Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Korean Dramas to watch on Netflix. You're Welcome.

We interrupt this book blog to bring you some Korean drama recommendations in your time of need. If you've run out of things to watch on Netflix, and if you've been curious about the phenomenon known as K-drama but haven't known where to start, here are some suggestions.

Crash Landing On You: come for the cute, sweet and hilarious; stay for the swoon. I guarantee you will fall in love with actor Hyun Bin, but you will also love every other character: they are all adorable ducklings. This is as feel good as it gets.

Because This Is My first Life: superb acting and writing in this funny, insightful look at modern relationships. Has one of the top 10 K-drama kisses. (You will notice that kisses are few and far between in K drama and you learn to appreciate the ones you get.)

Stranger: (Also known as Forest of Secrets.) Fantastic acting and writing. This is a suspenseful character-based drama about a prosecutor and a cop investigating corruption. Love the relationship between the leads.

Signal: if murder mystery/police procedural with a dash of fantasy is your cup of tea this is a must-see. (Actually, it’s a must-see no matter what your favourite tea is.) Interesting twisty premise and lots of suspense. Tunnel and Voice are also supposed to be very good in this genre, but I haven't seen them.

Inheritors: (Also known as Heirs.) This is a high school Cinderella drama with all the tropes. Saved from utter cheesiness by decent acting and writing, plus actor Lee Min Ho is worth the price of admission.

That should keep you going for a while! There's more, so if the self-isolation continues I'll do a follow-up post. Doing what I can to keep us all sane!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The stories we tell ourselves matter: Internment, by Samira Ahmed

I've been meaning to review Internment for a while, as it was a favourite of the Cybils Spec Fic shortlist. But when Covid-19 started changing the world, I wondered if this was the right book to recommend now. In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, do we want to be reading a frighteningly plausible story of Muslim Americans being interned the way Japanese Americans were during WWII?

But then I thought, maybe this is exactly the book we need to be reading right now. Because it's about people standing up and speaking out and banding together to find hope when things seem hopeless, and most particularly it's about how to change the story people are telling about a situation, how to change us vs them into us.

Internment is tense and gripping, doesn't pull its punches (literally—trigger warning for violence), but is also full of hope and really positive messages about friendship, family, agency, girl power, the power of democracy. Rich, fully-developed, engaging characters, a great narrative voice with some fun snark and sass but also quite lyrical. I couldn't put it down.

It begins quite bleakly, with Muslims being rounded up and bussed to barbed-wire-surrounded camps. But Layla's voice pulls us into the exciting middle, when she assembles her allies and begins to fight back in creative, believable ways.

Ahmed can occasionally be heavy-handed in her message, but her real moral is delivered by Layla and her friends being clever, courageous and compassionate, and in the community they build, uniting people inside and out by telling their story.

I just read a fascinating article on Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of stories written in 1353, during the Black Plague. In Italy. Eerily relevant. The article posits the importance of storytelling as "a means of community building," "intentionally creating and cementing social bonds," and gives examples of the stories we are telling ourselves now:
our pets as our new coworkers; jokes about how introverts have prepared for this day; pacts not to DM your exes in the loneliness of quarantine; ... the total absence of toilet paper from grocery store shelves.
I love the author's conclusion:
Let us gather round the bonfires of social media and share stories. The ones that help us to understand, or to escape, or to take some comfort in the continuing anxiety and ambiguity of modern existence. It has been, and always will be, the way our species survives.
Thinking about that, and about Internment, and about the stories happening in my community and being told among my friends and family, it seems to me we have a choice: are we telling ourselves that "we're all in this together," or that "it's every man for himself"? Because whichever of those stories we tell will become the truth.

I take much comfort from the resoundingly positive voices and actions happening all over the world. We are going to have stronger social bonds, more flexible infrastructure, a better safety net, more cohesive communities: I see all these stories being told and I believe that telling them is how we make them true.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Song for a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

Interesting times we live in, interesting times! I hope you're all curled up with a great book from your TBR or having phone or videochat conversations with friends and loved ones. Or going for a walk outside: don't forget to go outside!

I asked my niece how she was occupying herself now that school is cancelled, and she said she just read a really good book, so I asked if she would review it for my blog. Here is 11-year-old Lorelei's take on Song for a Whale.

Song for a Whale is a nice heartwarming story, that involves a smart and brave girl. This girl is named Iris and she is a deaf girl at a normal school, so she doesn't have very many friends. Her deafness is from her grandparents who are also deaf, and so her grandpa’s passing was very hard for Iris and her grandma. Her happy place is with old radios. She is really good with old radios; she can fix an old radio even though she can’t hear if it’s perfect but she can still feel the vibrations. 

And one day she learns about a whale: Blue 55 who sings a song like no other. No other whale can understand Blue 55, so he is very lonely. Iris can relate to that completely, and wants to help. I love how Iris is so brave and courageous that she wants to go and see the whale in real life when a sanctuary tries to tag him. It also takes courage to go with your grandma and sneak away on a cruise ship and set sail to go find what you most desire. Although there were some obstacles in Iris’s way, she uses her intelligence to help her succeed. At the end you will feel almost exactly what she was feeling, and how her success was the greatest gift of all.