Runa by Vera Buck


Mental health clinic Salpêtrière in Paris. A young medicine student from Switzerland called Jori helps the powerful and famous director Charcot to prepare his famous lectures by collecting fresh batch of patients from their homes. Jori is doubly motivated to watch and learn – his girlfriend, Pauline, has had mental health issues and he is eager to cure and marry her. After a while Jori gets in touch with Runa, a very strange little girl with prematurely white hair and one pupil larger than the other. The girl is behaving strangely, creating trouble for herself and everybody around. What’s her illness? Can she be cured?

My impressions

It was a surprisingly good story. Still before you approach this book you must know about several things or it might be a big fat DNF for you. First of all if you really despise reading about children who suffer without any reason, stay away from it. The same is true when it comes to humiliating women and, generally, patients, by doctors and other superiors (like nurses or guards).

Runa is full of dark, dark scenes and quite vivid descriptions of these. I mean here illegal experiments even doctor Mengele wouldn’t be ashamed of. I mean also a circus in a form of public lectures during which female patients, some of them really ill and helpless, are publicly stimulated to ‘perform’ i.e. have epileptic or hysterical attacks while the happy audience, all men, are cheering and hooting and salivating. Horrible and disgusting, I know, but not far from real situation of mental patients in too many hospitals at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe and America. These were the times when, if you were a female and had mental health issues your family could confine you in a hospital and forget about you. Then your treatment and your fate often depended completely on the doctor you had to deal with and other medical staff. Icy water showers, electro stimulation sessions, taking part in humiliating lectures, sometimes partially or completely nude, sexual abuse, cold, hunger, these were very real issues. The mind boggles, I know, but just google the story behind Camille Claudel, a very promising sculptor…

Final verdict

A dark, twisted tale with bittersweet ending. What a pity it is currently not available in English but I hope it is going to be translated soon.

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Movie review: Mission Impossible: Fallout directed by Christopher McQuarrie


Two years after Solomon Lane’s capture the remains of his organization “the Syndicate” have reformed into a terrorist group named “the Apostles”. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is assigned to intercept three stolen plutonium cores in Berlin before the Apostles can sell them to fundamentalist John Lark. He joins Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) for the mission, but they fail when Luther is taken hostage and Ethan chooses to save his life, allowing the Apostles to take the plutonium. The team capture nuclear weapons expert Nils Debruuk and learn that he built three portable nuclear weapons for the Apostles. Now they have a more ambitious and complex task before them.

Furious at the IMF’s failure, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) instructs Special Activities Division operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow Ethan as he attempts to retrieve the plutonium. Ethan and Walker infiltrate a party in Paris where Lark is believed to be buying the cores from an arms dealer known as White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). They track a man whom they suspect to be Lark but he is killed when Ilsa Faust intervenes just as he is about to kill Hunt. Ethan impersonates Lark and warns the White Widow that assassins are trying to kill her. Walker passes doctored evidence on to Sloane suggesting that Hunt has always been Lark and the man killed by Ilsa was a decoy.

My impressions:

When you are able to watch a movie over two hours long during one sitting, it is a compliment in itself. When you compare it to a James Bond series and finds it is definitely better, it is another very strong point. Add to that the fact that it is a sixth movie in a series and, in my humble opinion, the best one so far and you are facing a very positive review of an action flick starring Tom Cruise written by yours truly. Personally I hate Tom C. I am not a big fan of action movies. And yet…

In fact I found it the perfect time filler for the New Year’s Eve. My first argument: when it came to its length, it was almost a two-movies-in-one package. It was  interesting, funny, and it featured some truly great, ingenious and scenic sequences like an epic battle of two helicopters over and between cliffs.  Then I was entranced by locations. Paris, including Parisian underground Seine tunnels, really as good as catacombs. London streets and a church. Norway. Finally the narration. It was fast, sleek and entertaining. Coherent even. I couldn’t believe my own eyes

Last but not least: Tom Cruise managed to reinvent himself in his dotage which, in fact, isn’t dotage at all. He is still fit, he trains like a professional athlete, he co-finances his own movies… not bad for a 50+ guy, no matter what he believes in.

Final verdict

I am very positively impressed, it was a spectacular movie, very pleasant to watch. Way to go, Mr. Cruise, move over, James Bond! 

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Always (Aud Torvingen 03) by Nicola Griffith

Product description (from Goodreads):

Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire. 

The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.

My impressions:

It is a stand-alone book even though officially it is marketed as a third part of a series. I didn’t have any problems with finding my bearings. In fact, at first I wanted to whoop with joy – I liked the beginning of this one enormously. These main characters. That narrative voice. But then the more pages I read the less I enjoyed the content. I ended up completely bored. Perhaps it was that duality in narration – the book is, in fact, two stories in one, joined by the same heroine, Aud. In one part she is teaching a group of Southern ladies from Atlanta basic self-defense.  It was the story arc I more or less liked, especially as the author proved time and again that she knew what she was writing about. In the second part Aud is visiting Seattle, meeting her high-profile Norwegian mom, the new stepdad, and falling in love with Kick, a stunt woman turned caterer whom she meets on a plan of a new tv series pilot.

The second part I had most problems with. To be honest it left me puzzled. At the beginning, I hoped it would somehow connect with the first line of narrative and make it more significant. I was wrong. Both stories flowed alongside but never merged (or merged very subtly  and I somehow missed it, could happen to the best of readers). Moreover the second part had some element which  annoyed me a bit. For example the fact that Aud, seeing Kick for the first time in her life, immediately assumed the woman had to be homosexual (or bisexual at least). There was no shred of doubt, no hesitation whatsoever, no questions, as if all film plan caterers inhabiting  the nice city of Seattle consisted mostly of homosexually inclined people (while the situation, I suppose, is the other way round ). If at least Kick sported that tell-tale rainbow badge or if Aud had overheard her speaking about her own preferences I would understand it. The fact that the author herself is a lesbian and admits it in the acknowledgments section doesn’t change a thing. The premise still sounded spurious.

Final verdict:

A good style but not especially good story line (and a horrible cover one have to add). I found the book both too long and too boring even though the beginning was great. Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, contemporary, crime, lgbtq, meh, rating, romance, suspence | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Silent Dead (Reiko Himekawa 01) by Tetsuya Honda

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When a body wrapped in a blue plastic tarp and tied up with twine is discovered near the bushes near a quiet suburban Tokyo neighborhood, Lt. Reiko Himekawa and her squad take the case. The victim was slaughtered—his wounds are bizarre, and no one can figure out the “what” or the “why” of this crime.

At age twenty-nine, Reiko Himekawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Division is young to have been made lieutenant, particularly because she lacks any kind of political or family connections. Despite barriers created by age, gender, and lack of connections, she is mentally tough, oblivious to danger, and has an impressive ability to solve crimes.

Reiko makes a discovery that leads the police to uncover eleven other bodies, all wrapped in the same sort of plastic. Few of the bodies are identifiable, but the ones that are have no connection to each other. The only possible clue is a long shot lead to a website spoken only in whispers on the Internet, something on the dark web known as “Strawberry Night.”

But while she is hunting the killer, the killer is hunting her… and she may very well have been marked as the next victim.

My impressions:

Allegedly  it was just another whodunit, only penned by a Japanese author. Still it did make a difference. To be honest it was surprisingly good. I don’t think here mainly about the local flavor although I admit it was another asset.  I think about tight plotting, an interesting premise and a bunch of original characters. I also think about the fact that the main lead is a woman who has to face fierce opposition at her place of work even though she is a better-than-average detective.

It was really nicely done, that show of misogynism among some cops and civilians who had to cooperate with Reiko during her investigation. Reiko’s male colleagues often write her opinion off because she’s a woman, mock her fear of ‘hot summer nights’ because that’s how the weather was like when she was raped as a teen, make advances on her because they were in a dark place and that was apparently some kind of invitation, grope her, and more. I did wonder from time to time why she didn’t think of accusing some of them of sexual harassment  but, I suppose, she couldn’t. I also think it is an honest picture of the way the police work in Japan. A woman cannot be equal to men no matter how well she performs and what she does; if she wants to work she has to suffer many daily humiliations and accommodate or else. Small wonder Reiko’s mum would love nothing better than seeing her eldest daughter happily married. And having children.

Poor Reiko, being a rather good-looking woman, had also to suffer sexual abuse in public transport: ‘Reiko responded violently to sexual harassment. On the train, with would-be gropers she had notched up a tally of seventeen broken fingers and two broken arms. At work, her record was more modest: six broken fingers and zero arms- but she had kneed three guys in the balls and concussed a couple by kicking their legs out from under them’. 

Any flaws? Unfortunately the same Reiko seemed a bit flat from time to time – too good, too pretty, too clever  and perfect.  Despite her forced tolerance she also was surprisingly quick to lose her temper. When I come to think about it, everyone was rather quick to anger and to insult each other and threaten violence – another surprise for me personally. When I think ‘a Japanese’ I see those calm, constantly smiling and bowing men and women who are very kind to strangers and to each other too. Well, perhaps my perception is wrong.

Finally another flaw (at least from my point of view): the story starts from the first-person perspective of the main black hat and changes  into the personal perspective of Reiko and her colleagues in third person narrative voice; that switch is repeated several times. I am not exactly a fan of such tricks, it felt a bit unnecessary even if it permitted a glimpse into the perpetrator’s mind.

Final verdict:

A decently-written mystery with a believable main character. It also features plenty of violence, sexual violence included. Still if you like intrepid female detectives and are interested in contemporary Japan this one might be for you.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, mystery, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) directed by David Yates

Product info:

The plot of this sequel of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (here you have the link to my review) follows the adventure of young Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his mentor, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who have to face Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a powerful dark wizard on the run and a populist extraordinaire. Grindelwald preaches abolishing laws concealing wizards from muggles, and utilizes future World War II images to justify worldwide wizard supremacy and domination, meaning of course pure blood wizards. He fends off aurors sent by the Ministry for Magic and seems to be unstoppable. Many magical officials believe only Dumbledore has a chance to fight him and win; yet Albus refuses, time and again, to face Grindelwald even if it means humiliating constant surveillance. Why?

My impressions:

This one was a mixed bag for me. While I truly enjoyed CGI beasts and beasties, Paris cityscape and really fantastic special effects, I was less than impressed by the pace of the movie and, overall, its lack of logic. A flying carriage as a way of safe transport of a dangerous criminal from the US to Europe? Seriously? Queenie believing Grindelwald’s claims so easily – so she can read minds and then she can’t ? Leta Lestrange haunted by an image of a drowning child when another scene makes it clear she couldn’t possibly have seen it at all, sitting safely in a boat while the said child was drowning. A case of overactive imagination or rather lack of skills from the part of the scriptwriter? 

And that ending. Really, J.K. Rowling seems to be infected by the ‘walking-and-talking’ curse. I don’t want to spoil you too blatantly but I do think the ending of this one significantly diminished all positives from the first part. I hated how many times we were told things by different characters instead of being shown them. After all showing in a movie should be a lot easier than in a book, right? I hated how, after a certain point, the tension dropped and disappeared, never resurfacing again. I hated how Queenie was turned into a pretty-faced, brainless bimbo. She wasn’t one of my favourites but I did have hopes for her, after the first part.

Final verdict:

There are sparkles of magic in this one ( Cemetery Pere Lachaise! Nicolas Flamel!) but few and far between. I recommend it mainly for Potterverse fans – they will understand and forgive.

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Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse 01) by James S.A. Corey

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

My impressions:

It was a very pleasant space opera and a nice beginning of a series. I was even more impressed when I found out the author is actually a pen name of a joint venture of Daniel Abraham, writer of  The Dagger and the Coin series, and Ty Franck, George R.R. Martin’s former assistant and science fiction writer. These two can write and they do it well but the fact that this novel has two POVs helped a bit, I suppose – allegedly Franck wrote the chapters following Holden and Abraham wrote the ones following Miller. Abraham focused on the prose and filling in the details regarding characters and Franck focused on the world building and the plot.

Overall the book, even if long, was hard to put down and I was so pleased that the ending was rather conclusive, not one of those ugly cliffhangers that plague some series. Ironically, I think I am going to continue reading because now I’d like to know more.

Final verdict:

A stand-alone novel beginning a series. If you like sci-fi and space operas with a dash of good, classic whodunnit thrown in and a nice romantic story arc too, do give this one a try.

Posted in adventure, book review, crime, sci-fi, space opera | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Product info (from Goodreads):

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

My impressions:

It was a story about loss, mourning, growing up all alone, and taking responsibility for your deeds. The plot was rich and detailed, revolving about a painting by Carel Fabritius Theo took from the museum the day his mother died and failed to return. Yes, the book starts with a tragedy but the tension it created soon dissolves.

You follow that stolen painting and a lonely, lost boy and the many bad decisions he makes, influenced by bad genetics, a dangerously unstable friend, and the bad example of his father, by the trauma of violence of the worst kind, and several kinds of dislocation. I like flawed heroes so it suited me just fine but I admit sometimes the narration was bordering boredom. I also rather disliked Boris – a character which was so artificial that he sounded sometimes grotesque, as grotesque as was his reveling in drug-fueled stupidity, antics, and parties.  A Dickensian novel? Certainly there was a whiff of that but also a novel which would profit from a serious editing session and many, many cuts.

Final verdict:

A brilliant story with memorable characters; most of the book is incredibly well done and fun to read. Still there were parts which bored me almost to DNF. I am conflicted. Do I regret reading it? No. Would I read it the second time? I doubt it.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, literary fiction | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: The Fourth Kind directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

Product info: 

A  mockumentary, allegedly based on real events occurring in Nome, Alaska in 2000. A recently widowed psychologist Dr. Abigail Emily “Abbey” Tyler (Milla Jovovich/ Charlotte Milchard) uses hypnosis to uncover memories from her patients of alien abduction, and finds evidence suggesting that she

may have been abducted as well. When she is preparing to run for her life her little daughter is taken and the police suspects she might be responsible for that. Will she manage to persuade them she is a victim, not a perpetrator?

My impressions:

This horror had one big flaw: the director failed to persuade me that his story rang true, despite the whole ‘mockumentary’ setting. The film had two components: dramatization, in which actors portrayed the individuals involved, and “documentary”, in which video footage purported to show the ‘actual’ victims undergoing hypnosis. It was a tad irritating to be honest, as if I needed to be constantly reminded about the basic premise but it wasn’t the worst.

After a while I found the Aliens doing the abductions were really stupid, even if they, coming from Sumerian times,  supposedly were not mere centuries but millenia old. Well, from stupidity to silliness is just one step and it is not good for your thriller when you smile, even laugh out loud. So: Aliens were cruel and stupid, Abbie was sad and stupid and the police, especially the town sheriff, were strangely blind, aggressive, and stupid. It leaves out a lovely owl but poor animal couldn’t do much. Mind you the creep factor was about assuming that what you’re watching is, in fact, true and that the homemade videos are all in fact legitimate. However I have to admit  that the further I got into the film the more I had  to suspend my disbelief until I reached a level of an utter ‘no way.’ Pity.

Final verdict:

Despite an interesting premise The Fourth Kind wasn’t creepy, it was annoying. Only for avid fans of Blair Witch Project.

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

Spies of the Balkans (Nigth Soldiers 11) by Alan Furst

Product info (from Goodreads):

Greece, 1940. Not sunny vacation Greece: northern Greece, Macedonian Greece, Balkan Greece–the city of Salonika. In that ancient port, with its wharves and warehouses, dark lanes and Turkish mansions, brothels and tavernas, a tense political drama is being played out. On the northern border, the Greek army has blocked Mussolini’s invasion, pushing his divisions back to Albania–the first defeat suffered by the Nazis, who have conquered most of Europe. But Adolf Hitler cannot tolerate such freedom; the invasion is coming, it’s only a matter of time, and the people of Salonika can only watch and wait. 

At the center of this drama is Costa Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special “political” cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation to the German secret service. There’s a British travel writer, a Bulgarian undertaker, and more. Costa Zannis must deal with them all. And he is soon in the game, securing an escape route–from Berlin to Salonika, and then to a tenuous safety in Turkey, a route protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters. And hunted by the Gestapo.

My impressions:

Half-baked at best, boring like hell at worst – that would be my summary of choice. This one didn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it’s a case of over-inflated expectations, perhaps the formula wore off, and small wonder, after 11 parts it’s hard to come up with something fresh. I am going to dissect the novel in the most cruel way but I promise I’ll be concise.

The fate of Costa and his love interest, Demetria, failed to interest me because both these characters were as flat as a pancake. Well, even two pancakes. And a filling. I didn’t care about any particular Jewish refugee because the author didn’t give me an opportunity to do so. The plot was formulaic and very predictable, especially if you’ve read any of previous parts. It was soon deteriorating into an endless series of vaguely connected scenes with paper-thin heroes and heroines who did stuff. Even a daring escape from occupied Paris didn’t move me enough, it was so bland (and let me tell you, if an author botches up Paris there’s no hope). The proper research was there but I expect nothing less from such an experienced writer, specializing in the era so it is not a real asset.

Final verdict:

Don’t read this one, it’s not worth your effort. A major disappointment for me and a total failure.

Other Alan Furst books reviewed on this blog:

Posted in a total failure, book review, historical, rating | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Movie review: Control (Kontroll, 2003) directed by Nimrod Antal

Product info:

Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi) is a metro ticket inspector working in the

underground transit system in Budapest. His job consists of ensuring commuters have paid to ride the train. Simple? Not really. Try to explain an idea of paying for a ride to, say, a pimp accompanied by several ‘working girls’.  Or a gypsy. They are not there for paying anything to anybody.

A quirky young woman dressed in a bear suit (Eszter Balla) catches the attention of Bulcsú, and their relationship suggests that he might escape from the drudgery of his subterranean life and finally see sunlight again. But first he needs to find out why passengers are jumping — or being pushed — to their deaths onto the tracks. And then he needs to persuade himself that life up above has something more to offer.

My impressions:

I was recommended this comedy-thriller by a certain Ksanthippe (thank you!) who has studied Hungarian at university. I admit that my knowledge of anything Hungarian is scant so I wanted to improve that and I thought this movie was a perfect choice.

If I had to sum up the movie I’d say it is a cross between Trainspotting, Matrix, Metro directed by Luc Besson, Kafka, and uncountable action comedies shot by Tarantino. It also proves that you don’t need a dark, big forest or a dark big mountain to create a certain atmosphere. An underground system is more than enough, especially as it is frequented by fortunate and unfortunate people and also a friendly owl.

The plot was hardly linear, centered around a crew of colleagues who patrol Budapest metro system and check tickets. They compete  with other, similar groups, they fight with unruly passengers, they have to overcome their own weaknesses and avoid the attention of their bosses called, very affectionately, the Gestapo, not to mention a mysterious, hooded figure of a murderer who pushes passengers on the rails when a train arrives on the platform. Is he one of the controllers or just another deranged soul?

What makes people work in the subway? Let’s face it, the job is miserable and it attracts just misfits, slovenly, unkempt, unshaven, often sleeping in the same clothes they work in. Bulcsu never returns to surface, preferring empty platforms to a warm bed.  One of his pals, Muki, when enraged, suffers from narcolepsy. Another one, called simply the Professor, considers Kontrolling a holy mission of a kind. Soon it becomes obvious the kontrollers don’t really care if people are riding free; what they care about is getting a proof they still have some self-respect left.

The funniest but also the most haunting scene was a session with a psychologist each controller has to undergo once in a while. It was creepy to see how botched-up these people were. Is our reality much different, however? Is the schizophrenic, slightly childish hero and his deranged gang a metaphor of the post-communist Hungarians?  Who knows?

Final verdict:

I suppose it could be easily a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie if only the director had a bigger budget. A blend of styles but similar problems – if you feel like watching something original give Control a chance. The ride was a bit wild but enjoyable nevertheless!

Posted in comedy drama, contemporary, contemporary thriller/horror, movie review | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments