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on December 30, 2004
After having been first excited and then disappointed by Godfather III, I approached this book with what I thought was a healthy dose of skepticism. The dose was not healthy enough.

By page 7, Winegardner has already stolen from Goodfellas when describing how Ace Geraci (Winegardner's creation) took over legitimate businesses and used them to have deliveries "stream through the front door and go straight out the back." And then when the bills came to the business, Geraci torches the business. This is almost exactly what happened to the bar in which Henry Hill and his cohorts took an interest.

I should have stopped reading then, but I didn't.

As some other reviewers have written, the "explanation" of Fredo is simply absurd. Had Winegardner ever read The Godfather or seen any of the movies? Nothing in any of the previous works even hints at Fredo being gay or dabbling in acting. Also with "the new and improved" Fredo, we find yet another bit of pilfering from a Scorsese/Pileggi collaboration. Winegardner has Fredo host his own television show from the Corleone's casino in Las Vegas. Didn't we already see that with Ace Rothstein in Casino? Lastly re Fredo, what's the big deal with the cemetery scheme? This is the big explanation as to why he betrayed Michael? Please.

And speaking of "please," Congressman Tom Hagen? Why? Again, why? Where on earth did this come from? Wouldn't someone have made a passing remark about this in either of the last two films? Why put this in? It makes zero sense.

Winegardner also wields his pen to bring the dead back to life, and for what reason, I cannot understand. At the end of The Godfather, Michael clearly has eliminated the other heads of the Five Families. These would include Cuneo and Stracci. Michael even tells of their deaths (among others) to Carlo Rizzo when he gets Rizzo to admit to being part of Barzini's plot to kill Sonny. But, ho! Suddenly, the reader finds both Cuneo and Stracci very much alive, and in roles which could have been filled by characters with other names.

But Winegardner's talents don't stop with raising the dead or butchering well established characters. He also completely eliminates a pivotal character from the second Godfather movie, Frank "Frankie Five Angels" Pentageli. It was Pentangeli who took over for Clemenza. It was Pentangeli who was responsible for Michael having to testify before the US Senate. It was Pentageli's war with the Roasato brothers that was integral to Michael's struggle with Hyman Roth. Yet Winegardner never mentions Pentangeli.

He also allows only a handful of words for the Rosato brothers. In Godfather II Pentageli alludes to the fact that the Rosato brothers had something to do with Clemenza's death, that "that was no heart attack." Yet, again, Winegardner thinks he's more entertaining than Puzo and makes the cause of Clemenza's death... a heart attack. Couldn't he have used any effort to try to use the loose threads from Puzo to weave into his story?

Of course, Winegardner does make the effort to use his present employer, Florida State University, as a setting. Well, at least he has his priorities straight.

I could go on further, but suffice it to say that this book is grossly insulting to anyone who is a fan of mario Puzo's fine works.

I did say fan and not fanatic. Yes, there are many of us who are quite familiar with the original book and the three films. Perhaps we know too much about them. However, Winegardner, in taking on the role of steward of this classic American saga, should have taken the time and made the effort to familiarize himself with these works, and not thought he was better or smarter than their creator.
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on January 4, 2005
I would give this less than one star if I could.

I was torn when I first saw this book. On the one hand, Mario Puzo wrote a master piece and another author should not just ride his coat tails. But I saw that Winegardner had written a number of other books, and figured he handled this task with the necessary class and research to write the book properly.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

A minor detail, in his acknowledgments he does not even acknowledge Puzo. Also, I found myself wondering when I was on page 300, where was this going. The author had not really developed a new story of any kind. He seemed to be obsessed with sex, and added it to the story when it did not have to be there. Fredo for some reason has become gay, even though his affection for waitresses is well known from the first movie.

Most offensive there are a number of discrepencies between Winegardner's book and Mario Puzo's and the movies. All are minor but in writing such a book, the author should know the movies and the book inside and out. Winegardner did not.

