The Burgas Affair by Ellis Shuman

I got a complimentary copy of this one from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Product info:

It is a story which contains some reality: the terrorist attack at Burgas Airport in 2012, during which five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian bus driver were murdered. In ‘The Burgas Affair’, the aftermath of the attack is fictional.

An Israeli data analyst and a Bulgarian detective are tracking down those responsible. The two must establish whether the terrorists were assisted by a Bulgarian crime organization, in laying the groundwork for the attack.

Shadows of the past keep interfering, which is why what was supposed to be a routine investigation turns into a nightmare. The detective’s interactions with a crime boss pursuing a vendetta against him threaten to throw him off track. At the same time, his partner’s pursuit of the terrorists and their accomplices brings up painful memories of a family tragedy.

My impressions:

The huge asset of this one was the fact that the author described Bulgaria very vividly – it was obvious at once he was there, talked with those people, drank rakija, visited local hotels and train stations and so on. Its narration had a distinct colour which I appreciated.

When it came to the main characters I have to admit they were three-dimensioned and rather complex. I  liked the fact that Boyko Stanchev was chased by shadows from his police past and also Alaya was haunted by some traumatic event. The secret of Alaya’s brother, Tomen, who hated everything Bulgarian, was also a nice addition to the plot.

What didn’t work? I might be wrong but in my very humble opinion the style could have been polished a tad more. Below I quote two passages which, I suppose, would profit from another editing session:

“She shifted her weight, resting one hand on her enlarged belly. She needed to sit down. And she had to pee. She was tired, despite her nap on the flight. She hoped their hotel-room bed would be comfortable, but that really didn’t matter. In her present state, she was capable of sleeping anywhere.”

“You’re catching up fast, Boyko. They will ask many questions. Did the bomber know that this particular bus would transport Israeli tourists? Was the bomb on the bus or under the bus? Is the bomber dead or alive? Was the bomb detonated by remote control? Did the bomber have accomplices, or did he act alone? And more important than any other question: who sent the bomber?” p.22

I was also a bit surprised by the fact how naïve and inexperienced the main characters sounded. Boyko is an experienced police detective. Alaya is an intelligent, young Jewish woman, a member of Mossad. Still, from time to time, they just sound as if they’ve never undergone any practical course or schooling in their lives. An example? Read one scene, introduced by the internal dialogue of Alaya:

“Richard Milkin was not the bomber’s real name . And, the bomber was not from Michigan after all! She understood this now, yet this was this man’s identity as he travelled round Bulgaria. And the other names were the ones used by his collaborators. ‘We should call to report this information, no matter what’ she said. ‘My phone’s battery is dead. Can I use yours?”

Hmm… wasn’t Mossad (a.k.a. HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim) supposed to be the very best intelligence agency in the world? How come its member didn’t take care of her mobile while away in an foreign country on an important mission? Why it was so hard for her to assume that the suspected terrorists used false names and a set of false documents?

Final verdict:

Despite its flaws it was definitely a thriller with a lot potential and a story with great local colour. Give it one more editing and it will be completely recommendable.

 

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Posted in ARC, book review, contemporary, crime, mystery, thriller | 5 Comments

Farewell, dear friend!

I am extremely sad to announce a sudden demise of my faithful pet, Jet. He was a miniature Yorkshire terrier, a pedigree, and a great dog to own: funny, intelligent, compassionate, and tender, very friendly towards both cats and dogs. Farewell, dear friend, and thank you for 13 fantastic years – I hope they were as good for you as they were for me. I miss you and I love you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Movie review: What We Do in the Shadows (2014) directed by Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement

This one was recommended to me by @Myk Pilgrim at Twitter. Do follow him; even though he sometimes pretends he doesn’t like you he is really a great pumpkin guy and a swell writer (I suppose) ;p.

Product info:

Four vampires—Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) , and Petyr (Ben Fransham)—share a flat in the Wellington suburb. Although Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon are all several centuries old, they have retained normal human appearances. The 8,000-year-old Petyr, however, resembles Nosferatu and acts more savagely than the younger vampires. He also sleeps in a stone coffin because he is more familiar with stone than with wood.

Each night, Viago , Vladislav, and Deacon prowl the streets of Wellington searching for people to kill. It’s not an easy task. Their clothes make them look dubious so they are rarely invited inside clubs. They must stay in the flat during the day to avoid sunlight—which is lethal to vampires—therefore they have not adapted to 21st-century life. Deacon has a human servant (familiar)—Jackie. She is a married mother of two, frustrated that Deacon will not turn her into a vampire even if she pronounces herself more than ready. Jackie thinks it is extremely unjust and sexist – if she was a man she would have been bitten ages ago.

One night Jackie leads her ex-boyfriend Nick and her former school nemesis to the vampire’s flat so they can drink their blood; the woman is killed but Nick escapes; as he leaves the flat, Petyr attacks him and later turns Nick into a vampire. Two months later the vampires accept Nick into their group and also bond with his human friend Stu, a computer programmer who shows them how to use modern technology. That will change the entire household in an unpredictable manner. Yes, there will be blood.

My impressions:

It was a cheap indie production but also a great vampire comedy, as anti-Twilight as it is actually possible. I’ve seen it named ‘Mockumentary’. It is a very apt term. You get a ‘family’ of four guys with fangs who quarrel, have to do dishes, and keep up with ever-changing technology while avoiding conflicts with a rival gang, that of werewolves.

Some scenes were so funny that I couldn’t restrain myself from giggling all the time; I mean here especially those featuring Stu, the Bella Swan of the story. Stu (not an accidental choice of name, male Mary-Sues are often called Gary-Stu) is an ordinary guy with ordinary looks and ordinary IT job but somehow our four vampires can’t get enough of him. He teaches them basic computer skills while they admire his rosy cheeks and kind character. Stu is swell, Stu is nice, Stu is anything an old-fashioned, European vampire can dream of and yet none of the fanged gents dares to bite him and make him theirs. Stu is simply untouchable. And so lovely. ;p Speak about insta-love and a bromance.

Another great, humoristic twist: you watch the group’s frustrated attempts at entering several clubs nobody wants to invite them into. Without invitation, they can’t enter them,  a familiar vampire trope. After I heard Clement’s Vladislav protesting in the background while Waititi’s Viago skittishly explains through voiceover narration why his friends always wind up at “the hottest vampire nightclub” (ie: one that is always empty) I was laughing like mad. So simple. So funny. So incisive.

Last but not least: the chemistry between the actors was simply fantastic, something which  can’t be overstated as it often doesn’t work so well even in professional, big-money productions.  This is especially true of scenes where Viago and the gang fight in the air, flying above the ground and hissing at each other, like airborne feral cats. If only Twilight movies were half that funny…

Final verdict:

If you haven’t seen this one and you are looking for a Halloween-themed comedy, look no further; you won’t regret watching this jewel with fangs. Highly recommended.

Posted in comedy drama, dracula/vampire movie, movie review, one great movie | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Movie review: Don’t Knock Twice (2017) directed by Caradog James

Product info:

Jess (Katee Sackhoff) used to be a drug addict and a punk but she’s cleaned up her act. Now she is a rich and successful sculptor married happily to equally rich banker. As she is redecorating her huge new villa she decides to retrieve the custody of her teenage daughter, Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Chloe was clearly a mistake from her turbulent past but not every mistake is easy to mend. The girl is hardly impressed by her glamorous mum – after all she had left her behind when she needed her most. The family problem is additionally complicated by a certain red-haired witch who wants to kidnap Chloe like she’d already done with her best buddy, Dan. Both kids used to be very unkind to her right before she committed a suicide… and then they dared come to her front door and knock twice even if they knew it was a stupid thing to do…

My impressions:

It was a modest production but not entirely bad for a horror. Horrors and thrillers aren’t supposed to be masterpieces, right? So, we get here a big, luxurious mansion, two women with problems left to their own devices, and an evil witch – what premise can be simpler? No bloodbath, just hints here and there and a creepy ghost of a woman who committed suicide. Plus a demon.

I liked the fact that the character of the witch was a tad more complex than usual – there was more to her than met the eyes. A mother-daughter dynamics was also rather refreshing; usually in such stories the main protagonist is an orphan or he/she looks for their parents; here we have a repentant mother and a daughter who is clearly scared but still unwilling to trust the very person she should have trusted the most. The ending came with a huge twist, a bit too huge for my liking I have to admit. It looked as if the director hoped for the sequel very badly…

As I’ve already started complaining: after half an hour of watching I had a feeling “Don’t Knock Twice” never would go  anywhere really  interesting plot-wise. Unfortunately I was right. It seemed its creators didn’t know what to do with their characters, even those with some potential. Were they supposed to be insane? Possessed? Drugged? Just careless and stupid? Were the witches and demons real or not? Had they had any viable agenda (demons and witches that is)? It didn’t help that Jess and Chloe made decisions that were consistently ludicrous and their secondary relationships also wavered between inanity and ridiculousness.

There was one finer feature, underappreciated, unfortunately, by the director.  The demon, awoken as a result of kids’ disregard of an urban legend, needs to enter through a  closed door in order to seize its prey. Contrary to basic instincts those hoping to fend off the demon must avoid closed doors of any kind. It could have added a lot to the tense atmosphere. It didn’t because it was almost completely disregarded. Pity.

Final verdict:

A mediocre witch story but with some finer moments – watch it once if you want to indulge in ‘spooky’ atmosphere but do it at home.

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

Look who is back!

Posted in contemporary thriller/horror, movie review | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 01) by Ilona Andrews

Product info (from Goodreads):

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything

My impressions:

„I was sitting in the foyer, trying to read a novel about angels and women who fell in love with them. The novel was great, but I couldn’t sink into it.”

Hmm…this quote sums up nicely almost all my thoughts on this one. Almost – so with a caveat. ‘Clean Sweep’ wasn’t exactly great but still I couldn’t sink into it. There were three reasons for that.

My first reason is the main character, Dina. Also known as Mary Sue. All the symptoms are here: her parents are missing, presumed dead, nobody knows why. Her brother is a space traveler and doesn’t keep in touch. She is all on her lonesome, she is not especially pretty and yet, and yet… she manages to draw the attention of more than one gentleman of fantastic provenience. Strange? Not in a world inhabited by Mary Sues. Speaking about the gentlemen…here we hit my reason number two.

Imagine such a scenario: a vampire (Arland) and a werewolf (Sean) meet at an inn. Both of them are extremely handsome – tall, well-muscled, with regular facial features – but each represent a different male beauty type. They don’t exactly like each other, they don’t trust each other but soon both of them start vying for the attention of their host, allegedly a simple human girl but with an array of hidden, interesting powers… rings a bell? If it doesn’t stink of ‘Twilight’ or the Sookie Stackhouse series I’ll read my mouse. The fact that the said girl owned a Shih-tzu dog helped only a tiny little bit. 

My third and the last reason: the infodumps. I know, I know, with the beginning of the series there’s always a temptation to reveal this and reveal that, show some backstory, throw in a juicy tidbit here and there etc. Still an experienced writer should know how to avoid such traps. Maybe it’s me but I think the ‘Kate Daniels’ series was narrated far more skillfully.

Final verdict:

Not the worst UF romance I’ve ever read but also nothing I would like to continue desperately any time soon. Not after the first part anyway. Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, contemporary, fantasy, romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: Priest (2011) directed by Scott Steward

Product info:

This post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller is set in an alternate world, ravaged by centuries of war between men and vampires. Men won or so they are said by Church officials. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany). He was the hero of the last Vampire War but now, like his comrades, lives in obscurity among other humans, doing manual labour in walled-in cities ruled by the Church.  

Anyway, when Priest’s niece, Lucy (Lily Collins), is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires the Church don’t want to help because they claimed the vampires have been completely destroyed. Desperate Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find the girl before she is turned into a vamp slave. He is joined on his crusade by his niece’s boyfriend, a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess who possesses otherworldly fighting skills. There will be blood.

 

What I liked:

  • Vampires. They were alien, blind, scary, blood-thirsty and they never sparkled – what not to like?
  • The Church. They were fantastic black hats. What a pity they didn’t get more scenes.
  • Animated prologue. It was a slick intro into the dystopian world.
  • The action scenes. They were really well shoot and CGI effects blended smoothly with real life actors – good job!

What I didn’t like:

  • Main character. The Priest was too schematic and his backstory – too simplistic. No twists, no surprises, no fun, just Paul Bettany. I did wonder what the Church had done to him but my questions were never answered – what a waste!
  • Lucy, the kidnapped damsel in distress. She was nowhere near as good as Lucy the Dracula bride in distress and I hoped for a really kick-ass young woman. What can be said… if you want to make a decent vampire movie do read your classics, they can feature surprisingly modern, independent females.
  • The main antagonist. Black Hat, the former bosom buddy of our white hat, had no third dimension even if such a possibility lurked there somewhere. Pity!
  • Too many  dull, derivative action horror clichés in the plot.

Final verdict:

Not bad for a cartoon-based vampire movie but it could have been much better. I would recommend it for those who have enough of sparkly vamps or for fans of Paul Bettany. Watch at home, preferably after dark.

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

Posted in dark fantasy, dracula/vampire movie, dystopia, movie review, sci-fi | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Copper Promise (The Copper Cat 01) by Jen Williams

I got this one from beautiful and clever Melfka – thank you!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.

My impressions:

Perhaps it’s only me but, despite a lot of potential in the blurb, this one left me completely disengaged. I cared neither for any of the characters nor for the plot, I could skip entire chapters without feeling I was missing something important. I got bored for the first time after merely 50 pages, imagine that. The plot seemed just washed-out repetition of so many other high fantasy novels. The magic didn’t leave me awed and anxious for more. The blue dragoness I noticed but only as an afterthought because she was kept in the background.

Maybe it was about the characterization, very schematic, barely there, a feature which could have been ripped from a D&D campaign module. Wydrin, the Copper Cat, had neither her own agenda nor many distinctive traits apart from her ginger colouring and a moniker. Sebastian, a valiant knight by her side, seemed blander than stones of the Citadel he was breaking into. Aaron, lord Firth, apart from his prematurely white mane of hair was just another wronged aristo looking for justice and revenge. Boring like hell.

Final verdict:

A DNF and a major meh. Felt like an homage to every hacky-slashy dungeon crawler RPG I’ve ever heard about. I won’t continue the series for sure.

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 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: The Mummy (2017) directed by Alex Kurtzman

Product info:

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a soldier of fortune who plunders ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet (Sophia Boutella), a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands

of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London.

My impressions:

I decided to watch the newest Mummy movie just for fun. I knew it would be probably a miss but I hoped for at least about one hundred minutes of innocent entertainment. After all, London is such a scenic venue…as is Iraq.

My thoughts after 16 minutes:

Set was the Egyptian god of evil? Or god of death for that matter? Seriously, dear scriptwriters?

Mummification alive according to Hollywood: you envelop a girl with bandages, you put her inside a wooden coffin and then you close her in a sarcophagus. Yeah…

Dear Tom Cruise, if you go to Iraq and want to pretend you’re a local (i.e. an Arab) you’d better grow a solid beard, not go around with your face smooth and shaved.

‘Haram’ in Arabic means ‘forbidden’ not ‘ treasure’.

Liquid mercury deposits cannot be found in Egypt – or in the whole Africa for that matter. How come the ancient Egyptians managed to gather a whole basin of it and transport it to Mesopotamia? A stupid question, right? Of course everything they needed had been brought by the movie crew…Can you notice the pattern? My brain refused to switch off, a prerequisite of enjoying such movies especially as they feature an old-ish Tom Cruise.  Who has to be the Chosen one no matter what.

Ok, 29- 68 minutes into the movie.

If you a real Egyptologist you’ll  ignore even a seriously ill, possibly dying man as long as you can examine an unknown sarcophagus lying nearby. To prove your total commitment all Egyptian inscriptions you’ll read aloud, translating them immediately into English.

The US Army fly carton-and-plastic toys which can disintegrate without any reason.

Now one asset of this flop – the best line was delivered by Russell Crowe and it went like this: “Come on, son. Mayhem, chaos, destruction. The ladies will love us.” What a pity there were no more of these.

Ahmanet might be a kick-ass princess and  devil incarnated but still she needs a mate. Badly. A man to support her with his strong arm. By the way, when did she have time to learn proper English?

Final verdict:

If, after watching a movie, you find out you had smiled just once and had been able to watch tv simultaneously and write a review on the side, the said movie was a waste of time.

Posted in fantasy action movie, movie review, zombie movie | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

Product info (from Goodreads):

A tale of art, beauty, lust, greed, deception and retribution — set in a refined society ablaze with tulip fever.

In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. She is the prize he desires, the woman he hopes will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune can buy.

Cornelis yearns for an heir, but so far he and Sophia have failed to produce one. In a bid for immortality, he commissions a portrait of them both by the talented young painter Jan van Loos. But as Van Loos begins to capture Sophia’s likeness on canvas, a slow passion begins to burn between the beautiful young wife and the talented artist.

As the portrait unfolds, so a slow dance is begun among the household’s inhabitants. Ambitions, desires, and dreams breed a grand deception–and as the lies multiply, events move toward a thrilling and tragic climax.

My impressions:

There are bad books and bad books. The former ones are more or less redeemable; after all they’ve made you laugh once or twice, taught you something new or entertained you a bit. The latter cannot be forgiven. They failed in every respect even if they had promised you quite a lot. Unfortunately this book belongs to that second category. Why? Let me explain.

Self portrait by Jacob van Loo – http://www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5972296

First of all, it is not a historical fiction novel. The 17th century Holland and the famous tulip speculation bubble appear only in a very distant background and are about as real as decorations in kids’ theatre. The same concern Flemish art and, more precisely, paintings by Jan van Loos (probably modelled after Jacob van Loo but who can be sure?). These are just props, unconvincing and completely unsatisfactory.

What is left? In short a bad romance – bad as in ‘stupid’ and ‘artificial’.

A girl meets a boy. The girl is, unfortunately, married and the boy is employed by her elderly, rich husband to paint the portrait of the ‘happy’ couple. Contrary to the blurb description, the boy and the girl fall in love INSTANTLY, like the very moment they see each other for the first time. You know I hate insta-love with a passion, right? Ok, glad to straighten it up, thank you very much for

A lady with naked tits…er…scratch that. Ariadne by Jacob van Loo. Courtesy of Wikipedia

your patience. Here, have a little pic of a

woman with naked breasts. A painting by Jacob van Loo of course so perfectly legit. She is ‘Ariadne’ if anybody asks.

Let’s return to the plot. The hubby is so stupid, naive, and unobservant that he knows nothing, nothing at all till it is way too late. How come such a slowpoke managed a lifelong, successful career as a Dutch merchant? I think it’s possible only in bad books. No matter; he plays with his beloved tulips and, meanwhile, his nubile wife is plotting with her artist boyfriend how to get rid of poor, old Cornelis. And she immediately proves that, when it comes to brains, she matches her husband to the dot.

UNMASKED SPOILER SECTION COMING YOUR WAY – PROGRESS AT YOUR OWN PERIL OR RUN FOR COVER

Jan and Sophia botch things  royally up by dabbling in tulip speculations (like every nitwit they find out that they need tons of money for their ‘clever’ little scheme) and sheltering Sophia’s pregnant servant, Maria, who has found out about them pretty soon and blackmailed her lady into helping her. Then, after several chapters of idiotic shenanigans, including but not limited to pretending she is giving birth to a child, Sophia decides to fake her own death and disappear, escaping both her husband and her lover. Wait, wasn’t she supposed to be so terribly in love with Johannes that she was simply sick? Wasn’t she supposed to escape with him to exotic, warm places with coconut water and sugar cane? She was, and yet… yeah, it is exactly that type of novel. It ends in a truly spectacular manner: Jan van Loos remains alone for the rest of his life, moping around poor thing, while his lovely Sophia, a Catholic, most likely has taken a veil. Why? Because the book had to end on a tragic note. HAD to.

Final verdict:

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier seems to be a masterpiece when compared to this one. Not for me. I only hope the movie is going to be better. Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, historically-flavoured | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Away on holiday

Time to give you, dear Readers, Followers, and Lurkers, a much-deserved breather. This autumn I am going on a trekking trip to Corsica, a mountainous Mediterranean island belonging to France. When I return (so after two weeks or so) I promise to share my impressions :).

Meanwhile have fun!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments