Friday, 27 August 2021

Month in Review: August

Summer is over, and I'm getting ready to go back to school. I have to admit, I'm a little bit nervous, as pursuing a graduate degree is a whole different environment and I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed with information. However, everyone has been super nice so far so I am confident that things will go smoothly. Before I leave summer behind, let's recap how August went: 

What I Read: 

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto: 5/5 stars 

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi: 5/5 stars 

Misfit in Love by S.K. Ali: 4/5 stars 

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano: 4/5 stars 

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett: 5/5 stars 

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena and Sasha Nanua: 4/5 stars 

The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon: 4/5 stars 

Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp: 4/5 stars 

Favourite Book: Dial A For Aunties was by far my favourite book of the month. It was funny, charming, full of family dynamics and also reminded me a bit of Crazy Rich Asians, which was a huge plus. I got really into funny thriller books this month, and this book topped them all. 

What I Blogged: 

My favourite post this month was My Five Problems with Dark Academia. Honestly, this post was a long time coming. I've kept my issues with the genre inside for so long, and it was good to finally rant. 

Favourite Blog Posts: 

Cee explains why The World is On Fire 

Shayna shares a delightful story in Can You Help Me, Shayna? 

Veronika recommends Books Based On Her Favourite Musicals 

Sofia announces that Latinx Book Bingo is Back!

Life Stuff: 

As a whole, my summer was... ok. COVID put an obvious damper on things, as did the weather. It was rainy for most of the summer, and usually I love being able to sit outside. However, August wasn't all bad. I got a new tattoo, a trident on the back of my arm, for my love of Greek mythology and the Percy Jackson series. It makes me feel so confident and I love looking at it in the mirror. 

I also got to do some more comic book shopping, and hang out with work friends. I think I got some of my pre-COVID confidence back, so I was able to socialize a bit more, within reason of course. 

As I said before, now I am preparing for school and stressing out just a little bit. I am a mixture of being excited for new opportunities, including being able to be a teaching assistant, but also a little bit nervous. But I think nerves are a normal part of any new environment. Overall, I do think there are good things to come. 

That was my August! How was yours? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 20 August 2021

Cherry Crush (The Chocolate Box Girls #1) by: Cathy Cassidy

 Genre: Middle grade, contemporary 

Published: September 2, 2010 by: Puffin 

Pages: 272 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: bullying, divorce 

Cherry and her father, who happens to be a chocolate maker, are moving to Somerset to live with her father's girlfriend and her tight-knit daughters. Adapting from being an only child to having sisters proves to be troublesome for Cherry, especially since the eldest sister, Honey, is less than thrilled by Cherry's presence. Cherry strikes up a friendship with Honey's boyfriend Shay, but Honey is determined to break up the duo. Along her journey in a new town, Cherry deals with secrets from her past and the reality that her whole family life is about to change. 

I never knew this book existed until a lovely booktuber Olivia @ Olivia's Catastrophe recommended it. I'm Canadian, so I'm not always too familiar with British middle-grade books, however I am a sucker for any books that take place in England. I just love the setting that's created and the books tend to be really light and fluffy. This book was no exception. It was adorable, with lovable characters, a unique premise, and such a joyous setting. I am so happy I picked this up and I am determined to find the rest of the books in the series. 

Cherry's father is a chocolate maker. When Cherry moves to Somerset, her father combines forces with Cherry's new stepmum who runs a Bed and Breakfast. The result is a lot of delightful imagery of sweet treats and a running theme throughout the series that ties each of the sisters as "The Chocolate Box Girls." I love food imagery in books, especially anything to do with baking or sweets. This book almost gave me the same comfort that watching The Great British Bake Off does, in the sense that the dessert imagery was just so comforting and sweet. (Pun intended!) I loved the running concept of the chocolate. 

This book has some incredibly likable characters. Cherry is so determined and imaginative. She even has a pet goldfish who she talks to! I also loved getting to know her new sisters, Skye, Summer, Coco and even Honey. Although Honey is very intense as she gets to know Cherry, I could totally see why she acts the way that she does, and her development was awesome to see. There's a lot of sisterly love in this book, which is another trope that gives me so much joy. 

I loved that this book is able to stay comforting and light-hearted, while still dealing with difficult topics. Cherry is bi-racial and dealing with the fact that she doesn't really know her mother's side. Honey is dealing with the divorce of her parents and a difficult romantic relationship. All of the girls are dealing with a new blended family. Cassidy dealt with these topics in a way that kids will understand and relate to, as well as in a way that is relatable to older readers as well. 

Middle-grade isn't my main genre, however I do love picking up middle-grade books from time to time, especially when I need a pick-me-up. This book gave me all of the comfort that I needed at the time that I read it, and I just know that I will love the other books. The only problem is, as this is a British series, I cannot find these books anywhere in Canada, not even on Amazon. However, I'm not going to let that stop me, and one day I will find the rest of the series. Canadian readers deserve all of the joy from this series too!

Have you read Cherry Crush? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 13 August 2021

Paperback's Pondering's: My Five Problems with Dark Academia

 CW: this post will discuss themes that may be triggering, such as sexual assault, torture and murder 

I've hinted before that I do not like the genre of dark academia, and a post detailing my top five problems with its spark in popularity has been long overdue. But before I go into full-on rant mode, I think it's important to break down the definition of dark academia. To be honest, I'm not sure anybody truly knows what dark academia means. From what I gather, dark academia is a sub-genre of books and other media that involves sinister happenings and overall darker themes while in the setting of an academic institution. The setting can either be a high school, college or university, and usually there is some sort of murder or crime committed within the walls of the institution that the main character is tied up in. However, this definition is not clear-cut, as dark academia can also be used to describe the general aesthetic of old libraries, sweater vests, and even themes of Greek mythology. The point is, dark academia has been taking the book world by storm. People like to feel thrilled by the mystery of a crime committed in an educational setting. My problem with the genre lies in its handling of readers who are easily triggered, as well as many other problematic elements that are consistent across a lot of the books. So without further adieu, let me detail why I cannot stand this genre: 

1. The books tend to be very elitist and classist.  

I find that dark academia lends itself to themes of higher education and an interest in things like Greek mythology and old English literature. Now as someone who loves Greek mythology and is pursuing a literature degree myself, these themes are not what irk me. What bothers me about dark academia books is that they tend to push the narrative of very wealthy characters who have a "holier than thou" approach because they are attending prestigious institutions. These characters come from the utmost privilege, and they never seem relatable to me, the average person reading the book who struggles in school and doesn't always win favour of a high-profile professor. Dark academia can sometimes push the narrative that attending a super-expensive post secondary institution is glamorous and desirable, while ignoring the fact that sometimes people cannot afford these institutions, or simply don't want to attend them. I find that the aesthetic ignores the harm that these institutions can do to people financially, in favor of a mysterious aesthetic. 

2. The genre is so incredibly white and heteronormative 

There is a long way to go to make dark academia a diverse genre. Books like The Secret History by Donna Tartt (see rant review here), feature some of the most racist, homophobic and downright offensive characters I have ever seen. But, instead of shining a spotlight onto why these characters are bad and what can be done to give justice to the people affected, these characters are lifted up to be "troubled," "mysterious," figures who we're still supposed to root for. Some dark academia books such as The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith have started to feature people of colour in leading roles, but these books still have their problems. The Ancient Nine fails to take into account the racist history of academic institutions, and has many transphobic elements. See Jesse's review here for more information. I long for the day when dark academia will be diverse without capitalizing off of the trauma of marginalized people, and without giving me problematic characters that I'm supposed to root for. 

3. Dark academia can be so incredibly triggering. 

Most dark academia books deal with some incredibly harsh topics, such as assaults, torture, usually murder, and the list goes on. I'm not saying that authors shouldn't write about harsh topics because it may be triggering to readers. People have the right to read and write whatever they want. However, so often, dark academia just seems to be a trauma dump in which more and more disturbing content is forced onto the reader, to the point where I at least have to skim through parts, or just dnf the book all together. I think it's important to talk about dark themes in books, at the very least to raise awareness. But when such heaviness is put into a book that it almost seems like the author is just doing it for the dark aesthetic, well then that's when I have a problem. I want authors who write dark academia to be respectful of their audience and the different limits that they may have. Books should have a healthy balance between conflict and resolution. With dark academia, it seems to always just be running on conflict. 

4. The tone of the books are often pretentious and boring 

This is more of a style critique than a theme problem. Dark academia books have to push this idea that the characters have a high interest in education and studying. But because of this, the tone of the books often end up feeling like I'm being lectured at by a highly pretentious English professor who just thinks that they're better than me. I get that authors need to get across how into education these characters are. But when it gets to the point where the book is not at all easy to read, then I just wonder why I'm putting myself through all of this trouble. I have found every dark academia book I've read to feel like a chore, as the books are usually super long and extremely boring, almost like reading a university textbook. I don't know if the authors feel the need to flaunt how much education they have by info-dumping, but it just needs to stop. 

5. The characters end up adopting extremely unhealthy behaviours that's overlooked. 

Along with committing crimes and being just generally shitty people, a lot of the characters in dark academia tend to engage in seriously harmful behaviours such as drinking and driving, alcoholism, drug use, and more. In addition to this, mental illness is usually an issue that authors try to tackle, but it ends up being done in an extremely insensitive way in which characters are either criminalized because of their mental illness, or the author unloads a whole lot of trauma onto the character that is then projected onto the reader who may be struggling with mental illness as well. I feel like characters never actually work through their trauma or see the errors of their ways, instead the books end on these angsty and dark notes in which nothing seems to be resolved, and I just feel like I've wasted my time. 

These are the main reasons why I don't think I will ever make it through another dark academia book. However, I also understand that a lot of people love this genre and this aesthetic, and I will never project my opinions onto someone else. I don't hate or think bad about anyone who reads or writes dark academia, I just personally can't get past these issues whenever I read it. I believe that if you don't like something, simply don't read it but don't shame others who do. So, that's what I'm going to do with dark academia. But, I also would love to see if these issues are brought up as the genre continues its popularity, and maybe, if we could get to some sort of solution. Maybe there is a perfect dark academia book out there, that I just haven't found yet. 

Do you like or dislike dark academia? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 6 August 2021

When No One is Watching by: Alyssa Cole

 Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Published: September 1, 2020 by: William Morrow Paperbacks 

Pages: 352 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: anti-Black racism; including physical violence against Black people and body gore 

Sydney lives in Brooklyn, NY, in a tight-knit neighbourhood that is slowly beginning to disappear before her eyes. When gentrification takes hold and new expensive condos are being put up, Sydney attempts to learn more about the city she thought she knew by taking part in a walking tour. On the tour she meets Theo, who has just moved in to the neighbourhood with his pretentious and racist girlfriend. When Sydney's neighbours start disappearing under mysterious circumstances, her and Theo team up to get to the bottom of what's really happening to this once vibrant street. However, what they uncover will be more terrifying than they ever imagined. 

I'm not an avid reader of thrillers, however when I do read them, I'm usually blown away. I saw this book being hyped up and I knew I had to give it a go. What I got was a shocking, terrifying and sadly accurate exploration of the horrors of gentrification and anti-Black racism. I've seen this book being compared to the likes of the movie "Get Out," but it truly stands on its own as a fantastic work of fiction that mirrors what life is like for many people of colour who live in cities. 

I've read some reviews that critiqued the pacing of this book, but I personally thought that the pacing was spot-on. I loved how fast-moving the story was, because it kept me engaged throughout the entire book. I finished this book rather quickly because I always wanted to know what happened next, and what Sydney would uncover. Every chapter was like a new, haunting discovery for Sydney, and I desperately wanted to know if she could make things right. This made for a very quick read. 

I loved the dynamics that each of the characters brought to the story. Sydney was strong, confident and fiercely loyal to her community, which was fabulous to see. When faced with danger, she does not cower, she takes the perpetuator head-on. She is a constant reminder of the resilience of POC who will never back down when faced with white supremacy. 

Theo was also a fascinating character, as we see throughout the book how he tries to work through his own privilege as a white man and attempt to keep his girlfriend in check. Theo is critical of his girlfriend throughout the entire book, and it's quickly made apparent that their relationship is extremely flawed. While Theo's girlfriend drifts more apart from him, Theo grows closer to Sydney and it was great to see how his determination to make things right in his new community flourished as well. 

This book brings the genre of a mystery/thriller into the real world. There are no supernatural elements, nothing that you could debate whether or not it could be real. The villains in this story are villains that we hear about in the news, and sadly, the victims are as well. There is no denying that this book is a work of horror because the events are scary, but they also shine a light on what we can do in the real world to ensure that these horrors can be stopped. Cole was able to blend fact and fiction in a way that was unique, and important. I can only hope that more of these thriller novels that take on real-life issues are able to inspire people to take on the horrors of the modern world we live in. 

Overall, it's apparent that I loved this book. I thought it was a fresh take on the thriller genre, full of diverse characters and a main character who wants justice for her community. I will definitely be on the lookout for more by this author and more thrillers by POC. 

Have you read When No One is Watching? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess