Cornwall

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Tenryûji in Kyoto – Part I

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Book Review: Poldark (2) – Demelza

After being introduced to this book series by Winston Graham through the recent TV adaptation and becoming captivated by the first book Ross Poldark I read the next one right away – Demelza. While the standard is still very high and the narrative is just as flowing, this part is less elevating and has more of a sombre feel throughout. It still holds the fascination of very realistic characters that we’ve grown to care about and we hope to see do well.

*I will be discussing the plot now, so anyone not wanting to read spoilers, simply skip to the final paragraph in bold*

The book opens with Demelza giving birth to their first child, their daughter Julia, which brings Ross and her much happiness. Over the course of the book Ross tries to raise his mine’s profit by founding a smelting company that has no ties to the others, especially the ones under Warleggan control, and can thus bid for the ore independently and in time produce fairer prices for the mines. A new doctor comes to the district, Dwight Enys, who soon strikes up a friendship with Ross. Demelza rekindles the old attraction between Verity and Captain Blamey, which all Verity’s family was opposed to. All the while Francis and Elizabeth’s family suffers for Francis’ gambling losses, while he is encouraged to play by his friend George Warleggan. So a lot of potential for conflict – and there is.

As said before, this chapter in the saga is less elevating, especially because of the tragic ending. But the characters have become so dear, so you try and follow through. They are very close to reality. Sometimes people do something and then regret it very soon after. People know better, but they still do something wrong. That is 100% taken from everyday life.

Demelza feels Verity should know marital happiness like her and seeing she is unhappy just being there for the family with no life of her own, she decides to meet Captain Blamey, Verity’s lover from years ago. Her naive curiosity takes her into an awkward situation. Especially she has no eye for the consequences – which no one could have really foreseen. She succeeds and in bringing the two together, she is causing a big rift between the Nampara Poldarks and the Trenwith Poldarks, which in the end through a long chain of unfortunate circumstances leads to her own daughter’s death. She only meant for the best, took an unusual path and that backfired in the worst possible way.

Already now there is a lot of looking back to better times. Ross and Demelza had a short period of bliss, just the two of them, but life has carried them further now. They keep referring back to those times as in the past, which is very sad to read sometimes. Julia’s heartbreaking death at the end just underlines that again. There is no way back. What has happened has happened and will always stand there in their past reflecting on the present. The way Julia’s death is broken to the audience is very sudden and shocking and creates a real feeling of abrupt loss.

The book is fiction, but does not depict a perfect world. Bad things happen to good people and people with selfish intentions progress in the world. There are perfect marriages by chance, like Ross and Demelza’s, and dearly wished marriages from one side turn out to be mismatched and misjudged, like Mark and Keren’s or even Elizabeth and Francis’. It’s the unpredictability of what may happen and all those unforeseen consequences of seemingly trifling actions that can turn whole lives upside down. And precisely because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you want to read on and know more.

Despite the darker and grittier mood in Demelza, this book continues the Poldark saga and again we feel for the characters and want to know how their lives unfold. They are realictic people caught in many testing and difficult situations and every one reacts and copes differently. Even when there are darker spells in life, people always find hope and pick up their lives and shape them into something new. While in Demelza the straining times take up more of the book, the last page anticipates a brighter future, in time. And I certainly want to read about that in the next part, Jeremy Poldark.

 

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Eiheiji Temple

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Book Review: Poldark (1) – Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

What a charming and emotional read. Published in 1945, set in the 1780s in Cornwall, the Poldark saga follows the intertwined lives of Cornish upper and lower classes, mostly through the eyes of a remarkable and unique hero, Ross Poldark. What captured me most about the story was how real and true to life the characters feel, which makes you care for them very quickly. And you simply need to know what happens next…

Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall after serving in the war in America. He is looking forward to marrying his sweetheart, Elizabeth, but comes home to the realisation that she is to be married to his cousin Francis. Bitter and lonely he sets out to arrange his derelict house and lands, that he has inherited from his father during his absence, and care for the hardworking poorer class in his district. One day his impulsive charity guides him to take on a young girl from the streets called Demelza as his kitchen maid, but little does he know, that this will change his life forever.

