Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me by Ron Miscavige * * *

Ruthless is about Dave Miscavige, as seen through the eyes of his dad. In some ways it’s an interesting book. It’s not solely about Dave, as Ron calls him. It’s actually about a couple of things.

First of all, it’s about Ron himself. You do have to understand where he comes from, to understand his parenting, and his marriage. His first marriage was a tumultuous one. They fought a lot, and sometimes it turned violent. From his description it was the fault of both of them, but he does point out that maybe he saw it wrong. His wife, Loretta, died some years ago. I do applaud that he says that, because it could be easy to blame it on her, maybe her Italian temper, or that she wanted a kind of a man that he just wasn’t. However, he came from a place and an era when people often didn’t have the tools to resolve their marital problems. It’s partly in an effort to find a better way to communicate with his wife that he got into Scientology.

Another aspect of this story is what Scientology used to be like. It doesn’t sound all that bad. LRH, while in many ways a conman, seemed to be actually building something that may not have been completely what he said it was, did have positive aspects. Strangely, in all the talk about Scientology, there is no mention of Xenu, thetans, or anything like that. Ron seems to be more interested in the communication and self-help aspect of Scientology. He does admit that most of it was really pencilled together from earlier sources and sold as LRH’s own ideas. I do see the draw though. He also writes about how Scientology changed after LRH died and Dave took over. Dave only seems to treat the whole organisation as something to serve him in the moment. His own little kingdom to rule, with no regard to the future.

The third subject is Dave. What he was like as a kid, and that he’s really a sociopath. Which is not that much of a surprise. As a kid he had much of the classical signs. A bully, but also charming, and demanding attention. He did leave home right after his 16th birthday to join the Sea Org. While this could be a sign that he just wanted to get away from his parents fighting, the fights didn’t make him what he is. On the one hand, Ron swears that the violence was only between the adults. Also, the positive aspects of Scientology should have taught him better techniques to communicate with people. The real reason that Dave is so violent and awful, is because that’s just the way he is. From every description, it’s apparent that he completely lacks empathy. He can mimic normal people, pretend to be nice and sweet, but that’s exactly what sociopaths are like. Once you get near them, once they have power over you, they can stop pretending.

While I wish there had been more details in the book, I did enjoy it. Ron’s writing is easy, quite enjoyable. He paints colourful pictures of places and people, while being down-to-earth and no frills.

Overall, it’s a good little book. While it does feel a bit less about Dave, and more about Ron, the person who just wants to know more about Scientology will be satisfied. Is it a complete study of Dave? No. Ron seems like the old-fashioned father, who was mostly focused on bringing home the bacon, teaching his kids to ride a bike, than the day-to-day of parenting. He never seemed to have too deep a connection with his son, which is normal for his generation. However, while this book may not be exactly as promised, it’s worth reading. I did it in a day.

The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance Trilogy #3) by N.K. Jemisin * *

I really wanted to like this book, but it was a major disappointment. Let me tell you why.

The setting is the same as the previous books, mostly taking place in the capital city. The difference is that in this case the main character isn’t a mortal, but actually one of the godlings, Sieh. He is the oldest and the first. I was actually excited to read from his point of view, because I liked him a lot in the first book.

It’s hard to talk about this book without spoiling the major plot point, but I’ll try. He meets two children by chance, a brother and sister, both Arameri. He meets them several times, at a few points in their lives, until an incident happens that changes his life forever. Now, you may think this is a start of a great adventure of self-discovery. Herein lies my problem with the story.

Things do happen. Here and there. In between those sporadic events though are lots and lots and lots and … did I mention … a lot of thinking. And talking. Then more thinking and talking. Then an event, and then some more thinking and talking. It’s mostly philosophical contemplation on gods, eternity, and probably a whole lot of things I don’t remember, because I was so bored I couldn’t pay attention to it. I’m not a big fan of philosophy, frankly. I took two classes at university, and I almost failed both of them because I completely misunderstood most of the material.

