READ THE WORLD – Benin: Why the Sky Moved Away by Christine Gnimagnon Adjahi

The ebook edition I read was in the original French with Arabic translation by Ibrahim Trad and English translation by Allison Mitcham. The illustrations are by Samia Taqi.

We’re starting to get to some of the countries where I really struggled to find any work that has been translated into English so I was pleased to find this very short children’s book available on kindle.

Why the Sky Moved Away is one of those stories that explains why something is the way it is – in this case, why the sky is so far away from Earth. Side note: I googled to see if there was a name for these kinds of stories and there is! It’s called a pourquoi story (pourquoi means “why” in French) though apparently the term “origin story” can be used with stories like these too. Love learning new things like this.

Anyway. As Why the Sky Moved Away is a children’s story the writing is simple but there’s still the sort of whimsical feel you often get with children’s stories. There’s also a kind of moral to the story too, like you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Not much else to say about Why the Sky Moved Away except that the illustrations are in a water colour style and look lovely, I especially like the colours used, and I thought the explanation of what stars are was equally sad and beautiful – especially with the accompanying illustration.

REVIEW: Flee (2021)

Animated documentary telling the true story of Amin, who arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, at 36, he is a successful academic and there’s talk of marriage between him and his long-time boyfriend. In a series of conversations with a close school friend, Amin finally tells his secrets that he has been hiding for over 20 years.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animated documentary before and I think the two elements really complimented each other. The animation is so good that when there is a little real news footage scattered throughout the film it’s almost jarring, though it does help to drive home certain points or atrocities, giving the real news story to back up Amin’s accounts. What’s really striking about the animation is how the style changes when Amin is deep in a memory or is thinking what could’ve happened. Instead of the colours and neat lines it becomes dark and almost as if it’s in charcoal. These abstract and often faceless images highlighted the fear and darkness Amin and his family faced.

With the music and the animation, Flee manages to be bother beautiful and haunting at the same time. The things Amin saw and went through are more often horrible than not, but there are some moments of fun for him in his childhood, even when things look bleak. The animation and music captures that duality of life incredibly well.

I think Flee is the kind of film that would be a good way to show children what a lot of refugees can go through in the hopes of keeping with their family and being safe. The corruption of the police and greed of the traffickers are clear – at one point it is heavily hinted at that a young woman would be raped by Russian police as she didn’t have any money or valuables for them to take, so they had to make her pay for not having the correct papers somehow.

Flee shows how quickly a person’s life can change. Amin and his family were all normal, living happy lives until things changed in Afghanistan. His father was arrested, never seen again, and eventually he, his mother and older brother and sisters had to flee to Moscow, with the hope of making it to Sweden where another older sibling lived.

Flee is thought-provoking and equally devastating and hopeful. Amin has gone through so much but has managed to make a life for himself, with a man he loves. That’s another aspect of Amin’s life that he struggled with, being gay and from a culture where it was not talked about or even seen to be a thing. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Qatar: The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir by Sophia Al-Maria

A funny and wry coming-of-age memoir about growing up in between American and Gulf Arab cultures as Al-Maria shares the struggles of being raised by an American mother and Bedouin father while shuttling between homes in the Pacific Northwest and the Middle East.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth begins with the story of Al-Maria’s parents. Of how her father came to America and how they met, fell in love and were happy for a while. Then in goes to Al-Maria’s childhood and the start of feeling like she belonged in two places and none at all. Growing up she and her young sister spent years with her mother and grandmother in her home on a small farm, then they moved with their mother to Doha to live in a large apartment their father had though they rarely saw him, instead spending time with all the women on their dad’s side of the family; aunts and cousins.

Al-Maria in part doesn’t seem to know who she is because she moves between America and the Middle East at major milestones in her life. As a young teen in America, she tries to express herself but the things she’s interested in (fashion and music) disappoint and sometimes anger her mother. When she goes back to the Middle East as a teen she discovers new restrictions on her life, especially once she starts her period and she’s no longer allowed to go to certain parts of the house where the men are.

