Author: elenasquareeyes

READ THE WORLD – Yemen: A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi Al-Ahdal

Translated by William Maynard Hutchins.

Under the watchful eyes of the men in her community the beautiful, virtuous university student Jasmine goes about her daily business, keeping to herself and avoiding the male gaze at all costs. That is until one Valentine’s Day, when she disappears without a trace. As the details surrounding her sudden disappearance emerge the mystery deepens. Sexual depravity, honour, obsession; the motives are numerous and the suspects plentiful. Family, friends, fellow students and nosey neighbours are quick to make their own judgements on the case, but the truth may be far stranger than anyone anticipates.

I found A Land Without Jasmine strangely captivating. It’s a super short novel, less than 100 pages, and has seven chapters, each from a different character’s perspective. The first is from Jasmine’s, as she describes the heated gazes she receives from all men, young and old, even when wearing her niqab. How uncomfortable she feels, how their attention often makes her feel anxious as she wishes to be treated for more than what she looks like. The following chapters are from the perspective of detectives, neighbours, and family as they try and piece together what has happened to Jasmine.

The way Jasmine describes the unwanted attention she receives is uncomfortable to read, but what’s even more uncomfortable is when the story is from the point of view of her teenage neighbour who is infatuated with her. He, like a lot of the other male characters, seems to be unable to separate his desires and dreams from reality. His desires are explicit, and he becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to Jasmine, forgetting to look out for himself or how his actions might be perceived by the police or Jasmine’s family.

I thought the writing in A Land Without Jasmine was often very good and provocative. However, there were some phrases that felt a bit stilted down to a choice of a word when another might’ve been more suitable but that was likely to be down to the translation. It did take me a little while to get into the story though. I think that was down to it being written in first person and I can’t remember the last book I read that was written in that tense. I think sometimes first-person narrative can make the writing seem more simplistic. At some points this seemed to work in the novels advantage, as it sometimes made statements more impactful, but at other points it made reading it feel slow and awkward.

A Land Without Jasmine is a almost a sexy mystery story – though while it does have erotic language in it, the way the characters objectify and belittle Jasmine doesn’t make it particularly sexy or appealing. There are some moments of wry sense of humour here, and how it brings in family politics, the importance and power of different family tribes for one, is interesting as that’s something I knew little about. A Land Without Jasmine is a strange mystery but once you get into the writing style, it becomes a compelling one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Enola Holmes (2020)

When Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), teenage sister to Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin respectively), discovers her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) is missing, she sets off to find her. Soon she become entangled with a missing Marquess (Louis Partridge) as she follows the clues and fights to make her own way in the world.

Now Enola Holmes was just delightful! It is based on the book series by Nancy Springer, a series I haven’t read so don’t know how well it fares as an adaptation or to what extent the quirky humour and fourth-wall breaking may be from the novel. Because that’s the thing, the film opens with Enola talking to the camera, giving the audience a rundown on her life and what the immediate mystery is, and throughout the film she makes quips and gestures to the camera to highlight her true feelings about what is going on. Breaking the fourth wall tends to be something you find in comedy films, think Deadpool, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Trading Places, so to have it here, in what is in all intents and purposes a cosy mystery drama just adds something different to the film.

Millie Bobby Brown is brilliant as Enola. She’s funny and headstrong and resourceful, but she also shows the softer side of Enola. Her mother has taught her a lot, both academically and in terms of fighting skills, but she is still quite naïve about the world. She’s lived a sheltered life with her mother so when she disappears, it’s like her life crumbles a bit – especially when Mycroft wants to send her off to a finishing school.

Speaking of Mycroft, I was somewhat bemused by Claflin playing the eldest Holmes especially when Cavill is three years older than him and (no offence to Cavill), he looks younger and more boyish than Cavill – despite the help of a bushy moustache. This is Enola’s time to shine and the Holmes brothers aren’t featured all that much but when the siblings do get to share scenes, either all three together or just two of them, they all work really well together. Mycroft and Sherlock have been absent from Enola’s life for so long that they don’t know her, and she doesn’t really know them, so seeing how they do (or don’t) start to try and understand one another and build connections is interesting and shows different sides to each character.

The whole mystery aspect of Enola Holmes is a lot of fun too, and surprisingly politically. Enola has been raised to be a very modern woman for the early twentieth century and women’s suffrage and the ‘Representation of the People Act’ both play key parts in the two mysteries Enola is investigating.

Enola Holmes is just a delightful and charming film. The tone might not suit everyone, what with its lively score and often unconventional characters, but it’s the kind of film you can sit back and relax as you’re swept up in the adventure. I do hope we get a sequel, even if the more famous faces don’t all make a return. 4/5.

Wildest Dreams Book Box: Amplifying Black Voices

September’s Wildest Dreams Book Box arrived last week. Wildest Dreams is a UK based YA monthly subscription box, it usually contains a contemporary YA book, some tea, and some other bits and pieces. I do think the Wildest Dreams Box is a more affordable option compared to other subscription boxes, especially if you’re more interested in the book rather than all the extra items. This month’s theme was Amplifying Black Voices. I don’t purchase book boxes that often but I liked the sound of this theme, especially as all the items included came from Black-owned businesses.

The tea this month smells amazing. I’m not a tea drinker but I love the smell of this tea (it’s apricot and peach black flavoured) and I keep finding myself sniffing it like a weirdo. It’s inspired by The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and is made by Rosie Lea Tea. To accompany the tea there’s a cookie from M&H Cake company which was the perfect level of sweet. Also included in the box is a bookmark with a quote from Martin Luther King made by Amanthis Stationary and a notebook inspired by The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The book in this month’s box was one I hadn’t heard of before (but to be honest, I rarely have heard of the books I get in subscription boxes which is half the fun of it): The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed.

Set in Los Angeles in 1992, Ashley Bennett’s life is perfect. Living in a big house on the “right” side of town, her parents have worked hard to create a model Black family image and ensure Ashley and her sister are protected and safe. Then four LAPD officers are acquitted after bearing a Black man, Rodney King, half to death. Suddenly Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the “Black kids”. As violent protests engulf the city, Ashley’s own world starts to burn; the prejudices of her friends rise to the surface and her family splinters and cracks. Suddenly Ashley questions; Who is the “Us” and who is the “Them”?

Rodney King and the LA Riots are people and events I am aware of but it’s not something that a know a lot about. On a purely superficial level I love the cover for The Black Kids. but I am looking forward to reading it as I think historical fiction based around real events is always interesting. Plus, while the catalyst for The Black Kids is a real person, it seems like the themes it’ll cover – racism, class, violence, finding your voice – are all similar to The Hate U Give which I loved.

I’m always really pleased with the Wildest Dreams box. I think they do a good job at picking out different books that while are usually all contemporary, they cover a range of themes and I don’t think I’ve yet to be disappointed by a book I’ve received in this subscription box.

READ THE WORLD – Sudan: Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun

Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.

Thirteen Months of Sunrise is a very short (just 72 pages long) but impactful short story collection. There are ten stories in the collection, the shortest one is just two pages long while the longest is nine pages with the others being somewhere in between.

I think this is the shortest short story collection I’ve ever read, and I was impressed by how much the author could say in so few words. “A Week of Love” is the two-page story that follows the evolution of a relationship and it easily shows the various emotions and uncertainty when you like someone new.

A lot of the stories are about something that seems so everyone can relate to as it’s so mundane, like a person’s thoughts as they travel on a bus, or someone desperate to find a job to support their family. Many of the stories are a little snapshot into peoples lives in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, and the mental and physical struggles they have.

My favourite story in the collection was “Thirteen Months of Sunrise”, it has discussions of identity and the differences and similarities between people and cultures from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

It’s hard to really talk about Thirteen Months of Sunrise because the stories were so short! Still, it’s a great translation and the stories are interesting and thoughtful. 4/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Autumn TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. It’s time for my seasonal TBR! I say seasonal but it’s not like I have any spooky books here, really it’s just ten books I’d like to make a priority over the next few months.

Child Soldier by China Keitetsi
My Uganda read for my Read the World Project. I think this is will be a tough read as it’s a true story but it’s important to learn about these things.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
I read The Lies of Locke Lamora earlier this year and really enjoyed it. I want to continue on with the series so I don’t forget everything but at the same time I do want to spread the next two books out as I don’t think there’s any news when the fourth book in the Gentleman Bastard series will be out.

Angel Mage by Garth Nix
I actually know nothing about this book and bought it just because it’s by Garth Nix and I love the Old Kingdom series. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s about.

Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
I did start this book ages ago, maybe at the beginning of this year, and only got about 30 pages in before putting it down as I wasn’t in the mood for it. I think it should be a quick, fun read even if I find the more teen focussed superhero stories a bit hard to get into to begin with after being so used to reading the comics/watching the films.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This is my book for Togo in my Read the World Project. I think it’ll be really interesting to see how a Togolese man becomes fascinated by Greenland and his determination to go there.

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
This is the first novel from Madagascar to ever be translated into English and it’s set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

Loveless by Alice Oseman
Alice Oseman is a much-loved contemporary UK YA author and Loveless will be the first book of her I’ve read.

Palestine+100 edited by Basma Ghalayini
This is a short story collection which has a range of genres, science-fiction, dystopia, noir and is about what the future of Palestine might look like.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
This will be my Kuwait read for the Read the World Project and is about friendship and protest.

Descendants: Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz
I recently watched and loved all the Descendants films and became slightly obsessed as a lot of the songs got stuck in my head! I went out and got the books and I’m looking forward to revisiting the characters in a different format.

What’s on your TBR over the next few months?

REVIEW: Becoming (2020)

Documentary following former First Lady Michelle Obama during her 2019 book tour for her autobiography ‘Becoming’.

It’s easy to view the Obamas with rose-tinted glasses considering who has been sitting in the White House for the past four years. During Barack Obama’s eight years as President, I was younger and had (and still do) the privilege not to be too invested in politics – especially US politics when I am a Brit living in the UK. It’s since he left office that I learnt about things like his foreign policies and use of drone strikes.

Becoming tries to make you separate the Obama administration from Michelle Obama and for the most part it succeeds. It relies on the viewer to already have an infinity for Michelle Obama, to already like and admire her. Barack Obama does make an appearance in Becoming, but it’s very much in a supportive role and it never takes the spotlight away from Michelle. Some portions of Becoming are about Michelle’s time in the White House, but it’s about her experience and how the media reacted to her rather than the political decisions made by her husband and his government.

I read Michelle Obama’s autobiography last year (I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by her and I highly recommend it) and Becoming the film is a nice comparison piece to the book, but if you’ve read the book, this documentary doesn’t add too much to what you’ve already learnt about her life.

On her book tour, as well as the huge stadium interviews and discussions she has with different hosts, Michelle Obama also meets people – both young and old. One thing that Becoming does well is show the discussions she has with young people, and how they have been inspired by her and are still learning about themselves. Things they see as very normal, studying and working to help support their family while they’re still in high school, is an incredible achievement and shows their strength and resourcefulness even though it’s their everyday life.

Becoming is a nice companion to Michelle Obama’s autobiography and it’s just a nice documentary to watch to see what a thoughtful and compassionate human being is like, when so many of the world and political leaders today don’t seem to have one iota of empathy. There’s also the message of hope that Michelle Obama brings in Becoming, that on her travels around America, meeting different people that there are good people out there, and there are more than we are led to believe thanks to the media. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Cameroon: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Narrated by Prentice Onayem.

New York, 2007. After two long years apart, Jende Jonga has brought his wife Neni and their six-year-old son from Cameroon to join him in the land of opportunity. Drawn by the promise of America they are seeking the chance of a better life for them and their son. When Jende lands a dream job as chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, Neni finds herself taken into the confidence of his glamorous wife Cindy. The Edwards are powerful and privileged: dazzling examples of what America can offer to those who are prepared to strive for it. But when the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, all four lives are dramatically upended.

I really enjoyed how Behold the Dreamers took place in the recent past and how it showed the many big changes in a short space of time. There’s mentions of the race for Democratic nominees for President between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, and how when Obama got the nomination and then the presidency how Jende saw it as a sign that he and his family could achieve anything in America. Knowing about the financial crash and how that’s going to have a huge knock-on effect on the Jonga’s and Edwards’ makes there an air of tension in the story, it’s like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop while the majority of the characters have no idea what’s about to hit them.

