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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story
Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story
by Robyn Doolittle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
49 used & new from CDN$ 1.48

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dirt on the Fords, March 23 2014
Talk about turning things upside down in a jiffy. It is 2010 and Torontonians are preparing to elect a new mayor. One moment it looked like four more years of the same staid, middle-of-the-road soft civic leadership from the centre Left, and then it all changed. Councillor Rob Ford from Etobicoke threw his hat in the ring, and life in Canada’s largest city has never been the same. Doolittle has written a candid crackerjack of a book covering a large part of Ford and the family name from the mid-20th century on what helps to explain why a loud-mouth, obnoxious, bombastic individual like Rob Ford can find himself in a place of political prominence in a city known to despise conservative politicians. While her account reads like a cautionary and sensational tale with a wicked twist, it is much better than that. Doolittle actually wants her readers to understand that Ford is as much a creation of the culture he and his brothers grew up in the eighties and nineties as he is a terribly flawed individual. The fact that Ford and his clan have manipulated the counter-culture media into seeing him as a tough, no-nonsense populist of a politician speaks volumes about his abilities as a modern plutocrat. With the libertarian crowd behind him, Ford can basically be anything, say anything, and do anything he wants because he’s the boss, including his regular use of profanity, slandering his opponents, doing drugs, drinking in public, and hanging out with the criminal element. When faced with the evidence that he is committing reprehensible actions, he and the rest of the Fords go into denial mode. Through controversial year after year in public office, both as a councilor and mayor, Ford continues to hold his popularity which has Doolittle musing what next. As an investigative reporter, she has definitely earned the right to be regarded as an authority on all things Ford.

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
by Jack El-Hai
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.00
23 used & new from CDN$ 6.33

5.0 out of 5 stars The Many Faces of Evil, March 17 2014
I found this book to offer a very powerful statement on how deep-seated evil can often be shown to contain everyday normal behaviour. It was 1945, and the International War Crimes Commission needed a reputable psychiatrist to tend to the mental needs of at least thirty top-ranking German prisoners as they prepared to stand trial for their lives. This assignment fell to Douglas Kelley, an upcoming clinical psychiatrist from California, a recognized expert in the use of the Rorschach ink-blot method for detecting psychotic behaviour as it applies to criminal activity. Over a period of months, Kelley got to know the Nazi henchmen in a personal way that allowed him to form a very unique professional and personal opinion about the atrocities they committed on behalf of the Third Reich. According to Kelley's detailed observations,the main caste of rogues was divided into three groups: leaders, enablers, and the insane, with Reich Marshall Herman Goering clearly falling into the first category. Based on papers that were later declassified, the author covers a lot of what Kelley and this Nazi heavy-weight discussed in various interviews leading up to the Nuremberg trials. Everything is on the table as to how Goering saw himself as one of the masterminds of Nazi policies, his persona as a family man, his achievements as a war hero, his drug addiction, his narcissistic tendencies, his sexual proclivities, and his interpersonal relationships with other Nazi figures. The profile that emerged on Goering was not the psychotic monster Kelley initially believed was behind the rise of Nazism. Though Goering, in Kelley's official view, was responsible for his actions and deserved to die for his crimes, he couldn't help but notice that the man had a charming side to him. Goering was always the manipulator right up to the end, and there is a rumor that even Kelley fell prey to his guile on more than one occasion. As a psychiatrist turned criminologist, Kelley made it his personal challenge to explore the minds of Nazi leaders in order to establish the extent of their criminality. His final report on Goering seems to see him as a pathetic figure who is constantly frustrated by political rivals and inferiors in his attempt to gain power. Goering always saw himself as a victim of Germans who didn't appreciate his cultural tastes, panache, and sense of greatness. The fact that Kelley spent an inordinate amount of time with Goering in his cell, while singling him out as somewhat distinguished from the rest of the drab group of defendants, may have compromised his professional judgment by getting to know his client too well. The end of this story takes place in the nineteen fifties when Kelley's life fell apart in his efforts to prove that pyschosis was at the bottom of most serious crime. In his drive to find a perfect way to determine sanity from insanity. Kelly ended up alienating a lot of his colleagues and friends in law enforcement as his mind came unglued. That, in itself, is the great consuming tragedy here.

Dexter's Final Cut: A Novel
Dexter's Final Cut: A Novel
by Jeff Lindsay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.14
34 used & new from CDN$ 2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Divided As Always, March 14 2014
Like the TV and literary creation Dexter Morgan - forensic expert by day, vigilante by night and devoted husband and father whenever - his followers must experience moments when they doubt their sanity as to how much longer this routine will hold together. Every time I think it is time to finally lower the curtains on this surreal existence, along comes Lindsay with a new episode or installment to sustain the tenuous legend. "Dexter's Final Cut" is the latest tale of a man who has multiple roles to fill in order to be all things to all people including himself. This novel did not disappoint me because, once again, Lindsay introduces a new facet to Dexter's already complex and troubled life. Saddled with yet another little unforeseen irritation - being forced by his boss to take on two actors in a job shadow in conjunction with a new TV police series - Dexter quickly turns it into an opportunity to explore a world he only dreamt about till now: a career in acting and a chance to break away from the mundanity of domestic life. Life will definitely imitate art for a while as Dexter gets caught up in the glamour of movie-making. Of course, he will still carry on his nine-to-five job and that is where things will get very dicey very fast. While Dexter may be able to hide his truly dark side from public scrutiny, he will quickly learn that the so-called safe world of acting that he now dabbles in is anything but; his new love, diva Jackie and her assistant, have suddenly become the target of a serial killer. Before this story ends and justice has been done, nobody within Dexter's little circle will be safe. By widening the circle of engagement, Lindsay has upped the ante in Dexter's life to the point of taking him to the edge of no return. As Dexter gets caught up in this tanglewood of nasty circumstances, the reader may be forgiven for thinking that the end has come, and our hero or anti-hero has finally succumbed to his one insatiable desire to be true to himself and his feelings.

Hyde Park on Hudson
Hyde Park on Hudson
Offered by moviemars-canada
Price: CDN$ 8.38
28 used & new from CDN$ 2.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A Fun-loving Everyman's President: Light-Hearted Comedy At Best, March 10 2014
This review is from: Hyde Park on Hudson (DVD)
After watching this cinematic portrayal on the private life of FDR leading up to one summer week-end in 1939, I am not surprised it didn’t get higher ratings than it did. While actor Bill Murray seems to be perfectly cast for the role of the ever-jaunty, often whimsical 32nd president of the United States who is destined to eventually lead the country into another world war, this movie seems to be caught in a bit of a time warp. It is still peacetime and our light-hearted president has other things on his mind: a new-found love in the most unlikely of persons and an upcoming visit from the king and queen of England to the pristine family estate, on the banks of the Hudson, next door to the Vanderbilts and the Astors. Daisy, the unassuming member of his household staff, gave this cripple of a man the confidence to be himself and stand up to a domineering mother and a henpecking wife. Their secret jaunts into a lovely countryside are moments in the film that show a passion to reach out and enjoy the freedom of the moment rarely experienced by people in power on the edge of destiny. It is the quiet, background efforts of this woman to fill a void in the life of a popular but very conflicted and lonely man at the top that may have significantly contributed to the success of that crucial royal visit later that summer. FDR’s ability to humor a rather ‘anal-retentive’ royal couple with a number of disarming gestures is seen as helping to forge new Anglo-American ties and, ultimately, leading to changing the course of history: hot dog diplomacy as engineered by a hot-dogging president is what this movie is all about. The viewers are left with that ambivalent notion that FDR is that one-of-a-kind national leader who had the ability to invoke in others a sense of confidence and trust by charming them into letting down their guard.

