Monday, January 25, 2016

A romping pantomime showcasing people's obsessions with secrets and confessions.

SurvivorSurvivor by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Pacy, inventive, often funny, dark, disturbing and plain weird! Welcome to the mind of Chuck Palancuick"

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Are you reading this?

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Is this thing on?

Testing, testing, one, two, three

Yes Chuck, I get that you like writing a lot of that literacy term called, drama of sensibility. Maybe it's time to look at using something different.

Survivor makes Fight Club look like a mild experience when leading towards the angst spewing forth from the authors mind. Pessimistic is the word I'd use. Half glass full sort-of-guy? No, more like empty glass sort-of-guy.

So, say hello to Tender Branson, our narrator and crazy-guy ex-cultist and now a handy man/chef, who is (soon to be) the last survivor of a religious suicide cult. The opening starts with Tender narrating how he hijacked a Boeing 747 and then leads on to how he found himself in that situation. Why's he hijacked a plane? He wants to go out in a blaze of glory (que Bon Jovi, thanks). While yapping into the recording blackbox, he tells the reader about his experience within the Creedish Cult, which is overlapped with narrative from his life outside the cult - that working for a rich-to-do couple and his past-time hobby - picking up the phone and giving those in need advice... to kill themselves. Life is dull, the world isn't kind, so why bother? Here's the empty glass sort-of-guy metaphor. Even when stardom hits, he is still the death-wishing, dull, pessimistic persona that begins to grate in the prose later. I did enjoy how Tender's stream of consciousness unravelled throughout the narrative. What I didn't, was how depressing the read was. I was feeling like I needed to shower after reading or grabbing something alcoholic to sedate myself. I was soaked in irony.

The writing style is just lax, informal, yes, lax to the point of being sketchy. At times I was having difficulty piecing together what was being said, especially between Tender and Fertility (great name). Their dialogue, at times, made absolutely no sense at time. It was in affect wordplay, that is all. Overlapping themes are placed to both confuse and entice the reader to piece together what the hell is going on. Very clever. We've got themes of religion, fame, pornography, sex, philosophy of life, drug abuse, how to eat and lobster and how to keep to your daily planner. Brilliant.

There are some strong comparison to Fight Club the social dissolution one man has against society, yes. Homemade recipes and self tips on how to remove stains too how to make bombs and chemical weapons, yes. One man's narrative with so many twists and turns, involving ambiguous characters and towards the end, leading to death, yes. Why change it if it isn't broken? Well, it's just lazy writing to rehash something over and over again. Take note. Good read, just a little on the 'read it, skip it' sort-of-thing.

We're all living within this fake plastic hotbed of social dissatisfaction - celebrities rule and we feed them.

Welcome to planet Earth.

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A man might be thought wealthy if someone were to draw the story of his deeds, that they may be remembered. Not so in this case.

Swords of Good Men (The Valhalla Saga, #1)Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Swords of good men who are rather, dull!"

About a decade ago, there was a film released called The 13th Warrior which also, like this book, had a Viking/Fantasy theme. Based upon the writings of a real Caliph of Baghdad, Ahmad ib Fadlan - it was rather enjoyable. The tales of Beowulf weaved in, with the bowels of Hel being unleashed upon a small village in a relocation. Besieged on all sides to a unrelenting foe, it takes one man (a foreigner) to stem the tide. If you've read Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, then your know the jeist of the film. Herein lies the problem with Snorri Kristjansson's Swords Of Good Men, it's almost a exact replica, with name and location changes to the previously mentioned book and film. As you might have gathered, the novel is essentially a non-historically/fantasy themed book. I'm not sure the places mentioned in Snorri's novel actually existed - I'm only guessing, but I don't recognise any of the locations by name.

Essentially the first 200 pages are really about setting the tone, for what I felt, was a fairly solid read. There isn't much going on, other than the author attempting to flesh out his characters (of which there are MANY). The main character here is Ulfir, a 'nobel' Swede, sent with his cousin Gerri (by the King of the Swedes) to familiarize himself with the Viking-way. During his time, Ulfir gets bogged down in a lustful romance and politicking within the town of Stenvik. While Ulfir is having his fun, religion is changing, there is the White Christ as well as the old ways (Thor, Freya, Odin, Valhalla, etc) battling for provenance over Norway. King Olav is attempting to bring the North of the country under his banner and belief of Christianity. While in the South, the old ways hold sway. So there is disagreement amongst the populace, surprise!

I'm rather telling a 'story' here, but to cut out the guff, the town of Sternik finds itself besieged by true Vikings. With Ulfir locked in, along with the Chieftain Sven, Harold, a rather brutish chap and pig-farmers to boot, things get interesting - to a extent. The real problem with the novel is that for 340 pages, it really gets bogged down with too much talking and not enough doing! I'm interested to see, from the authors point of view, how a town during this time would interact with each other, but not for 220 pages. There's no action, there's no broads, there's no booze! This is a book about Vikings right? Hmm.

Here is a small list of main/middle characters; Ulfir, Gerri, Sven, Harald, Sigurd, Egil, Audun (who is rather a awesome persona!), Skargrim, Thora, Valgard, pig-farmers, Lilla, Sigmar, Thorvald, Prince Jorn, King Olav, Runir, Harvar, The Twenty, Ragnar, Oraekja, Finn. There is more, I've just grown tired of listing them. It's was a real chore for me, to cut through the characters - at times I felt the narrative wasn't descriptive at all. Just literally putting a name down on the page doesn't work, you need to really flesh out a persona for the reader to 'imagine' - well in my opinion anyway. I moaned to someone that the characters seemed 'dead' and there was no real likeable one - well other than Audun towards the end, but I won't spoil that.

The authors prose style is solid, no flares of brilliance sadly. For example, when the first attack on Stenvik takes place. Sven's rousing speech is rather amusing, it's meant to inspire seasoned warriors:

"We will strike fear into them, we are the nightmares that frighten children..."

Children? The protaganist (in this novel) isn't a anti-hero, he is meant to be a likeable rogue not the opposite. So why say something that doesn't fit the persona you are trying to build. For me it just didn't ring true. There were other lines that didn't sit right with me also. I should go back through the book and highlight them, but I just don't have the time, sorry about that.

The mystical element to the book comes from Slude, a sort of wisp/witch/not sure-thing. She can command men by touch and sense alone, no not jumping in bed for a bit of rumpy-pumpy (what even is that?). I really felt this element to the book didn't need to be there. I feel fairly strongly that the story itself would have held up better without this. It kind of rubbished, for me, all those mighty warriors at her command. Mind you, they say Agamemnon had the mightiest host of warriors ever, and it didn't work out to well for him. Given that, he didn't have some harpy with magical powers!

If I was sitting with the author right now, I'd say cut out the mystical element and come out with something more befitting the theme and tone of the era. Make sure your characteristics of your main character fits with the personality. I admire anyone who can piece together a novel, but for me, this was a fairly bad read and haphazard at best.

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The Life and Times of Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt KidThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bryson played my funnybones like a xylophone!

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up in the '50s. It's the sort of coming of age tale that educates along the way. God, I love this stuff!

It very much reminded me of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". Here on Goodreads, amongst all you worthy readers, I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read the short stories by Jean Shepherd that the movie is based upon. But if they're anything like the movie then they're filled with remembrances of how things once were, which is the path Bryson takes. It's a nostalgic road at times. At others, it is sarcastic. Almost always it is humorous and engaging.

Bryson has a way with words and a talent for feeding you history without making you gag. He also has my kind of sense of humor, so together these things are bound to deliver at least a very enjoyable read. However, this Thunder Bolt rockets into the stratosphere with HYPERBOLE!!! You read that right, Bryson often, intentionally writes over-the-top when describing outcomes and consequences of his many childhood tales. "Little Johnny's" chemistry set doesn't just blow up, it lifts the roof off the house. This is how a kid would tell the tale and it sets the perfect tone, creating a book that really draws you into those heady kid days where summer vacations lasted years, simple joys or disappointments were end-game emotions, and anything seemed possible.

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