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Commentaires écrits par
Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)

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The Trident Deception
The Trident Deception
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 13.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Race Against Time & Rogue Operation, April 16 2014
This is not my usual cup of tea. I am a fan of military fiction but prefer ground pounders like regular army or the special forces. The Trident Deception set up an amazing premise and plot involving a rogue group of Israeli intelligence experts that has prompted comparisons to Tom Clancy. These Mossad operatives hatch a tremendously ballsy and layered operation. Soon the USS Kentucky, a submarine with 192 nuclear warheads, receives a launch order. This sets off a well-paced, exciting race against time. The author weaves multiple plot lines with great competence, infuses just enough techno babble to be credible but loses a few points for length. Thankfully, I never felt too claustrophobic during the read.

The Martian: A Novel
The Martian: A Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 12.99

5.0 étoiles sur 5 "Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”, April 9 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Martian: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
Normally exploits in space and any reference to science and math would have me running the other way. In the case of The Martian I had to see what all the fuss was about and now admit that the fuss is well-placed. The book opens with an intriguing and terrifying premise, namely, being left behind. It reminded me a bit of the 1971 movie Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris. In this case the main character is incredibly inventive and capable, admirably optimistic and delightfully irreverent. Here are a few of Astronaut Mark Watney's comments:

“If ruining the only religious icon I have leaves me vulnerable to Martian vampires, I'll have to risk it.”

“As with most of life's problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the explanations and rationalizations involving food production, water consumption, thrust vectors and all of the other nerdy-ness invested throughout. If I have one tiny complaint it is when the action would leave Astronaut Mark Watney and cut to the characters back on earth. Though necessary for the plot I was more absorbed in Watney's plight. Overall, it is refreshing to read an outer space science fiction story without little green men, Wookies, Klingons and stomach gestating creatures. The action and suspense were thoroughly entertaining and the plot as ingenious as Watney's survival strategies.

The Troop
The Troop
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Prix : CDN$ 11.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 High Expectations, April 6 2014
Ce commentaire est de: The Troop (Kindle Edition)
It happens frequently...something gets overhyped and then cannot live up to expectations. That was the case for The Troop. There is a ton of buzz around this book which I did enjoy but I kept waiting for a better development with each turned page. As a Canuck, I found the Canadian content cool and appreciated the insertion of interviews, news reports and other devices throughout. The book moves with speed and the plot intrigues, it is reminiscent of Smith's The Ruins but tended to be bogged down with stereotypical characters and uneven dialogue. Regardless, I smell a movie deal.

Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II (Last Policeman Trilogy)
Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II (Last Policeman Trilogy)
Prix : CDN$ 8.74

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Still on the Job, April 2 2014
It has been 14 months since the end of the world was predicted, 7 months since it was confirmed, and now 77 days remain before a planet killing asteroid will hit earth. Detective Hank Palace may be out of work but he is still on the job. In the first book in this trilogy, he cracked a suicide case and now it is a missing person. With society sliding and services in shreds this no easy task. Winters has created such an intriguing backdrop that the pre-apocalypse setting steals attention away from the mystery.

This second in the series is more of a build or tease for the finale. Running throughout is a conspiracy theory that is actually unappealing, it is Palace's dedication and people's reaction to their fate that holds my attention. Consider this passage, “Respectfully, sir, the asteroid did not make you leave her. The asteroid is not making anyone do anything. It's just a big piece of rock floating through space. Anything anyone does remains their own decision.” Sign me up for the last instalment and the end of the world.

Bleeding Edge
Bleeding Edge
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Prix : CDN$ 15.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 "Same Old Satanic Pact", April 1 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Bleeding Edge (Kindle Edition)
Pynchon never fails to confound even polarize. You either adore his outings or profoundly struggle to understand his importance. Bleeding Edge is a vast, multi tentacled muddy meander that does not subscribe to normal plot structure. One reviewer stated it could be three hundred pages less or just go on. It is an aimless journey that should not be read by the anal. Instead it should be treated as a rambling dialogue that with frequency throws off cool, thought-provoking bits worthy of collection.

For me this included the comparison of the twin Buddhas destroyed in Afghanistan by The Taliban and the Twin Towers. Pynchon is 76 years old and he throws out consistently intriguing and accurate pop culture references from the dotcom era and 9/11. This is important for his command of the era and the hint at nostalgia for a largely pre-terrorism world. The man can write too as evidenced by these lines:

- “The past, hey no s***, it's an open invitation to wine abuse.”

- “Culture attracts the worst impulses of the moneyed, it has no honor, it begs to be suburbanized and corrupted.”

- “Nostalgia lurks, ready to ooze from ambush.”

Overall the plot struggles to sell us on a horrible conspiracy, “After the 11 September attack," March editorializes one morning, "amid all that chaos and confusion, a hole quietly opened up in American history, a vacuum of accountability, into which assets human and financial begin to vanish. Back in the days of hippie simplicity, people liked to blame 'the CIA' or 'a secret rogue operation.' But this is a new enemy, unnamable, locatable on no organization chart or budget line--who knows, maybe even the CIA's scared of them.”

Most readers and reviewers have focused on technology being the conspiracy. They assume Pynchon sees the bad in progress. I believe that the author has little faith in people themselves. In one powerful and bitter swipe he addresses civility and commercialism in one fell swoop, “Everybody out on the sidewalk is a pedestrian Mercedes, wallowing in entitlement—colliding, snarling, shoving ahead without even the hollow-to-begin-with local euphemism “Excuse me.” At another point he writes, “Same old Satanic pact, only more of it.” For me the pact or conflict relates to human behaviour and its failings.

Slate Magazine's podcast, The Audio Book Club, has a lively discussion covering this book. What was interesting was the three reviewers confusing simultaneous defence and attack of the work. I feel for them as I am divided as well thus the weak three star review. I can neither recommend or dissuade. There are incredible bon mots inside a struggle of a novel so it is up to you to decided if this is an attractive proposition.

The Red Moth (Inspector Pekkala 4)
The Red Moth (Inspector Pekkala 4)
Prix : CDN$ 8.91

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Long Live the Finn, March 31 2014
The fourth in this series has reinvigorated the franchise. Much of this is attributed to it being set in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa when German forces struck so rapidly and deeply into the Soviet Union. It is fair to say having the famous Amber Room at the core of the mystery did not hurt. Yet, it is the engaging Pekkala, the intriguing Finn who was once Tsar Nicholas II's personal detective and now serves Comrade Stalin who makes the book. Credit must also be given to his Soviet Watson, the earnest and capable, Kirov. This entry was more action thriller than mystery to set up the next instalment...which I intend to read right away.

The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (The Liberation Trilogy)
The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (The Liberation Trilogy)
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 18.89

5.0 étoiles sur 5 "War is Never Linear", March 27 2014
In 2007, I read Atkinson's An Army at Dawn. It prompted me to pen a little thanks on the book's microsite. The author responded promptly with a note that addressed my interest in how he would treat Canada's contribution in the promised second entry, The Day of Battle. Both books were excellent and cemented my admiration for his research and writing style. Atkinson effortlessly moves from macro political and military strategy to water-laden, foul trenches where soldiers endure war's realities. All three books in The Liberation Trilogy offer clarity in context, fresh insights, and rich imagery that bring history to life.

Reading this last entry required two forms of restraint. The first was not to rush through it and the second was not to use my highlighter on every page. World War Two always amazes given its size and scale. I learned that:

- 3,000 tons of maps were printed for D-Day. Eventually 210 million maps would be distributed in Europe to Allied forces
- 10,492 V-1 rockets were fired at Britain killing 6,000 and injuring 18,000
- mortar fragments caused 70% of U.S. infantry battle casualties in Normandy
- 15,000 French civilians died in bombardments in the months leading up to the invasion
- bodies of paratroopers were still being discovered fifty years after the end of hostilities

The stories of Ernie Pyle carrying 11 liquor bottles on shore with him on D-DAY and Hemingway buying 73 resistance fighters martinis at the Ritz in Paris added flavour.

Most histories of the European campaign focus on the prickly Montgomery. Atkinson does take on the Field Marshall including his mistake at Falaise and pompous claims of saving American forces from themselves. Yet, there is a more interesting theme running throughout concerning the frustrations in dealing with the French. A Brit diplomat had said that "De Gaulle's diet had long been the hand that fed him" while Churchill could think of no one or anything "more unpleasant and impossible."

The silly squabbles between French Commanders De Lattre and Leclerc are farcical and near self-defeating. The latter could not abide by the former's Vichy loyalty and personal grandiosity. Their American commander, Devers, likened the two Frenchmen to "problem children". The usually diplomatic George C. Marshall was forced to dress-down De Lattre in pale fury calling him a "politico". According to Eisenhower, next to the weather, the French was his biggest problem in the war.

