Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Nightingale - Review

When I read a historical fiction, I expect – of course – a historical fiction, not a soap opera with eye-rolling cliché and melodrama. The Nightingale is filled with exaggerated dramatic moments and chick-lit plot. It didn’t make a good historical fiction even if Kristin Hannah threw in a *SPOILER* rape element.

Few things.

1.    The Characters

None of the characters are really likable, especially the two protagonists Vianne and Isabelle.

Let’s talk about Isabelle. She was impulsive, hot-tempered, uncontrollable, irresponsible. She had not only once put her family in danger due to her childish thinking and behavior. When Beck billeted at Vianne’s house, she was rude to him thereby risking her sister’s and niece’s life. Had Beck not been a decent man, all of them would have been dead.

As for Vianne, she was just plain stupid. She hid Rachel in her cellar on the day of the deportation of Jewish, but only until noon. She couldn’t even wait till the end of the day before she thought it was safe to let her out. And Rachel, being even dumber, risked getting deported (which she did) for a bath.

“I went to town. Everything seems normal. Maybe Beck was being overly cautious, but I think you should spend one more night down there.” 
Rachel’s face was drawn, tired-looking. “I’ll need diapers. And a quick bath. Ari and I both smelled.”

In another event when Isabelle was shot and Vianne insisted that her sister stayed to be cared by her. Having killed Beck moments ago, she needed to be reminded that an injured woman in her house was going to draw attention. If she would have used her brain a little it would not be so much effort to figure out this rocket science.

“Enough,” Henri said, stepping between them. “She can’t stay here, Vianne. Think about it. The Germans are going to come looking for their dead captain. They don’t need to find a woman with gunshot wound and false papers. You understand?”

Sometimes characters were shaped in a way that they were not supposed to be likable. But in this case the result was that I ended up not caring much about what happened to them.

2.    The Writing

The writing style is generally flat and, yes, chick-lit. I don’t have anything against such genre. I even gave a high review for Me Before You and I specifically praised Jojo Moyes’ writing. But The Nightingale, is a chick-lit with historical fiction in disguise.

She was so surprised that she couldn’t think how to respond. He was saying he would die to protect Isabelle. He turned to her, gazed at her. Gazed, not looked.

There were things like these that reminded me of E.L.James’ infamous Fifty Shades trilogy. Kristin Hannah seemed to think her emphasizing of a “gaze” instead of a “look” would stun or awe the readers emotionally.

For the first time, Gaëtan smiled and Vianne understood how this scrawny, sharp-featured man in his beggar’s clothes had swept Isabelle off her feet. He had the kind of smile that inhabited every part of his face – his eyes, his cheeks; there was even a dimple.

That’s right, dimple is the answer to all questions!

3.    Fiction or imagination?

There were events and moments when I wondered did Kristin Hannah do her research properly.

Times when it was “freezing cold” when hiking through the Nightingale escape route. Now I’d been to hiking in Nepal. It was neither raining nor snowing, but the temperature was low, close to sub-zero. But when we hiked, there wasn’t an instant when we felt “freezing cold”. When we walked our body generated heat, especially when there was a uphill hike or up a flight of steps. At all times, we wore a layer of long-sleeve shirt during the hike. When we stopped for meals it was not until for a while that we needed to wear the down jacket. So when Hannah described the mountain scene, I had many doubts.

Times when Hannah explained Rossignol’s family financial status and asset. Julien Rossignol was a war soldier and a bookseller and he owned a property (Le Jardin) in Carriveau, a bookshop and an apartment in Paris. I am no expert of France economy in the 1940s but I thought that was a bit too well-off for a bookseller.

Overall I gave it a 2 star out of 5. This is the first book I read of Kristin Hannah’s and I will keep in mind not to read another one.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 3

Day 3

Collected car from Times Car Rental, within walking distance from Superhotel Kushiro Ekimae. I made the booking through a website called Tabirai - English-friendly and very responsive to every question asked.
  • Car collection on Day 3 at 10am, return on Day 5 at 11am.
  • Price 11 800 yen (rental and included CDW coverage) + 3240 yen (for NOC coverage) = total 15 040 yen. NOC coverage is 1080 yen per day, hence for 3 days would be 3240 yen.
  • The car was completed with 4WD (four wheel drive), snow tire and a built-in GPS device.
  • CDW and NOC are some sort of a safety insurance package and super safety insurance package respectively. You could read about it here. It is highly recommended that you get the NOC package.
The easiest way to navigate in Japan is either with (a) map code, or (b) phone number of the destination. In my case nothing went wrong with map code that I found using this website. Of course, all these research had to be done beforehand.

Visited Kushiro Tanchozuru National Park or 釧路市丹顶鹤自然公园. Entrance fee 470 yen. Free parking just outside of the park.

Drove to Akan Lake and checked in to ryokan (Japanese style hotel).

Visited Ainu Kotan Village. Everthing in the Akan Lake town is within walking distance.

Accommodation: Lake Akan Tsuruga Wings, 12 100 yen per person per night for a 3-person-room, addtional 250 yen is payable for onsen (hot spring) charges. Buffet dinner and buffet breakfast included. Free parking available.

There was no outdoor onsen in the Tsuruga Wings, however there was a passage connected to Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga, which had a larger onsen located in the open. Both ryokan belonged to the Tsuruga group, and guests from both were free to use any onsen facility. Usually it is more comfortable in a outdoor onsen as there'll be a good view, and it is less stuffy. It is amazing feeling snow flakes falling on your head and face, while your body stays warm in the sulphur-smelled water.

