Illusion by Andrew Neiderman

Product info (from Goodreads):

Jillian Caldwell, late twenties, works for an advertising agency in New York. Ron Cutler, early thirties, comes to her for a promotional project for his upstate New York Department stores. A romance ensues. Shortly after Ron presents Jillian with an engagement ring, he disappears. Phone calls do no good. There is no number in his name and the department store knows only a John Cutler.

Jillian goes upstate to search for Ron and discovers Ron has been dead for five years. When she confronts John Cutler, Ron’s father, he finally confesses that his wife was unable to have children and he impregnated another woman, paying her to have his child. Jillian finds the woman and discovers more revolting facts. Will she be able to love the false Ron despide all the lies?

My impressions:

I can’t help myself – ny short review will be full of spoilers. In fact I am going to make it one big spoiler and I won’t even mask it. So if you are tempted by the blurb to read Illusion then go away immediately.

Illusion was inadvertently scary but the effect was close to riddiculous. The idea of falling in love with a man you hardly know seemed to be the sanest plot device around, especially when compared to an idea of a secret twin who wishes to emulate his dead brother so badly that he practically becomes his alter ego. In my humble opinion the false Ron (and his real name was Paul, let’s make everything as spoiler-ish as possible) was a prime candidate for a mental asylum. Still none of other characters perceived him like that: neither his mom, nor Jillian, nor John Cutler, his biological father. By the way how was it possible at all that he hired a woman to have his child and never even enquired about the pregnancy? Multiple or single – is it that hard to ask?

Final verdict:

If you want to read a really creepy romance this is a perfect book for you. It would be far better had the author planned it that way.

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Movie review: Adventures of Aladdin (2019) directed by Glenn Campbell

Product info:

A new remake of an old fairy tale. With the help of a magical lamp, an impoverished young man transforms himself into a prince in order to win the heart of a beautiful princess.

My impressions:

This was bad, funny but bad nevertheless. First we got a feministic touch. Shazadi (Lucia Dimitra Xypteras), the only daughter of the dying Sultan of Baghdad, is going to inherit the throne. I mean she will be a She-Sultan. Or a Sultana. A female ruler in an arabic country. Vizier Maghreb (Daniel O’Reilly, obviously an Arab himself), her father’s most trusted advisor, is not exactly thrilled. After all he is a man so he should marry the girl and rule Baghdad, right? Wrong. Or rather not exactly right, it’s complicated, folks.

What’s so complicating? A troupe of acrobats come into town, the new sultan among them. He doesn’t know it yet but we know it immediately – he is the man to get the crown. Or rather a bejewelled turban. Only a real sultan has thick but regulated eyebrows, an even row of white teeth and a nice six-pack stomach. Only a real sultan can kick a basket full of fireworks into the sky as high as any cannon and then, as a second thought, he falls a thief with one lucky throw of an apple. Yes, an apple. Apples don’t grow in Baghdad, you say? Rubbish, they are everywhere, even in the Garden of Eden. Ask the Snake.

Let’s return to the movie, though. Vizier Maghreb, one of magnificently painted brows and a stylish, greyish, beard, is not impressed. Cunningly, he befriends Aladdin and invites him to the palace where he can continue his pleasant conversation with the future Sultana during a private audience If it sounds too good to be true, well, it is exactly so. Insdead of a sweet tete-a-tete with the girl of his dreams Aladdin is coerced to enter a cave and find a certain lamp which represents the royal power. The task is not easy. Our acrobat is attacked by bats. Yes, real bats, probably rabid. And then he has to cross a patch of fire using just a piece of line and his wits. And then many similar lamps appear out of thin air and he has to choose one. After a successful choice our hero finds out that it is easier to enter the cave than return to the ground, especially when you are attacked by your false ally Maghreb and pushed back in the last possible moment. Fortunately our hero has four stalwart friends who will follow him everywhere – after all he borrowed from them heavily- and then he cleans a certain lamp and a djinni (Lord KraVen) is released.

Well, I have to admit the djinni was my personal biggest disappointment. Almost at the very beginning he announced that, quote, ‘romance is his speciality’, unquote. Seriously, could the whole tale get more stupid? At that point I yawned. Then the djinni conjured a not especially lavish picnic spread out of thin air and I yawned for the second time. Our lovely band of friends entertained each other with a burping duel. I yawned again. They all befriended each other again because, well, the djinni used to be rather lonely. At that point I was almost tearing my mouth apart with one big yawn and switching the vid off. End of the story.

Final verdict:

Very young children who have zero knowledge of Aladdin or his adventures will most likely find this version entertaining but I am too jaded to enjoy such a trashy movie. A total failure.

This was bad, funny but bad nevertheless.

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Reviewing a classic: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

Product info (from Goodreads):

Jason Taverner woke up one morning to find himself completely unknown. The night before he had been the top-rated television star with millions of devoted watchers. The next day he was just an unidentified walking object, whose face nobody recognised, of whom no one had heard, and without the I.D. papers required in that near future.

When he finally found a man who would agree to counterfeiting such cards for him, that man turned out to be a police informer. And then Taverner found out not only what it was like to be a nobody but also to be hunted by the whole apparatus of society.

It was obvious that in some way Taverner had become the pea in in some sort of cosmic shell game – but how? And why?

My impressions:

Written in 1974 and set in the near future (at that time) of 1988, Philip K. Dick’s haunting dystopian novel addresses a range of existential, social and political themes: identity and loss of identity, celebrity and anonymity, control of individuals by quasi-dictatorship police forces, the influence of drugs on our perception of reality etc. First major twist (but not a spoiler): the main lead, Jason Taverner, is an AI-enhanced creature, known as the six, neither a pure human nor an android. The second major twist: Jason’s nightmarish journey is written in a style of a pulp fiction story but it also touches very serious, philosophical subjects. What’s more, the narration is neither especially coherent nor very captivating, with some plot holes and entire paragraphs which seem to be out of the place. Still a desire to understand the hows and whys of Jason’s mysterious loss of identity kept me reading. And yes, I completely agree that the title is weird and too long – but it’s a norm with Philip Dick. By the way, I suppose this book was the source for Cersei- Jaime pairing in the ASOIAF series.

Final verdict:

If you want to read a classic that raises many more questions than it answers and ends on a bleak tone here is your perfect position. Not the worst Philip Dick’s novel but also not my favourite – if you haven’t read anything by him, do not start with this one.

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Movie review: Red Sparrow (2018) directed by Francis Lawrence

Product info:

Dominica Egorova’s (Jennifer Lawrence) life turns upside down when, during a Bolshoi Theatre performance, she collides with her partner and breaks her leg. An accident or not, a prima balerina with a broken leg has to end her career. The problem is that Dominica also has to support her infirm mother whose care used to be financed by her employer, the Bolshoi Theatre.

Here comes her uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts, strangely reminding me of younger Putin), the deputy director of SVR. He approaches the girl with a proposition she cannot refuse – one private meeting with a Russian oligarch-cum-gangster in a posh Moscow hotel and she won’t have any financial worries anymore. Dominica is apprehensive but she agrees. During the meeting she is brutally raped and then she witnesses the execution of the gangster from really close quarters. Now, she has no choice – either she joins the elite Swallow School for Russian spies or she dies an SVR leaves no civilian eyewitnesses of their shenanigans.

Dominica has to fight for her freedom while pretending that she goes along with the scenario, prepared for her by the uncle who tasks her with finding out the identity of a double agent among Russian counterintelligence agents. Will she manage to break free?

My impressions:

I really liked the story of Dominica because it ringed true but I have to warn you – this movie is rather graphic. It was based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews and shows a nasty underbelly of spying trade – solitude, lack of trust, constant danger and stress, witnessing horrible crimes, lack of personal safety. It is a kind of dark side of James Bond movies which usually focus on sparks and glitter.

I also liked the fact that the main character had to find a way out of her tight corner completely on her own – forget about knights in shiny armour who woud come to her help on white motocycles. Also Charlotte Rampling as the Headmistress of the Sparrow School was really cool.

When it came to the plot itself, it wasn’t that bad but it did feature several holes difficult to patch or understand. I didn’t appreciate torture scenes at all – they were nasty, full stop. After the final showdown I felt a bit underwhelmed and bleak but still more satisfied than after any James Bond movie.

Final verdict:

If you ever toyed with an idea of becoming a spy, I guess after this movie you won’t be so sure. It is a sexist, brutal story of a woman forced to do dirty jobs for powerful men who treat her like a tool. Interesting but too bleak to be rewatched.

