War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Book Review

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - Book Cover

Tolstoy’s monumental work titled “War and Peace,” widely regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature, looms before the average reader like a distant, unconquered peak. Many are daunted by its page count, others are plagued by fear, wondering how they will grapple with the profound thoughts of the great bearded philosopher. And surely, there are those (including the author of these lines with a holey memory) who fear they will constantly mix up Dmitry Ivanovich with Ivan Dmitrijevic. (Or with Timofey Polikarpovich.)

But everyone, please calm down!

Firstly, like many other things, the thicker the book, the better. Secondly, “War and Peace” is surprisingly easy to read. Thirdly, considering its length, it moves relatively few characters, perhaps barely a dozen main characters, if that many.

It Involves Russia!

However, “War and Peace” is not the most accurate title. Actually, it should be this: Peace, peace, peace, war, and war. This means that after the surprisingly vivid descriptions of the battles of Schöngrabern and Austerlitz, about 7 years pass before Napoleon’s campaign against Russia in 1812.

The story of these 7 years constitutes the vast majority of Tolstoy’s work, from the perspective of several aristocratic families whose fates are more or less intertwined. (The lower classes didn’t have a say in matters in Russia for about another hundred years. So it goes in this novel too.)

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

Woody Allen says.

And how right he is!

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The Witcher – The First Three Seasons – Series Review

The Witcher series poster

Andrzej Sapkowski, the Polish fantasy author, has incredibly good luck. Actually, he has two strokes of luck. His overwritten, rambling, and disjointed “Witcher” series first inspired a successful role-playing game, and then Netflix decided to give a shot to the magic-supported, mutant monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia. Sapkowski and the subscribers of the streaming platform couldn’t have been luckier. (Maybe just a tiny bit luckier.)

Because the claim applies to Sapkowski just as much as it does to the renowned sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout*: his ideas are good, but his style is terrible. However, the Netflix series cleverly pruned away what was unnecessary and kept the rest. “The Witcher” builds a twisting, exciting, and unique medieval world, full of great heroes, magic, adventures, and plenty of emotional highs. At least in the first season.

Season 1: The Witcher Starts with a Full Swing

The books’ occasionally fairy-tale-like twists barely make an appearance here; the striga reverting to human upon hearing a rooster’s crow, and the genie fulfilling three wishes remain, but let’s not be greedy.

The series, however, excels in many aspects where the Polish author falls short. The perpetually mournful Geralt, constantly sulking in the books, is nowhere to be found; instead, we have a laconic, endlessly cynical yet still feeling hero. Henry Cavill was truly born to play a Witcher. The paper-based version’s silly and dim-witted Dandelion, whom you’d rather smack with his own lute incessantly, has transformed into a charming and lovable rogue. And Yennefer… well, we all know what powerful sorceresses are like. Yennefer in the series is just as arrogant and insufferable but also a sexy beast. Moreover, some of the most emotional scenes in the early episodes are tied to her. Of course, this required the creators to thoroughly and perhaps somewhat unjustifiably alter the timeline of the books’ plot.

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Joe Abercrombie: The Trouble with Peace – Book Review

Joe Abercrombie: The Trouble with Peace - Book Cover

What can happen in a monumental fantasy series after the supreme mage deals with everyone as he pleases? (Raymond E. Feist could tell you about this in connection with the Riftwar Cycle books.) However, Lord Bayaz doesn’t really have any opponents left on the horizon. Joe Abercrombie decided to sideline Bayaz and continue the adventure in the First Law world with The Age of Madness trilogy, introducing many new and old characters, advancing the history of the Union in a tableau-like manner, now also welcoming the industrial revolution alongside magic, spewing smoke and fire.

The second part of the trilogy, “The Trouble with Peace”, seemingly follows the same recipe as the first. The characters engage in conflicts of local significance, and nothing earth-shattering really happens. A rebellion raises its head here and there, and the strong men of The North, as usual, make trouble, but they always do that. (Let’s add that without this tough and wild masculinity, Abercrombie’s series probably wouldn’t work so well, as mostly only the Union’s bureaucracy and petty political disputes would remain.)

And yet, you find that The Age of Madness is much better to read than all of Abercrombie’s previous books. Perhaps because now the characters from earlier stories, who were often of simple (solely fighting or sulking) nature, come to life. (Except, of course, Caul Shivers, the current most dangerous man in the North. But he’s doing just fine as he is.)

It is said that truly good writers can write about everyday events in a way that makes them seem much more than they are. Well, the viewpoint characters of “The Trouble with Peace” easily accomplish this task. If we consider just the three extremely strong female protagonists of the book (a spy loyal to the point of self-sacrifice, a clairvoyant who regularly poops his pants, and Adua’s ruthless and ambitious businesswoman, who is provided with a tailwind by the Inquisition itself), we see that at least two of them are very difficult to fit into the likable personalities category, yet you eagerly flip through the pages, following their fate with bated breath.

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Deadly Class – Vol. 7: Love Like Blood by by Rick Remender · Wes Craig – Comic Book Review

Deadly Class – Vol. 7: Love Like Blood by by Rick Remender · Wes Craig - Comic Book Cover

If you were a school psychologist at the King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, you would definitely be stuffing benzodiazepines into your own mouth by the handful. Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s Deadly Class seems perfect for apprentice assassins at first glance, but in reality, it wouldn’t work.

A high school for the children of criminals? Where students trained for killing roam armed?! Come on!

You’ve probably heard of the dramaturgical principle that if a loaded gun appears on stage, sooner or later it will be fired. Well, for those attending the assassin class, firing the gun – with classmates in the crosshairs – is part of the prescribed curriculum.

The King’s Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts is essentially a psychopath training ground, which would only work until the first freshly graduated seniors returned home to mommy and daddy. However, instead of a resourceful karate champion, ninja, or commando, the parents could welcome home unpredictable wrecks devoid of any human emotions. Afterward, dissatisfied ancestors from all over the world would flock to San Francisco to demand a refund of tuition… and incidentally, to chop the entire teaching staff into tiny pieces.

Rick Remender, the master of the most unbelievable twists, organizes a class trip to Mexico in the seventh part of the Deadly Class. And you, the reader, are supposed to believe that Marcus, one of the most repulsive protagonists in comic literature, successfully takes on a group of Yakuza. Man, he got expelled! Not to mention that he only attended for a year, most of which he was totally high on drugs!

So, do you believe it? Okay then.

If it’s been a relatively long time since you read the previous part, you’re in luck because you might not remember exactly why you hate the characters in the book. (Just know that you hate them.) Perhaps this is one reason why you don’t find the seventh part of the Deadly Class as annoying as the previous ones. But it could also be because of the continuous action.

Fortunately, the blood-soaked, ninja-like action is precisely interrupted by the more lyrical parts. These, almost without exception, work now. There is death, a turning point, truly profound twists, but even in their extremeness, they stay grounded in reality.

If you were to start acquainting yourself with Rick Remender and Wes Craig’s series with this part, you actually wouldn’t find much to criticize.

And when Saya takes center stage, the character who hasn’t made a complete fool of herself in the series so far, you’ve reached the climax of “Love like blood,” but for real the whole series. The power combined with a sense of inferiority is capable of astonishing things – and, of course, paves the way for a very pleasant future revenge.

But the best is saved for last: Master Lin, who resembles a small, acholic*, sausage-shaped piece of poop, remarkably does not appear in the panels of this comic!

7.5/10 (75%)

Deadly Class – Vol. 7: Love Like Blood by Rick Remender (writer) · Wes Craig (illustrator)
120 pages, Paperback
Published in 2018 by Image Comics

acholic* referring to a pathological lack of bile, characterized by a white color

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay – Book Review

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay – Book cover

It can really mess up the American dream if you smash your girlfriend’s head with a big rock. Danny Pine is currently residing at the Fishkill Correctional Facility for precisely this reason. However, his family steadfastly believes in his innocence and has been fighting for his exoneration for years. Meanwhile, Danny’s estranged brother, Matt, receives terrible news: all their relatives on a Mexican vacation died in an accident. As time passes, the circumstances become increasingly suspicious. Matt decides to uncover the truth… Despite the dramatic setup in “Every Last Fear” Alex Finlay surprisingly crafts a family-friendly thriller.

The writing style of “All Your Fears” is quite unremarkable, lacking any distinctive features. Countless books with similarly subdued quality are published daily. However, Alex Finlay successfully overcomes this by structuring the novel effectively. Alongside Matt’s private investigation, you get the reminiscences of other Pine family members, leading up to the tragic conclusion.

FBI agent Sarah Keller, investigating the case, also gets dedicated chapters. So “All Your Fears” meanders through various paths, providing UNEXPECTED twists at each turn. Introducing new turns, possible suspects, and clever tricks, these sophisticated maneuvers significantly enhance the enjoyment of the thriller.

The unpredictability of Alex Finlay’s book manages to conceal the fact that the main characters of “Every Last Fear” the Pine family members, are not very well-developed. Matt, the most thoroughly introduced among them, is a true-blue average American citizen, and that’s about it.

However, it’s effortless to identify with all of them. The family-friendly label at the beginning of this review was not accidental. Finley’s thriller paints the picture of of an ordinary and supportive family, even in times of trouble – while flashing glimpses of sketchy portraits of everyday America along the way.

Family relationships receive significant emphasis – somewhat unnecessarily – in the case of Agent Keller too, who turns out to be the best-developed character in the book. (And by the end of “Every Last Fear”she slowly becomes an honorary family member.)

The impact of the book largely relies on knowing what will happen, creating a growing unease as you watch the pages of the book decrease. This oppressive feeling is particularly noticeable when reading Maggie’s chapters. Maggie, Matt Pine’s sister, is the perfect opposite of contemporary TikTok-expert teenagers: dedicated, smart, and kind, the ideal little sister in every respect.

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Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Book Review

Harrow the Ninth book cover

The prequel to Tamsyn Muir’s novel “Harrow The Ninth” was a hugely successful sci-fi novel of 2019. “Gideon the Ninth” won several awards, including the Locus Award, and left even the most esteemed sci-fi authors in awe. “Gideon the Ninth” burst onto the science fiction scene with pulsating energy, cheeky yet clever humor, and a unique vision (necromancers + romance = necromance). Only to then shift to a larger portion of the story resembling a subdued Agatha Christie mystery.

“Harrow the Ninth” lacks that dynamic start but fortunately, it also lacks the occasional anemia found in its predecessor. However, in return, it is at times completely incomprehensible.

Literally.

The first thought-provoking moment occurs when you realize there’s not a single mention of Gideon, the protagonist of the Locked Tomb series’ first installment. It’s as if her existence has been erased. Then, the alternating chapters of the book are written in different grammatical persons (second-person singular vs third-person singular) while each chapter has the same viewpoint character: Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the charming but troubled teenage necromancer.

To top it off, characters show up in the pink, who died in the first book.

Are you into solving puzzles? Do you have a university degree? If neither applies to you, there’s a chance that up to about 80% of this book, you’ll wish “Harrow the Ninth”, to hell. And it’s no wonder if, along the way, you come to the conclusion that either reading the book titled “Harrow the Ninth” is entirely unnecessary or its predecessor, filled with the trials of Gideon Nav.

Maybe you won’t give up on Muir’s book halfway for only two reasons. One, if you’ve already crafted a compelling closing sentence for your book review and don’t want it to go to waste. The other is the Australian author’s writing style.

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The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni – Book Review

The Eighth Sister book cover

Do they really have to reactivate a 64-year-old geezer for the CIA, just to send him to Moscow as a spy? Couldn’t they find someone older? Sure, we know that 60 is the new 40, but if the successor organization to the KGB, the FSB, were to chase this guy, wouldn’t it be better to go for a robust young sprinter instead?

And while we’re on appearances: wouldn’t a blonde, Slavic-looking person with a good-natured, foolish expression be more suitable for a Russian job than an African American? Just in case, let’s say, the FSB accidentally starts pursuing him and wants to chase him all over half of Russia. Just to blend in with the crowd more easily.

A faint chance does appear that the FSB will become suspicious of Charles Jenkins. Because he goes there to interfere with one of their operations. The Russians start eliminating the so-called seven sisters, CIA spies operating in deep cover in Russia for decades. Three sisters (Masha, Olga, and Irina – if I remember their names correctly) were already taken care of.

But not only are the sisters dwindling, Vladimir Vladimirovich, the Tsar of all Russians, activates the eighth sister! Damn! Her task is to find the other seven and kill them. Jenkins is stuck with the thankless task of messing around until the eighth sister notices him. If that happens, he must identify this evil she-devil and then get out immediately.

And now, let’s pause for a moment! Let’s use our brains!

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A Caller’s Game by J. D. Barker – Book Review

Caller’s Game book cover

Jordan Briggs, a radio host with a penchant for stirring controversy, receives a live call from Bernie, a caller armed with a significant amount of exploitable explosive material. However, Bernie doesn’t like to decide alone what things to blow up. Jordan’s show becomes an explosive success. Will J. D. Barker’s book, “A Caller’s Game” achieve the same success?

If you’ve read Barker’s “Four Monkey Killer” series, you’ll immediately notice that “A Caller’s Game” lacks the complexity and often overly convoluted plot structure. “A Caller’s Game” is on the opposite end, a straightforward thriller mostly set in a single location.

If you’ve seen the movie “Die Hard,” you can expect a similar experience: a skyscraper, terrorists, a bomb, and a cop perfectly positioned to take on the jerk Bernie. Plus, live broadcasting on the radio. Minus Christmas.

“A Caller’s Game” would work well as an action film, except everyone would compare it to “Die Hard,” and it would quickly fade away.

Barker’s book is perfectly bland. The male protagonist, Cole Hundley, is woodenly simple, a typical good guy. Jordan doesn’t get much more depth. Although Barker provides sharp insights at the beginning, portraying Jordan as a sharp-minded, confident media personality, nevertheless, the woman finds it very difficult to make herself likable.

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Faroe by Remigiusz Mróz – Book Review

Discalimer: This book has not yet been published in English - nor have ANY of the author's books. But reading this review, anyone can easily decide WHETHER it is worth publishing.
Faroe by Remigiusz Mróz - Book Cover

What could be more depressing in the case of notoriously gloomy Scandinavian crime novels than if the setting itself is oppressive? The Faroe Islands? The smell of fish, economic stagnation, and alcoholism. Remigiusz Mróz’s crime novel titled “Feröer” doesn’t exactly inspire a strong desire to travel there for vacation.

Of course, the Faroe Islands might not be such a miserable place, and Remigiusz Mróz might be saying this just to create the necessary mood for his book. (A Hungarian, for instance, would probably feel right at home. As for the fish smell, one would probably get used to it…) And what makes you doubt Mróz’s judgment entirely is that not only is the setting depressing, but the novel itself isn’t that great either…

Sixteen-year-old Poula Lokin, a popular player in the local handball team, goes missing. The island is in turmoil, locals organize search teams, and soon Danish police officer Katrin Ellegaard arrives at the scene. As time passes, it becomes increasingly doubtful that the girl will be found alive.

Hallbjorn Olsen, the father of Poula’s teammate, was the last one to see the girl alive. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hallbjorn, who, adhering to the island’s traditions, bravely indulged in some alcohol that day, doesn’t remember a SINGLE SECOND of that evening. So, it’s not SURPRISING that he begins to doubt himself: is it possible that he killed Poula, and then, just to be safe, hid the body?

Ellegaard starts the investigation in a hostile environment, as the Faroese dislike the Danes more than the murderers, and among the Danes, they dislike the Danish cops EVEN MORE. She is forced into an alliance with Hallbjorn.

And then you start thinking that police officers from other countries would probably view the unorthodox methods of the Danish police with some suspicion. Not only do they involve complete strangers, even suspects, in the investigation, revealing everything to them, but they also take them along to interrogations. And those left out of the interrogations are the ones who should be questioned first. (The handball team members, darn it.)

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Book Review

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Book Cover

If the first chapter’s improbability, where Amor Towles’ protagonist jests with his humor-prone Bolshevik compatriots, doesn’t put you off, and the book’s verbosity doesn’t immediately deter with its many twisty and winding sentences right from the start, then suddenly you find yourself beginning to like Alexander Ilyich Rostov, this charming and kind-hearted bohemian. Although you might have started with the assumption that “A Gentleman in Moscow” is sure to be some romantic affair, full of whining, but then again, it’s not.

We’re in 1922, by the way. Ah, the finest years of communism! Wait, scratch that: The count is declared a class enemy and is sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, confined to a attic room in the Metropol Hotel. Reluctantly, he has to start assimilating into the world of work.

As a reader, you might not tolerate all the babble, feel annoyed by the verbosity, and get chills from the unnecessary, unwarranted, and superfluous use of adjectives. I’m exactly the same way too! I’ll tell you that clearly, straight, plain, and openly. Nevertheless, I must admire with genuine astonishment when, for example, in “A Gentleman in Moscow”, the relationship between goulash and a type of wine is compared to the not overly sunny relationship between Achilles and Hector, and the metaphor then happily leaps onto a Trojan war chariot from there.

And then there are Montaigne’s essays, the Nizhny Novgorod apple cultivation, and family anecdotes in abundance, but all done with such elegance that it’s very difficult to extricate yourself from their influence. (Moreover, since Amor Towles is obviously a lover of Russian culture, after a while you find yourself surprised, deciding that you will definitely tackle War and Peace for the second time, which you abandoned thirty years ago when you got completely lost in the forest of Russian names.)

This verbosity, however, certainly won’t appeal to everyone. If you’re already annoyed by it at the beginning, it’s better to leave this book alone.

However, if you continue reading, you may feel that “A Gentleman in Moscow” is the MOST PLEASANT novel that has come your way lately: it exudes cheer, goodwill, and disarming humanity, despite being set in a dark era. Even towards the absurdities of Bolshevism, it is mainly addressed with gentle irony. The few chapters where it speaks more directly, such as the one about the Ukrainian famine, stands out from the novel like sore thumb.

And how long does the admiration last? Precisely until little Sofia appears on the pages of the book. After this, the count’s story visibly ends, but Towles’s book unfortunately continues – although it would have been advisable to end it with a masterful stroke. Instead, the focus shifts to Sofia, and indeed her story is much less interesting: a series of trivial, sometimes entirely boring and sentimental scenes. Strangely, even Count Rostov’s quirks resurface. But if you’ve made it this far, you probably won’t abandon the story, which becomes livelier once again towards the very end and turns into a more subdued espionage tale. Still, it slips down from a much higher rating to a

6.8/10.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
462 pages, Paperback
Published in 2019 by Penguin Books