The Blue Falcon by Robyn Carr

Product info:

The flaxen-haired Chandra watched with love as de Corbney grew to manhood, his hair as black as deep night, his fierce blue eyes shining with the victories of the jousting fields that won him the name heralded throughout England: the Blue Falcon.

He is a knight of the King now, his prowess with sword and lance a legend in the fields of war. And in the bold, sweet gaze of the beautiful Lady Chandra, the Falcon meets his equal in will and destiny, and discovers-at last and too late–the simple and fatal truth of love.

For around them, a fine and deadly web of cunning, greed and cold deceit is tightening….

My impressions:

Let’s have a moment of honesty. Do you know why I sometimes read historical romance out of my free will? Because, with applying a proper approach, such books are so funny and so easy to criticize. They have a special charm, especially in summer when you are not exactly keen to write a review or even read at all. The Blue Falcon was a real gem- so bad that it was almost good: predictable, idiotically anachronistic, full of cheesy sex scenes (but small wonder, it was published in 1981 for the first time) and carton-flat, two-dimensional characters. You know me, I could go on and on like that almost forever, with or without emoticons and memes. Still, let’s focus this time on the weird side. Because this book was weird, I assure you.

1st weird thing: Lady Chandra. Or, more precisely, her name. We are talking about times of Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades, the second half of 12th century. Chandra is a Hindi name which means ‘Moon’. Now I wonder: how come English parents living in medieval England knew about it and were courageous enough to give it to their daughter… after all it is a name of a heathen deity, not a Christian name…

2dn weird thing: Lady Chandra again and her forced and inadvertently kinky marriage to sir Tedric, one of the baddies. Well, in a nutshell, when it came to those two nothing worked for me. It’s obvious Chandra loves somebody else (and his name is Conan, people, CONAN for heavens’ sake!) BUT, nevertheless, at one point she practically invites her horrible, brutal, rapist hubby to her bed under a pretext she is charitably sheltering her pregnant servant who, by the way, got knocked up by nobody else but sir Tedric himself. Then our sweet lady is disapointed because, surprise, surprise, once again nothing good came out of it. What did she expect? Does it make sense? If yes, then please, illuminate me in your comments.

3rd weird thing: the Crusades. In the book of Ms. Carr they sound practically harmless, like any business trip. Everybody Chandra knows joins the Crusade and returns unscathed. It is just a quick way to get rich and get noticed by the king at the same time. Mind-boggling.

4th weird thing: Sir Conan. Really, dear author, are you trying to persuade me that that there were other Conans apart from Conan the Barbarian? Sorry, I simply can’t believe it!

Final verdict:

It was fun to read but NEVER again! I am going to shun this author and the rest of her books as well.

Posted in book review, chicklit, historically-flavoured, romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Movie review: The Emperor of Paris (L’Empereur de Paris) directed by Jean-Francois Richet (2018)

Product info:

Legendary escaped from prison, Eugène-François Vidocq (Vincent Cassel) tries to be forgotten by becoming a simple rag trader. But he is overtaken by his past and accused of a murder of which he is innocent. By a sudden twist of fate he becomes chief of the security brigade of the Prefecture of Police of Paris to fight organized crime. His exceptional results attract the wrath of other police and the underworld. His head is put on price. Will he manage to survive?

My impressions:

I really like European cinema but, unfortunately, this movie I wouldn’t recommend to anybody. First of all it was schematic to the extreme. Secondly, it was boring and predictable. Thirdly, it was suffused with truly disgusting patriotic propaganda, a thing I realy hate in any movie, African, European, Asian, American, Arctic, you name it. Do you want some details anyway? Ok, here you go.

You’d think, with such a juicy topic and such a character nothing could go wrong. The movie promises you 19th century Paris, a cesspool of open sewers, rotting animal carcasses and vicious robbers who never hesitate to kill, and Eugene Francois Vidocq, the infamous criminal who transformed into an infamous criminalist, building the foundations of modern forensics and inspiring writers like Honore de Balzac and Edgar Allen Poe. Seems like a feast, right? Wrong. The director gave me instead some decent fight sequences but no clever, intelligent investigations Vidocq was so famous of. I also saw some romance but no politics or sophisticated plottings. You get rivalry but no real thinking. Finally, you get a super chivalrous, honest villain who is no villain at all. As I said, boring.

