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Reviews Written by
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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America America: A Novel
America America: A Novel
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Rendered Story of Tragedy, Courage and Devotion, April 11 2016
I heard about Canin recently while listening to a NPR program, and decided to take a closer look at his novels. What I discovered, in reading "America, America", is an author who knows how to write with style and grace while relating a compelling story. There are plenty of takeaways for us in this elongated and twisty tale of youthful idealism, adult undoing, and elderly realism. Each in succession forms the cycle of life that Canin brings to bear on the life of young Corey as he becomes unintentionally drawn into the vortex of political life that threatens to destroy all that America has stood for until now. It is the late 1960s and the political establishment in Washington, DC, are sending its boys off to war and Watergate is about to blow up. Suddenly, Corey becomes privy to what really troubles his parents' generation: what was once certain with the wielding of power and influence has now become the desperate search for ways to hold on to and perpetuate it for generations to come. Corey, the mere 'yardboy' in the wealthy, though vulnerable, Metary family empire, might become that male heir-apparent to keep the dream alive. Fortunately, for him, he will have the chance of a lifetime to break out of this narrow world where business and politics connive to hold on to power. He will get to see the dark and dirty side of the Nixon Years while furthering his education at a fine New England prep school, compliments of the Metarys. Being the honorable person that he is, Corey will faithfully act as a part time driver for their candidate for president, the influentially corrupt Senator Bonwiler, ever alert that something is not quite right about the arrangement and the system it represents. It will take time for the house of cards to collapse and the awful truth to leak out that the Metarys are backing a murderous crook who only wants to use them to gain the White House. Looking for that moment when it all makes sense doesn't come easy in this cautionary story. Only later in life when Corey begins to disentangle himself from this incredible mess, will he be able to step back and see with the help of other victims where the pieces fit. Redemption and a mountain of glorious wisdom await the reader who makes it through the sordid and tragic times. I have never seen such an effective ending to a novel as with this one. Corey and Clara, the eldest daughter of the ruined Metarys, have now become parents of a new generation of offspring, devoted to finally getting it right.

Concussion
Concussion
by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.20
30 used & new from CDN$ 8.91

5.0 out of 5 stars A Stinging Indictment of a Violent Sport, April 4 2016
This review is from: Concussion (Paperback)
As one who has grown up passionate about gridiron football, I have recently forced myself to take a second look at what it may likely be doing to those who suit up on a weekly basis in the interests of head-to-head competitive sport. Bennet Omalu's remarkable account of how he discovered CTE (Chronic Traumatic Endocepholophy) while practicing as a young Nigerian neuropathologist in the US back in the nineties is only part of a bigger effort to address this tragic condition that is destroying the lives of more and more players during and after retirement. The author delves into a sport's culture that refuses to acknowledge that it has created playing conditions that are extremely unsafe for any age, especially in the area of the neck and head. Repeated concussions or blows to the head, even when protected by proper headgear, has been shown to cause serious destruction of brain cells that mirror the ravages of Alzheimers. Gaining access to the brains of football players who succumbed to this condition, such as the legendary Mike Webster of the Steelers, allowed our hero to examine tissue, compare samples, and cross-reference results to validate his belief that CTE is very real. As a scientist, Omalu encountered all kinds of opposition from the NFL, the FBI and fellow examiners who refused to concede that perhaps a black man from the interior of Africa had succeeded in exposing professional sports as corrupt, greedy and uncaring when it came to protecting the interests of its employees. The reader is left with the thought that perhaps American football, unless it is willing to back off its macho image and significantly modify the game, is a doomed sport. Building a better helmet to withstand concussions won't work because it doesn't begin to address the fact that there is nothing available to prevent cerebral tissue from tearing when the head swivels upon impact. I recommend this book and movie to anyone who wants to see how dark and dirty politics often stand in the way of science trying to make a positive difference in individual lives.

Nothing to be Frightened Of
Nothing to be Frightened Of
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.23
14 used & new from CDN$ 3.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Accept the Inevitable, April 2 2016
There are a number of things that commend this book as a good investment of one's reading time. Typical of anything Barnes has written, this expository essay/memoir does not mince words when it comes to talking about one of the more delicate subjects known to humanity: death. What the reader gets here is Barnes' life story about how he has learned to handle his mortality in a way that acknowledges death's awesome power while expressing a sense of inner peace. Barnes' story is one in which he takes a close look at the lives of others, first in his immediate circle - family - and then in the realm of modern times - writers and philosophers - to get a handle on what it means to grow old and die. As an agnostic, Barnes would have his reader know that he approaches any discussion on death with no preconceived notion that it is anything but the final phase of life with no promise of what transpires afterwards. As a Christian, I strongly disagree with Barnes' belief that death is the unceremonious end to humanity, but that does not alter my respect for his literary ability to clearly convey the notion that it can only be understood by accepting it in life. To that end, Barnes' has filled this little study chock-full with personal moments in which he became aware of other people's struggles with dying. All the anguish of soul and fear of diminishing capacity will not alter the fact that death comes to us all, regardless of how we might envisage it. It is good to reflect and take stock, as evident in this book but, in the end, Barnes believes that death comes to us all with few favors even for the virtuous. I found this work to be especially useful for the way Barnes methodically builds his argument to show how natural yet futile it is to comprehend death. He draws on a wide range of attitudes, including those of his aging parents, to point out that, ironically, a lot of life is consumed by dwelling on death. He also offers some interesting insights into the respective lives of Daudet, Flaubert, and Renard, all part of his passion for French literature. When I read Barnes, I know I will come away with lots to think about that is well-written and instructive.

Thank You For Your Service
Thank You For Your Service
by David Finkel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.43
26 used & new from CDN$ 3.07

5.0 out of 5 stars The Betrayal of the Common Soldier, March 29 2016
Much of what FInkel has to say on the subject of war-induced PTSD is a stark reminder that humans are better equipped to kill, maim, and destroy than heal and restore. Our growing proclivity for the former, in times of war, makes the process of returning home for the walking wounded a perilous journey at best. Finkel does a credible job in both describing the horrors of war as they directly impact individual soldiers in the field and the anguish and pain that continues long after they have made it home to family and friends. This book represents an anecdotal account of several vets' families in Kansas as they come to grips with the return of their warrior heroes. Those who make it back from a failed mission in Afghanistan often have to contend with deep-seated emotional scarring as well as devastating war injuries. While the Veterans Administration is prepared to help people get back to normal, assistance is often too little, too late, as reflected in rising suicide statistics. Nothing seems to be readily available to address the lingering issue of post traumatic stress disorder, resulting from combat conditions. The reader gets to follow and feel the pain of the Schumans as they try to put the pieces back together in their marriage plagued by a chronic shortage of real medical help and money. Increased family discord and marital breakdown, with these homecomings, are definitely the collateral damage that comes from a system that just doesn't know how to care for its own in need. While there are glimmers of hope within the American military, as to providing timely care, too often the real concerns of mental stress and imbalance are poorly diagnosed in a concerted effort to keep costs down. Instead of welcoming home the Adams of this world as true decorated warriors, the military has them quietly shipped back as embarrassing casualties of a war that Obama wants to forget and told to live out a marginalized existence.

Rightwell Energy-Saving WiFi Plug Wireless Smart Socket Switch US Plug,Intelligent Switch Remote Control Home IT Smart Wifi Socket Turn on/ off Electronics from Anywhere with Timing Function(White)
Rightwell Energy-Saving WiFi Plug Wireless Smart Socket Switch US Plug,Intelligent Switch Remote Control Home IT Smart Wifi Socket Turn on/ off Electronics from Anywhere with Timing Function(White)
Offered by Universe Store CA
Price: CDN$ 34.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Handy for Operating Within the Home or Business, March 28 2016
There are devices that are meant to make one's life easier by cutting back on unnecessary movement, and this wireless smart plugin is one of them. Set up in your house or apartment, it can allow you to switch on or off appliances, devices, and lights without having to interrupt an important task upstairs, downstairs or on the same level. While it took just a little extra effort to get it hooked up to our Android, it works like a charm. If you have any problems, refer to an excellent tutorial on YouTube. There is one small problem in that if you want to perform multiple operations, you'll need more than one plugin. Make sure it is programmed to local time.

Yong8 Ocean Wave Projector Color Changing Led Night Light Lamp/Realistic Aurora Borealis Projector (white)
Yong8 Ocean Wave Projector Color Changing Led Night Light Lamp/Realistic Aurora Borealis Projector (white)
Offered by ze2015
Price: CDN$ 36.88
2 used & new from CDN$ 30.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Astral Wonders in the Bedroom, March 28 2016
I bought this special effects projector for when our young grandkids visit, and I am absolutely pleased with its many operating features. As one who has seen a number of Northern Lights displays in my lifetime, this machine does a credible job mirroring the phenomenom for home viewing. The regulating buttons allow the user to adjust speed and direction to create different shimmering color effects. What I like the most is the built-in sound system that allows me to attach my MP3 player or Internet radio to play special music needed to ease young kids into Dreamland.

How Should We Live?: A Practical Approach to Everyday Morality
How Should We Live?: A Practical Approach to Everyday Morality
by John Kekes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 51.64
27 used & new from CDN$ 38.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutes Based on High Principles of Logic Aren't Realistic, March 22 2016
I took this book to read on a recent trip to Bermuda. While there, I treated myself to one of the strongest arguments against those who would simplify life by promoting simplistic ideals as the gold standard for achieving at the highest levels possible. Kekes takes dead aim at the Kantian dogma that there is ultimately an overriding ideal that trumps all arguments and conflicts. In this very well written treatise on how we should live, given the fact that most if not all of us of endure periods of doubt and uncertainty, Kekes examines the lives of six hypothetical people as they try to decide what is best for their futures. They are all faced with huge dilemmas that need an answer in order for them to move forward and prosper. By attacking the philosophical belief that doubt can only be settled by submitting to the so-called principle of overriding truth, Kekes shows that modern thinkers like Frankfurt, Taylor, and Williams are mistaken in how they attempt to reduce life to a process of self-reflection based on best evidence available, leading to best outcomes. For the author, our daily existence is not so simply understood. We are intricate beings with complex narratives or genealogies that reflect continual adjustments or adaptations to present challenges. Many of us live a practical lifestyle that is based on what works on a daily basis and allows us to enjoy a decent existence even though things aren't perfect. As Kekes points out, society evolves as a social organism that is governed by the way people learn to live on a daily plane rather than reach for the stars in search of the untenable philosophical principle that amounts to perfection. Logic cannot answer to what needs to be recognized in this whole discussion: we all lead individual lives that need to be reconciled to each other that hopefully leads to the greater happiness of all. In this earthly realm, trying to impose a high principle based on the wrongheaded wish for logical clarity, only results in making a mockery of the freedom we have to figure things out for ourselves with help from numerous sources. If my life is anything to go by, significant change has only come by making both big and little tweaks here and there over time.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Naive Trust in Shakey Alliances and False Hopes, March 15 2016
Clark does a very capable job in setting the record as to what really led to the outbreak of World War I. In the course of this very detailed study of the years leading up to this very incredible conflict involving world powers, the author does not single out any one particular country as being mainly responsible for triggering it. Unlike A. J. P. Taylor or Barbara Tuchman's respective theses that promote the notion that either collective or singular belligerency was the root cause, Clark looks at a wider picture of a Europe lulled into thinking that alliances, strategies, and diplomacy would be enough to counteract regional tensions. What became apparent by July 1914 was that none of the European powers really understood each other's relative positions. For example, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in its grief over the assassination of the Archduke and his wife, never really appreciated the strength of Serbian nationalistic desire to conquer the Balkans. Both sides became so preoccupied in relying on being vindicated that they resorted to old military alliances that widened rather contained any possible conflict. What nations like France and England failed to realize during this period was that they were part of an interconnected system of treaties that ultimately could not prevent war because it promoted the fallacy that victory could easily be achieved by forging grand alliances. What Germany, Austria, France, Britain, and Serbia did not realize was how poorly prepared they were to fight and win a protracted war on foreign territory, while depending on support from allies who themselves were woefully unprepared for such a deadly venture. Even the mighty German Empire was nothing but a deeply divided state groping around for the best way to help its ally, the Austrians, get justice, keep France and England at bay, while containing any war to a short duration. The most graphic and memorable part of the book has to be Clark's retelling of the assassination in Sarajevo. Talk about sleepwalking or not understanding the political terrain: the heir to the Austrian throne blissfully visiting an ultra-nationalist stronghold in Bosnia-Serbia with the minimum of protection. Read on and you will find many more such events where all parties to the eventual war just seemed unable to grasp the enormity of events as rolled together in a calamitous march to disaster.

Red Gold: A Novel (Night Soldiers)
Red Gold: A Novel (Night Soldiers)
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Intrigue of War at Its Best, March 9 2016
I am one of those Furst readers who keep coming back for another dose of adventure in the dark, shadowy alleyways of World War II. When it comes to capturing a real sense of danger and tension, Furst is without equal. This particular novel takes the reader, once again, into the life and times of Jean Casson, a down-on-his-luck filmmaker, who has been talked into helping France turn the tide against the Nazi occupiers in 1941. The assignment will not be easy. It will demand people who are patriotic, loyal, resolute, and charming. It will involve both the running of guns to the French Underground and the sabotaging of German supply lines. If that wasn't dangerous enough, there are deep personality differences and treachery threatening to derail the mission. You see, the Resistance is not a unified body, ready to take orders from De Gaulle in London. For one thing, the Communists march to Moscow orders and they really don't care how many Frenchmen die as long as Hitler is ultimately defeated.Then there are the Socialists who don't like the Gaullists or the Communists. All told, it is the many intrigues surrounding these internal conflicts that has Casson, the frustrated spy hopping from pillar to post to stay out of danger. Furst takes his hero to the brink a number of times in the story; on each occasion money arrives, fortunes change, or a timely cable appears. Don't read this book if you are looking for one big defining moment in the plot where justice is done and heroes are rewarded for their gallantry. Rather, this is a book that will take you into the teeth of the storm without getting blown away with a litany of unlikely events. Furst definitely wants his reader to regard this tale, like the others, as accurately reflecting the mood of the times: dangerous, potentially deadly, but never predictable.

Stalin's Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess
Stalin's Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess
by Andrew Lownie
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.79
17 used & new from CDN$ 18.37

5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling Charm, March 8 2016
Talk about being a natural charmer in a world that was fast growing dull from its lack of charm. No wonder dozens of influential toffs of the day, in high circles, took a shine to Guy Burgess, just another Cambridge undergraduate of the latter interwar years. As Lownie points out in this book, Burgess was no ordinary figure for the times: he was a combination of everything fantastic, repulsive and curious. Call him a superb polymath, with some polyglot abilities, because there was hardly a subject he would not wax eloquent on in some other language. Looking for an entertaining gadabout to hang out at a party and Burgess might be your man. Seeking a unique cultural impression and expression and you might want to have attended his theatrical performances. In all this, there were only three flaws in the man's character that ever threatened to break this incredible spell: vanity, homosexuality, and alcoholism. As long as these weaknesses were kept in check, Burgess was able to very effectively conduct a secret life that basically allowed him relatively unfettered access, as a mid-level Foreign Office official, to top British intelligence for the purpose of passing it on to the Soviets. This was the era in which there was a race on to who would develop a nuclear bomb first. While the events of this story are well known, Lownie introduces us to a part that deals with how Burgess successfully maintained his cover for so long against incredible odds. This story is full of the many sexual liaisons Burgess maintained on his way up the ladder in the organization. He definitely had protection from some very powerful people who were going to bed with him on a regular basis. The fact that he was always sympathetic to the Marxist cause meant that he took an avid interest in seeking out fellow students of aristocratic or bourgeois backgrounds who were ready to try something new. Within this sordid lifestyle, full of wild parties and bizarre assignations, Burgess led the way in forming a large group of bureaucrats who freely indulged in super espionage of the most treacherous nature. What the historical record shows in the severity of what Burgess, McLean, Philby, and Blunt did to damage the American nuclear program in the fifties is only outdone by the way the British government attempted to play it down. One, Burgess and his cohorts were always suspected of being deeply complicit in spying for the Soviets but were never brought to heel because of inside interference; two, when Burgess and Maclean, and later Philby flew the coop, MI5 conducted a very half-hearted search for their whereabouts and, when they finally surfaced in Moscow, refused to rule out the possibility that they could be repatriated without penalty. As was proven, life for Burgess in Moscow turned out to be too pedestrian for an individual with such riotous tastes. Lownie even suggests that perhaps the Russians were not all that keen on having these three turn to them for refuge. The glamorous lifestyle of being a spy, while never morphing into a guilt of being an outright traitor, never became the opportunity for adulation that Burgess always craved for. He lived his last years as a pathetic drunk, an unrequited homosexual, and far from home and loved ones.

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