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Commentaires écrits par
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)

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The Darkest Hour: A Novel
The Darkest Hour: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Hitler's Britain, Dec 13 2014
Ever since Harris' Fatherland I have enjoyed fiction that explores alternative history. In The Darkest Hour we are treated to a world where Hitler conquered Britain. Sympathizers, Royalists, survivors, the SS, and Jews...make up the cast of characters. It is set in 1945. America has not engaged and the Nazis still battle the Soviets.

We are introduced to Rossett. A British soldier and war hero now working for the occupying forces as a policeman. His sad duties are to round up Jews and fools himself into believing stories of relocation. The plot is simple so will not be shared for fear of spoilers. All of this set up a great premise. Unfortunately the book fell down with repetitious chases, trite moral lectures, and way too much of 'he then did this', 'he told her that' and 'he went down the hall'. It was dense writing but not descriptive so failed to create atmosphere or intrigue.

Gray Mountain: A Novel
Gray Mountain: A Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Gray Definition "Dull; without interest", Dec 12 2014
The actual definition of the word "gray" is a succinct description of Grisham's latest. Gray is said to be "dull and nondescript; without interest or character." That is how I felt about this book. It felt very unGrisham. Of course, it involves the legal profession and a cause. In the past, he has addressed mass torts, children's rights, courtroom manipulation, and corruption. Gray Mountain revolves around the myriad of environmental and health effects resulting from coal mining.

What he gets right is how utterly boring the profession of law can be. This thriller had no thrills. It was dreadfully procedural and any sparks seemed forced and manufactured. The biggest issue resides in the weak characters. They were incredibly uninteresting or should I say "dull and nondescript"? I forced myself through the book and left it at intervals. Upon each return I had to remind myself of who was who because they were not worth investing in. At the end I concluded the book was not worth the investment either. There was no passion for the law or the cause in this outing which is the distinguishing characteristic of Grisham's novels.

Blue Labyrinth (Pendergast series)
Blue Labyrinth (Pendergast series)
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 12.99

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Tired Franchise, Dec 4 2014
Amazing to think this is number 14 in the series. I have read all, as well as, each individual effort from this writing team. Sadly, this latest effort signals that FBI Agent Pendergast and ensemble cast are running out of steam. There have been a couple of dips along the way which is no surprise. Preston and Child have had to reset the overall narrative a couple of times but have always bounced back.

Blue Labyrinth was neither a reset or strong entry, it was a melange of all that had come before. So, in short, the series has become repetitious and tired. I am shocked to say that for the first time, I would have been okay if Aloysious perished (and not fake perished to return again). Conan Doyle grew tired of Holmes and knew when to hang it up. Given Preston and Child have borrowed liberally and creatively from his works, one hopes that they take that lead as well.

Forever: A Novel
Forever: A Novel
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 To Truly Live, Dec 4 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Forever: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
This was my second read of Forever. As with any novel of worth, one hopes to get more out it in the next go-around. I did. My first read was akin to wolfing down a lobster roll at P.J. Clarke's. This second trip was savoured like a wedge salad and thick cut steak at Delmonico's (if Pete Hamill gave a rat's bum about customer reviews and happened to be reading this one...he would roll his eyes and throw back a whiskey in disgust).

This is a time travel novel without time travel. It follows a young lad seeking justice and revenge from Ireland to the isle of Manhattan. In this journey he is blessed or cursed with a much longer trek. Cormac can live forever as long as he does not leave the island (read it to find how this comes about).

This allows us to live over 250 years along with him. Together we fight in the Revolutionary War, smell the awful fragrance of a growing metropolis without proper sanitary conditions, learn of the gangs of Five Points, break bread with Boss Tweed, witness the draft riots, and watch skyscrapers climb ever higher until two are brought down to earth. I thought the Triangle Factory Fire, the 60's riots and the decay that hit the city in the 70's should have been in the narrative but Hamill had much ground to cover.

Within this magical history are the warts and beauty marks that make up the contradiction that is New York. On every page, readers will feel Hamill's love of the city and recognize his fascination with its evolution. The plot puzzles over the city's diversity and fragile community. As I write this review, the news is full of reports of the choke hold death of Eric Garner by NYC policeman Daniel Pantaleo. This story is all too familiar in the real history of New York and could easily have found its way in to Forever.

The book is a delight though not without many flaws much like the city itself. Having traveled to Manhattan every second week for close to eleven years, I know personally that those flaws are excusable. In Forever, Hamill writes, “The boy admonished himself for wanting everything to be a story. And now realized that some journeys were not stories. On some journeys, nothing really happened. You just kept taking steps.” These are wonderful steps to read.

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

6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Faith, Fate & Death, Nov. 18 2014
Ce commentaire est de: 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$ 1.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Rooting for the Captain, Nov. 10 2014
Ce commentaire est de: 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$ 10.56

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

2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 72 Ounce Steak, Nov. 4 2014
Ce commentaire est de: 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
Ce commentaire est de: 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.

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