I will admit that I did not finish reading the book. Around page 330 or so, I threw the book across the room in disgust. Winegardner had decided to write that Kay really did not have an abortion, that it was a miscarriage. This was the last straw for me. Winegardner decided to take one of the most powerful scenes from the movie and change it. I could not accept this and had finally had enough.

This is a lazy effort by Winegardner. He throws in a lot of new names and adds plots with Cleveland, Chicago, LA, but never really lets us know any of these new characters or plots. He throws in a lot of lines from the movies, and it is always akward. There is no Frank Pentangeli, no real detail provided for any of the questions that are left by the gaps in the movie. The writer handled how Fredo was set up against his brother in a few paragraphs, without even involving Hyman Roth. The author has Fredo Corleone doing his tv show two days before his death? Is this believable.

I would run away from this book, and if someone gave it to me, I would give it back. Do not waste your time. Read Mario Puzo. Go see the movies. Other than the title and some of the characters, this book by Winegardner has nothing in common with The Godfather.
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on January 4, 2005
While Godfather Returns isn't a useless book by any means, it's not a great one either. Don't misunderstand; it's an OK read that keeps you turning the pages (albeit a little slowly). The writing isn't bad, and while the story jumps around a bit, it's definitely followable. And some of the small allusions to various events in the original book/films were pretty well done.

The problem is one any author would have to seriously consider at the outset; if you're going to write a continuation or fill-in on something as permanently embedded into the American film and book psyche as The Godfather, you need to be absolutely, positively dead-on certain on each and every detail, or you'll instantly lose credibility. You also need to try to channel ahead a bit to see if plot changes, additions or twists are really necessary to the story as a whole (story meaning the entire GF saga). To that end, Winegardner slips several times. First off, and to rehash a little what others have said, missing details such as where Michael went to school or where he shot McClusky or the fact that Michael WAS indeed already born when Vito shot Fanucci or Francesca marrying another boy, or the fact that Frank Pentangeli was altogether left out, as was one of Connie's fiances, may SEEM insignificant, but they're really not. They're crucial to the entire story remaining intact. To miss such points shows, at best, carelessness on the author's and/or editor's part and at worst, a lack of respect for the existing works. Let's not even discuss Kay's "miscarriage" or the fact that two Dons killed at the end of GF One were suddenly alive again. That was just plain sloppy. (And to quickly correct what one reviewer said, the book was NOT just a continuation of the Godfather book, but the films, too. Check the timeline Winegardner provides)

That being said, the book, as I said, does kind of manage to hold its own in most places. And while I really had no trouble with the Michael in this book being a little different that the Michael we all know (he was actually somewhat closer to the Michael in GF 3), there were other areas of the book that seemed almost pointless. First, some characters based on real-life people were far too thinly veiled; it's a work of fiction, y'know? Fiction means "created." Use at least a little imagination. He might have just as well used their actual names -- JFK, Sinatra, Lawford, etc. It added nothing at all.

Second, while Fredo's bisexuality was an unexpected twist, it added absolutely nothing to the plot or storyline, other than a highly convoluted way for Geraci to set someone up. Further, it's out of synch for Fredo altogether, based on the existing character we know. He never exhibited any tendencies leaning that way. None. His hosting a local TV show was far easier to believe and accept. That actually fit him, if you think about it.

Third, while the whole Francesca/Billy thing was interesting, it, again, added nothing. I understand the point Winegardner was ultimately trying to make about Francesca, but it could've been done a hell of a lot quicker and far less complex. And there was inconsistency with the film.

Fourth, it was painfully obvious a sequel is coming.

In all, a tepid book that could've been red-hot.
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on October 8, 2010
I can't believe this was a NY Times best seller. The writing is of abysmal quality, the story line is too confusing, the characters are completely destroyed. Why did anyone allow this guy to destroy the superbly styled characters created by Puzo? What's worse is that the publishers had the guts to come back with "the return of the Godfather".
This book definitely is a fish wrapper for me. Not even.
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VINE VOICEon November 28, 2004
Egads, I've jumped into a hornet's nest on this one, but I have to be frank: I LOVED THIS BOOK.

