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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)

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The Guts
The Guts
by Roddy Doyle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
8 used & new from CDN$ 12.14

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting Through a Crisis Irish Style, Sept. 7 2013
This review is from: The Guts (Hardcover)
I have always liked a Roddy Doyle novel for the extraordinary characters it builds from ordinary circumstances. His recent work, "The Guts", is no different. Jimmy Rabitte and his family live in the east end of Dublin. As a working-class stiff, Jimmy has reached late middle-age with many regrets and unresolved fears. He doesn't like his job at the factory; he has children who don't seem to connect very well with him; he and his wife have grown apart; and, to crown everything, he has just learned that he has stage two colon cancer. What more calamity would you want to visit on a man as fragile as Jim! Faced with mounting issues, Jimmy has two choices: fight or flight. It will take a while to figure out what it all means but our hero will do it with a little help from his friends, family, community at large and, lest we forget, the cancer card. He is not shy to overplay his hand as to the possible long-term implications of this potentially killer disease. This ploy, while a pitch for sympathy, begins to open doors for him as he tries to remake his life. He will start a business of locating and reselling old solo and big-band recordings from a distant era. The music he is looking to repackage and sell are old tunes from his past. When he can't find the recording of a certain favourite from 1932, he will talk his kids into helping him reproduce it. Jimmy will discover, as his passion for retrofitting old tunes grows, that he is growing more mellow. He will meet people from his past whose straits will make his life look like a cake-walk. His wife and mistress will come on side to get behind Jimmy's rebirth. Though this book is full of the 'f' word, because that's who Jimmy is - a foul-mouthed, blue-collar labourer - it doesn't get in the way of Doyle showing how Jimmy can convey his love for life and feelings for others in such a disarming way. Essentially, he has charmed the pants of us as well. He is emotionally vulnerable but that doesn't prevent him from having a dream and getting others to come on side. It took a little while to get used to the heavy emphasis on dialogue but, when it happened, I felt like I was being treated to some very real conversation between very authentic people who feel for each other through difficult times.

Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944
Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944
31 used & new from CDN$ 12.60

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Historian at Work, Sept. 5 2013
As usual, Max Hastings has produced yet another brilliant study on the little known aspects of WW II. Wearing his historian hat, Hastings takes us into an obscure theatre of the war where the once crack SS Panzer division, Das Reich, was assigned to help hold Normandy against the D-Day invasion. It was June, 1944, and Hitler and the German High-Command was looking to bolster the Atlantic Wall against what was sure to be a heavy attack from American-led forces. Das Reich was a corps of well-trained, fiercely loyal, and battle-honed soldiers who could be relied on to plug the gaps and keep the enemy at bay. But there was a problem that the German High Command did not fully anticipate: how to get their battle ready on time. As the book describes, the 2nd Panzer Division would have to cross southwestern France, through hostile territory full of villages run by the local Maquis (French resistance) who were prepared to fight to the death for the liberation of the country. With Hastings' attention to detail and objectivity, we get more than one side of the story as this group of German warriors made their way to the battlefront for one more stand on behalf of the Reich in its hour of need. There will be fierce battles, massacres, and snafus during this 500 mile journey to a western battle zone. Encountering them on the way, through the dense forests and hills of Dordogne, will be SOE (British security forces), various partisan cells, and patriotic Frenchmen and women intent on stopping a formidable fighting force dead in its tracks. The question here is how effective were these small forces in changing the course of the war during the D-Day invasion? This author has a thesis that he investigates, with both written and oral evidence, to a satisfactory conclusion.

The Lady (Bilingual)
The Lady (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Michelle Yeoh
Price: CDN$ 14.93
11 used & new from CDN$ 5.05

