“Revival” by Stephen King

Revival

Revival

Stephen King has written over 50 novels, of which maybe I’ve read half, he is a consummate storyteller. This story builds slowly, starting as a contemporary drama type book that creates complex characters, looks at themes of religion and family, and builds up an interesting three-dimensional portrait of a small community. But as the novel moves along, it becomes darker and creepier, you know you can trust King to ratchet up the tension.

The story is set over a long time period stretching from the sixties to the 2010s. Our protagonist, Jamie begins the tale as a young boy meeting a new young pastor in his district the Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jacobs is obsessed with electrical experimentation and shows Jamie a model of Jesus seemingly magically walking on the water.

Kids … Electricity is one of God’s doorways to the infinite.”

After a horrifying motor accident, Jacobs delivers  a particularly terrible sermon and leaves town. Many years later Jamie is a rhythm guitarist in his mid thirties addicted to heroin, he runs into Jacobs at a county fair with a sideshow making “Portraits in Lightning”. Jacobs cures Jamie of his addiction using what he terms his “secret electricity”. But Jamie senses that “something happened“. Jamie is cynical and researches into what happened to those Pastor Jacobs cured of various conditions using his “secret electricity”. He finds some unsettling after effects and worries about what might be Pastor Jacobs ultimate goal.

King is also looking at the fear of aging, he himself is long past the double nickel of dread.

“The three great ages of the Great American Male -youth, middle age and you look fuckin’ terrific.”

“I think for most people, life’s deceptive deliriums begin to fall away after fifty. The days speed up, the aches multiply and your gait slows down…”

The book’s electrical undercurrent reminds me of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Stephen King’s earlier novel “The Tommyknockers”. Strangely, I picture in my mind the character of Rev Jacobs as the Doctor Who persona played by Matt Smith.

My rating 4 out of 5

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“Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels

These Canadian authors have a poetic way with words: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and now Anne Michaels…

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Fugitive Pieces

This is the story of Jakob Beer, a seven year old Jewish boy in the Polish town of Biskupin, the site of an ancient Iron Age fort. The Nazis have invaded Poland and Jakob’s parents have been killed, his precious sister, Bella, has disappeared and Jakob has survived only by hiding behind a wall. He is  smuggled out of Poland by a Greek archaeologist/geologist named Athos, who had been working on the site. Athos takes young Jakob to the Greek island of Zakynthos, where he remains hidden throughout the war.

Athos is a learned man and teaches Jakob in a mix of Greek and English. Athos’s library contains volumes of Linnaeus, Darwin and Mendeleev alongside Dante, Aeschylus and Solomos. After the war the pair emigrate to Toronto, where Jakob eventually becomes a poet. The story begins with him attempting to write his memoirs, not for our benefit but for his own. The fugitive pieces are fragments of his own memories pieced together with what he later learnt.

There are two rules for walking in Greece that Athos taught me as we climbed a hill and left Kyllini behind. Never follow a goat, you’ll end up at the edge of a cliff. Always follow a mule, you’ll arrive at a village by nightfall.

Over halfway through the book, the narration is taken up by Ben, whose parents survived the Holocaust but are deeply traumatised. When their house in Toronto is threatened with flooding and the neighbours bang on their door, they don’t answer. Ben is their third child but just named “Ben”, the Hebrew for “son”, not even Benjamin, fearing he maybe lost like his elder siblings. Ben is an academic who admires the poet Jakob and becomes obsessed with his story.

The writing is often stunning. There are so many beautiful and deeply profound passages of prose in this novel.  Sometimes these passages appear like isolated magical islands, somehow adrift from the main narrative.

My rating 4 out of 5

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There’s a Hebrew saying : Hold a book in your hand and you’re a pilgrim at the gates of  a new city.

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“Squall” by Sean Costello

This is a fast paced action thriller.

squall

Squall

Dale, an incompetent drug dealer with his junkie girlfriend botch a deal and head to a lakeside cabin to lay low. They are pursued by a couple of psychopathic Indian hitmen of the Sub-Continent variety. Things take a dramatic and darkly comic turn, when Tom Stokes, a family man looking forward to celebrating his birthday crash lands in the cabin, trapping a buck naked Dale in a bath tub. This could make a good action film but as a book it is a bit lightweight, there is little in the way of character development, for instance.