Kushiro Tanchozuru National Park

Posing in a Winter Sonata feel.

Our room in the ryokan. The futon will be laid by the hotel staff in the evening when we were out for dinner.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 2

Day 2

Dog Sledding, 32 000 yen for 3 pax and 1 sled. Pick up and drop off at Hoshino Tomamu Resort included. They provided jackets, fleece vests, gloves, and snow boots, as well as a CD with pictures they took of us. Fun and worth it. We almost lost a GoPro for the dogs were too excited at the beginning. We found it back in the snow afterwards.

Free and easy around Tomamu Resort area. In my case, we went to the onsen (hot spring) to relax. I could understand then why did the Japanese love onsen. Most of the grander onsen are located in the open air. So before you can get in, you need to endure the cold wind blowing against your naked skin. But when you finally submerge yourself into the 40 degrees Celcius water, it is almost heaven. So much so that I didn't want to get up. By the end of the trip I felt the most natural thing to do was to relax in the onsen at least once a day.

In the evening we boarded the free shuttle bus from resort lobby to Tomamu station.

Boarded JR train from to Kushiro station with JR 4-day flexi pass.

Accommodation: Superhotel Kushiro Ekimae, 2700 yen per night per person, for a 3-person-room. Buffet breakfast included.

Superhotel in my opinion, best value-for-money ever. Price per night per pax is approximately MYR100, breakfast included. Where else could you find a decent hotel with such a price? But then again it was also because Superhotel in Kushiro was cheaper since it was not much of a tourist spot. I did check that Superhotel in other places, for instance Osaka, were much more expensive.

Bonding with the dogs.

This was how we looked before the crash.

After crashing once.

This was during the second or third crash.

At Tomamu station.

Waiting for the train.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sharing My Itinerary - Hokkaido - Day 1

I am sharing with you a very detailed itinerary that I planned for Hokkaido, last January. It was winter.

Day 1

Arrival at Shin-Chitose Airport.
  • Purchased JR Pass (4-day flexi), 22,000 yen. The term "flexi" because I could use it to take 4 days of JR, either consecutively or non-consecutively, within 10 days from the date of purchase / collection. In my case, I listed down all the JR train fares for each day that I would be spending, and then I picked the top 4 most expensive days to use the pass.
  • Purchased Asahiyama Zoo ticket set or 旭山動物園きっぷ, 6130 yen, which included roundtrip JR train ticket from/to Asahikawa station, roundtrip bus ticket between Asahikawa station to the zoo, and the zoo entrance ticket.
Boarded the JR train from airport to Tomamu station. Since the train ticket for today is not the top 4 most expensive, I bought the ticket separately, 3430 yen.

There were free shuttle buses from Tomamu station to Hoshino Tomamu Resort. It was a ski resort with many other attractions - some sort like Genting Highlands in Malaysia, but better. Note that the restaurants were quite pricey as well.
  • Visited Chapel on the Water 水の教会. It was a famous architectural building by Tadao Ando, only opened to visitors for 1 hour starting at 9pm.
  • Visited Ice Village. 
Accommodation: Hoshino Resort Tomamu, 13,000 yen per night per person for a 3-person-room. Buffet breakfast included.

The most spacious room I had ever stayed in Japan but, f***ing expensive!

View from the hotel room.

Chapel on the Water

A church in the Ice Village

Monday, January 9, 2017

Enough is Enough !

After the previous incident, I had been scammed...



...and again...

"Am Autumn Oliver by name"??? Who the hell talks like that??? Did they Google translate Nigerian??? Can't they hire scammers with better English proficiency???

This was when I said to myself, enough! And I took down the advertisement on Mudah and decided never to post anything on it ever again. Unbelievable number of scammers! Gosh!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Passenger - Movie Review


What was it about?

Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, why was I surprised that it was, indeed, a love story? Well it was a romance packaged as a sci-fi, to be exact.

The story started with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) waking up from his hibernation, which was supposed to last 120 years. But due to a malfunction, he woke up 90 years earlier than scheduled. Alone on the unmanned spaceship, his attempts of putting himself back into hibernation failed. After a year of suffering, he then made a difficult decision - he broke another hibernation pot inhabited by Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), in desperation of company.

Did it meet my expectations?

For the record, I went into the cinema expecting a sci-fi thriller. Can you blame me or anyone that had watch the trailer? The trailer practically labelled it a sci-fi movie! I'd also like to say that the science of it was not very convincing.

Jim's space suit sustained the heat vent from the fusion reactor. Seriously?

Jim got thrown out from the vent and was travelling in the backward direction of the spaceship. He was still in vicinity after 5 seconds or so. Wasn't the spaceship travelling at half of light speed?

Jim threw the steel door that he used as shield in the backward direction, causing himself a forward thrust. Erm... I'm not really sure about this but, really?

I also thought the story would open at the point when Aurora woke up. And then she'd meet Jim and at this moment she (as well as the audience) wouldn't know yet, about his intentionally breaking her hibernation pot. As the story moved, she'd discover it from Arthur, and so would the audience. Hence instilling the suspense, the twist, and the flash-back story telling technique.

But instead the movie chose to do it the opposite way - bringing in the story from Jim's point of view. It probably wanted to portray Jim's stranded situation, his helplessness and desperation, which I thought was very successful.

Did I like it?

I loved it. Of course I was a little disappointed that the romantic element played a big part of it, instead of the sci-fi element. But the story was very refreshing that I was able to forgive a misleading trailer.