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Commentaires écrits par
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)

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Shovel Ready: A Spademan Novel
Shovel Ready: A Spademan Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 10.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Ambitious and Cool Yet..., Jan. 25 2015
The novel is cool that is undeniable. It is set in a coming New York that reels from terrorism. The resilient and the designer-drugged have stayed on. It features an anti-hero who dispatches folks for a fee and with a box cutter (a bit of a curious terrorist link right there). The characters are post-apocalyptic noir and their language is clipped, staccato-like as some sort of ode to texting and tweeting.

I loved the first third. It was incredibly paced and highly compelling. I resigned myself to buying the next in the series. That is until I read the rest. What began so well become repetitive and ho-hum. In other words the sets and the costumes could not save the play. The drug angle was all too familiar and none of the characters including the main elicited much empathy or sustained interest. Yet, I must conclude it was still cool and perhaps the second will be all the cooler. I may tune into find out.

Prix : CDN$ 2.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Headcount in 'Nam, Jan. 24 2015
This review is from: Headhunter (Kindle Edition)
The three stars may seem harsh given I loved the premise and most of the execution. It comes up short on length (no pun intended) and the resolution was abrupt and unoriginal. Everything else rocked like an M16 on full auto. There is plenty of testosterone given the military and ghoulish activity. I enjoyed Curran's over the top descriptions of various weird doings in Vietnam during the war. If anyone knows of similar works please let me know. Cheers!

Dead Bait
Dead Bait
Prix : CDN$ 2.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun, Guilty Pleasure, Jan. 21 2015
This review is from: Dead Bait (Kindle Edition)
It took me a few months to summon the courage to buy and read Dead Bait. Outside of a tiny bit of claustrophobia, my biggest fear are creatures below the surface. I blame my brother for taking me to see Jaws when I was ten. The book is a scary guilty pleasure that is uneven but in a good way like the Creepy and Eerie comic books from days gone by. In fact, this would have made a great graphic short story collection.

The standouts for me were: Chum Bucket as it featured a leviathan and those always 'get me'; The Test Drive had a Stephen King vibe and surprise; and Lobster Stew that was by far the best written and imagined. Death Roe drew you in and taught you not to take things that are not yours...especially mermaid eggs. I think I live in Canada because for much of the year our water is frozen.

Dark Screams: Volume One
Dark Screams: Volume One
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 2.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Look Elsewhere, Jan. 19 2015
The five stories in this collection were gorier than expected. The Price You Pay and Murder in Chains were much like the Saw movie franchise. Magic Eyes was enjoyable but predictable. The Watcher was subtle and the most interesting. Weeds by Stephen King may seem familiar as it was one of the stories in the movie Creepshow (King himself played the lead). Even at the low price of less than $3, I would not recommend this short anthology.

Station Eleven
Station Eleven
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Book About Other Worlds, Jan. 19 2015
This review is from: Station Eleven (Kindle Edition)
Literary post-apocalyptic fiction is a narrow niche genre. Sure, there are scads of works out there featuring end of the world scenarios but these are largely poorly written and edited zombie yarns that have grown repetitive. So it is wonderful when a book like Station Eleven appears. It is in the vein of The Road but has more in common with Colson Whitehead's Zone One or, even more so, Douglas Coupland's Player One. In fact, I would say Player One must have been a significant influence upon St. John Mandel. The two share Canadian plot setting and a more intellectual rationale for when the world falls apart (BTW - The New York Times review of Whitehead's novel began with, "A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star.").

Station Eleven begins in a highly compelling manner and never lets up. The initial setting is innocuous but fascinating. A production of King Lear is underway at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto and this, pardon the pun, sets the stage for the next twenty years. We are treated to a cast of characters who have been inextricably woven together in a plot that goes back and forth in an absorbing way. How the world fell apart, how people reacted to it and how they function after is artfully done. What must be credited is no unnecessary or gratuitous description of the resulting violence. Instead, my new best friend Emily, writes chillingly and more effectively, "Of all of them at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city."

