YA Book Review: This Train is Being Held by Ismée Williams (2020)

Thursday, December 9, 2021



I'm so torn about this book. I love the first 2/3 of the story, where Isa and Alex are getting to know each other and their romance is just so endearing and cute, and just, yeah, all of that. Because Alex is a complete and total doll and I adore him, rather like I adore Javier in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. The use of Spanish interspersed in the conversation is endearing, but I do think creates some problems with reading comprehension. I dealt with it by using Google translate, but I did give that up eventually and just sort of made my best-estimated guess at what was being said. It did however add to the charm of the book and made me really feel like I was reading about a half-Cuban girl and a Dominican American boy. So that was great.

HOWEVER, there are problems with This Train is Being Held and most of the issues make the story feel like it's set in the 1950s instead of 2020.


- Yes, racial bias is a real thing. But there is a distinct vibe in this book that everyone Alex ever encounters except for Isa draws back from him in horror, not because he has a ghastly appearance, but because he's Latino. I just don't even know what to say to that except that, if that has been someone's experience in real life, then it sucks. And should never happen. And it's wrong that it has happened to you. But making Isa the only person to ever see him as just a boy and not assume he's a hoodlum is ridiculous. That he would experience some racial bias is accurate, I'm sorry to say, but not from every white person he ever encounters. The unexplained shunning became just too absurd.

- Police brutality. Just stop.

stilinski3

This is becoming a trendy trope that I hate. Authors love to build out their culturally diverse characters and give them full dimension and make them come alive, but where the cops are concerned, just make them cruel and brutal and you're good. That's another form of discrimination and I have no patience for it. Are all cops good? No, of course not. But they're sure as hell not all bad either and I can't for one moment believe that a group of cops would start hitting a Latino teenager when he has clearly not done anything to warrant their suspicion. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm willing to admit it if I am and if I am then it means our police need to work harder at improvement. But overall, it just smacks of overdramatization to raise my sympathy and I really hate it when authors try to do that.

stilinski2

If you want an example of a great cop, watch Teen Wolf. Sheriff Stilinski is amazing and always will be amazing and because he's such a great cop and father, I hate it when cops are reduced to just brutal meatheads.

- The miscommunication trope. I watch Japanese drama and one of my most hated tropes is the miscommunication trope. It serves no purpose other than to create turmoil and angst. I'm not even sure why Isa wasn't sharing her life struggles with Alex. But it's the curse of YA fiction, most fiction actually. Characters in fiction never read it because if they did, they would learn that keeping their struggles secret from the person they love only ends in hurt feelings and MISCOMMUNICATION. So, yeah, that trope is not original and it dragged the last 1/3 of the story waaaaaaaay down.

However, despite the things that drove me bananas, I am going to rate This Train is Being Held 3 stars. I was thinking 2 stars, but I can't do that because Alex and Isa are just so sweet. It has this charisma about it that just snagged my interest and it was a super-fast read for me, and that's usually a good thing.

Here are some of the great elements of This Train is Being Held.


- Parents, stop pressuring your kids to live out your own dreams. Instead, enable them to follow their dreams. That's an important message and one I think the book gets right. People are more than one thing and should be allowed to be more than one thing. In that regard, I think that Alex is more well-rounded than Isa because he has multiple talents and interests. He's more than just the baseball player his Papi wants him to be, and he should be allowed to be all of his interests. Closeting away a part of your talent is never a healthy choice.

- Mental health struggles are a real thing, people suffer from them, and they cause friction and angst and stress in families. Be patient, be aware, and be understanding. I'm thankful that bipolar disorder was handled so graciously in This Train is Being Held. It's one of my most favorite renderings of mental health struggles in YA fiction that I've encountered. 

- Language, pretty much kept to a minimum, so that was great, and while there is some sexual content, it's extremely mild. This book actually borders on a clean read, which is awesome and one of the reasons why I kept reading. Plus, I was super-invested by about 30 pages in.

This Train is Being Held

Author: Ismée Williams 

Year: 2020

My Rating:  ★★★


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Jeremy Brett stars in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

This post is a part of my Jeremy Brett Celebration! There are several other posts that have been/will be shared, so please feel free to visit the above page.

It's practically a crime that the Jeremy Brett version of Rebecca has never been officially released on DVD. I have an old copy recorded from television, and it serves its purpose, but when I say old copy, I mean old copy. This miniseries cinematography would stand the test of time quite admirably if it were remastered properly. I can only hope and pray that someday it is given the official DVD and/or blu-ray release that it deserves.

Until then, you can find various copies of it on YouTube. And if you're clever, you can locate the not-so-approved DVDs online created by fans of both Jeremy Brett and the miniseries.

Now that I've given the scoop on the state of the miniseries and its availability, on we go.

Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter

If you're not familiar with Rebecca, it is the story of a young, naive woman and her marriage to a wealthy aristocrat named Maxim de Winter. He wooed and won her while they both happened to be vacationing in Monte Carlo, he because he can and her because her employer chose Monte for her vacation. They honeymoon in Venice and then they're back in England because Maxim wants to show her his home, Manderley. Little does the second Mrs. de Winter realize that Max and Manderley are still haunted by the death of the first Mrs. de Winter, a haunting enhanced by the presence of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a woman who adored the first Mrs. de Winter since she was a child. Not all is as it seems, including the rumored marital bliss of Max and his first wife, the infamous Rebecca.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)


♥♥♥♥♥ Jeremy Brett. Jeremy Brett. Jeremy Brett.  ♥♥♥♥♥


I could pretty much end the discussion there. But I won't. 