I loved Puzo's original Godfather book. The first two Godfather films (I will politely skip over the third) are among my top favorite films. Plus, I'm a huge fan of The Sopranos, own (and reviewed) The Soporanos book of scripts, the Sopranos cookbook.

Yes, I read the tepid reviews about this book, but I wanted to see for myself what the latest attempt to keep the saga alive entailed. And I was PLEASANTLY SURPRISED -- in fact, I could not put this movie down -- given some (but not all) of the reviews in newspapers and here on Amazon. Here's why:

1)Stylistically, it's a fun book to read. There are very few spots where it lags.

2) The main concept seems to be to plug in all of the holes that exist in the first book plus the first two movies. So some things that simply happen are more completely -- and masterfully - filled in.

3)Portray of Michael is right on target with the books and films.

4) Sinatra fans (and I am one of them) may not be too pleased (I gave the author a pass on this one) because Johnny Fontaine is expanded upon as a character, with a story line directly adapted from the real story about allegations involving Sinatra's ties to the Mafia, the Kennedys, his career revival with the legendary Nelson Riddle, and his ultimate disappointment by being shunned by JFK, who he worked so hard to elect.

5) A JFK surrogate character also runs throughout the book, with a story line tied to what happened in the JFK administration...even a quickie hint at why (in the context of the story) JFK would later be assasinated.

6)Fredo: He's a major character in this book. A lot of gaps are filled in that help explain a lot about this character and, again, the author manages to have it all coincide with the original book and the two classic films.

So I have to say: I didn't read this expecting the author to channel Puzo. I bought and read it because I love the Godfather and was prepared to read a chapter or two, then sell the book on Amazon marketplace. Instead, I read it and finished it while visiting relatives in Florida and am gifting it to my brother.

I don't generally get through all nonfiction. This one was easy, enjoyable -- and a MUST for Godfather and Sopranos fans.
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As another reviewer said, "it is a tough act to follow, but someone had to do it..." This novel continues the story set forth in Mario Puzo's famed "The Godfather" novel and is set in the time period between the end of that novel (the 1950s) and about 1963. Although the novel overlaps the Godfather II story, it does not really focus on it, and Hyman Roth plays only a bit part in this story, not the central role he played in Godfather II as the main adversary. No doubt this is intentional, leaving open the option of writing a second novel which might essentially be the novelization of Godfather II.

The author's writing is not quite as clear as Mario Puzo's. Puzo had a genius for interweaving characters and subplots in a fashion that was unmatched. He never confused the reader, and he always brought everything together in a manner that was artful and clear. Winegardner does a good job here, but no one will mistake his writing for that of Puzo. Not for a moment.

Some of Winegardner' subplots seem almost unnecessary. For example, I found the subplot about Francesca, Sonny Corleone's daughter, to be more or less a distraction and nothing more, albeit well-written and at times interesting in its own right. (What would it be like to date a girl whose family was a Mafia crime family? Here, we find out.)

This is a very readable novel, and it is, in fact, a satisfying read. Winegardner's insights into the world of organized crime are very interesting, and have the ring of authenticity. His thinly veiled characterizations of John and Bobby Kennedy do add to the reader's enjoyment, and his theory about the assassinations (no spoiler here) are superb.

Overall, this is a great novel for reading on a trip, or at the beach with beer and chips. It does a fine job of filling in some of the gaps in the Godfather saga, and it sets the stage for a "Godfather II" novel. A decent read.
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on December 20, 2004
This is not a great addition to the Godfather saga and this book should not have been written. There are inconsistencies with the Puzo book and the two movies. For example:

(1) The behaviour of Fredo being gay is not consistent in this book with the movies and the previous book,

(2) The reasons behind Fredo betraying Michael in this book are bizarre and not very well thought out. In fact, it barely even involves Hyman Roth and Johnny Oela. The author introduces a totally new character into this betrayal (Garaci).