Atkinson tells the tale of an American sergeant who challenges a group of French citizens shaving a collaborationist's head. He breaks it up, calls them hypocrites and accuses them all of aiding the Germans. Over 900,000 French citizens would be arrested for collusion and worse. Even De Gualle found the country and people difficult, "How can one be expected to govern a country that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?"

The book includes commonly known stories, such as, the murder of Canadian troops by the 12 SS Panzer, the close to thirty thousand deserters from Allied ranks, the Ardennes offensive intelligence failure along with fresh amazing side stories like the fate of the U.S.S. Corry, the sad fate of Rear Admiral Don Moon, the fighting prowess of Lucian Truscott Jr., the colourful Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, and the fussy Lieutenant General John C.H. Lee who "wore rank stars on both the front and back of his helmet".

The August invasion of Southern France finally gets its fair due especially the fight through France up to Germany. A U.S. counterintelligence officer said of this run that, "Sometimes the sheets on the hotel beds don't get changed between German and American occupation." Atkinson concludes, "war is never linear, but rather a chaotic, desultory enterprise of reversal and advance, blunder and élan, despair and elation." He captures this and more in The Guns at Last Light and the entire Liberation Trilogy. Thanks Rick!

Then We Take Berlin
Then We Take Berlin
Prix : CDN$ 10.11

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Berlin's Wilderness, March 23 2014
Ce commentaire est de: Then We Take Berlin (Kindle Edition)
Let me over simplify great fiction writing...the best weave plot and character. Obvious right? Well, not really. Often novels have a cool premise but cartoon characters carry out the plot or they have engaging, rich characters that are thrust into silly, implausible circumstances. Lawton's Then We Take Berlin does some fine weaving. In it we meet Joe Wilderness, a crafty London burglar with a healthy disdain for authority, as he is drafted into the RAF and then military intelligence. It is cool that Wilderness is just of recruiting of age and is drafted after WW2 has ended.

This premise and timeline is thoroughly entertaining. The bulk of the story takes place in post-war Berlin where Wilderness naturally gravitates to the bustling black market. This setting is more of a feint for broader intrigue. Lawton creates tension and uses the atmosphere and backdrop of a broken Germany as a character unto itself. Speaking of characters, Lawton has brought to life the polished Lieutenant Colonel Burne-Jones who sees the potential of Wilderness, an American officer n'er do well, a somewhat stereotypical Russian NKVD agent, and the more nuanced Berliner Nell who witnessed and experienced the depravity of The Third Reich's reign.

The novel is at the same time elegant, irreverent and witty. One of my favourite lines and images is, "The Volkssturm fighting off Russian tanks with cutlery and broom handles." I do hope that we hear more from Wilderness.

The Whore's Child: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries)
The Whore's Child: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries)
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Prix : CDN$ 12.99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 “What an absolute folly love was.", March 21 2014
I love Richard Russo's work and believe in the power of short stories. Russo's novels work because he writes a long game. Stephen King describes him as an American Dickens, he weaves characters and plot over lovingly protracted tales. The man needs a big canvass. This is not to say his short fiction work is poor. By any yardstick, these stories work though they tend to be cliche. Can one's writing be strong, yet stories weak?

The solid ones include “Buoyancy”, that features a retired academic who lives on eggshells since his wife’s nervous breakdown years. It had an interesting tension throughout. "The Whore's Child" tells the tale of Sister Ursula, a nun who narrates the story. The structure made this one interesting. "Monhegan Light" concerns one man confronting his dead wife's lover. It is surprisingly civil and overwhelmingly touching. "Joyride" resonated with me as I recounted a trip I took with my mother as a young man. I am confident you will find some value in the pages but recommend Russo's novels more than this collection.

On Target (A Gray Man Novel)
On Target (A Gray Man Novel)
Offered by Penguin Group USA
Prix : CDN$ 10.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Corny Comic Book, March 11 2014
Court Gentry is a Jason Bourne-like character known as "The Gray Man". The first book in this series was a fun romp. This second outing is an overly long snooze fest. The over 500 pages largely takes place in Darfur and The Sudan. This locale just did not engage me nor did the associated mission for this covert operative. What really changed between the two books was how corny the language had become, such as, "Time to kick a little Russian ass." Court, too, is watered down in an effort to be more human. The problem is we want our comic book one-dimensional cardboard super agents to remain super.

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