I started reading the books, as I am very fond of the recent BBC TV-series Poldark. I didn’t dare touch them so far, as I wasn’t sure whether the spark would be there. The writing and characterisation on the adapted TV show is so excellently done, the actors work so beautifully together and portray their characters with so much honesty and emotion, the costumes are lovely and look real, the scenes and sets are gorgeous and lovingly detailed and the Cornwall backdrop is simply stunning. So I wondered how to get all this from a book – well, it is possible, right here! The spark is there and drew me in from the very first page. It is real food for the imagination.

Winston Graham is a remarkable writer. It is difficult to place his novels, as they are not outright romances, but romantic elements are vital in the story. They are no ordinary heroic tales of a champion of the poor, nor are they simply a witty portrayal of society at the time. They are no simple family saga either. Graham managed to create real people, living a real life, with real problems, joys, heartaches, difficulties – and eveything else that comes with loving, living and breathing.

This layer of reality is what makes the stories and especially the characters come alive. Ross sometimes behaves irrationally, but he wouldn’t be Ross if he didn’t. There isn’t always a logical reason for emotions. The other characters are well rounded, too, and their little imperfections, contradictions and unconscious actions, bring out something that is so true to life. And that immediately captured my imagination. The character of Demelza next to Ross feels especially real. And like I am always wondering how JK Rowling managed to capture the thoughts of a teenage boy so incredibly well, I am in awe at how well Winston Graham portrays the mind of a young woman. I cried multiple times… And also laughed out loud.

This first book of the series, Ross Poldark, sets everything in motion. And more so – we are introduced to characters that soon become so familiar and dear to us, that we simply need to read on and follow their lives with laughter, tears and sympathy. In this review I simply give an introduction to the “book world” of Poldark. In my next reviews for the following books, I will go into more detail regarding the plot as well. But for anyone wanting to start the Poldark books and needing some spoiler-free encouragement – I hope I could give it with this little post. 

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Animals in Japan

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Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

What a charming little book! I have read Howl’s Moving Castle three times now over the course of 7 years and will be picking it up again and again in the future. The witty humour of Diana Wynne Jones, the lively characters and the constantly moving story along with all the cheeky little ideas make the story of Sophie Hatter and Wizard Howl so warm and uplifting. 

Meet young Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three daughters, stuck in her late father’s hat shop. Being the eldest she has resigned herself to not making her fortune in life – until the evil Witch of the Waste pays her a visit and puts a curse on her. Finding herself as an old woman, Sophie decides to finally leave home and make something out of her life. She invites herself to the moving castle of the famously wicked wizard Howl, who is reportedly eating the hearts of young and beautiful girls. So Sophie has nothing to worry about – or does she?

The characters are lovingly depicted with all their little weaknesses. They all have one flaw or another, which brings the story forward in many places, and it’s refreshing to see characters that are so lively. Nobody is perfect and Sophie, Howl, Michael, Calcifer and all the others feel like well-rounded characters, real people, because of their little failings. And all their little clashes, quibbles and misunderstandings make for a very entertaining read. One of my favourite scenes is probably Howl “suffering” from man flu – priceless.

Diana Wynne Jones has a beautiful hand for witty and also cheeky humour. In one chapter Sophie decides to use 7-league-boots and ends up zipping all over the country, as she keeps tripping. Or the awkward situation, where Sophie ends up having to go to the King of Ingary twice, the second time just under a pretense, because she got lost. It’s also great finding out where Howl is really from… And of course the bickering between Sophie and Howl. The book is refreshing throughout and feels fast-paced without being rushed.

For those who only know the Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle – this book is very different in tone and style. I came to read the book because I loved the film and – like in so many other cases – both are very different. But I love them both for what they are and I like them seperately. There are many elements the film took over from the book and the overall story is of course still there, but a lot has been shuffled around. So I would recommend this book to Howl film fans, as long as they are aware to expect a different tone of voice.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a delightful novel, that can be enjoyed by children and adults a like. There are fairy tale elements, fire demons, lively characters and a happy ever after. It will leave you with a smile on your face and it’s worth being picked up again and again. A thoroughly enjoyable read!

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Oxford

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Kinkakuji – The Golden Pavillion in Kyoto

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Game Review: Pokémon Moon

It’s been over 6 months that the new Pokémon generation Pokémon Sun / Moon has been released and meanwhile the follow-up Ultra Sun / Moon has been announced. I guess now is the time to reflect on generation 7, the very first Pokémon game I actually got on the date of release, and review which changes I liked and which ones I didn’t approve of.

The new setting “Alola” is strongly reminiscent of Hawaii, which is a nice idea in itself. The creators were very thorough in adding small details and also some (lovingly presented) stereotypes, like the gimmick Pokémon Comfey (a living flower wreath) or a hula dancer Pokémon trainer. The design overall is much more detailed than ever before, the characters look very nice and in proportion (no over-large heads or pixel eyes) and the look of “Pokémon Hawaii” is super pretty. Still, personally I preferred the world in X and Y – maybe I just felt more at home in the European setting 🙂

It took me a while to get used to the new way of collecting “gym badges”. Everything got a new name (island challenge, guardian deities, kahuna…) and the game starts off with a slow beginning. It didn’t really grip me until I was a few hours in. But once I got my head around the new system of “gym” battles and found some Pokémon to raise, I was completely hooked as usual. I actually quite like the idea of having to fight wild Pokémon on their own as a trial and then also have a separate battle with the island champions. That meant more serious fights. On the downside – it added quite a few characters to the already large cast.

The new baddies Team Skull seemed like a joke to me at first. They did not actually create those “yo yo yo!” people with pink and turquoise hair? Well, they did. And I got used to them, but I could never take them seriously. Well, could I ever take an evil team seriously?!

I was playing Pokémon Moon myself and I really liked my Lunala! As starter Pokémon I chose Rowlett, as I’m a huge owl fan anyway. I did my “favourites only” challenge, so I didn’t necessarily evolve all my Pokémon. My team also consisted of Haunter, Kadabra, Sneasel and Lanturn. All in all, I found this generation MUCH harder. Everyone seemed to have a Dark type to one-hit half my team… I admit, that was strategically unwise of me… But I found that the level curve was much steeper than in X and Y and all opponents had better fighting strategies (or got a massive stat push…). It’s not a problem as such, but I preferred the “soft” levelling of X and Y.

Another feature that was added are the Z-Crystals. I think it’s an interesting concept and the different attacks have some great animations, but in a way it was re-inventing the wheel. Like the developers were desperately looking for some unique feature for this game. In my opinion the region itself and the whole trainer story-arch spanning different islands would have been more than sufficient. I used the Z-Power attacks, but simply because they were there. I wouldn’t have missed them.

As in X and Y you can freely style your character, which I enjoyed probably a bit too much. That is a feature I would have missed sorely (and did in Alpha Sapphire…). I like the available clothes and hairstyles and colours. For the clothes I have to say that I preferred the items in Kalos, but that’s my personal taste again. I missed the roller-blades from X and Y as well… I’m also glad they kept Pokémon-Amie somehow in “Pokémon Refresh”. The mini-games are gone, but at least you can still get up close and create a bond with your team 🙂

As final new feature I would like to mention Ultra Beasts and the Alolan forms. Ultra Beasts will come in later in the game, so I don’t want to spoiler too much, but for my taste they were more Digimon than Pokémon. But that’s alright. The Alolan forms are a nice idea – some Pokémon from Kanto have come to Alola and have since adapted to their surroundings. Alolan Vulpix is super adorable as Ice type and even ideas like the “proper-palm-tree” Exeggutor somehow work. Some designs just seem a little uninspired or unnecessarily hideous (I’m looking at you Persian and Dugtrio…).

Overall, Pokémon Moon is a solid Pokémon game with a few new gimmicks and some new Pokémon, some old ones and some old ones in a new guise. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Alola and I am looking forward to Ultra Sun / Moon. I wouldn’t recommend this game to a first time Pokémon player, X and Y are much better suited to that. But for fans of the series, like me, it’s simply a nice addition to the world of Pokémon. Let’s see where Pokémon is going in the future!

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