READ THE WORLD – Central African Republic: The Magic Doll by Adrienne Yabouza and Élodie Nouhen

The Magic Doll is a “children’s book inspired by African art” and is about a young girl whose mother cared for a doll when she was unable to have children.

The Magic Doll is a proper children’s book – it’s a large hardback with some beautiful illustrations – and I haven’t read a children’s book since I was a very young child so reading this now was a bit of a different experience.

I did really like the illustrations by Élodie Nouhen. They often took up whole pages and the women stood out due to the different patterns on their clothing. The colours and shapes used were also great and I liked how simple but effective they were.

The story itself, while written simply and from a child’s point of view, is actually one about a more adult concept; Infertility and the shame, judgement and heartache that that can bring. It’s not really what I expected from a children’s book but it’s written in a way that shows that the other women were wrong to judge the mother for not getting pregnant straightaway and how she has a supportive husband. Most of all though The Magic Doll is about love and the lengths parents would go to for their children.

I appreciated at the end of the book there was information on the real Akua’ba Dolls, how they came to be and what they were for. It’s the sort of thing that adults might find interesting and it has any answers to questions children may have considering The Magic Doll is based on a real object used by women for generations and across different tribes.

My Reading in 2021 and my Bookish Goals for 2022

It’s the second week of January so it’s about time I took a look back at what I read in 2021, if I met my reading goals (spoiler alert I did not) and what my bookish plans for 2022 are. Like I said when it came to my film watching last year, I think 2021 is when things started to take a bit of a toll and I was very slumpy when it came to my reading especially. I know I didn’t make the time for reading like I have done previously and instead would scroll through social media or watch TV shows.

My 2021 reading goal was to read 52 books but I missed that by a fair bit and ended up reading 42 books of which four were rereads. 42 books isn’t terrible but for me it’s the least amount of books I’ve read in a year since when I was at university where reading for fun took a back seat. I reviewed 36 of them which is more than half so I am happy about that. Side note: on Goodreads and The StoryGraph (which I’m still learning to use and am happy to friend/follow people on there) it says I read 41 books as Why the Sky Moved Away from the Earth by Christine Gnimagnon Adjahi isn’t in their database and I’ve been having some trouble adding it so that’s why my numbers don’t tally up there. As I haven’t really read a lot and not a lot really stuck out to me I haven’t actually done a top ten books of the year but I’ve got a full list of what I’ve read with links to all my reviews if you’d like to see my thoughts on them.

I didn’t have any challenges or big goals in 2021 besides my Read the World Project and trying to get my TBR down. At the start of 2022 I had 41 countries left for my Read the World Project meaning I read 29 books/countries in 2021 and that made up more than half of my reading last year. I ended 2021 with 88 books on my physical/digital TBR which is the exact number I started 2021 with! I didn’t know that until I was looking at last year’s goals and was very surprise by that stat. So while I’ve read books, acquired books, and donated a whole lot of books when I came to terms with the fact I was never going to read them, my actual TBR number hasn’t changed. Quite impressive really.

I like to read an equal amount of books from male and female writers with the presumption that if it’s going to skew one way it’d be towards women and that’s what happened in 2021. I didn’t have a target in mind for how many authors of colour I wanted to read but it ended up being an exact 50/50 split between white authors and authors of colour. Honestly, I probably couldn’t have done that if I’d have tried. The only authors I read multiple books from were Garth Nix and Leigh Bardugo so if we’re going with authors in general, not by their books, I read more different authors of colour in 2021 than different white authors. I hope that makes sense.

Now for my 2022 reading goals.

The main thing is finishing my Read the World Project. I’ve already said I’m extending my deadline until I turn 31 which is at the end of September so that’s pretty much nine months to read 40 (I’ve already read one book this year) books before then. Honestly, I do think it’s doable. I just need to put time aside for reading. A lot of the books I’ve got for this project are on the shorter side at 300 pages or less so I know if I didn’t get distracted, I could probably read a couple of them a week. There are 14 countries I still need to find a book for but I think that’s doable and, in the meantime, I have 26 books/countries to keep me busy.

