After Rome: A Novel of Celtic Britain by Morgan Llywelyn

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Anarchy rules in Britannia as the Roman Empire collapses, and two men fight to build stable lives among the chaos.

After more than four hundred years of Roman rule, the island its conquerors called Britannia was abandoned—left to its own devices as the Roman empire contracted in a futile effort to defend itself from the barbarian hordes encroaching upon its heart. As Britannia falls into anarchy and the city of Viroconium is left undefended, two cousins who remained behind when the imperial forces withdrew pursue very different courses in the ensuing struggle to unite the disparate tribes and factions throughout the land.

Passionate, adventurous Dinas recruits followers and dreams of kingship. Thoughtful Cadogan saves a group of citizens when Saxons invade and burn Viroconium, then becomes the reluctant founder and leader of a new community that rises in the wilderness. The two cousins could not be more different, but their parallel stories encapsulate the era of a new civilization struggling to be born.

My impressions:

This book starts with a prologue and that little chapter was able to rise my hackles. It was supposed to describe the history of the British Isles from the Ice Age to the Fall of Rome but contained factual errors and sounded like commercial drivel. I found it boring and inessential. Unfortunately, the rest was equally boring and dry.

Llywelyn addressed an interesting question: what happened in Britain when the Romans left? How did the people struggle to survive in a power vacuum? How did they organize themselves – to hunt, to defend their households and their children, to trade? It must have been a real apocalypse and at first the author seemed to have a lot to offer, introducing two very different characters, cousins, with long standing differences. Whose vision would prevail, that of Cadogan, a level-headed, peaceful, law-abiding citizen and a Christian, or that of Dinas, a sly, resourceful and ambitious man who dreams of riches and power and doesn’t care for gods, old or new? Believe it or not, after the first 100 pages I didn’t care about the answers any longer.

I would like to say ‘the story ran out of steam’ but the sad truth is it had never any steam to begin with. The cousins and main leads I mentioned above shared one common trait: they had emotional life and urges of Bob the Builder. Cadogan wanted nothing more than be a leader of a Roman city; Dinas loved his horse more than any other human, male or female. Even good, promising characters with comic potential, like Quartilla, a woman left behind by Dinas and found by Cadogan in his own fort, soon were just repeating themselves over and over again. With plot meandering aimlessly to and fro I gave up and DNFed this one near the middle point. Not even details which hinted in a surrealistic way at the genesis of the Arthurian mythos were able to save it.

Final verdict: 

Writing historical fiction is not an easy task. Some lucky few know how to do it; the rest should steer clear of that genre for their own good.

Rating icon. A stack of books and the words a total failure and an outline of a skull and bones drawn over them.

Posted in a total failure, book review, historically-flavoured, rating, suspence | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Movie review: Assassin’s Creed (2016) directed by Justin Kurzel

Movie info:

Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) has been saved from a death row by Alan Rikkin

(Jeremy Irons), a mysterious CEO so obsolete that he still wears a black turtleneck and thinks he looks cool. His lovely daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard), with a hardly better sense of fashion, is the lead scientist at Rikkin’s company, Abstergo Industries. It’s Sophia who has arranged and now is overseeing a strange experiment: Callum gets strapped into an airborne harness that looks like a dental X-ray machine from hell, with a monitor implanted in the back of his neck. The apparatus called ‘Animus’ zaps him back through time to channel the memories of Aguilar de Nerha, his ancestor and the member of the Assassin’s Creed. Callum’s mission is to find the hidden location of the Apple of Eden (“the seed of mankind’s first disobedience” – oh really?), which is somehow connected to the famous words of Christopher Columbus. Who discovered America. Or so is thought.

My impressions:

Imagine an illegitimate child of “The Matrix” and “The DaVinci Code” adopted by “Hamlet” out of pity and you roughly get an idea what this movie is about. It’s another forgettable video-game spinoff with a script like a sieve. Nothing made sense, not even one single premise, including the story behind ‘the Apple of Eden’ and ugly, controlling, rich Knights Templar.

