@HomeCafe Maid Café in Akihabara, Tokyo

Akihabara is the place to go for “nerd stuff”: anime, comics, figurines, electronics, and video games. I took my brothers there today and we decided to get lunch in a maid café.

There are several maid cafés in Akihabara. We chose @homecafe as it’s highly rated and close to Super Potato, a retro gaming store.

Rules of Visiting @HomeCafe

  1. No pictures (except of food and drinks).
  2. Credit cards accepted.
  3. Don’t touch the maids or ask them for any personal information.
  4. All guests have to order at least one item from the menu.
  5. There is an additional fee as well as food and drink of 700 yen per adult, and discounts for seniors and students.

Upon arriving, we were greeted with a happy “welcome home, masters and princess!” Maids are there to make you happy and give you what you need. All the maids, dressed up in cute outfits, had smiles on their faces and were very kind.

Our server, Aqua, said some cute, quirky stuff like she was from Aqualand in the deep ocean and that she had eaten magic food that made her 17 years old forever.

We ordered the Food Combo, which included one food item from the menu, one soft drink, and a picture with the maids. We all ordered the omelette rice, where the maids draw a picture of your choice on top in ketchup. I got Princess Peach and she did a pretty good job!

The boys got milkshakes and I got a mocha latte where I could also choose the picture on top in caramel sauce. I requested Wario.

We even managed to catch a cute show where the maids sung and danced on stage. Because why not, right?

Here’s me with Aqua. She was awfully sweet and she definitely had the biggest smile out of all the maids in @homecafe.

Kawaii as heck.

A maid cafe is always a fun experience; just expect to plonk down around 3,000 yen for your meal and experience. It’s an experience you should try while in a Japanese city.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “My Mum Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child. Most British kids who like reading have at least heard of her. I’ve written about her top ten books, though she’s now written over one hundred. Her stories are mostly about little girls in the working class dealing with real-life issues such as bullying, poverty, abuse, and family issues.

When I was small, my aunt bought me a set of some of Wilson’s best titles, such as The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Bad Girls, Buried Alive!, The Suitcase Kid, and Double Act. I read those books dozens of times all the way through my childhood and teens, and even got a couple of them as ebooks for a reread.

I bought Wave Me Goodbye last year and it was cool to see that Wilson’s writing style hasn’t changed much. I came across My Mum Tracy Beaker and immediately bought it; I liked the first three Beaker books and it was cool to see that the little girl I grew up reading about was now grown up with a child of her own.

91KcVczAr6L“Tracy has returned, hand in hand with her daughter Jess, she’s ready to make her childhood dreams come true. 

Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. They do everything together. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever, even when she shouts at her teachers!

Tracy has made the perfect home for Jess, leaving The Dumping Ground far behind her. Yes, their flat’s a bit mouldy. It’s only just big enough for two. And the Duke Estate is a bit scary. 
But it’s their happy home. 

Until Sean Godfrey, Tracy’s rich boyfriend, whisks them away to his mansion, life of fast cars and celebrity stardom. Will Jess’s brilliant mum turn into a new person altogether? And will Tracy realise that her childhood dream might not be what she needs after all?”

Despite having modern references such as selfies, Instagram, the internet, and cell phones, it was diving into this 400-page paperback still held the nostalgia of the ’90s with references to things like The Magic Faraway Tree (an old book by Enid Blyton, another childhood favourite) and The Wizard of Oz.

Tracy Beaker is still fierce and short-tempered, but she’s also a wonderfully sweet mother to Jess (from whose view we see this story). She always takes her daughter’s feelings into account, takes her seriously, and does her best to take care of her. Though Tracy has many problems from her difficult childhood, she’s extremely loyal and independent. She makes a big fuss of people’s birthdays, no doubt because she always had “half a birthday” in the Dumping Ground, the home she grew up in.

Jess is much shyer and is reminiscent of some of Wilson’s other books: she likes reading, she’s shy, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends. A sympathetic character like this is a Wilson trope.

We see characters from the first three books. Cam is there, of course, still with a wonderful relationship with Tracy, whom she refers to as her mother and says she loves her, showing how grateful she is the woman fostered her. There are other familiar faces, too, but no spoilers here!

A neat little easter egg is when Jess read two books; though they aren’t named, they’re described enough where I could understand they were Hetty Feather and Lola Rose, the latter of which is my favourite book by this author.

