REVIEW: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalised racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

It sounds cliché to say reading They Called Us Enemy was a rollercoaster of emotions, but it was. It was infuriating to hear about some of the politicians and lawyers who set in motion the anti-Japanese sentiment have gone onto having very successful careers. It was sad to see what George’s parents went through and how they struggled to keep their family together and to do the best thing for them all. And it was wonderful to see that hope can survive in even the most terrible of circumstances, and how there are people who will help others even though they themselves may get hurt. I felt myself tear up multiple times reading They Called Us Enemy. Some tears were due to sadness and frustration that people were treated like this (and are still being treated like this) while other tears were of the joy of seeing George Takei meet with Gene Roddenberry and how Star Trek really had such a positive impact on George and the world.

They Called Us Enemy does a great job of showing both how a child would deal with having to leave their home and live in confined spaces with strict rules, and how adults would be scared because they have a better understanding over what is happening to them. There’s the childlike innocence about a lot of George’s experience, at least to begin with in some camps where they were obviously not pleasant but not as harsh as their later experiences.

I learnt so much about the internment of Japanese Americans from this book. I first heard about this event in history through following George Takei on Twitter, he said something about it that got me googling and I learnt about something I’d never heard of before when I was in my early twenties. A lot of quotes and moments in They Called Us Enemy will stick with me, but one that really stood out was: “That remains part of the problem – that we don’t know the unpleasant aspects of American history and therefore we don’t learn the lesson those chapters have to teach us. So we repeat them over and over again.”

I suppose I have the “excuse” of being British and growing up in the UK that I didn’t learn bout this part of American history in school, in fact in History class we barely touched on the attack on Pearl Harbour and it’s just the catalyst for America joining the war. Naturally all our history is UK-focused. But still, as George Takei says, it’s important to know our history – both the good and the bad – so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

They Called Us Enemy is an important and impactful book but it’s also a compelling story with wonderful art that perfectly captures the innocence of childhood. They Called Us Enemy is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone, whether they were a fan of George Takei or not. His childhood is, unfortunately, the childhood of tens of thousands Japanese Americans and it’s a story of 120,000 people that must be heard. 5/5.

REVIEW: Little Women (2019)

The four March sisters come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War.

I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott for the first time a couple of years ago. It was a book I thought was just alright, and I didn’t really see how it had become such a classic and my lasting impression of it was how much I hated Amy March. So it was with some trepidation I went to see this latest adaptation, but I was very surprised by how much I ended up enjoying this film and how it made me connect with all of the March sisters and it even made me tolerate Amy.

This feat was accomplished by the actor’s performances and writer and director Greta Gerwig’s brilliant screenplay. There are two timelines happening in Little Women. The present has Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is living in New York and trying to earn a living writing stories until she’s called home as her sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is sick where she reconnects with her mother (Laura Dern) and her older sister Meg (Emma Watson), while Amy (Florence Pugh) is travelling Europe with their Aunt March (Meryl Streep). Then there’s the other timeline that starts 7 years earlier where you can see how the sisters would put on plays, had dreams and aspirations that are so different from one another’s and how they are all determined to make their lives their own.

These timelines are easy to follow due to the characters costumes and how in the flashback scenes, the colours and costumes seem so much brighter, while the colour palette of the present scenes is a lot more muted, mirroring how the sisters have grown up and apart. It’s also fascinating to see the sisters grow into the people we see in the present, and how their relationships may change but continue to be so strong.

Also central to the story of Little Women is the March sisters’ friend and neighbour Laurie (Timothée Chalamet). He finds friendship and love and family with the March’s and his relationship with Jo is so important to the two of the but for different reasons.

Little Women has a beautiful score, wonderful costumes that add layers to the already complex characters and is shot so well. Gerwig’s Little Women is funny, touching and it makes you feel so happy and content by the end of it, even if some tears are shed along the way. It’s a delightful story told so well because the actors don’t just play their characters brilliantly, they embody the March sisters’ heart and soul. Ronan and Pugh particularly standout but while Beth and Meg have more understated roles, Scanlen and Watson bring out all of the layers to their characters just as well as Ronan and Pugh.

Little Women was a wonderful surprise in how much I loved it and while it is quite the feminist story, it’s also a universal story about love, family and find your place in the world. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Saint Kitts and Nevis: Only God Can Make a Tree by Bertram Roach

Adrian is the son of a black Caribbean woman and an Irish immigrant father and is blessed with the pale skin and European features to allow him social mobility in the rigidly hierarchical society of twentieth-century Caribbean life. He falls in love but is offered the opportunity to improve his social standing, and thus the rest of his life, if he can suppress his heart’s desire and decide with his head. Will he choose Julia, the only woman he has ever really loved, and settle for being an overseer, or will he opt for the plantation-owner’s daughter, Alice Mills, who could provide him with the social standing he has always dreamed of?