Shot in somber sci-fi Renaissance tones, “Assassin’s Creed” has a cast that’s ten times classier than it would be needed. What’s worse, it’s deeply self-conceited about 15th-century Spain during the Inquisition, which means a lot of solemn religious voodoo, controlling priests and obligatory burning at the stake. Not even fantastic pyrotechnics and Michael Fassbender, the ultimate special-effect actor cast as a bare-chested historic warrior dude in leather, could save this one. I grew so bored that during some super-duper fighting scenes I went to the kitchen to make tea. Somehow I wasn’t in a particular hurry to return and finish watching. I also didn’t want to move back the film and check who died.  I didn’t care. I suppose playing the game might be much more exciting.

One funny moment? Easy – one of daddy Rikkin’s minions asked Cal if he knew what the word ‘assassin’ means. I was waiting for the rest of that dialogue with bated breath. Cal didn’t answer, indicating that he didn’t but, strangely enough the minion didn’t explain anything either. Maybe he didn’t know himself or he didn’t want to teach his enemy, ha!

Final verdict:

Do you want to see a semi-naked Fassbender suspended in midair, dangling from a hydraulic arm straight from a cybernetic nightmare? Do you think that image will keep you entertained for about two hours? Then borrow “Assassin’s Creed” and watch it, preferably at home. You might want to make tea in the middle of the movie. ;p

Posted in fantasy action movie, movie review | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Princess in Love

It’s time for an essay – it will be a terribly romantic story with a 19th century princess from the Netherlands as main heroine. The story, mind you, is true so expect it to be also a bit strange, cruel and sad. It is one more proof that romance novels, historical or otherwise, get it wrong 99.9% of cases. In other words, a real anti-St Valentine’s Day material – enjoy!

Cast of characters:

  • Marianne of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau (full name:Wilhelmina

    Young Marianne

    Frederika Louise Charlotte Marianne; born 9 May 1810 – died 29 May 1883). She was a member of the House of Orange-Nassau, by birth Princess of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands and by marriage Princess of the Kingdom of Prussia.

  • Albrecht of Prussia, her husband, the youngest son of the king of Prussia Frederick William III and Queen Louise.
  • Johannes van Rossum, valet, coachman, librarian, secretary and finally the lover of the Princess. Also, possibly, the love of her life.
  • Johannes Wilhelm van Reinhartshausen, the only illegitimate son of Marianne and van Rossum.

Act I – Marriage.

On September 14, 1830 young and pretty Marianne married her cousin Albrecht of Prussia. It was a marriage of convenience and, despite family bonds, the young bride was

Albrecht of Prussia

Albrecht of Prussia

not happy at the Hohenzollern’s court. She surpassed the environment with knowledge and intelligence and often acted against the rigid ceremonial rituals of Prussian etiquette. What’s worse, her husband, even if a prince, wasn’t exactly charming – soon he got a fully-deserved reputation of a boor and a brute. He was cheating on his wife and, besides sexual escapades, he showed a violent behavior to male and female staff. A Dutch secret police report speaks also of venereal diseases. Despite marital problems Marianne bore him five children, three of them surviving to adulthood; however, after some time, she had enough. Albert’s behaviour was the initial impetus for her habit of traveling: first to Italy, then to Lower Silesia where her father had bought some lands.

Act II – Mutiny

In 1845 the Princess patience ran out. She didn’t want to suffer more humiliations, court

Johannes van Rossum

Johannes van Rossum

drills and ‘secret’ lovers of Albrecht which weren’t all that secret. Marianne left the household of her unfaithful husband and moved to her villa in Voorburg, Netherlands. She began to live openly with Johannes van Rossum, her former servant. It must have been pure love because the man was neither especially handsome (look to the right) nor well-connected nor rich. Anyway the pair wasn’t even bothering with appearances.

On 28 March 1849, Marianne and Albrecht of Prussia got an official divorce. While Albrecht married again, choosing one of his mistresses as a second spouse and more or less getting away with it, Marianne was treated far harsher. Why? Firstly, how dared she flaunt her affair with a complete nobody? A coachman? A librarian? For those aristocrats it was worse than animal. She was mad, that indecent Dutch woman, completely mad! Secondly, seven months after the divorce (30 October) in Cefalù, Sicily, she gave birth to her only child with van Rossum, a son called Johannes Willem van Reinhartshausen, not leaving even a shred of doubt who the father was. She showed she was dead serious about her new relationship. The birth of an illegitimate son was a major offence in the eyes of the Prussian court. They never forgave Marianne, never hesitated to punish her and show their deepest disapproval.

Act III – Punishment. Or rather revenge.

After the birth of Johannes Willem the courts of The Hague and Berlin broke all contact with the Princess. What’s more, Frederick Willhelm IV, the king of Prussia and elder brother of her ex-husband, ordered that Marianne couldn’t stay on the territories of his kingdom for longer than 24 hours even though she legally owned property there. Every time she wanted to visit her lands the arrivals and departures had to be registered at a police station as if she was a dangerous criminal carrying many contagious diseases. She couldn’t visit her and Albrecht’s children, not even during important events in their lives like confirmations or weddings. That  cruel and unjust treatment lasted till her death, showing petty-mindedness of her Prussian cousins and their double standards.

Act IV – New life

It must be clearly stated: the harsh persecutions and the ostracism she suffered didn’t break Marianne’s spirit. In 1855 she decided to start anew. She bought Schloss  Reinhartshausen in Erbach, Rheingau, close to the Prussian border, and

Johannes Willem van Reinhartshausen

Johannes Willem van Reinhartshausen

made her new home a cultural center of the Rhine. Marianne reconstructed one part of the Schloss as a museum to house her collection of paintings. Her home was always vibrant with many guests and Marianne encouraged young artists providing them accommodation and support. Of her treasures, 180 paintings, 110 drawings, watercolors and gouaches  as well as various sculptures can still be found in the Schloss, now turned into a luxury hotel. Also the subjects she had in Lower Silesia praised her to the skies for charity works and efforts to develop infrastructure of the region and make their lives a bit easier. Roads and buildings constructed and paid for from Marianne’s private pockets serve the local communities even today and show the Princess was a modern woman with great managerial skill and superior understanding.

Act V – Fate

Sad but true – some bad events cannot be prevented even if you try to be a good person and want to lead a meaningful life. On Christmas Day of 1861, Marianne’s youngest son, Johannes Wilhelm, aged just twelve, died of pneumonia. To honor him she donated 60.000 Gulden to the Erbacher locals for a piece of land on which a church was to be constructed. After the completion of the church she buried Johannes under its altar. Twelve years later, on 10 May 1873, Johannes van Rossum, Marianne’s partner for almost thirty years and the love of her life, died aged sixty-four. He was buried next to his son. Marianne survived him by ten years and died in the Schloss Reinhartshausen in Erbach twenty days after her seventy-third birthday. She was buried near Johannes van Rossum and their son.

My sources:

Posted in history, miscellaneous essays | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lord of Danger by Anne Stuart

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Half-sister to Richard the Fair, Alys has been schooled in the sheltered ways of the convent, far from the treachery and intrigue of castle life. Until she is taken from the cloister and brought to a place filled with secrets. Here she is to meet her future husband, a man some call a monster. His name is Simon of Navarre, a powerful and mysterious lord practiced in the black arts. This sensual stranger both terrifies her and fascinates her…and sets her heart burning with an unfamiliar fire.

Jaded by war, no longer able to believe in human goodness, Simon has turned toward the realm of darkness. But the master magician finds himself bewitched by the innocent Alys, who fears his very touch could damn her forever. Yet even as Simon begins to work his seductive magic, Alys senses the wounded soul beneath the cooly elegant facade. Now, as the two become pawns in Richard’s treacherous scheme to become England’s king, only one power can save them: the unstoppable force of love

My impressions:

What to do when you want to write a pseudo-historical romance novel that will sell? The recipe, according to Anne Stuart, is simple. It goes, more or less, like that:

Ingredients:

  • One dark hero, handsome and dangerous, who’s been through a lot,
  • One innocent heroine, fresh and unspoiled but clever enough to be interesting to a man who’s been through a lot,
  • Her brainless but extremely pretty sister, innocent as well, who will be through a lot (relatively speaking of course, no lasting damage, don’t worry. Oops, spoiler.),
  • Her sister’s foolish suitor who’s been through a lot but remains so sweetly innocent,
  • Her ugly, cruel, ambitious and ruthless brother who is begging to be murdered because he is fat, evil and hasn’t been through a lot.