The story was pretty good, though it could have been shorter. Tracy can’t let go of her childhood dream; those who read The Story of Tracy Beaker might know she always dreamed of being rich and living in an enormous mansion with posh furniture. Jess, however, is happy with their little flat and it being just the two of them. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s Wilson’s best. Then again, it’s aimed at children so maybe I’ve just grown too big for it!

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading the first three books so you can spot the references. I give My Mum Tracy Beaker three stars out of five.

3stars

Get My Mum Tracy Beaker on Amazon

3 Weird KitKat Flavours

Japan is famous for distributing a bunch of different flavours of KitKat. There may be hundreds out there, changing with the seasons, the most popular, such as green tea, enduring at sweet shops and airports. They even release a sakura flavour for cherry blossom season.

I’ve got a soft spot for Kit Kats because back before Nestlé bought them, the producer was called Rowntrees and based in York, the city where I went to university.

Here are three crazy flavours of KitKat I recently tried.

1. Roasted Green Tea

img_7955

Roasted green tea is yummy; I love getting lattes from the convenience store. The KitKat tasted almost the same, containing much of the same ingredients and a pleasant tea-like aftertaste.

2. Wasabi

img_8301.jpg

Wasabi is spicy Japanese horseradish served with sushi. I don’t like wasabi at all, but someone at work gave me this so I gave it a try. It’s actually not bad, though the wasabi and chocolate flavour together is a little strange. It has a spicy aftertaste but it’s not as strong as the real thing. Oddly, it kind of reminded me of mint.

3. Grape

You can get a lot of grape-flavoured goodies here. Fruit and chocolate is always good together, and this pink treat was tasty, though honestly, tasted quite artificial.

img_8302

I’ll be adding to this list when I come across new Kit Kat flavours. What kinds have you tried?

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Four Dead Queens” by Astrid Scholte

I’ve been reading a lot of debut authors by big publishing houses recently. I came across the newly-released Four Dead Queens by Australian author Astrid Scholte, and immediately loved the cover, which screamed romance and magic and fantasy. Anything with “queen” in the title catches my interest at once, so I pre-ordered the paperback and eagerly awaited its arrival.

It’s so pretty!

9781760524418“Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead. 

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.”

The book is an interesting blend of sci-fi dystopia and fantasy. Every other chapter was from a queen’s perspective and another from Keralie’s. This was fascinating as I expected the queens to be dead right at the beginning of the story, and learning about their intricate lives and secrets gave them details that made me care about them even when I knew they were going to perish.

I was actually more interested in the goings-on of the palace than in Keralie’s story, partly because the queens were more fantasy and the MC’s was more dystopian/sci-fi. The seventeen-year-old, whose personality and storyline is very reminiscent of the Divergent trilogy, is a fairly typical YA tough girl, short but spunky, kicking and punching and always with a smart joke on her tongue. I suppose she was likable if you like those kinds of characters, but I cared far more about the queens, who seemed much more vulnerable and real, and the identity of the mystery assassin.

My favourite queen was Corra: her past, the pressures of pretending to be a stoic Eonite, and her secrets that threatened to tear her world apart. Every queen had her own motives and personality, and it was bittersweet to find out so much about them to know that they were going to be murdered.

I wasn’t keen on the romance between Keralie and Varin. For all they went through together, there didn’t seem to be much chemistry, apart from her (slightly pervy) attitude towards his perfect body and skin. He was stoic and handsome, but there wasn’t much else to him. The book would have been just as satisfying if they’d turned out to be best friends.

The twists were what made this book really fun for me. Every time I had a prime suspect or assumption in mind, I was proven wrong. Earlier today, I hit a plot climax and had to tear my eyes from the book to go to work. It was all I could think about throughout my shift!

All in all, this was a great debut novel that I’ll probably read again in the future. I loved the world-building, although there could have been more detail about the wars and the quadrants themselves, such as a closer look at Ludia. The palace sounded fascinating, and I loved the relationships between the queens, how they worked hard to take care of their lands even when their clashing personalities sometimes made things difficult. The murders themselves were also thrilling, Ms. Scholte carefully concealing the gender of the assassin to keep our minds open about who it could be. I honestly didn’t guess until it was revealed, and I’m super happy I didn’t see the twist coming.

I’ll be keeping an eye on Ms. Scholte and her work. I give Four Dead Queens four stars out of five!

4stars

Get Four Dead Queens on Amazon UK
Get Four Dead Queens on Amazon US

10 Awesome Facts About Mt. Fuji, Japan’s Tallest Mountain

Mt. Fuji, or Fuji-san (富士山) as called by locals, is a volcanic mountain in Japan that has been used in art, literature, and mythology for centuries. This instantly recognisable mountain is well loved and awe-inspiring, prompting millions to visit and thousands to climb every year.

snow-3252673_1280

Here are ten awesome facts about Mt. Fuji.

1. It’s in the Top 50 Tallest Mountains in the World

As well as being the highest in Japan, according to PeakList, Mt. Fuji ranks at the 35th tallest mountain in the world!

2. It Last Erupted Over 300 Years Ago

Mt. Fuji is one of the many volcanoes in Japan, and its last recorded eruption was on the 16th December 1707.

3. It Could Erupt Again Anytime

though it’s been centuries since its last eruption, geologists classify Mt. Fuji as dormant, and technically speaking, it could erupt again anytime. Needless to say, scientists are keeping a close eye on this mighty volcano just in case.

volcano-609104_1280

4. It Can Only be Climbed at Certain Times of the Year

Even the most experienced of hikers are greatly discouraged from attempting to climb Mt. Fuji outside of climbing season, which is from July to September. The tricky conditions mean that it’s incredibly dangerous to attempt to get to the top outside summer.

5. The Oldest Recorded Person to Reach the Summit was 103 Years Old

Japan Times told the story of Masashi Toyoda, a 93-year-old man who reached the mountain’s peak in 2017. Though this is indisputably impressive, and many elderly people climb Fuji every year, according to Sengen Taisha, the oldest ever recorded climber was a whopping 103 years of age.

6. The First Non-Japanese Person to Climb Mt. Fuji was a British Man

Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809-1897) was the first diplomatic representative to live in Japan. He was also the first recorded non-Japanese person to scale the mighty mountain.

Rutherford_alcock

7. Women Weren’t Allowed to Climb it Until the Late 19th Century

The name “Fuji” is said to come from the Ainu people’s Fire Goddess “Huchi” or “Fuchi,” and that since she would have gotten jealous of any woman on the mountain, females weren’t allowed to approach it until the 1860s.

8. There’s a Proverb Saying You Should Only Climb it Once

There is a famous Japanese saying: “A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.” Of course, no one is actually discouraged from hiking the mountain more than once anymore.

9. There’s a Realm of the Living and the Realm of the Dead

Mt. Fuji is partly famous for the many myths and folklore surrounding it, filling it with a sense of mystery and magic. The stark borders between the mountain’s forest greenery and its lava-burned rock are rumoured to be the doorways between the realms of the living and the dead.

10. You Can Enjoy Amazing Views of Mt. Fuji All Over Japan

Due to its central location, there are hundreds of viewing spots of this gorgeous mountain all over the country. These include Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, parks, other mountains, various well-placed ryokans (Japanese hotels), or from one of its five surrounding lakes. While hiking or enjoying a day out, it’s always a nice bonus when you can catch a glimpse of Fuji on a clear day.

Mt. Fuji is an icon of this great country and thousands more every year challenge the mountain’s trails to try and reach the top. How many of these facts did you know?

7 Drinks From Japanese Convenience Stores

There’s a reason local konbinis are considered convenient in Japan. There is a 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson, the Daily Yamazaki, or another brand of shop on pretty much every street in the country, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, selling food, drinks, makeup, toiletries, gift cards, magazines, and other necessities.

Japan never fails to impress with its endless choices of drinks. I’ll talk about alcohol in another article, so this post is mostly about the different drinks you can grab while you’re on the go. You won’t just find instant coffee, but an impressive variety of thirst-quenchers that go beyond the usual sodas and fruit juices. Here are a few examples.

1. Kiwami Cafe au Lait by Wonda

Canned coffee is a wonderfully weird phenomenon. I try not to buy it too often as it’s often loaded with sugar, but I was jonesing and the word “Kiwami” caught my eye – it’s the name of one of the famous Yakuza video games, which my husband loves. This sweet cup-o-joe-in-a-can was yummy.

2. Butter Matcha

I’m one of those people who just love matcha lattes. I always try different brands but again, try not to drink them too much because of their high sugar content. “Butter matcha,” alongside the “butter coffee,” looked so weird I just had to try it.

I should have looked closer. See the picture of the fit woman in the background? And see the zero at the top? Since when has a healthy version of anything been delicious?!

This nasty, watery mess was disgusting. Don’t buy it.

3. Hojicha Latte

DUDE! Hojicha, or roasted green tea, is just awesome. If you’re not keen on sweet lattes, at least try real hojicha at some point if you come to Japan. There are quite a few hojicha lattes out there, and this one was creamy and delicious.

4. Sakura Chocolate with Strawberry Jelly by Starbucks

I mentioned this drink in another post, appearing right after Valentine’s Day in time for the much-loved cherry blossom season. It’s an imitation of their sakura drinks (way more expensive if you buy them in an actual Starbucks, and ranging from 200-300 yen in a convenience store).

It was a little too much for me, but I understand why those with a sweet tooth might enjoy it.

5. Chocolat Drink by Ken’s Cafe Tokyo

Now this is the kind of sweet drink I can get behind. It’s not really a chocolate milkshake, though it was served cold; it was creamy, rich, and pretty much a dessert in a cup. If you’re a chocoholic, I can recommend this one.

img_8174

6. Cafe Latte by Georgia

(Sorry, I drank this one before taking the picture).

I’ve loved Georgia’s cafe lattes for ages, and you can usually find them in vending machines or the ‘HOT’ section of convenience stores. Just keep in mind that konbinis usually struggle to keep their ‘hot’ drinks, well… hot. A lukewarm Georgia coffee is still nice on a cold day. Just remember that it’s sweet.

img_8212

7. Yasai Days Vegetable and Fruit

This is my favourite drink of all time! The photo below is the drink at a supermarket and the convenience store packaging may be different, but it’s all the same stuff. Yasai Days has LOADS of different fruit and veg inside, including lemon, apple, spinach, kale, carrot, bell peppers, and more.

It apparently contains all your vitamin C for the day. Drinking this stuff is really good for you and it tastes nice, too; most juice, like pure orange juice, is far too sweet. Definitely give this one a try. It’s good for ya.

img_8218.jpg

I’ll probably add more to this list as time goes on. What’s your favourite konbini drink?

Cook-It-Yourself Monjayaki: How to Experience This Tokyo Dish

Monjayaki is a Tokyo-based Japanese dish that, despite being delicious and diverse, doesn’t seem to be as well-known as other foods such as sushi, ramen, tempura, and sashimi.

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t look as good as the others. To be fair, while it’s cooking, it looks like mush at best. Don’t let it deter you, though; the flavour makes up for it. There are plenty of monjayaki places in and around Tokyo. It’s the capital’s answer to the better-known okonomiyaki, a cabbage-based dish that came about in west Japan when there was a shortage of rice.

 

What can be intimidating about monjayaki is that you’re expected to cook it yourself. Sometimes, during quieter times in a restaurant, a waiter will do it for you, but this isn’t always guaranteed.

There are various monjayaki restaurants dotted around Tokyo and beyond, but a great place to try different kinds is Tsukishima’s Monja Street.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of monja you’d like to eat. The dish consists of cabbage, various vegetables, and flour, but the possibilities for fillings are virtually endless. Here are some fillings you might find.

  • Pork
  • Mochi (small, chewy lumps of pounded rice)
  • Kimchi (spicy Korean cabbage)
  • Cheese
  • Garlic
  • Prawns
  • Spring onion
  • Corned beef
  • Curry (very weird, never tried it)
  • Ginger
  • Mentaiko (salted pollock roe; one of my favourites)

The types of available fillings depend on the restaurant, but pork, kimchi, and prawns wherever you go.

Step 2

The waiting staff will bring a bowl of raw ingredients to your teppan, or table with a hotplate. They should also switch the hotplate on for you. After spreading some oil onto the hotplate, mix all of the ingredients together in the bowl.

img_8129

Step 3

When it’s all mixed together, pour the ingredients onto the hotplate, leaving the liquid in the bowl. Make a sort of crater or circle in the middle like in the photo below.

img_8132

Step 4

Pour the liquid in the middle.

img_8135

Step 5

Let it bubble!

img_8143

Step 6

When it’s ready (a couple of minutes of bubbling until the ingredients are cooked), use a moji-bera, or small metal spatula provided, to scrape bits of the delicious mix onto your plate. From your plate, you can eat it with chopsticks.

This rich and flavoursome dish doesn’t look all that great, but it’s soooo good. One serving is about enough for one person, so if you’re sharing, be sure to order more than one. Most monja places also serve okonomiyaki, so an ideal meal for two is one serving of monja and one serving of okonomiyaki.

That’s how you cook your own monjayaki! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King

So continues my venture through Different Seasons, Stephen King’s four-part collection of novellas. After Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is Apt Pupil, the story of a young boy and an old man who share and suffer mutual blackmail. A movie adaptation came out in 1998, sixteen years after the book’s release.

kapook_world-176686“If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past… a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power—and the seductive lure of evil.”

Todd is described in the very first line as an “all-American kid.” On the surface, he’s perfect. Sun-kissed blond hair, a great smile, and even better grades. Too clever for his own good.

He’s sussed out his neighbour’s true identity. The old German isn’t an innocent immigrant, but an ex-Nazi with a truly horrific past. Todd’s got the goods on him. But he doesn’t want money… he wants to be told. Told everything. Every grisly detail of the Nazis’ horrific acts on their victims.

If only Todd knew at thirteen where his actions would lead, he’d have left the old man alone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Stephen King doesn’t digress as much as he did in Shawshank, which I preferred; we lived through Todd and Dussender’s mutual disdain, their hold on each other, the odd relationship not of friendship, but respect forming between them. Todd’s grades suffer; he has nightmares, his sick fascination with the unthinkable twisting his life in ways he could never have anticipated.

Horror isn’t always monsters and zombies; there are many horrors of real life that we have to live with, some more than others. In Apt Pupil, there was always something lurking, something that was going to happen, I could feel it. The tension was paramount throughout, leading to an explosive and satisfying ending. Neither characters were likable due to their natures, but it was fascinating to experience their discomfort, their constant fear, and their growing disdain of those they felt were beneath them.

The past is the past, but is it truly? Todd is affected by things that happened before he was born, and yet he is living them.

The dialogue was just great. I was in the 1970s, experiencing the slang of teenage Todd and the second-language love of idioms by Dussander. Stephen King also has a gift of taking similes and idioms a step further, making them his own. There were some quotes that had me laughing.

“It was impossible to tell his age. Todd put him at somewhere between thirty and four hundred.”

“Don’t you dare die on me, you old f***!”

“He looked like death with a hangover.”

It was a fun little Easter egg that Andy Dufresne of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was mentioned, too. He was one of Dussander’s bankers before he (Dufresne) was arrested.

Apt Pupil was awesome, and I might check out the movie at some point. I give this charming novella five stars.

img_4438

Get Different Seasons on Amazon US
Get Different Seasons on Amazon UK

3 Stars Pancake in Musashi-Kosugi, Kanagawa

Today I found out that there’s a charming little pancake shop just a short walk from my apartment! It’s funny how you can live somewhere for a while and yet never know something exists until it’s introduced to you. 3 Stars Pancake is a ten- or fifteen-minute walk from Musashi-Kosugi Station, a little farther on from GrandTree, the nearby department store.

Since we arrived on a Sunday, it was insanely crowded. It took a while for the six of us to squash our way in; from the outside, it had looked bigger, but there were just a couple of tables.

It had the simultaneous feel of a chilled out European café and a trendy American lunch spot. It had a really nice, relaxed vibe which contradicted the long line of customers waiting outside.

3 Stars Pancake serves, as you might be able to guess, pancakes. I ordered the February special: chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. They’ll stop selling it after the end of this month, and the theme likely stems from Valentine’s Day, where women buy chocolates for the men in their lives.

It was monstrous!

The strawberries and the sharp, tangy berry flavoring in the ice cream granted respite from the potentially overpowering chocolate in the pancakes and cream. I couldn’t finish it by myself. This chocolatey delight is more than enough for one and would probably be able to satisfy two people (that being said, my twelve-year-old student next to me ordered the same thing and demolished it on her own).

Other types of pancakes include a classic-style fluffy type with cream and a fruity delight for those looking for a healthier, lighter dessert.

The drinks were cute, too; cold ones are served in glass jars, American style. From left to right: orange juice, grape juice, ice café latte, ice coffee, and iced tea. My hot café latte (as seen in the featured image) had a cute drawn heart on top of the cream.

The weekend was busy, but going for lunch on a weekday would mean getting in much faster. Certain soft drinks are also free between 10:00am and 2:00pm Monday to Friday.

Important Information

3 Star Pancakes is a cute café, perfect for visiting with friends for a treat. If you order a plate of pancakes and a drink, expect to pay around 2,000 yen. Children and kids are welcome and it’s a non-smoking establishment.

Access link

Book Review: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King

Movie buffs, Morgan Freeman fans, or anyone with good taste in film has seen or at least heard of the 1994 masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Of course, it was a novella first, written by the American master of horror, Stephen King.