The first book had a good amount of action, and some thinking. The next book had more thinking, less action, and while I found it hard to get through sometimes, I managed. This, I couldn’t. I was at 60%, and I just couldn’t go on. I turned to the ending, read it, and I’m finally done with it. They did mention some interesting events that I didn’t read about, but frankly, I don’t feel like digging through all that thinking just to get to the more interesting bits.

There lies the problem, well, at least, for people like me. The world is interesting, but it feels like the author fell in love with it too much. They contemplated all these things while writing the book, and just had to put all of their thoughts on it into it. Some of the ideas are interesting, sort of, to a point. However, often the same subject is mulled over ad nauseam. I didn’t set out to read a philosophy book, and frankly, I felt cheated. What I wanted to read was an exciting adventure with colourful characters that were modern and with a wide range of personalities, sexualities and backgrounds. Also, some contemplation. Similar to the previous books. That’s not what this is. Seriously, if 1/3 of the book was taken out, it would be much easier to read.

I usually tell you about the characters in my review. In the 60% I read it was mostly about Sieh. While he was colourful and interesting before, in this book he was mostly annoying. Moaning about his lot in life, things he couldn't do, ... Not his usually bright self.

Overall, if you are the kind of person who reads non-fiction books mostly on philosophy, you’ll like the book. If you’re not, then you’ll probably have a hard time getting through this one, and frankly, the ending wasn’t that cathartic. It was an okay ending, but didn’t give me a thrill. It’s sad, because I really enjoyed the first book, and I wanted it to be one of the best trilogies ever. It just made me feel disappointed.

I also know that this review is not up to my usual standard, but I don't have much to say about the actual content of this book. I could never remember much of things that didn't interest me, and most of this book falls under that category.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Broken Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #2) by N.K. Jemisin * * * *

First of all, having read the book, I still don’t really get the title. I mean, if the title has the word “kingdoms” in it, you expect intrigue, politics, conflict, that sort of thing. I’m trying to decipher a hidden meaning, and at the edge of my thoughts there is something that I cannot grasp, but it eludes me. No wonder I had a hard time even remembering the title.

This, however, didn’t mean that the book was bad, it just means that I think the title was a poor choice. I actually enjoyed this book, though perhaps not as much as the first one. The reason for it was the ending. It almost seemed like it had this steady pacing up until a point, when the author realised she was coming up on her word limit, and suddenly tied everything up into this neat little bow. It felt off, but you’ll have to read it to understand it. It was an okay ending, but it was still weird.

Now onto the story itself. This is a sequel of a kind. You still get some of the original characters, but they are mostly on the sidelines, except for one surprising figure. First of all, it’s set 10 years from the events of the last book. This is the story of a young woman, Oree. I’m not giving away too much in that she’s blind. She moves to Sky, which is now called Shadow, where a lot has changed. As she tries to live an unremarkable life, she gets swept up in events that are far beyond her. In fact, for the most part, she is completely overwhelmed by them.

This story was interesting in a couple of ways. One, I’ve never read a book where the main character was blind. Normally I stay away from books set in real life that have disabled people in them. This is due to a family history that I don’t want to go into, but there are painful memories. In this story, as it was set in a fictional universe, the issue of being blind was quite different from the usual, and therefore I could gain enough distance for it to not bother me. I also thought it was handled well, with the disability giving her limitations, but not completely crippling her.
I also found that the story had enough twists that it could surprise me. While it had a similar mystery element like the first one, that was quickly solved and became part of a more overarching problem. This problem tied neatly into an aspect of the universe that was revealed in the previous book.
The main character, through whose “eyes” we see the story was okay. I didn’t really find myself connecting to her as much as I did the previous woman’s. Oree didn’t feel as complex to me as Yeine did, nor as interesting. I still wanted to know what would happen to her, but I did manage to put this book down for several days, while the previous one I ate up like a hungry wolf. She didn’t feel as strong, nor as clever as Yeine. She was a lot simpler, and a lot more content to just stay alive.

Overall, it was a good book, and a good second part. It’s clearly meant to tie into the more overarching story of the Three, and I’m sure the character introduced at the end will have a role in the next book. Still, it lacked a certain feeling that the first book had. It didn’t give you that sense of urgency, of grandness. That, perhaps is why most of all the word “kingdom” bothers me in the title.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1) by N.K. Jemisin * * * *

I’ve been in a reading slump these past weeks. I’ve started books, but I didn’t feel that I wanted to immerse myself in them. However, yesterday I wanted to read a bit in the bath, so I took out my wishlist on Goodreads, and had a look at what I had put on there. That’s when I decided to go for this book. Yes, you read it right, this was yesterday.

I couldn’t stop reading. At first, the story was a bit confusing. Of course, nowadays fantasy books don’t start out the way my LotR copy does, with 20 pages of explaining the world. You have to gradually learn what’s going on. This gives the reader the sense of discovery, of exploration, which can be a good thing. However, if not done well, it only gets very confusing for the first couple of chapters, and sometimes so much, it can get frustrating. This wasn’t the case here, though I was a bit confused in some places at first. The world itself in a way is kind of simple, but smart in that way. Some people build very complex worlds, but if you think about it, too many layers of government, or complex magic systems can be annoying and hard to read. Especially because the government really was a side story.

The real story runs on two lines, and this even gets the main character, Yeine confused sometimes. Though not the reader, but she is quite overwhelmed. The story takes place in the span of two weeks. It’s written as a sort of memoir, Yeine tells her own story. This does bring her closer to the reader, and also gives the author a good tool to inject the background into the story, as Yeine assumes we’re outsiders to her world. Both stories are interesting, even though one mystery comes to an abrupt conclusion, almost an afterthought. I kind of wished that was flashed out more, but then the time limit of two weeks wouldn’t have been enough.

Yeine, as I have mentioned is the main character. Of course, anyone who has read a short bio of the author knows she’s a feminist. She brings that into Yeine’s background in an interesting way. She’s been brought up in a matriarchal society, while the majority of the world seems more patriarchal. However, no one bats an eye at the thought of the head of the family being a woman, so in that way society is overall more forward thinking than the general mediaeval-like worlds in fantasy. I do wish though that she would have had more opportunities to take action, because I did like the things she tried to do. However, in the end, she is really just swept up in the story, flailing around in the current, trying to hold onto a log. I’m not saying I didn’t like her. She was a nice young woman, and she did try her best. I just wish she had more opportunities for action.

There are many characters in this story, but I think this isn’t more about the characters, but rather the ideas of love, jealousy, strife and balance. It takes the reader on a journey to explore these themes in a modern way. It actually reminds me of a jdrama I have recently watched, where each character was trying to find one kind of happiness, but ended up re-evaluating what happiness actually was. One of the main characters, I don’t want to spoil it too much, but you’ll probably know whom I mean once you’ve read it, really should take a deeper look into all four. It is very hard to give a good, thorough review of this book, because I felt that this book isn’t just understood on an intellectual level, but a deeper, emotional level. That is the realm of the individual, and therefore everyone will probably take something different out of it.

As a side note, there is a small love story in the book. It’s not too central to bother me, but there enough for my enjoyment. It feels a bit insta-love, but not really. So if you think it is, then please, re-examine your position.

Overall, very good book. The world is complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much to be confusing. The characters are likeable, though I could have hated some of the evil ones more. It really doesn’t feel like most fantasy that I’ve read, but not so far out there to not be enjoyable. I really felt like the heroine, being swept along, and almost surprised myself when the ending was suddenly there. I highly recommend it. Not just for women.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tokyo Tarareba Musume (JDrama) * * * * *

Tokyo Tarareba Musume (Tokyo "What if" Woman) is about happiness. “Let’s get a woman’s happiness!”

30 is a huge turning point in a woman’s life. This story stars three women, former classmates who live in Tokyo. They gather at a small restaurant run by one’s father and chat about their lives. They often start their sentences with “What if…”, wondering about things they should have done differently. They all turn 30, and realise that they don’t have the husband and children they imagined they would by now. They decide to not mess around anymore, and take that goal seriously, because that is a woman’s happiness. With this in mind, they take risks, and from their previous stale lives try to build something more. This, however, leads to realisations and experiences that they would not have imagined.
Rinko (Yoshitaka Yuriko) can be called the ringleader of the girls. She is also the “author” of the story. She narrates it, and in the drama there is an indication that it’s her biography. She’s writing a drama for TV. She’s looking for the right man, but she’s not putting much of an effort into it. Oh, and I have to comment on her clothes. Really? REALLY?
Kaori (Eikura Nana) is a sweetheart. She’s the most feminine. She makes nails, and has her own shop. Her love life has been none existent, but all changes at a faithful meeting. She embarks on a path that she later realises wasn’t a good one, but grows stronger because of it.
Yuko (Oshima Yuko) is a chef. She cooks at her father’s restaurant and is too busy for love. However, she has a somewhat fairy-tale idea of the perfect man, whom she sees, and they live happily ever after. I don’t want to spoil it, but anyone can guess that this is not a good idea.
Through their trials, these women learn a valuable lesson about love, life and happiness.

I really liked this drama, as I’m in a similar phase of life myself, though slightly older. It’s hard going on Facebook and seeing all the engagements, weddings, baby pictures. You look at your permanent single status and feel like just giving up on everything. However, are those really what happiness is? Watch this drama, and ask yourself that.

Oh, and just because you're going to be obsessed with this song, I'll put it here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dear Sister (JDrama) * * * * *

Dear Sister is an interesting drama. It’s mainly about the importance of family, especially siblings. Being an only child myself, I could just look on, and remember when as a little girl I so wanted a sibling.

As the title suggests, the two main characters are sisters. Though I do have to note here that they are not the only siblings in the story. There are also two brothers and a brother with a sister, so you get all combinations. Let’s focus on the main storyline. The two sisters seem very different.
Hazuki (Matsushita Nao) is the responsible one. Seemingly. She has a government job, a boyfriend, lives alone, looks after her mother. She wears shirts and pencil skirts.
Misaki (Ishihara Satomi) is the younger, irresponsible sister. She left home at an early age, never got an education, works in shady places, has men issues. Because of these Hazuki sees her as the lucky child, the one who could always do what she wanted. However, she could be wrong. Assuming that Misaki is selfish, Hazuki always sees everything through those glasses.
However, all may not be as it seems. Misaki returns home to turn everything upside down. Or is it the right side up?

This drama encourages people to be brave. Not settle being content, but to actively seek out our happiness. There could be pitfalls, but with the help of friends and family, you can get there. It also wants you to be brave through life’s hardships. At last, it wants you to not make assumptions about people. Talk to them instead. They may surprise you, and what you thought as evil, may turn out to be good, and good things evil.

I highly recommend this drama. It not only has a charming family story, but also has a mystery element that will keep you wondering.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Please Love the Useless Me (JDrama) * * *

Please Love the Useless Me (Dame na Watashi ni Koishite Kudasai) isn’t one of my favourites. It was very sweet and cute, but the main character can be annoying. Okay, she’s also very sweet, and when she clutched her meat pillow, I was reminded of her cat. This is obviously not a serious drama. It’s sometimes funny, but sometimes ridiculous.

This drama is about growing up. Although the main character never seems to, she’s not alone. I’m well over 30, and sometimes I feel like an impostor as well, just playing being an adult. Being an adult is hard. There are jobs to find, relationships, people out for our money, etc. We have all probably felt that we are way in over our heads. Michiko, the main character knows she is. She’s unemployed, and hopelessly ensnared by her younger boyfriend. She needs help, and her old boss, Ayumu decides to help. Though actually, he could use some help himself. His restaurant is just starting up, and I think having a waitress as cute as her around for room and board is not a bad deal.
Relationships are important in this drama. Most people feel that they are not fully adults until they have settled down and got married. Therefore, many people in the story are actively seeking this. However, telling you if they succeed would mean spoilers. It’s also about friendships, as they often help each other out. Family is a part of it too.
Jobs are also a theme. Ayumu left a job that was well-paid and respected to pursue his dream of being a chef. While this is a gamble, he walks forward relentlessly. Michiko also doesn’t have a job, but after the suggestion of finding something she actually likes, she manages to land a position that can take her far. I actually found this idea in the drama useful.

Michiko (Fukada Kyoko) is not a smart woman. She’s too kind and trusting, the realities of life not seemed to have jaded her yet. However, she does grow a lot in the drama, and I was quite impressed by it. Even though she says at the end that she’s useless, I feel that it’s because she says that she is not. In fact, she becomes quite capable. Oh, and she constantly eats meat. She makes me want to eat a juicy steak.
Ayumu (Fujioka Dean) is a stoic man. He shows his feelings through his cooking. He’s also dependable and capable. The kind of person you wish you had in your life, because you know you can always count on him. He’s also a man of few words. Fujioka Dean is of course good at these characters, and his presence is always felt.

When discussing this drama one more thing I need to mention. Omelette rice. You will be looking up the recipe if you don’t know it yet. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will gather my courage and go for it.

Overall, this is a cute drama, and will make you think about your own growing-up process. I know that Michiko will be kind of annoying in her naiveté, but her character does have a point, I promise. Happy omelette rice cooking!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hapimari: Happy Marriage!? (JDrama) * * * * *

After I saw this series, I started to read the manga, because I fell in love with the characters so much, I wasn’t ready to let them go. Therefore, I will make some references to the manga as well, though I haven’t read it all yet.
Hapimari is about a lot of things. Fathers, marriage, love, happiness. It starts out with a strange event. A man proposes marriage to a woman he doesn’t even know. Interestingly, in the manga he’s actually her boss, which complicates things further. However, in the drama he’s not. I think they took that part out as it was a bit disturbing, almost bordering on a kind of harassment. It was also a conflict not closely related to the main story, which in the manga takes places over several more years than in the drama.
So getting back to the story, a woman accepting a proposal by a strange, but wealthy man seems equally improbable. However, just as the man has a good reason for the propositions, so does the woman for accepting it. That doesn’t mean they both don’t have their doubts, but once they start playing with open cards, all falls into place. In a way, such a marriage is even cleaner than the usual ones. There is no promise of eternal love, though there is one of fidelity. They both step into it with open eyes and clear intentions. In a way, this drama would be dull, if not for the chemistry between them, and also the sexual appeal that I felt coming from Hokuto.

Hokuto (Dean Fujioka) is the wealthy man. He is not an ordinary guy. He’s very intelligent, though a bit cold, but that actually makes him kind of sexy. He’s very driven, but also lonely. His childhood was plagued by tragedy, and he grew up in a household where he didn’t trust anyone. The reason for this is the murder mystery that is also a plot line in the drama. However, Chiwa, his new wife relieves his loneliness like no one else before her. Probably the main reason is that he feels he can trust her.
Chiwa (Seino Nana) is also an interesting character. She’s the caretaker type of person. She even looks after her dad, whom I would have left to his own devices long ago. She is also very smart, though she hasn’t had many opportunities in life. Choosing to marry a stranger is not easy for her, but she wants to do her best in everything. I’m actually of a similar philosophy, as I think that if you do something, you should give it your all.

This drama is a lovely journey into love and trust. I recommend it a lot. The manga is good as well, though that is actually rather adult, while the drama is toned down for TV. However, why you really need to watch this is at the beginning of episode 9. It wasn’t explosive, nor passionate, but makes every woman clutch a pillow in a hug.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

From Five To Nine (JDrama) * * * *

First of all, I have to say that I mainly started to watch From Five to Nine for Ishihara Satomi, whom I just adore! She’s not only incredibly beautiful, and I sometimes find myself staring at, but she also brings such warmth to all her performances. I also started to watch it as I’ve worked as an English teacher myself. I tried once to get a job in Japan, but apparently it’s impossible if you didn’t grow up in an English speaking country.

This drama starts out a bit strangely, and frankly, throughout the story it was hard to understand Takane’s attraction to her. Sure, Junko is a lovely, vivacious, beautiful woman. Like I said, it’s very hard to not stare at Satomi sometimes, she’s that gorgeous, but one would think a monk would go deeper than that. Also, frankly, Takane’s very annoying, and I would probably have been more drastic in my refusal of him.

So this drama is about a monk falling in love with an English teacher inexplicably fast and deep. He relentlessly pursues her. However, her dream is to go and live in New York. Complications include families, other men, a surprise man – and that was a surprise, though I did have my suspicions -, among other things. The biggest complication though is that Junko is not at all interested in marriage, especially not to a monk.

One surprising aspect of this story was a monk getting married. I did do a bit of research on Japanese monks, and found a very interestingblog that is well worth reading. So the only really off thing about the story was Takane having his hair, but I guess Yamashita Tomohisa didn’t want to have his head shaved.

I also have to comment on the English. Junko’s is okay, though she has a very strong accent. Takane, on the other hand, has such a strong accent, it was often difficult to understand, and sometimes I couldn’t even tell that he was speaking in English. Actually, some of the supporting cast had a lot better pronunciation, than the two main characters.

The really interesting thing about this story is why I kept watching it. I didn’t like the start of it much, nor the insta-love, but it was very funny, and after a while the romance kind of grew on me. So I really recommend this, as by the end it’s a very warm, loving story. Also, you’ll really want to eat crabs.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse #3) by James S.A. Corey * * * *

In the beginning I struggled with this one. It was slow to start, and some of the new characters I really didn’t like. Especially one of the villains. Those were hard to read. However, towards the end it really picked up, and I started to like it a lot.

It’s very hard to write a review with no spoilers of the series. It’s the third book, so everything in the story is very connected to the events of the previous books. So regarding the story, humanity still faces a crisis, and the different groups in the solar system still can’t get along. There are those who try, but there are also those who are resistant. This is pretty much the same in all the books. Reading it can be very annoying, because you find yourself screaming at the book to just get along already. The good thing about that though is that it can be applied to real life. There is an increasing crisis right here, on Earth as well. If only everyone could just set aside their differences and work together, we could deal with the problems. If not, then using the book as a metaphor, similar events can take place right here. That is something that I like about sci-fi. It is set in the future, but it also shows us something about our present.

Now let’s move onto the characters. Our favourite Holden is still in this, so you can relax. He’s still likeable, still trying to do his best, and sometimes failing, sometimes winning. Without spoiling much, I was really afraid for him in this one.

There are a couple of new characters in the book. Anna is an interesting one. She’s a lesbian priest. Sometimes she’s frustrating, and feels like the authors just put her in to pander to the religious readers of the story. She often wonders about god in the world she’s in. As an atheist, I resolve this simply, as there is no god, so it’s not a question. However, later on she also becomes the voice of morals, and also takes action herself. That’s when I actually started to like her. She’s the person who isn’t jaded by life, while all the characters seem to be. She even brings up one of my favourite ideas in the book. Why can’t we work together without going through all the screaming and dying first?

Overall, the start of the book was a real struggle. However, after a while I found it hard to put down, and quickly read the last third. The real question at the end is, to quote Buffy, “Where do we go from here?”