Method:

Sit down, dear prospective author, and make yourself comfortable. Have some coffee. So…you want to set your book in the Middle Ages, right? Overall one hour of Wikipedia research will suffice. The first important pointer: don’t bother too much with historicity. As funny as it might seem, historians don’t read historical romance.  It’s enough you mention the Fourth Crusade, Saracens, nunneries, Henry III, Merlin, wizards, witches and, er, maybe horses. Yeah, horses are a good idea because they’re cute. Riding them bareback is completely medieval, don’t you think?

The second pointer: even if it seems strange make your characters think and speak like modern people. Who cares about a medieval mindset and vocabulary? Not your target audience, believe me. They just want to understand your book without much effort. As long as heros or heroines are falling in love hard everything will be understood, forgiven and forgotten. Promptly.

Next important thing: the hero must love children and, generally, be protective of the weak – then he might murder other men in cold blood and nobody will criticize him. Remember: children,  women and pets. These are untouchable. The rest is cannon fodder. Your baddie mustn’t win but he has to come close to victory. Kill him off near the end – if he has assaulted sexually his sister and killed his own wife he won’t be mourned.

Finally add no less than two spicy sex scenes plus some groping here and there. Lack of historicity is completely ok but lack of gratuitous sex will doom your book. Garnish the plot with melodramatic, saccharine sauce and hearts and here you go, your romance novel is ready. So what it’s just empty calories, with no nutritional value whatsoever? Numbers, dear author, think of important numbers. Your account balance. Sales volume. Next orders from publishers.

Final verdict:

Melodramatic, inconsistant and predictable story. I am not impressed. Low Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, historically-flavoured, romance | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Madam Tulip by David Ahern

I got a complimentary copy of this one from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Suspense, mystery, action, a little romance and lots of laughs

Out-of-work actress Derry O’Donnell is talented, professional, just a little psychic… and broke. Spurred on by an ultimatum from her awesomely high-achieving mother, Derry embarks on a part-time career as Madame Tulip, fortune teller to the rich and famous. But at her first fortune-telling gig – a celebrity charity weekend in a luxurious castle – a famous rap artist mysteriously dies.

As Derry is drawn deeper into a seedy world of fashion, millionaires, horses and cocaine, she must race to save her best friend from jail and a supermodel from being murdered. Her efforts threaten to destroy her friends, her ex-lover, her father and herself.

My impressions:

Let me start with a quote:

On the day Madam Tulip was conceived, her creator—Derry O’Donnell, MA (Theatre Arts) Trinity College Dublin, age twenty-seven—was broke. And she had been broke for five whole years. (…) The truth was, Derry O’Donnell was fully qualified for unemployment in three different dialects.”

If you like the sound of those two sentences, and the sense of humour, this one is for you. It is charming, fast-paced and not serious at all, a perfect pizza for your brain. What’s important, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than that.

It features quite picturesque positive characters, very likeable too: Jacko, the seventh son of the seventh son, an artist and a bon-vivant, his charming daughter, Derry, his less-than-charming ex-wife, Vanessa, Bruce, a gay actor and an ex-SEAL, Fitz, a detective and an ex-lover of Derry, Marlene, a super model and a cocaine addict and so on, and so on. They all meet because Derry decided to adopt a highly lucrative role of Madam Tulip, a psychic. She is gifted, after all, or should be with such a father. Then she is caught in a whirlwind of drugs, murders, and partying. Will it end well? Of course! Will it entertain you ? Yes, up to a point at least.

The novel is set in Dublin, Limerick and its proximities. I am not a big authority on anything Irish but all the tidbits sounded real enough to persuade me that the author knew what he was writing about. Especially difficulties with finding free parking places in Dublin city centre were spot-on (or so I was told by Melfka dearest when we were discussing another book online – I believe her, she used to live in Dublin after all  :)).

Any flies in the ointment? Well, if you prefer intricate, dark mysteries with a bit of philosophy or psychology on the side this is not your book. Its plot could be sometimes called even simplistic (look at the cover art and you’ll know what I mean). I guessed the identity of the main baddie very early on and then everything went according to a pretty cliché scenario (I am being deliberately vague because I don’t want to spoil you), without any twists or red herrings that would throw me off the scent. The baddie in question was also rather schematic and a bit of a moron too. Oh well, it is a cozy mystery after all so you shouldn’t be very demanding.