Al-Maria grows up in the 80s and 90s and she’s at university in Egypt when 9/11 happens. Her university is an international school with a whole mixture of Americans, Europeans, and Arabs from different countries, so after the attacks you feel the repercussions on all these people in a different way that white Western people did.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth is really interesting because it seems like Al-Maria not only has a culture clash but a personality clash with her parents, her mother especially. It’s like she’s expected to know how to act in both societies but there are things she’s never taught and neither side of the family rarely think they should – she’s just expected to know things. Her not knowing where she belongs, how she feels like an alien when people can’t easily classify “what” she is based on her looks or her level of English or Arabic, comes out in anger, confusion and just general teenage angst.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth doesn’t offer any simple or easy answers to Al-Maria’s turmoil. Her childhood and upbringing weren’t easy and while as an outside perspective you can think of what you’d have done differently in her position, or even in her parent’s position, these were the choices she made. Sometimes they were reckless or thoughtless while sometimes they were a conscious decision.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth is told with a wry sense of humour. There are things that happen in Al-Maria’s life that are sad or shocking but they are told with a degree of distance to them. It’s is as because she doesn’t feel connected to either part of her heritage, it’s difficult for the reader to connect with what she experienced. 4/5.

REVIEW: No Time to Die (2021)

After going into retirement and feeling betrayed by Madeline (Léa Seydoux), the woman he gave up MI6 for, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is enjoying the anonymity of the quiet life. That is until Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking Bond for help, setting him on the tail of a mysterious and powerful man with dangerous new technology.

No Time to Die opens with a tense prologue before going into a thrilling car chase as Bond’s world once again comes crashing down. The action sequences in No Time to Die are excellent with hand-to-hand fights being shot close and without being heavily edited so you can actually see and feel what James Bond is going through. The various car chases are great too as at times you feel like you really are immersed in the action and are about to be crushed by a flying car.

In terms of the villain of No Time to Die, Rami Malek’s Safin almost feels like a cameo. It takes at least to the half way mark of the (almost three hour-long) film to see his face and while he does the job of being threatening and eerie with his monologues, it’s the technology he plans to use that is far more terrifying. The villain shouldn’t come second to their end-of-the-world-ploy but here he does. The technology Bond and MI6 have set out to stop is the world-ending kind and perhaps it’s because of what we have all lived through these past two year makes the device seem all the more real and scary.

The relationship between Bond and Madeline is a core part of this film, and Bond’s motivations. However, personally I’ve never really seen the chemistry between Craig and Seydoux. While they both give good performances individually, when together something doesn’t quite click.

Welcome additions to the franchise are Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, a double-oh agent who has not so friendly banter with Bond, and Ana de Armas’ Paloma, an agent Bond briefly teams up with in Cuba. Nomi and Bond work well together on screen as while they are both highly trained operatives, she is more of a soldier and willing to follow orders compared to Bond’s more rogue-nature. Paloma is an absolute delight and like a breath of fresh air and it’s a shame we only get her for such a brief amount of time. She is young but capable and so much fun – her fight scenes were different and interesting compare to Bond’s and show her physicality as she throws guns at men’s heads as well as just shooting at them.

While No Time to Die is certainly a very good send off for Daniel Craig’s James Bond, it does leave you wondering the fate of other characters like Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny. This is unfortunate and for me a bit of a bugbear as the wider MI6 cast that have been surrounding Craig’s Bond for so long is something I’ve really come to enjoy. It’s their interactions with Bond and each other that have made MI6 feel more real and the whole thing more grounded as James Bond does have a team behind him, whether or not he actually listens to them/goes to them for help is besides the point.

No Time to Die is action-packed and often thrilling. While it doesn’t have a memorable villain and the plot does feel a bit convoluted at times, Daniel Craig’s performance is what pulls everything together and manages to keep the film on track. 3/5.

REVIEW: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

There may be vague spoilers for the original Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom in this review.

Nikolai Lantsov, King of Ravka, is trying to keep his country from the brink of war and ruin, while battling a darkness that has taken hold inside him. Zoya Nazyalensky, Commander of the Second Army and one of Nikolai’s closest allies, will do everything to protect her fellow Grisha and help Nikolai secure the throne. Meanwhile, far north Nina Zenik wages her own war against the people who would see the Grisha destroyed. Each of them will risk everything to save a broken nation but some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried.

While people said you could read Six of Crows without reading the Grisha trilogy you definitely shouldn’t read King of Scars without having read the five previous books. King of Scars takes place three years after the Darkling’s defeat and there’s a lot of references to past events and knowing what these characters have gone through then, makes their highs and lows more affecting now.

King of Scars is told from the point of view of Nikolai, Nina, and Zoya. Nina’s story does kind of feel a bit like a side quest and quite separate from what’s happening with Nikolai and Zoya. She’s in a different country, she doesn’t even know what’s happening back in Ravka, and while she’s being a spy for Nikolai, she’s trying to confront her demons and her grief over losing the man she loved. Nikolai and Zoya’s stories are more entwined so you get what both characters are feeling about the situations they’re in as they’re trying to protect the future of Ravka. There’s political intrigue as Nikolai, Zoya and their allies (Genya, David, and the twins) try to figure out how to make alliances with neighbouring countries and protect their borders. As well as the politics side of things, Nikolai has to deal with a monster that’s living under his skin. The constant threat of him hurting anyone, or their enemies finding out about it and using it against them, always on his mind.

All three of these characters are struggling. They’re struggling with their guilt, their responsibility, their grief, and they’re all handling (or not) to the best of their ability. Reading King of Scars was a bit odd at times as while I like all three characters (Nikolai was my favourite from the original trilogy), they were all more or less side characters in the stories they first appeared in so to have them front and centre now felt a bit strange to begin with. Though, I have to say while I liked her before, King of Scars made Zoya go way up in my estimations. She’s powerful and mean but she’s holding in a lot of pain and the way her powers and inner strength develop is great to see. I also really liked her and Nikolai’s relationship. While they are close and clearly trust one another, there’s hints at there being something more between them, whether they are aware of it or not.

Though I enjoy it, I don’t often YA fantasy as I’m focusing more on my Read the World Project which tends to be more historical/contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and as I read my sixth Leigh Bardugo book of the year, I was reminded how fun and fast-paced YA fantasy can be. Bardugo’s writing is insanely readable with twists and turns, humour and heartfelt moments, and ends the whole book on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m not too sure what to make of the ending but I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out (and if Nina’s story becomes a bit more connected to what’s going on in Ravka).

It was a lot of fun being back in this world with characters I like a whole lot. King of Scars technically might not be a 5-star read but I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t put it down. 5/5.

REVIEW: Schumacher (2021)

Documentary about seven-time Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher.

Formula 1 is not a sport I follow or know a lot about but it’s hard to not have at least heard of Michael Schumacher. It’s a name and person I was always aware of growing up as he first raced in the F1 a month before I was born and I remember seeing his ski accident featured in the news. Really that sums up my knowledge of Michael Schumacher before watching this documentary.

I found Schumacher to be really interesting and engaging. The balance between talking heads, voiceovers from various industry professionals and those who know Michael Schumacher, and archival footage was great. The filmmakers had a good understanding of when to let the footage speak for itself; whether that was a montage of photos and clips of Schumacher with his family, or letting key races play out.