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace
by Amitav Ghosh
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
10 used & new from CDN$ 1.78

5.0 out of 5 stars The Continuum of Intergenerational Love, March 5 2014
This review is from: The Glass Palace (Paperback)
I like involved stories that move with the ebb and flow of history, all the time attempting to make sense of change as new generations emerge. “The Glass Palace” is one such richly woven, effectively researched epic about two families coming together in the most extraordinary of circumstances - the breakup of the British Empire in the Far East. In a long circuitous process their various members will form both lasting and transient relationships that will contribute to an overall big and more unsettled future. In this well-crafted, complex and riveting tale, the author traces the ups and downs of two unlikely characters: the poor Burmese cabdriver, Rajkumar, and a young royal servant, Dolly, who, for the next seventy years of tumultuous history, will go on an incredible journey together that the reader does not want to miss. Their paths first cross briefly during the violent overthrow of the monarchy in Rangoon, only to meet again later in India where fortunes have changed. Against traditional opposition, they marry and raise a family back in Burma where Rajkumar, by now a wealthy timber merchant, sees a lucrative opportunity to invest in the rubber trade. His plantation at Morningside will prosper from the outset because economic and geopolitical times are right. Little does he realize that he and Dolly are on the cusp of tremendous change happening within and without greater India, the legendary jewel in the imperial crown. Cataclysmic forces around them conspire to destabilize the good life they have struggled to build for themselves : the end of the aristocracy, the rise of a middle-class, the death of colonialism, the unleashing of nationalism and the fight for independence. Soon the good life will be gone as people in their circle of friends will be sucked into the great vortex of war, economic depression, pestilence, genocide, and famine. The glass palace - that majestic edifice of royal Burmese supremacy and security - will be quickly shattered as it is overrun by the barbarians of ruthless change and incivility. This couple’s children and their friends will soon follow their own counsels because they, too, have become susceptible to the forces of social, political and economic change. While much of this intricate story involves people desperately searching to reconnect with others from their past, time offers one consolation: those who survive get to see the next generation rise to meet a fresh set of challenges. For those who love historical fiction this is a must read.

Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down . . . And Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again
Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down . . . And Why They'll Take Us to the Brink Again
by Suzanne McGee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.16
24 used & new from CDN$ 1.81

4.0 out of 5 stars The Absurd Limits of Making Money, Feb. 28 2014
I noticed late last year that the grandaddy of Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs, was slashing its managerial bonuses by 30% because profits were significantly down. It was this news that prompted me to pick up McGee’s monograph on why Wall Street is still up to its old shenanigans of investing in dodgy financial transactions, five years after the latest meltdown. According to her, nothing has changed. The climate or appetite for high-risk deals did not go away after the collapse of Lehman Bros. and the disappearance of Bear Stearns as investment capital brokerage houses. While subprime mortgage is no longer the operative word on the Street these days, something even more intriguing and risky has risen to take its place: extensive leveraged financing of major corporate take-overs. To facilitate this process, the big firms like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have become all-out investment banks who provide multi-billion dollar financing in return for the purchaser’s debt: a guaranteed credit swap. For example, Company A wants to buy out one of its competitors but to make the take-over bid more attractive it must raise the capital either on the bond market or enter into a deal with a Wall Street investment banking firm. For its efforts, Goldman Sachs gets a decent return on the loan that is covered by what the borrower holds on other companies. The medium of exchange here is the handing off of bundles of financed debt that other deals bring good returns as long as the company in question is turning a profit. As McGee points out, there are thousands of deals being executed every year involving trillions of dollars in recycled asset exchanges, whose true monetary value might be considerably less than commonly assumed. A classic example of companies that are leveraged to the hilt are Amazon and Facebook. They have taken on billions of dollars in paper profits and reinvested them in new acquisitions of ventures such as Instagram to expand their global stature, with no guarantee of profitability. The real problem here is that thousands of other investment firms in America, with a passel of bonus-hungry, rawhide traders are following suit with their own plan to cash in on the latest bonanza. This, according to McGee, could prompt a return to the scary days of 2008 when liquidity suddenly disappeared on Wall Street because credit had been overextended in sketchy transactions.

Venice: A New History by Thomas F. Madden (Oct 30 2012)
Venice: A New History by Thomas F. Madden (Oct 30 2012)
6 used & new from CDN$ 20.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Crumbling Yet Not Falling Apart, Feb. 25 2014
Venice is one of those historically unique cities that defies description: built in the swamps and lagoons of the upper end of the Adriatic Sea, one might have good reason to marvel at how it became one of the key commercial entrepots of medieval Europe. Historian Madden produces a very readable and fascinating account of how this port city led the way in revitalizing the European economy of the day through expanded trade and commerce. The merchant class of Venice were always looking to make their living off the sea, by trading in preciosities like spices, silks, precious metals, and jewels from the orient. To do this effectively, Venice had to maintain its political independence from the Holy Roman Empire to the north, the Papacy to the west, and the Turks to the east by forging timely alliances, raising critical cash, and introducing radically new commercial practices. From its humble beginnings centuries back, when a group of raiders audaciously reclaimed the bones of St. Mark (the city’s patron saint) from Alexandria, Venice has always been on the cutting edge. Venetians led the way in defending the interests of Christianity in the east part of the old Roman empire, sending the likes of the Polo family out into the far-flung corners of the Orient in search of new markets, bank-rolling numerous crusades to capture Jerusalem and Acre, constructing one of the most extensive commercial fleets in the Mediterranean, and introducing the world to double-entry bookkeeping. What makes this book worth reading is that it balances the good with the bad. Venice’s history of taking to the sea, regularly defeating its political foes, while maintaining its autonomy was not without many challenges: invasions, sieges, defeats, uprisings, and plagues. As a city-state cum republic, Venice even had to execute one of its more famous doges because he stepped out of line by forging a disadvantageous pact with a neighboring state. While much is said about Venetian architecture and art over the centuries - palaces and churches that combined a magical mixture of Byzantine and Gothic - nothing equals its indomitable will to change with the times without compromising its will to remain master of its own fate. When trade tailed off in the fifteenth century, Venetians became immersed in the Renaissance by promoting humanism, becoming patrons of the arts, and publishing exciting new works of scientific renown.

Parkland (Bilingual)
Parkland (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Paul Giamatti
Price: CDN$ 16.98
7 used & new from CDN$ 7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A Time When Little Made Sense, Feb. 23 2014
This review is from: Parkland (Bilingual) (DVD)
If this film does anything for posterity, it tries to accurately reconstruct the dramatic moments of that terrible day in November, 1963, when JFK was assassinated in Dallas. To achieve that goal, the filmmaker looks at a number of key interconnecting circumstances involving people from various walks of life as they share one thing in common: they were there at that defining event in time when life seemed to no longer make sense. Director Peter Landesman covers the excitement of the early hours of November 22, 1963, when Dallas was getting ready to welcome the Kennedys, the actual assassination and the creation of the homemade Zapruder film, the heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses at Parkland to save Kennedy's and later Oswald's life, the territorial conflicts between the FBI, the Secret Service, and Texas law enforcement over control of the crime scene and movement of the president's body, and the role of the Oswald family in the days following the tragedy. It is easy to see how conspiracy theories have emerged from the swirl of unfolding improbable events. Questions remain to this day as to Oswald's real allegiance, how the president was actually shot, the role of LBJ in the killing, the reasons as to why the Secret Service wanted to control Kennedy's remains, and why Jack Ruby ended up killing Oswald a day later in the Dallas police lock-up. This is not a film that examines the many theories out there as to why it all happened the way it did; rather, it is basic cinematic study of how one man's violent death, caught in the time frame of a day or so, raises more questions than provides answers. People directly involved in some part of that day's events never lost that vivid memory of being a part of a larger sequence of development that still defies even the most inquisitive of minds.

Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football
Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football
by Nicholas Dawidoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
27 used & new from CDN$ 17.36

4.0 out of 5 stars A Year in the Life of a Comedy of Errors, Feb. 19 2014
Publicly-acclaimed writer Dawidoff has written a very sensational book on a year in the life of the New York Jets as they muddle their way through what can be, at best, described a mediocre season. In this memoir of life inside of one of America's more intriguing sports franchises, Dawdidoff tags along as a neutral observer/analyst/scribe who is called on to create a literary picture of the inner workings of the team from top to bottom. On the surface, what Dawidoff tells us and what the reader chooses to see might amount to gross dysfunctionality on the field and disunity in the locker room, but there is more to this story than meets the eye. The Jets are a family of sorts, comprising of coaches, players, general manager, equipment staff and, not least, all fans, each with their own skill set. Out of this mix evolves a schedule or road to greatness - in this case, the Super Bowl. There is the high of preseason draft or combine where the coaching staff and GM entertain great plans for snagging good draftees and pulling off some fortuitous trades. In this setting, the reader introduced to the bios of head coach Rex Ryan, son of the famous Buddy Ryan, and his assistant coaches. Here, Dawidoff offers us profiles that mesh with his candid on-and-off-the-field observations. While Rex is all heart and a good-natured bluff in his efforts, as the field boss, to lead the team out of the wilderness, his overworked, underpaid underlings have a different call: they must turn raw, unproven talent into a football machine. Everyone from Thurman to Schottenheimer to Pettine take their jobs seriously but seem to be always working at cross-purposes as to implementing the big plan: Ryan's special drop defense and complicated pass options with incredibly long signal calls. Then there is the personnel on the field like QB Sanchez and Cromartie who just don't seem to maximize their talent for the game. While there are moments of promise in the season, the Jets end up blowing opportunities to win key games because they can't read what the other side is showing them. Injuries and the revolving door of walk-ons make this job of running the Jets a losing proposition even though Rex and the boys try to project a sense of humanity. The laughs in this book, unfortunately, come at the expense of an organization that has definitely missed the mark in seeking out intelligent players that work together as a team. This tale definitely confirms, in my mind, that nice guys do finish, if not last, in the middle of the pack.

Kanata: A Novel
Kanata: A Novel
by Don Gillmor
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
4 used & new from CDN$ 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A History of a Country Writ Large on the Lives of Peculiar Individuals, Feb. 19 2014
This review is from: Kanata: A Novel (Paperback)
This novel offers its readers both a grand sweep of Canada’s history and a collection of intertwining tales of personal lives as they play out their fitful and seemingly accidental drama called nation building. Gillmor combines a real plot line (history) with a fictional one (novel) to weave a historical tapestry that tells a haunting story. It portrays a huge land brimming with enormous ambition and energy in the search for greatness. Some of these dreams will succeed while others fail, not because of any particular strength or lack thereof but because of a terrible clash of indomitable forces intent on getting their own way at all costs. The fictional part of “Kanata” starts out in the late sixties on an Alberta reserve. Michael Mountain Horse is visiting his nephew, Billy, in hospital, who has been seriously injured in a rollover. As a history teacher in the local native school, the older Michael tries to communicate with the comatose Billy by telling him stories about his past and the country he grew up in. What transpires is an unforgettable recounting of history that brings together a cast of peculiar characters who have their own sense of purpose and craving for success. Strung together, the people come with significant events attached to their efforts: General Wolfe and the fall of Quebec City; the Indian chief Tecumseh and his desire to form alliances; David Thompson and the mapping of the West; Louis Riel and the settling of the Northwest; Sir John A. Macdonald and the building of the CPR; Robert Borden and Canada’s entry into war, John Diefenbaker and his simplistic sense of justice, and the list goes on. Shooting up from the middle of this hit-and-miss saga is the uncertain life and times of Michael growing up as a young aboriginal in a 20th century West as it becomes part of Confederation. He is both a child of a rich heritage and a very troubling future. For him, life will become a path filled with adventure and survival in a white man’s world, fighting in his wars and living under his governance. As Michael’s narrative winds down towards the country’s centenary in 1967, the promise of a great nation emerging from this protracted exercise of nation building seems rather muddled and ambiguous especially for its first people. The values of remaining true to one’s roots that Michael desperately feels compelled to reaffirm in his nephew’s subconsciousness don’t seem to be resonating as he lingers between life and death. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Canadian history in a multi-layered form. Its main problem, however, is it’s inability to move smoothly between the factual and fictional threats.

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