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.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Deadly Heat by Richard Castle

I really loved the Heat series, until now. No, I’m not saying that all of a sudden I’ve stopped enjoying the books; I’m only saying that Deadly Heat is so predictable that it just makes no sense.

It was the suspense and the mystery that kept the pages turning in the previous novels, and these two elements seem to have gone missing from the latest installment. What’s not missing is the humor, but is that enough to keep the reader going?

My first thought, as I finished reading, was that in here we have the same heroes, more or less the same storyline, but a different author, one that’s somehow clumsy, as they give away too many clues about most of the villains, and as a result, the expected reading pleasure is nowhere to be found – perhaps Heat can look for it.

When the readers embark on a journey with the words of an author as a vehicle, they expect to be thrilled, or feel simply excited, to get to know inside out the souls of the characters, good or bad, to seek and find all the hidden clues that may or may not lead them to solving the various riddles. Well, that doesn’t exactly happen here, and that’s a shame.

I don’t want to give away any clues because that could ruin the fun for some people but, I will say though, that if the answers are going to be so obvious in almost every single question, then one shouldn’t even bother posing any questions at all.

But of course, not all is black. I’ve already said the humor is quite good and the interactions between Rook and Heat are great too; their chemistry is pretty much alive. They could do with a breath of fresh air though, something that will turn the spark into a flame again. As for the action, that’s good too, but it seems to me as though the first couple of episodes of the Castle TV Series would emerge as the big winners in a possible Mexican standoff.

I give the book three stars out of five, because no matter how hard I try I can’t say that it’s a bad book; it’s just bad if compared to the its predecessors. I hope the next one will be better and thus able to restore my faith in the power of team ‘Heat and Rook’ to impress.

Reviews of other book by same author:

Frozen Heat
A Bloody Storm
A Brewing Storm
A Raging Storm

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: One More Day by Fabio Volo

I’ve always been a fan of Italian literature. But, I don’t really know what it is that makes me like books by Italian authors so much. Perhaps it’s the way they write; like good old storytellers. Perhaps it’s the subjects they occupy themselves with; like love and remembrance. Or perhaps they seem familiar to me because I also come from a country that’s washed by the Mediterranean Sea. Whatever the reason, Italian books make me feel good, and the one at hand does that better than most.

One More Day is the story of two seemingly different people that cross paths time and again. At the beginning that happens by pure luck, but as time goes by they start trying to steal glimpses of each other at any given chance. He’s Giacomo and she’s Michela, and their story is a story of love and loss, of failure and new beginnings.

As we follow the heroes from Italy to New York, and finally to Paris, we get to know them very well; and we get to like them. They are very human, full of weaknesses and fear, full of hopes and dreams. I guess one could say that the whole story revolves around dreams. The dream of getting away from everything and everyone that keeps you trapped in a cage; the dream of starting anew in a different land; the impossible dream of learning to love all over again by playing a game.

That’s what Giacomo and Michela do, they play the game of love, time and again, but not for very long. Win or lose, at first that doesn’t seem to matter to them. What matters is to get to know each other well, and to get to enjoy what each of them has to offer. They meet, they talk, they drink, they listen to great music and they make love, and the words flow like a serene stream on the page: “I wanted to become a hunter of emotions and memories,” he says. “We have been kicked outside of ourselves,” she states. “She was the door I had the courage to open,” he thinks and smiles.

I could keep writing quotes for a long time, but I won’t do it, since some of the magic of this book can be found in them, and I wouldn’t like to take that pleasure away from you.

I will tell you though, that if you are someone who enjoyed movies like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight (yes, that great Paris trilogy), you will love this book. The prose is exquisite, the plot is simple and yet intriguing, and the feelings are as real as one could ever find in the pages of a novel. The author seems to inhabit the bodies and the souls of his characters and thus manages to give us a story that’s hard to forget. This novel is a must-read for me.

