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.

Book review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (spoilers)

It is finally summer and time to not only get outside, but also pull out our stacks of summer reads. I recommend The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. The title intrigued me more than anything else, and the blurb on the back was accurate, describing the mystery as a mix between Agatha Christie, Downton Abbey, Quantum Leap , and Groundhog Day. That being said, the story is better off if the reader really knows nothing about it or what’s going to happen. Spoilers are ahead.

This book is so awesome and fun I don’t know where to start. It’s a game, a mystery the main character, Aiden Bishop (a lot of chess references), has to solve, and we readers get to follow along with him. Bishop has 8 days to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle; however, it is the same day repeated 8 times, and each time he will inhabit a different body of guests that have come to Blackheath estate for a masquerade ball. The biggest difficulty for Bishop is that each time he wakes up, he has to fight off the personalities of these guests and try not to totally give into their way of thinking. He also doesn’t know who to trust–a murder mystery standard–but it’s amped up a bit here. By the end of the story, Bishop has chosen a route that very well may not be the right one. He, and we, have so little information about the larger picture going on, and it comes from characters who are likely untrustworthy.

Major spoilers. Bishop is told partway through the book, that this is all a punishment, a newfangled way of getting people to pay for their crimes by making them solve a similar murder to one they committed–over and over again until they get it right. Apparently Bishop has been through several cycles of this murder mystery, and each time, the order of “hosts,” or bodies he inhabits, is changed and tweaked to give him better and better possibilities of solving it. He does solve it, but only has the word of the “plague doctor” that he is free, and also that he entered this prison or experiment freely. Since everything is forgotten at the beginning of a new cycle, there is every possibility that Bishop will once again enter the maze the next day, which may be the same day, and the cycle will begin again. He also may be free and not supposed to be free, which is also intriguing. It’s not clear how far in the future this prison actually is or if it really is a prison.

One truth stands out, though, Bishop definitely is changed by the end of the 8 days, even though we know so little about the real him. For me, it was a bit sad that he was happy forgetting or throwing aside whoever he was before. To know or not to know? I think knowing is usually better, but then other days I think not. And I would want to know bad things about myself more than I would want to know bad things about someone I cared for. 7 1/2 Deaths is truly a mind boggler and a book I’ll probably read again and again. It would be fun to see it adapted to a TV series, but I have no idea how they would do it.

On a writing level, it is masterful, but depends largely on first person perspective. It’s amazing how intricately the days are worked out and in such a way as to make it seem like a year or more has gone by. Turton does not have us repeat everything 8 times. There are a variety of guests, each who do something different during the day. At first the setting seems limited, but Turton uses that advantage, filling the whole world up. Bishop wastes a lot of time thinking he can save and trying to save Evelyn, even though he’s told point blank not to do that. As he knows by now it’s some sort of game, it’s fascinating that he takes it so seriously, and as a reader that attitude seemed…at little too convenient. Nevertheless, it was an exciting read and much food for thought on making punishments fit the crime and the possibilities of rehabilitating people. It is still not for sure that what Bishop is experiencing is an actual prison. He could be in a purgatory, another world, a broken mind, and so on.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a speedy read that’s hard to put down. More than the murder mystery itself, you end up wanting to know what is going on? Why is Bishop there? Why does he have to do this for 8 days? What’s the reason, who’s behind it, so on and so forth. These larger questions are answered, if the characters who answer them can be believed, but that’s a big “if.” It is one of the few stories I’ve read that I started taking notes on as I read it. The party invitation at the beginning with a list of all the characters was super helpful, as was the map. The first person perspective really allows the reader to feel as if they are experiencing the game for themselves. This is one of the few minder bender stories that really live up to the hype. It did not disappoint.

Are You Human?: Give Shin His Life Back

The good news is, I am currently watching a drama that I love with a million hearts. The bad news is that Are you Human? (Viki title is Are You Human Too?) starring Seo Kang Joon (The Cheese in the Trap) and Gong Seung Yeon (Six Flying Dragons) is not that drama. A very watchable drama with decent acting, Are You Human? could have reached for profound, but settled for easy. It is also one of the few shows that had me constantly yelling at the screen: He is a robot! A robot!

Yes, my friends, this is a robot story involving a theme that has been overdone in sci-fi at this point: defining humanity. Exploring the question what does is mean to be human through a robot’s eyes can be effective, but in this show it was used to promote the idea that it’s ok to think of robots and human and even to replace actual humans with them. Not sure if this was the intended message by the writer, but nevertheless, it made me sick to my stomach.