Final verdict:

A perfect book for a lazy afternoon when you cannot be bothered with anything too graphic – a laugh or two are guaranteed! I wouldn’t mind meeting Madam Tulip and her posse again when the mood strikes.

Posted in adventure, book review, chicklit, contemporary, cozy mystery, crime, lgbtq, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Movie review: Love and Friendship directed by Whit Stillman

I watched this one after reading a very short but sweet review written by Tasha/Heidenkind – thank you as always! 

Movie info:

The 18th century England.  After the premature death of her husband lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale)becomes a widow without means. Still, being an intelligent, charming, seductive and manipulative creature, she is eager to find a suitably wealthy match for her sole daughter, Frederica, and a similarly wealthy husband for herself. In order to achieve that much she tours her family and acquaintances – when she is turned from one house she quickly goes to another. She is penniless so what can be done?

While visiting her late husband’s brother, Charles Vernon, she uses devious tactics to win the heart of the eligible and handsome Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), Charles’s brother-in-law. The family of the young man is less than thrilled. Will it end in marriage? Yes. With a movie based on a Jane Austen novel it’s not a spoiler. ;p Still who will marry whom?

Although adapted from Lady Susan, the film was produced under the borrowed title of Austen’s juvenile story Love and Freindship.

My impressions:

 It is not easy to take a 19th century epistolary novella and turn it into a movie – a 92-minute movie to boot. Such a literary interpolation is always a risk that you might bore some of your audience to death with constant walking and talking (not to mention letter-reading and talking). I admit the director and Kate Beckinsale did what they could to make the whole idea float but roughly after the first half of the movie I was getting a tiny little bit restless. After another quarter of an hour not even quips of Lady Susan or her unending but very predictable plotting could made me smile.

The ending, annoyingly cheerful, was perhaps the weakest point of the whole comedy; mind you I had to skip a scene or two in order to arrive there at all. Overall I wasn’t impressed although I admit the movie had its moments. And its music – the score I found incredibly fitting.

Final verdict:

A movie for die-hard Austenites who react to the name ‘Jane Austen’ as a cat reacts to catmint. I like Austen’s prose but, despite some sparkles of humour and a pleasant soundtrack, I found this flick too long, too heavy and, overall, boring.

Posted in book-film-show, movie review, period comedy | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Book of Deacon by Joseph R. Lallo

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The tale of Myranda Celeste, a young woman orphaned by a century long war, and her chance discovery of a fallen soldier’s priceless cargo. The find will change her life, sending her on an adventure of soldiers and rebels, wizards and warriors, and beasts both noble and monstrous. Each step will bring her closer to the truth of her potential, of the war, and of the fate of her world.

My impressions:

When I started to read this one I was truly impressed. Myranda seemed to be an intrepid 8535916young woman, completely independent and rather clever so I followed her with pleasure. Unfortunately only up to a point. Soon her character development grinded to a stop and I got action, action and more action which bored me because, let’s face it, her adventures repeated every trope known to such fantasy stories. Founding a precious (yes, my precioussss) artefact without being aware of its real value? Check. Meeting kind strangers in unexpected places? Check. Adopting an orphaned animal? Check. Being attacked and rescued and attacked and rescued again?  Check. She was also sent to a kind of magical university to polish her powers and train her dragon…like 10k other heroes and heroines featured in such books.

Yes, there was a young dragon in that story and another one, much older, too. No, they weren’t able to save the book because somehow, among all those action scenes, the author forgot to give the dragons distinctive personalities. The same could be said about Leo/Lain, the malthrope (so a creature being a mixture of an animal and a human, in this case a fox and a human). He was a very fine creation, one of the highlights of the book to be honest, but somehow, after a few scenes he started to repeat himself, sounding and acting almost the same.

