Quick Reviews

Haven’t finished anything to review lately, so just have some quick partial reviews:

The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier: Am about halfway through the book and it’s pretty much the same as the movie, except it takes place in France instead of England. Enjoying Du Maurier’s writing as usual, but I think the main character comes across as a lot more charming in the movie. The other characters seem all the same. The film makers did a good job at adapting the story. I already know what’s going to happen, but am super curious about how the endings are different.

Peanut Butter Sandwich: This Japanese romantic comedy just wasn’t my cup of tea. Made it to episode 4 and just realized I was very bored. The story was neither funny nor romantic, though I was impressed at the government rookie being able to fit into so many service jobs without a hiccup. She’s got skills. The middle-aged woman obsessed with PB sandwiches was creepy and the guy agent looked dazed half the time. As for the other characters and their storylines–meh. Also, who wants the government investigating our love lives? None of their business.

Lookout: This Korean drama is a second watch for me. With hopping music, dynamic characters, and plenty of intrigue, I think I’m enjoying it even more this time around. The show stars Lee Si Young (Boys of Flowers) and Kim Young Kwang (Pinocchio), both of whom I think were born for these roles. Kim is especially on the money and enjoying acting his character and his character acting. The episodes are only half hour ones, so the plot and action moves relatively quickly.

Your Name: Also a second watch. Some of the best animation out there. Although I didn’t care for the Garden of Words, Makoto Shinkai hit this one out of the park. Definitely best to watch on a big screen if you can. It’s difficult to imagine an American cartoon or even CGI production that can touch what Japan can do with anime. Can’t wait to watch Weathering with You again later this fall.

The Garden of Words: A Mis-step

With the highly anticipated digital and DVD release of writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering with You just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to check out another of his anime films, The Garden of Words. Although on the one hand Garden can be considered a great story, it’s also a giant mis-step in storytelling and knowing one’s audience. Spoilers and much negativity ahead.

As with Weathering with You and also, Shinkai’s previously popular Your Name, the artistry in Garden is amazing. Rain, storms, any sort of weather, really, gives the illustrators the chance to really show off what they can do. It is a feast for the eyes. The trouble here is the story, or rather the ages of the people in the story, or rather that it involves a high school student and an older woman…who works at his school.

Let me explain, and I’m by no means the final opinion on this, but sometimes one has to know the waters into which they are dipping their toes. Maybe Japan embraced this storyline and didn’t think anything of it, but for American audiences, this story is a turn off due to not only the age gap, but to the fact that the 27-year-old woman works at the teenager’s high school. Why does she end up leaving her job? Accusations–wrong, but still–accusations of inappropriate behavior with the students. Talk about a storyline in which you are all but assured you’ll be misunderstood.

People are often uncomfortable with relatively harmless stories like Big starring Tom Hanks, a comedy where a kid gets to experience being grown up for a time. Despite the funny, rather endearing story, there’s a serious creep factor involved in having any sort of relationship that’s not a family relationship between a child or teenager and an older person. It’s a truth that cannot be avoided. In the past, sometimes teenagers were thought of as adults, but for many countries they are now considered children, no matter how mature they may be for their age. Artists today continually pick at this boundary, trying to make something palatable in the main stream which should not be. Quite a lot is at stake regarding this. Great harm can come to children and teenagers because of it. Monsters prey on teenagers and children precisely because they are too young to truly understand how they are being manipulated.

Even one of my favorite dramas, High School King of Savvy starring Seo In Guk, weirds people out, though in that he’s the American equivalent of 18, pretends to be ten years older for much of the story, and great pains are taken to show how mature and responsible he his. It would just be a more comfortable story if the character was, say, in college, but then it wouldn’t be as funny. Although the romance was done well, it’s just an uncomfortable story all around.

In the teenage world, even a year can be a big difference. When dealing with teenagers having any sort of relationship with an older stranger, one must consider first that this will be a turn off to the audience, and rightly so. Making the character as young as 15 is not a wise choice. It’s a mis-step, because the likelihood that you and your story will be misunderstood is very high. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about Japan or Japanese culture, but the director here doesn’t help himself in the slightest. He very much makes their relationship romantic–a beautiful rainy garden, facing a storm together, quoting poetry, him tracing her feet, the boy mistaking what they have for romantic love, and so on.

It’s a story meant to show a connection between two strangers. Sometimes when one is extremely lonely, it is a complete stranger who fills that void and becomes a badly needed companion, but due to the age gap of the characters and the fact that she works at his school–I think she’s a counselor or something–it’s just, again, a great mis-step. To his credit, the young man gets rightly angry when he finds out she works at his school and didn’t tell him. Shinkai may think that what he’s asking of his audience is to appreciate a connection of companionship between strangers, but in reality, that’s just not what he presented. A lonely, alienated from both friends and family teenager is exactly who adult pedophiles pray on, and women commit this sin just as men do. I talk about this more a bit further on.

Let me take a break to give some background involving a newer phenomenon surrounding pedophilia and what the media calls conspiracy theory. To me, the term conspiracy theory is a made up term created to stop people questioning certain things. One of those things that people really need to start questioning, is what the rich and powerful do with all that money and time. Because many are involved in human trafficking and the sex slave trade.

Have you heard of Q-anon? That whole Q thing is entirely about good people battling the pedophiles. Supposedly President Trump and certain people in military intelligence are breaking up pedophile networks around the world. This is something you can actually look up. Since Trump took office, there have indeed been a very high number of people caught doing these things and there have been many, many children saved, all around the world.

Believe that’s Trump’s aim or not, I thought it pertinent to mention, because the other aspect of this is the still-under-the-radar slow push to make pedophilia ok in the mainstream. This follows on the transgender push for teens–these people know exactly what they are doing. The slow push manifests itself not only in films like this, but continual pedophilia jokes from celebrities and comedians on Twitter, the demanding that young children have the right to choose their gender (and thus consent to sex, right?), and the growing number of articles about the poor pedophiles and their plight. The crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislane Maxwell are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on here.

For those who followed Pizza Gate, which was actually not debunked, and now for those who follow Q, there is evidence that those in power, politicians, celebrities, a staggering amount of people, are all involved in human trafficking of minors–and using our money to do it. You don’t have to take my word on that, but if you’re curious, there’s plenty of research to find online–well, the stuff that the “masters of the universe” tech companies haven’t censored yet. I warn you, though, it’s not a happy place to go. The only comfort in the knowledge of the bad going on is the knowledge that whether it’s Trump or the Q team or not, some people with the power to do it have been slowly bringing these monsters to justice.

Back to the film: All that above is probably something that the director wasn’t aware of, but it’s just another angle to the whole age gap that reveals what a poor choice making the main character a teenager, and even a young teenager at that, was, at least for an American audience. Again, I am not sure how the film was received in Japan, but I do know that the director’s other films are wildly popular.

The creepiest part of the story is the fact that the woman works at the boy’s school and the accusations against her. At least in America, we have a very real problem with teachers and school workers preying on their students in a sexual way, specifically female teachers. In the past ten years there’s been way too many new stories about yet another 30+ year old woman teacher having sexual relations with her male students. These true incidents are why a story of this sort is a really difficult sell for Americans specifically: The audience is being bated to some degree to say this is ok. In a story like this, we are being asked to agree that it’s ok for a teenager and older adult to have a friendship like this.

But in reality even a friendship is not ok, because even if the adult sets appropriate boundaries, the teenager is likely to confuse things, just like he did in this story. Teenagers are just figuring out love and the opposite sex, and it’s up to the adults to not put them in situations in which we confuse them more, something the female character absolutely did in this story. She withheld information from him and it speaks volumes for her character that instead of facing her troubles, she goes to the park to drink beer, eat chocolate, and spend time with a student, eerily close to what she’s being accused of. I’m not sure any audience should be feeling sympathetic towards this woman. She’s completely clueless to a degree in which one has to question if she actually is clueless.

I’m sure I’ve now overstated my case twenty times over, but the choices made in this film, visual amazingness aside, were such a mis-step that it begs incredulity. Again, what exactly is the audience being asked to condone and why? It’s hard to believe that the creators of the movie are actually that naive. For those who love the film, perhaps just as I love High School King of Savvy, these stories are really flawed, and maybe it would be better not to admire them–for the children’s sake.

Books I Wish Were TV Shows: The Apothecary’s Daughter

Needing a break from the tacky Regency romances, I’ve just finished a Regency romance by Julie Klassen. She’s definitely my current go-to modern author for them, and although she’s no Jane Austen, her stories are intriguing, heartfelt, and somewhat religious without being overbearing. A few of her books have bored me to tears, but some, like The Girl in the Gatehouse and her Ivy Hill series would make great TV shows. A third book now joins those ranks: The Apothecary’s Daughter.

Lillian or Lilly Haswell has grown up without a mother. Romanticizing the abandonment of her family, Lilly often looks for her mother on the bridge overlooking the canal that goes through the town of Bedsley Priors. Her mother always spoke of traveling, about seeing the world, and Lilly hopes she’s doing just that, but will someday come back to them. Lilly’s father runs an apothecary shop, similar to what we know today to be a pharmacy, and Lilly and her younger brother Charlie help out how and when they can. Having a near photographic memory, Lilly is a great help–almost too much so, for she an easy resource for her father’s apprentice, Francis, to use as a crutch. She remembers all the correct ingredients to make the various potions, pills, and concoctions, while he seems to remember nothing.

Our heroine is at odds with the local manor house at the beginning, caught stealing flowers by Roderick Marlow, the young heir. That the theft was to make a sorely needed balm seems to matter little to him, and for years afterward, Lilly is loathe to encounter the man.

Throughout the story Lilly has several changes of fortune and almost too many suitors. We get to know her family and a few of the residents of Bedsley Priors, as well as a few characters from London. This is a multifaceted story with enough subplots and characters to make a fully formed miniseries or TV show, just like the other work by Klassen mentioned above. To its credit, it has a satisfying romance, but it’s perhaps a bit overdone in the sense that Lilly seems to be attracted and drawn to every handsome would be suitor that crosses her path. She doesn’t know what kind of man she wants. Show writers would probably cut some of the romantic possibilities–I counted five men all interested in her and it was excessive–but a way to keep them and “solve” things, as it were, would be to play up some of the other romances going on in the story.

Another reason I think this would make a great TV show is the timeliness of the medical themes. Today tensions till exist between the various categories of the medical profession. MDs and NPs are considered near sacrosanct by general society, while the just as knowledgeable practices of pharmacists, alternative medicine, chiropractors, herbalists, and the like are too often scorned and derided. Here we have a time in history when doctors had begun moving against apothecaries by force, instilling licensing, required schooling and classes, and the like. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good at the same time. What else is a doctor’s trade based on but an apothecary’s one? Why is it assumed that doctors and providers have intimate knowledge of medications, but pharmacists somehow do not? More important for today: Why are all traditional remedies and prescriptions roundly derided for manufactured pills, expensive radiation treatments, and more expensive surgeries, when the alternatives, although taking longer, would work with the body to truly heal it?