4.0 out of 5 stars Democracy Burmese Style, Sept. 4 2013
This review is from: The Lady (Bilingual) (DVD)
While I fully understand why some docudramas just don't connect with the viewing public - too slow, too much filler, too analytical, too over the top - I am surprised that the film version of the San Suu Kyi story as Burma's champion of democracy received such faint praise from viewers. After all, it is about a phenomenon that continues to grip the world in an effort to positively change the way much of the developing world is presently being governed. While covering the struggles of the democracy movement in Burma (aka Myanmar), in its fight against a ruthless military, this film highlights the heroic efforts of its popular leader, the daughter of a former national hero and martyr. As the film shows, she is one fearless individual who stops at nothing to promote the right to have other people's voice heard and recognized in popularly-held elections. Though she gained a large following both at home and abroad, resulting in many prestigious awards for her courage, she paid a price for standing up to the Burmese military. Extended house detention, separation from her family, and the agony of having to choose between freedom and her cause are just a few of the privations dogging this lady's life. Successes will be offset by personal tragedy and setbacks but, through this whole venture, Suu Kyi will achieve her ultimate moment of triumph when the military surrenders the field to the democracy movement. While this film is fairly accurate in specifics and very inspiring in message, it doesn't address where her leadership goes now in the new Burma, and her decision not to support the plight of certain ethnic minorities within the country.

Annie Dunne
Annie Dunne
by Sebastian Barry
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.55
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Loving Inspite of the Pain, Sept. 1 2013
This review is from: Annie Dunne (Paperback)
One of Sebastian Barry's strengths as a modern author is that his main characters have the ability to express, in a noble fashion, feelings that come straight from the heart. These humble Irish folk have a heroic bent about them that allows them to rise above their obscurity and make an important difference in a rapidly changing world that could easily have marginalized them if they were not true to their core values. Annie Dunne is the heroine in this narrative because she refuses to let her lowly estate - the last of a line of Dunnes with nothing but a small farm in which to make a living - prevent her from caring for and loving others with all her heart as she was once loved herself. That does not mean she doesn't lead a fretful existence. While she and her cousin, Sarah, work hard to keep the farm and preserve the only life they know, there are forces afoot that threaten to snatch it away. She is tired, ageing, and protective of the relationships she has nurtured over the years. There is somebody out there who wants to marry the younger Sarah and take over the farm, which would certainly remove an important anchor in her life. Into their threatened lives one day comes two young children, the son and daughter of a cousin who has left to work in England. These two urban children will bring an extraordinary sense of liveliness and renewed purpose that will lift both women out of their funk. The pleasantries of a former life at Dublin Castle will be rekindled and, suddenly, Annie, in all her hardships, has something to live for. With no children of her own, she quickly takes on the motherly role of raising these boisterous children in the absence of their parents. It won't be easy because, as she knows from her own past, she'll need to be prepared to face the pain of not being loved in return and, eventually, losing them. Her only salvation is to live in the here and now and care for them as a mother hen would her chicks. Barry provides very colorful detail of Irish rural life in the fifties as the country was about to modernize and say good-bye to an era of community closeness where people, like Annie, would sacrifice their own comfort and privacy for the good of others. I enjoyed this novel because it tells a compelling story about an authentic character living in a very real world governed by old-fashioned values that even my Irish wife can remember.

The Book of Illusions
The Book of Illusions
by Paul Auster
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 10.11

5.0 out of 5 stars The Reality of Illusions, Aug. 31 2013
This review is from: The Book of Illusions (Paperback)
This is one very smooth and engaging novel. It takes the reader through the most complex and improbable tales in an attempt to show how enticingly powerful illusions, or images of reality, are in life. Professor Zimmer, an English literature professor in an eastern university, has just lost his wife and sons in a plane crash. To get through the grieving process, he must find something that occupies his time and replaces the haunting memories of a life once enjoyed. Friends come on board to give him succor, but nothing seems to work except his passion for researching the obscure and enigmatic life of America's avant-garde filmmaker, Hector Mann, who is a man of many aliases. Auster not only writes a fine story that takes the reader on a lifetime adventure but builds character and plot to an ultimate moment of recognition where reality is found in our trust in illusion. Getting caught up in the fascinatingly elusive world of an artist constantly running away from publicity is an existential venture in itself that can certainly spawn its own strange encounters. This book is full of them but, rest assured that, as the hero in the story chases the chimera called Hector to the end in the hope of confirming his genius, the answer will come in the most enlightening of ways. The bizarre and sinister brilliance of the man can only be found in the greater scheme of life that goes beyond a mere collection of silent films that amount to nothing more than personal studies in human erotica. There are the many women in his life, his reputation as an artistic innovator, the personal losses, the running from his past, and hiding out in the New Mexico desert that makes Mann a compelling person to chase after. What has he to tell Zimmer about his own complex existence that will make life more bearable? Everything in this novel comes down to the memory of relationships with others.

Who Owns the Future?
Who Owns the Future?
by Jaron Lanier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.56
23 used & new from CDN$ 4.53

4.0 out of 5 stars The Big Illusion and Deception, Aug. 29 2013
This review is from: Who Owns the Future? (Hardcover)
There was a time when millions of users saw the Internet as a potential goldmine for changing how we do business. According to thinker, innovator and computer guru Jaron Lanier, those days seem to have come and gone. In the Information era that we presently work, most of us middle-class types have to be content with using the Internet as a smart tool for consuming, communicating and being entertained. The big money has gone to those who have made it their business to digitally learn how we think and operate with respect to satisfying our needs and wants. The Internet certainly generates a ton of wealth for those big multi-national corporations like Google, Apple, and Amazon who have developed fail-safe methods intended to, ultimately, control their customers by commercially spying on them through sophisticated wireless technology. What they get are free data that helps them fine-tune their marketing plan, while the customer chooses to be content with small perks and treats for coming on board, such as price discounts and apps. Lanier makes a convincing argument that the Information Age is punching a huge hole in the ranks of the middle class by robbing them of an opportunity to sell their information to the highest bidder. What he envisages is the development of a humanistic economy where people are encouraged to invest in each other's internet ventures without the fear of being manipulated or exploited. Essentially, you only pay for what you use. Government's role in this lower-end exchange of information is to make sure the scammy, sirenic sites don't squeeze out the little guy in his effort to make a living off the net. Much of the information the big operators, such as credit companies, high tech, mass media and banks, collect on us is meant to sell abstract concepts of convenience and security that do not exist in reality. Holiday packages, banking terms, choice of literature, selection of food, and clothing are all areas that individuals have lost the right to control when allowing the world of wireless technology to define what will be futuristically real now. For this to start, there has to be a new generation of start-ups unwilling to be bought out, led by visionaries who have the greater good of society at heart, that will challenge the present monopolization of the Internet by the few and the wealthy. Otherwise, the present order will, eventually, collapse because of the inability of a dwindling middle class to sustain it.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
by Guy Delisle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.64
41 used & new from CDN$ 14.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Not So Holy City, Aug. 28 2013
Lots of clever satire packed into this comic strip. This is Canadian graphic artist Delisle's latest version of comic journals and, like previous offerings, is jam full of exciting and delightfully odd moments about life in a dangerous part of the globe. He and his children are in East Jerusalem for a year while he works for a non-government organization and his wife is somewhere in Gaza as a doctor. As an internationally acclaimed cartoonist, Delisle uses his incredible eye for detail to capture those candid moments when the locals forget themselves, let down their guard and unknowingly reveal another side of their lives that is either not so flattering or downright baffling. Delisle artfully inserts himself into the narrative as one who wants to learn about another culture. What he discovers instead is that everyone he meets has a different version of what the holy city means to them. He learns very quickly that everyone in the know has his or her special understanding of the recent and decent past. That wide range of political and social views, under normal western democratic conditions, would amount to a healthy dose of pluralism. Here it comes across as religious intolerance or scorn: Jews at odds with their fellow countrymen; Palestinians distrusting each other; Jews despising Palestinians; Samaritans hating their Jewish cousins; and terrorists having a field day because nobody can agree on how to live with each other in a supposedly holy city. The Jerusalem that emerges from Delisle's daily wanderings and observations is sprawling, chaotic, divided, dingy, and very historical. It becomes Delisle's mission over twelve months to make a life for himself and his family, connect with the locals and learn what it means to live in this city of all cities, the place of deep-seated racial divisions, the ancient site of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and future millenial abode.

Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights
DVD ~ James Howson
Offered by helvic5
Price: CDN$ 20.15
22 used & new from CDN$ 16.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the Atmosphere, Aug. 28 2013
This review is from: Wuthering Heights (DVD)
As one who is very familiar with "Wuthering Heights" as a novel and a movie, I found director Andrea Arnold's latest cinematic production bold and refreshing. First, this recent rendition really ,for me, the intensity of the story in all its fury, ugliness, jealousy, passion, and distress. Bronte's novel was never meant to be a Victorian romance that celebrates the triumph of love over adversity. Rather, it is a dark tale of how deep, raw feelings can conspire over time to evoke an enduring sense of conflict when people indulge in the forbidden practices of another time. Arnold covers this social interaction well in her portrayal of the troubling pubescent relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine in all its uncertain ebb and flow. Second, the rustic setting of the Yorkshire moors, the dark skies and the ever presence of death and the hard life that goes with the area all contribute to the underlying tension that forms the reality of unfulfilled and frustrated love. Third, there is an ultimate moment of truth in the film, as in the novel, where people have to wrestle with the true nature of their emotional attachment for one another regardless of the terrible consequences that await them. Such a decision will, inevitably, result in a terrible anguish of soul that comes with being permanently barred from truly having the person one loves. The fact that Arnold has a black actor (Solomon Glave and James Howson) play Heathcliff shows that she wants to break with tradition herself and offer her viewers a new perspective on an old story. I would recommend this film to anyone who wants to see how brilliantly human tragedy can blend with the power of natural surroundings.

Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Holding Things Together, Aug. 24 2013
This review is from: Gettysburg (Kindle Edition)
Former NPR producer and acclaimed author Noah Trudeau has written a monumental study on how the Battle of Gettysburg of July 1, 1863 became the pivotal battle in American Civil War. So much was at stake. Lose it and the road to Baltimore and the Union North was wide open to Lee's Northern Virginia Army. Win it and the Union Potomac Army could basically box its opponents in for the rest of the war. After reading this detailed, well-organized, and very objective chronicle of this epic battle, anything that follows, including the Gettysburg Address, is anti-climatic. For three days, at the outset of July, two massive armies 'duked' it out in numerous manoeuvers that involved extensive reconnaissance, long marches, deadly enfilade, and intensive cannonade, all within the small confines of a hilly terrain around a sleepy little town called Gettysburg. Both sides had a general plan for defeating the other: the cautious Union Army to stop the Confederacy moving north and the aggressive Confederacy to make a massive breakthrough at all costs. Much of Trudeau's assessment of the battle is taken up with preparing the reader for the big showdown on July 3. We get to see how the various big and bit players in this drama performed or underperformed. In the midst of this massively chaotic tableau, Trudeau does a good job in keeping his readers in touch with the ultimate moment of truth: the critical tipping of the proverbial balance of events. General Lee rolled the dice and went for outright victory; General Meade, on the other hand, did everything in his power to preserve his army while waiting for a counter-offensive. In the end, this battle underscored more than just the intended outcomes of war. Even the victors paid the price for winning what turned out to be a terrible battle of attrition between two very well-matched sides.

Unfinished Empire
Unfinished Empire
by John Darwin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 39.00
5 used & new from CDN$ 32.48

5.0 out of 5 stars The Expanding Process of Empire Building, Aug. 23 2013
This review is from: Unfinished Empire (Hardcover)
Oxford historian John Darwin develops the thesis that the British Empire and its many forms was never a unified concept of grand design and purpose. Rather, it was an economic, political and social phenomenon that happened because of the 'conjunctures' of history. From the 17th century on, it grew as a geographical entity that acquired an amazing historical complexity that entailed a baffling paradox of cruelty, fairness, ambition, indulgence, cunning, and plain luck. Caught up in this enterprise, between direct and indirect rule, British law and local customs, free trade and preferential trade, the defenders of the British Empire went from strength to strength on some of the most innovative policies and dare-devilish schemes. When it eventually collapsed after World War II, the British Empire, as a mega-idea, had run its course. It was no longer sustainable for a number of reasons that Darwin very eloquently describes in his analysis: a major shift in geopolitics being the main one. Much of this book addresses how the empire came together over time, which is a fascinating story in itself, and how it eventually passed into history because its time-honored traditions were no longer sustainable. As a historian given to a great respect for the facts - many of which are already well known - Darwin provides an insightful narrative that includes exploration, settlements, trade, government, law, wars, and local customs, all intricate pieces in the puzzle called the British Empire that was never meant to be completed. Overall, Darwin's work cuts through all the plethora of detail to get at the heart of the matter: why empires come and go in history?

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