Only God Can Make a Tree is a short book at less than 150 pages, and it is a quick read both because of its length and because of the writing style. It’s written very simply and is very much a book where it tells you what’s happening and what characters are feeling rather than showing you through metaphors or flowery language. This makes it seem like it’s not a very well-written book as you can’t easily connect with the characters and the plot is just laid out in front of you. It took a while to get used to how it was written, but its blunt, on the nose approach to this story did make it easy to read and sometimes engaging.

For such a short book it covers a lot of time and different characters lives. Adrian is the main character but as the choices he makes have knock on effects onto the people around him, you get snippets from other characters points of view as they struggle to deal with the fallout of his actions. The latter half of the book spans more time as Adrian fathers’ children and they grow up and have to live with Adrian being their father and what that can mean for them.

Adrian is a character that’s equal parts infuriating and sympathetic. While his actions are his own, and they are often reckless and hurt women who do love him, he is boxed in by the hierarchical society and has limited options if he desires to climb the social ladder. Adrian has high aspirations in a society that won’t really allow him to have those aspirations. He is a man that’s almost trapped between two societies because of his parentage, he can pass for white a lot of the time, but at the same time many white people will never see him as anything but black and will treat him accordingly. There’s also how Adrian appears to be destined to make similar mistakes to his own father, and all the rum that’s available is not good for any of the characters.

The sections about life in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the twentieth century were interesting. White, often English, people still owned the cotton and sugar cane plantations but now they pay people to work the land, albeit very cheaply. The former slaves are now labourers. As not a lot of time has passed since the abolition of slavery, there’s still some tension as the white plantation owners believe that the black people are still savages deep down. Often the glimpses of Caribbean society and how it works were more interesting than Adrian’s life. Though that being said, how Caribbean society works had a direct effect on Adrian and how is life panned out so the intersection between the two was also interesting.

I read Only God Can Make a Tree in less than two hours but I’m not sure how long this story will stick with me. It’s a concise family saga that gives a unique insight into post-slavery Caribbean and how one man’s aspirations can have long-lasting and unexpected effects. 2/5.

My Film Year in Review and my Film-Related Goals of 2020

In 2019 I watched a lot of films but not too many that I got overwhelmed with meeting a self-enforced target. In total I watched 242 different films, 251 films including rewatches. I saw 76 films at the cinema as well. I have a full list of all the films I watched here and I also put together a list of my Top Ten Favourite Films of 2019 last week for your reading pleasure – I’d recommend all of my favourites to anyone, no matter their taste in films.

With the film-related goals I set myself it was a bit of a mixed bag. One of the reasons I wanted to not put pressure on myself to watch films every day and hit a ridiculously high target, was so I could watch the many TV shows I’ve missed or got half way though and not feel guilty about it. In the end I didn’t watch many TV shows at all. In fact, I watched one and a half. I watched all of Stranger Things season three which I loved and binge-watched over a weekend. You can see what I thought on Twitter as I did some spoiler-free live-tweeting. I also started to rewatch Shadowhunters as the last series came out so thought it would be nice to rewatch it from the beginning and by the time I did that the new episodes would be out. It didn’t quite work like that because I’m someone who just stops watching TV shows even when I’m enjoying them. I got near to the end of series 2 so I only really have a season left to watch and half of it will be new to me. Maybe in 2020 I will finish my rewatch and live tweeting of one of my favourite shows.

I did complete the 52 Films by Women challenge once again. I watched 56 films directed by women (all of which happened to be first time watches) and I watched 71 films that were written by women. However, I didn’t watch very many of my unwatched DVD’s and Blu-rays, and in fact I bought more and now have over 80 unwatched films.

Now it’s time for the fun stats stuff. I have a Pro membership on Letterboxd which allows you to see all your film-viewing stats and I love it.

My most watched actors of 2019 were:

I rewatched and reviewed the Fast & Furious franchise (which I adore) so that’s why almost half the actors here are from at least one of those films. I made the effort to watch a lot of Brie Larson and Keira Knightley films so that’s why they’ve gotten a spot. I rewatched the sequel Star Wars trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, the Transformer trilogy and the John Wick trilogy so that explains people like Keanu Reeves, Andy Serkis and Hugo Weaving a couple of the other actors, but some people like Jim Broadbent and Joan Cusack were a surprise.