The plight of a licensed doctor is shown no more clearly than in that of Lilly’s hesitant suitor, Dr. Graves. He is a good student, but has no deep connection with healing in the way that Lilly, her father, the apprentice Francis, and also another apothecary, Mr. Shuttlesworth do. These apothecaries do more than dispense medicine, they make it from start to finish, spending hours laboring with mortal and pestle, growing and drying herbs, and filling the shoes of an occupation with a wealth of knowledge, that at least in this story, often exceeds that of the medical doctors. They also make house calls and treat patients at their bedside. Dr. Graves can’t begin to compete with them, even though he’s a satisfactory doctor. The apothecaries are physicians in their own right, and that is where the conflict comes–expensive schooling versus knowledge passed down through the centuries.

I don’t want to diss doctors, many are amazing and very knowledgeable, but all too many simply know only what they are taught and toe the line of the day instead of considering what’s really best for the patient. Too many are content to treat conditions instead of finding out what’s causing them and attempting at a cure. Strangely, vaccines, which are not a cure, are continually held up as one–think of the “let’s wait for a Coronavirus vaccine”–and more and often often mistaken for one by the general public. Really, it’s not the doctors’ fault, they are forced into it by the very medical schools that take them in, the various medical boards, licensers, and hospitals that all too often can’t see past the ends of their noses.

Happily, there are some doctors with curious minds who are finding out that cheaper medications and older remedies may actually be what helps the patient, not least of which is an all natural diet, which works wonders on the body. Happily, many in the general public are becoming tired at their diagnoses simply being managed; more and more often they are turning to the alternatives and finding relief and success.

This book doesn’t fully go into all these issues, and in some ways the apothecaries are ignorant, too, but it’s fascinating that we allowed the MDs to reign as if they are or were somehow better. It wasn’t that they were better, it was that they gave themselves power to secure their livelihood for ages to come. If that’s an uncomfortable truth to ponder, well, so be it.

Also in the mix of the story is the idea that a woman can be neither doctor nor apothecary. It’s the age old problem of woman’s primary province being the home, but some consideration can be made for different types of homes, I think, and the fact that being a healer comes naturally to many women. Lilly’s home is the apothecary business. She cares for her family and also the business. For some–not all–women this is entirely doable, and the difference we often fail to address in these modern days of feminism is that many women simply choose not to do both, because, well, it can be exhausting. And that’s ok and should be considered ok. Providing is a province men thrive at and it’s really ok to ceed that to them. And for most men, either way is ok, they really just want to make us happy, and enjoy what appreciation and attention we can give them, financial concerns aside. Sadly in our quest for society we’ve made it far more difficult for a family to exist on one income alone.

Well, this review grew a lot longer than I thought it would. Clearly, I have a volume of opinions on medicine and the sexes. It’s interesting to be at a time in history when many are rethinking these aspects of our lives and turning to the way things used to be done. Having the freedom to choose the old ways is a relief for many, and it’s a bit ironic that we derided the limitations of old only to realize now that we simply exchanged one set of limitations for another.

Updates: Despite enjoying Hannah Tinti’s fine first book, The Good Thief, I could not get into The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Although I appreciated the tall tale aspect, which is very American, the violence was unnecessary and off-putting, as was the odd relationship between father and daughter. I don’t think I made it 50 pages. Why do so many Americans think our gun culture is about being violent? It’s not. It’s based around practical things like hunting, and as a country, primarily about keeping the tyranny of fallible, human-run governments in check.

Am in the middle of both Tess of the D’urbervilles and The Man in the Iron Mask. Enjoying both, but they are lengthy reads and other books keep drawing my attention. Eventually, I will have some reviews on them. Currently reading The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier.

Just watched episode one of Cinderella, an Italian version with English dialogue and set in the 1950s. Delightful production! Sadly, though, Amazon does not have the second episode available for viewing.

As for K-dramas, I’m trying out Oh My Baby starring Jang Nara. I thought it was a remake of Three Men and a Baby, but it doesn’t look like it now. Also it’s hard to watch a show that hits too close to home, so not sure if I’ll continue with it. There’s a Japanese show on Viki called Peanut Butter Sandwich that looks cute, so I might try that instead. I’ve never watched a Japanese show before, and somehow Japan keeps inserting itself in my life. Maybe that’s just the way it is with Japan, who knows?

Reset button

If only life came with a magic reset button. Ok, ok, most of us would use it all too often, and would never actually move forward, but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish life came with one. Especially when it comes to relationships with others: Imagine being able to reset and take away all of the hurt and confusion and just be good friends or family or lovers or whatever. Imagine that.

True forgiveness is a reset button of sorts, but with true forgiveness we are supposed to forget the hurts or trespasses that happened before. That’s hard for humans to do. We aren’t God who can know of our sins, but not “see” them, and see only the holiness of Jesus instead. I think the hardest part about it is forgiving ourselves. Maybe we really don’t see what the other person did anymore, but we see what we did or how we reacted, or what we said all too clearly. It’s difficult to reset that, and perhaps it’s that it just takes so much time that we don’t have on this earth. Anyway, I’m glad God has a reset button:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –Lamentations 3:22-23

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” –Isaiah 1:18

That’s as close to a magic reset button the universe has this side of Judgement Day. In this mortal life God never has us completely start over at day one. He helps us through the difficulties more than he erases them. The hurt, the pain, the sin, will all truly be gone in heaven, and that’s what I look forward to.