The story is about a young man named Nam Shin, and in this review I’ll mainly call him Shin, who of course is the grandson of a rich company CEO. The grandpa is…how can I say psychotic nicely? I can’t. Anyway, grandpa basically holds kid Shin hostage, saying if he goes to his grieving mother (dad just committed suicide), grandpa will harm mom. Thus mother and son grow up apart. But this is not your average mom. Oh Ra Ra is a super smart robotic scientist who flees to the Czech Republic and there makes a robot to look exactly like her son. She finds out later that her project is funded by (spoilers) grandpa. Robot Shin III is programmed to be a kind, loving, young gentlemen, who in disaster mode will leap into action to save whatever human lives are at stake. Not a bad thing, but at the beginning, it’s unclear just what mom’s motive is in this. Her son is still alive, and I would have actually found it less weird for him to be dead and in her grief she finds comfort in a lookalike machine.

The real Shin grows up and appears to be a typically spoiled rich boy, but he does long for his mother and makes a plan to escape grandpa’s watch and go to Czecho to see her. This involves the manipulation of a bodyguard, Kang So Bong, who used to be a pro fighter, but had to retire due to injury. She’s a somewhat feisty character who becomes less so over time. Robot Shin runs across real Shin in the town of Karlovy Vary, and I kind of wish the story would have stayed in Czecho, because it’s a beautiful fairy tale country and I miss living in it. The bad guy, played stereotypically by Yu Oh Seong (Faith) wants to take over the company and has a hitman take out Shin. Mom and her scientist buddy arrive just in time to witness the accident and mom instinctively knows it is her real son that has been run over. Turns out Shin isn’t dead, but he’s in a coma and so mom and Shin’s watcher for grandpa Ji Young Hoon (Lee Joon Hyuk from City Hunter) come up with the obvious plan to have robot Shin pretend to be human Shin.

The story didn’t quite play out as I imagined it would, but instead of surprising me, it continually disappointed me. The acting was very good, Seo Kang Joon has a bright future ahead of him and played both Shin’s well. He also has great screen presence, something one just has or doesn’t have, and will continue to be a great lead because of that. Gong Seung Yoon started out strong, as did her girl bodyguard character, but the writing basically killed her character by the end. She would have benefited from a ton more screen time with human Shin, which would have been a romance worth watching. Everyone else did a decent job, but nothing really of note.

Let’s get into the ranting part. So human Shin is a jerk, a spoiled jerk, but he loves his mom, has been royally abused by his grandpa, and wakes up partway through the series to find that he has literally been replaced by a lifelike robot built by his mother. And she won’t destroy it for his sake. She’s far too attached. Understandably, Shin is upset, very upset and wants the robot gone and his life back. He does pretty despicable things to try to make this happen, and the thing is, most of the time I was cheering him on! His fellow humans were all acting psycho, continually telling him that the robot was a better human than he was, and having affection for a machine that just…shouldn’t be there. I like my cell phone and my vacuum cleaner, but I’m not about to fall in love with them. Come to find out that crazy grandpa has the plan to actually fully replace his grandson by the robot and having the robot run the company.

This is a dark side of humanity, that we think we can create something better than a human and replace humanity with it. But it’s faulty, sinful human beings doing the making and programming, and it’s simply wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, to do this. Robots are a machine, a tool, and while they can certainly be humanlike, we walk a dangerous tightrope trying to make them as much like humans as possible. And on this show, what does that look like? Sadly, it reduces humanity to one thing: emotion. There’s a little nod to kindness, etc., being a part of humanity, but the focus is on emotion. Robot Shin is only still a robot because he doesn’t have emotions. He’s programmed to smile or give someone a hug when they need it, but that’s about it. Humans are so much more than their emotions, and why the writers didn’t choose to plumb the depths by either doing outright fantasy and having robot Shin somehow earn a fairy blessing of humanity, or by giving human Shin a beautiful redemptive love story, I don’t know. Either choice would have been so much better than what they went with. Yes, robot Shin (spoilers) does magically shed tears at the end, but this is never explained, and other than the humans continually telling him he seems human to them, no reason is given other than the fact that he sacrificed himself to save a human. But that’s no great feat, because he’s a robot programmed to do just that.

