Thursday, March 26, 2020

Into the Closets - a coming of age mystery!

Greetings, commies!
If you want to take a break from the depressing news, consider picking up this entertaining and insightful coming of age mystery Into the Closets set in the archive rooms of the Buckingham Palace. 

A former Buckingham Palace employee recounts her time working at Buckingham Palace, through the eyes of her fictional character Aurelia Macintosh. With anecdotal observations of what really goes on at Britain's most famous residence, this novel, while a tale of fiction, draws an entertaining and enlightening portrait of life at the Palace the public rarely sees.
Aurelia goes to work for the Royal Collection, cataloguing the contents of several famous palaces. Her colleagues are a mixed lot of aristocrats, almost normal English people and foreigners. Security is a big issue in the palaces and when things start to disappear, they are all suspects.
The famous Holbein watercolour is stolen and Aurelia and her boyfriend Nick are asked to try to help finding the thief. But before they find any helpful clues they discover that Aurelia's workmates are not all what they seem, and their sexual preferences as well as their inherited problems can lead them into trouble. Above all the invaluable works of art in the palaces have to be protected from evil forces.
Click on the BUY NOW button to get your copy today.

My thoughts
To a recent art history grad, cataloguing artwork at the Buckingham Palace might sound like a dream job. Well, Aurelia Macintosh, the protagonist of the novel doesn't seem to think so. If you have read/watched "The Devil Wears Prada", you'll understand the predicament. A bright, serious young woman, who is apparently overqualified for the job, views it as a stepping stone. If anything, it's a flashy resume filler. A candid and open, someone socially awkward individual, Aurelia learns to navigate the world of her colleagues, learn to read between the lines and interpret subtle sneers. Her observation and analytical skills will come in handy when several pieces from the collection go missing. 

I have already read this author's historical novels set in Norway and Germany during WWII. This novel is semi-autobiographical, set in the 1990s. It's important to be mindful of the setting, because the world was different back then in terms of available technology, forensic tools as well as morals and sensibilities. It doesn't sound like a long time ago, but we're talking quarter of a century difference. The author does a good job keeping you in that period. You don't easily forget that the novel is set before the internet was at everyone's fingertips. LGBT individuals were more likely to hide their orientation from the world. Coming out could mean alienation from your family and unemployment. So many liberties and privileges that we take for granted in 2020 were still out of reach to many. 

The reader should be ready for many political discussions and references to the Parliament and the royal family. The title itself "Into the Closets" is such a loaded and intriguing title that evoke so many potential conflicts. I would not classify this novel as a straight up mystery. It's a coming of age story more than anything. A wide-eyed, sometimes overreaching Aurelia undergoes an emotional maturation process. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

We All Fall Down - a pandemic anthology

Greetings, commies!
If you are sick and tired of reading about COVID19 in the news, switch gears and read about a different pandemic that was a lot deadlier than the one we are facing now. We All Fall Down is an anthology of stories revolving around the plague epidemic in Europe, featuring some of the most eloquent indie voices in historical fiction. You may recognize some of these names!

Plague has no favorites.
In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown.
Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.
* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property—
* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost—
* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future—
* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—
* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante's son—
* In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—
* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—
* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—
* And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate. 
Nine tales bound together by humanity's fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time.

My thoughts
I am surprised that more reviewers did not mention the fact that the release of this anthology coincided with the corona pandemic. Perhaps, the Black Death is the last thing people want to read about. Toilet paper hoarders will probably feel a little ashamed. Even the title of the anthology is "We All Fall Down", taken from an English folk song, the message of the anthology is about rising up. I am already familiar with most of the contributors to the anthology, having followed their other works in various historical fiction groups. This anthology serves a dual purpose. In addition to giving you a collection of delectably literary yet readable stories about a particular tragic even in European history, it gives you a sample of each author's writing. If you haven't read their novel length works, maybe the short stories in this anthology will whet your appetite. This is what a pandemic looked like before globalization and social media, before diagnostic and curative advancements. That should put things in perspective. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Road to Montfaucon - a novel about the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris

Hello commies!

