Review: The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

But Yehya was not convinced, and he did not stop bleeding.”

The Queue

Summary and Thoughts

In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.

Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protestors. Among them is Yehya, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehya’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet.

Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehya and save his life.

Goodreads

Aziz’s work, The Queue is a unique examination of an authoritarian society, with mirrors Egypt’s political crisis. Though the writing was sometimes a bit repetitive, the pacing occasionally slow, and the narrative actions of the characters, at times, confusing, I overall enjoyed the book, believing my dystopian library to be richer to have read this. Aziz’s specific attention to how this controlling government augments its brutality through its manipulation of healthcare, communication, religion, and controlled industries was fascinating to witness, further differentiating this novel from its other contemporaries. While I don’t foresee The Queue to be one of my favorites of the year, I would certainly selectively recommend this to those attracted to its description.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

3.5/5

Review: Mose Calofo Royal Blue White Flower

The Mose Cafolo Royal Blue White Flower teapot set is such a lovely addition to my tea collection. Cute, durable, and easy to store, the set comes with four little teacups, and the teapot, when filled, stores enough water to fill each of them once. For larger gatherings, this may prove cumbersome, but for cozy days alone, this is perfect. The tea leaf distiller works without complaint, my only qualm being that the wooden handle is a bit difficult to place within the teapot handles. Regardless, I’m so happy to have this beautiful set and will be using it whenever I have the time.

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.

Homegoing

Summary and Thoughts

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation. 

Goodreads

Homegoing may be Gyasi’s debut novel, but it reveals the skill of a master with her laser sharp focus on her characters’ journeys, expansive descriptions of Ghana and the United States, and heart-wrenching emotional beats that tie in a complex but accessible story of separation, brutality, love, and endurance. This is a deeply moving novel, not for the faint of heart, and also ambitious in its mostly successful analysis of life for Black Americans and Ghanians over 300 years. Though the first half of the book was stronger than the second, I can hardly linger on this slight decline in intensity due to its overall strength. This is a fantastic book and one excellent way to kick off black history month.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

4.5/5

Review: COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule

With 80% propolis extract, this ampoule helps to increase the skin’s ability to absorb and retain moisture, leading to a healthier complexion with a natural glow and softness. Apply after cleansing and toning.

Yesstyle

I went on a limb to try this product, as it costs about $21 on Yesstyle (2 weeks shipping) or $25 on Amazon, for a small amount of ampoule in return. However, it’s quickly become one of my favorite additions to my skin routine. Looking for something that was moisturizing but wouldn’t trigger acne, I was attracted to the high concentration of propolis in the this ampoule as well as its inoffensive ingredient list. Hoping it would fight acne (fungal and hormonal) but not be overly drying, I was so pleased with its performance that I proceeded to order two more bottles as soon as I saw results.

Ingredient Pros and Cons:

Ingredients: Propolis Extract, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Betaine, 1,2-Hexanediol, Cassia Obtusifolia Seed Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Carbomer, Panthenol, Arginine

Significant Pros

  • Propolis Extract (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, moisturizing)
  • Butylene Glycol (hydrating agent)
  • Glycerin (moisturizing, humectant)
  • Betaine (moisturizing, humectant)
  • Cassia Obtusifolia Seed Extract (debatably anti-inflammatory and moisturizing)
  • Sodium Hyaluronate (hydrating, humectant)
  • Panthenol (moisturizing, humectant)
  • Arginine (moisturizing, calming)

Significant Cons

  • Nothing (nothing)

The Takeaway

Keeping acne at bay, this ampoule has all the moisturizing, calming effects of propolis without any of the sticky residue of honey. Quickly absorbing and devoid of any harmful ingredients, I can see this being useful for any skin-types, but have found it especially rewarding for my sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin.

Review: The Pretty One by Keah Brown

Care, respect, fighting for our proper representation and rights: that’s what’s necessary.

Keah Brown

Summary and Thoughts

In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute.

By “smashing stigmas, empowering her community, and celebrating herself” (Teen Vogue), Brown and The Pretty Oneaims to expand the conversation about disability and inspire self-love for people of all backgrounds. 

Reading Brown’s work was essentially delightful — powerful, insightful, and relatable yes, however, the piece was clearly written with the intention of joy, which is something I can deeply appreciate in a memoir. Though some of Brown’s writing felt circuitous and indicative of a debut author, the content of her pieces still shone through it all. Her analysis on how religion can be used to humiliate and ostracize those with disabilities was especially noteworthy, as was her personal journey through unlearning internalized ableism and how this affected her mental health growing up. Though some may find her overemphasis on cheesecake a bit grating after the first few mentions, I’d still recommend this book for anyone curious on learning about Brown’s nuanced perspective on disability, race, and gender. Her story is an important one and I’m excited to see what she writes next!

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

4/5 (3.5 for writing, 5 for content)

January Reads

I’ve read a lot of interesting books this past month, and I’m so excited to share them all with you. Though not each book was a hit, I am still glad to have read them all, as I felt they all provided a unique voice and story. As always, this is based on my personal opinion/enjoyment.

All photos courtesy of Goodreads.

It Would be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo

Death takes place in language first, in that act of wrenching subjects from the present and planting them in the past.

Short description: In modern-day Venezuela, Adelaida, alone and without family, does what she must to survive.

Critic Quote:It Would Be Night in Caracas is a painful, angry book, full of melancholy and rage at the loss of a woman’s nation.” – NPR

My verdict: A solid three stars, though I do appreciate the oppressive environment Borgo creates, the story’s wandering narrative had little resonating impact.

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

Our gods did not come to us in any specific form, but we held them in our hearts and understood them in our own way.

Short description: A retelling of the Japanese creation myth told from a priestess’ perspective.

Critic Quote: ” In her skilful hands we see that the divide between man and woman is greater than the one between humans and gods. Kirino’s retelling is a taut, disturbing and timeless tale, filled with rage and pathos for the battles that women have to fight every day, battles which have, apparently, existed from the moment of creation.” – The Guardian

My verdict: Lush and simple, but never boring, this tale is a beautifully told classic.

Review HERE

Beauty is a Verb by Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen

The boy flaunted limp wrists. I shot all my birds in mid-flight.

Short description: A collection of poetry from a variety of disabled writers, all accompanied by a thorough overview of disability poetry in the United States.

Critic Quote: “This powerful anthology attempts to—and succeeds at—intimately showing…disability through the lenses of poetry…What emerges from the book as a whole is a stunningly diverse array of conceptions of self and other.” – Publisher’s Weekly

My verdict: A great addition to anyone’s poetry collection, I definitely appreciated the combined analysis and poetry of these skilled writers.

I’m Telling The Truth But I’m Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi

Because I know how that dog-eared page persists and insists you return to it. I know how the brain and the heart and the spirit fight daily to stay in the book and not write themselves out of the story. I know. I know. I know.

Short description: Nigerian writer Bassey Ikpi recounts her experiences with Bipolar II in the U.S.

Critic Quote: ” . . . heartbreaking … this collection is raw, courageous, and unsettling. People struggling with mental-health issues will appreciate Ikpi as a talented kindred spirit as she raises such universal questions as: What does it mean to be crazy anyway? Haunting and affirming.” – Booklist

My verdict: Though at times disorienting, perhaps it is this exact weaving of memories, relationships, and emotions that makes this memoir so powerful.

The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho

But there was something odd about these spirits. They were not weeping like the spirits of tenth court, made craven by prosperity. There was peace in their eyes, a serene understanding of unhappiness. They had come a long way. They knew themselves better than any living human was allowed to.

Short description: In the Chinese afterlife, young Siew Tsin is unnerved when her husband brings home a terra-cotta bride, unfolding a series of events that will change both of their lives forever.

Critic Quote: “The writing is spare yet descriptive; the story is inventive and intricate.” – Dear Author

My verdict: Though running only about fifty pages, the scope of humanity, theology, and science fiction that this book covers is unfathomable. Highly recommend.

Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez

the paper carcass seals/word to image / postscript to passage / the Mexican — all virgin talisman / when mailed in a sepia ruin /whose only wound is postage — /the distance the body travels /to know another.

Short description: A collection of poems examining the Mexican-American and Mestiza experience.

Critic Quote: ” Through Museum of the Americas, Martinez places together his parents’ wedding photograph, postcards created during the Mexican Revolution, and the visual rhetoric and language in which Mexican-American and Mestiza consciousness is both visualized and denied.” – Columbia Journal

My verdict: Though the poems were a bit too abstract for me to grasp, it’s a short collection, so feel free to check it out if the description catches your eye!

Feminism for the 99% by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser

In capitalist societies, then, gender violence is not freestanding. On the contrary, it has deep roots within a social order that entwines women’s subordination with the gendered organization of work and the dynamics of capital accumulation.

Short description: An intensely researched analysis on an intersectional socialist feminism.