Posted in book into movie, book-film-show, contemporary thriller/horror, movie review, spy movie | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Kremlin’s Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy 03) by Jason Matthew

Product info (from Goodreads):

The novel opens with Russian president Vladimir Putin planning the covert assassination of a high-ranking US official with the intention of replacing him with a mole whom Russian intelligence has cultivated for more than fifteen years.

Catching wind of this plot, Dominika, Nate, and their CIA colleagues must unmask the traitor before he or she is able to reveal that Dominika has been spying for years on behalf of the CIA. Any leak, any misstep, will expose her as a CIA asset and result in a one-way trip to a Moscow execution cellar. Along the way, Matthews, a thirty-three-year veteran of the CIA and winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, sets vivid, unforgettable scenes in Moscow; Washington, DC; Hong Kong; New York; the Sudan; and Turkey, and introduces two cold-blooded killers: Iosip Blokhin, a brilliant Spetsnaz military officer, and Grace Gao, ravishing Chinese spy, master of Kundalini yoga, and Beijing-trained seductress.

Ultimately, the lines of danger converge on the spectacular billion-dollar presidential palace on the Black Sea during a power weekend with Putin’s inner circle. Does Nate sacrifice himself to save Dominika? Does she forfeit herself to protect Nate? Do they go down together?

My impressions:

After watching Red Sparrow, a 2018 movie based on the first part of this series (my review is coming), I was eager to read the book. Still, just my luck – I managed to find the last novel, finishing the series. Undaunted, I started reading, eager to find out what happened to Dominika Yegorova, a Russian James Bond in skirt, and her American paramour.

Well. Of course I was thrilled by the fact that a male author created a female spy who didn’t have to be rescued by male counterparts. In fact, more often than not quite the opposite was true – in this book for example Dominika murders in cold blood three agents who jeopardize her and Nate’s mission and lives and let me tell you, she is not afraid to get dirty hands in the process. What’s more, even if Nate and Domi are in lurve very badly, they sometimes go to bed with other people. Maybe it wasn’t exactly nice but it sounded real, especially that their relationship consisted of two-three short, clandestine meetings a year.

Still it wasn’t enough for me, not nearly enough. The plot was immense, very convoluted, and the book seemed too long. What’s worse, the narration wasn’t smooth – some paragraphs were better, some definitely not as polished as they should be in the final installment of a series. The author quoted a lot of Russian and Polish words, often with awry grammar. The ending was neither here nor there – without spoiling anybody I might only say that primo: it was sad, secundo, it felt as if the author was fishing for a contract for the fourth book.

Final verdict:

A mixed bag of good and bad – still I would recommend this one to all fans of spy novels with female leads like Nikita.

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Movie review: Redbad (2018) directed by Noel Reine

Product info:

The 8th Century in Western Europe, a time of significant religious tension. When an army of Christian Franks approaches one tribe of pagan Frisians the bloodshed is inevitable. Redbad (Gijs Nabel) is caught right in the middle of the conflict and, before he can defend himself and his people, he has to answer many serious, even philosophical questions. Which religion is better, the old pagan belief or the new Christian God whose supporters seem to be as cruel as the heathens? It is a fact that the Christian Franks considered themselves more civilised but were as prone to a spot of torture or slaughter in battle as their pagan opponents. What side will he choose?

My impressions:

The topic of this movie was interesting but everything seemed to take too long as the whole movie lasts about three hours. I watched it for two hours. Some fighting scenes I simply skipped after a minute or two and I didn’t feel I missed anything important.

Still, the fact that Christianity was presented in this one from a very ugly angle I personally found refreshing. Don’t get me wrong – I am far from taking sides. I simply have watched too many films in which the word ‘pagan’ always equalled ‘baddie’. Here we are shown Christian psychopats who turn christening into waterboarding torture and gladly bless soldiers so they go and slaughter more ugly pagans, women and children among them, with more zeal. Still there was some balance because the heathens were hardly better – we see two scenes with human sacrifices (both of them survived but it was pure luck, nothing else, they were bound to die for their gods). Overall, if you are very serious about your religious beliefs it is definitely a movie you might find disturbing for more than one reason.

