and neither seems like the right choice.

RF Kuang explored the consequences of war in TPW but digs into the deeper recesses in this book. What happens after the war ends? Why does it feel like a loss even after they won the victory from Mugen? There are no parades, no victory celebrations, no praises and certainly no breaks in this book. Running away from her inner demons, Rin thrusts herself into civil war enlisting with Vaisra, the Dragon Warlord to overthrow Daji though his motives remain nebulous and suspicious. There are numerous descriptions of military, naval, and economic strategy. Much like the war of the first book, the plot preps and simmers slowly but violently at the beginning. Kuang moves her chess pieces slowly, almost dauntingly, until it boils over in the third act in an intense and twisting way. There’s definitely more maneuvering and strategy of large scale armies and navies in this second volume, resulting in less gory scenes than that Golyn Niis chapter but only marginally so. The action scenes are well thought out, there are no half drawn scenes of fighting, no fade to blacks. They were epic in scope and you can really picture what is happening in the whole battle scene even though you are focused only on Rin’s perspective. Whereas the reader was mostly confined to the school in the first book, we really get to see more detailed and beautiful worldbuilding here delving into Arlong and the Dragon province. But the development doesn’t stop at the material world, Kuang also develops the spiritual world more as Rin’s and the Cike’s powers are tested more. I have to admit that although I’m never really on board with fantasy books taking place too much in the spiritual world, this development of it in this world never ceased to engage me. That’s because through this, we learn more about the many issues Rin is suppressing but also the history of shaman use in this world.

This book most excels when it comes to Rin. I appreciated that while Rin is redeemable in her own right, Kuang never adds things in to Rin’s character to make her more palatable or more relatable, making her one of the most unique characters I’ve come across. Rin is dealing with a lot in this book and Kuang never lets Rin forget the things she had to do to win the war and Rin struggles to reconcile what she believed the best way to win the war with the thousands of innocent people she killed. But on top of that, Rin is being pulled every which way by different power figures vying for her special talents. She struggles to find her purpose in life because no one cares what she believes in taking only about her power can bring and what she is willing to sacrifice to exact revenge on Daji. Rin isn’t the only one that goes through the ringer however. We saw one maybe two sides to each secondary character, but here they are out of their element and each character is pushed to their limits. I especially enjoyed seeing wholesome Kitay, belligerent Venka, and a special someone (who I won’t name because spoiler) pushed to their limits. For example, Kitay who remains the diplomat and strategist struggles for his humanity and doing what is right for the army. I wish the members of the Cike were spotlighted more but they remain a welcome and funny constant to the unpredictable nature of the other characters. There are some truly sad moments in this book never vearing on sentimental but nevertheless bordering on it. The best moments of this book existed in interactions between Rin and her friends, often reminding me that while Rin is exacting revenge on Daji, I always remembered that the care and loyalty she has for her friends are unmatched. This book really goes to show how far these characters have come since they first stepped foot into Sinegard. 

No less interesting are the new characters and other returning characters. Everyone has their own motives and their own values. No matter how late they were introduced, Kuang never failed to infuse a sense of history and complication to the character. I especially liked the exploration of Daji, Vaisra, and the other warlords of the different provinces. These characters enriched the background of the story and the book would not have been the same without their strong presence. I also appreciated that she expanded her range of female characters from the first book though sadly a majority of the major players were still male. Daji, Rin, and maybe Venka were the only major female players and even then Daji and Venka appeared at only roughly 10% of the book. I hope this continues to be rectified in the final installment. 

The writing has lost some of its fast pacing and eyes-glued-to-the-page quality but it more than compensates for that with the author’s improvement in the nuance, depth, and detail of the story. Every sentence feels richer . While TPW was inspired by the works of Sun Tzu and unit 731, Kuang reached for a wider inspiration circle this time, she states she drew on the Opium Wars and the Chinese Civil Wars. There is so much more to unpack in this book and I’m looking forward to unpacking more when I inevitably reread it.

This book comes out August 6, 2019. I know that fans of TPW will love this book even more! It is one of the best fantasy sequels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A special thank you to Harper Voyager and HarperCollins for sending me an ARC to review. I was soooo excited when I opened the package and saw it was this gem of a book I was so eagerly anticipating.

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