The Sword and Shield (Emma Khoury)

The Sword and Shield is the debut novel by Emma Khoury.
Finished on: 11.5.2020
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer giveaway.]

Plot:
Ezra is a mercenary – either hired as an assassin or as a bodyguard. And he is damned good at it. After finishing yet another successful job, he comes home to his cats – and to a welcome committee who bring him to his next employer in secrecy: Crown Prince Christophe would like his help. He is afraid that his own family is trying to kill him and needs somebody to have his back. Despite his desperate need for sleep, Ezra accepts the job and moves to the castle within a week. It soon becomes crystal clear that Christophe’s fears weren’t unfounded.

The Sword and Shield is a very good read, especially considering that it’s a debut novel. Plus, I loved that we got a chronically ill, asexual protagonist. More of (things like) this, please!

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See You Yesterday (2019)

See You Yesterday
Director: Stefon Bristol
Writer: Fredrica Bailey, Stefon Bristol
Cast: Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow, Astro, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Johnathan Nieves, Michael J. Fox
Seen on: 9.5.2020

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism, police violence

Plot:
CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) are working hard for a science fair where they hope to present nothing less than time travel to secure a scholarship for the universities of their choice. But when yet another police shooting hits close to home, CJ is less interested in scholarship than in changing the past and preventing tragedy. But changes can have unforeseen outcomes and getting things right really isn’t easy.

See You Yesterday combines the fun antics of time travel movies (including a Michael J. Fox cameo) with the seriousness of racism, police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a combination that could have gone very wrong – and doesn’t at all. The ending was a bit difficult for me, but I absolutely loved the rest.

The film poster showing CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) with goggles and gadgets, running in front of a giant clock.
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The Half of It (2020)

The Half of It
Director: Alice Wu
Writer: Alice Wu
Cast: Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire, Daniel Diemer, Enrique Murciano, Becky Ann Baker, Catherine Curtin, Collin Chou, Wolfgang Novogratz
Seen on: 5.5.2020

Content Note: reference to/critical treatment of homomisia and racism

Plot:
Ellie (Leah Lewis) is an excellent student who has a profitable side business in writing papers for her classmates. When Paul (Daniel Diemer) approaches her to ask whether she would write a love letter to Aster (Alexxis Lemire) for him, Ellie declines at first. Not only because she finds it unethical per se, but also because she is in love with Aster herself. But she finally agrees anyway because she and her father (Collin Chou) really need the money. As Paul and Ellie work on the letter together, they develop a real friendship – and Ellie falls ever more for Aster.

The Half of It is a supercute film that sagely mentions at the beginning that it doesn’t tell a love story. Because all signs point to romance here and the film just doesn’t deliver that. That is definitely disappointing, but at least we have been warned. While I did hope for more romance, I enjoyed the film I got.

The film poster showing Paul (Daniel Diemer) and Ellie (Leah Lewis) both looking at Aster (Alexxis Lemire) who is out of focus.
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Saga – Volume 6 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)

Saga is a comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Volume 6 collects the issues 31-36.
Finished on: 4.5.2020
[Here are my reviews of the other volumes.]

Content Note: transmisia, fatmisia

Plot:
Hazel and her grandmother Klara are in a re-education facility on Landfall where they are in relative safety, as long as nobody realizes who they really are. Meanwhile Marko and Alana are still frantically looking for Hazel – and they’re closing in on her trail. With the death of The Brand, journalist couple Upsher and Doff are free to take up their investigation into the case again – and do so immediately, only to run into The Will who is looking for revenge against Prince Robot IV.

I’m really enjoying saga as a whole and Volume Six brings some plots to a close (while opening up others, of course) that I have been waiting for. There were a couple of moments here where I wasn’t completely happy, but overall, I’m very excited about the continuation.

The book cover showing a couple - Marko and Alana - leaning against each other looking at a skyscraper.
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When We Speak of Nothing (Olumide Popoola)

When We Speak of Nothing is a novel by Olumide Popoola.
Finished on: 2.5.2020

Content Note: not outright transmisia, but some problematic elements in trans representation

Plot:
Karl and Abu are 17, best friends and grow up in London together. Out of nowhere for Karl, Karl’s uncle Tunde – the brother of his to him unknown father – shows up and brings news that Karl’s father lives in Nigeria, only just learned that Karl exists and would like to meet him. Karl goes to Nigeria without his mother’s knowledge but the trip ends up very different from what he expected. Meanwhile Abu falls in with a difficult crowd and gets mixed up in the riots surrounding Mark Duggan‘s death. Both boys will have to figure out how to deal with new situations and without each other close-by.

When We Speak of Nothing is an interesting book with very great language, but that has some problems in how it goes about dealing with the fact that Karl is trans – starting with the fact that this piece of information has to be considered a spoiler already. But overall it was a really good read.

The book cover showing a drawing of a burning car in front of a high-rise and a palm tree.
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Invisible: Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community (Kevin Mwachiro)

Invisible is a selection of autobiographical stories collected by Kevin Mwachiro.
Finished on: 1.5.2020

Content Note: (reference to) homomisia, transmisia, queermisia, sexal violence, rape

I’m not sure how much Mwachiro was an editor and how much he actually wrote himself, but the stories, letters and poems collected here are all (auto)biographical accounts of queer people living in Kenya. They are queer in different ways and come from all walks of life, opening a kaleidoscope of queer experiences in Kenya – where until recently it has been publically debated whether such a thing as queerness actually exists at all. Reading it as a queer, white European, it is striking how many things are the same for all of us, even if the book is very much aimed at a Kenyan public.

The book cover showing a black and white photography of black feet in high heels.
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Straight A’s (2013)

Straight A’s
Director: James Cox
Writer: Dave Cole
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Anna Paquin, Luke Wilson, Riley Thomas Stewart, Ursula Parker, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Augustin Solis, Tess Harper, Powers Boothe, Christa Campbell
Seen on: 30.4.2020

Plot:
Scott (Ryan Phillippe) is the family screw-up and he hasn’t shown his face at home in a while. But after he has a vision of his dead mother (Tess Harper) telling him to make amends with his brother William (Luke Wilson), his sister-in-law and first love Katherine (Anna Paquin) and his father (Powers Boothe), Scott just shows up at Katherine’s home while William is on a business trip. As he waits for William to return, Scott causes an uproar for Katherine and her kids (Riley Thomas Stewart, Ursula Parker) who take a shine to their newly discovered uncle. Scott himself is uneasy with his own plan, drunk all the time and really not all that well.

Straight A’s is so firmly rooting for Scott without really acknowledging his many flaws or interested in him making up for past (and current) transgressions, that it is just annoying. I didn’t care for redeeming Scott, I wanted to strangle him instead. The film can’t work that way.

On a sidenote: in a film that is obviously trying to be smart and deep and that is so firmly rooted in its own privilege, that incorrect apostrophe in the title is annoying as fuck.

The film poster showing Katherine (Anna Paquin), Scott (Ryan Philippe) and William (Luke Wilson). An arrow points from Scott to Katherine with "He loves her", another arrow from Katherine to William with "She's married to his brother".

[SPOILERS]

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Of Magic and Scales (Natalina Reis)

Of Magic and Scales is a novel by Natalina Reis.
Finished on: 25.4.2020
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer Give-Away.]

Plot:
Despite being human, Aiden has the ability to see magical creatures for what they are. He used to be a private detective in the USA, but tired of having to deal with the magical population over there, he decided to give himself a new start in Portugal where he is running a coffee shop now, blissfully undiscovered by the magical population. Or so he thought. When different magical beings get killed, Aiden is not only sought out by a witch who requests his detective skills to help, but also meets Naël, grumpy, gorgeous merman and possibly a murder suspect.

Of Magic and Scales is nice, but there were definitely problems here. There was just an unfinished feeling about it that didn’t work for the story.

The book cover showing two men with naked upper bodies cuddling into each other at the top. At the bottom there's a merman swimming in water.
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Re-Watch: Big Business (1988)

Big Business
Director: Jim Abrahams
Writer: Dori Pierson, Marc Reid Rubel
Cast: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann, Michele Placido, Daniel Gerroll, Barry Primus, Michael Gross
Seen on: 24.4.2020

Plot:
One night in a small town hospital in Jupiter Hollow, two very different pairs of parents each have a set of twin girls. In the confusion, two babies get switched. 40 years later, Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Shelton (Bette Midler) have taken over the family company in New York that still owns a company in Jupiter Hollow. But they want to sell it. Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratcliff (Bette Midler) who grew up in a poor family in Jupiter Hollow and know that the entire town depends on the local company not being sold, decide to go to New York to confront the Sheltons and stop the sale. But given the circumstances around their birth, things are bound to get very confusing.

Big Business is one of my total-flashback-to-my-childhood movies. I think we had a VHS tape with Big Business and Ruthless People (for the Bette Midler double whammy) and it feels like we watched it once a week. We probably didn’t because TV time was very limited, but I’m sure I’ve seen the film a lot, although I haven’t seen it in 20 years, if not more. I definitely never saw it as an adult or in English. So, even though everything was very familiar about the film, it was also a very different experience. I might not love it as much anymore as I did as a child, but it is still very entertaining.

The film poster showing Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Shelton (Bette Midler) on one side and Rose (Lily Tomlin) and Sadie Ratcliff (Bette Midler) on the other side.
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Gerald’s Game (2017)

Gerald’s Game
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Based on: Stephen King‘s novel
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Chiara Aurelia, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas
Seen on: 21.4.2020

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald have an exciting weekend planned. In their remote vacation home during the off-season, they want to take the weekend to focus on themselves and their relationship – by spicing up their sex life. Gerald brought handcuffs and is eager to get going. Jessie is willing to give it a try but as the tying up quickly turns into a rape fantasy for Gerald, she doesn’t want to go along anymore. As he tries to convince her, Gerald has a heart attack though and suddenly Jessie finds herself all alone, chained to a bed. Or maybe she isn’t quite as alone as she thought.

Gerald’s Game is a tense, very well-made film with a fantastic Gugino. If you want to be creeped out, I can definitely recommend it.

The film poster showing Jessie (Carla Gugino) with her hands chained to the bed, her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) lying on top of her.
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