There are some bizarre moments, none more so than when Sanj breaks into Tom’s house to take Tom’s pregnant wife hostage, who promptly goes into labour. Our hard as nails Indian hitman, faints when after the baby is born the placenta emerges…

My rating 3 out of 5

 

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“The Discreet Hero” by Mario Vargas Llosa

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The Discreet Hero

In 2010 the Peruvian writer, Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Despite the laureates, this novel is quite  straightforward and even at times has elements of a telenovella. Our discreet hero is Felícito Yanaque, a man who wakes up one morning to find himself the target of extortionists. A note has been pinned to his door demanding protection money for his trucking business. In place of a signature is a hand-drawn spider. Though the sum demanded is relatively small and other businesses apparently pay extortionists, Yanaque won’t give in. His father rose from poverty to build up the business and advised his son: “Never let anybody walk all over you, son.”

Felícito’s story is twinned with  another discreet hero, with whom his life is destined to entwine in the final 100 pages. Don Rigoberto, a successful accountant, looking forward to his retirement, has made some powerful enemies of his own: after agreeing to witness his elderly boss’s marriage to his maid, he’s threatened by the man’s twin hoodlum sons. The twins are the classic privileged white youths who commit as many crimes as they want, shielded by wealth and social position. The twins were so anxious for their father to die, so they could inherit his wealth, they foolishly were talking about it earlier in their father’s hearing when he had had a heart attack from which he survived. If this weren’t bad enough, a mysterious stranger called Edilberto Torres has started shadowing Don Rigoberto’s adolescent son, Fonchito. There is more than a suggestion that Edilberto may be an incarnation of the devil, a touch of magic realism in an otherwise straightforward narrative.

The book is often funny; you turn the pages with relish; it offers up plenty to think about and admire; for most of its length it immerses you in the way you hope any novel will immerse you. “The Discreet Hero” is simultaneously exotic and familiar in the way that all great literature seems to be. Its ease is that of a master playing at his craft, using danger, fear, evil and empathy to carry the reader along.

English translation by Edith Grossman

My rating 5 out of 5

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“Valhalla Rising” by Clive Cussler

I didn’t think they made books like this anymore. It reminds me of the seventies adventure thrillers, I used to read by Alistair MacLean and others.

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla Rising

This is a Dirk Pitt novel. Dirk is a kind of invincible protagonist in the mould of James Bond or Indiana Jones. The novel is fast paced and combines a heroic character with cutting edge and even futuristic technology and some old transport gems like a 1938 Packard Town Car. We start with the Vikings making forays into the American heartlands in the 11th century only to be massacred by the natives, leaving just a few runes to allude to their presence. Then there is a luxury cruise liner sank by nefarious means, luckily Dirk’s team of NUMA research scientists are in the vicinity and manage to save thousands from a watery grave. Dirk goes on to have a dogfight in a 1929 Ford Trimotor against a vintage triplane (pictured on the cover), there is a lot of action throughout the book. Dirk’s continual victories against an evil mastermind intent on creating an American oil monopoly, require a little suspension of disbelief, but it is certainly a pageturner. The author himself makes a cameo appearance in a catamaran in the South Pacific, helping Dirk and Al recover the NUMA research vessel Deep Encounter from the bad guys who pirated it.

Pitt studied the old man. “We’ve met before.”

“Yes, I suspect we have….I’m Clive Cussler.”

There are some science fiction elements in the book, like a super slick oil, the novel magnetic water propulsion engines of the cruise ship, an appearance of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus and even a teleporter. (“Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne)

An absorbing read with a slightly implausible heroic lead.

My rating 4 out of 5

 

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“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School” by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Old School

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

This is the 10th book of the Wimpy Kid series and it seems to be getting a little jaded. Here we have Greg’s mum leading a drive against technology, again. She takes around a petition to try to persuade people to unplug there electronic gadgets for 48 hours. Greg isn’t happy about the whole situation as he is really not cut out for old school entertainment.  Grandpa comes to stay but his character isn’t developed much. Manny and Rodrick only have small roles in this outing, the Wimpy Kid is usually better when there is more interaction with his brothers. Greg and his much put upon sidekick, Rowley go into the lemonade making business but as with previous ventures it doesn’t become the cash cow Greg is hoping for. The last part of the book has Greg going to camp, but only to escape the anger of his dad, when he finds his car damaged by Greg’s mishaps. There are some funny moments but overall this seems more laboured than previous books.