My most watched directors also show off the fact I watched a lot of Fast and Furious (Justin Lin), Star Wars (J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson) and Transformers films (Michael Bay). I like how Antoine Fuqua makes an appearance once again (he’s one of my favourite directors) and I tend to rewatch his films fairly often. It’s a shame there’s only one woman on this list. I watched four of Mira Nair’s films that I hadn’t seen before but while I watched over 50 films directed by women, I think she was the only female director I watched multiple films from.

So what are my film-related goals of 2020? I’m going to continue to watch what I want, when I want, and not feel like I have to watch a film every day when I’d rather be reading or discover a new TV show (that I’ll only watch half of before stopping even when I’m enjoying it). I definitely want to finish watching Shadowhunters and if I manage to get through a couple of other TV shows that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages in 2020 that’d be great. I think The Alienist returns this year and as that’s like the one show besides Stranger Things that I’ve watched in its entirety recently, I’m definitely looking forward to that.

I want to complete the 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again. I have been doing (and completing) this challenge since 2016 so it’d be cool to make it a fifth year in a row.

I will once again say I want to get my unwatched DVD’s and Blu-rays down. As I said, I have over 80 of them to get through but I do have a plan to tackle this! It is going to be related to the A-Z in April Challenge but more will be revealed in the Spring. I not only have a Clint Eastwood boxset to get through, but an Alfred Hitchcock one as well now so maybe I’ll make some headway with those this year.

Do you have any film-related goals for 2020? How easy/difficult do you find it is to make time to sit down and watch a film?

My Reading in 2019 and my Bookish Goals for 2020

It’s the start of a new year which means it’s time to look back at the past one. Today I’m looking at what I read last year, if I met my goals and what my reading plans are for this year. In 2019 I read 72 books (bang on the same amount as 2018 funnily enough) which beat my Goodreads goal of 52 books, and I reviewed 46 of them which beat my goal of reviewing 26. You can find a full list of what I read here (the links go to the reviews) and I shared what are my top ten favourite books of the year earlier this week. The OWLs and the NEWTs readathons certainly helped me have good reading months, and in June I was on holiday where I read 8 books in 10 days.

I didn’t really have reading challenges or goals for 2019 – especially compared to 2018 when I had like three things I signed up for! In 2019 I continued to put £1 in a pot for every book I read meaning I had £72 to put in the bank. I’m sure I’ll use that money to buy more books. I continued with the Read the World Project and almost half of all the books I read in 2019 counted towards that project. I read 35 from different countries. Once again, I tried to get my TBR down to 50 books from 100 books and after Christmas gifts, my TBR now stands at 85 books. So at least it went down!

I always try to keep an equal split of male/female authors that I read and I succeeded at that in 2019. In fact, it was more female heavy which is fine by me. In 2019 I also kept track of whether the books I was reading were by white authors or authors of colour. In my goals last year I said I wanted at least 25% of the books I read to be by people of colour. I’m happy to say I achieved that and 40% of the books I read (which makes 29 of them) were by people of colour. I think my Read the World project definitely helps with this.

Now for my reading goals of 2020.

My reading goals aren’t that different to what they’ve been the last few years to be honest. I’m going to continue to put a £1 in a jar for every book I read, and I’m going to increase my Goodreads challenge goal a bit and want to read at least 60 books and to review at least 30 of them. I also want to continue to read books from at least an equal split of men and women authors, and to have at least 30% of the books I read are by people of colour. I’ll also say (once again) that I’d like to get my TBR down to 50 books. I did make some headway with my TBR in 2019 so I hope I can continue that trend, or at least be more open to unhauling books I have no interest in anymore. I’m not signing up to any year-long challenges but I think I will join many readathons throughout the year to give me that extra push to read.

In 2019 I hit 100 countries read for my Read the World Project! I’m so happy with that number but I do have 122 countries to read in the next 21 months if I want to meet myself imposed deadline. I own books for 6 more countries, but I have many more on my radar so reading books for my Read the World project will definitely be a priority this year. Really, I need to read at least 60 books for this challenge to make my deadline of reading a book from every country in the world before my 30th birthday. I’m not sure if that’ll happen but I hope it will. If you have any suggestions for books from around the world, I’d love to hear them! You can see what countries I’ve already read here.

Those are my reading goals for 2020. Do you have any reading goals for the year? I’m always interested in the reading goals people set themselves and if they have any tips or tricks to help them achieve them.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favourite Books I Read in 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. And so another year comes to an end so it’s time to look back at the books I read this year and figure out what were my favourites. Without further ado, in no real particular order, here’s my favourite books of 2019 and I’ve linked back to my reviews (if I reviewed them that is!).

