Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Month in Review: July


CW: this post will discuss COVID 

July was spent mostly recovering from COVID. If you read my June month in review, I was still crossing my fingers that I would remain unscathed, but I did end up catching the virus and it did leave me with a pretty nasty cough. That being said, I am feeling MUCH better now, and am looking forward to August. Here's what I got up to July: 

What I Read: 

As the Wicked Watch by: Tamron Hall: 4/5 stars 

Indians on Vacation by: Thomas King: 4/5 stars 

The Bride Test and The Heart Principle by: Helen Hoang: 5/5 stars 

Wrong Side of the Court by: H.N. Khan: 3/5 stars 

Scarborough by: Catherine Hernandez: 5/5 stars 

Favourite book: I will be encouraging everyone to read Scarborough by: Catherine Hernandez until the day I die. For those unfamiliar, Scarborough is a district in Toronto known for having a diverse population, but also a lot of poverty. In this book, Catherine Hernandez offers a fictionalized depiction of the lives of Scarborough's residents. It was a fantastic book, whether you're familiar with the dynamics of area or not. 

What I Blogged: 

I really enjoyed my blog post discussing Reading Books with Bad Characters. It was definitely a complicated topic to get through, but I think it prompted a lot of great discussion. I especially learned a lot about the controversial book American Psycho! 

Favourite Blog Posts of the Month: 

Cee says The Devil Wears Double Standards 

Claire shares her experiences living in Korea in My Life Has Changed 

Roberta asks: Movies or TV Shows? 

Life Stuff: 

I won't bore you with any more COVID news. Long story short: it was bad, but I'm better. Near the end of the month I was able to get my hair cut and I got a new tattoo! It's an outline of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the back of my arm, and I am in love with it. 

At the beginning of August, I'm going on a family vacation to Pennsylvania. This will be my first time leaving the country since the pandemic, and I'm really excited. I won't have a new post up next week because of this, but I'll be back in no time! I hope we all stay healthy and have a great time. We're planning on a day trip to NYC, which I'm really stoked for. 

So, that was my month! How was yours? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by: Malinda Lo

 Genre: young adult, historical fiction 

Published: January 19, 2021 by: Dutton Books for Young Readers 

Pages: 416 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars 

CW: anti-Asian racism, lesbophobia, misogyny 

It is 1954, and Chinese-American teenager Lily Hu lives in San Francisco with her family during the Red-Scare. Despite being a US citizen, her father faces threats of deportation due to the American government's fears towards communism and their anti-Asian sentiments. Lily tries to be a good daughter, while also trying to decide what kind of future she wants, and what kind of future she will get. One night, Lily meets Kathleen Miller, a charismatic teen who frequents the lesbian bar known as the Telegraph Club. As Lily and Kathleen grow closer, Lily realizes that their relationship is in grave danger, and she seeks to keep her and her new love safe while also keeping her family safe from their own threats. 

I don't usually love historical fiction novels, I can sometimes find them rather boring and information-heavy. That being said, I did not find those issues in Last Night at the Telegraph Club. This book was captivating, sad, and well-balanced, full of romantic moments between two teens but also historically accurate events to the time period. I could tell that the author had done extensive research when writing this book, and her author's note indicates that she was able to borrow from her own experiences as a queer Chinese-American woman, telling the story of the people who came before her. This was overall a well-crafted book that I'm glad I read. 

While historical fiction books seek to teach me something new about a time in history I'm not all too familiar with, I sometimes find that these books read more like a non-fiction textbook rather than a fiction book. However, Lo strikes a great balance between building up her fictional characters while also providing enough context towards the time period in which she is writing. I never once felt like I was in a long-drawn out history class, rather I was able to learn more about queer history during the 1950's and the history of communism fears in the United States, while also being able to fall in love with the characters and feel connected to their story. I could tell that Lo is passionate about queer history, and I think it is especially important that we remember the experiences of queer people of colour from times past. This book didn't seem fake or overly fictionalized, rather Lo brings these characters to life; their experiences could have been faced by real queer Asian women from the 1950's. 

I enjoyed how Lo built up the setting of The Telegraph Club. Seeing Lily really take to the club and finding her identity within the club was really interesting to see, and Lo also includes the harsh realities of running a queer club during the 1950's, when the threats of raids are always looming. Lo includes the representation of drag artists within the club, specifically drag kings, which I loved to see since drag kings are very much underrepresented in mainstream media compared to drag queens. Lily really strikes an interest in drag artistry which matches well with her finding her identity as a queer woman. 

Kathleen's and Lily's story is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Watching two girls fall in love during the 1950's is very nerve-wracking, as you just expect that these girls will not be safe. But you will root for them every step of the way. Overall, I enjoyed this book for its attention to historical accuracy and its strong characters and themes. I think people who are particularly wanting to know more about queer history will really need to add this book to their shelves. 

Have you read Last Night at the Telegraph Club? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess 

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Paperback's Pondering's: Reading Books With Bad Characters

Recently I was watching a Booktube video from Jesse @ Bowties and Books where they discussed all of the authors that they'd never read from again. One of the authors they mentioned was Donna Tartt, an author who I also very much dislike due to her problematic characters and extremely racist writing. I commented that I agreed with Jesse because Tartt tends to write really evil characters with no moral compasses, and another commenter asked me if I tend to stay away from any books with a lot of evil characters. The comment really got me thinking about how I approach books where most of the characters have little to no moral compasses, and I realized that my response would be better suited as a discussion post, haha! So, here is a longer response to what was a really thought-provoking comment that got me thinking about my own reading, as well as me echoing some great points that Jesse made in their video about Tartt. 

For context, here's what I replied to the commenter (who I'll clarify, was lovely and just asking a genuine question, there was no fighting in this comment section, lol): 

I have no problem reading books with morally grey/bad characters, but when the characters use racial slurs/commit absolutely horrible acts with no commentary whatsoever about why their actions advance some sort of message about the plot or develop their characters, then I have a problem with it, which is something I noticed in The Secret History. 

I'll also start off by saying that in the context of this post, when I refer to "evil" characters, I'm not talking about stereotypical villains in fantasy or action books, it's pretty clear in those books that there is a line between good and evil. I'm also not talking about villains who sometimes have a good side, for example someone like Loki. Instead, I'm talking about books in which all or most of the characters commit inexcusable, heinous acts, most of them being bigoted in nature, and especially characters who use hate speech. 

The Secret History is the book by Tartt that I referenced in relation to my comment on Jesse's video, though they mostly discussed all of the problems with The Goldfinch in their video. Still, most issues with The Goldfinch are linked with the issues in The Secret History. You might've read my rant review post about The Secret History, as well as the countless other posts I've made about my problems with dark academia, so I'm not necessarily going to restate those opinions again. What I will say, however, is that I have noticed that I have a serious problem with characters who are just horrible people for the sake of being horrible people, especially when it comes to matters such as race. 

A white author like Tartt needs to be very careful with how she portrays racist characters, so that she is highlighting that the racism is the problem here, and that this character is very much in the wrong. But the thing with Tartt, is that it almost reads like she gets joy out of writing characters who are just utterly racist. She throws around the n-word in her writing like she needs to meet a quota, and oftentimes the characters who use the n-word are doing so in a context which is supposed to be read as comical, but instead is just utterly wrong. Tartt writes these characters like we're just supposed to go: "oh that's just how so and so talks," "that's just a part of their character," "that's what makes them so funny, how socially unaware they are." But the truth is, this language doesn't advance any of the characters' arcs, it doesn't tell me anything new about the characters that is important for me to know. It just seems like Tartt wants to get a free pass at using the n-word so she uses it under the guise that the characters saying it are just naturally bad people. But there is nothing to gain by portraying such racism in a character. 

I saw a lot of these issues in Bunny, one of the main characters in The Secret History, who is probably one of the worst characters I've ever read. Not only is he racist, but he is also extremely homophobic, transphobic, and commits very heinous acts alongside the other main characters. While some reviewers have pointed out his bigotry, ultimately I have found a lot of his issues to be glossed over by positive reviews of the book, as people instead excuse his actions and the actions of the other characters because "it's dark academia, all of the characters are supposed to be bad." But the truth is, if characters are "supposed" to have questionable moral compasses, then shouldn't the reasoning behind why they have such horrible personalities be clear to me as a reader?

 In my opinion, there is never an excuse for a white author to use the n-word in their writing, or for a straight or cis-gendered author to use homophobic or transphobic language. Now I'll make it clear that as far as I know, Tartt has never stated her sexuality or gender identity, so I'm not assuming she is straight or cis-gendered, but the point remains: I have a problem with authors not part of a specific group using slurs against that specific group in their characters. This may not be everyone's opinion, but it personally makes me uncomfortable, and I think there are other ways to show that a character is a bad person without using hate speech, and I often find that Tartt goes down this route. 

I suppose I do find myself more critical of books where all of the main characters are bad, because I wonder why the author made those choices and especially I find it difficult to separate what the characters did and my unbiased opinions on the characters. In particular, I need to look at if the author handles bad characters with sensitivity, or if they are more going for shock value and excuses to use slurs. I do have a problem with authors being really gorey or triggering with their themes when there doesn't seem to be a need for such gore or triggers, and a lot of this stems from the actions of the characters as well. If a character needs to be evil, then by all means, make them evil. But I wish that more writers, particularly writers of privileged groups, would pay more attention to sensitivity when writing evil characters. If fans of their books are ignoring problematic characters and saying that they love such characters, then that may be an indication that the author hasn't done enough to show that the actions of said bad character are condemnable. 

All of this is to say, if I'm going to read a book with really evil main characters in it, then the reasoning for why the characters are the way that they are must be clear to me. I personally don't want to go through the process of reading a book with some really awful content just for the hell of it. I understand that this may not be everyone's preference, as everyone's got different reading opinions. But this is just where my head's at when it comes to reading about bad characters! I'd be curious to know how other people approach evil/bigoted characters in books. Do you tend to stay away, or are you able to separate your personal values from the characters? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by: Zarqa Nawaz

 Genre: memoir 

Published: June 24, 2014 by: Collins 

Pages: 256

Reviews: 5/5 stars 

CW: islamophobia, sexual harassment  

Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the hit Canadian tv series "Little Mosque on the Prairie," which follows a tight-knit Muslim community in rural Saskatchewan. Such experiences are not far from Zarqa's own life, as she too experienced what it's like to be Muslim in Canada's west. This memoir follows Zarqa's life from being born in England to Pakistani-Muslim parents, and moving to Canada, where she grows up and eventually moves to Regina, Saskatchewan with her family. Along the way, Zarqa deals with islamophobia brought on by 9/11, having differing viewpoints compared to other people in her religion, and using the best tool she has to cope with it all: humour. 

From what I've learned about Zarqa Nawaz, I've concluded that her content can be very polarizing for both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals. She tends to use a lot of satire in her works which can be jarring for people, and sometimes Muslim reviewers point out how she tends to prioritize more liberal viewpoints of Islam as opposed to conservative viewpoints. There are a bunch of own voices reviews of this book on Goodreads which I really enjoyed reading, and I would encourage folks looking to read this book to do the same. It was beneficial for me to get a wide range of opinions on this book just to see what Muslim readers thought of it. I ultimately really enjoyed the book and its use of humour, but it's important to note that my opinion is that of a non-Muslim person, and reading own voices reviews can be a very important task. With all this being said, here is my review of the book: 

I was intrigued to read Nawaz's memoir because of her new fiction book that just came out: Jameela Green Ruins Everything. I wanted to learn more about Nawaz before picking up her book, as she seemed like such a cool, funny person and is a really important figure in the Canadian media scene. I much prefer funny memoirs to serious memoirs as they are easier for me to read, and Nawaz did a great job at talking about serious topics while integrating her signature wit, sarcasm, and a little bit of satire. I can see that Nawaz very much uses humour to cope with the things around her, and such humour really stood out in the memoir. 

Nawaz does a great job at educating the non-Muslim reader about Muslim traditions and religious observances, especially in relation to the Hajj. Her methods of explanation may be untraditional, as of course, almost every line is laced with humour, but I think I left the book with the overall feeling that I had learned more about Islam that I had known going in, which is a good thing. The book is well-organized and well-paced so that I was kept interested throughout. I really found myself turning each page wanting to know what happened next in Nawaz's life. I think she does a great job at turning herself and the people in her life into full-fledged characters, so it feels like I'm reading a well-developed story from beginning to end. 

Nawaz is very talented in her storytelling abilities. I can see why she had much success in her career, and I would even love to begin watching Little Mosque because if it's anything like the entertainment that she incorporates in her own writings, then I think I would really enjoy it. With the successes of Canadian tv shows as of late like Schitt's Creek, it's about time that more Canadian shows get the recognition they deserve. I think Nawaz brings something special to the Canadian writing scene because of her ability to not hold back when it comes to humour while still staying true to who she is as a Muslim woman. 

Overall, I loved this memoir! I thought it was a captivating story full of triumphs for a talented Canadian woman writer. Even though Nawaz's type of humour can be sometimes hard to get into, I think she ultimately teaches her audience about the Muslim faith while also showing them that life doesn't always have to be taken so seriously. It was a very entertaining read. 

Have you read Laughing All the Way to the Mosque? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 1 July 2022

Month in Review: June

CW: This post will discuss COVID 

Well, this month was a rollercoaster! What started out as a really fun month ended in COVID for the whole family. As I write this on June 30th I am still testing negative, but everyone else in my house has been out for the week. I feel like I'm starting to get it, but there's so many unknowns so we're all just living in one big isolation ward at this point! It's been a tiring week for all full of disinfecting, testing, and finding the right medications, but I'm confident we'll make it through. Besides that, here's what I got up to this month: 

What I Read: 

Delilah Green Doesn't Care by: Ashley Herring Blake: 4/5 stars 

Elektra by: Jennifer Saint: 5/5 stars 

Reckless Girls by: Rachel Hawkins: 2/5 stars 

Memphis by: Tara M. Stringfellow: 3/5 stars 

Daughter of the Deep by: Rick Riordan: 3/5 stars 

Interview with the Vampire by: Anne Rice: 2/5 stars 

Right Where I Left You by: Julian Winters: 4/5 stars 

Favourite book: Jennifer Saint continued to add to my love for feminist Greek mythology retellings with Elektra! I loved her work on Ariadne, and Elektra did not disappoint. Told from the perspectives of Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and Elektra during the Trojan War, I was very happy with how the story came together. 

What I Blogged: 

To celebrate Pride Month, I listed some of my favourite books with 2SLGBTQIAP+ representation! Check it out and let me know your recommendations for Pride Month. 

Favourite Blog Posts: 

Marie shares 10 YA Books Like The Summer I Turned Pretty To Read Next 

Greg discusses the topic of Cloning in Books 

Shayna shares Bookish No-No's 

Life Stuff: 

June was a fun month until the end! I got to go into Toronto for a few days, see a Toronto Blue Jay's game, and last week before COVID struck, my sister and I got to go to our first concert since the pandemic: The Arkells. Although, the concert may have left us with a parting gift in terms of sickness haha. I also got to celebrate Pride Month in our city and even got to meet one of my favourite drag queens, Brooke Lynn Hytes. Overall, I think the high's of the month outweigh the low's, though it is disappointing that July is off to such a rough start. Still, things could be a lot worse, and I'm looking forward to all the fun stuff this summer has to offer once the sickness is away! 

That was my June, how was yours? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess