Fan Art Friday: Royal Flowers

Welcome back to our Star Wars coloring book club, where every now and then Kiri from Star Wars Anonymous and I color the same image to compare and contrast.  This month I picked a flowery image of Queen Amidala because it reminded me of spring!

I didn’t really have a plan for this one; I just started with Amidala’s beautiful outfit and went from there with complementary colors. I’m happy with how it came out, though it does look like she has weird vines coming out of her head 😂

It’s so hard to pick a favorite of Amidala’s outfits, but this one is definitely up there. I love how her hair becomes part of the headdress. But I can only imagine how heavy it would have been for her to wear!

Check out Kiri’s special collaboration with her Padawan here.

Black Girl Magic: The Gilded Ones and Legendborn

I recently picked up two YA fantasies featuring young Black female protagonists, which you can clearly see on these two stunning covers.  Yay for representation!

The Gilded Ones

by Namina Forna

At 16, Deka discovers she is an alaki, a female descendant of demons and an outcast among her people. Her golden blood gives her special longevity, but also condemns her to death under the law. She is saved when she is recruited to join a new special alaki force to fight the monsters that threaten the land. But as she grows stronger, she must grapple with her loyalty to a country that hates and fears her as well as the world-changing significance of her unique powers. Who are the real monsters here? 

This recent release is an above average YA fantasy. I wasn’t too impressed with it at first, given its typical YA first person, present tense narration from a girl with special powers and a special destiny.  But after Deka reaches the alaki training grounds the story really picks up, and turns out pretty fast paced with some good twists. 

It also has an interesting setting and good characters, even a few memorable ones.  There is a bit of romance but it is not really a focus and even seems a bit tacked on.  If I had to sum up this book in a phrase, I’d go with “fighting the patriarchy,” which is a pretty awesome premise for a novel.

This book could read as a standalone, but there seems to be at least one more coming out, which I would definitely be willing to check out.

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Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn

Brianna Matthews is a 16 yr old Early College student at UNC-Chapel Hill, still reeling from the death of her mother, when she gets mixed up with a secret society: they are the heirs of King Arthur and his knights, dedicated to protecting humans from demon incursions.  So demons are real, and so is magic, and what does this society have to do with the death of her mother?  Bree will go to any length to find out, but her own abilities are bringing up more questions than answers while putting her, and the people she cares about, in danger. 

This is the kind of book that makes me despair as a writer because I will never write a book as good as this one. 

So, Legendborn could also be described in the same way as The Gilded Ones above: first person, present tense narration from a girl with special powers and a special destiny.  And it is solidly YA, with many familiar tropes.  However, it manages to have way more depth, intertwining stories about Arthur and Round Table, the history and legacy of slavery in North Carolina, Black spiritualism, modern college life, and loss and grief.  Not to mention the twist at the end is even more spectacular and feels very earned.

The world building is amazing, with multiple magic systems.  The characters are wonderful, plus there is great representation in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation.  And if you have a thing for emo boys, as I certainly did in my teenage years, there is a character you will absolutely love.

In short, this is one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in a while and I neeeeed the next one ASAP. I highly recommend it!

9th Blogiversary!

It’s been nine years since I said “Hello, world!” to start off my blog. At the time, I had two main motives: I felt I was consuming a lot of content but not creating anything, and I wanted to get back into writing with the eventual goal of writing fiction. I think it’s both a success and a work in progress!

And now for something completely different. Let’s take a break from our regular nerdiness and do something fun. I found a “Get to Know Me” tag from Lindsay Lovin’ Life with 100 questions, and since it’s my 9th blogiversary, I’ll answer the questions ending in 9.

9. Can you curl your tongue?

Yes. Most people can, and it is possible to teach yourself how. Studies of twins show that the ability is not a case of simple genetic inheritance of a single trait.

19. Do you consider yourself a good cook?

Definitely not. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, and I have a set of about 5 simple recipes that I can cook fluently. (I do like baking, however.) One good thing about this pandemic is that I’ve stopped judging myself for using food delivery services like DoorDash.

29. Do you have siblings?

Yes, I have one older sibling. My penname Meimei appropriately means “little sister.” ~_^

39. Do you/have you played any sports?

Yes, I play tennis. I played varsity doubles for several years in high school. I haven’t played at all since my dad passed away, since he was my rallying partner; I hope to teach my kids when they are older.

49. How are you feeling right now?

Tired but happy to be writing.

59. What is one item on your bucket list?

To actually publish, in some form, a novel! I have several started, and one almost completely drafted thanks to NaNoWriMo, but nothing near publishable.

69. What’s the thing you can’t leave the house without?

Well, really, it’s my purse, but that’s kind of a cheating answer because in my purse are my phone, sunglasses, chapstick, wallet, pens, snacks, etc. Also, did I mention I have a Star Wars purse?

Star Wars The Last Jedi Rey Canvas Faux Leather Dotty Satchel Handbag -  Cyberteez

79. What’s your favourite food?

Pasta with butter and parmesan. Also anything sweet.

89. What’s your favourite sport to watch?

Well, obviously tennis. Serena Williams has been my favorite player since high school. During the Olympics I watch gymnastics and figure skating. I also enjoy watching Cleveland Indians (soon to be the Cleveland…something else) baseball with my family; Carlos Santana is my favorite player, but he has once again been traded away. Definitely a rebuilding year.

99. Who is your celebrity crush?

Oh, I have such a Star Wars answer for this: Ewan McGregor, whom I first saw in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. He’s just so charming and has a wonderful accent and a lovely singing voice. I had a life-size cardboard cutout of him as Obi-Wan in my room in high school. Don’t worry, I didn’t keep it when I got married and moved out.

So now you know ten more things about me than you did before. Thank you all most sincerely for reading; the best surprise to me about blogging has been how many awesome people I’ve met through my blog over the last nine years.

And here’s to many more!

Black History Month: The Legacy of Brandy’s Cinderella (1997)

I know I am a bit late with this one as we are now done with Black History Month and starting Women’s History Month for March, but I’ve been writing this for a while and didn’t want it to go unpublished.

Of the twelve official Disney Princesses, only one is black: Tiana from 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. But twelve years before that, a made-for-TV musical really made history: with the 1997 version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, young singer/actress Brandy became the first black disney princess. Her Cinderella was recently brought to Disney+ for streaming, allowing a new generation to appreciate this classic and its legacy. 

The story behind Cinderella is quite interesting, and you can read more about it in Kendra James’s 2017 oral history for Shondaland.  Whitney Houston had been wanting to do a diverse take on Cinderella, and it finally coalesced as part of the re-launch of ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney in the fall of 1997. The producers wanted to use a “color-blind casting” approach, resulting in a black Cinderella (Brandy) and Fairy Godmother (Houston) as well as a Filipino prince (Paolo Montalban) with a black mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and a white father (Victor Garber). Cinderella’s stepfamily also has black and white members. No mention of race is ever made, almost to the point of illogicality, as you can see women of many races trying on Cinderella’s glass slipper, which had clearly been originally worn by a black woman. However, the fantasy nature of the story makes it particularly easy to skim over this and suspend our disbelief.

This Cinderella succeeds on so many levels: it’s fun and funny and beautiful to look at, with songs that hit perfect emotional beats.  It is such a satisfying take on the Cinderella tale that I included it in my Top 5 Versions of Cinderella.  And of course, the representation for BIPOC was hugely important to a generation of little girls who could finally see themselves as a Disney princess, or in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Its legacy can be seen in many ways.  We will soon be seeing another black Disney princess, with Halle Bailey cast as Ariel in the upcoming live action remake of The Little Mermaid.  And another show now streaming owes it a debt as well: Shondaland’s Bridgerton, which cast black actors as members of Regency England aristocracy.

Lady Danbury and the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton

As a fan of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series of romance novels, I’ve really enjoyed the Netflix adaptation, and I think the casting decisions are definitely a strength of it.  However, the discussion of race is slightly different than in Cinderella, mainly because there is one.  There is clearly still racism and oppression in this world; part of the plot hinges on the old Duke of Hastings’ desire to continue his line and maintain their place in society.   But I wasn’t sure if the show would address the issue head on until I watched the fourth episode, where Lady Danbury says, “We were two separate societies divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us.  Look at everything it is doing for us, allowing us to become.”

This is a reference to Queen Charlotte, played wonderfully in a greatly enhanced role by Golda Rosheuvel.  The real historical Queen Charlotte has been rumored over the years to have had African ancestry, and while there is really not much evidence of this, it makes a great starting point for a reimagining of Regency England as a more diverse society in a contemporary way.  There are some flaws with this approach to race, as detailed in this piece for the NYT by Salamishah Tillet, but while it is a bit shallow and puts the burden of racial issues on the black characters, it still results in a more representative show and allows some very talented actors to take on now-iconic roles that they might not have gotten in a more traditional casting method.

In general, Bridgerton is more in line with a contemporary approach to casting, called “color-conscious” as opposed to “color-blind.”  The goal of this approach is to acknowledge the historical racial biases and discrimination in the entertainment industry while still striving for representation of BIPOC in media.  Rather than ignore identity, color-consciousness celebrates it.  The poster child for this is the stage musical Hamilton, a play about the white founding fathers that went so far as to put out an open casting call for “non-white actors,” turning American history multicultural.  I think the success of Hamilton, and indeed Bridgerton, which is now Netflix’s biggest show ever, indicates the appeal of this strategy and I’m sure we will continue to see more of it in the future.

After all, as romance author Tessa Dare says, “If the world can agree on nothing else, at least 63 million households can celebrate the Duke of Hastings’ perfectly arched eyebrow.”

Bridgerton's Duke of Hastings' spoon boasts own Instagram page – leaving  fans OBSESSED | HELLO!
Yes, that eyebrow.