I will set my Goodreads goal at 52 yet again (maybe this time I’ll hit it) and will aim to review half of all I read. As I review all my Read the World books that should definitely be done. I’ll again suggest getting my TBR down to 75 but we’ll see how that goes. Last year I started getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription from about February I think and to be honest I’ve skipped one month and only read one of the books I’ve been sent. So, in the 10 books I’ve acquired through that, I’ve still got 9 on my TBR. While it’s nice to get a brand-new hardback book that often has a fair bit of hype around it I don’t see the point of me continuing to pay for the subscription if I don’t read the books promptly, especially when they are not my priority at the minute. So this is a sort of note to myself to not have my subscription automatically renewed in a few months and to maybe try and read at least a couple of the books I’ve received via Illumicrate before 2022 is over.

The final challenge I’ve got is the 12 Challenge that was on Instagram/Twitter – 12 months to read 12 books recommended by 12 friends. These are the books that was recommended to me for this challenge:
A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Slade House by David Mitchell
Himself by Jess Kidd
Nina is Not Okay by Shapi Khorsandi
John Dies at the End by David Wong
The Cabinent by Un Su Kim
They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera
Darius the Great is Not OK by Adib Khorram
City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai by Paul French
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Seven of them are available via my library and two of them I already own so I may have to buy copies of three of them in the year at some point.

Those are my reading goals for 2022. Generally, they’re pretty simple ones and it’s the 12 Challenge that will be pushing me out of my comfort zone a bit. I want to focus up on my reading and try and spend at least 30 minutes a day reading – something that is pretty easy to do if I just put my phone down. Do you have any reading goals for 2022? I’d love to hear them.

My film year in review and my film-related goals of 2022

In some ways I think the events of 2020 caught up with me in 2021 and that’s when it started to have an effect on my reading and film-watching. I watched 203 different films (the lowest amount in a year since I’ve started properly recording this sort of thing in 2016) and of them 61 were rewatches. With all the various lockdowns and restrictions, I still managed to see 28 films in the cinema which is more than I thought I did to be honest. I put together my top ten films of 2021 last week which I did find it kind of hard to put together as once again I felt as I wasn’t watching a lot of new stuff even though there’s been a lot of critically-acclaimed films released on various streaming platforms this past year.

I completed my 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again which I am happy about. Especially as I didn’t watch the 52nd film directed by a woman until the last few days of December. I was definitely cutting it fine in 2021. Normally I’ve hit 52 at least by December.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch any more of the films in my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets like I said I’d like to, and I definitely didn’t watch any Studio Ghibli films. So that sort of goal was a massive failure.

When it came to TV watching though I surprised myself! I’ve shared all the shows I watched in 2021 but I finally finished watching all the Marvel Netflix shows like I said I wanted to for the past two or three years which feels like an achievement to be honest. I watched all the Disney+ MCU shows like I thought I would, and out of the other shows I mentioned wanting to try I did actually watch and love Ted Lasso so that’s something.

Now it’s time for the fun actor and director stats I get from having a Letterboxd pro account.

My most watched actors of 2021 were:

Last year I rewatched (and reviewed) all the X-Men films and all the Spider-Man films, as well as rewatching my comfort-franchise, Fast and Furious, I revisited The Matrix films for the first time in over a decade, and did my yearly rewatching of The Lord of the Rings so that pretty much explains every actor who makes the top 20. The two major outliers are John Cho (I watched the Harold & Kumar films for the first time in 2021 so that counts for half of his films) and Frank Grillo who I generally like and will watch just about everything he’s in.

I like the fact that a quarter of my most watched actors of 2021 are women, though it’d be nice if there were more, and almost half of my most watched actors aren’t white which is mostly thanks to the Fast and Furious franchise.

My most watched directors reflect the franchises I’ve been (re)watching. Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) Sam Raimi, Jon Watts and Marc Webb (Spider-Man), McG (Charlie’s Angels), and James Mangold, Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer (X-Men).

Really happy and somewhat surprised that there’s five female directors here as while I have watched 52 films directed by women each year for six years now, rarely do I watch more than one film by the same female director in a year. This can be down to that they don’t yet have a big filmography to go through or their films aren’t easily available, or that they do have a fair few directing credits but I’ve just watched them in previous years and haven’t rewatched them.

I had a look and the last time I had more than one woman director make this end of year list was in 2018 and then it was only two of them. In fact, this is the year with the most women directors on my most watched list since I’ve been recording this stuff!

So, my film-related goals of 2022. While it is nice to have an opinion on the films/performances that are up for awards or are getting awards-buzz, I don’t want to push myself to watch things just because they have a level of prestige. That’s not to say I won’t watch any films that get nominated but I don’t want to stress myself out trying to cram in a load of films that are often serious or about tough subject matters in the first three months of the year.

I will once again say I’d like to make some headway with my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets but who knows if that’ll happen. I will be aiming to watch at least 52 films written/directed by women again in 2022 though. I do like that challenge as it gets me watching films I might have put off as not a priority or I find things that I hadn’t heard of before.

Do you have any film or TV-related goals for 2022? If you have a Letterboxd account do let me know so I can follow you.

2021: The Year of TV

For many, many years I’ve been saying I’m terrible at watching TV shows and generally speaking I am but that did change in 2021. I still haven’t watched many of the “big” shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Succession, The Boys, Outlander – you name it, I probably haven’t seen it.

But in 2021 I watched more TV shows in their entirety than I have ever before in one year. In fact, I watched 31 different shows. Only two of them were continuations of shows I’d starter before 2021; Cobra Kai and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and one was a rewatch; W.I.T.C.H.

Here’s a list of all the shows I watched last year. they’re sort of in order of when I watched them though if there’s been a gap between when I watched various seasons of the same show, I’ve included it on the original listing. Like Cobra Kai I watched on 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021 – started and ended the year with my new favourite disaster man Johnny Lawrence.

– Cobra Kai season 3 and 4
– Derry Girls series 1 and 2
– Brooklyn Nine-Nine season 6 and 7
– Superstore season 1-6
– WandaVision
– The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
– Loki
– 9-1-1 season 1-4
– 9-1-1: Lone Star season 1-2
– Shadow and Bone S1
– Batwoman season 1-2 and first half of S3
– The Gifted S1-2
– Ted Lasso S1-2
– Mare of Easttown
– W.I.T.C.H. S1-2
– Chernobyl
– Turner & Hooch
– Big Shot
– What If…?
– Only Murders in the Building
– Doctor Who: Flux
– The Equalizer S1
– Jessica Jones S2-3
– Luke Cage S2
– Iron Fist S2
– Daredevil S3
– The Punisher S2
– Hawkeye
– Superman & Lois S1
– The Wheel of Time
– Alex Rider S1-2

My favourites that I watched this year were Chernobyl, Superstore, 9-1-1, Ted Lasso, Superman & Lois and, of course, Hawkeye (which I reviewed over on JumpCut Online). But really, I enjoyed pretty much everything I watched this year. I will say I found the first series of Alex Rider a bit of a slog but the second series was great and more than made up for the first.

I also finally caught up with and watched all the seasons of the various Marvel Netflix shows I’d just left by the wayside. That was something I’d definitely been talking about catching up on for years and I’m pleased I’ve finally done it. It was nice to revisit those characters and stories again after so long.

I think in 2021 the pandemic sort of caught up with and it was in 2021 when I found it difficult to concentrate on things like a two+ hour film or a 400-page book. So that’s why I turned to TV. A lot of the stuff I watched is around the 45-minute mark per episode if not shorter and I just found it easier to watch a few episodes in an evening than have to focus on a film. Plus, as I was working from home for the vast majority of the year, I would also watch an episode (or two depending when I got up) before work or during my lunch hour. So that definitely helped me watch more TV than normal.

As for what my TV-watching will be like in 2022? Well, I do want to make reading more of a priority this year so naturally films and TV may take a bit of a backseat which I’m fine with. I want to carry on with the shows that I’ve started, when the next series starts here in the UK so that’s Batwoman, Ted Lasso, 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star, Derry Girls, The Equalizer and whatever else might have a new series air at some point in 2022. I’m still kind of annoyed that the final season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine still hasn’t been aired here yet but at least that’s something to look forward to.

I’m not sure how many new-to-me shows I’ll end up watching in 2022. The thing is with the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and the bog-standard TV channels, there’s so many shows out there that it is overwhelming. One new show I do have my eye on (and will maybe renew my subscription to Apple TV+ for it) is The Afterparty, that looks like fun and it has a lot of people I like in it.

Looking at what I’ve watched and enjoyed this year, if there’s any shows you’d recommend whether they’re new for 2022 or not, please do let me know. I won’t make any promises that I’ll watch them – especially if they’re in their fifth season with 20ish episodes a season (that’s super intimidating) – but as there’s so much out there it’s hard to know what’s good or not or where to begin. And who knows, I might like a show to fill my lunchbreaks again.

READ THE WORLD – Tunisia: The Scents of Marie-Claire by Habib Selmi

Translated by Fadwa Al Qasem.

The story of the relationship between Marie-Claire, a French woman, and Mahfouth, a Tunisian man, from beginning to end as they live together in Paris.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is a short book at less than 180 pages and that’s probably a good thing as if it was longer, I may have given up on it. I did read it in two days but I did so while not liking the narrator at all. The Scents of Marie-Claire is written in first person point of view and Mahfouth is the narrator.

I think I’ve said before but I tend to find books from male characters point of view (especially when they’re written by men) a bit uncomfortable with how the male characters describe female characters and The Scents of Marie-Claire is no exception. As it’s from Mahfouth’s point of view, Marie-Claire often comes across as just an object for his desire and not a person with her own thoughts and opinions. When she says she doesn’t want sex or attention he takes it as a personal affront and feels she’s cruel for denying him and is doing to be purposefully hurtful, rather than maybe she didn’t feel like it or had a lot going on in her head. You never get anything from Marie-Claire’s point of view so it is easy for Mahfouth to paint her as a villain in their relationship.

A big selling point of The Scents of Marie-Claire is the culture clash between the two of them however this didn’t seem to be a huge thing to me. Yes, when you learn about their childhoods, they are very different but if anything it is Mahfouth’s general misunderstanding of women but also obsession with them that causes problems in their relationship. That could well be a typical aspect of Tunisian men in general that I’m unaware of rather than a specific character thing. He’s very self-conscious about their relationship and showing affection in public which could be a sign of him being more aware of their differences, though as I said, to me it seemed more likely because he was awkward about how he felt about sex and relationships.

The Scents of Marie-Claire is an odd reading experience as there’s a distance from Marie-Claire so I never really felt like I knew or understood her as a character. Meanwhile, you’re in Mahfouth’s head so much that it isn’t an enjoyable reading experience as I didn’t like what he was thinking and feeling. 1/5.

My Favourite Films of 2021

Another odd year in terms of film releases. In the UK cinemas were shut until around May and what makes up my top ten of the year are a combination of streaming releases, films I saw at film festivals, and ones that were released in the cinema. These are in no particular order but they are all films that I thoroughly enjoyed for various reasons – some made me happy, some made me sad, and some made me feel both happy and sad during their runtime.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
I did not know what to expect going into Shang-Chi but I had a total blast with it – in fact, it’s the only film I saw more than once in the cinema and I rewatched it at home over Christmas and enjoyed it even more. The characters and their relationships stay at the heart of everything, even when things get a bit CGI-heavy in the final act.

Moxie
I read and loved the book years ago and thought this was a great adaptation. The young cast were great and though the feminist themes are as heavy as a sledgehammer I thought managed to cover intersectional feminism in a fun but understandable way for teens.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
This was so full of nostalgia and I absolutely loved it. Still haven’t managed to see No Way Home again but I really want to as that was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in the cinemas in ages.

Everything in the End
An end of the world film full of melancholy and human connection and it just worked so well. it especially resonated now after what I’ve experienced during a pandemic.