Let’s talk about the love story. Gong’s first interaction is with human Shin, who actually hit her to carry out his little escape plan. She then has a chance to vent her anger, but it ends up being on the robot Shin. It takes a little while for her find that this Shin is a robot, but bizarrely, she continues down the path of a relationship with the robot. Yes, he’s handsome, he’s kind and gentle, and so on, but he’s programmed to be that way. At times she treats him like a child, and other times like a pet. If a real, grown woman tells you she wants this kind of romance, run. Run away fast. Real woman do not want robots or pets, they want men, real men that don’t do whatever they say, and who have flaws and faults that they sometimes courageously overcome. Real women want a man they can argue with, share their lives and dreams with, and…ahem…have sex with. Now the show doesn’t go there, but they could probably program robot Shin to do the deed, but he’s not more much more than a blowup doll. Is that really what Gong should be aspiring to, a pretend relationship with a blowup doll? They did give him tears at the end, they did, but even at the end, when she first encounters human Shin, there’s a spark there that is not there when she and the robot kiss. The ending turned my stomach. Human Shin happily looking on as a woman kisses and makes promises to a machine that looks just like him. It was rather gross and not romantic in the slightest.

Give human Shin his life back. Rewrite this atrocity and give him a redemption and love story that values humanity, not programmed robots. There was another character that did love human Shin and the writers did nothing with her, except finally send her away to America where hopefully she found someone to appreciate her persistence, sweetness, loyalty, and bravery.

Are You Human? is watchable, far more than some other dramas, but the message it conveys is just so icky to me that I have trouble recommending it because of that. Even emotionally, there wasn’t really a good cathartic moment. Anger, maybe, Shin’s anger at being replaced, and then more anger because he’s met not with understanding, but with the robot is a better human that you are. I mean, what the actual blank? As for robot Shin, he’s got a bland personality, but of course he does. Humans can’t program a personality the way God creates one. The idea that we can is laughable. Also really not sure what to make of the talk in the show of a whole city with humans and these humanlike robots…sounds nightmarish to me. Sometimes I really hate science and think that at its heart it is anti-God and anti-human.

The Secret Garden: A Perfect Book for Spring

This is the second time I’ve read the wonderful book A Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a children’s book set in the springtime and full of love of all the growing things and new life in the world, and a perfect book to read during the spring months. The introduction (I have a Barnes and Noble Classics copy) says that Burnett’s books were as popular in her day, the late 1800s, early 1900s, as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is today. That’s pretty impressive. Her most famous works known today are The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and both have been made into several films and plays.

The story follows a girl named Mary Lennox, a pill of a child, who’s understandably a spoiled brat as she’s been allowed to push around her servants in India while simultaneously being wholly neglected by parents who don’t seem to care two sticks about her. After an outbreak of cholera, Mary is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle, a hunchbacked recluse who lives on a large estate in England called Misselthwait Manor. Her uncle is little seen in the story, as his main occupation over the years has been to grieve the loss of his wife.

As much as Mary’s behavior is shown as being rude to other people, much is made of her ill appearance. She’s not a healthy brat, and doesn’t know what it’s like to spend the whole day outside. Knowing little of class barriers, having spent her life abroad, Mary quickly befriends one of the servants, a young girl called Martha, who comes from a family of twelve, and introduces Mary to a different way of life, one spent in good work, and often out of doors. At first, going outside isn’t much fun for Mary, it’s cold, and the spring hasn’t quite arrived yet, but slowly, she starts to toughen up and enjoy being outside. She learns of a secret garden all locked up and is determined to see it for herself. She also befriends Mary’s brother Dicken, who has a way with animals, plants, and all living things, and ends up helping and improving another child called Colin, who is even more tyrannical than herself.

The Secret Garden is delightful, full of real magic, God’s magic and His ways of making things grow. The children themselves aren’t necessarily Christian or anything, but their appreciation and delight in nature and the world is uplifting. The determination of Mary and then later Colin, to be truly healthy and out in the world doing things and seeing things is refreshing, especially in days like these when many are afraid to set foot outside. Colin is a prime example of just how damaging it is for anyone to always imagine themselves an invalid. It is a tale of sorrow, recovery, and health, and showcases that always, always, there is something worth living for, even if you only start with a rose bush or a robin. It is telling, too, that the more Mary improves in her person, so does she perceive that other’s improve in her opinion. There is much truth that our dispositions and attitudes affect everything about us, and the more positive we are, the more positively we view the world and people around us and find joy in them.

The world in springtime is wonderful to behold, and I always think it’s the time of year when we can hear every rock, tree, flower, and stream singing God’s praises the loudest.

Updates: Next week I’ll be reviewing the K-drama Are You Human Too? starring Seo Kang Joon (Cheese in the Trap). Not sure about a romance with a robot, that’s rather weird, but it’s an exciting series so far. Two books on my reading list have titles that go together, so I’ll probably read them back to back: Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (her The Good Thief is an awesome colonial yarn of a tale), and The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Life, death, and numbers. Should be fun. My next classics reads are going to be The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper (it’s great, as is the movie, though they really aren’t very alike), and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Ever since watching the wonderful movie of Far from the Madding Crowd starring Carey Mulligan, I’ve had a hankering to read all of his works.