The loss of what the characters once enjoyed in modern civilization permeates the book like an ever-present melancholy. Hope is in short supply or as one character remarks, “What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.” People aren't really getting on. They are just surviving even if "survival is insufficient". Perhaps one of the most introspective and insightful lines is, "Hell is the absence of the people you long for.” The book is not as dour as The Road but neither does it offer up an immediate bright future (or does it?).

There are plenty of interesting scenarios throughout. They range from traveling minstrels, cult leaders, survivors who never left the airport they were stranded in, and my personal favourite, the community that grew in an abandoned motel. Its original members were a sales team from a marketing firm that had been attending a conference when the Georgian Flu swept the globe. In the end, this is a book about other worlds. The world that no longer exists, the post-Flu world, a comic book world, the world in a snow globe and the world of theatre...once you read Station Eleven this will make sense.

They're Watching
They're Watching
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 8.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Who are "They"?, Jan. 16 2015
This review is from: They're Watching (Kindle Edition)
Thrillers are great when they keep you guessing and Hurwitz has fun teasing the reader with feints throughout. He does this in a clever way by having the main character, Patrick Davis, reference famous movies suggesting that their plots are an explanation for his situation. This works because Patrick is a screenwriter who is manipulated by an unknown but powerful adversary. Just when you think you know what is going on, the plot moves elsewhere.

The first half is very strong but when the explanations start rolling out, it loses steam and becomes a standard conspiracy story (think Pelican Brief). What made little sense in the resolution was the extent and effort that was went to for such a correspondingly small threat. Still, it was fun and, with some irony, it could make for a decent movie.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 11.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 "If we don't go mad once in a while, there's no hope.", Jan. 12 2015
Please excuse this unorthodox review. This was a book that came to me at the right time. It addresses so many of the issues I am wrestling with (and I will continue to for some time). It was incredibly difficult not to highlight huge swaths of the narrative. The lessons and advice locked into the story's simple sentences represent the most valuable subtle self-help book one may ever read (BTW - I am not a fan of self help books). It would be an intimidating pleasure to sit down with author Joyce and explore the roots of her painfully beautiful prose.

What follows are a few themes that resonated deeply and are supported by a quote or two from the book. Admittedly, this is a bit lazy for a review but it is authentic. Though the quotes are not necessarily spoilers you may want to avoid reading on. Instead, take my advice and read the entire book with a highlighter and an alcohol-spiked pot of tea along with the capacity to forgive yourself.

Finding Resolution
“The past was the past; there was no escaping your beginnings.”

Feeling Lost
"Again he felt in a profound way that he was both inside and outside what he saw; that he was both connected, and passing through."

"He saw that when a person becomes estranged from the things they know, and is a passerby, strange things take on a new significance."

Challenging Our Belief Systems
“But maybe it's what the world needs. A little less sense, and a little more faith.”

“There is so much to the human mind we don't understand. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything.”

Unintended, Earth Shattering Awareness
“Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”

“But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.”

Ordinary People Just Getting By
“People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”

Coping With The Inevitable Bad Things
“I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone. The only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It's like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it's there and keep falling in. After a while, it's still there, but you learn to walk round it.”

“We hang on by so little, he thought, and felt the full despair of knowing that.”

Redemption, Compassion And Understanding.
“He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others.”

“People would make the decisions they wished to make and some of them would hurt both themselves and those who loved them, and some would pass unnoticed, while others would bring joy.”

“They had offered him comfort and shelter, even when he was afraid of taking them, and in accepting he had learned something new. It was as much of a gift to receive as it was to give, requiring as it did both courage and humility.”

Finding Purpose
“He must have driven this way countless times, and yet he had no memory of the scenery. He must have been so caught up in the day's agenda, and arriving punctually at their destination, that the land beyond the car had been no more than a wash of one green, and a backdrop of one hill. Life was very different when you walked through it.”