F9
Was the latest Fast and Furious film the most over the top and ridiculous yet? Yes. Did I enjoy every second of it? Also, yes. I love this franchise and the latest instalment was everything I loved about it cranked up to 11. The villain was lacking a bit but I loved Han coming back and his pseudo-daughter and how Mia returned too.

Boss Level
I’ll watch pretty much anything Frank Grillo is in and Boss Level was great. It’s fun, innovative, interesting and just pure entertaining. I enjoyed how you learn the rules of this world pretty quick but there’s still things for you to figure out.

Beyto
I absolutely fell in love with this film and its three main characters. It’s about Beyto, the only son of a Turkish migrant family who falls in love with his swimming coach Mike. When his parents find out they plan to marry him to his childhood best friend Seher in order to solve the perceived problem. This unlikely love triangle is so sad but hopeful at the same time and I loved all three of them and it’s one of those films that when it ended, I’d love to see what the three of them are up to in a few years’ time.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
This isn’t released till February here in the UK but I got to see it at a film festival and had such a great time with it. I didn’t know the people and events it was based on but I loved both Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield’s performances.

Tick, Tick… Boom!
Andrew Garfield really had a great year. I have not seen RENT (movie or stag version) nor is my musical theatre knowledge that great so I knew next to nothing about Jonathan Larson before watching Tick, Tick… Boom! Turns out I loved the songs and the story and how relatable it was. It’s funny and sad but hopeful and yeah, Andrew Garfield was fantastic and has a wonderful voice.

The Rescue
One of the last films I watched in 2021 and it was a great choice to round out the year. incredibly gripping and interesting documentary about how the boys football team was rescued from the caves in Thailand. The reconstructions were so well done and how it showed how the help came from the most unexpected places shows how people are good actually.

What were some of your favourite films you saw last year?

READ THE WORLD – Tajikistan: The City Where Dreams Come True by Gulsifat Shakhidi

A collection of four short stories from the perspective of three generations provides insight into the impact which Tajikistan’s terrible civil war had on its people and its culture during the early ’90s.

Each of the four stories is from a different family members point of view. This is something I didn’t realise before starting the book and instead picked up as I read it and noticed different characters cropping up or that some events were now being shown from a different perspective. The first is Ali who rescued his teacher’s daughter Nekbaht during the violence and the two of them found their way to his uncle. Then Horosho who is revealed to be Nekbaht’s grandfather and one of her only living relatives. There’s a story from Nekbaht’s perspective which picks up after Ali’s story does so you see how both of their lives turned out. The final story is focused on Shernazar who is Ali’s youngest cousin.

I found the way the stories intertwined and fleshed out the characters or events we’d seen in previous stories really well done and interesting. On their own each story is heartfelt and has themes of loss, injustice and hope, but when read back-to-back these themes are even more prominent and it makes each story more compelling and thoughtful.

I had barely even heard of Tajikistan as a country, never mind the civil war and turmoil its people have faced and I think that The City Where Dreams Come True shows the culture and how the people’s lives were affected by the conflict really well. Ali’s life sounds especially normal and almost idyllic before tragedy strikes. All the characters have their own issues but one thing that they have in common is their strong work ethic. Ali, Nekbaht and Shernazar learn that for them to succeed in life and in order for them to have a chance of a better life, for themselves and their families, they need to get a good education as that’s one of the only things that can lead to opportunities.

The City Where Dreams Come True is a very short collection of short stories, the kind that can easily be read in one sitting. That doesn’t make them any less impactful though and the language used, incorporating Russian, Uzbek and Tajik words for objects or in dialogue helps make these stories feel more real. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Seed (2021)

After being victims of gentrification Rainer (Hanno Koffler) moves his family to the outskirts of the city to a house that needs a lot of work. As he toils away at home and on a building site where his position as site manager is appearing more and more precarious, his thirteen-year-old daughter Doreen (Dora Zygouri) befriends neighbour Mara (Lilith Julie Johna) whose family is a lot richer than her own.

Comparisons to social dramas from Ken Loach can be easily made as Rainer and his family are put through more and more financial and emotional turmoil. However, while the cast is good in their roles – Koffler is especially engaging – the narrative they’re in is pretty simple. As more and more burdens are place on the family, you hardly ever see why this is happening. Is it their family specifically that’s hit a rough patch, or is it part of a wider social issue and they’re not alone in this struggle? Naturally as The Seed is a German film there could well be context clues that I as a Brit living in the UK did not pick up on but it does feel like a simple way to tell this story.

Rainer’s storyline can be frustrating at times as he, like many of his fellow workers, have worked for this company for years and feels some loyalty to it. This is exacerbated by company owner Klose (Robert Stadlober) who makes promises that from an outside perspective you can see he has no intention of keeping. Rainer’s situation shows how while companies may preach that they are a family company and any success benefits all the workers, in reality that’s not the case and no one is irreplaceable.

Doreen’s struggles are typical coming-of-age fare. She’s had to leave behind her friends and the new girl she befriends has a cruel streak. As she yearns for friendship, she finds herself in situations where Mara is convincing her to steal or play dangerous tricks on other girls and when she does stand up for herself, she becomes the target.

The parallels between father and daughter and their struggles couldn’t be more on the nose. While Rainer is having to deal with a cruel and two-faced boss, Doreen is spending time with someone who is more of a bully than a friend. The way their relationship troubles build mirrors one another until they both reach their breaking point. The cutting between Rainer and Doreen’s final confrontations with their tormentors is inevitable and while it’s unsurprising, the way these confrontations turn out lead to an interesting juxtaposition.

The sound design is one notable aspect of The Seed. Any time Rainer gets overwhelmed by his situation, it’s like his anxiety spikes and a high-pitched whining, rumbles of thunder and steady but foreboding drumbeat drown out everything else around him. The sound is suffocating and is a great audio-visualisation of his current emotional state. Continuing the themes of daughter’s life mirroring her father’s, while it doesn’t happen as often to Doreen, the same techniques are implemented when everything becomes too much for her too.

While everything does slowly build to a crescendo, The Seed finishes with an open-ending. After everything that’s come before it’s hard to think of a conclusion that could be happy or even concrete while still being realistic. However, it does mean that you’re left feeling dejected and unsatisfied because as a people we tend to strive for some semblance of hope or light even in the darkest of stories, and here there is very little of that for this family. 3/5.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all who celebrate it and, even if you don’t, I hope you have a lovely day doing exactly what you would like to do.

My Christmas is always very chilled out, especially as it’s just me and my mum. We tend to spend the day watching a load of films and eating a load of food and it’s wonderful.

I shall leave you with my favourite Christmas-related Vines. (RIP Vine)

Thoughts on… my Read the World Project

Way back in January 2017 I was inspired to try and read a book from every country in the world before I was 30. I turned 30 at the end of September this year and unfortunately, I didn’t hit that goal – I had 48 countries still to go. I’m still carrying on with this challenge though and I’m tweaking my deadline. I will now attempt to finish my Read the World Project while I’m still 30. So, it’ll kind of be in line with what I originally planned.

I’ve enjoyed reading books from places and authors I’d never normally pick up. I’ve read poetry, plays, novels, non-fiction, and short stories. I’ve learnt a lot about different places and cultures and have just generally read a lot of interesting and entertaining stories.

I had a pretty bad reading year in general which didn’t help me with my Read the World Project and as it stands, I have 42 countries left to read before I’m 31. I should read at least more book this year (I hope). I already own 25 books that fit 25 countries. They’re a mixture of hardbacks, paperbacks or ebooks. That means I have 17 more books/countries to acquire in the next nine months.

It is getting harder to find books, poetry etc from the remaining countries. Many of the countries I don’t have works for yet are smaller ones and therefore the chance of having works in English and readily available is smaller too. So, if you happen to know of any writers who are from any of these countries, please let me know: Brunei, Central African Republic, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Mayotte, Monaco, Nauru, Niger, Panama, San Marina, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste (East Timor), Tuvalu, Vanatu.

42 books in a year is normally doable for me and I’m going to make reading a priority in 2022. Wish me luck that I’ll finally complete my Read the World Project.