City on Fire by Don Winslow – Book Review

City on Fire by Don Winslow – Book Cover

The Godfather – in Miniature

Don Winslow’s mafia novel, City on Fire, is essentially a watered-down version of The Godfather. Most of the motifs present in that classic novel appear here as well, such as:

• Mafia family wars over territory
• The unifying strength of family and blood ties
• The issue of succession, where the heir is, of course, not the most suitable candidate
• The drug trade as the path to big money, with the promise of big downfall

Since The Godfather is such a magnificent and unparalleled novel, you might be inclined to settle for even a reduced version, especially when it comes from the pen of Don Winslow, the author of the monumental The Power of the Dog trilogy. This time, with Irish and Italian mobsters clashing.

Small-Town Gangsters

Okay, but still. The fact that City on Fire is set in Providence, Rhode Island, also known as Dogtown, somehow diminishes initial expectations. Providence, squeezed between New York and Boston, is small and insignificant in comparison. Prostitution, gambling, and the docks are the main sources of money around there.

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The Last Move by Mary Burton – Book Review

The Last Move by Mary Burton – Book Cover

Mary Burton is the author of dozens of romance novels. This fact alone might scare off many crime readers from picking up The Last Move. However, if you enjoy living dangerously, go ahead and give it a try.

The Last Move: A Decent Serial Killer Thriller

If you’ve already read a thousand crime novels where some vicious madmen is murdering innocent American citizens, it might be hard to surprise you. Mary Burton doesn’t really manage to do so either. But that’s not necessarily a problem, as it doesn’t seem to be her goal.

There’s a minor hiccup, though: theoretically, the Samaritan is already behind bars, but we’ve seen enough copycats, mentees trained by serial killers, or wrongly convicted criminals. It’s up to Dr. Hayden and Mazur to figure out which category the Samaritan falls into.

Minimal Romance Factor

Naturally, the protagonists have to work together. And here Burton surprises us: neither of them is unbearable, they don’t hate each other, and they don’t immediately want to rip each other’s clothes off. Instead, they work together excellently. Both are smart and dedicated, so it’s no wonder they develop a mutual attraction, right?

No.

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Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman – Book Review

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman – Book Cover

Have you been waiting for, and so far in vain, a crime novel similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which once sparked the renaissance of Scandinavian crime fiction? If so, Gustaf Skördeman’s Geiger, the introductory novel in his series, might catch your eye. After all, it lures you in with this exact promise on the cover. (At least on the Hungarian* edition.) But what if this only makes your disappointment all the more bitter?

Sara Nowak is not a captivating character

No. She’s a mom. She’s not tattooed either. But she does struggle with anger management issues. This isn’t very useful for a police officer. And, naturally, not for a mother either. In fact, Sara Nowak is quite embarrassing as a mom. She’s the typical overprotective, constantly lecturing person who wants to guide her kids as a moral compass. No wonder they kind of hate her. (You’d hate her too if you were all turned on and went on PronHub to, uh, broaden your horizons a bit, and she barged in to tell you it was immoral towards women.)

Nowak, as a police officer, likes to rough up suspects who indeed deserve it, but how stupid is it to do this constantly in front of witnesses? Is this woman crazy?!

Moreover, despite being a trained martial artist, she somehow always ends up on the losing side in real-life situations.

Ah, damn it!

And why on earth does a lousy vice cop meddle in someone else’s investigation anyway?

So, Gustaf Skördeman didn’t quite pull this off. It’s simply impossible to like Sara Nowak, the main character. Maybe by the very end of Geiger, just a little bit. Perhaps.

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Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann – Book Review

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family by Thomas Mann - Book Cover

“WTF!” exclaimed Thomas Mann, the author of “The Magic Mountain,” when he received the Nobel Prize in 1929—for his novel “Buddenbrooks.” Perhaps he himself thought that the story of the Lübeck merchant family Buddenbrook, spanning about three and a half generations in the mid-19th century, was not the most obvious choice for this prestigious award.

What Buddenbrooks is Not About

1, Not about Lübeck at all: You can count on one, maybe two fingers (and that might be generous) how many times the name of the city, where Mann’s family saga almost entirely takes place, is mentioned. You learn absolutely nothing significant about the city; the plot rarely leaves the Buddenbrook residence.

2, Not about trade either: If you expect the current Johann Buddenbrook to to be a 19th-century J.R. Ewing, performing various financial machinations and driving his business rivals crazy, nothing of the sort happens. The Buddenbrooks’ business principle is to only engage in ventures that allow you to sleep well at night. Boring? Not my words!

3, And there is not a single word about the German social processes of the 19th century. The characters in “Buddenbrooks” move exclusively within the wealthy upper middle classes.

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – Book Review

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel - Book Cover

After achieving worldwide fame with “Station Eleven,” St. John Mandel waited six years to release her next book. Achieving worldwide fame, obviously, might be like winning a Nobel Prize. Afterward, it’s somehow harder to concentrate on writing. Finding topics becomes more difficult, everything seems to progress slower. In the case of “The Glass Hotel,” it’s not easy to determine what it’s actually about. Because it’s definitely not about a glass hotel.

Is The Glass Hotel just a transparent trick?

Emily St. John Mandel’s book is like listening to a classical music piece. Certain themes, or rather characters, recur throughout, seemingly randomly. One character takes the spotlight at one point, another at another. Some only gain prominence in the final third of the novel, while others appear at the beginning and merely reappear towards the end.

The titular location, the Hotel Caiette, stands in the forest in a secluded cove on Vancouver Island, Canada. It’s only accessible by boat. (It seems they skipped the preliminary market research before construction.) Thirty percent of the book’s characters work here (some only for a fleeting moment), 10 percent are occasional guests, and 5 percent are owners who don’t participate in managing the hotel but have a stake in it for investment purposes.

Alright, ‘The Glass Hotel’ isn’t such a bad title after all, even though the book is much more about the psychology of financial investments.

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Fairy Tale by Stephen King – Book Review

There are other worlds than these

Fairy Tale by Stephen King – Book cover

Okay, we already know this. Especially Stephen King readers, considering you just have to think of the Dark Tower series, which delves into this theme partially. King has likely written every kind of book by now. However, a fairy tale hasn’t emerged from his witch’s kitchen yet. Until now. Although the fourth installment of the aforementioned series (The Wind Through the Keyhole) comes pretty close. And while it’s typical in the works of the American master for fundamentally unrelated universes to intertwine, it’s not questionable that with a fairy tale, you need to venture into another world. Well, if you can bear with it until then.

Thorough preparation for the unknown

Roughly one-third of Stephen King’s heavyweight Fairy Tale is just the introduction. What other authors accomplish in twenty pages, he generously multiplies by ten. (Perhaps even half would be MORE than enough.) Of course, when it comes to him, this is a forgivable offense. If someone can write so captivatingly about a grumpy old man and his decrepit, old dog, then there’s nothing to do but read on. Especially since King continuously piques your curiosity. And the slow-starting friendship between the old man harboring mythical secrets and the well-meaning, penance-prepared Charlie Reade is also hindered by numerous difficulties and vile villains.

To pave a direct path from the acquaintance of Mr. Bowditch and Charlie to another world, some authorial assistance doesn’t hurt. This thing has a name. It’s called: Radar. Who happens to be a dog.

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On Target by Mark Greaney – Book Review

On Target by Mark Greaney – Book Cover

Mark Greaney’s Gray Man book series received a new boost when Netflix produced a film (IMDb) based on the first book with a substantial budget. It’s a shame the movie didn’t turn out too well. Perhaps because the book it’s based on wasn’t that great either? (There’s a chance.) Let’s see how the second installment, “On Target,” fares.

Courtland Gentry, alias the Gray Man, a hired assassin. It’s not the best profession in the world, by any means, but one can’t be too choosy. Especially when his former employer, the CIA, puts him on a hit list. The Gray Man is thus forced to kill people of various other colors for his daily bread. His latest assignment takes him to Sudan, where the ruthless dictator, President Bakri Abbud is really starting to push the genocide way too far.

But even before the protagonist heads to Africa, the introduction of “On Target” makes it clear that the Gray Man is the most compassionate hitman in the whole world.

The Gray Man is the most compassionate hitman in the world!

This is not a joke! It’s a well-known fact that among those who kill for money, there are remarkably many noble and kind employee. For whom it’s a basic rule to only deal with evil targets. (See: Stephen King: Billy Summers.) However, Mark Greaney’s protagonist stands out even among them for his compassion. When he sits down to have a chat over a few shots (of whiskey) with his next target (another hitman, who is not as kind-hearted), you can’t help but sympathize with the latter’s personal issues. The Gray Man feels the same way. You practically have to choke him to bring out a little callousness.

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A.K. Larkwood: The Unspoken Name – Book Review

A.K. Larkwood: The Unspoken Name - Book Cover

There’s no denying that with the Internet, the golden age of fantasy writers has arrived. With a slight exaggeration, publishers release every piece of crap. If someone reads a lot of fantasy, they can easily find that from the three newly released books in the genre, (at least) two are mediocre junk. Especially if it’s a debut author. Fortunately, this is not the case with A.K. Larkwood’s first book, “The Unspoken Name”.

Walking Pace

At the beginning of the book, your doubts may not completely dissipate though. “The Unspoken Name” immediately grabs your imagination with its completely unique world-building, but initially it still seems rather nondescript. When the Chosen Bride, Csorwe, starts climbing the stairs towards the mysterious god’s sanctuary, presumably to be consumed as their next meal, a more experienced writer might have written this scene as far more chilling. Csorwe just casually walks up.

But the same blandness is evident in the rescuer, the wizard Belthandros Sethennai. This gentleman is a powerful mage, but it doesn’t really come across. He seems more like someone who claims to be this, but doesn’t really provide any evidence of it.

It takes some time before you realize they’re both just like that.

A. K. Larkwood, however, ensures that you don’t give up until the real adventures begin.

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When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham – Book Review

When You Are Mine by Michael Robotham - Book Cover

Michael Robotham, the Australian author of the Joseph O’Loughlin series, enjoys stimulating his own mind with standalone novels. However, reading about the adventures of policewoman Philomena McCarthy, it quickly becomes apparent right from the beginning of the book that this lady herself could easily handle an entire series. With his book “When You Are Mine,” Robotham adds to the lineup of strong female characters who seem to have been created for crime novel protagonists.

Do you hate those miserable cops? If you didn’t before, you’ll hate those bastards by the end of the book! Philomena McCarthy is just a simple patrolwoman, but guided by her own sense of justice, she stands up against anyone to protect the innocent. Now, who do you think is that dirty, rotten scoundrel, terrorizing both his wife and mistress, who clashes with Philomena?

Another cop.

Moreover, all his scumbag buddies rally behind him without a second thought. Of course, they’re all cops too. Heck, even the other cops who aren’t his buddies side with him. And they all behave in a really scummy way towards the girl.

Michael Robotham’s book makes you suddenly realize (besides making you hate the fuzz) that your blood pressure is through the roof, and you need to take breaks constantly just to calm down.

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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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