My rating : 3 out of 5

 

 

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“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo

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The Bat

A Scandinavian crime thriller with a difference, this one is set far from the fjords in the “Lucky Country” of Australia. The Lucky Country didn’t prove too lucky for Inger Holter, a Norwegian girl on a gap year in Sydney, whose body is found on the Pacific coast. Harry Hole (pronounced “Holy” by the Aussies) is sent by the Norwegians to assist the New South Wales Police. This is the first of the Harry Hole series (there have been 11 to date). In Australia, Harry is a bit like a fish out of water, a maverick cop and recovering alcoholic, things start off quite well for Harry, he meets a lovely Swedish girl named Birgitta. But then  Harry falls off the wagon. Andrew Kensington, his new aboriginal buddy ends up dead and then things start spiralling out of control as Harry turns to his old pal Jim Beam for succour. The plot has several twists, as it turns out their murderer is a serial killer, but the pace is patchy, a lot of Dreamtime stories add to the local colour but don’t add much to the plot. The Bat of the title is a Dreamtime omen of death, a bat of the willow variety comes to play in a bar room brawl, giving one of the characters serious concussion. This is well written and well researched, the Australian backdrop has an authentic feel, but I prefer the more mature work later in the series like “The Leopard” .

My rating : 4 out of 5

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“Shoot the Moon” by Billie Letts

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Shoot the Moon

“Shoot the moon” is a term from dominoes, where a player tries to win all 7 tricks…a high risk strategy (shoot the moon in dominoes)

In California Mark Albright, has a successful and lucrative career as a vet in Beverly Hills, his world is shattered when he discovers at the age of almost thirty that he is adopted. He travels to DeClare, Oklahoma, hoping to discover his birth mother and finding out why he was put up for adoption. But his mother, Gaylene, isn’t around, she, an unwed teen was brutally murdered almost thirty years back and it was thought he had been killed too, though his body was never discovered. The residents of DeClare are shocked by his return and some like the sheriff are keen that he should head back to California.

His grandmother gives him Gaylene’s diary, excerpts are scattered through the book, these build a picture of who she was: a talented artist, a keen basketball player and part Cherokee. Mark, who was originally named Nicky, spends the book trying to find out  who his father is and who killed his mother.

There are many quirky small town characters, the drugged out DJ, the sheriff ashamed of his Downs Syndrome son, a black man, whose father was wrongly convicted of Nicky and Gaylene’s murder. There are also Nicky/Mark’s relatives, he has a particular attraction to his pregnant cousin.

The book has an easy conversational style and touches on themes like prejudice against the Native Americans. I enjoyed it.

My rating 5 out of 5

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“White Bones” by Graham Masterton

I knew Graham Masterton as a horror writer, I read a few of his books back in the eighties, when I was more interested in the horror genre. Now, I see he has moved into the crime field but he still has the horror writer’s touch for the grisly details.

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White Bones

White Bones” is set in the South West of Ireland around the city of Cork. Katie Maguire is a detective superintendent with the Garda. When the bodies of 11 women are uncovered on a farm, DS Katie Maguire is determined to discover what happened and get justice for the victims. The forensic labs reveal the bodies date back to the early 20th century, so the killer is likely to be dead, too. Katie is reluctantly taken off the case but then a fresh victim is claimed. The murders have a ritualistic connection, someone is trying to summon the spirit of Mor-Rioghain, or Morgana the Fay, King Arthur’s evil half sister; it is said whoever brings her back to life, will be granted whatever he or she wishes. This is not a fantasy novel but a solid police procedural crime novel with some particularly grisly murders, the victims having been skinned alive. There is a lot of action and Katie risks her own life trying to solve the murders. The book builds to a thrilling finale.

My rating 5 out of 5

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