Jeremy Brett is most known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. A portrayal that I adore, but he also did SO MUCH MORE throughout his remarkable career. Only a small ripple in the pond of Jeremy Brett's genius is his portrayal of Maxim de Winter in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

Maxim can be an enigma. I have never finished reading the novel, primarily because Maxim is so hard for me to pin down. Rather like Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester, Maxim seems cruel and cold and frightening. I don't like the book character and I was never 100% fond of Laurence Olivier's performance (even though I am an Olivier fan).

I was on the hunt, if you will, for my personal ideal portrayal of Maxim de Winter.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

Maxim needs to be a tortured and sensitive soul. It's a fine balancing act between strength and weakness, compassion and cruelty, and if the balance is tipped a tiny bit in the wrong direction, Maxim becomes almost impalatable. There can be no artifice in the performance. Authenticity and transparency are required.

And because Jeremy Brett knows how to add touches of sympathy to his slightly coarser roles, he makes Maxim an absolute delight. There is nothing more agonizing than their return to Manderley where Mrs. Danvers begins to take it upon herself to undermine the newlyweds' happiness with conniving bits of trickery. Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter (poor nameless character) is ideal. I've never seen the heroine as attractive, as in she's not a stunner, but she has other qualities which are what draws Maxim to her. Joanna David is PERFECT in this role. She plays the character with fragility but with a hidden strength that blossoms later in the miniseries. When Maxim needs her the most, she rises to the occasion in the vein of a true heroine.

Anna Massey as Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

There's something striking about the overall production, its setting, its cast, the roaring of the sea, and above all, the unseen spirit of Rebecca hovering over Manderley, ruining everything it touches. I say her spirit, but of course, we're never sure of Rebecca's spirit being present. No, it is actually Mrs. Danvers who keeps the spirit of Rebecca alive, frighteningly portrayed by Anna Massey who had been married to Jeremy Brett between 1958-1962 until they divorced. I do wonder what it was like for them to be reunited and whether the divorce was amicable, but of that, I can't say.

Some days I just need a dark and brooding miniseries to watch, but I don't always feel inclined to watch anything by Dickens (as much as I love him) and while suspense/thrillers have their place, gothic literature is special. I've actually rewatched Rebecca twice this year because I love it so much. It serves its purpose of transporting me away to a slightly gruesome spectacle.

Jeremy Brett and Joanna David in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1979)

The 1979 version of Rebecca was approved of by the author and frankly, I can't blame her. Even though I've never read the novel through to completion, I still know where the other incarnations have departed from the source material, but not so with this version. This is what makes it my favorite, despite the lack of a proper copy that has been gorgeously remastered. Jeremy Brett and Joanna David bring the story to glorious life in a perfectly unified performance, making me believe they have a true love story. What more could I ask for?

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Jeremy Brett stars in "On Approval" (BBC Play of the Month, 1982)

Monday, November 22, 2021


This post is a part of my Jeremy Brett Celebration! There are several other posts that have been/will be shared, so please feel free to visit the above page.

Go to THIS LINK to see a recording of this play that some supremely sweet soul uploaded to YouTube. I wish I could say that it was available in better condition, but alas, what you see is what you get.

Penelope Keith as Maria

On Approval is a play by Frederick Lonsdale from 1926 and it only ran for 96 performances in London's West End. Not a long run, but apparently, it was long enough to make a lasting impression. There is something outstanding about theatrical plays from the 1920s and 1930s. There's a smart sarcasm that many playrights just slap their audiences upside the faces with but in a really good way.

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Happy Birthday, Jeremy Brett!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


On November 3rd, 1933, Jeremy Brett of Sherlock Holmes fame was born. And on September 12, 1995, he left us. He was with us for such a short period of time, but he gave us so much while he was here.

Someday, may the full body of his work be made more widely available to fans, both new and old.

Love you, Jeremy, and miss you always.

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Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month Link-Up Post

Monday, November 1, 2021

Good Morning, everyone!

November has arrived and so too has my month-long event celebrating the esteemed talent that is Jeremy Brett! If you don't know him, no worries, you'll know him by the end of November. 

When you've written your blog post for the event, please comment with your link here and I will add it to this page. 

I'm excited beyond words to be hosting this event, and I'm even more excited about my participants. You are all so very wonderful.

Participant Blog Posts





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Announcing Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The brilliant actor of Sherlock Holmes fame, Jeremy Brett's birthday falls on November 3rd. Because I seem to be in a let's-binge-watch-Jeremy-Brett frame of mind, doing a month-long celebration of his work seems like an excellent idea.

This won't be a blog party unless anyone else wants to participate and then I can do a link-up blog post. If you would like a blog button, there are a couple at the bottom of the post so be my guest.

My motivation for doing this is purely selfish. I love Jeremy Brett, plain and simple. In my nostalgic meandering through his work, I want to remind others about this amazing performer. Maybe find others who love him, or introduce him to someone who has never yet encountered him. Sort of like my goal when I hosted the Anthony Andrews Blog Hop all those years ago, or my Frank Langella Celebration. These men are all lesser-known actors who deserve incredible praise.

I won't be delving into Jeremy's private life unless it intersects with a movie or series in a fascinating way. Since he was so strongly affected by the role of Sherlock Holmes, I may make allowances and discuss a few aspects of his personal life at this time. However, respecting the privacy of performers has always been my modus operandi, and I would rather not know everything about them. In Jeremy's case, he shuffled off this mortal coil in 1995 (far, far too soon), and I wish to offer him the respect and honor that he deserves without indulging myself in idle gossip.

He is also, apparently, a man who can wear hats, judging by the photos I've used.

Some of the entertainment I shall review will be officially available on DVD or Blu-Ray. Some of it will only be available through recordings that some compassionate soul uploaded to YouTube for like-minded fans. Unfortunately, the latter is much more common than the former, and my heart grieves that reality just a little bit. But I must be grateful that his entertainment is available at all, even if it's not in the film quality that I would prefer.

Let's gear ourselves up for a month-long remembrance of Jeremy Brett, a performer who stole my heart for more reasons than just his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

When you've written your blog post (thank you to my participants!), feel free to link up on the Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month Link-Up Post.


      

      


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Radio Theater: Orson Welles in Dracula (7/11/1938)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

 

Dracula 

Starring: Orson Welles, Elizabeth Fuller, George Colouris, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Gabel, Ray Collins, Karl Swenson 

Studio: Mercury Theatre on the Air 

Year: July 11, 1938 

My Rating★★★★ 

Available free from The Mercury Theatre on the Air (if you have trouble listening or downloading, you can also listen to it here on YouTube

The Mercury Theatre on the Air started its short but illustrious life with Dracula by Bram Stoker in July of 1938. Orson Welles could not have chosen a better story to launch this radio theatre to stardom although it would inevitably be War of the Worlds that would keep it famous.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

While I have never actually read Dracula all the way through because it is epistolary, I do know enough about the story to know that, while seriously abridged, this radio version of Dracula is outstanding, to say nothing of spine-chilling. All of the main characters are who they should be, meaning that Lucy and Mina aren't related or even friends, Dr. Seward is not a bumbling old man running a sanitorium, and Jonathan Harker is a poor, traumatized young man who barely escapes Transylvania with his life. Barely. The program even includes the carnage of the ship Demeter, an important element also referenced in the 1979 film version of Dracula starring Frank Langella. 

As you're already all well aware, I love Orson Welles' radio plays. Absolutely and with abandon. If I could live in his radio plays, I would, and while Dracula is a haunting story, it is beautifully rendered in this production. The sound effects, the musical score, the performances, everything flawlessly aligns. I cannot praise it enough. I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into the story as it continues, and while there are characters and storylines omitted for the sake of time, it is still exquisite. 

Life is made better by Orson Welles and his radio career, and Dracula proves that point.

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Welcome to the Library

Saturday, October 16, 2021

 


We knew we needed 4 rooms.

Two bedrooms, a craft room, and finally, a room for a personal library.

While it might not be quite as grand as the Beast's library in Beauty and the Beast (that's our ultimate goal someday), it's still pretty awesome. This room had built-in shelves against one wall, the clincher as it were for us to really want this house.


As you can tell, we needed more bookcases (and will need more sooner rather than later).

We purchased the tv console right after the pandemic started last year because we had a gas fireplace at our apartment and this fit perfectly right in front of it. But we knew we wanted it in the library, so we purchased a fireplace log insert. It even has a heater, but mostly we use it for ambiance.


When the time comes, we'll pull the chairs away from the wall a little bit and add a couple more short white bookcases behind the chairs. The magazine holder has our Tea Time and Victoria issues.

That's it for now. We don't have the art wall up yet, but will at some point in the next week or so and then I'll share photos of it too. Blessings!

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House Update

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Our backyard as summer turns to fall (my sister's herb garden is on the right, with a little extra Halloween decor)

Oh my goodness, so many things have happened in the last few months.

As you all know, my sister and I purchased a house. We closed on August 31st and moved on September 10th.

Then, on the 17th, our parents moved in with us.

They had an opportunity to sell their home with no muss or fuss and downsize into a darling little patio home that is around 8 minutes away from our house. The only thing is there was a timing discrepancy, so for 19 days, they lived with us, or rather, slept in their trailer that is on the parking pad next to our garage, and spent their days in our house. We had a tower of their belongings in our garage. They closed on their new home without any issues, had the interior painted by the same painter who did a wonderful job on our home, and moved into their home on October 5th, just a few short days ago.

I would never recommend moving 2 households in the same month, but God was extremely gracious and blessed us mightily during this time.

My sister and I are possibly 75% finished with the unpacking and organizing. It's organized enough that it is starting to feel like home. Our neighborhood is charming, our home is 50 years old, and we are both relieved to no longer be living in an apartment complex that made our neighbor flinch in horror when we mentioned it. He is a police officer and has been called to that very same complex many, many times. I'm not surprised, it was a rather dreadful little complex in many ways, but we never felt unsafe because we are careful. As two single women, we have to be careful and so we take precautions.

The cats are adjusting, although Kiki thought for weeks that the furnace was a monster rising up out of the floor to eat her. She was used to heating vents in the ceiling, not the floor. But all is well. As soon as our private library is finished, possibly this weekend, I'll take pictures and share them. The books are mostly organized, but there are still a few more things that need to be done, such as hanging the artwork.

We're trying to decide if we want to host a Halloween party for our friends this year or not. I strained my left arm/wrist/hand somehow so have to be careful with how much physical activity I do with that arm. But we have nearly all of the supplies and decor needed for a Halloween party since we had planned one for last year that never got off the ground due to, well, you know what. 