(3) Michael's betrayal of Don Molinari is not logical and not something I believe that he would do.

(4) Kay's timing and reasons for leaving Michael are inconsistent with the movie Godfather II.

(5) This author changed Kay's abortion into a miscarriage that she lied to Michael about as an abortion. This is not a good story twist because the whole abortion thing was critical to the storyline in Godfather II. In fact in the movie GFII, Kay says to Michael that she initially lied to him about it being a miscarriage but really she had an abortion. That's when Michael tells her she can leave but not take the children. In this book it is the opposite. Kay tells him she lied about it being an abortion just to see how he would react, but really it was a miscarriage. Did this author even bother to see the movies?

(6) This author claims Michael dropped out of Columbia. I am not sure but believe that at the end of GF II, the movie shows a flashback seen in which Michael says he is dropping out of college and Tom claims his father went to a lot of trouble to pull connections to get him into Fordham (not Columbia).

(7) There is no Frank Pantangali character to take over Clemenza's regime when he dies.

This book is so inconsistent with the movies and the previous book, that is changes the character of the whole saga. I don't think this author properly watched the movies or read the book in detail. I don't think that this is a saga that should have been messed with or adapted or changed. Why change the Mona Lisa? Isn't it already perfect?
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on December 3, 2004
Before "The Sopranos," there was The Godfather. The Francis Ford Coppola film gave rise to one of the most notorious archetypical figures of the latter third of the 20th century. Who among us has not said, jokingly or otherwise, to an associate, "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse"? Who has not made reference to the infamous "horse's head" vignette?

The Godfather is so well-known, in fact, that many people forget that it is actually a film adaptation of a novel. THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo was a wildly successful novel long before the movie of the same name --- and its successors --- ever saw the light of day. Puzo was derided by some critics as a hack and his classic work as a second-class potboiler. While the book was awkward at some points and unwieldy in others, it cannot be denied that Puzo, over the course of several hundred pages, created a group of unforgettable characters and riveting situations, a modern-day morality tale that ushered in the modern rebirth of the anti-hero. Puzo never returned to the world of Don Vito and Don Michael Corleone; the films Godfather II and the unjustly maligned Godfather III marched on, continuing and concluding the brutal and tragic story of the Corleone family.

But there were gaps in the story with respect to events that occurred before, during, and after the novel and film versions of THE GODFATHER and its successor, Godfather II. Critically acclaimed author Mark Winegardner has filled at least some of the void with THE GODFATHER RETURNS. Its publication raises two immediate questions. Did we really need this book? No. Do we want it? Yes, most affirmatively. THE GODFATHER RETURNS covers the years 1955 through 1958, between The Godfather and Godfather II, and 1959 through 1962, after Godfather II and before Godfather III. It is obvious that this is not a work to be used as an introduction to the Corleone mythos. At minimum one needs to read the Puzo novel, as well as watch Godfather II, in order to fully comprehend and enjoy what is happening here.

Winegardner deserves an A for effort, and more, here. The focus is on Don Michael Corleone --- how could it be otherwise? --- as he attempts to cement his power in order to ostensibly convert all of his businesses to legitimate enterprises. In doing so, he makes an enemy of Nick Geraci, a Corleone street enforcer who Michael pragmatically but unwisely chooses to sacrifice as a stepping stone to his own greater power. Winegardner also devotes quite a bit of the book to Tom Hagen and Fredo Corleone, two important if secondary characters in Puzo's universe. Winegardner, among other things, reveals a sordid side to Fredo's life, as well as the reasons for Hagen's occasionally ambiguous status within the Corleone empire.

Furthermore, Winegardner delves into a bit of the Corleone history prior to THE GODFATHER novel, particularly with respect to Michael's childhood and his wartime experiences, his first meeting with Kay Adams --- who would become his wife --- and his occasionally uneasy bond with Tom Hagen. In the end, however, Michael remains a bit of an enigma, by turns duplicitous, ruthless and driven, the antithesis of all that he originally set out to be. Winegardner describes a telling moment when Michael, at the cusp of adolescence, confronts his father and, at least temporarily, turns his back on his heritage. It is the most pivotal and ironic moment in a tale full of them.

THE GODFATHER RETURNS ends in 1962, with Michael having possibly sewn the initial seeds of his own destruction. Given that Godfather III took place in 1979 and 1980, it appears that more will be heard from Winegardner, and the Corleones. And while the reading public may not need it, they will certainly want it. Recommended.

--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
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on September 29, 2015
This was written as neither a prequel nor a sequel but a simultaneous history of the "Godfather" Family. As such I enjoyed seeing some of the same scenes from a slightly different perspective. The Original as well as the first two movies stand out as a wonderful story of an Italian Family living in the day. I enjoyed it for what it was...another look at a man faced with his future and unable to change it.
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon November 17, 2004
The daunting task of writing a sequel to Mario Puzo's classic "The Godfather" rests squarely on the shoulders of a writer who won a contest run by Random House, the book's publisher. From this unpromising true-life scenario comes a novel that is well crafted and only marginally disappointing when it comes to its built-in expectations. A writer, even one as obviously talented as Mark Winegardner, unfortunately starts in a creative deficit when his one overriding responsibility amounts to not only supplementing but expanding upon as singular a vision as Puzo's original telling of the Corleone family saga. These characters are so ingrained in the American consciousness that Winegardner's immediate priority is to deal with the burden of remaining faithful to a classic. In a way that highlights the selectiveness of our collective memory, "The Godfather" invented the Mafia, endowing it with a mandolin-strumming legend and pinkie ring-kissing ritual even the actual Mafia didn't know was there.

The story picks up the Corleone story in 1955 right after Michael has proven his mettle among New York's most powerful crime families, and now he wants to claim legitimacy for his family business. So obsessed is he for respect, Michael becomes more and more isolated as a character, and unfortunately, the lack of inner conflict doesn't make for a very dramatic arc since he doesn't undergo any significant transformation in the story. I believe this sort of evolution is what made the first book and its film version resonate. The author instead focuses Michael's attention externally on his deteriorating relationship with Fredo, the weak brother whom we already know is no match for him. In fact, Winegardner fills in a lot of the blanks about Fredo making him a bisexual psychopath who hosts a TV show. He also introduces a street informer named Nick Geraci, who is set up as not only a vengeful competitor but also the yang to Michael's yin. These mostly parallel tracks are interspersed with less important stories that still effectively add texture to the novel - Fredo's efforts to start a cemetery business in New Jersey, the power struggle the Corleones experience in taking over Las Vegas and the West Coast, the incendiary role the family plays in trying to oust Castro from Cuba. Even Johnny Fontane, the veiled alter-ego of Frank Sinatra, comes back in this sequel, as does sister Connie who has become a pretentious jet-setter (instead of the Lady Macbeth figure in Part III of the movie trilogy). Indeed, as with the movie sequels, this book dramatically shows how family dynasties destroy themselves over time.

The main problem with the book has nothing to do with Winegardner's robust writing and everything to do with the iconic status of the Francis Ford Coppola films, even the lackluster third installment. When the author provides his own creative invention to such familiar characters, he seems like he's cheating somehow, veering off course simply because we already feel we know what happened to these characters from the movies. Of course, the comparison to Coppola's grand, operatic epics is unfair but inevitable. Taken on its own terms, however, this is a pretty strong sequel to the potboiler that Puzo's 1969 novel really was - fast, suspenseful, often baroque and lurid. It captures the pulp fiction pitch of the first book without the self-importance attached to the movie version. No small feat. If you can escape this comparison, you'll find this book a very worthwhile read.
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