The documentary seemed to balance the story of Schumacher the man outside of F1 and Schumacher the driver. It’s clear that they were very different people and while he was focused and put his all into both aspects of his life, his competitiveness when it came to racing was almost unparalleled. You get to see the highs and lows of his racing career and included are the times where he was probably in the wrong when it came to altercations with some of his opponents but it was clear that he’d never apologise for such things as in some ways it was almost like anything goes when on the track. Hearing David Coulthard talk about their relationship on and off the track especially highlighted Schumacher’s competitive-streak.

The documentary shows how Schumacher got into racing from humble beginnings of go-kart racing to almost pure chance that got him into his first F1 race. From there you see how talented he really was and how he loved a challenge. It was like as well as winning Championship titles, what he wanted to do was win them in ways other drivers hadn’t. Sometimes that meant going with teams and cars that were the underdogs – proving that while others may have a faster car, if Michael Schumacher was behind the wheel of a bad car it didn’t mean all was lost.

The skiing accident is mentioned briefly towards the end of the documentary and while you can make assumptions on Schumacher’s condition based on the thing’s family members say, it’s clear that the family is firm in keeping their private life private and the filmmakers respect that. At one point his wife Corrina says how before the accident and during the height of his fame Michael kept his private life private and now his family are committed to do the same.

I feel that Schumacher is one of those great documentaries that is enjoyable and interesting to both those who are fans of or are knowledgeable about the subject matter, and for complete novices (like me). It’s an engaging and thoughtful documentary about both Michael Schumacher the family man and Michael Schumacher the F1 driver and seems to cover both sides of his life with respect. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Fiji: Memoirs of a Reluctant Traveller by Sudesh Mishra

A poetry collection about travelling and the places and people a traveller encounters.

This is an incredibly short poetry collection at 52 pages and every poem is a dizain stanza – meaning it has ten lines and each are a complete poem. Though, because of the theme of travelling some feel more connected than others. Also, the order of the poems does seem like a conscious choice as some really flow well together.

The poems I enjoyed the most were the ones about the travelling experience; whether that was by plane, train, or bus. I haven’t been to any of the places mentioned in the poems so while they did paint a good picture, I couldn’t connect with them. However, I could relate to the poems where it was full of gripes about travelling and how with each mode of transport there are different things a person experiences. They captured the monotony of travel really well.

There’s nothing else I can really say about this poetry collection because it’s so short. Each poem gives a snapshot of a place or an experience and some of them work better than others for me.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Autumn 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is what books we’d like to read over the next few months. I love setting a vague TBR and then seeing whether or not I actually get to them any time soon.

The City Where Dreams Come True by Gulsifat Shahidi
A collection of four short stories about Tajikistan’s civil war and the effect it had on the people. I have The City Where Dreams Come True and The Cost of Sugar on Kindle Unlimited and as I don’t really use that service much it’d be good to read them soon as then I can unsubscribe from it.

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
The Cost of Sugar has definitely been on more than one TBR but maybe now is the time to finally read it? It follows two Jewish stepsisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers and their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo
I read and really enjoyed King of Scars earlier this month so Rule of Wolves is definitely one I want to get to ASAP. I have the audiobook but might get the ebook too as I’m not sure which way I want to read it.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
I got The Wolf and the Woodsman via Illumicrate a few months ago and the cover is one that really stood out to me. Like many books on my TBR I don’t know much about it but I think it’s got a creepy forest and a fairy tale vibe – both are things I tend to enjoy.

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian
This is a bit of an intimidating book as it’s a chunky non-fiction about a country’s genocide and it probably will be a book I need to take time with as it’s such a heavy topic.

The Scents of Marie-Claire by Habib Selmi
My Tunisia book for the Read the World Project, The Scents of Marie-Claire tells the story of the extraordinary relationship between the Tunisian-born narrator and the French Marie-Claire

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
A Spare Life has been on one of my seasonal TBR’s before and I did start it but didn’t get too far into it so would actually like to finish it.

Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix
I love the Old Kingdom series so am really looking forward to the latest instalment and am interested to see what this prequel adds to the story. I reread Sabriel last month for the first time since 2015 and will be continuing rereading the series until Terciel and Elinor is released in November.