Still, often I hope that in this life God will grant me a few more second chances, especially with people. It’s not a total reset, but it’s more a chance to really appreciate and experience what you missed the first time around.

Maybe you didn’t really get the full experience of how amazing it is to have kids, because you were busy, tired, and working, but now that you are a grandparent you experience the pure joy of those little children. Maybe you were creative when younger, and as you get older, you find true joy in the same things, but in a way you never understood back then. You also may find more success at it. Maybe in high school you and another person were always as odds or just didn’t connect, but now, years later, you find they are the person you most long to hang out with.

Resets, seconds chances. If only God would help us all see them, for it’s my inkling that he offers them far, far more than we realize. All things are possible with God.

The Abandoned Bride: RRR

Welcome to another tacky Regency Romance review!

The Abandoned Bride by Edith Layton is a Signet Regency Romance published in 1985. Ms. Layton wrote several romances for Signet, and although I find her writing much better than RR#1 I read previously, she’s no storyteller.

With a title perhaps more suited to a gothic romance, we are introduced to the beautiful Julia on a secretive night. She’s run away no the north to be married to a man we suppose to be her true love. Something happens and they don’t get married. Julia is taken away by another gentleman in the dead of night and we see her again years later where she goes through job after job as a companion and governess. Young Julia is simply too beautiful for her own good. Any male, even baby males, fall for her, apparently. Aside from the creep factor of that, what could be actually a funny curse for our heroine is much forgotten the rest of the story.

From a poor family, Julia has little option but to work. She is innocent and virtuous, so hasn’t the wile to take advantage of her obvious appeal to the male sex. Just before being terminated from yet another position, Julia is visited by Lord Nicholas Daventry, also called Baron Stafford. He is the uncle of Robin, the man she was supposed to marry, the man who abandoned her. Although he is often referred to as “old Nick,” Baron Stafford isn’t really that much older than Robin, but as is usual in these romances, is almost a decade older than Julia. Nick has been trying to track Julia down in the hopes of reuniting her with his nephew and finding out just what happened the night they were supposed to get married. Exactly why this is his problem, was never really clear to me–family duty, I guess–but it seems inconceivable (that word doesn’t mean what you think it means) to me that Nick would have no inkling that Robin is actually gay.

Yes, that is the big reveal, which in the Regency era would have likely been shocking, and in 1985 perhaps a little surprising as well. Of course, this being a modern work by a modern author who doesn’t seem to understand that no conflict and no stakes mean really no story, this is much, much glossed over in the ending. Both Julia and Nick barely raise their eyebrows at Robin’s confession, and although it’s admirable they so easily forgive him for what he’s put them through, especially Julia, it’s sad that the gravity of such a lie is treated so superficially. In Britain back in the day, one could be hanged for living the homosexual lifestyle, and although I don’t agree with the lifestyle, the politically correct glossing over it does a disservice to both the sin, as it was considered at that time, and also to the very great risk that Robin is taking in living the way he wants. It also treats all of Julia’s hardships as nothing, which is a slap in the face to womenkind. It is no small thing for a gay man to daly with a woman with whom he cannot fulfill a romance–all her hopes, dream, and desires deserve to have a serious chance, no matter how virginal she may be. To his credit, Robin himself realizes this, but solves the problem by abandoning Julia to a rather heartless society and leaving her with the idea that she’s somehow at fault.

For stories that deal with this subject with more of the gravity it deserves, I recommend The Object of My Affection starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, very PC, but also more realistic in the dilemma, and also the Korean drama Coffee Prince (aka The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince) starring Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye. Both works are better because they delve into just how bad it is to pretend to be someone you are not, and also to delude oneself about the person you are in love with.

But, back to the RRR. Layton’s writing is good, with many turns of phrase signaling that she has far more in her than trade paperback romances. However, it’s all wasted on a mundane story with almost no conflict. True, the leads don’t get along at first, but they plod along, hanging out in Europe hoping to come across Robin. This goes on for months, months and months, and we are introduced to a great many superficial things about Regency society, including political intrigue that goes nowhere. At no point do we truly fear for either Julie, Nick, or even Robin. Basically, it’s a waste of a book, which is sad.

I’m not really sure why in these romances it’s so important that the woman be a virgin. Usually she’s fairly young, so maybe that explains it, but inexplicably the romantic hero is the opposite, or alluded or rumored to be. Okay, women don’t want embarrassed, fumbling men, I get that, but neither do we want libertines who have slept with half of the female population. These stories are fantasy, though, and I supposed some women do dream about taming a bad boy or wild man when no other woman could. Sadly, Nick is neither, although initially he is angry enough with Julia to hit her. What is with the Regency era hitting of the women? I have trouble believing that in any society this really would have been ok, but even today there are societies in which it is ok. Since Nick isn’t a bad man, he’s surprised at himself, but again, it all seems stupid because he’s a smart man who after so many years surely would have figured out Robin’s inclinations. If Julia really was some beautiful femme fatale, well, now that would have been a lot more interesting.

So far the supposed heroes of these romances are anything but, nor are they outright bad boys. No offense to my fellow females, but men who write romances often get it better. I love the Victorian romances written by Madeleine Brent (Peter O’Donnell), as example. And who can forget the hilarious line from Jack Nicholson’s romance writer in As Good As It Gets: In answer to “how do you write women so well?”: “I think of a man and take away reason and accountability.” It’s a funny line because it’s somewhat true, loathe as we are to admit it. Take The Abandoned Bride as one example, there’s little reason or accountability in the whole story. I like to think men’s gift to women is helping them operate under more reason and accountability, whereas one of our gifts to them is helping them see beyond their single focus: There’s something uniquely female in the way that Jane Austen and Agatha Christie showcase the strangeness and humor of both society and the human heart.

