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Commentaires écrits par
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)

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Revival: A Novel
Revival: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 17.99

4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Faith, Fate & Death, Nov. 18 2014
This review is from: Revival: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
I have never lined up and slept over night for concert or movie tickets. I do not rush out to try the newest quick service food restaurant menu item because ads tell me to. You will not catch me at a Black Friday or Boxing Day sale. Yet, you will see me counting down the days until a Stephen King book release. My "relationship" with the author began when my older brother left his shiny foil cover copy of The Shining on the table separating our twin beds. Over the years we have had our ups and downs, Mr. King and I, but I have been largely loyal and he has been incredibly prolific.

His latest kicked off with great promise. The early sixties setting and introductory portrayals of the book's characters was vintage King. On the surface he paints an innocent and more wholesome time then, as with all of his stories set in the past, we are treated to a more malevolent reality. The first fifty or so pages were a delight and I read with increasing speed.

As I progressed, it became clear that Revival was an exploration of faith, fate and death. Unlike most of his works, good and evil are less cut and dried, as one character suggests, “People always want a reason for the bad things in life. Sometimes there ain’t one.” Yet, King recognizes that we all need positive signs, "everyone needs a miracle or two, just to prove life is more than just one long trudge from the cradle to the grave.”

Faith is portrayed in colourful ways with various backdrops ranging from small town church to carny sideshow to big top evangelism. The book repeatedly criticizes organized religion with several lines in this vein, “Religion is the theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so—pardon the pun—so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist.”

King builds the plot around a Faustian pact between a pastor who loses his faith so explores a new direction and a young congregate who struggles later with addiction. These two are eternally fated to cross paths. Unfortunately, though many sparks fly in the literal sense precious few do in the story. As I made my way further into the tale, I wanted King to bring about a heart stopping conclusion because the middle was quite slow. This is not to say I wasn't intrigued and entertained but plot and pace were not as one usually finds in his work. The resolution was solid and in it there was some redemption.

I cannot imagine the pressure on King to always be on, to top his last effort. He is a talented man and as he writes in Revival, “talent is a spooky thing, and has a way of announcing itself quietly but firmly when the right time comes. Like certain addictive drugs, it comes as a friend long before you realize it’s a tyrant.”

From a Buick 8: A Novel
From a Buick 8: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 8.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 "Oil's Fine.", Nov. 16 2014
I read From a Buick 8 when it was first published and listened to the audio version in the interim. Now I just finished re-reading it and am perplexed why I have not reviewed the book before. The fact that I have enjoyed it three times garners well for this review (it is actually a 4.5 star effort).

The tale has all of those trademark King-isms: honest, every day folk challenged by malevolent and mysterious forces and circumstances; a simple, conversational narrative that draws you in; and relatable characters who allow us to feel part of the action. In terms of mysterious forces, I loved the Buick 'character' that came from some place else. Even more so I loved that it's existence and impact was never fully explained, "We had drawn a few conclusions about the Buick over the years - established a few rules - but we knew better than to trust any of them very far."

The story of the Buick sallies forth from a troop of Pennsylvania State Troopers over the course of an afternoon. The Troopers and other local public servants have housed the vehicle and kept its secret for years ("The Roadmaster was strange and exotic, unique, and it was theirs. They couldn't bear to surrender it."). In that time, there were numerous strange events that took place when on occasion the car would act up.

King does have a fascination with cars and in this vehicle he does not provide it with a personality like Christine, instead, he makes it a portal or cold piece of technology and that is far more intriguing. The plot and its resolution still allows for the reader to use their own imagination in spades since not all questions are answered.

It is great entertainment and should not be rushed. Take it slow to enjoy the sarcastic reference to my home province of Manitoba, a place that King has mentioned a few times in his works. The tile of this review is a cool line from the book.

The Remaining
The Remaining
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 4.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Rooting for the Captain, Nov. 10 2014
This review is from: The Remaining (Kindle Edition)
Years back my interest in zombie fiction was ignited (or "Kindled" - bad Amazon joke) when I read J.L. Bourne's Day by Day Armageddon. Molles' first entry in his series reminds of Bourne's work and all in good ways. It is largely a traditional treatment of the genre which I prefer, it makes you ask "what would I do?" throughout, and it moves with speed. More importantly, I like the main character. Even though Molles has made Lee Harden a special forces officer, he is not indestructible or infallible or immune from plain bad luck. Good fun and a quick read.

Proof: The Science of Booze
Proof: The Science of Booze
Prix : CDN$ 10.22

5.0 étoiles sur 5 "Booze is civilization in a glass.", Nov. 7 2014
The subject and the style make this popular history eminently readable and incredibly engaging (it kicks off with a debate about Vodka and Soda being the dumbest drink ever invented). Yet, what really lubricates the proceedings is the author's passion for the topic and the conversational manner he he brings about by discussing the impact, both good and bad, booze has had on society.

The chapters are well thought-out and follow the process of making booze: Yeast, Sugar, Fermentation, Distillation, Aging. These were fascinating and though the science challenged me at times it was never frustrating, besides, had Rogers dumbed it down too much it would lose all impact.

The book took off in the last chapters concerning Smell & Taste, Body & Brain, and finally, Hangover. This is where the expert layman like me could relate. What struck me was the discussion of the impact of environment has on those who drink and not just the intoxicants themselves. It was scary to learn about effect on our livers, brains and behaviour. While the content can disturb what Rogers has done is put this very human invention, extraordinarily large business, and pervasive past-time in context. He does so with a confident, self-deprecating, factual and approachable writing style. Here are three examples:

- “The bar, though, was cool and dry—not just air-conditioner cool, but cool like they were piping in an evening from late autumn. The sun hadn’t set, but inside, the dark wood paneling managed to evoke 10 P.M. In a good bar, it is always 10 P.M.”

- “Every four seconds, someone on earth buys a bottle of Glenlivet.”

- “the distilled spirits business is dominated by giant producers who run immensely productive facilities that produce complex, expensive chemical admixtures year after year. That’s not necessarily a criticism: just because Jack Daniel’s comes from a chemical plant doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn-fine-tasting chemical.”

This is an immensely pleasurable and highly informative read that I wholeheartedly recommend. And, if you are still thirsty following, I suggest picking up:

- Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge

- A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

- Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff


Perfidia: A novel
Perfidia: A novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 15.99

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 72 Ounce Steak, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: Perfidia: A novel (Kindle Edition)
Perfidia's premise of the murder in noir-ish Los Angeles of a Japanese family in December, 1941 intrigued me from the start. The opening pages drew me in and at first I welcomed the introduction of more layers and more characters (Ellroy provides a Dramatis Personae at the back of the book that lists over 90 characters). Subplots, feints and twists also entertained but then quickly it dragged and everything that started well became tedious.

I watched the counter of the percentage read in the Kindle app slowly move from 24% to 32% to 37%. This 720 page book is comparable to a 72 ounce steak. I was hungry for it but could not digest it in its entirety. This is not to say that Ellroy cannot turn a phrase and create atmosphere. I loved these bon mots...

- All I have is withering perception. Women write diaries in the hope that their words will beckon fate.

- The Japs won't bomb L.A. They're island-plundering insects. The Pacific is their ant farm. It's their habitude.

- On the police, "You have a hierarchy and non meritocracy, offset by a paramilitary ethos and casual social codes. Close personal and professional bonds are formed within this oddly flexible structure."

The writing style shifts can be stark with a staccato-like cadence, "Ashida felt the liquor. The room was packed. White men with booze breath. Cigarette smoke. Four dead Japanese." This was a book I wanted to last but as I got into it I wanted it to end. The plot, characters and style are unsustainable. One observation is how some characters are so astute and prescient in predicting aspects of the war and its outcome that it consistently stretched credibility. A reduction by a third would have made this a more consistently engaging read but Ellroy doesn't seem to care about his audience. He is writing for himself and if you don't like, well that is just too bad. If anything, I respect him for that.

A Colder War
A Colder War
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 The Tempo of the Profession, Nov. 4 2014
This review is from: A Colder War (Kindle Edition)
Cumming's writing career is making a substantial contribution to espionage fiction. As many professional and amateur reviewers have pointed out, he has truly mastered the voice and style of early Le Carre. But that comes at price because as with real espionage, this means there are long periods of inactivity, if not, outright boredom. Spycraft is a long game and takes a long time. Most practitioners are analysts and case officers pouring over copious data not Bonds and Bournes playing craps in Monte Carlo and fighting in train stations.

So, in reality, Cumming captures the tempo of the profession. That means it is slow and made slower I felt by repetition that seemed not to credit readers with the intelligence to follow along. The plot has an agent come back from forced retirement (in from the cold?) to investigate seemingly random events that point to the very familiar spy narrative involving a potential mole. I kept wishing for a bit more pace but more importantly for characters, heavily flawed or not, that I could care about. Unfortunately, neither of those requests were met and I was left feeling this was a serviceable but unremarkable work.

Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice
Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice
by John A. Nagl
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 20.65
26 used & new from CDN$ 16.02

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Perplexing in Style, Nov. 2 2014
Nagl has a credible pedigree but his book would have benefited from a ghostwriter or hands-on editor. Knife Fights is both a perplexing and frustrating stew of memoir, travelogue, scrapbook, extended essay, and checklist. Yes, there are some counter insurgency bon mots and the author shares some insights and predictions that are not entirely earth shattering:

- Invading Iraq in 2003 was a mistake and the Middle East will remain at war for at least a generation

- Containing ISIS will require thousands of American boots on the ground

- America's conventional military doctrine will continue to drive opponents to irregular warfare

- In conventional war, politics stops until the war is over. In irregular warfare, politics and economics continues. This combined political/economic/military challenge makes irregular warfare "the graduate level of war."

I found myself skipping the memoir-ish color commentary to hunt for the real learnings. So the book makes you work but not in a good way. Stylistically it was a challenging read with little new added to the debate.

Big Driver
Big Driver
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 5.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Beware on Two Counts, Oct. 22 2014
This review is from: Big Driver (Kindle Edition)
Careful fellow readers as this work already appeared in the collection, Full Dark, No Stars. I should have done my homework or remembered that I had already bought and read it. The novella has been repackaged based on a television version of the story. Still my two star ranking is not influenced by this marketing sleight-of-hand. It is attributed to the actual story which is entirely serviceable by King standards but not a standout. The suspense was strong at a midpoint but did not sustain or ultimately satisfy. I still recommend the larger collection.

Horrorstor: A Novel
Horrorstor: A Novel
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Buy For Style Not Practicality, Oct. 17 2014
The author and book designer had obvious good fun riffing off of IKEA's business, look and feel, and catalogue layouts. This supports the book's hook in introducing the fictional Orsk chain of stores as an avatar for the famous chain. Once you get past the packaging there really is no product. The haunted store plot is not original and the characters basic. Conflicts between the leads was especially forced. It is a great deal of style but weak on substance. I read it on Kindle but think the print version would make for an interesting coffee table book.

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop
Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 It was the best of times..., Oct. 8 2014
As I made my way through this dense and somewhat disjointed ode to pop, I imagined the most complex infographic. It would depict the overlap in pop sub genres and the "two degrees of separation" in the profession. You could turn it into a board game that tests your knowledge on the inter-relatedness of people in pop, such as, Neil Young playing on a Monkees' album or Rod Stewart being in a string of bands.

Cool factoids abound in the book including Sam Cooke impregnating three women by the age of 23, the Doors having had the first logo but the Stones' famous lips and tongue was designed by Andy Warhol, and John Lennon calling The Monkees the new Marx Brothers. These fun bits get mixed in with the author's opinion. The subtitle of the book makes sense because this is not a history as much as personal remembrance. Stanley makes subjective statements and observations that come across as fact (the most perplexing one, "If they'd had the looks the Turtles would be remembered as one of the best groups of decade").

What I took away was how important Monterey was as a turning point in pop. Hendrix, Joplin, the Who and Redding all vaulted ahead in their careers after the event. Stanley sees it as a dividing line in pop and rock, hard and soft. Meanwhile, "Woodstock was mimsy. Altamont was Hell."

I most enjoyed his coverage of the 1960's. The Kinks deserve their own history as the rawest and toughest group (apparently Pete Townsend wrote "I Can't Explain" as part tribute part parody to "You Really Got Me"). Paul Revere and Raiders were not embarrassed to put on Revolutionary outfits to make money. Jim Morrison embraced his questionable position as sage with ironic enjoyment. Vanilla Fudge was quite possibly "the most hilarious group of all time."

I will say this, when Stanley is inspired he writes beautifully. His passage on the Archies single Sugar, Sugar is an incredible dissection and homage to one of the "pop-iest" songs of all time. The author's conclusion is this AM radio staple is actually a clever prelude to sex. And I couldn't agree more on his assertion that John Lennon's Double Fantasy album "was a thin stew of icky philosophies mushed in a blender until they resemble pureed carrots and peas."

I recommend Yeah Yeah Yeah mostly to passionate aficionados. Though not a history, it is dense and meaty in a way that music nerds would love. Yet, if you are more of an appreciative layman than you could pick it up and choose specific chapters rather than taking the book on as whole. No matter what, read that bit on Sugar, Sugar.

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