We are approaching the 1 year anniversary of the bizarre fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the high profile Catholic landmarks. In light of my personal attachment to that cathedral, I wrote a mystical thriller The Road to Montfaucon. It weaves in the realities of modern urban life and fragments of Victor Hugo's celebrated novel. Special thanks to Jenna Meuer, the beautiful cover model who embodied the 21st century Esmeralda.

Modern Paris. The fire at Notre-Dame has unleashed an eerie force and awakened the ghosts of Victor Hugo's novel. Dr. Molendino, a jaded psychologist with a penchant for the occult, finds himself ejected from the clinical community for publishing controversial articles on the subject of past lives. To his colleagues he is a heretic, who compromises the prestige of the clinic.

After losing his job he immerses himself in private practice and research. Among his patients is Thomas Dimanche, a young journalist who suffers from dysmorphophobia and despite being handsome, considers himself hideous, avoiding human contact. Thomas makes a living by hosting a radio show called Parisian Toll, a criminal review, where he often features one of the city's most gruesome crimes -- the murder of an indie performer Annaïs Guybertot. The teenage girl was found strangled in the basement of an underground nightclub aptly called Montfaucon.

With help from an experimental drug, the doctor and his patient dive into a hallucinatory world where a deformed bell ringer and his arrogant master rival for the heart of a gypsy dancer.

Will they stop in time, or will they repeat the fate of Hugo's characters?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

3022 - nothing wrong with B sci-fi

Greetings, commies!
If you are in a mood for a low-key, low-budget but intellectually stimulating sci-fi movie, consider 3022. I know the title is cryptic. It doesn't refer to a year but rather to the number of days the main characters have been in space. 

Halfway through a 10 year mission in deep space, a group of astronauts awaken to find Earth has suffered a catastrophic event. The already unstable crew desperately races to repair their deteriorating space station and fight off unforeseen threats.

My thoughts:
I am not sure why this movie got negative feedback for being "low budget". You don't need a huge budget to create a quality sci-fi piece. Not every sci-fi movie aspires to be the Star Wars. This one is one of those 3022 is one of those small budget - notice, I don't say cheap - sci-fi movies. The idea is very simple and has a lot of potential for exploration. What happens if your home gets destroyed while you're in outer space? I'm sure many astronauts ponder that question before they take off. This movie explores this common nightmare. What if you are one of the few human beings left in the universe? Do you continue to adhere to the principles of human dignity? What do things like loyalty and self-sacrifice mean? I really hope that you give this movie a chance. There are some things I would've liked to see done differently, like some of the special effects handled in a more creative, suggestive manner. Overall, it's a solid B+ movie.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Flesh and Bone - killed by annoying secondary characters

Greetings, commies!

If you don't have the budget to see ballet in New York, consider watching Flesh and Bone - it comes with Amazon Prime. The dance sequences make it worth watching - you can always fast forward through the clumsy trying-too-hard drama sections. If anything, it's a lesson to aspiring writers on what NOT to do. 

"Flesh and Bone" follows a young ballet dancer, Claire, who has a distinctly troubled past, as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. The dark, gritty, complex series unflinchingly explores the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world and New York's inherent drama. Claire is emotionally wounded, sexually damaged, and possesses self-destructive tendencies amid her vaulting ambitions.

My thoughts:
I don't know how many people contributed to the development of the plot, but it looks very patchy, like a quilt sewn together by a team of schizophrenics. It's almost like the series was meant to be 18 episodes, and they had to cut it down to 8. So many vital questions were unanswered. And so many secondary characters got too much screen time. The homeless guy Romeo is incredibly annoying. He's not sympathetic at all. He's a caricature of a socially disenfranchised person. Same can be said for the ballet-loving strip club dancer with that horrible fake Russian accent. There was too much of him, and he was redundant. And don't get me started on the creepy looking old lady with her little dog, who is supposed to be an assistant choreographer. Why, why introduce so many characters that contribute nothing to the plot and distract from the main story, whatever it is?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Emperor's Assassin: #MeToo in Ancient Rome

Greetings, commies & SJWs!
If you want more of the same old, same old, women's historical fiction fueled with "wokeness" and man-bashing, here is a well written novel by Autumn Bardot, The Emperor's Assassin. Don't let the in-your-face title deter you. Here is a hint: the Emperor doesn't show up until later. It's an endless angry girl aria, an estrogen fountain.   

History paints her as the first female serial killer.

Locusta is the daughter of a winemaker in the Roman province of Gaul. She enjoys the indulged childhood of the elite, her concerns only about the day’s amusements. She rides gentle ponies, attends parties, reads Ovid, and learns the herbal arts from her servant. But the day after meeting her betrothed, Locusta discovers the consequences of possessing such dangerous knowledge.

Ordered to leave her pastoral life, Locusta is thrust into a world of intrigue, scandal, and murder—where treason lurks behind every corner and defying an emperor means death.

Locusta’s life changes forever when a young Emperor Nero requires her herbal expertise. And commands her to be his personal poisoner. Caught in an imperial web, Locusta must embrace her profession or die.

Or is there another way out?

History has nothing good to say about this woman. Or is that because men wrote her story?

My thoughts:
Storytelling merits apart, this novel is a blatant, unabashed #MeToo fest. You'd think the author was writing a "woke" sitcom. You can find every key ingredient: the autistic brother, the demented father, the LGBT best friend, the bratty materialistic younger sis, the hunky one night stand boyfriend, the arrogant-sadistic-entitled patrician. Those are well developed stock characters. It's a 2020 ABC-worthy prime time drama set in ancient Rome. Obviously, I cannot get inside the author's head, but my guess is that she was catering to the ultra left modern audiences to create a string of "relatable" characters. A part of me is rolling my eyes: Here we go again, demonizing men. But a part of me is humming and nodding: the book has literary merits. The premise and the delivery are not astonishingly original. A woman in the man's world, fighting for survival, validation, etc. Blah, blah. That's what 90% of historical fiction is about these days. So I am not going to knock it. It's really hard to write something original for the #MeToo audience.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Death and Nightingales - an unapologetic, authentic BBC masterpiece

Happy New Year, commies!

If you are tired of artificial "woke" or "empowering" costume dramas that aim to appease the left wing viewers and leave them with a feeling of "triumph", consider this BBC miniseries.

The BBC adaptation of Eugene McCabe's literary slow-burning thriller Death and Nightingales is extremely satisfying and faithful to the original. I actually read the novel first, so it was very gratifying to see all the key scenes and quotes included into the script. No unnecessary liberties, no frivolities, no attempt to put a "woke" spin on the story or infuse it with "girl power" to make it more palatable to modern audiences. I don't see Hollywood producing this film. The subject matter is probably too regional and not universal enough. There is not much material to entertain global audiences. Eugene McCabe is a contemporary author who dies a stellar job recreating the Ireland of the 1880s. It definitely helps to possess some rudimentary knowledge on the political and economic climate of the era. Even if you are totally new to the painful Anglo-Irish, Catholic-Protestant conflict, it will not take you long to catch on. 

The narrative is not always linear, so the director had to rely on flashbacks, which were done seamlessly and never took the viewer out of the moment. The novel spans the events of one day in the life of a young woman whose fragile world is about to collapse. 23-year old Beth Winters is not by any means "feisty" or "defiant". She does attempt to defy her guardian as a contemporary woman would - instead, her frustration takes a homicidal twist. Under certain circumstances, it is easier to murder your oppressor, or get someone else to do it, than attempt to defy him in a battle of wills.