Final verdict:

I didn’t finish watching this movie – turned it off after roughly three-fourths. And then I went to bed, quite disgusted. I would love to watch a good Vidocq movie and it seems I’ll have to wait.

Posted in action movie, costume drama, historical, movie review | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Purity of Vengeance (Department Q 04) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Product info (from Goodreads):

In 1987, Nete Hermansen plans revenge on those who abused her in her youth, including Curt Wad, a charismatic surgeon who was part of a movement to sterilize wayward girls with ‘bad genes’ in 1950s Denmark.

More than twenty years later, Detective Carl Mørck already has plenty on his mind when he is presented with the case of a brothel owner, a woman named Rita, who went missing in the eighties: New evidence has emerged in the case that destroyed the lives of his two partners—the case that sent Carl to Department Q.

But when Carl’s assistants, Assad and Rose, learn that numerous other people disappeared around the same weekend as Rita, Carl takes notice. As they sift through the disappearances, they get closer and closer to Curt Wad, who is more determined than ever to see the vision of his youth take hold and whose brutal treatment of Nete and others like her is only one small part of his capacity for evil.

My impressions:

I jumped in the middle of the series and never experienced any problems so, I suppose, this part can be considered a stand-alone novel. Which is good. There were some short infodumps concerning Mork’s previous life and incoming divorce but I took them in my stride.

The first general remark: there is no real mystery per se and I didn’t like that. We know from the very beginning that Nete Hermansen, a rich widow, decided to avenge herself and murder several people who had made her early life truly hellish. We just lack details and Carl Mork, helped by his colleagues, Assad and Rose, is going to investigate. After all he leads a special police unit which deals with old, unresolved, strange cases. A disappearance of five people in a very short period of time should be considered strange for sure.

My second general remark: neither Nete, nor her nemezis, Curt Wad, were especially intelligent or resourceful in their dealings. It is always a drag in crime stories, at least in my opinion, when the perpetrators are rather dumb and their plans – easy to guess. Nete’s nefarious preparations to shorten lives of her old enemies were ridiculous mainly because a) she was a woman in her fifties, not exactly young or fit, b) she didn’t think of one hundred little things which could go wrong (I am being deliberately vague because otherwise this review would be one big spoiler). Curt Wad’s ‘hidden’ documentation almost begged to be discovered.

Final verdict:

Neither good nor especially bad example of ‘Nordic’ or ‘Scandinavian’ crime story with rather dumb characters and a non-mystery. I am not inclined to check the rest of the series, thank you very much. Meh.

Posted in book review, contemporary, thriller | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Movie review: The Legend of Barney Thomson directed by Robert Carlyle

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Barney (Robert Carlyle, the director) is a hapless barber, devoid of charm and ‘patter’ as his fellow barbering brethren mockingly remind him. Barney’s mediocre, mundane life of plotting for a way up is about to be transformed, following a typically incompetent fit of pique, when he inadvertently stumbles into serial murder, and with it headlong into the trail of a grotesque series of killings gripping Glasgow. As he makes ham-fisted attempts to cover his tracks, he finds himself on the run from the bearish Detective Inspector Holdall and a testosterone-driven local Police task force at each others throats over the ongoing crimes. 

My impressions:

Usually movies such as this one work in the following way: you meet a crafty wrongdoer who, after a while, finds his or her nemezis in a form of an equally crafty cop. Then we get a duel between the good and the evil. The Legend of Barney Thomson puts it all upside down. The wrongdoer is rather a clumsy oaf and a loner than an evil genius of crime. He can even be called an accidental serial murderer, if such a thing exists. The detective, trying to catch him, is a frustrated officer, moderately intelligent but very spiteful because he’s just been passed over for promotion and he is not exactly young anymore. How did it work? It was funny but not VERY funny.

The creation of Emma Thompson as Cemolina, the mother of Barney, was a real treat and a spark illuminating the whole film. The rest was bland. Fortunately I am a huge fan of Emma so her presence was enough to keep me interested to almost the very end.

Final verdict:

Not the finest example of English (or Scottish) humour but it had its moments. If you are a fan of Emma you’ll watch it sooner or later. If you are not, you might find yourself a tad disappointed. Watch it at home just to remain on the safe side.