“Beginnings could happen more than once or in different ways. You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before. He had faced his shortcomings and overcome them and so the real business of walking was happening only now.”

“He had started; and in doing so Harold could already see the end.”

The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (Mammoth Books)
The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (Mammoth Books)
Prix : CDN$ 5.95

4.0 étoiles sur 5 More Cerebral Than Expected, Jan. 12 2015
What makes anthologies enjoyable are the same things that can make them disappointing. Varied writing styles, repetitive content, and differing levels of quality all factor in. In this Mammoth collection all of that takes place. Different writing styles are good for challenging the reader. The repetitive content invites comparison and healthy critique. And, no matter what, some of the stories will not appeal.

This collection is better than most. I am intrigued with the very idea of time travel. In terms of the genre, I am a traditionalist. I love the idea of going back to the grassy knoll in 1963 and other pivotal times. These stories introduce much more in terms of how this travel manipulation could take place and its implications.

Gregory Benford’s slim and rich “Caveat Time Traveler” kicks off the book with a surprise punch. Walk To The Full Moon provides a time bending brain teaser. Liz Williams provides a haunting atmosphere by offering up a cruise ship lost in time. David J. Lake’s “The Truth about Weena” is a brilliant follow-on to H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Needle in a Timesack was the standout in terms of plot and an authentic Stephen King-like style. The only drawback was the editor's introduction to each story. They were inconsistent and could have set them up in a more thematic and interesting way.

The Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders
The Panzer Legions: A Guide to the German Army Tank Divisions of World War II and Their Commanders
Prix : CDN$ 15.45

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great Source Book, Jan. 7 2015
When I hear "Tiger" and "Panther" the images I conjure up are not wildlife but rather the massive and deadly German tanks of WW2. Growing up in the 1970's my friends liked airplanes, trucks, race cars and boats. Meanwhile, I was the fellow who could run down the history and performance statistics of the Russian T-34, the French AMX 30, and Israel's Merkava. I saved up and exhausted my funds on Tamiya models. I built the Leopard tank because the Canadian army employed the underrated beast and so many others that it would be an extensive laundry list.

So it was great that my Godfather surprised me with the gift of this book. I was surprised by author Mitcham Jr.'s contention in the very first sentence, "Germany was defeated in World War I, largely by the tank." There must be a minimum of one hundred other reasons that come before the tank for the defeat so that was a head scratcher without much support. I was intrigued too by his moderation in recognizing Guderian's contribution to the inter-war build-up and focus on mechanized forces. The book introduced me to Ernst Volckheim, a Prussian tactician and theorist, who was prolific in his writing on armoured warfare.

The book begins with a brief history of the war while the rest features a chapter on each of the Panzer Divisions. These chapters provide an overview of the division's composition, leadership and war record. I have read many Stackpole histories and enjoy them for the detail. Do not look for an engaging narrative but be prepared for a well researched outing that works better as a source book for facts, dates and figures.

Prix : CDN$ 1.12

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3.0 étoiles sur 5 Cool Premise, Jan. 7 2015
This review is from: Adrift (Kindle Edition)
There are two major strengths to Adrift. First, the premise is so strong that it sustains the reader even when the story's execution falls short. Second, the main character intrigues given he is agoraphobic and suffers from panic attacks due to a post-traumatic stress. From there it all kind of falls apart starting with the improbable decision of he and his wife choosing to go on a transatlantic cruise with 3,000 other passengers. Why would such a sufferer inflict this upon himself is never explained or resolved.

I must admit I was still hooked but when the action started and undeveloped characters were dispatched liberally, I did not know who to care about or root for or against. At that point, it was a case of, "Well, let's just see how he wraps this up." I clinically finished the book rather than hung in with any investment. What could have been an interestingly nuanced horror with clever backstory raced to resolve itself in a flat finish.

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