Book Review: Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live by Sacha Lamb

Avi Cantor has six months to live by Sacha Lamb

Avi Cantor has six months to live.

So I finally got around to reading this short story, from the Booksmugglers, and it was absolutely wonderful. Just, heartwarming and gorgeous on all the right levels. Trans boys in love! Demons! Magic! Maybe a curse! Idiot school kids, interesting family dynamics, and a wonderfully growly protagonist. I really enjoyed the style, and I found Avi Cantor’s internal dialogue fascinating and relateable. If you are looking for a snuggly, feelsy story with trans characters, I recommend this. The tone hits just the right note between angry and touching, and felt very accurate to the age that was being written. Oh and it was funny. Did I mention it was funny? It’s funny, in a slightly sharp way.

It’s just really really good, and you shall all have to put up with my slightly lazy reviewing today (I’ve just had lurgy, and have only just wrested control of my brain back from the headcold). You can buy this as an ebook or read it for free on the Booksmugglers website here.

Rating: Read this story, light candles at the crossroads.

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Winter day workshop – Ruby Debonnaire

I’m sharing this link to my sister’s website, as she is running a day workshop on the 16th December in Stroud. I am going, and greatly looking forward to it. Follow the link for more information ūüôā

via Classes & Workshops

Thor Ragnarok: fanart and thoughts

Hello all!

So, recently I went to see¬†Thor: Ragnarok at the cinema. And it was¬†glorious, and I have a great deal of thoughts about it. So naturally, I thought I would share. BEWARE SPOILERS! If you just want to look at the fanart, scroll to the bottom of the post. It’s all of Valkyrie/Scrapper 142.

A little background: I was, for a long time, very much a fan of the Marvel Avengers films. I watched all of them, even the Edward Norton Hulk film. I watched season one of Agents of Shield and season one of Agent Carter. I had a party with friends where we watched all the Avengers films back to back and got pretty much no sleep. And then I stopped watching them. The reason being, I got to¬†Guardians of the Galaxy and looked at what the next few films were. And none of them were women centric. We still didn’t get a Black Widow film. All the main superheroes were still white (I nearly went back to watch Civil War because of T’challa, but in the end decided I couldn’t quite handle everyone getting screwed over because Steve and Tony can’t make friends). And there was not a queer in sight (there’s a whole other rant to be had about Agent Carter and queerbaiting and DAMNIT JUST GIVE ME STYLISH FORTIES QUEERS OKAY I PROMISE YOU THEY EXIST) and I was tired and bored. I love superhero films, and films that are big and daft and have explosions and implausible science. But it’s tiring to have to just expect the sexism and the exclusion of anyone who’s¬† not white and male and cis. And being disappointed is also tiring: I went back for¬†Deadpool, and I love that film for a great many reasons but it was also disappointing because all the publicity had pushed the fact that Deadpool was pansexual, and in the story for the film they gave him a single love/lust interest, who is a woman. And yeah, there was reference in among his lines about attraction to blokes, but personally I thought they could have done better.

So it was a big deal for me, going back to the MCU and watching¬†Thor: Ragnarok. Mainly I did it because of the director. Taika Waititi (sometimes known as Taika Cohen) is someone I know of as a director. I love¬†What we do in the Shadows, his comedy about four vampires living in a flatshare in New Zealand. I want to see more of his work. And he’s of Jewish and¬†Te-Whanau-a-Apanui descent and I thought: ok, maybe he’ll bring something different to this.

And he did, and it was FANTASTIC.¬†Thor: Ragnarok is funny in a way that none of the other Marvel Avengers films are. Thor is the butt of a lot of the jokes. A lot of fun is poked at the superhero genre. It was big, and colourful and silly and majestic. I still have criticisms (we’ll get to those later), but damn it felt good to go to the cinema and watch it and not feel completely grumpy.

I loved the fact that this film did not take itself seriously. I loved that we got a woman as a main villain (and personally I’m hoping that Hela is not dead and we get her returning in all her gloriously OTT villainy. I want to watch the awkward family dynamics of Thor and Loki and Hela). Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster was perfect in every line, and I loved Topaz (played by Rachel House) who was a fantastic deadpan to his flamboyance.

There was a wonderful mixture of quiet humour, slapstick, and then suddenly deeper feelings. Odin dies in this film. And I’ve always really disliked him because I thought he was an epic hypocrite, but the way it was handled in this film meant I actually had feelings about it. It felt like the end of an era – that he was this bastard wizened king who was just ready to die.

And throughout the whole film there was a theme that went along the lines of “who are you if you have no home to go to?” It was varying levels of subtle. It was there when Thor returned to Asgard to find that Asgard is not how he left it (big statues of Loki all over the place). It was there when we meet Korg and Miek, who are gladiators imprisoned on Sakaar, there when Hulk talks about not wanting to go back to Earth. It’s been around for a while in Loki’s character, who¬† points out to Thor that Thor is only going through what Loki has already had to: finding out that his life and family are a lie. It was there in Valkyrie/Scrapper 142, the drinking fighting badarse who is the only surviving valkyrie with no home to go to. The whole of Sakaar embodied this in a way: it’s a planet full of the lost and found ruled over by a cheerful despot. Even Hela, who helped build Asgard and was then written out of the history. And it got less and less subtle, so that by the end of the film all of Asgard is destroyed and its people are flying off into the sky on a ship (I cried).

There is so much I want to say about this film РI thought it worked on so many levels and it did so many things that are really so easy to do but which so many films fail it. Some examples are:

  • the background cast was not entirely white.
  • In the mass fight scenes, there were women. There were Asgardian women with swords and shields fighting on the rainbow bridge, just in the background, and it made me very happy.

Also Heimdall being an epic sneaky badarse, with his flowing dreads and his awesome fighting and the fact that he was actually looking after all the Asgardians while Thor and Loki were prancing around the galaxy.

And now, criticisms. I have two that I want to talk about.

The first is the failure to pass the Bechdel test. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that none of the Avengers films pass the Bechdel test. Which is super depressing. Of course, the Bechdel test is a blunt instrument with no finesse, so you do get films that fail to pass and are still pretty good representation (Pacific Rim is the one that comes to mind) and films that do pass and are still crappy representation. So in the context of the greater Avengers filmverse, this film not passing is just sort of a resigned shrug. We did have a better variety of women than we have in previous Avengers films, with Cate Blanchett playing the baddie, Rachel House as the epically deadpan Topaz and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, so hooray to that.

And criticism two, which is about the representation of Valkyrie. Let me be really really super clear that this criticism has nothing to do with Tessa Thompson’s portrayal or anything like that – I absolutely loved her and she was my favourite character walking out of the film. I hope we get more of her because she was pure awesome, and Tessa Thompson actually FOUGHT for the thing that was cut that I’m grumpy about. What upsets me is that Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 is bisexual, her being bisexual was mentioned in pre-film interviews, there was originally a scene filmed with a woman leaving her bedroom making it super clear that she was bisexual and in the film we get……… Nothing. Not a blip. Not the scene, which could have been all of thirty seconds. Not a throwaway line, which could have been easily inserted. Nope. Nothing. And this pisses me off because it would have taken so little effort and it would have meant SO MUCH to have this mixed-race, kickarse, fighting angry awesome funny woman be openly bisexual. Bisexual people are so often erased from narratives, and it’s tiring and damaging and terrible, and to have had this hope that there was going to be this AWESOME superhero, and then not get it is crap.

Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 was a brilliant character, and she’s supposed to appear again in¬†Infinity War, so maybe hopefully Marvel will stop being such epic cowards and give us properly bisexual representation. I kinda doubt this will happen, but fingers crossed. Either way, I’m sure Tessa Thompson will continue to be utter perfection in this role.

And that’s it! I’ve had a far longer rant than I meant to – leave me comments if you want, and enjoy the fanart!

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The Life and Times of Angel Evans: Behind the Scenes

Hello, and welcome!

I’ve not had a lot of time this month, so rather than a neatly planned out post, I’m simply going to give you a few of the drawings I did of Angel while I was writing. Hopefully, back with a full feature next month.

Illustration of Angel Evans, talking to a smoke demon

This first one is a moment right at the beginning of the story – Angel Evans chatting with a being made of smoke. I really like how this one came out, especially Smoke-Face. Perhaps one day I’ll even give my sketches settings.

Angel Evans running through grass

And this one is from a moment at the end of the story, when we get a glimpse of Angel Evans as a child on the day she ran away from home. I almost never think about what my characters are wearing, so sometimes when I draw them there’s just this moment of “Oh damn, what clothes would they wear?” I like the movement in this one – it’s always challenging and fun to try to draw things in action. I was also really trying to make her look actually like a child with child proportions, rather than a mini-adult. I think I managed.

And that’s it this month – back soon with more book reviews.

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Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

ore: Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.

This has to be the most unsettling book that I have ever read, with the possible exception of¬†Let the Right One In although that is a completely different kind of unsettling. I have never read anything like it: Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is unique, and the sort of thing that one probably loves or hates without an inbetween. It is a story told by unreliable narrators: several of them, who are not always who they say they are. It is a story that crept up inside my head and squeezed my heart and promised not to let me go. It was not the story that it started out as, either. There are forms in which I have read this story before, and in which I am tired of reading it. I am tired, more than I can say, of the pretty thin fragile girl going mad while holding up all the things that nobody else can see and breaking breaking breaking while always looking beautiful – most girls are not fragile. Most women are not mad, but spitting furious (in my experience) and living with things that are not easily spoken of. I am tired of this narrative which has no space for the fury.

(And Miranda was not the only girl there: Ore was there, holding a whole different set of things, and Tijana and SPOILER I was glad that Ore left, that she did not stay to pick up pieces in a fight that wasn’t hers that would have tried to destroy her. Not glad that, again, the queer romance ended in tragedy and separation, but glad that Ore left and survived END SPOILER.)

White is for Witching was not quite this narrative. It went somewhere else. It was that story, told differently and compulsively and with layers and layers that I will probably be peeling back compulsively over the next week, month… It was about an angry house full of rattling histories and bigotry, and a family haunting and haunted. It was about keeping people out or letting them in and all of the ugly ugly things that get swept out of sight. It was about nationality and legacy and the things that get carried and the the things that are devoured and who belongs. Who really belongs, and what that means, and who gets to decide that and what right they have to do so. It was about all the things that Miranda Silver tries to devour or keep at bay; all the history bearing down on her and bearing down on Ore.

It was complex. I don’t think I can unravel it in just one review but it is worth reading, and worth reading again, and marking notes in the margins with pencils and listening to and thinking about the things that nobody wants to look at and why and the messy patchwork that makes up this country and all the everyday violence therein. And the ghosts, standing behind everyone.

Rating: read this book. Do not eat the damn apples.

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Update: spookiness and writings

Hello all! An update for you, seeing as you have been hanging about so patiently.

Here is a photo of me at a Halloween/Samhain party at the weekend – I was most proud of my costume, which was based on nothing in particular, but which I am told looked a bit like the Spirit of Jazz from the Mighty Boosh.

Reading: I am currently between books, but I have just finished¬†Provenance by Ann Leckie and¬†A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan, both of which I loved. And re-reading¬†The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison for about the fourth time…

Writing: Too many things! I’ve got a story with a deadline in December, which I am desperately scribbling away at, a series that I want to put up here on the blog for free which I am just over half way through (it involves queers and space and silliness) and a “found” story set in a weird town by a big river, which I am also considering putting up here. Although that is less a story, more a collection of strange notices and letters and stuff. I do think you would all enjoy it

Enjoying: The Hopeless Maine exhibition, which I ended up being part of today. Lots of fun, and looking forward to going again. I will also be part of the event on Saturday, so if you want to see me in action you can come to that:

Pondering: the origins of the word ‘yo’. Me and a friend got into this last night, and it was a rabbit hole of confusion and delight!

Listening to: Deathless by Ibeyi

And that’s me – hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon with some book reviews and possibly one of the two blog series’ that I’ve been thinking of.

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Book Review: The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage book of dust one philip pullman

Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadows, there stood the priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

I absolutely loved this. It has been a long time since I read His Dark Materials, which consists of some of my favourite books of all time. I briefly considered re-reading them before diving into The Book of Dust: volume one. In the end I was far too excited to wait.

It took a while for me to settle into this book – I was, I think, a bit too excited about it and couldn’t quite enjoy what was happening now because I wanted to know what would happen next. I became absorbed quite quickly, to the point where I cannot actually pinpoint¬†when I stopped jittering about. Malcolm was, at first, a bit difficult for me to relate to. He grew on me as the story went on, and I think it helped that the point of view moved occasionally.

One of the things I’ve always really loved about¬†His Dark Materials is the worldbuilding (especially in the first book, Northern Lights), so I was absolutely delighted to be returning to the same world. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Philip Pullman’s writing, the long lyrical sentences; the specificity of his dialogue and the richness of feeling. The story is set when Lyra is a baby, and it was exciting to get a sense of Brytain ten years before¬†Northern Lights. Marisa Coulter turns up, which made me yell a bit – I’ve always counted her as one of my favourite villains.

There were some things that were tricky for me – I liked that¬†His Dark Materials had a female central character, so I kept having to adjust for Malcolm being in the middle of it all. There were women in the story, quite a lot of them, but it’s just not quite the same. Of course, Malcolm’s Daemon is female, so there is that.

As for the plot – oh I was just swept away. I read this in two sittings over one day, and I could probably read it again next week. It was, in instances, very fairytale-esque. And relevant to current events in a somewhat scary manner.

I’m well aware that I’m not being particularly objective – it’s all very fresh in my mind and I sort of want to think about it all, re-read it, think about it all again and then re-read the original three books. I’d say it’s definitely a brilliant addition to the world, and I’m interested to see what happens with the other Book of Dust volumes.

Rating: read this book. Do your best to keep your head above the rising water.

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