Critic Quote: “Woven throughout the book, the authors outline their vision for a movement based on the understanding that true equality for women cannot be achieved under our current exploitative capitalist system.” – Socialist Alternative

My verdict: An exciting and refreshing read full of rich analyses and understandable theories – if the description sounds interesting to you, definitely pick this book up!

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live! So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting.

Short description: During a harsh Alaskan winter, two old women are abandoned by their tribe and must survive on their own.

Critic Quote: “The story speaks to many modern concerns–abandonment or isolation of old men and women in nursing homes and retirement communities; the elderly’s perhaps unwitting view of themselves as a privileged elite, but one which greatly underestimates its capabilities; the way in which the greatest good for the greatest number can lead to injustice and even cruelty, and in which trust, once broken, takes time and hard work to repair. Full of adventure, suspense, and obstacles overcome–an octogenarian version of Thelma and Louise triumphant.” – Kirkus Reviews

My verdict: Short but enjoyable — though it may not be my most memorable read, it provided a light, uplifting tale in-between many of the my more depressing books.

The White Book by Han Kang

Within that white, all of those white things, I will breathe in the final breath you released.

Short description: A collection of connected vignettes observing the significance of the color white in the author’s life.

Critic Quote: “And this fragility is a topic to which the book comes back again and again, whether in the form of snow (‘mysterious hexagons melting away’) or in a bombed city’s ‘white glow of stone ruins’. It is something that even the book as a physical object replicates in the reader’s hands.” – The White Review

My verdict: Full of subtle emotion and nuanced observations, though the book’s message eluded me without referring to other reviews, I still view it as a worthwhile and lovely read.

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvinia Ocampo

On the surface, there is no distinction between our experiences—some are vivid, others opaque; some are pleasant, others cause agony upon recollection—but there is no way of knowing which are dreams and which are reality.

Short description: A collection of dark and strange stories of the normal rendering abnormal, and the people who witness it all.

Critic Quote: “Few writers have an eye for the small horrors of everyday life; fewer still see the everyday marvelous. Other than Silvina Ocampo, I cannot think of a single writer who, at any time or in any language, has chronicled both with such wise and elegant humor.” – Alberto Manguel

My verdict: Unique, haunting, and spellbinding, this book has lingered on my mind far longer than most – recommend!

Review HERE

Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

It seemed, at times, that this was the only way the world would be remade as the heroes had dreamed: one woman holds another woman, and she in turn lifts the world.

Short description: Five women navigate their sexuality, relationships, and aspirations during an oppressive government regime in 1970s Uruguay.

Critic Quote: “In this way, De Robertis’s storytelling feels trauma-informed, even healing-centered.” – Lambda Literary

My verdict: Heart-breaking and heart-mending, De Robertis is able to access and reveal the complex stories of these women with incredible empathy and beauty.

The Pretty One by Keah Brown

I promise you, I don’t need your cures or poorly thought-out pieces of advice, but I’ll take free designer clothes, cheesecake, and a first-class plane ticket.

Short description: Activist and writer Keah Brown offers her perspective on various topics: pop culture, self-love, and religion and how they intersect with disability.

Critic Quote: “Like most of her writing, The Pretty One is at once funny and uplifting, thoughtful and sobering. Brown draws you in immediately to her tales of success and otherness.” – Bustle

My verdict: Though sometimes circuitous, Brown’s voice is a welcome breath of fresh air, her insights illuminating and necessary.

Review HERE

The Winter Bundle

She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?

– Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

Looking for a bundle of skincare, book, and tea recs for the winter months? Below are some options depending on how you may feel:

Cozy and Cute

Seasonal Depression

  • Book: The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
    • A sweeping tale that will guide you through a vast range of characters, emotions, and historical turmoil, engrossing you when you want to escape, but still recognize your sadness.
  • Tea: David’s Tea Lavender Buttercream
    • A rich tea that tastes wondrous when hot, the sweetness of marshmallows and buttercream will soothe you when stressed and upset.
  • Skincare: Bioderma Micellar water ($15)
    • A simple and effective 1st step cleanser to wipe off your makeup. Has the ease of a make-up wipe without any of the harsh dragging, leaving you refreshed and clean with minimal effort.

I AM the Blizzard!!!!

  • Book: Eloquent Rage by Brittney C. Cooper
    • A powerful analysis of black women’s anger, the stereotypes surrounding it and how it can be used as a source of knowledge and strength.
  • Tea: Brew La La’s Organic Ginger Peach Green Tea
    • A refreshing and energizing green tea to start your day.
      • See full review here
  • Skincare: Good Molecules Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($6)
    • A great precursor to your moisturizers to superpower them before entering the cold. Maximize the effect of your following skincare steps with this simple serum that takes seconds to spread and soak in the skin.

Review: Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo

I gazed into the mirror, hoping that it would reflect creatures less afflicted, less demented than ourselves.

– “The Punishment,” Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo

Summary and Thoughts

Thus Were Their Faces collects a wide range of Ocampo’s best short fiction and novella-length stories from her whole writing life. Stories about creepy doubles, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks to a girl, a house of sugar that is the site of an eerie possession, children who lock their perverse mothers in a room and burn it, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote that the cruelty of Ocampo’s stories was the result of her nobility of soul, a judgment as paradoxical as much of her own writing. For her whole life Ocampo avoided the public eye, though since her death in 1993 her reputation has only continued to grow, like a magical forest. Dark, gothic, fantastic, and grotesque, these haunting stories are among the world’s finest.

– Goodreads

A spooky collection of haunting stories, Thus Were Their Faces traces the uncanny events, encounters, and emotions of various middle-high class families in Argentina. To describe the vibe of the stories, I would recall the old tale of the woman with a ribbon tied around her neck, who, on her deathbed, untied her ribbon to let her head fall off. Yeah, that kind of unnerving. Similarly, Ocampo’s work is the kind that provides more (dark) questions at the end than answers. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, with some easier to grasp than others. Ocampo’s skill in describing the mundane as disturbing, capturing unique deposits of horror within the human psyche, and delivering powerful revelations through a detached, direct tone is certainly a feat to behold. Some of my favorite stories include: “The House Made of Sugar,” “The Basement,” “The Photographs,” “The Punishment,” “Thus Were Their Faces,” “Friends,” “Icera,” “The Perfect Crime,” and “The Fury.” If you every have a chance to read Ocampo’s work, I highly recommend reading at least one of the above.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating

4/5

Review: Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil

The Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil is mild yet effective – perfect for sensitive skin. Its hypoallergenic formula is packed with vegetable oils that gently cleanse, moisturize and protect.

Sokoglam

Hoping to find a makeup dissolver for part one of my double cleanse, I picked up Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil, believing that all of its heavy oils would succeed to gently breaking down my makeup without making my face feel stripped. Unfortunately for me, this product was quite unsuccessful in this endeavor, despite it being a pleasure to apply and lather. Not only did this fail to dissolve my makeup, but due to its concentration on heavy oils and fragrance, I was less inclined to use this product as the second step in my cleansing routine. In the end, I used this mostly as a post-workout cleanser or for days when I didn’t wear makeup. It’s an awkward but not unpleasant product.

Ingredient Pros and Cons

Ingredients: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Isononyl Isononanoate, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Isopropyl Myristate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil , Ribes Nigrum (Black Currant) Seed Oil , Tocopheryl Acetate , PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate , Polysorbate 20, Fragrance, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) , Carapa Guaianensis Seed Oil, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil

Significant Pros

  • Jojoba Seed Oil (moisturizing)
  • Soybean Oil (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)
  • Sesame Seed Oil (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)
  • Black Currant Seed Oil (moisturizing)
  • Shea Butter (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)

Significant Cons

  • Fragrance (irritant)
  • Polysorbate 20 (fungal acne trigger)
  • Isopropyl Myristate (fragrance and fungal acne trigger)
  • PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate (fungal acne trigger)
  • Soybean Oil (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)
  • Sesame Seed Oil (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)
  • Cranberry Seed Oil (moisturizing for those without fungal acne)

The Takeaway

I would advise to skip over this product. Despite the pleasant application experience, it doesn’t do its job to dissolve makeup if it intends on being a 1st step cleanser, and when it comes to 2nd step cleansers, there are better, cheaper alternatives (like Krave Beauty’s Matcha Hemp Cleanser). All in all, while this product may be good for those who don’t wear makeup and aren’t worried about any residual product affecting fungal acne, its hard to justify spending near $20 on a somewhat adequate product.

Review: The Royal Tea by Yannick Alleno (OSULLOC)

Receiving this at the Seoul Lotte Hotel, the Royal Tea by Yannick Alleno is exclusive to the hotel; so scoring this sachet was a special treat. Rich with cinnamon, pear, and berry scents and flavors, this tea carries a light sweetness that makes it perfect for pairing with warm pastries (or dark chocolate!). I definitely enjoyed this unique fruity tea and appreciated the potency of its flavors. Though I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favorites, I’m so delighted I was able to try it.

Ingredients

Pear and cinnamon, I’m assuming??? It’s all in korean, lol.