This is not to say that women have no reason and accountability, but our reasons and how we are accountable are far different than men’s reason and accountability. The closest the two come together are in the work place, for in it women are often forced into single focus mode, a male way of operating and thinking. Too much single focus, and often other details and a bigger picture is missed. The second closest is perhaps the world of social media, in which men are forced to take feelings as fact. This isn’t a diss on women, just the acknowledgement that for many women our feelings are the facts. Many times the two coincide–women’s intuition is a thing–but often they also do not.

In conclusion, here is my question: Without stakes, without reason and accountability, can there truly be a romance? Can there even be a story? Is the the lack of both these things the reason why paperback romances, rom coms, and the like are so heavily derided by both sexes? Food for thought.

Vagabond: Too Epic?

Sorry about the downer of a post last week. This time of having to go along with so, so many lies in politics, health, news, life, well, it’s taking it’s toll on all of us. Through all the craziness I do know that God is in control and that He’ll work out his purposes no matter the circumstances.

Some spoilers ahead.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve watched Netflix, but couldn’t resist watching Vagabond starring Lee Seung Gi (A Korean Odyssey/You’re All Surrounded) and Bae Suzy (Gu Family Book). Haven’t seen Suzy in much, because she just hasn’t acted in that much yet, but Seung Gi is definitely one of my favorite Korean actors, a good everyman with expressive eyes. He’s no Seo In Guk, but he’s a really good, solid actor.

Vagabond came out in 2019, and, unusually, this is a Korean drama built to have a second season. It ends, as is customary, on a bit of a cliffhanger. It begins with the same scene, but I’ll get into that in a second. Since K-dramas often end oddly or more often not as good as they began, I was skeptical that it truly was a show meant for a second season, but the last episode confirmed that it must be.

This show is a great, exciting watch with few missteps. The biggest flaw I came across was that we really don’t get that much screen time with the fantastic leads. Many, many scenes are spent with the bad guys, some of whom are charismatic enough to warrant it, but it seemed a bit much at times. The story is something pulled from the headlines, a plane goes down while flying to Morocco and everyone dies. Since it’s a Korean flight, many of the passengers are from Korea, and soon the surviving families of the deceased are shuttled to Morocco to get explanations and have memorial ceremonies. Lee Seung Gi plays Cha Dal Geon, a stunt man and Judo teacher who’s just never really made to the big time. He did take in his little nephew after his sister and the kid’s mom bailed and left him in a orphanage. There were many great scenes with uncle and nephew that really pulled the heartstrings. While in Morocco, Cha finds that at least one person who was on the plane with his nephew is not in fact dead. And the plot thickens.

Bae Suzy’s character, Go Hae Ri, works for the Korean NIS, something like the USA’s CIA, and she’s in Morocco to complete some missions. More of an analyst, she’s nevertheless quick to step up into roles that require more action and split second decisions. It’s great to see her character grow and Cha’s regard to grow for her as a result. The setting of Morocco was awesome and often I forgot I wasn’t watching a Hollywood made show. Multiple languages are used a lot in the story, and there’s something about it that just seems like a feature film the US would have made in the 1990s, which is a compliment. I miss that US.

Suffice to say, Cha and Go run around both Morocco and Korea trying to find some answers to just what happened on that airplane. They bump up against corruption with the NIS and also vying airplane corporations Dynamic and John Michael or Mark. The actual meaning of the title Vagabond, doesn’t pop up until far into the story when we find out that NIS lead Gang Joo Cheol (Lee Ki Young, Wok of Love) has some tricks up his sleeve.

Vagabond starts and ends very oddly for a company like Netflix that’s very proud of being diversity inclusive. The opening and ending scenes have a man we don’t know saying very racist things to Cha’s character. Wisely, Cha ignores him, until he finds he can’t anymore. By the end of the season, it’s apparent this racist man is some kind of Russian mercenary, except the actor is probably not Russian, and is a horrible actor to boot. It’s just odd that Netflix would have overlooked this in choosing Vagabond to show, but my Q-anon senses say that perhaps it had everything to do with this man being supposedly Russian, a racist, and with him (spoilers) getting shot in the end. Add that to Cha more than once putting the OK sign over one eye. Q-anon people will know what I mean–Spidey senses going off. Anyway, the beginning had me laughing because it was so ridiculous, and I almost switched it off.

Aside from that, the screen time thing, and some of the music, Vagabond was a treat to watch, with lots of action and intrigue. The writers did a great job having the main characters really grieve the dead. It wasn’t just a one-time sobbing at a funeral, they really grieved.

Some of the standout acting I have to tip my hat to, and in no particular order: Li Ki Young was great as NIS leader Gang Joo Cheol. Actually both he and Jeong Man Sik (King 2 Hearts), who plays another NIS head Min Jae Sik, did excellent jobs. Really didn’t know which side either was on for awhile. Edward Park of Dynamic and Jessica Lee of John Michael (or maybe it was John Mark?) were two very charismatic corporate honchos and played by great looking actors who have almost hypnotizing screen presences: Lee Kyoung Young (D-Day) and Moon Jeong Hee (When the Weather Is Fine). Both characters seemed very American in their ruthlessness, which I think was purposeful. As plotting Blue House official Yun Han Gi, Kim Min Jong gave a riveting performance, and I’m hoping to see some of the other shows he’s been in. The last actor I want to mention is Jang Hyuk Jin (Suspicious Partner), who I’ve seen enough to recognize, but has never stood out to me before. His pilot/junkie Kim Woo Gi was both pathetic and funny, and I really started to look forward to his scenes.

All in all, a great show and a great watch. Vagabond does highlight corruption, which is just everywhere these days, but it also has people doing something about it, which is satisfying, even if it’s only in a fictional world. I’m hoping, I’m really hoping, that Cha’s nephew is not actually dead, that in season two they somehow find that the people from the plane are being held captive somewhere. It’s just wishful thinking, but happy endings are so rare even in our fictional stories these days. I long for them, I truly do.

With so many plot lines, languages, settings, and a huge cast, Vagabond is almost too epic, if that’s even possible.

How Much Is Freedom Worth?

How much is freedom worth to you personally? That’s the question we have to start asking ourselves as locations across the country starting putting even more draconian laws in place for a virus not much worse than the average flu. This week, my city council voted on an ordinance requiring everyone to wear masks whenever they are indoors in a public place. This in a month when tons and tons of people have been exposed to COVID and are getting tested. If anyone still thinks this is about health, your health, or your neighbors health, I have a bridge to sell you. This is purely about power and money, and by and large the supposedly freedom loving Americans are letting their freedom of expression and even breathing freely to be taken away without even a single shot being fired.

How did we get here? Complacency and also fear, not fear of the virus, no, no. I know any number of people including myself who vehemently disagree with what’s been happening regarding the response to this virus. Why don’t we take a stand and stage our own protests? Freedom doesn’t come cheap, and winning it for oneself and others costs even more. We could lose our jobs, our incomes, and thus our places of living, our cars, and the list goes on and on. What is happening in our country and the world is truly frightening. And we wonder about those people in the past who were “just following orders.” We’re finding out we’re really not much different than them when it comes down to it. Not even my church dares stand up against this, though I guess when it comes down to it they won’t deny Jesus…right?

Right? I ask this as a Christian for myself, especially. Is that the only line drawn that matters? That everything that comes before them asking us to deny Christ are not lines that we should hold, lines also of truth and freedom? Jesus didn’t come to overthrow society in a political revolution, that’s true, but I wonder if he’s really happy with us allowing the crazy people and also simply the afraid people to rule us. If all we value is absolute safety, we’ll never have any freedom ever again. C.S. Lewis showed it best when he portrayed Aslan (representing Jesus) as a Lion, a loving yet dangerous Lion. God is ok with danger, he experienced the worst danger one possibly can to save the world by sacrificing himself on the cross. Really hard to see Jesus hiding behind a mask, and he told the leaders of his day to stop hanging more and more laws around people’s necks so they could barely stand up under the weight of them.

It’s just sad that no one seems to understand that this forced mask wearing is directly against our God-given right to express ourselves freely. It’s also against the First Amendment of our Constitution. COVID is not nearly bad enough to warrant such drastic measures, but even if it was, say, Ebola, this would still be against our right to freedom of speech. And they’ve notably left out a date as to which this will all end.

We have a God-given right to live with danger. In fact, God asks us to live dangerously, to befriend those we normally wouldn’t, to go to places we normally wouldn’t, all for the sake of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am disappointed in myself because all I can do is write. There’s no other job I can go now where they won’t require a mask that restricts breathing and will likely give a large number of people lung issues for the rest of their lives. It’s no choice. C.S. Lewis was right, the moral busybodies are the worst, they give you no choice, when even God gives us choices!

But I am more disappointed in my church. I always thought, even if I was scared or weak, that my church would stand strong. Not so, and it disappoints me greatly to see it. But the leaders of our churches are only human, and sadly, many, many of our men today are weak and just want to go along to get along. As far as Gospel sharing, I can see why this is a good approach, but I don’t think it’s a good way to live, not standing up for anything else. How can we stress to people we care about their eternal well being if we don’t care about them being able to live well in this life? And wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from everyone, and living in constant fear of sickness is not living well.

I am being dramatic, but doesn’t drama and emotion fit somewhere? Is there no time that we’re allowed to get upset about having to go along with a lie? Multiple lies? Lies about COVID, lies about masks, lies about social distancing, and on and on? We are being asked to live a lie and even our fellow Christians are sadly asking us to do so, making it even harder to take a stand against it. I mean, who wants to be all alone standing for freedom? Is God really asking us to go along with this lie? At some point, shouldn’t we stand against these busybody bullies who think wearing a mask bestows virtue, and in some cases, power on themselves? Sure, we don’t want granny to die of COV, but if her life up until her death is worse than prison, that’s ok, is it?

This is all a power play and getting us ready to be forced to take the vaccine, whenever it’s ready, and no matter how unsafe it may be to take. So I have to decide: How much is my freedom worth to me? Is it worth losing my job? Is it worth not be able to find a job or likely even work, as every single company will likely require a vaccine? Is it worth losing friends and family? Is it worth even, possibly, not being welcome at my church or any church? Is it worth losing everything in this life? Live free or die?

I can tell you I don’t want to take a vaccine. I no longer think they’re safe and I no longer trust anyone in science or healthcare–neither science or caring for health is what’s going on with those industries today. I don’t want to take it, but I am weak, and although I’m excited to go to heaven someday, I’ve no desire to artificially hasten that time along by stepping into homelessness and starvation. If all this isn’t a mass psychological torture, I don’t know what is. As long as I don’t deny Christ, nothing else matters, right? Is that true? Doesn’t ring true in my heart, not today. How I wish this post could be more hopeful. Can’t the good guys in power who are able to do something see that they are giving the average person no way out? If this isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. Not sure anyone’s coming to save us from this, not even our great president, so, again, ask yourself: How much is freedom worth to you? You may have to seriously decide in the very near future.