There’s a lot of themes in Behold the Dreamers, a lot of them surrounding the highs and lows of being an immigrant. There’s the loneliness, monotony and uncertainty surrounding trying get the correct papers to stay in the country or to work or to get an education. There are so many hoops for Jende and Neni to jump through, but they also find their own community with fellow immigrants who have lived and worked in New York for far longer than they have.

Behold the Dreamers does a good job at showing how the American Dream is portrayed to immigrants and how over time it often becomes clear that it is an impossible dream. However, for Neni she can only see the good about life in America, especially when comparing it to life in Cameroon. Neni in sees America through rose-tinted glasses. She’d watched episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in Cameroon and thought that could be her life, and even when she watches other media like Boyz n the Hood she feels that’s the outlier, really life in America can be great for Black people like her. Her naivety and optimism are almost painful, especially when thinking about what is currently (and has been for years) going on in America and the rest of the world right now.

The Jonga’s are well-rounded characters and you can understand both Neni and Jende’s feelings when they’re trying to earn money for their families. Both of their relationships with the Edwards’ is interesting. While he never stops seeing Clark as his boss, Jende wants to look after him and protects his secrets, unconsciously getting entwined in his life far more than the average employee should. Neni on the other hand, never sees her work for Cindy (as a housekeeper/nanny for their young son) as more than it is. While she appreciates when Cindy might give her old clothes that were going to a charity shop anyway, she never stops seeing the social and economic divide between them and doesn’t see why she should help Cindy when she won’t help herself.

A lot of the time the problems the Edwards’ face often feel like #FirstWorldProblems – especially when compared to the Jonga’s. However, Behold the Dreamers makes it clear how while their lives are so different, money really can’t solve all of the Edwards’ problems. Cindy is lonely, she thinks her husband is cheating because he’s never home and always working, she drinks and often seems unhappy. Her issues are big for her and while she does sometimes try to offer Neni money or guidance, she can’t comprehend the uncertainty the Jonga’s are going through as they wait for the next immigration court date.

Behold the Dreamers covers so many themes and ideas while still making a compelling story. You want the Jonga’s to achieve their dreams, but the many barriers in their way slowly become clear and should they really spend their lives struggling for the idea of the American Dream? 4/5.

REVIEW: Ready Player One (2018)

When James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of a popular virtual reality called the OASIS dies, a virtual contest is created to compete for his fortune and for control of this virtual world.

Ready Player One is based on the book of the same name by Ernest Cline. I read the book back in 2016 when the hype for it was at its peak and to be honest, I didn’t really like the book. I thought the main character was creepy towards and obsessed about the main female character as well as being very arrogant and all around unlikable – and then there was this over reliance on pop culture references that ended up being more annoying than anything else. So to say I had low expectations for the film version is an understatement.

The film follows Wade Watts or, as he’s known in the OASIS, Parzival (Tye Sheridan) as he and his friends search through the OASIS for the clues to finding the keys that will lead to Halliday’s fortune. There’s car races and battles and so many pop culture references. Some references are very blatant while others are blink and you’ll miss it types where if you get it that’s cool but it if you don’t you’re not missing anything. Or at least, I feel that what the film was going for but as it relies so heavily on nostalgia and computer game and movie references, there’s a whole other level of enjoyment to potentially have with Ready Player One if you get all these references. Otherwise, when Wade is in the virtual world it does look great and there’s all these cool looking characters or items, but you don’t get any meaning from them – they’re just there.

Wade’s not as unlikable here compared to his book counterpart and that’s probably because while we do get voice over narration from him explaining what the OASIS is, you don’t spend all his time with his thoughts. There’s still a very rushed “romance” that’s terrible and Wade’s friends turn out to tick the ethically diverse box.

As well as Wade and his friends competing with other players to find the keys to OASIS’s future, there’s a big bad corporate businessman played by Ben Mendelsohn who wants to win the challenge in order for his company to take it over. It’s such a cliché and Mendelsohn is pretty great as the over the top businessman who’ll stop at nothing to stop those pesky kids, but it’s something we’ve all seen so many times before and they don’t do anything interesting with it.