I recently received a paperback named Different Seasons as a belated wedding gift containing four of King’s novellas, one of which is the 129-page Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which would inspire the classic movie released twelve years after the story’s publication.

91h9ji0d2KL._RI_Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is the story of two men convicted of murder – one guilty, one innocent – who form the perfect partnership as they dream up a scheme to escape from prison.”

It isn’t a horror, though arguably the true “horrors” of prison life, such as “solitary” conditions, bribery, rape, are discussed. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a tale about perseverance, patience, and hope. It’s about holding onto what’s right and staying strong even in the toughest of times.

The book is just a novella, and a lot was added to make it into a movie. It’s not the only of King’s stories to be adapted in this way; more examples include The Mist and 1408 (which, incidentally, are both horrors).

It’s written from Red’s point of view, and though the story is about Andy and his time at the prison of Shawshank, we find out a lot about how Red observes, thinks, and feels. Interestingly, Red was a white man in the book (described as having greying red hair), but Morgan Freeman was perfect for the role in the movie adaptation.

Red is the person who can get things for you. In prison, he’s an important man who’s approached when someone needs things like alcohol, a pack of cards, or a dirty book. His friendship with Andy begins when the younger inmate asks him to get a poster of Rita Hayworth to put in his cell.

Andy shows up at Shawshank for killing his wife and her lover, and appears mild-mannered, calm, and even casual; he strolls about as though he’s at ease with the world and his words are carefully chosen. After advising a guard on how to keep his inheritance without it being taxed, Andy, who had been a banker before his stretch in prison, starts helping the other guards with his finances and, in turn, gets to live alone in his cell and is protected from the Sisters, a vicious gang of rapists.

You might know the rest of the story, and if you haven’t, I won’t give it all away.

Red tells the story in an order that isn’t chronological, often jumping back and forth between the years to talk about events and people. Much of it is also skimmed over, told rather than shown, which I thought would be against the number one rule in writing. Though it wasn’t completely confusing, it was jarring at times to go from the early ’70s back to 1959, but since I knew the story it wasn’t completely baffling. I did think, though, that I would have preferred to be shown through certain events rather than them being mentioned off-hand as something leading up to the “present.”

The movie also improved on many things. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, stop reading now. If you don’t care about spoilers or you know the tale, read on.

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!**

There are some vast differences between Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and its movie adaptation. Here are a few examples.

  • In the movie, the leader of the Sisters is beaten to within an inch of his life for his treatment of Andy. In the book, they fade into the background when Andy is given protection.
  • Tommy, the young man who met the real killer of Andy’s wife, is transferred to a minimum-security prison, a sort of bribe by the Warden to get him out of the way. In the film, he’s shot dead by a guard; it’s an evil and shocking twist, though the concept of Andy’s only hope willingly leaving him behind is sadder and, in a way, darker.
  • Red doesn’t officially find Andy in the book. It ends with him out of prison and receiving the hidden letter he found after following his best friend’s clues and clinging to the hope that he may track him down someday. Movie watchers enjoy happy endings, and the on-screen story had a much more feel-good ending. Whether that means it’s better is debatable.
  • The best change from book to film was what happened to the Warden. After Andy’s escape (which is identical in both versions), Warden goes a bit loopy and retires early, always wondering how Andy managed to outsmart him. In the film, he’s found out for all the scams he’s running and fatally shoots himself.

Stephen King’s writing was impeccable, as always; it felt very ’50s, with plenty of old slang that was a joy to read. There were some amazingly funny quotes, too, which had me giggling as I read the paperback on the train.

“A man humping his butt across country in a gray pajama
suit sticks out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.”

“Cell doors opened; prisoners stepped in; cell doors closed. Some clown shouting, ‘I want my lawyer, I want my lawyer, you guys run this place just like a frigging prison.’”

“One wit suggested that Andy had poured himself out through the keyhole. The suggestion earned the guy four days in solitary. They were uptight.”

The image of an inmate, who probably detests the guards and is good at acting dumb, making a completely useless suggestion for kicks tickled me pink.

Overall, the book was a charming day in the life (though the story spans over several decades) of two inmates, one of which manages the impossible out of patience, dreams, and hope. Andy is a gorgeous character, mysterious and calm and completely likable. Overall, I think I prefer the movie, but the book was still a pleasure to read and I’ll probably reread it in the future. I give Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption four stars out of five.

4stars

Get Different Seasons on Amazon US
Get Different Seasons on Amazon UK