This month I’m trying to sit down and reassess a story I wrote about vaccines. A story set in the future. It’s a satire and harsh look on our blind devotion to what we call science. But what we are living through right now is crazier than this story!

The Scandalous Season: RRR

Regency Romance Review, book 1: The Scandalous Season by Nina Pykare

Published by Dell’s A Candlelight Regency Special, #501, 1979.

First off, I made it through the book, whew! The story was sadly rather tedious and it wasn’t clear what made it “special” as opposed to just Candlelight, but Dell appears to have Candlelight Romances and Candlelight Regency Romance Specials, so maybe that’s the difference.

Young, innocent Rebecca Stratford agrees to follow her father’s dying wish and marry Richard, the Marquess of Burlingame. From the beginning of the story, the couple is already in love with each other, though insisting that their marriage is in name only. This is somewhat due to the marriage being arranged and also due to the age gap. Richard is not keen to force himself on so young a woman, a point in his favor. He’s about thirty and she’s younger, but it never clarifies how young on purpose. She may be a teenager. Burlingame I kept reading as Burlingham.

From the start, the story was rather cringe and laughable. Over used words like sardonic, schoolroom miss and country miss abound, as do a plethora of points to tick off on norms and colloquial sayings of the day. The atmosphere was bad, just see-through, a skeleton Regency setting.

Exactly why Rebecca loves Richard at the beginning is not clear. She is a poor girl who luckily married into wealth, but her husband is so overbearing and tyrannical that she’s terrified of him most of the time. At one point he even spanks her. Totally different from modern times when we are even reluctant to spank our own children, this scene was hard to stomach. Rebecca did disobey his orders, but like many men, Richard did not fully explain the reason for his orders. This is convenient for the story, but also connects to real life. Men so often have plans and things they simply do not explain to their women, either because they don’t think they have to, but in a larger picture, because they don’t understand that they have to. Many things are obvious to men as men and women as women, and neither sex truly understands that you really do have to explain or spell things out. The opposite sex doesn’t automatically get it. They just don’t.

Although Rebecca doesn’t like being treated like a child, she continues to act like one, and although clearly her husband desires her, even at the end, she was just this hysterical childlike woman, not a match for him. It is supposed that she will grow into her role as wife. Not sure what to make of the fear factor. Most men I know today, at least what I know of them, are not tyrants with their wives. In fact, often it’s the opposite, where the wives have the upper hand. Anyway, the men I know are very kind and loving to their women and so, so far from Richard Burlingame, that I don’t really see how he’s that great of a catch.

Richard is handsome, tall, broad shouldered, and rich. Many times over is it described how broad his shoulders are, how his legs fit well into his pants, etc. Later on, he is shown to have some kindness, but even to the end, Rebecca is ruled by her fear of his anger. This doesn’t seem like a healthy relationship. Richard also is used to bedding other women and it’s doubtful that in a year or two he will not go back to this habit. He has all the power in the marriage at this time, and although we want to believe love conquers all, old habits die hard. The odds are simply not in Rebecca’s favor.

Despite all of that, although scandal was much alluded to, this wasn’t a smutty romance, and the scant love scenes were kisses only. The big reason the two love each other is simply that they are physically attracted to each other and are married. Can’t fault that too much, I suppose that’s often how it really is with couples, but romances are fun to read because they often “earn” each other’s love. Here, it wasn’t earned, but truthfully love isn’t earned, simply given, so there’s that. The ending was more nonsensical and abrupt than the beginning. Smuggling was thrown in for, well, no real reason, and Rebecca hysterically throws herself upon the scene because she loves her husband. Somehow the fact that he’s sent her info fainting hysterics makes Richard realize how much he loves her. This is a very strange relationship.

Some cuteness at the end:

“I expect that I shall be quite a nuisance to you now. Literally living in your pocket.”

“In that case, Robert, I suspect we shall both be nuisances. Can a wife be said to live in her husband’s pocket?”

Lovely and tacky at the same time.

Other updates: Currently liking and reading both The Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Hardy. Rewatching K-drama You Are All Surrounded starring Lee Seung Gi. Next one I review will probably be Oh My Baby starring the never aging awesome actress Jang Nara. Appears to be a remake of Three Men and a Baby with Tom Selleck, a movie I’ve always liked.

Tacky Regency Romances: New Review Project

Have I mentioned I’m addicted to stories? Hmm, maybe a time or two. Went up to wonderful, wild, Northern Minnesota this past weekend and had a grand old time. It was a little too cold to be on the water, so bookshops it was, and do they have them aplenty! The two used bookstores I stopped in have easily over 100, 000 books each–an enormous amount to peruse for a normal person, and a veritable treasure trove for bookworms. Thus, by the end of the trip, I’l bought the most books I’d ever bought at one time: 38! Yikes. Yes, it’s a problem, but a fun problem.

At a used bookshop in Brainerd they had $5 grab bags in the window, collections of books stapled shut in brown paper bags. I decided to live recklessly and bought the Regency Romance one, hoping I’d get a Jane Austen or one of her contemporaries. No such luck. Inside were 20 Regency romances and one Georgian romance from the 1970s and 1980s. One may be from the 1990s. Tacky they look and paperback romances they are, and I’ve decided to read every single one of them and give you all some grand, hopefully funny reviews. The books are published by Dell, Jove, Warner Books, Signet, Fawcett, Diamond, and Zebra books. This will throw of my planned summer reading a bit, but I am looking forward to the tackiness!

Tacky Regency Romances

When the Weather Is Nice: K-drama review

As much as I love Viki, I prefer the titles listed on Asianwiki. For one, they are shorter, and two, the longer titles are awkward. Not sure if it is a more literal translation of the title or what. At any rate, Viki calls this one I’ll Come to You When the Weather is Nice, but I like the shortness of When the Weather Is Nice. This title makes me think of the Japanese anime film Weathering with You. Can’t wait to see that one again once it’s on video. Oh, it’s a rambling day. Sorry folks, I have summer brain!

That I loved this drama is an understatement. The latter episodes I started watching in fifteen minute chunks because I just didn’t want the story to end. Now, that’s some good writing, and not surprising as it’s apparently based on a book. Now I want to read the book, too.

When the Weather is Nice stars Park Min Young of City Hunter fame and numerous romances like What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? She’s a good go-to actor for a great romance as she always has good chemistry with her costars and knows how to really smile with her eyes. Here, she plays cellist Mok Hye Won, who’s had a difficult time in life relating to other people, and most recently, the expectations of the director of the music school in which she teaches. As she needs a break, Hye Won goes to her family’s small village of Bukhyeon to hang out with her aunt.

The story also stars Seo Kang Joon from Cheese in the Trap and Are You Human? His character, Lim Eun Seob, also has grown up and currently lives in the village. He owns a remote bookstore called the Goodnight Bookstore and hosts a monthly (?) book club that is a great part of the story. He’s also been madly in love with Hye Won since high school and almost can’t believe she’s come back to the village, giving him one last chance with her. Like Park, Seo isn’t just a pretty face, he can act and really act well. They both got so into their characters, that I forgot they were actors at all.

When the Weather is Nice encapsulates so much: small town life, heartache, falling in love, sin, guilt, family relations, abandonment, ambition, and on and on. It’s almost too much to take in at times, though the drama itself is slower paced, like small town life, and it’s only by the end we the viewers realized just how much was packed in to the plot and themes. As a book lover, I high enjoyed the focus on stories and books, and, oh, what a book club! This is the book club everyone imagines when they think of a book club – a group of people who love stories and is their own little family. It’s charming and heartwarming.

The romance is sweet and not entirely certain until the end, much like life. Eun Seon is one of those quiet men often overlooked in high school, and Hye Won doesn’t really remember him at first. By the end, she’s probably kicking herself thinking about how much time she missed out on with him. Sometime quiet steadfastness and reliability can win women over in ways that more talkative men couldn’t hope to reach. Eun Seob will likely never run after her and violently protest his love for her, but he flirts in his own way and warms her heart simply by walking her home in the dark, and caring for her in other ways, like making sure she’s warm enough and getting her some winter boots. Men, women are easy, we really are. Just care for us, that’s all we really need, and it’s what Hye Won chooses in the end.

The latter half of the drama deals mostly with Hye Won’s family backstory–much tragedy and heartbreak and difficult to watch at times. It’s sad that people who are supposed to love their family can treat them with coldness and/or abuse, but even more amazing is that the family members that suffer still love those people. Just an amazing gift from God that we can still love, even then. Hye Won’s aunt and mother are so larger than life compared to the rest of the village, acting much like movie stars hiding out. I wasn’t sure I’d get into their part of the story, but again, the writing is just spellbinding.

Set during a long, long winter, When the Weather Is Nice sucked me in, both due to the bookstore and focus on writing and stories, but also due to the weather. I’m a Minnesota girl and let me tell you, our winters can be looooong. A week seems like a month, a month seems like a year, so it wasn’t surprising that by the end of the drama it seemed that a much longer time had passed. They also incorporated all sorts of winter weather and things like ice skating rinks and pipes freezing, and it all came together really well.

Some stand out minor characters: Lee Jang Woo played by Lee Jae Wook. Lee is a classmate of the leads and works for the city. He organizes a reunion for the village that is magical. Lee is also quiet and shy, though he also chatters on nervously. He, too, gets a chance to have the girl that got away, and it’s such a treat to see him get up the courage to win her. She also patiently gives him time to do this. His character was one of truly caring for those around him and enjoying a simple life. He is super smart and could have worked at a big company in Seoul, but chose to stay in Hyecheon City near the village.

Second standout character was Lim Whi (or Hui), played by a bubbling and vivacious Kim Hwan Hee. Whi is the typical annoying teenage girl, constantly chasing after boys who don’t want her. But I have to say, she does it with style, and there’s something about her persistence that’s appealing, even to those boys. She is the sister of Eun Seob, and almost his complete opposite, loud and brash, where he is quiet and still. Still, there’s a great sibling bond between them and it’s especially funny when Eun Seob is suspicious of the boys she likes, even though they don’t like her. Eun Seob probably finds Whi annoying at times, but he clearly loves her, just as he does the rest of his family, and it’s an interesting dynamic, him being a quiet man, for he can never really say, I love you, but manages to convey it in everything he does. Warm fuzzies galore.

Someday I’d really like to watch this drama again and go through it episode by episode, commenting and critiquing. It’s one of those stories that always stays with you, and really makes me want to learn to read Korean so I can read the book. Someday, someday, someday. I give it ten stars, though it’s probably not that perfect, but it was such a joy to watch, especially after reading and watching stories far more cynical about life and humanity.