In the virtual world, Ready Player One looks great and some of the battle sequences are engaging but on the whole the characters and story just seem flat. It’s also a pretty depressing future (it’s set in 2045) where people escape into the OASIS because everyone’s stopped trying to make the real world better. Ready Player One plays out like a video game and if you enjoy them and know a lot of the pop culture references, you’ll probably have more fun with this film than I did. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Bhutan: Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti by Kunzang Choden

Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti is a collection of twenty-two stories set in four different regions of Bhutan. The presence of the yeti is ubiquitous to the kingdoms of the Himalayas, where beliefs and attitudes related to it go beyond scientific judgment and analysis.

This short story collection is really quite interesting. Choden has listened and talked to village elders throughout Bhutan to write down the stories or folktales that had previously just been verbally passed down the generations. The way the stories are written are simple but effective and they do feel like you’re just listening to a tale that often has some sort of lesson for the listener to learn. A lot of the stories seemed like fables with the people who encountered the yetis (or the migoe as the Bhutanese call them) learning something, or making horrendous mistakes that then the listener will learn from.

The migoi are often described as “a giant hairy man with the features of a monkey”. All of the descriptions are very vivid, especially for the female yetis with their “huge sagging breasts… swinging and rolling on its chest” and there’s also illustrations in Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti which was an unexpected but nice surprise and it really adds to the stories. Everyone has an idea of what a yeti looks like thanks to popular culture, but to see how the Bhutanese sees them, which is generally similar to the Western version but has some different things like how they possess the “dipshing” which enables it to turn invisible at will.

Some of the stories in Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti are quite gruesome as the people who encounter the yeti either anger it and therefore it harms them, or from their own fear or desire to be perceived as strong, they do their best to capture or kill the yeti.

Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti is a short but interesting read. It’s fun to hear different stories about yetis and how while they generally have similar attributes throughout the different regions of Bhutan, there are some differences in terms of the spirituality or legends surrounding the yetis. 3/5.

REVIEW: The New Mutants (2020)

The saga of The New Mutants production and release is almost legendary at this point. Different cuts were made, reshoots happened and the release date got pushed back by at least two years and was then released after the supposed peak of a global pandemic. What a legacy this film has.

The New Mutants follows Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) who wakes up in a facility after her home is destroyed. There she’s told by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) that she’s a mutant and she and the four other teenagers are there to learn how to control their powers.

The New Mutants gets props for attempting something different within the comic book/superhero genre. There’s a small group of superpowered people (something we’re all familiar with by now) but instead of being in a safe and nurturing environment to learn about their powers like we’ve seen in previous X-Men movies, these teens are in what is called a hospital but is more like a creepy mental institution from a horror movie. There’s cameras and microphones everywhere and Dr Reyes likes to do tests on them and send them to solitary confinement if they misbehave. And that’s before each of the teens start to see and experience unexplainable horrors.

These mutant characters aren’t ones that are so easily recognisable. Personally while they’re regular human names didn’t instantly mean something to me, like Scott Summers would for instance, as their powers were slowly revealed I realised that all but one of the five were in the latter seasons of the X-Men: Evolution cartoon series. I highly recommend that series (it does the Apocalypse storyline brilliantly) especially if you want to see more of these characters as I feel it’s unlikely they’ll get a movie sequel.

Danielle is a nice enough character but isn’t particularly compelling. Her scenes with Rahne (Maisie Williams) are the best as their hesitant but blossoming relationship is an unexpected bright spot in a film where all the characters have or currently are experiencing great trauma. Anya Taylor-Joy often steals the limelight as the cutting Illyana, while Sam Guthrie and Henry Zaga aren’t given much to work with as their characters are the stereotypical quiet but nice guy and the brash jock type respectively.

After all the wait, The New Mutants is just fine really. It could’ve been scarier, and it could’ve delved more into these characters, so it doesn’t end up fulfilling the potential of its concept. It has a 90 minute runtime and you do feel that, an extra 20 minutes could’ve done wonders for character development and allowed for scenes to breathe as it was hard to gauge how long Danielle and the others had been in the facility before everything went wrong. Overall, The New Mutants is perfectly serviceable but not one to rush out to see during a pandemic. 3/5.