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
The Exact Opposite of Okay was one of the first books I read this year and it has stuck with me since then. I thought it handled the subject of revenge porn so well while still having a main character that was sarcastic and strong while still hurting. Think this (and its sequel which is also great) will be all-time favourites.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I’m probably one of the last people to read this book but I definitely got why Children of Blood and Bone received so much hype. It was a gripping magical adventure and though I didn’t like the romance at all, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt
This was a creepy thriller and one where it was so tense and that all hope seemed to be lost for so long that I wasn’t even sure if everything would turn out OK in the end.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Considering I found The Shadow of the Wind tough to get through (enjoyable but slow-going) I found The Angel’s Game to be so readable. I loved the mystery, the setting and how it linked to The Shadow of the Wind.

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
I’d not read a John Grisham book before but this one was great. It was gripping and intriguing and I was never really sure how the central court case would end up.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This is the kind of book that makes me want to read more science-fiction. The characters, the setting, the writing; it was all so good. I want to read the next books in this sort-of series but as I’m so bad at reading series we will see how soon that happens!

Internment by Samira Ahmed
This book was tough to get through at times because it unfortunately felt so close to our reality. It was a gripping book though with characters you couldn’t help but root for.

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends by Sebastián Fest
I went to the Laver Cup in Geneva and had such an amazing time watching tennis legends Federer and Nadal play. Before I went, I read this book and found it a fascinating insight into the two of them and their legacies.

Old Man Hawkeye Volumes 1 and 2 by Ethan Sacks, Marco Checchetto, Andres Mossa, Francesco Mobili and Ibraim Roberson
I didn’t read a lot of graphic novels or comics this year, but I did read all of the Old Man Hawkeye series. It’s a prequel to Old Man Logan (which I also really liked) and I thought it did a great job at connecting to story while adding new things. Plus, it focussed on Hawkeye, an older-version of Hawkeye but one that still is Clint Barton deep down.

What are some of your favourite books you read this year?

My Top Ten Films of 2019

As there’s just two more days of 2019 and I’m not going to be watching any new 2019 releases over those two days, here’s my ten favourite films of 2019. These are based on UK releases and I reviewed a lot of these films so will link to my review if I did so.

I have contributed to the HeyUGuys Online Critics Top Ten once again (though my top ten on there is slightly different as I’d forgotten a film that I loved) and do think it’s a cool and interesting thing to check out. I honestly found it more difficult than normal to even think of ten films that I really loved from this year but without further ado, here are my favourite films of 2019 in kinda of order.

10. Capernaum
This film was brutal but brilliant. The very young star was incredible and how the filmmaker got such a genuine performance out of a young child and a baby is astounding. Capernaum is a film I would highly recommend to anyone but it’s not one that I could watch again any time soon. It’s just so sad.

9. Crawl
This is like the perfect monster movie. It’s tense, atmospheric, with so many surprises. It’s a film where it knew exactly what it was – alligators going after a trapped father and daughter (and a dog) in a hurricane – and did it very well.

8. Hustlers
Hustlers is a funny and vibrant film with great performances and sharp storytelling. I love how it gives space for you to make your own judgements on these women that conned men out of hundreds of thousands of dollars but also made a family too.

7. What They Had
This is another film that I think is great with brilliant performances and a touching story but not one that I’d want to watch again anytime soon. What They Had hit close to home as it’s about a family dealing with a relative going through Alzheimer’s. That’s something I’ve been dealing with for over five years and I think the writer and director captured the highs and lows of it all perfectly.

6. Shazam!
Shazam! was an unexpected delight. It’s so much fun and sweet and young cast are great. It has one of my favourite tropes – found family – and it works so well and I cannot wait for a sequel.

5. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a film I almost forgot came out this year even though it’s so great. I love all the twists and turns and illusions and those post-credit scenes are fascinating to me and I can’t wait to see what they mean.

4. Unicorn Store
I really need to rewatch Unicorn Store. Gosh I loved it so much when I watched it in the Spring because it resonated with me so much. Just that feeling of not knowing what you were doing our why and who you’re meant to be – it really struck a chord and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for ages.

3. Instant Family
Having rewatched this film yesterday I am very happy to give it such a high spot on my favourites of the year. It makes me laugh and cry and it gets me right in the feels.

2. Knock Down the House
This is such a fantastic documentary that’s equal parts frustrating and inspiring. To see women fight for what they believe in, a better country for normal people, and how some might not make it but there’s still ripple effects because of their actions – it makes you want to stand up for what you believe in.

1. Avengers: Endgame
Oh boy. What can I say about Endgame?! It was such a satisfying ending to a lot of these characters arcs, it was big and bold and I full on sob for the last 10 minutes or so every time I watch it (and I’ve seen it four times now).

What are some of your favourite films of 2019?