Adjusting is the order of the day but also taking the time for self care and soul care, two crucial elements for any person, although most people don't know that soul care is an actual thing. Whenever I turn irritable and rebellious, it is because I am not feeding my soul, or because I am engaging in thoughts and activities that are detrimental to my soul. The soul is meant to be in communion with God, and when it is not communing the way it should, well, the entirety of my personality becomes misaligned. So I am making time for both of these things.

Last Thursday night I took a bath instead of a shower for some self-care and also read some in C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain for some soul-care. Sometimes I can manage to do both things at the same time, which is probably why I feel calm and peaceful the day whenever I take time for the Lord. I encourage you to do the same.

I will share more when time permits. I'm excited to share our personal library, a dream we've both always had, but never entirely believed would come true.

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Book Review: Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie (1969, #40 Hercule Poirot)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A book review of Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en Party.

Read for my own Agatha Christie Project that is a bit of a slow starter, but I'm determined to focus on more in 2022, Hallowe'en Party is considered to be book #40 in the Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie.

While I've not read very many of Ms. Christie's books starring the famous Belgian detective, Hallowe'en Party is one of my favorites of the miniseries' adaptations. It's chilling and brilliant and perfectly spooky for the Halloween season, so long as you don't mind the idea of murdered children.

Considering that it is written and set in 1969, there is definitely a different vibe in Hallowe'en Party than her earlier work. All of a sudden there's the question of whether crimes are sex crimes, and young people look slightly wild with younger men wearing long hair, possibly even sandals, and brighter colored clothing. The hippie era struck a blow and not even Poirot was safe from it. Not that I really mind, it's just rather funny considering most of Ms. Christie's books that I've read were primarily written and set in the 1920s or 1930s and that is a MUCH different culture than what one finds in 1969.

All that being said, I loved this novel. I resented having to put it down after breaks or lunch and return to my appointed duties. I stole moments in between conversations with family in order to read just a few more paragraphs, because you see, I was desperate to learn if it ends the same way as it does in the miniseries, and actually, the book and the miniseries episode are remarkably similar. In all of the best ways, even down to my favorite character of Ariadne Oliver, crime fiction authoress and overall crazy lady.

There's an enchantment in Hallowe'en Party that really took some effort to achieve. Michael Garfield, Judith Butler, and her daughter Miranda are all elfin creatures in their own right, somehow otherworldly, and so it's thrilling for there to be a sunken garden in an old rock quarry that has been transformed into a place of beauty and old-world magic. I've visited Butchart Gardens in Canada, also designed out of an old rock quarry, and it is a sight to behold. The murder almost takes a backseat to that garden, but then, we are talking about a 13-year-old child murdered at a Hallowe'en party in 1969, a dreadful affair, and something no one should really like to think about. Even if the child was a braggart and a liar, she certainly did not deserve to die.

A few changes were made in the miniseries' episode that I think were unnecessary, like the "witch" being an uninvited outsider to the party whereas, in the novel, she was a planned part of the festivities and told fortunes to the children. The murdered child, also, did not have to be so overdone towards an embittered fat child in the episode whereas, in the novel, her weight is never mentioned. The children are never mentioned to wear costumes in the novel but are definitely in full modern Hallowe'en costuming frivolity in the episode. There's also the peculiar addition in the episode of adult children to one of the leading characters, a completely unnecessary addition, in my mind.

But if those are the only changes of any note that I can remember, then I must say that overall it's a job well done. The episode adaptation was brilliant (and that's saying a lot considering I'm not overly partial to Mark Gatiss), and the novel itself is an absolute must-read. I may end up re-reading it every year just as I rewatch the episode every year as soon as those pumpkins start appearing on front stoops and the breeze turns crisp. I love fall.

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Opposites attract in the Jdrama Honey So Sweet (2018) starring Hirano Sho, Taira Yuna, and Yokohama Ryusei

Thursday, August 12, 2021



  • Movie: Honey So Sweet
  • Country: Japan
  • Year: 2018
  • Length: 105 minutes
  • Genre: Friendship, Comedy, Romance, School, Youth
  • Starring: Sho Hirano, Yuna Taira, Ryusei Yokohama, Kaho Mizutani
  • My Rating: ★★★★ out of 5
  • You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page. 

    Many thanks to RJGMan56 Subs for the fansubs! It's because of folks like this person that we're able to watch quality Japanese content with subtitles! You can either stream or download with English subs from their website, go to THIS PAGE!

    This film is marketed as Honey, but it's based on one of my favorite manga, Honey So Sweet by Amu Meguro.

    It tells the story of red-haired delinquent Taiga Onise (Sho Hirano) and self-professed scaredy-cat Nao Kogure (Yuna Taira). On the first day of high school, Onise calls Kogure out behind the school, and asks her to date him with marriage in mind. He knows it's because she lifted his spirits once in middle school when he'd been beaten up pretty badly and was huddled on a bridge. She just thinks she's being bullied by a delinquent. Turns out that delinquent can cook, knows how to smile, and wants what's best for the people around him. He notices and cares when one of his classmates, Ayumu Misaki (Ryusei Yokohama), is alone and depressed. And he reaches out to help socially awkward Miyabi Nishigaki (Nana Asakawa), a girl who never quite knows the right thing to say at the right time. Kogure even makes a friend in classmate Kaya Yashiro (Kaho Mizutani), something she never imagined happening before. She's starting to spread her wings. As Kogure starts to realize all of Onise's good points, she's understanding that her feelings for him might just go deeper than she originally thought and that the crush on her Uncle Sou that she's had for years might just be filial love after all. But will her realization of her feelings come too late? Will she be able to clearly communicate with Onise how her feelings for him have developed?

    Kogure being brave.

    I struggled a bit in writing this review. I wrote one version that railed on the differences between the movie and the manga, but now, finally decided that I had to judge the movie as much as possible on its own merit. Because what we have here is a movie that is probably 65% accurate to the Honey so Sweet manga. And while I might prefer the manga overall, the movie is also excellent. It's not an excellent adaptation, but it's an excellent story on its own, so the two things, manga and movie, really are very separate.

    So we'll go with that version of the review.

    Onise after he was all heroic on the school camping trip.

    Sho Hirano-san is outstanding as Taiga Onise in Honey So Sweet.

    He plays a gentle, lonely soul who falls in love with Kogure before he even knew her name. She did him a kindness when everyone else steered clear of him. So he made a decision to change his fighting ways (or at least, the reasons why he fought). There's a joyfulness to Hirano-san's performance that is charming. He's a likable incarnation of Taiga Onise, and I adore him in the role. Yuna Taira as Kogure is equally excellent. She's well-paired with Hirano-san, and she just sparkles with a cute vibrancy. She's actually the most like her manga character, I would say. And because I can't not mention him, yes, Ryusei Yokohama is terrific. He doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, but he gets enough, and it's fun having him there as the best friend to Onise.

    My favorite scene in the film, ahhhh, he stops her head from hitting the table when she falls asleep.

    One of the awesome things is the total lack of a genuine love triangle. That's a good change, in my opinion, from the manga that had a couple of different love triangles going on. There's also a really solid moment of understanding for Onise as to how he can live up to saying that he will protect Kogure. It's a common thing to say in Japan, but at the same time, for Kogure who has lost both her parents, saying that he'll protect her and make her happy has to have a deeper meaning. Her uncle exhibits smatterings of character traits from the manga, but my favorite scene with him is not from the manga, actually. He has come to a full acceptance of Kogure's maturity and growth, and he lets her go in this endearing moment that relives one of her growing-up moments when she was six and had just lost her parents. It's really quite precious.

    And the other half of my favorite scene.

    I'm also partial to stories where the boy can be the heroic figure. I'm old-school. I like boys being heroes in terms of saving the day and protecting the girl. Who would have thought a day would come when that would be considered weird? So I love Onise's protective side, and so does Kogure. He's valiant and kind and cute and shy and all of the adorable things, all while being completely masculine. They're an excellent example of the traditional masculine and feminine, actually. And for me, I love it.

    Misaki giving Kogure a little bit of a pep talk (because I have to have a picture of Ryusei).

    Now, on to content. Stolen kisses do bother some individuals (a question of consent), so I'll admit that Onise steals a kiss from Kogure while she's sleeping. It also happens to be one of the cutest scenes in the manga and in the movie, so . . .? Plus, he spends a ton of time on the guilt-trip train afterward, pure Onise. We do have a high school girl whose boyfriend is definitely in his early twenties whereas she's only 15. Not cool, but also, not necessarily shocking in Japan. I'm sorry to say. There are some brawls and a boy gets beat up pretty badly in a rather violent scene. A girl has clearly been hit by her boyfriend. There's some peril and jeopardy and a girl being threatened by scary guys. A boy lets himself get beat up. And of course, there's Kogure's crush on her uncle. A common trope that goes absolutely nowhere and makes me wonder why the mangaka put it in in the first place. *sighs*

    The two lovebirds, Kogure and Onise, pinching each others' cheeks to make sure the moment is really happening.

    I will say that there is an unfortunate lack of time. So a lot of the relational elements from the manga get skimmed over or skipped entirely. And things are changed, like Yoshiro's boyfriend's entire personality and Misaki's character design since he's a combo plate of Misaki and Futami (an annoying love rival for Kogure in the manga). Viewers who've read the manga should be aware of the changes, and viewers who've never read the manga, well, ya'll won't know what you're missing and that's okay. Because this story does work, it's just different. Like two different chefs making strawberry shortcakes with the same ingredients. Things will taste a little different, but it doesn't mean that one is bad, it just means that you'll probably prefer one over the other based on taste. 

    And because I mentioned him, Kogure's uncle, Sou (a truly kind and generous man who loves her like a daughter)

    I've watched the movie more than once, and I will watch it again. But if you can, read the manga. Because, love triangle craziness aside, it's ADORABLE!

    Proof from my ever-growing manga collection.

    And finally, this delightful music video by JustOneGirl (because I love including these). Keep in mind, what you're seeing is the creative license of the creator. It's not entirely accurate to the movie in terms of what's actually happening. But it's cute nonetheless.

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    Discovering the World of Art Restoration

    Wednesday, August 11, 2021

    At this point, it's probably been two weeks since I've watched anything requiring subtitles. So much is going on in my life right now, what with the house purchase, and other things, that my brain just rebels at the thought of watching something that requires me to read along.

    Instead, as a form of decompressing every evening, my sister and I have started watching the Baumgartner Restoration YouTube channel. He's a professional art restorer and I love that he shares his work in this way. His restoration videos might only be 20 or 30 minutes or it might be a piece that takes 3 or even 5 videos to tell the entire story. One painting was done on wood and it was broken in several sections so that process spanned several videos.

    If you're looking for something soothing to watch to help you unwind, then this might just be the channel for you. Some videos have narration, others are pretty much accompanied by classical music while you watch him clean and restore the artwork.

