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?”

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Life by Guy de Maupassant * *

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything not written in this century, or the end of the last one. Growing up, I was quite taken with historical fiction, mainly Dumas. However, since then I’ve mostly focused on the problems of the modern man. I’ve decided to venture into the world of the classics to see if I’ve left them hastily, and realised I haven’t. While Maupassant’s short novel was okay, I didn’t find it engaging for the present time.
I purposefully didn’t read any analysis of this novel, because I wanted to draw my own conclusions. I did read the writer’s life though. Now, for all I know, I could be completely misunderstanding the text. However, a text always means what it means to you. No one can be in another real person’s head, just in that of their characters’.

The story itself is quite simple. You can see what’s going to happen a mile away. It’s mostly about the life of a moderately wealthy French lower aristocrat woman. It starts the day her adult life begins, and concludes at a point where it changes drastically once more.
There were many themes in the novel, in spite of it being quite short. Morality, religion, child rearing, classes were all touched upon. While it talks about a lot of things, it concludes nothing really. It’s a description of things as they are, and therein lies my problem with it.

Morality in the story is not at a high point. Basically, everyone cheats on everyone, and everyone is sleeping with everyone. Except for the heroine, but she’s different. I’ll talk about her later. Apart from sexual morality, the only other morality it concerns itself with is that of the morals concerning the responsibilities of a child towards their parents. In that regard we see two opposite examples. However, it is left to the reader to draw conclusions from the examples. One is clearly positive, the other negative, but the reader could excuse the actions of the negative example with bad child rearing.
Religion is also a theme. For the story, the role of the local priest is more that of a settler of people’s affairs, than anything really religious. There are two examples of priests as well. From the story, I’m inclined to say that the writer favoured a naturalist deism, than organised religion. However, I did find the part of the boy’s catechism interesting, because it seemed to suggest that everything that happened after missing that was because of the lack of religion in the child’s upbringing.
This leads me to the child rearing aspect of the story. Maupassant himself was brought up in the country, and then sent to school, which he hated. We see three examples of bringing up children in the story, though one we don’t completely see. Both the aristocratic children, the main protagonist herself was brought up with ideas of natural romanticism, where everything feels like a romance novel. The boy is brought up similarly. Both have the problem of not being able to exist in the real world, outside of their own little niché. Makes me wonder if Maupassant felt like a fish out of water as well. The third child’s, the peasant boy’s upbringing was probably different, and more work oriented. He turned out much different. This part also makes the point of the value of hard work, and that with that people can accomplish a lot.
This difference is child rearing also points towards the heavy classism in the novel. The peasants are praised for their hard work, but also not thought of as much. Their morals are loose. One priest says one of his main jobs is that when he sees a peasant girl getting bigger, to find the boy who did it and get them married. It even often mentions that peasant girls almost always get married pregnant. “Jeanne did not belong to the race of peasants who are dominated by their lower instincts.” Their thoughts are materialistic and simple. Rosalie’s future husband’s thought is only towards money, not his future wife. The aristocrats are idle, and mostly don’t do much. While their morals are also described as loose, somehow that feels to be forgivable, and not derogatory. 

I also want to talk about the characters a bit. Jeanne is the main character, it’s basically her life that it talks about. However, the focus does feel to be mainly on the different women in the story. The life of the aristocratic women is idle. They wander around all the time, not doing much of anything. Jeanne did have ideas of maybe travelling, but other than her honeymoon, she never actually left her home. At first she was bothered by this, but as her life found the focus of her son, she lost all interest in anything else. This is what makes the story very boring for me. She just lets things happen to her, but is never an active agent in anything. Not even her own marriage. I know probably a lot of women felt like this in her time, but we know plenty of examples of women who found ways to revolt. In fact, since Maupassant’s mother got a divorce, she seemed to be one of them.

And we reached my real reason why I didn’t like this novel. The whole thing is a description. It’s slow. It’s made up of pictures, but you never actually feel the characters. You know that even in film there are moments when you see someone, they don’t speak, but you can feel what they are feeling. Here you never really get that sense. You are closed off from Jeanne. She’s like a doll. Pretty, blank, glass eyes staring out of an empty head. In fact, most characters just don’t feel real in this story. They are examples. Dolls. Not real personalities, never developing, evolving, changing. Stagnant. I’m not sure if that is on purpose, but it makes me angry. It makes me think that if Maupassant saw people this way, then he never really saw anyone with all their complexities, motivations, histories, struggles and achievements. There is no empathy.

Upon starting this novel, I wondered if it could say something to me. It couldn’t. It gives a detached, simplistic view of the world. It shows things, but doesn’t say much. It never shows a resolution for the problems, or even an attempt to make the situation of the characters, or the world better. What I felt at the end was emptiness.
The 21st century human is not inspired by such stories. If we look at popular literature now, it’s full of people who struggle, fight to make the world a better place. That is what we need. Stories that inspire us to want to change. We can’t be idle. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2) by James S.A. Corey * * * * *

After reading Caliban’s War, I realised what I missed from Leviathan Wakes. The excitement of not knowing what was going to be next! I’ve seen the TV show, so I knew what was going to happen. However, since the show stops at about half of the book, the rest was a mystery. I couldn’t put it down. Literally, I would walk home with my Kindle in my hand, and just letting my feet take me.

The story went more into politics with the few new characters.

One was Avasarala. Pretty high up in the UN food-chain, those who watch the show know her already. She only gets introduced in the second book, though they wrote her some parts in the first season. I’m really happy they did that, because she’s a great character. I love that she’s like a posh Indian lady, who curses like a sailor. It’s also very interesting to see the point of view of someone who is so politically savvy. Avasarala for President! She’d hate me for that.

The other was Bobby. She’s a Martian, which can sound a bit funny, but she is from Mars. In her story there is a very interesting difference between the TV show and the book. In the TV show she makes a big deal of wanting to see the sea. Which does make sense, since coming from Mars, she had never seen such a thing. It also gives her an opportunity to get to know some of the differences between what she was taught about Earth, and what the actual facts are. In the book there is a similar scene. She doesn’t want to see the sea though, she just needs to go for a walk. She also meets some people, and realises that the people of Earth don’t have it as easy as she thought. The difference is, in the show, Earth is depicted as a much darker place. Yes, in the book they do mention that it’s not that easy to get into higher education, but it’s not as bad as the impression you get from the episode. 

The third new voice is Prax. He’s a scientist, and that’s beneficial for the story line. He also moves everything forward, as his troubles are one of the main storyline. Without giving away too much, I liked how his emotional state was depicted. People who watch the show already know what happened to him, though some of the details are different in the book. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling much, if I say no spacing scene. I really didn’t miss that one. His story was one of the main reasons I actually started the book. 

The politics side on the whole was complex. Negotiations and juggling of different interests, while trying to keep the greater good in sight is hard. The reason why I probably like such stories is because they are so complex and difficult to resolve. 

Overall, great read. Exciting, full of twists and turns. Also clever with the science. I liked the characters, enjoyed reading from their different viewpoints. Okay, now, enough of reviewing, I have the next book to read. I finished this in three weeks, which is extra fast compared to my busy schedule. Though I did have a two-hour delayed plane, and a 3.5 hour plane ride to read a lot on.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan * * *

I listened to this story as an audiobook. The funny thing about that is that it's actually the best format for it. The story is actually set as a transcript of tapes that were dropped off for the writer. On the tape, two kids talk about their crazy-sounding adventures with Egyptian gods. So when you are actually listening to two kids talking about what happened, it comes across just the way it should.

The story itself is similar to other books by Riordan. Kids get into an adventure that involves stopping a god, and also travelling through the US. The difference is that on the one hand they are not demigods, and the mythology is Egyptian. Now I'm a great lower of Ancient Egypt, so this was a plus for me.

Overall, this is a great adventure, but I find that I wasn't taken by it as I was with the other books. The characters aren't that complex, and the focus seems to be more on the story and the mythology, than them. That is also why I didn't write about the kids in detail.

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1) by James S.A. Corey * * * * *

 Any book about the future is always also about the present. This book isn't Star Trek. Humans are still petty, after their own interest. So while the setting is space, people act the same way they would on Earth. I guess the old saying of the more things change ... works. I had this thought, but so did the author, that no matter what, we are just primates swinging poo at each other, or poking things with sticks.

The story is about a period of humanity when we have left Earth, but took the problems with us, while staying in the Solar system. We have colonised Mars, some moons, even rocks in the asteroid belt. I loved how living, growing up in space had physically changed people. I also found the way they spoke interesting. A mixture of the different languages of the people who went there. However, the same way as when Europeans colonised the rest of the world, the colonies are treated just as badly. And they want to break away just as badly. Thrown into this tense environment is something unexpected. Without spoiling things for those who are not watching the show, it's big.


The story itself is told from the point of view of two men. One is Holden. He's a regular guy from Earth. Good childhood, nice parents, and that makes him an idealist. He feels naive sometimes, but he tries his best all the time. The conflict inside is that he expects better from people than they are, and then constantly gets disappointed. There is one point where he doesn't realise that words can be bigger weapons than guns. I'm not sure if he'll ever change. Maybe I don't want him to.

The other point of view is Miller. He's a belter. Grew up on a station built in a rock. He's also a cop. Kind of a sci-fi Dick Tracy. Even has the hat. He's much more a realist, and I found that I liked him more. He is jaded, and gritty, but he does what must be done. He also has a keen insight to things. They do clash with Holden. The funny thing is, I think Miller sometimes wishes he could see the world the way Holden does, but he's seen too much for that to be possible. 

Compared to the TV show, this encompasses the first season and some of the second. The story is pretty much the same, with some minor changes here and there. 

Overall, I enjoyed the story very much. It has personal stories as well as a grand scale of system wide events and politics. Now, let me finish this review, I have the next book to read.