The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk
The Desert and the Drum is the first novel ever to be translated into English from Mauritania and is about a woman who leaves her tribe and tries to find her own path.

Chaka by Thomas Mofolo
Chaka is a mythic fictional retelling of the story of the rise and fall of the Zulu emperor-king Shaka.

What books are you hoping to read soon?

REVIEW: The Sweetest Thing (2002)

Christina (Cameron Diaz) is more than happy to flirt, have one-night stands, and leave men in the dust. That is until she meets Peter (Thomas Jane) in a club and with the help of her best friends Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair) she decides to follow her heart and to gatecrash his brother’s wedding.

While The Sweetest Thing is built on romance and the driving force behind Christina’s motivations is the fact she wants to see Peter again, it’s really about the friendship between these three women. Christina only meets Peter because she’s trying to help Jane get over her ex and it’s Courtney that drives them for hours in order to get to the wedding on time. All three of them are very funny people and they feel like they are great friends. They have in-jokes and do their best to cheer each other up while also being totally open with one another.

The Sweetest Thing has the crude humour also seen in Bridesmaids so if you like that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this too, and it should probably be talked about as much as Bridesmaids is to be honest. There’s a whole song and dance number about how to make a man feel good about his penis (sounds weird but it does work) and all three friends are very open about talking about their sex lives. There’s another musical moment featuring Aerosmith’s Don’t Want to Miss a Thing which I found hilarious and there’s a montage like any self-respecting romcom should have.

Cameron Diaz is just a delight in this film. She’s funny and sweet and while their first meeting is pretty short, she and Thomas Jane have enough chemistry to make you believe that she’d make the unexpected choice to travel for hundreds of miles just on the chance that there’s something between them. But really all her best moments are with Christina Applegate and Selma Blair, they all have great friendship-chemistry and each feel equal parts weird and real.

The Sweetest Thing is funny and at times outlandish and ridiculous but it never stops being fun. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Belize: Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell

Fourteen-year-old Beka and her best friend Toycie (who’s seventeen) are on the cusp of adulthood. They have family, school and boys to contend with as their home and everyone they know have to deal with the political upheaval as Belize strives towards independence.

Beka Lamb is set in the early 1950s and at this point Belize was a British colony. Throughout the novel there’s mentions of different political parties, how products coming from different countries mean different things, and Beka’s grandmother is heavily involved and up to date with the meetings that are happening in town. I knew nothing of Belize’s history before reading Beka Lamb and the way the politics of the country are interwoven in the story made things easy to understand and gave context to the reasons why characters said and did certain things. Having the story be from Beka’s point of view meant that there was almost a naivety to it at times as she had a lot of growing up to do.

As well as the political upheaval Beka’s family are living through there’s also how the Catholic church is a dominating presence in their lives – especially Beka and Toycie’s as the school they go to is run by nuns. The influence the women at the school have over them and the wider society can’t be underestimated. When Beka’s father asks them for help or even understanding when a situation arises, they refuse saying it’s a slight upon the school and their values.

The friendship between Beka and Toycie is the really heart of this story. Even though there’s three years between them they are really close and help each other in different ways. Toycie can help Beka with her school work while Beka will be a sometimes-reluctant alibi when Toycie wants to sneak out to see a boy. The differences in their homelives are glaring but also shows how strong their friendship is as there’s no resentment from Toycie. Beka lives with her parents, young brothers and her grandmother and while not well-off they don’t struggle financially. Toycie on the other hand lives with her aunt and she does struggle to provide for Toycie and is clearly living below the poverty line.

Beka Lamb is a pretty standard coming of age story; Beka tries to find her voice, do well in school, and stop lying. Having this story set in Belize and in a time of political and social upheaval adds extra layers to Beka’s story and while some thing’s are universal, others are deeply personal. 3/5.