Overall I had an impression that this was just a draft, not a final product. There were many scenes which should and could be cut or at least trimmed. There were infodumps which made me sleepy and flat dialogues which added to that sleepiness. The baddies were insanely weak and amateurish at their ‘badness’. It was also obvious the author doesn’t know a thing about torturing his characters – every time something bad started happening, the protagonist was quickly rescued by outside circumstance or a mysterious secondary character. Apart from that there were mistakes, from obvious typos like ‘though’ instead of ‘through’ and unnecessary repetitions to grammar issues that sometimes made the text difficult to read. Was this book edited or at least beta-read at all? I don’t think so.

Final verdict:

Not a fantasy series I would recommend or continue reading – sorry dragons. Meh. Very low meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

Posted in adventure, book review, fantasy, meh, rating | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Movie review: Franklyn directed by Gerald McMorrow (2008)

I would like to thank dearest Melfka who told me about this film – you rock!

Product info (from Wikipedia):

Split between the parallel realities of contemporary London and the otherworldly metropolis of Meanwhile City, Franklyn follows the tales of four characters. Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe) is a masked vigilante who will not rest until he finds his nemesis: “the Individual”. Emilia (Eva Green) is a troubled young art student whose rebellion may turn out to be deadly. Milo (Sam Riley) is a heartbroken twenty something recovering from an altar jilt and yearning for the purity of first love. Peter (Bernard Hill) is a man steeped in religion, searching desperately for his missing son amongst London’s homeless.

My impressions:

It was an admirably non-formulaic drama with some interesting, original characters, not easy to classify. An artist who looks for love and acceptance by staging her own suicides every month. A young man ditched at the altar by his bride-to-be. A concerned father looking for his criminal son who has gone missing. Add to that a world straight from your Gothic fantasy, a visual treat if I ever saw one. What’s more the director was brave enough to tackle a very touchy and weighty topic of religion and he did it in an intelligent way. If there were Oscars for ambition and imagination this movie would get one, no problem.

So…the best movie I’ve ever watched? Not really. The attempts to compress so many themes into such a short space of time backfired and after a while the film became just a beautiful mess. There are fragments which dragged and dragged forever. There were jumps in narration which I didn’t understand at first. It was obvious McMorrow wanted his movie to be important – the comment on religious dogmatism, the traumas of war, love and destiny were really enticing. Still, at 97 minutes, these topics were never explored as they should (and small wonder, you can basically shoot a new movie using every single one of them). When it quickly emerges that several characters are insane, figuring out the story’s mysteries becomes a simple task and my enjoyment ended.

Final verdict:

An interesting movie, despite its shortcomings. Borrow it if you like Gothic scenery and a bit of psychology with your mysteries.

Posted in dark fantasy, drama, movie review, psychological | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Warped Ambition (A Jo Riskin Mystery Book One) by Debbie S. Tenbrink

I got a complimentary copy of this one from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When the battered body of a teenage girl is found in a dumpster, Lieutenant Jo Riskin is called to take the case. Investigating with her partner, Detective Lynae Parker, Jo uncovers secrets, loyalties, and ambitions that give motives to a surprising number of suspects , including a boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks.

While immersed in her current case, Jo is battling her own personal demons. After two years, she is still grieving over the loss of her husband, who was killed in the line of duty. New information that could help solve his murder, and let her move on with her life, is within her grasp.

Barricading her heart, Jo is determined to solve both cases and bring the killers to justice.

My impressions:

I liked a lot about this whodunit. First off there were a lot of women in it. The MC was a female police officer who had a female friend, another police officer, as a sidekick. They were investigating a death of a pregnant teenager. Mind you all of them had their problems and flaws which made them very interesting characters and their skeletons in the respective closets were rattling loudly. Allegedly nothing new but it sounded so right and so true.

What’s more Joellen wasn’t left in a kind of artificial void. She had a family to take into consideration and a dog, Mojo. She also had a bit of a past. Once again, seemingly nothing out of ordinary and yet many heroines like her have to make do without such a background and so they seem like plastic dolls to me. Although I didn’t have any problems with guessing the perpetrator of the murder, their identity was logical, fitting the rest of the book. The narration was smooth and dynamic – I was able to read the whole novel in one evening.

Finally let me say that the copy sent to me was of very good quality and flawlessly edited, another huge asset.

If I had to complain a bit or indicate any weak points I’d look at the title. Warped Ambition explains just a bit too much in my very humble opinion, is a tad too suggestive. I would leave it at ‘ Warped’ or change altogether. Also the novel is worth a more captivating cover art – that generic, blurred figure of a woman is too bland.

Final verdict:

I wish Joellen and her creator all the best and I would love to read the continuation of her adventures.

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

Movie review: Spectral (2016) directed by Nic Mathieu

Today I am hosting  Melfka – a writer, a gamer, an artist, a friend, a very creative girl with a great personality. Welcome on this blog! She decided to treat Readers of this blog with a guest review of Spectral, a film produced and distributed on Netflix. 

I’m usually on top of the news about new Netflix releases (at least in my range of interest, so anything even remotely fantasy or sci-fi), but I’ve missed information on Spectral, and only stumbled upon the trailer recently. A team of soldiers in a war-torn city in the Eastern Europe, and an enemy they cannot see, let alone defeat, looked quite promising and set my expectations quite high.
Did the movie live up to them?
Let me tell you this way: the difference between Spectral and a brilliant movie is like the difference between someone who can play an instrument and a musician. The first one will read the notes and reproduce the melody, the second one will pour his or her soul in, making the music something more than a collection of sounds.
That’s what Spectral ends up being: a correct movie with few interesting ideas that fails to engage its audience deeper. Everything seems good enough in it: the story, the setting, even the plot twists, but at the same time it feels like the movie’s been done “by the book”, by ticking off points on the “how to make a movie” list.
In mood and theme, Spectral feels a follower of Aliens and the animated movie Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. From the first one it borrows the theme of a badass team facing an enemy more powerful than them, and from the other–the idea for the enemy. Even though the origin of creatures in Spectral is different than that of spirits in Final Fantasy, they seem similar in the way they kill and move through walls.
So, with such two great inspirations, what went wrong with Spectral?
First, not enough characterization. After having watched the movie twice (well, one and a half times: we had to pause one evening, so the next time we’ve just started over), I don’t remember a single name. I tagged the main character as “the scientist,” and the only female character as “the CIA chick,”. The rest became “the squad”, and sadly, I can hardly recall their faces now. Yes, with so many characters onscreen, it’s hard to give them all enough time to make the viewer care about them.

Still, if you’ve ever watched Aliens, you probably remember Vasquez.
Hudson: Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No, have you?
Two lines, less than half a minute exchange, but it instantly shows that Hudson is the joker in the team, and Vasquez is a real badass.
Spectral doesn’t offer many witty one-liners or exchanges, instead offering some bland exchanges between the scientist and the team-leader-who-dies (oops, sorry, spoiler!), and no personality really shines through. The same goes for acting: it’s not bad, but it’s bland… though it might be the result of the unemotional script, not the actors.
Second issue is a lack of deeper theme. While Final Fantasy: Spirits Within addressed such things as ecology and reincarnation, making the stakes both personal and affecting the world, Spectral doesn’t offer much of a deeper thought. Not even the over-used ponderings on war and cruelty or on death, so while the action in the movie was entertaining, the movie failed to keep me at the edge of my seat, like Aliens or Final Fantasy did.
Stakes are not there either, and while in Spirits Within you have a clear understanding what’s going to happen if the characters fail (or make the “wrong” choice), there’s nothing in Spectral that creates the tension or feeling of a threat. Both Aliens and Final Fantasy had kept me at the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen, while I felt quite unemotional about the events in Spectral. Even the issue of the creatures spreading all over the world is addressed in the movie in a such way, that if feels no more threatening than a toddler with a rubber duck.
With all that said, I admit that I quite enjoyed watching the movie, and I even forgave it some of the plot slips. The idea itself, though similar to Spirits Within, is interesting enough, and the visuals are great. The whole movie is kept in muted grays, set in a crude post-communistic city in the heart of Moldava, and the only saturated elements seem to be the spectral creatures, which really sets the right mood, even though no single scene takes place in the dark. Special effects are good, but used sparingly enough to not be one of those “nothing except CGI” movies.
Is it worth watching? If you have a free evening, sure! With the right amount of popcorn, crafting, and matching expectations, it’s a decent entertainment. If you value your time or prefer more sophisticated cinematographic creations, you’re better off giving this one a pass.

Posted in fantasy action movie, guest post, melfka, movie review | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments