Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Second Deadly Sin by Åsa Larsson review

Great crime novels keep coming out of Sweden in particular and Scandinavia in general for the past few years, at a rate that sometimes is hard to follow. What is it that all of sudden made Scandinoir, or Nordic Noir, look so appealing in the eyes of readers all over the world? Is it still because of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon or is it something else? Whatever the reason Scandinavian authors now seem to command our full attention and I for one are happy about itThis is the second book I read by this author and I’m sure that more will follow. Mrs. Larsson has a way of gripping the reader’s attention without seemingly trying to do so. Her heroes are everyday people who are trying to live their lives as best they can. They have families and pets, they have a lot of worries and most of them are torturing themselves psychologically, because they can’t really express their feelings, or because they do what they do out of greed or lust for glory instead for the right reasons.

The reader travels back and forth in time in rural Sweden as they embark on the journey of solving the many riddles at the heart of this story. A not so strange incident is what gives spark to flame and ignites the plot. A bear appears out of the snowy nowhere and attacks a farm. A professional bear hunter is called in to find and kill the animal, which under the circumstances is considered extremely dangerous. That happens sooner rather than later but the bear’s death brings to light a sinister discovery: within its body lie parts of the remains of a man. In the meantime, a woman is killed in her house, while a boy of seven, her grandson, hardly escapes with his life. What is it that connects the two cases?

Well, the perfect candidate for heading the investigation would be District Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson, who knows the people and the place really well, but an ambitious colleague that goes by the name of von Post hijacks her case. She expects that he’ll make a mess of it, and of course he obliges. Rebecka is furious with her boss for allowing him to do that to her and the case, but at the same time she’s determined to find the truth, even though at first she doesn’t even know she’s doing that.

As we follow her around and through the many flashbacks that spread throughout the story we get to learn a lot of things about the history of the region and its people, but most importantly about the stories of the victims. Rebecka is thorough in her research and a great detective of sorts and that’s exactly what leads her to discover the truth; a truth that was there for her to see right from the start.

The Second Deadly Sin is a crime novel, a psychological thriller and a social commentary at the same time, but most of all it’s a great book and as such I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to all.

First published in Crime Factory magazine

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review: How to Draw Cartoons by Lou Darvas

This is one of those books that I really wished I had read when I was a youngster, trying to get his hand around painting something, anything that didn’t look like a scratch on the paper.

While reading the words and going through the simple, yet detailed images I felt like, yes, I could try start drawing again, now that I finally got to know how. This book promises to help the rookie navigate the world of cartoon drawing and it does exactly that, in a straightforward and impressive in its simplicity way. I’d recommend it to everyone out there who’d like to discover the hidden artist in them.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister by George R.R. Martin

I have to begin by saying that I’m a huge fan of Mr. Martin and his work and that Tyrion Lannister is one of my all time favorite literary heroes. In fact I’d dare add that I didn’t enjoy A Feast for Crows as much as I should for the simple reason that Tyrion was nowhere to be found.

However, having said that I just have to point out that in my opinion this book came out a few years too early. Since dear Tyrion is still alive and kicking I’m certain that he’d be able to grace us with many more of his witty remarks. Oh well, there’s no use complaining about something that’s already done.

Did this book make me smile? Yes it did, since it reminded me once again what is it that I like about this character. I should also say that the beautiful drawings also capture some of his persona as depicted in the TV series. But, yet again, there’s not enough material in here to keep the fans happy.

Perhaps the next book published in this vein should be The Transformations of Arya Stark, who’s not a lady but a wolf.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: Chasing the Storm by Martin Molsted

The best thing about the ebook revolution was that it gave us, the readers, the opportunity to discover a lot of new authors, from all over the world. One of the best ones out there, at least when it comes to thrillers, is the Norwegian Martin Molsted.

Chasing the Storm is an action-packed story that follows the exploits of a reluctant at first adventurer, as he struggles to solve a couple of mysteries, with the help of some unlikely allies. Torgrim Rygg, that used to work for the Norwegian Secret Service, but who resigned after a few near-death experiences, is a hero who seems to be at war with himself; a tortured soul that no longer knows where it belongs.

It all begins when Rygg, while in Hamburg for a business trip, saves the life of a Russian journalist, who has a long list of enemies. Marko Marin clashed heads, time and again, with the rich and powerful in Moscow, so he is in constant danger. He knows all too well that he’ll always be one, and as such he believes that he could use Rygg’s services.

Rygg on the other hand isn’t so eager to help, as he’s used to his routine by now. Routine however breeds boredom, and boredom is something that he desperately needs to escape. So when Marin asks for his help he answers that call. What follows is an adventure that will take him to his native Norway just for a while, to Croatia, back to Hamburg, to Russia and to Egypt, and finally to Cyprus. During this long journey he will get to meet some likeable characters and a few vicious villains, and come face to face with death on more than one occasions.

The author created a fast-paced thriller, with a movie like plot, that reminds the reader of the Bourne adventures by Robert Ludlum. All his characters are well-sketched, and he seems to know his geography and the new geopolitical map very well. Torgrim Rygg, his protagonist, as I read, is here to stay, and I must say that his presence is more than welcome. Heroes like him are easy to like, and adventures of this kind have a lot to offer to the modern spy canon. I’d highly recommend this book to all the fans of the genre.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Daybreak by Fabio Volo

Fabio Volo came to my attention with One More Day (read my review here), a great novel that I’ve read only recently. What I like most about him is his voice, a voice that can follow many rhythms and talk in an almost lighthearted way about some of the most important things in life.

Daybreak is the story of a marriage that’s going really bad. Both the parties, Elena and Paolo, are unhappy, yet for some reason they stay together. Perhaps that has something to do with their need to have somebody to lean on, perhaps not. Paolo is his mother’s boy, always quiet, always obedient, and unable to cut the cord that ties him to her. Elena is a woman that flirts with depression and who finds it hard to dare exit her dead-end current life and start anew.

We read about their story and her thoughts in her journal, while we also take a look at her present life. As in One More Day, the author gives the reader many beautiful turns of phrase, words that stick to the head and the heart. However, no matter how beautiful words can be, at the same time they can cut like a knife:

“I imitate my idea of an ideal wife; I imitate my friends who are happily married; I imitate who I was at the beginning of my marriage, someone I don’t know how to be anymore.”

How can someone escape their life? And, more importantly, how can they escape the ghosts that haunt their soul? The answer is simple, by seeking a new love. But, even if they find it, will that new love save them? According to Carla, Elena’s best friend, yes, it will. But, how can she be so certain, she who did almost everything wrong in her own life?

Volo does a great job in building the internal worlds of his characters. None of them is innocent, and none of them is guilty. They all have to carry their own burdens, but not all of them can be happy; not really. As we read Elena’s journals we come to know some people who are constantly in conflict, with themselves and the others, without even realizing it; people who are most of the time weak, but every now and then strong; brave and coward; dreamers and conformists.

This is not a perfect world that we live in, but, the author seems to suggest, if we don’t fight to change our circumstances, we’ll never have a chance at finding happiness. His story is a story of ordinary people, beautifully written, that tries to find an audience in one’s soul, and it manages to do just that. This is a sentimental novel that can be read with pleasure by anyone, no matter their gender. And the friends of Italian literature will surely find something to love in its pages.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: Montalbano’s First Case by Andrea Camilleri

I’ve been reading Andrea Camilleri for more than 15 years now. I think the best thing about his stories is their simplicity. He doesn’t seem to try to impress the reader by creating exploding scenes of chaos and mayhem; he just wants to tell a story.

As the title suggests this book is all about Montalbano’s First Case. The good detective, who was to become a celebrity one day, in this story is young, but not so inexperienced. He lives and works in Mascalippa, but not for long since soon he’s going to be promoted to an Inspector and probably move to another town. The truth is that he doesn’t seem to care so much about the promotion, but he does care about the transfer, as he really wants to go away. Not long before he departs, he takes in the landscape:

“In a matter of seconds he saw the landscape of Mascalippa and its surroundings pass before his eyes. It was certainly splendid, but not his cup of tea. For good measure, he also saw four cows grazing on the withering grass. He felt a cold shiver down his spine, like a bout of malaria.”

His new place of work and residence is Vigata, a town by the sea. He becomes chief of the department there, and soon enough he comes to realize that the whole show is ran by the Mafia; the rich can get away with anything, while the poor have to suffer the consequences. However, not everything is black since there are a couple of people, one of them a cop, that really like to do what’s right.

The new beginning in his career proves somewhat difficult, but Montalbano is not one to run away from trouble. The more some people of power try to push him into the corner, the more he fights back. Corruption is not something he can tolerate, but he knows that if he wants to make a difference he has to balance on a tightrope, made from remnants of the past and the realities of today.

Maintaining the peace however, doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s willing to allow the criminals go unpunished. He’ll do anything to get them, even if that means breaking the law: “Olė! I give you Inspector Salvo Montalbano: otherwise known as the acrobat,” he thinks sarcastically as he enters the house of a suspect through an open window.

This book is a little bit short if compared to the other adventures of the good Inspector but it is a fun read and the characterization is solid. And the mystery and the language, keep the reader’s interest alive until the very last page. If you’re a fan of the author you’ll love it, but you’ll also enjoy it if you’re a lover of Italian literature. It may be short, but it marks the beginning of a literary legend, and as such it deserves all the attention it can get.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: The 5:2 Fast Diet: Easy, Healthy and Delectable Low Calorie Recipes That You Can Make Now by Diana Clayton

Being on a diet is in some ways a necessity these days. Most of us live in fast food nations, which means that we consume food that’s not only healthy, but also full of calories.

Diets have been around for a long time, but not all of them worked. In the old times most people used to fast, something that helped their bodies recover all the lost energy and, of course, burn fat.

How does someone exactly do that, without suffering that is, seems to be the question in everyone’s mind. According to the author of this well-researched and handy guide, the answer is: quite easily. Intermittent fasting is the solution to the problem. As we read it does not only help someone lose weight, but it also reduces the risk of disease and improves mental health.

The great majority of the people that go on a diet and fail to follow through, seem to blame the lack of variety in their food choices for the fact. This book however can make liars out of them, since it doesn’t only provide dozens of recipes within its pages, but it also highlights how many calories are included in each meal. So the people can choose what to eat, each according to their needs. And the best part is that they only have to do it just twice a week.

A diet can be a difficult process for some people, but at the same time it can be an exhilarating experience, as during it they could discover quite a few culinary pleasures that will cost them almost nothing, and which will help them achieve their goals. All they have to do is try, and there’s not a better place to start than in the pages of this book. This is one of the best diet guides out there, at least in my humble opinion.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 National Book Award Shortlists Revealed

The 2013 National Book Award Shortlists have been announced today. Below you'll find the contenders in all four categories. The winners will be revealed on the 20th of November.


Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers 
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
James McBride, The Good Lord Bird 
Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge 
George Saunders, Tenth of December


Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin 
Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief


Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog
Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion
Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke
Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture
Mary Szybist, Incarnadine: Poems


Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone
Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Crime Factory Issue 14

The new issue of Crime Factory magazine just came out and I have to say (really, I HAVE to say it) that it's a must-read. "And why is that?" one may ask. There's a simple answer to that: it includes two book reviews I have written (one of which contains a small mistake, not mine, but oops anyway). The books in question are Reckoning by R Thomas Brown and Unseen by Karin Slaughter.

Yes, I know, reading my reviews doesn't qualify as a good enough reason to buy the magazine, but what about all the other reviews, the interviews and the fiction, with and by, Indy authors? What about the quality articles? And what about the chance to discover some new great crime fiction talent?

Did I sell it to you yet? If not, never mind. Maybe one day you'll come to discover the pleasures of reading this magazine all by yourselves.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

10 Favorite Books

This is the second list I present in this blog, and hopefully more will follow in the coming weeks. As one can guess from the title this is a list of 10 favorite books, but not The List. I have read thousands of books over the years, some new, some old, and a few ancient, so one list would never do them justice. Below you will find books that I’ve read during the last few years, and which I’d place under the label of Modern Literature. Most probably I’ll compile another couple of lists under the same label, and also, at least, one consisting of classic titles. I know that some of my selections will look strange in your eyes, but every reader is different, and good fiction has many champions out there. Now, where shall I begin? Oh, this will do…

1.    Please Look After Mon by Kyung-sook Shin. I had this book on my eReader for a long time. I knew the story, I’ve read great reviews about it, but somehow I always chose something else over it. That was until that blessed day came when I started reading and everything changed, as I found myself in reader’s heaven. If you love stories with a heart, you’ll love this book. Read my review here.

 2.    The Secret Scripture and On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. I know that I’m cheating by placing two books by the same author in the list, but Barry is such a good writer that I don’t have too much of a choice. I remember that when I’ve first read The Secret Scripture I kept thinking, ‘No, I’m not a writer,’ since if I were to compare myself to Mr. Barry, well… You can see my review in Greek (yeah, I know, this sucks) for the latter here, while you can read about On Canaan’s Side in English right here.

 3.    Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. This is the book that made me fall in love with Japanese Literature. It consists of two novellas, the eponymous Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow. Yoshimoto is one of those writers that can easily find their ways into a reader’s heart. All her books, with the exception of Amrita, are quite short, but while reading them you always find yourself traveling into another world; a world full of thoughts, emotions, dreams, and magic. I apologize again but I don’t have a review in English. You can find one in Greek here, while you can read what I had to say about her latest book The Lake, if you follow this link.

 4.    Ocean Sea and Silk by Alessandro Baricco. Here I go cheating again. I am so so sorry. No, I am not. The truth is that I couldn’t choose between these books. The first I’ve read 14 years ago while staying at the island of Karpathos in Greece, and it got stuck in my head ever since. The second I’ve only read a couple of years ago and it rekindled my interest in Baricco’s work. Here we have an Italian author that is a master of emotions and one of the best storytellers to walk the shores of his land in the last century or so.

 5.    A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. A friend suggested Mr. Martin’s work to me a few years ago, and since I started reading him I never looked back. He is one of the finest storytellers of our times. His prose is beautiful and fluid, his action sequences are amazing, his plots are quite intriguing, while I also enjoy his sense of humor. I don’t think that many writers could produce a thick volume like A Feast for Crows, which is something like a link connecting two parts of the great story, and get away with it... in one piece. Anyway, if fantasy (and popular) fiction can be as good as this, then I say that I’m faithful fan of the genre(s).

 6.    Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle. Well, it’s always good if someone laughs every now and then, and if you read this book you’ll laugh a lot. Roddy Doyle is a great author, who’s not always at his best, but Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is considered by some as a modern classic and I totally agree with them. Perhaps I should add a book or two as companion reads, but there’s plenty of time to do that in the future.

 7.    Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I can’t explain why but this is my favorite Murakami novel. Everyone else is talking about Norwegian Wood or the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but for me the author has reached the peak of his creativity with the book at hand. There’s no need to expand on it since you can read my review here.

 8.    No one belongs here more than you by Miranda July. Wow! What the fuck! Amazing! Yes, yes, yes! These are just a few of the expressions I’ve used while reading this great collection of short stories by the multitalented Miranda July. As I was going through her stories I felt as if she was talking directly to me, and I kept thinking that I should have been the author of most of them. As it seems Mrs. July lives in my head (and that’s not a good place to be; honestly).

9.    Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo. Pedro Páramo is one of those books that I call ballads; a novella that talks about people and their troubles, their everyday lives, their hopes and their fears, and about love. And much more. How much can you say in a few pages? Too much actually, if you know how to say it.Someone could call this book "experimental". Somebody else could say that it's "crazy." However, no one could possibly state that it is not an important one, since largely it is thanks to it that the magical realism of Latin America came to be.

10.    The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaňo. The late author was as good as they get. His knowledge was wide, his technique absolutely stunning, and his prose, at moments, simply breathtaking. The Savage Detectives is a book in love with books, but it’s also a journey, into the wilderness of a land and an era, into the joy and failures of youth, and into the abyss of the human soul. If you ever asked yourself, what is that special thing that makes literature great, all you have to do is read this novel and to get your answer.