    Below is one of my favorites, the restoration and cleaning of a painting of St. Francis.

    Or there's this video series of his restoring a piece called A New Dawn. I'm especially amazed at how removing the old varnish and applying new varnish makes the paintings come alive!

    May you enjoy discovering the magical world of art restoration!

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    When the next two months look like a form of CRAZY

    Friday, August 6, 2021

    It's crazy how so many things seem to happen all at once. Like, if you're banking on one important thing happening, then likely at least one more, and possibly two will happen at roughly the same time.

    The last time this happened was when I was going to college full-time, working part-time, and also in a local theatrical production of Pride and Prejudice as Charlotte Lucas. I ended up having a complete break-down at work, my mother being called by my concerned supervisor, and taking three days off in addition to having the weekend. It let me get caught up on sleep (that was a luxury during those few months of that play), and schoolwork, and then I was able to recover and be much more myself.

    Thankfully, the crazy isn't that bad this time around, but I am also far more aware of my limitations than I was 10 years ago. When I need to step away from my job for a few hours, I do it. My job thankfully has that type of flexibility to allow me that luxury.

    What's going on, you might ask?

    Two things.

    First, an updated system rollout for my workplace, switching entirely from an older version of software to a newer version. It looks and operates completely differently. Why does this affect me? Because I write the procedures for the processing department. That's my job, and I'm very good at it, and I have a team to support me and who I support when they need it. So that's all awesome. But it's still exhausting and intimidating sometimes when rollout after rollout keeps coming and my brain wants to go into overload. Especially if I'm only given a day to prep for something.

    Second, my sister and I are buying a house. We close on August 31st. It's a charming home, all recently remodeled, and just perfectly suited to us. Even the neighborhood feels well-manicured and calm. We're so thankful to be moving out of the apartment lifestyle. BUT, the idea of moving and getting all the paperwork signed and not forgetting anything brings its own set of challenges and stressors.

    I would give anything to blink and find that we're at the end of September and everything is finished and life is calm and we're making our first house payment instead of paying rent. But that's not reality. So until then, I'm taking deep breaths, throwing prayers God's way knowing that He'll catch them, and just remember to steal some downtime when I can. And push my sister to do the same. Nobody needs downtime more than her especially since her workplace has returned to the staff wearing facemasks. It's exhausting for her.

    If you think of it, say a prayer that the next few months go smoothly. I hope I don't sound like I'm griping because that's really not my intention. Everything that's happening is wonderful, including the software update. It's just that it's all happening at once that is creating that added layer of crazy to our otherwise smooth-sailing lives.

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    Japanese Drama Review: Death Note (2015)

    Monday, July 26, 2021

     


  • Drama: Death Note
  • Country: Japan
  • Year: 2015
  • Episodes: 11 episodes, 45 minutes
  • Genre: Psychological, Thriller, Supernatural, Mystery
  • Starring: Masataka Kubota, Kento Yamazaki, Mio Yuki, Hinako Sano, Yutaka Matsushige, Reiko Fujiawara, Kazuaki Hankai
  • My Rating: ★★★★★ out of 5
  • You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page.  

    I've read just enough of the Death Note manga to get the basic gist of the story, and I watched the original live-action films from 2006. So I know what the story is supposed to look like.

    This is not that.

    This means diehard fans might not be happy with the liberties taken, but I think the changes make the characters, particularly Light Yagami, more relatable. 

    Masataka Kubota as Light Yagami developing his righteous purpose in episode 2 of Death Note.

    When an insane increase in heart attacks among criminals begins happening for no apparent reason, law enforcement agencies around the world are concerned. The deaths are being attributed online to an entity called "Kira," which happens to be the Japanese Romanization of the word "killer." And so the hunt begins for this mass murderer who has an insane amount of support from the general public because the only people he kills are criminals.

    Specialized detective L (Kento Yamazaki) and his compatriot Watari (Kazuaki Hankai) begin nosing around and narrow the likely location of Kira down to one province in Japan. He partners with some of the local authorities, including a police detective named Soichiro Yagami (Yutaka Matsushige), and in so doing, he encounters Yagami-san's son, Light Yagami (Masataka Kubota), a humble college student with no real ambition and an over-abundance of convenient innocence. L's instincts kick up a notch and with no real proof, he immediately zeroes in on Light as his prime suspect. Which, naturally, is correct.

    Kento Yamazaki as L beginning to be seriously suspicious of Light Yagami in episode 2 of Death Note.

    But the question foremost in L's mind remains. Exactly how can you kill a criminal with a heart attack? Even the ones behind bars?

    The answer, of course, is simple. With a Death Note and a Shinigami (god of death).

    I appreciate battles of good against evil, particularly if sometimes the lines get hazy. There are times I want to agree with Light and times I dislike L's methods. Death Note shows that nobody is wholly evil or wholly good.

    Light and L meeting in person for the first time in episode 4 of Death Note.

    Kento Yamazaki and Masataka Kubota are a dynamite pairing as L and Light.


    I already knew Kubota-san would make an incredible Light from some of his previous work. He always performs with intensity (and just a touch of crazy) and my high expectations of him were completely justified in his role as Light. Yamazaki-san was new to me, although he's probably the most popular young male actor in Japan right now. I first watched Death Note last year, pre-Alice in Borderland hype. He exhibits calm stoicism and restless emotionalism at the same time, bringing a unique version of L to life. Together, Kubota-san and Yamazaki-san light up the screen in their race against time and their battling of each other with the entire world and its population as their chessboard and playing pieces.

    Hinako Sano as Amane Misa, the girl who partners with Light Yagami, from episode 5.

    The secondary performances are all topnotch. An actress named Mio Yuki plays Near, L's compatriot, and I believe that Near is actually supposed to be male in the manga and the anime, but I never got far enough to meet the character so I can't say for sure. She's excellent. Hinako Sano plays a very fluffy, foolish version of Amane Misa, the pop idol star who partners with Light and falls in love with him. She's pretty in a pouty sort of way, and she partners well with Kubota-san.

    Yutaka Matsushige as Light's father, Soichiro Yagami, in episode 6 of Death Note.

    The police force group is incredible, all of them, and I deeply respect Matsushige-san's performance as Light's father. He and Kubota-san really connected in their scenes together, bringing a necessary emotional intensity. And then there is Kazuaki Hankai as Watari, an assistant/guardian to L. Hankai-san feels like a grandfather figure, the only parental influence in L's life. There's a tenderness in the character's treatment of L. He kept up with Yamazaki-san's energy levels and was always a smidge sarcastic when responding to L's "willful" requests.

    Kento Yamazaki as L with his faithful assistant Watari (Kazuaki Hankai) ironing white shirts in the background.

    Here's where fans of the manga/anime/original movies may not like the changes whereas I do.

    L is very different. He is still obsessive-compulsive, but it manifests itself differently. L subsists solely on nutritional drinks, tea, and what appears to be shortbread but is likely also a nutritional supplement. He doesn't eat anything else, and the nutritional drink is always the same one, hundreds of them. He dresses solely in white, changes his shirt religiously if it gets smudged or splattered, and all his decor is white. It makes for a very striking character design, and I like it better than the L who eats nothing but candy and ice cream. No offense to the original mangaka.

    Masataka Kubota as Light Yagami in episode 1, being confronted by Ryuk on a rooftop.

    Light Yagami is also uniquely different. I never liked Light in the manga or in the original movies. He was never relatable to me on any level because he always felt cold, teetering on the brink of ruthlessness anyway. But this Light starts out as a kind, somewhat weak, sort of character. He's gentle and compassionate and not very driven to make anything of himself. The Death Note brings him purpose and that's when his transformation begins. It allows me to grow to like the Light Yagami that he was and grieve for that loss as he transforms into a ruthless killer. There needed to be a solid distinction between the original Light and the changed Light and this drama provides that.

    Light's mother in the drama died when he was a child and his father wasn't there when she passed so there is a rift between Light and his dad. In the manga, she's still alive. I also think that Light had a girlfriend, if I'm remembering right, in the manga and the original movies, and she ends up dying because of Light, which is another reason why I could not bring myself to like him.

    Ryuk in episode 1, doing the confronting of Light Yagami on the rooftop.

    So yes, there are several changes to the story, probably many more than I'm fully aware of, but because I was never invested in the original story needing to be laid out in stone and depicted word for word, I see the changes as positive ones.

    What can I say other than the screenplay authors Yoshihiro Izumi and Tetsuya Oishi did a stupendous job. The story never flags, it just keeps moving right along. Every episode has a solid foundation on which to build until the final outcome of the story. Now, as to how much they changed, as I said, I don't fully know. I have no idea if the climax is the same. It may not be. But I feel that the message of Death Note remains the same, regardless of the little things that might get moved around.

    Light Yagami falling deeper under the spell of the Death Note in episode 3.

    This is a violent show and a lot of characters end up dead, either from heart attacks, shootings, or accidents. The deaths are not particularly gruesome (nobody is dismembered, etc.). The two leads have very little respect for human life, even L, which might surprise viewers, but he and Light are similar in that they will do anything and sacrifice anyone to achieve their end result. A father threatens to shoot his son as a means of stopping him. Inhumane methods of restraint are used on Amane Misa and Light Yagami at one point. There are terrifying supernatural beings known as Shinigami (or gods of death) that play with human lives. There's a stalker after Amane Misa at one point (a common theme in Japanese entertainment). Misa and Light share a kiss a couple of times. A character clearly has dissociative identity disorder and manages the second identity through the use of a puppet (very disturbing). Minor swearing.

    Mio Yuki as Near, compatriot to L, and his backup, a moment from episode 9.

    Death Note is in my top 10 dramas list and for good reason. It's a chilling supernatural thriller that reminds us that no one person has the right to be judge, jury, and executioner. I love the visible contrast between Light (who dresses in black and whose Shinigami dresses all in black) and L (who dresses all in white).

    I didn't really get into it earlier, but we do meet gods of death, called Shinigami. These are the ones who drop the Death Notes and once you touch a Death Note, you can see the Shinigami it belongs to. Every person whose name is written in the Death Note adds years to the Shinigami's life. It's a creepy and disturbing mythology and the Shinigami are frightening. Light's Shinigami is named Ryuk and just like Light as the story progresses, Ryuk is dark and ruthless.

    Near and Watari at the end of episode 11, the final episode of Death Note.

    Death Note is full of glorious moral complexities. Light wants to cleanse the world of criminals BUT, he also does not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in his way, even if getting in his way is their only crime. He is playing God with human lives and he has no right to do so. L is equally guilty of the same thing. He puts people in peril as a test to "Kira" and if those people die, oh well. He's very cold with very little capacity to feel human emotion, although there is a wistfulness to L that gives the impression that he wishes he could understand relationships. Overall, the characters are chillingly similar and the entire world is caught between them.

    Enjoy this neat music video from Youtuber Closed. [Forever].


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    Japanese Drama Review: Strawberry Night Saga (2019)

    Saturday, July 24, 2021


  • Drama: Strawberry Night Saga 
  • Country: Japan
  • Year: 2019
  • Episodes: 11 episodes, 1st ep 90 minutes, rest 45 minutes
  • Genre: Mystery Drama, Detective, Investigation
  • Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Kazuya Kamenashi, Yosuke Eguchi, Koji Yamamoto (the yakuza)
  • My Rating: ★★★ out of 5
  • You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page. 

    Let me start by saying that I've never watched any of the other dramas or movies from this franchise. I do know that Strawberry Night Saga from 2019 is a remake, and yes, I watched it because my favorite fella Kazuya Kamenashi stars in it. If you can call his appearance a starring role. But I digress.

    Himekawa and 3 members of her team, including Kikuta played by Kazuya Kamenashi.

    The story follows assistant inspector Reiko Himekawa (Fumi Nikaido) with the Tenth Homicide Section in Tokyo. She's only 27 so to be leading her own team is a huge stretch in the primarily male-dominated world of the Japanese police force. Himekawa is called Hime (as in princess) both fondly and not so fondly by the men around her, but at least she has a loyal team of subordinates, including Kazuo Kikuta (Kazuya Kamenashi), a newer member of the team who's not entirely sure about working for her because he's heard of her reputation. And she does have one for being reckless, but also for having solid instincts that don't always rely on proof or evidence to be right.

    Her nemesis, if we can call him that, is Kensaku Katsumata (Yosuke Eguchi) who feels crooked since he seems to be on the take, but can actually be a pretty good cop when he tries hard enough. He does have some unfortunate bullying tendencies that usually crop up when he's dealing with Himekawa.

    Himekawa and Katsumata butting heads during an investigation in episode 2.

    The first episode is 90 minutes long and deals with an underground murder-for-entertainment-purposes ring called Strawberry Night. People are filmed being brutally murdered, and it is up to Himekawa's team to track down the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

    Strawberry Night Saga is a pretty intense drama, and it focuses heavily on a vengeful mindset. 

    Himekawa was sexually assaulted when she was a teenager and that reality has haunted her into her adulthood. She possesses a unique ability to both understand the criminal mind and to hate it. To be honest, I don't much like her. She's a rogue agent in many ways, intuitive, but distrustful. She acts outside the allowed rules to achieve an end, sort of like Katsumata, and I personally believe rules are there for a reason.

    Kamenashi as Kikuta during an investigation in episode 3.

    This brings me to Kikuta. He is a loyal, upstanding, solid police sergeant. You can absolutely 100% trust him to have your back and to do the right thing according to the rules. He also happens to be played by Kazuya Kamenashi, one of my favorite Japanese actors. So naturally, I'm going to love him. But I think I would have loved the character even if he'd been played by someone else because Kikuta is the type of character that I love, regardless of the actor. It just was nice that Kamenashi played him. BUT, the problem remains of casting an idol actor and giving him almost NOTHING TO DO. Other than stand around looking silently competent. And he was a little active in the last episode which was nice to see. Otherwise, he was the type to observe conversations and not participate in them. Kamenashi did a wonderful job in the role, but I like hearing him speak. He's gorgeous, yes, but dialogue is also a good thing.

    Kamenashi was so much better in Red Eyes with such a broader role. I haven't officially reviewed Red Eyes yet, but I did write THIS BLOG POST with some gushing enthusiasm when the series was first airing.

    Do not expect a hopeful message in Strawberry Night Saga. My one and only thought while observing Himekawa is that she needs therapy . . . DESPERATELY. 

    Fumi Nikaido as Himekawa putting the pieces together regarding her yakuza love interest in episode 8.

    The woman is an undisputed mess, unable to maintain healthy relationships (she falls for a yakuza which is just insane), and her entire life is her job. She's, frankly, depressing, and I wouldn't wish her life choices on anyone. There are people and resources in place to help those who have been sexually assaulted cope and heal as best as they possibly can and hopefully become fulfilled and happy members of society down the road. Ten years after her assault, Himekawa might be fulfilled in her job, but happy she is not.

    The drama ends acceptably, but it's not a "woohoo, everything's coming up roses" type of ending. And it did get somewhat ridiculous at times, especially with the whole yakuza love affair thing. She's a cop in love with a mobster. Please . . . just . . . no.

    As for content, you're looking at something like Criminal Minds, with a TV14 level of violence and gore. It can get intense. There is some minor language, but nothing too severe.

    Kikuta and Himekawa in episode 8.

    My review might sound critical, but really, as crime dramas go, Strawberry Night Saga isn't bad. It would have been much better without the yakuza thing. And possibly if Kikuta's character had more dialogue, like more than 10 lines an episode during the first half of the drama. He's there and clearly observing, just not speaking. I didn't love it, but it was worth watching since I enjoy the genre. And Kamenashi. If he weren't playing Kikuta, I'm not 100% sure that I would have finished the drama.

    I'm now sensing a trend with the dramas I review. A very large portion star Kame!

    If you don't believe me, here are my official reviews written as of July 2021 for other dramas starring him:

    This list will continue to grow. Consider yourself forewarned!

    Where can I watch Strawberry Night Saga?

    First, I'm giving full credit to the fansubber, Mia-Maw Fansubs, who did a good job. If you know all about joining soft-sub files with videos then go for it and download from her site.

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