It has taken me a long time to finish this novel, but that was only because I was so enthralled by its heroes and their world that I wished it could go on and on. Of course, there are other books, as there are other stories; stories that remind us about the most important things in life; like how much it matters to be our own selves and chase our own impossible dreams. Just like Giacomo and Michela did.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Samuel Johnson Prize 2013 Shortlist

We are well into Award Season now, so yet another shortlist of books nominated for a prize has just been announced; the one for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize, which is very special in a way, since it doesn't include any fiction titles among the contenders. The winner will be revealed on November the 4th. You can see the shortlisted books below:

David Crane - Empires of the Dead
William Dalrymple - Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
Dave Goulson - A Sting in the Tale
Charlotte Higgins - Under Another Sky
Lucy Hughes-Hallett - The Pike
Charles Moore - Margaret Thatcher

Monday, September 23, 2013

10 Favorite Movies

This is in no way a definitive list. I’ve watched too many good movies over the years and as you can very well understand it’s next to impossible to include them all in a list. I could include them in many lists though and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Movies have changed a lot in the last few years, especially the ones made in the US. We live in a technology and effects driven universe, where the magical word is an acronym, CGI. But, we also live in a world in which some of the best story-telling takes place on TV. So, it would be a mistake not to create a list consisting of favorite TV shows as well; a mistake I do not intend to make. But, for the time being, that will have to wait.

Here’s my list of ten favorite movies, part 1:

1.    The Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended version). When I think about these movies only one word comes to mind: outstanding. Peter Jackson did an amazing job with the material, while some of the actors gave some of their best performances on the big screen. The sets, the music and the cinematography were simply brilliant and they really did the book justice. Perhaps I’ll write a separate article about these films in the near future.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

2.    Face/Off. The greatest action film ever made, at least according to me. From the scenario to the directing, from the acting to the action sequences this was truly an amazing piece of work. Both John Travolta and Nicolas Cage where amazing, their Mexican standoff carried the term to a new level, and the scene with the boy listening to “Wonderful World”, with bullets flying all around is one that sticks to mind. John Woo has brought action magic to the west.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

3.    Old Boy. It took me a long time to watch this movie and when I finally did (while waiting for my connecting flight at an airport) I came to realize why everyone I’ve ever met said good things about it. In this movie there’s a little bit of everything: great drama, a few laughs, lots of action, some sex and truly damaged characters. If this was written by someone in the west a happy ending would be hard to avoid. But, I’m afraid that, despite the Forrest Gump wisdom, life is not a box of chocolates.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

4.    Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen is one of my favorite cinematographers. He’s clever and funny and when he was younger he could really act well. In this movie he doesn’t act, he just writes and directs and he does a great job. Part nostalgic and part romantic this story is all about Paris. But it’s also about authors and literature, and about someone following his dreams in life. Owen Wilson gives a quiet, convincing performance that’s miles away from his other roles. He seems to feel very comfortable in his Woody Allen shoes, and that’s good for him.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

5.    Shinjuku Incident. I know that the selection of this movie will come as a surprise to many, but the truth is that in my eyes Jackie Chan is one of the best actors that ever walked the face of earth. He’s good at action, great at comedy and simply incredible when it comes to drama. He can act with his whole body, and as someone who doesn’t need the help of stuntmen to pull off a trick or take part in an action scene, he’s way better than any actor in the west. The movie at hand is a drama, but his performance is a wonder.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

6.    All About My Mother. Pedro Almodóvar is one of those directors that are more interested in telling a story than impressing the viewer. Some of these stories are hilarious, and some are bound to make you cry. But, stories they are; with a beginning, a middle and an ending. This is a tender tale that’s even managed to impress the members of the Academy and thus became an Oscar winner. Watch and feel.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

7.    Ghost in the Shell. An animated movie from Japan that will take your breath away. If you liked watching the Matrix probably you’ll love this predecessor. The Wachowskis’ definitely borrowed things from this amazing movie, that’s full of action and philosophy, and which when it comes to sci-fi is one of its greatest gems. I am certain that once you watch this film, your perception about action films and animation in the western world will change, though not in a good way. And what’s even better is that there is a sequel to feed your hunger; Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, as well as some episodes from an animated TV series.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

8.    Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vampires have gone mainstream these days. They are everywhere; on TV, in lots and lots of books and of course on the big screen. Vampires sell, but today’s versions of them are somewhat mellowed, or the actors that are playing them are not up to the task. In Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola gave us one of his best movies. In here there’s the perfect mix of drama, action, humor, sound and cinematography, while the performances are absolutely brilliant.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

9.    Benny & Joon. Now, this a movie that not many people would expect to see in this list, and yet here it is. Johnny Depp gives one of the best performances of his career in a movie that’s quiet and deeply human. Here the world’s favorite pirate acts with his whole body, as a Buster Keaton of the modern age, and his character gives the heroine an invaluable gift; the gift of love.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

10.    Avatar. I have to be one of the few people in the world that think that the Titanic is a mediocre movie. However, when it comes to Avatar I think it’s one of the best I have ever seen. And it’s not only the animation that excites me; it’s the whole concept. This is one of those movies that make you dream; that take away all your troubles and for a little while let you inhabit a different, magical world. Great images, amazing story, a movie for the ages and for all ages.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

Friday, September 20, 2013

The 2013 National Book Award Longlists

The 2013 National Book Award Longlists were announced yesterday. Below you'll find the selected titles in the fiction category. If you want to view the full lists you can visit the official site. The shortlist is expected to be revealed by October 16 and the winners on November 20.

Tom Drury - Pacific
Elizabeth Graver - The End of the Point
Rachel Kushner - The Flamethrowers
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Anthony Marra - A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
James McBride - The Good Lord Bird
Alice McDermott - Someone
Thomas Pynchon - Bleeding Edge
George Saunders - Tenth of December
Joan Silber - Fools

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Man Booker Shortlist 2013

The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize has been announced today. According to the bookies the favorite book to win is Jim Crace's Harvest. One way or another the winner, who will receive £50,000, will be announced on the 15th of October. Here's the shortlist:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Harvest by Jim Crace

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (read my review here)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: The Ostracism of Ophelia by Claire Fitzpatrick

The Ostracism of Ophelia by Claire Fitzpatrick is one of those novels that can make the reader feel more than simple sympathy for its heroes. It’s a story about pain and sorrow, hope and despair, love and forgiveness. And it’s also a story about crime and punishment.

Ophelia, William, Wren and Casper, the main protagonists, are damaged souls. They are young, they seem to have a bright future ahead of them, yet their everyday lives are bleak, bathed in despair, haunted by a past that just won’t let them make their dreams come true and fulfill their potential.

Good and evil seem to walk hand in hand in this story; no one is a really good person or a completely bad one. However, they are not ordinary in any way — they may do ordinary things every now and then, but that’s about it. What are they? They are young people who are trying hard to escape their demons, to travel like lucky Alice to Wonderland. Will they ever make it there? And if they do, how, and what will they find?

I wish that I could say that their story resembled a fairy tale, but it doesn’t. The heros live in a cruel world, and try to survive by taking difficult decisions and making hard choices. They read a bit, they play music, they take drugs, they hide in their secret garden and they create an unimaginable plot in order to escape their reality and also save one of them from her own self.

Sometimes their actions are cruel, and sometimes they are very kind; most of the times their bond seems unbreakable though every now and then they somehow drift apart. They look and act as if they belong together, but at the same time it seems that their meeting was not planned by some gods but rather by the devil. As the reader follows the paths of their lives, he finds himself in their shoes; he empathizes with them; he can feel their pain and he has no choice but to feel sorry for them.

If it wasn’t for the light touches of humour and the special moments of magic that can be found throughout the text this would be a bleak novel indeed. But instead this book is simply a great read. However, it’s not only the aforementioned elements that make it a good novel; it’s also the intricate plot and the well-crafted timeline, and finally the writing itself. Going through these pages one can find pure reading joy, and bathe himself in emotions; happy and sad. This is not a story for the fainthearted, but it is a story for those who have a big heart.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s fictional hero, is celebrating 20 years in the crime-solving business, and The Black Box was promoted well in advance as a novel that would celebrate the life and work of this unconventional character.

The story takes the reader back and forth in time as Harry, who now works in the open-unsolved unit of the LAPD, decides to investigate a cold case, the murder of a young white woman during the Rodney King Riots of 1992. The woman, who was given the nickname Snow White by the press, was shot and killed, almost execution-style, in a somewhat quiet and deserted area of the city. At the time of the murder no witnesses came forth and apart from a bullet, nothing else was found at the scene.

Normally nobody would pay too much attention to the incident, since at the time chaos and mayhem prevailed in the city, but when somebody opened fire against Harry and his partner Jerry Edgar, while they were inspecting the scene, things changed; but yet things remained the same, since there was not enough evidence to carry on with the investigation.

Now, 20 years later, Harry is still haunted by the case and he’s determined more than ever to discover the truth. However, the higher-ups in the chain of command are not so pleased with his decision for political reasons; the victim was white. So they try to stop him. And they fail. When it comes to the politicians, in his precinct, or elsewhere, he couldn’t care less. What he cares about is the victims, and his personal need to give the relatives, whoever they may be, some kind of closure. So he battles on, though most of the time he’s all alone, and little by little he starts to unravel the threads of the mystery.

At the same time he tries to spend as much time as he possibly can with his daughter Maddie, who also wants to be a cop and his girlfriend Hannah Stone, a therapist who has a son in jail, but of course that’s not quite easy, since his job is his obsession, it’s what he lives for, and it’s what more often than not puts him into trouble. Thus it comes as no surprise that he’s yet again investigated by the Internal Affairs.

Harry Bosch is maybe older now and a little bit wiser, but he hasn’t changed. He’s as stubborn, restless and uncompromising as ever. He may have mellowed somehow because of Maddie and Hannah, but that’s about it. As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The Black Box is not one of the best Bosch novels. The plot is good and the story runs smoothly, but not always, since every now and then it seems to lose its pace. I think that if it was a little bit shorter it would be much better. It is an enjoyable read though.

By the same author:

The Safe Man
Mulholland Dive
The Drop
Angle of Investigation
Suicide Run
The Fifth Witness

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Man Booker Longlist Announced

The longlist for the Man Booker Prize has been announced today. 13 books have been selected at this stage. The shortlist will be revealed in September and the winner on the 15th of October. Please note that some of these volumes are still to be released. The longlisted books are:

NoViolet Bulawayo - We Need New Names
Eleanor Catton - The Luminaries
Jim Crace - Harvest
Richard House - The Kills
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland 
Alison MacLeod - Unexploded
Colum McCann - TransAtlantic 
Charlotte Mendelson - Almost English 
Donal Ryan - The Spinning Heart 
Colm Tóibín - The Testament of Mary (read my review here)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Feature: Petros Markaris. The Greek Master of Crime Fiction

He’s a household name among crime fiction aficionados. His books have been translated into fourteen languages and are sold in more than twenty countries in the world. His last novel, Peraiosis, has sold fourteen editions in Greece (that should be over thirty thousand copies) in a little less than a month. And yet not many people know him in the English speaking world. I believe that sooner or later that is going to change.

Petros Markaris is one of those writers that somehow manage to try their hand in many different writing fields and succeed. He’s written crime novels, short stories, plays and screenplays (for Theo Angelopoulos among others), and translated the works of Goethe and Brecht from German to Greek, as well as quite a few books from and to Turkish. And he’s created a fictional hero that seems to openly express the thoughts, feelings and worries of the Greek people about what’s going on around them.

Costas Haritos, a CID chief who lives in Athens with his eccentric wife and troublesome daughter, doesn’t have many things to share with his European or American counterparts. Forget the lonesome figures of the American procedurals or thrillers, leave behind the angry souls fighting crime in a system that seems to protect the perpetrators more than the victims, and do not expect to meet at his face the guzzler detective that tries to drown his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey. Haritos is something and somebody else. Not that he doesn’t drink or doesn’t like his food, not that; the difference is that he does everything in moderation.

Once the readers get to know him well they’ll come to understand that he lives and breathes for his job, but that doesn’t turn him blind to the world. He may love what he does for a living, but he’s not obsessive about enforcing the law if the ends don’t justify the means. He wants to do what’s right, according to his own code of ethics, and if to accomplish that he has to turn a blind eye every now and then, well, he’ll just do that. He’s kind of a loner, truth be told, but he’s a man of the people as well. He can feel their pain and their agony, he can speak their tongue.