Posted in comedy drama, contemporary thriller/horror, movie review | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

A Winter Haunting (Season of Horrors 03) by Dan Simmons

Product info (from Goodreads):

A once-respected college professor and novelist, Dale Stewart has sabotaged his career and his marriage — and now darkness is closing in on him. In the last hours of Halloween he has returned to the dying town of Elm Haven, his boyhood home, where he hopes to find peace in isolation. But moving into a long-deserted farmhouse on the far outskirts of town — the one-time residence of a strange and brilliant friend who lost his young life in a grisly “accident” back in the terrible summer of 1960 — is only the latest in his long succession of recent mistakes. Because Dale is not alone here. He has been followed to this house of shadows by private demons who are now twisting his reality into horrifying new forms. And a thick, blanketing early snow is starting to fall … 

My impressions:

I am really tempted to write a very short review. Like ‘record-short’. I suppose it would be enough to say that A Winter Haunting was, in my very humble opinion, far weaker and less interesting than the Hyperion Cantos or Ilium series. But, of course, I know it won’t do. You might even accuse me of sounding like somebody else ;p so let me add another paragraph. Just one.

Dale Steward, the main character of this book, let me down by his lack of purpose in self-destruction and inner strength to carry out his plan (providing he had one). His long-dead friend’s haunted (?) house let me down as well because it was hardly spooky. The author didn’t manage to interest me in the mystery enough to make me try to guess the outcome and I was especially unimpressed by the band of neo-nazi punks who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared when it was the most convenient for the narration. Finally the supernatural occurences were hardly explained. They just happened – or not. As I said, not impressive at all.

Final verdict:

Boring, lackluster, with skeletal plot and a hero who annoyed me to no end – overall not a book I would recommend so I won’t bother with the rest of the series.

Other books by Dan Simmons reviewed on this blog so far:

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, horror | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: Destroyer (2018) directed by Karyn Kusama

Product info:

Destroyer follows the moral and existential odyssey of LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) who, as a young FBI agen, was placed undercover with a gang in the California desert with tragic results. VERY tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history with them to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past.

My impressions:

You know I like flawed heroes too much for my own good, right? Well, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a cop, and a human being, as flawed as Erin Bell. Her face tells you all: wrinkled, ravaged, tired, old, hopeless. Her marriage is in tatters, her estranged teen daughter, Shelby ( Jade Pettyjohn) , doesn’t even want to talk to her mom anymore and she dates a young man who has every characteristic of a pimp-in-making just to make Erin mad . Overall, the movie flips traditional gender roles – usually Erin would be an Edward or an Ethan. Also any actress who would agree to look so disastrously bad in a movie would be the prime candidate for an Oscar. And yet, strangely, Kidman received no Academy recognition whatsoever even though she performed splendidly well. What went wrong this time?

Perhaps the movie was too depressing, too noir for American audience, too close to real life to be popular and secure Kidman an award. At no point Erin seems to be a ‘charming girl’ not even when we flip back to her younger self and her doomed romance. As she admits to her sceptical daughter near the very end, she is the bad one and she means it. Seeing the sad story of her life unravel before our eyes we have to confirm that much – Erin’s place is in jail or rather, taking into account her many addictions, in a hospital first, jail later. I think (and I might be wrong) that the grueling narrative, hopeless from the beginning to the very end, doomed this one. After all Americans love nothing better than a ray of hope and a nice HEA in their books and movies and ‘Destroyer’ fell short of their expectations.

Final verdict:

A good movie filmed exceedingly well, but as dark as a tar pit. Overall not an experience to be repeated. It does leave a lingering impact but it also make you depressed.

Posted in action movie, contemporary, drama, movie review, noir thriller | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Naturalist (The Naturalist 01) by Andrew Mayne

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?

My impressions:

It’s the first part of a series about a kind of accidental detective cum vigilante who also happens to be a scientist. The narrative was quick-paced and Theo was fun to follow. Still his adventures were rather predictable and not especially original. Of course nobody believed him. Of course he was so motivated (but by what exactly?) that he had to risk his own career and life in order to find that mysterious murderer. Of course he had to find a girlfriend, maybe even fall in love, in the process. Of course he was right all the way. Of course his nemesis was very intelligent and very strong and very cunning… it seemed every chapter, sometimes even every page, I was stumbling on more and more threadbare thriller tropes.

Finally I had enough. I don’t think I will be continuing reading this series even if Theo was a rather nice bloke with that Don Quixotic charm layered rather thick. Well, you can have too much of a good thing too.

Final verdict:

A thriller like many others – if you are looking for some brainless entertaiment it might fit the bill. I, however, was left disappointed.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, thriller | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A break

It’s already May, as strange as it sounds, and I feel I need a break from blogging. It will last a week or two, hard to say right now, but I will be back! Meanwhile have fun, dear Visitors, and read only good books!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Partenon by Mary Beard

Product info:

Oscar Wilde compared it to a white goddess, Evelyn Waugh to Stilton cheese. In observers from Lord Byron to Sigmund Freud to Virginia Woolf it met with astonishment, rapture, poetry, even tears–and, always, recognition. Twenty-five hundred years after it first rose above Athens, the Parthenon remains one of the wonders of the world, its beginnings and strange turns of fortune over millennia a perpetual source of curiosity, controversy, and intrigue.

Who built the Parthenon, and for what purpose? How are we to understand its sculpture? Why is it such a compelling monument? The classicist and historian Mary Beard takes us back to the fifth century B.C. to consider the Parthenon in its original guise–as the flagship temple of imperial Athens, housing an enormous gold and ivory statue of the city’s patron goddess attended by an enigmatic assembly of sculptures.

My impressions:

My second non-fiction position this month – I am on a roll! Ok, let’s be concise. If you are planning to visit Greece, do read this book because the history of Partenon, easily one of the most recognizable buildings of the world, is also the history of ancient and modern Greece. Ditto if you are going to the British Museum in London in the near future. If you have ever been interested in Greek myths and culture, it is your book as well – you’ll find a lot of ingenious tidbits concerning Greek gods and godesses, how they were worshiped and why. It is short, well-narrated, factual and wonderfully funny, combining great erudition and sense of humour. Still, the second part, concerning the controversy around Elgin Marbles, currently still housed by British Museum in London, marred the book a bit for me. Perhaps I’d already heard too much about it to find it intriguing. Oh well.

Final verdict:

A small book that covers a lot more territory than just the history of the Parthenon- recommendable not only for ancient history geeks.

Posted in book review, contemporary, historical, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sacred Games by Chandra Vikram

Product info (from Goodreads):

Sartaj, one of the very few Sikhs on the Mumbai police force, is used to being identified by his turban, beard and the sharp cut of his trousers. But “the silky Sikh” is now past forty, his marriage is over and his career prospects are on the slide. When Sartaj gets an anonymous tip-off as to the secret hide-out of the legendary boss of G-Company, he’s determined that he’ll be the one to collect the prize. 
It is is a story of friendship and betrayal, of terrible violence, of an astonishing modern city and its darker, primitive side.

My impressions:

It is supposed to be the book the first Netflix Indian series is based; still if I have a choice: to read the book or to watch a series I always choose the book. Or the book first and the series later.

Sacred Games has two main story arcs: you follow a Bombay police inspector and a mafia Don, two men whose stories intertwine but only briefly meet. I liked Ganesh Gaitonde’s story better even though
Sartaj Singh and his unique approach toward the world wasn’t bad in itself. There are layers within layers and the author presents a good account of the lives of most of the characters that Sartaj comes into contact with on a daily basis.  Still I got a feeling the book was too long, too ornate, like those Indian and Pakistani trucks, decorated more richly than your average Christmas tree. Overall I think Chandra’s narrative, though mostly action-driven, lacks in certain areas. The book offers an interesting array of characters, but more often than not, these characters do not add much to the narrative and in fact, slow it down.  And the book is long, like over 900 pages so it hardly needs any slowing down.

Add to that the fact that the author had to include a Hindi glossary to assist readers with many Hindi words and phrases sprinkled throughout the text and all of a sudden you are facing a chore, not entertainment, especially in some chapters.

Final verdict:

A sprawling novel about gangsters and cops in Mumbai, India. If you like long, convoluted stories richly flavoured with local spices, you will be enthralled; still be warned – it might take you longer to read than you expected. I almost liked this one. Almost.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, grimdark, mystery | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments