Thursday, June 26, 2014

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, #2) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I picked up this book after having enjoyed the first one in the series. I only gave that one 3 stars, because I couldn't decide if I was less thrilled by the story because I had seen the movie, or because it was just not a very thrilling story. The second book I read a lot faster. Finishing a book, in spite of it not being very long, within a week is pretty uncommon for me nowadays. However, about the last 25% was very exciting, and I almost missed my stop on the metro because of it. In fact, the metro was having problems, going extra slow today, and I didn't mind, because I was reading. Returning home I finished it quickly.

The story itself picks up right after the last book. I liked how it started, it was kind of mysterious like some of the events in the first book. Though while that one had an actual mystery, this one didn't really. There were some weird things that were found out later, but the first book had an actual "whodunnit", and this one didn't. I was a bit disappointed by that fact. However, not enough not to be reaching for the next book right after finishing this one.
The romance was more in this book. It was a bit much for me, since I'm not very fond of love interests and the old "who should I go out with" dilemma. However, I liked how it tied into the story in the end. It wasn't just there for the sighs.

I felt that Lissa was a bit abandoned in this one. Though Rose felt a bit left out by Lissa as well. She didn't make a journey in this one and not some many things happened to her as previously. The focus was almost completely on our narrator, Rose. I didn't mind though, because Rose was a very busy girl. As a character, she did change thanks to the events in the story.

Overall, a fun, quick read. It doesn't give you earth shattering insight into the human psyche, but I guess no one who wanted to read that would go for something titled; "Vampire Academy".

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shitsuren Chocolatier (JDrama) * * * *

I eagerly waited for this drama, because I'm a huge fan of MatsuJun. I also noticed that he happens to be extra cute when cooking or eating, and since he was going to play a Chocolatier in this drama, I hoped for many scenes like that. It didn't disappoint.

The drama itself was very interesting. It was in a way centred around making chocolates, but not the technical side of it, rather the artistic one. As someone with an artistic disposition myself, some of the things discussed in it gave me thought. The other theme of the drama was relationships. Friendships, friends with benefits, love, marriage, unrequited love. The drama examines how relationships develop, and how people are in them. Learning to get out of the relationship what you want, and letting go when reality clashes with your hopes.
This is more of an adult drama, as it has sex in it. Casual and non casual, and it's even discussed, which is pretty uncommon in Japanese dramas. However, I never did feel that the sex was there just to see people naked. It wasn't even explicit. Instead, the sex was always an important part of the relationship.
If I were to draw up a relationship chart, it would be pretty complicated. It's hard to say how the drama discusses relationships, because it covers so much. You just have to see it. What I can say is that as a woman whose 32 and never had a serious relationship, I learned a lot from this drama. I even recognised myself in one of the characters.

Matsumoto Jun plays a chocolatier called Koyurugi Sota. He had been in love with Takahashi Saeko (Ishihara Satomi) since he was 15. She was his inspiration to become a chocolatier. There are flashbacks, but we actually pick up the story when he opens his own shop 11 years later. Their relationship is the main driving force behind the story. There are many cringe-worthy moments, where you really just want to give the guy a hug. Being the main character, his story is the most complex one. He grows up as it proceeds, and comes to understand more about himself and his feelings. Saeko is the centre of his world, but he himself knows deep down that it's not a healthy position to be in. Through the drama we see him resolve the situation.
Saeko is an interesting character. On the surface she's this bubbly, carefree, chocolate loving person. She's the type of girl who is never without a boyfriend, whom all the guys fawn over, who can make them do whatever she wants. However, we do uncover some of her deeper layers. I also came to realise about her that maybe she wasn't so sure of what she actually wanted. We do see a growth in her. She also gives some great relationship advice.
Inoue Kaoruko (Mizukawa Asami) is the character I could identify with. She's a 30-year-old woman, who has a difficulty in establishing relationships with men. She's very serious, hard working, and a bit frustrated. Her character clashed with Saeko a lot, but we could come to understand that it was because she only saw her surface, and misjudged her.
There were many more characters, and most of them played an important role in the story, but I won't go into it, since this is a spoiler-free review.

This drama got a lot of negative reviews, which I was surprised about. I loved it a lot, but it wasn't just because of the fangirling over Jun. One point that people bring up is that it's a lot like Bambino. Well, not really. It has been a while, but there are some major differences. In Bambino, he's at the bottom of the kitchen in someone else's restaurant. It's more about work ethics, perfecting a craft, than about a romantic angle. In Shitsuren Chocolatier he's the owner, at the top of his game. He does make chocolate in it, but the drama isn't really about that. So the first one is a work drama, the second is a romance.
Another major sore point with people seems to be the ending. In a way it is very unsatisfying, but I have come to appreciate such endings. In Hollywood, everything has to have a happy ending, which is predictable and boring. One thing that I love about Japanese dramas is that they end in reality, not fairy tale. The ending had a very important lesson to teach. I think that instead of moaning about it, people should rather examine the lesson in that. Without trying to spoil too much, the question Sota should have asked himself in the beginning was "Who am I really in love with?". By the end, he finds this question, and comes to answer it in his own personal journey.

Overall, very good drama. In fact, it came at the right time for me. Sometimes, you come across a story, and it feels like the right thing at the right time. This was that for me. Don't expect it to be a light hearted, fun thing. It's not. However, be open to learning from the story, to maybe coming to painful realisations while watching.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, #1) by Richelle Mead * * *

I've known about this book series for a while. It sounded like something I wouldn't like, in spite of my love for vampires. My main issue was that it takes place in a school. I've graduated high school 14 years ago, and since then I tend to be annoyed by stories that take place in a school. Okay, other than Harry Potter.
I decided to read this book after seeing the movie. I know it wasn't very popular, but I thought it was a lot of fun. Though compared to the book they amped up the action. I've also read that in the book the friendship between the two girls is more prominent, which sounded good, since I'm not a fan of romance. While the book does have some romance, it's not too much.

The story is really about two girls looking out for each other. I've read a lot recently about the lack of female companionship in books. This is just the opposite. Quite refreshing.
The school aspect is not prominent in the sense that we don't get details on the different classes, unless something important happens. For example, I know they have Slavic Art, but mercifully we never actually have to read about Slavic Art.
Another aspect of school life that I generally don't like is the cliques and cattiness. While there is some of that, it has a role in the story, and is not there just for its own sake.
Because I saw the movie, the plot itself wasn't a surprise. That's why I decided to read the next book, to see if I'll be surprised by that one.

The two main characters are Rose and Lissa. They are both strong, but in different ways. They complement each other, like best friends often do. The story is narrated through Rose, and she's a likeable girl. Her sense of duty is admirable. She's also sensible in that she doesn't run off to save people on her own, which is often a trend in similar themed books.
There is romance for both girls, neither easy, neither insta-love. The guys aren't attractive just on their looks, but they are both supportive of the girls. However, not completely ideal, so it doesn't get boring, or too fluffy.

Overall, the book didn't overwhelm me, but I did know the story beforehand. It was fun, and I'm looking forward to reading the next book. I liked Rose and Lissa, and would like to know how things turn out for them.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) * * * *

This movie is like a sci-fi Groundhog's Day in many regards. I have been a great fan of the formula. Especially in the 90s, it was sort of required that every TV show has it. Xena, Stargate SG-1, Buffy are some memorable examples. The formula is this: a person gets stuck in a time loop for some reason. The only way he / she can get out of it is by solving why they got into the loop, and changing something about their life. It usually requires learning some new ability as well.
A problem that this formula can have is that it becomes boring after a while. I remember that the Xena episode had this problem, because she was doing the same thing too much. Stargate changed this by putting some funny elements into it, like when O'Neil played golf at the Stargate. What this movie did to keep it from boring was the huge learning curve that Cage (Tom Cruise) went through, and his romance with Rita (Emily Blunt).

The story itself is not boring at all. From the trailer we can gather that it's about an alien invasion. We don't get to see the actual aliens for a while at the beginning, and the anticipation is a real adrenalin rush. The loops were done in an interesting way, and even a bit of humour was put into it. The explanation for the loop didn't seem too far fetched.
In many regards, Cage is a classic Tom Cruise character. He flies a helicopter. He rides a bike. He has a gun. He wears a uniform. He broads in a pub with a drink. He is the hero. Cage does have character development, because while he starts out as a man concentrating on survival, he becomes someone who knows that sacrifice is the most likely outcome for the good of all.
Rita is kick-ass character. I really loved her a lot, and Emily was great at it. I haven't seen her do an action movie before, okay, maybe Looper, but her character was different there. I really thought she stole the show for me.

Overall, a really enjoyable movie. It has some surprises that I didn't see coming, which is pretty unusual. I recommend it not just for sci-fi, but also plain action movie fans. The romance is not too much, barely there actually.