Still, my problems lay elsewhere. I had an impression the director of Redbad, like many others before him, put spectacle over historical accuracy. Those Frankish knights wearing chainmail armour were definitely out of place – we are speaking about 8th, not 11th or 12th century.  Also large stretches of the film were desaturated and I think they looked rather tedious and cheap than stylish. Anyway, most of what’s included in these sections could be cut. Finallly I didn’t appreciate some jumps in the narration which lacked logic – like the journey of Redbad from Denmark to his native Frisia. Oh, and the dialogues were anachronistic as well, with 8th century people talking often from the 21st century perspective.

Final verdict:

An obscure hero, an interesting story from a not exactly popular period of time – this movie had a lot of potential. And yet I wouldn’t rewatch it because it was too long and too bloody.

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The Falcon Throne (The Tarnished Crown Quintet 01) by Karen Miller

Product info (from Goodreads):

In the distant past, the Kingdom of Harcia was torn apart by royal brothers who could not accept a lesser inheritance. Now, the consequences of their actions are coming to light.

Balfre, son of Aimery, Duke of Harcia, is his father’s heir. But he has dreams of a crown, not a coronet. He dreams himself the king of a Harcia re-united, but his brother Grefin, their father’s favorite, stands in his way. 

Harald, debauched Duke of neighboring Clemen, is feared and despised by his nobles. He thinks he can trust his bastard-born cousin Ederic … but Ederic fears for the duchy and will do what he must to save it.

And caught between dangers is Harald’s infant son, Liam. Stolen by his nurse, vanished into the lawless Marches, he is the spark that will grow to set the world on fire.

My impressions:

My first thought, concerning this one, was: ‘a quintet? REALLY?’ Ok, some authors do write a book thinking already about a whole series but a quintet? Isn’t it too optimistic?

I started reading because I do like historical fantasy from time to time. Soon after the prologue (yes! It had a prologue!) which was, from my point of view, one of few good chapters, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Basically I was reading A Game of Thrones all over again but with many boring fragments which forced me to skim, and skim, and skim again. Three kingdoms, three rulers, different problems (revolving mainly around the lack of heir or an improper heir/heirs plus a bastard or two in the background). Politics, carnages, the plague, more politics, marriages without love, politics, stupid but ambitious aristocrats murdering other aristocrats… you get the drift. Oh, there was also a witch called Izusa who practiced magic involving dead parts of infants and her superior called Salimbene. It wasn’t especially original either.

Final verdict:

Definitely worse than the Godspeaker series which I didn’t like too much to begin with. Worse than A Game of Thrones which I started to despise after a while. A total failure.

Other books by Karen Miller reviewed on this blog:

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Movie review: Starfish (2018) directed by A.T. White

Product info:

Aubrey Parker ( Virginia Gardner ) comes to the funeral of her close friend, Grace. She is obviously in grief and very uncomfortable to a point of being psychologically volatile. In the spur of the moment she breaks into Grace’s diner-cum-apartment building. While taking care of her friend’s pets she hopes that rummaging through personal effects of Grace would make it easier to deal with the mourning. Aubrey spends the night alone and wakes up to the world frozen over, invaded by strange creatures. What’s more, all people have disappeared without a trace. Aubrey must navigate the empty town with only mixtapes Grace left behind for her. Will she manage to survive?

My impressions:

The more I think about it the more it seems to me that this movie wanted to say a lot and somehow failed to get its message across. With not especially coherent narrative and haunting music score I think I was supposed to be scared. Only I wasn’t. The problem is Starfish doesn’t have quite enough science fiction to call it a science fiction film, nor enough horror to call it a horror film – forget about any similarities with the book of Peter Watts of the same title.

I admit it, Virginia Gardner managed to make me emotionally invested in the story and empty, snowy landscapes were a joy to look at, especially with very hot, dry weather plaguing me at my place. I also liked the olde-worlde, almost forgotten casette recorders, rotary telephones and such. Still I resented the fact that the narrative kept all the important information on a verly slow drip and some questions were never answered at all.

Final verdict:

An interesting movie which I wouldn’t like to rewatch, Starfish is less a story and more of an exorcism of personal loss by way of a cinematic musical mixtape. I admit the concept seems cool enough, but didn’t always work in my case. And it left me in a very melancholic mood.

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

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.

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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 Allan 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 , , , , , , | 6 Comments