In these turbulent times for Greece, Markaris seems to be the only writer who can really talk about what is going on in the country. In 2010 he brought out the first book in a trilogy (The Trilogy of the Crisis) titled Overdue Loans (Lixiprothesma Daneia) about the current economic and social realities in his homeland. In that book an unlikely avenger starts killing local and foreign bankers and urges the public, through posters on the city’s walls, not to pay their debts to the banks. Haritos needs to find and arrest him before things get completely out of hand.

In Peraiosis or Completion that came out a year later a man that calls himself the Tax Collector starts killing tax evaders in order to scare rich people into paying their taxes and thus filling the state coffers, and Haritos finds himself in a moral dilemma, since he really doesn’t know what to do. He suffered a big salary cut, his bonuses are no more, his daughter is about to emigrate to find a job; and he’s supposed to arrest the man that targets the very people that did everything they possibly could to lead the country into catastrophe? Should he do that? And, moreover, does he want to do it?

The third part of the trilogy came out towards the end of last year, it is called Psomi, Pedia, Eleftheria (Bread, Education, Freedom) and in it the author turns his gaze on the so-called Genia tou Politexneiou (The Generation of the Polytechnic University) which helped to bring down the dictatorship in Greece in 1973. The young people behind the revolt were to rise to power in the years to come and betray all their beliefs and break all their promises in order to cling to their posts in government and the glory that came with them.

As one can gather Markaris is not only a crime fiction writer but also a social commentator. He keeps his eyes and mind open, he listens to what the people all around him have to say, he watches what’s going on in his front yard and really talks his mind. As one of Haritos´s friends says in Che Committed Suicide: “The revolution became a t-shirt;” and an empty one at that.

The latter is one of four novels by the author available in English. The other three are The Late-Night News, Zone Defence and Deadline in Athens. With which book should a reader start the journey into Haritos´ world? Well, any of the above will do, since they all are stand-alone novels. I personally started with Che Committed Suicide and then went back to the older books in the list and didn’t regret it for a minute.

Markaris is a consistent writer who keeps his standards high. If I was asked by someone to tell which famous detectives he reminds me of, I would say Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. What’s the common denominator? Their unflinching quest for the truth. Because in the end it’s all about the truth, isn’t it? Will it set you free though? Haritos is not one to ask, or say.

If you really want to find out what is going in Greece right now Markaris is your man. And if you love high quality crime fiction he can definitely deliver the goods.

This article was first published at the American website Criminal Element more than a year ago.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: The Sunday Arrangement by Lucy Smith

If somebody told me that one day I’d find myself reading an erotica novel I’d tell them that they were nuts, and obviously I’d be wrong. Since I read just every kind of literature there is out there, I’ve decided to give this "The Sunday Arrangement" a try, if not for anything else for the fun of it.

And you know what, it is a fun read. It’s a book that takes itself seriously and lightly at the same time. To start with one of the main protagonists is called Pierce Maverick; and this is one of those cases when a name tells it all. Then there’s an unforgettable woman called Kat who’s the heroine’s best friend, and who’s absolutely into everything. And then there’s the heroine herself, Lauren, a woman with oppressed desires.

Okay this is the classic story of a woman meeting a man and taking a leap of faith with him when it comes to her sexuality. But it’s also a story about the business world, about fathers who are nothing but good and children who are trying to find their way into a world of hypocrisy and wealth, who like it or not are always on the limelight. There’s a touch of mystery here as well, as someone seems to try to sabotage everyone’s life.

The writing is quite good, the story flows effortlessly and in the end this book is, as I’ve already pointed out, a fun one to read. The friends of the genre will love it; the other readers may just secretly enjoy it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: How to Become a Celebrity by Charles Hopkins-Thyne

As the title suggests this "How to Become a Celebrity" a practical guide book that promises the reader to help him or her become a celebrity. The author seems to know the showbiz arena inside-out, and has a lot of advice to offer to the young people who are dreaming of making it big in the movie and music scene, and in the arts world in general.

“Anyone can be famous,” we read somewhere, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can be a celebrity. The celebrities, like it or not, seem to serve a purpose in our modern era: they feed our need for gossip, they make us bathe under their limelight and they kill our boredom. But how easy or how hard is it to become one yourself? The truth is that it’s very hard, but thanks to the author the reader gets to know all they have to do to make it happen.

Desire and persistence; these two are the basic elements that one should have in their character to achieve their goals. As we read Abraham Lincoln have fought hard and lost many battles in the process, in order to become the man that now everybody knows, and most people admire. What’s true for politics is also true for the showbiz. Don’t let the rejections and the stonewalling get you down, the author seems to suggest, and as Lincoln did, “Identify exactly what you are good at, exactly what your strengths are,” and work on them.

What makes this the useful book that it is though, is not only the author’s inside knowledge and wisdom, but also the appendix that provides the reader with dozens of names of organizations, links and addresses that can make a hopeful star’s first steps in the glittering world of showbiz much easier.

Thus, if you’re one of those people who dream big, then this is the book for you. Reading it will point you in the right direction; following the advice it offers will most likely lead you to your destination. This is a guide unlike any other out there.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: The Ocean and Other Poems by Claire Fitzpatrick

Poetry is not an easy beast to tame; it takes effort and time, and it does take a lot out of you if your abandon yourself in its vices. Claire Fitzpatrick has written a collection of poems that at times seem to be bleeding, and which at other times almost silently bathe in the sweet smelling waters of love. In these pages you’ll come face to face with a lot of emotion, with torrents of humanity and human frailty. Fitzpatrick doesn’t hide behind her words; she seems to wants to express herself in a raw manner, with words that convey their meaning in a straightforward and non-cryptic way.

“If I wipe my brain against sandpaper
And find the true artist in my soul
Will you see me as I am?
A dreamer, idolatrous, alone.”

she wonders somewhere, while someplace else she feels bitter about a precious yet painful gift she receives:

“…And yet you give me your heart:
A fortress encased with envy and hatred
And it burns me
Until my skin begins to peel away.”

This is a world of love and of hatred, of joy and of pain, that we live in, and the poet’s job is to talk all about that, to give voice to our feelings, to sooth our anger, but also to make us rebel against the injustices that we have to go through during our time here.

There’s always been an ongoing discussion on what makes poetry great, and on what makes someone a great poet. Some people say that it’s the technical part that’s more important, while others insist on the significance of the voice. However, apart from the great lyrical epics, not only of the western but also of the eastern world, it is mostly the shorter poems that talk about how people think and feel that win the day. Byron talked about a woman “Who walked in beauty”, Emily Dickinson found that beauty in the things and the people around her and so did Christina Rossetti. Even Poe, despite all the darkness that surrounded his being, talked about the struggles of the human soul and his love that was not destined to live for long. What is it that I’m trying to say? Simply that the beauty of this collection lies in its lyrics, in its soul…

“I have not felt your heart
For so long now
That I feel as though it's stopped beating
For me  
When I am near.”

How many of us have we felt that way over the years? I guess, most. How many of us did we put our thoughts, our feelings, onto paper? Not many.

While reading this collection I felt as if the poet was speaking directly to my psyche, and in more than one instances I caught myself thinking: “Yes! That’s it…”

Claire Fitzpatrick is a young poet, and as such she still has a long way to go, but if I were to judge by the poems at hand I’d say that her future looks promising and bright.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Newsflash - Crime Factory 13

This is just a short note to let you know that two of my book reviews have just appeared in the Australian crime fiction magazine Crime Factory. The books I wrote about were Donna Leon's The Golden Egg and Joe Clifford's Choice Cuts. For a future issue of the magazine I'll be reviewing Reckoning by R Thomas Brown, as well as Karin Slaughter's Unseen, which is coming out at the beginning of July.

If you want to buy a printed or Kindle edition of the magazine follow this link. If you're only interested in a pdf edition you can find it there as well for free.

If you are interested to know what I'm reading these days and what I'll be reviewing in the future for this blog and other outlets visit my page on GoodReads.