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A. Volk (Canada)
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The Stainless Steel Rat Joins The Circus
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins The Circus
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 8.99

2.0 out of 5 stars The Stainless Steel Rat has rusted, Nov. 18 2014
The Stainless Steel Rat was a clever idea for an anti-hero. A super-criminal caught and used to catch other thieves. The original three books are very good. Unfortunately, later books never quite hit the same high notes, and this book, ostensibly the last in the series (although it really isn't) is the worst of the lot. The SSR is hired to track down some bank robbers who may be linked to a major circus. To get to the point without giving away spoilers, the plot is very forced and Jim DiGrizz has his IQ plummet to shoe-size levels. His fast mind, wit, and reactions all go out the window as he is easily out-maneuvered at almost every turn by a rather pedestrian foe. Honestly, by the end of the book I was hoping that it wasn't Harry Harrison's name on the cover. The only thing saving this book from a one-star rating is that there are one, maybe two, interesting ideas in the book. Unfortunately, the rest of it simply doesn't measure up to either previous SSR books (especially the early ones) or just good writing in general.

The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To Hell
The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To Hell
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars This Story lies in Purgatory, Nov. 17 2014
If you're not familiar with the Stainless Steel Rat series, definitely start with the three original books (the first is self-titled). If you are familiar with them, then you have an idea of what you're getting here. It's definitely not the strongest of the series, as it relies almost as heavily on Professor Copyu as it does Slippery Jim.

The characters, including the villain, just don't seem to have as much depth to them as in previous books. You get Jim, Angelina, and the twins, as well as the Professor, a new agent (Sybil), and their boss, Inskipp. All deliver rather cliched and stilted performances. And how's the plot? It's OK. There's the odd twist and turn, but a lot of heavy-handed plot forcing too.

So why three stars and not worse? Well, it's still a fun book. This is B-movie, pulp fiction, light reading. There's the odd chuckle here and there, the odd interesting idea once in a while, and the right plot twist in some places. So three stars for those who like the SSR, less for anyone new to the series. I say it's in Purgatory because it's not a horrible story, but it's definitely not a great one either.

Revival: A Novel
Revival: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.00
25 used & new from CDN$ 14.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephen King's Homage to H. P. Lovecraft, Nov. 13 2014
This review is from: Revival: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is an unusual book to review. I'm not quite sure if it qualifies as a horror story or as strange fiction. What I am sure of is that it is most certainly an homage to HPL. I'm a huge fan of HPL's fiction, and if you're not familiar with it, you are missing out on some of the best strange fiction and horror ever written. King included.

King starts off this book with a dedication to his favorite authors (I was slightly disappointed to not see REH). It's a who's-who list of early-mid 20th Century horror writers. Above them all towers HPL. In many, many places throughout this story I was reminded of Lovecraftian stories. I could list them, but then I'd be giving away important spoilers. So let me simply state that if you like HPL, you're almost guaranteed to like this book.

But what if you don't like HPL? Then you're probably nuts. What if you don't know about him? Then you should if you like horror and strange fiction. But that's not really helpful for the purpose of this current review, so I'll try to go into a little more depth. First, this book is a slow-burner. If you're looking for lots of action or gore, you won't find it here. This book strongly continues King's recent trend towards character-driven plots. We get to know the "Reverend" Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton very well. In many ways, this book is essentially Morton's autobiography. From early childhood onwards, we follow his life and development. I have to admit that at times, this felt a little slow and unnecessary. It still does after reading the book, so I guess I feel that a little editing and pacing couldn't have hurt in places. But as usual, King's strength in writing good characters keeps the book moving along. Jamie's relationship with Jacobs is at the heart of the book as it builds towards its climax. I also have to admit to suffering from Jamie's sin- curiosity (is it a sin, or is it just what humans do?- a question Jamie asks himself).

Is that climax predictable? In a sense, yes. But it was fresh enough, and done well enough, that I rather enjoyed it. As in so many HPL stories, this book's climax relies more on imagination than it does gore. It's disturbing at a deeper level than simple physical mutilation. It's a climax that will likely resonate with the reader for some time.

Because of the pacing issues, I was tempted to give this book four stars as it's not a rip-roaring page turner. It's also clearly not his most original piece of work, but I don't think that was his intent either. It is simply a very good, very strange, very disturbing, story. HPL was a master of his craft, and like many masterful artists, there have been many imitators, but few who capture the spirit. King does it. This is SRV's Little Wing. And for that reason, I have to give it 5 stars because King really nails the strange fiction/horror bridge so perfectly, and so clearly nodding towards HPL (with some CAS as well), while still retaining his own signature style.

Ready Player One
Ready Player One
Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Gushing fountain of 80s nerd trivia, Nov. 6 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Ready Player One (Kindle Edition)
This book is essentially an homage to 1980s nerdism. As someone quite familiar with that, and who enjoyed some of that, I can relate to virtually all the insider jokes and nods that this book makes. And it makes a LOT of them. The premise is a future virtual reality online contest set up by a deceased Bill Gates-type character who leaves his entire fortune to the first person who can solve his online series of puzzles. The puzzles are all based on his childhood/teenage passions from the 1980s. Music, movies, software, and games all feature prominently in the puzzles and in this story. The contestants in the game are of course too young to have grown up with those elements, but they have studied them in great depth to become gunters- seekers of the hidden puzzles (i.e., Easter Eggs).

The hero, Wade Watts, is your typical Cinderella character. Poor, no parents, mean caregiver. Not much to see here. His band of friends are a motley crue, but generally likeable. Their opponents are (wait for it...) members of a big, bad, evil corporation. All in all, they are pretty cliche. Which could make for a weak novel, but this book is all about throwbacks and cliches. So it's perhaps not as bad as it could otherwise be.

The plot and the puzzles are largely entertaining, but after a while, the sheer geekness of it becomes wearisome. I appreciate almost all of the elements that are presented in the story, but it starts to seem more of a book about what the author thinks was cool from the 80s than an actual story using the 80s to present itself.

Overall then, this is what The Matrix would be like if the key to "winning" it was being a super-nerd (vs. messiah ninja). The visuals are entertaining and I have to admit that the plot is actually reasonably interesting at times. Still, the superficial characters, predictable villains, and the never-ending flood of nerd trivia conspired to detract from the impact of the book. If you're looking for a superficial, fun throwback to the Nerd 80s, then this is probably a four to five star book. I was hoping for a little more depth and substance, and my ultimate test, would I buy a sequel, has me answering "m'eh". Which means that, for me, this was a 3-star book. If I really want to get nostalgic about 80s material, I'd rather go directly to the source than read about all of it crammed into one book. As I said in the title, this book really is a gushing fountain of 80s nerd trivia. How much you like it depends on how much of that trivia you can stand to take at one time.

Cell: A Novel
Cell: A Novel
Offered by Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Weak story, strong story-telling, Nov. 6 2014
This review is from: Cell: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
I'm a big fan of Stephen King, but I don't think that this is one of his strongest novels. The essence of the plot is that one afternoon, a signal is broadcast over cell phones that causes the human brain to wipe itself out like a computer's hard drive and then reboot with a new software program that promotes a strange, new, and dangerous kind of behavior.

It's a sci-fi/horror blend that fails to live up to either aspect. As a sci-fi book, it falls flat on its face with the tired, and absolutely false, assertion that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain's potential. We don't. We use all of it. Just not at once. Just like you aren't flexing every muscle in your body in any given moment. The brain has a strict use it or lose it policy, as it consumes a huge proportion of our calories. Evolution didn't leave a giant, super-expensive capacity that requires some cell phone code or JoJo the psychic to unlock. So a lot of what King writes about in this novel is either magic or it's crap science. Leaving that piece aside, we never get any explanation of how someone figured out exactly how to decode and reprogram the human brain. That's decades ahead of current technology, if not centuries. I thought it would have to be aliens, but the repeated explanation is far more mundane and far less plausible. Thus, the sci-fi/techno element just fell flat for me.

So does it work as a horror story? Not really. The "zombies" are inactive at night, meaning they are easy to kill and avoid. They are also human in physiology, and it appears somewhat likely that they'll simply die off on their own due to infections, disease, and other natural causes. Hardly terrifying. The struggles against them are also not very scary, other than some of the unlikely elements introduced towards the end. There are some gory scenes, but for much of the book, other humans are about as scary as the "zombies".

So if it's not a great sci-fi book, and not a great horror book, why three stars? Well, once again, King has given us some strong characters. The main character in particular (Clay Riddell) seems like a good balance between action, thought, and emotion. The imagery is also strong, another of King's writing gifts.

In essence then, the story is weak but the story-telling is strong. This is definitely not King's best book, but it's probably worth a quick read if you've got some time to kill for some apocalyptic fiction. Three stars.

Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines Book 1)
Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines Book 1)
Price: CDN$ 4.45

3.0 out of 5 stars Starship Troopers the movie, not the book, Nov. 6 2014
A number of people have compared this book to Heinlein's classic Starship Troopers. Not only is it not fair to compare a first novel with one of sci-fi's greatest, it's not accurate. Starship Troopers is a book that, ostensibly, is about future humans in power armor fighting aliens. But it's really not about that. It's far more about life in the military, and the philosophy of democratic citizenship. It's a thoughtful book more than it is an action book.

This book is the opposite. It is an action book more than it is a thoughtful book. It follows the standard model of a down and out kid who enlists only to find his new home in the military. There is quite a bit of action, with some of the first combat scenes being quite intense and bloody. I enjoyed this part of the book the most. Unfortunately, after the major action sequence in the middle of the book, we don't really see a lot of character development. The hero does something quite unexpected, but is very fast to dismiss some very serious outcomes. Heinlein's character takes a much more in-depth approach. Overall, I felt that Kloos' characters were predictable and one-dimensional. The starry-eyed kid, the young lovers, the steely-eyed combat sergeant, the evil desk-jocking superior officer, etc. The final opponents are interesting, but don't quite make a lot of sense (which is forgivable in some ways, but inferior to Heinlein's treatment of his foes).

Overall then, I think this book is OK. I'm not in a rush to get its sequel, so I can't really give it 5 stars. But I don't regret reading it, so it's worth more than 1 or 2 stars. That means it's about a 3.5, and being conservative, I'm going to round it down to a 3 star rating. If you're looking for a book that emphasizes action and heroics (like the movie Starship Troopers does), then this book will probably appeal to you and seem like a 4-5 star book. If you're looking for a book that tackles deep philosophical issues (like the book ST does) and has a little more character depth, then you'll probably come away a little disappointed. Books like Armor, the Forever War, Old Man's War, and of course ST are probably going to be more your style.

Common Ground
Common Ground
by Justin Trudeau
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.00
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.00

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable introduction to the new leader of the federal Liberals, Nov. 1 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Common Ground (Hardcover)
Make no mistake, this book is a political advertisement. There's no way it could be anything but that given its timing. But it's also a biography. Having recently read and reviewed a host of American political biographies, I was curious to see how a Canadian version would compare. Overall, I think it compares pretty well. As someone who has voted for all the federal parties (including Green) over his life, I think I would qualify myself as an independent capable of being swayed by the best argument/person for the job. So I was interested in finding out more about the current leader of the Liberal party, or at least what he wanted to tell us about himself.

Justin covers his life from birth to 2014, pointing out people and events that influenced him towards the path of becoming the leader of the federal Liberal party. He spends a good bit of ink on discussing his relationship with his famous father and how he learned from him, but also thinks fairly differently than Pierre did. Family is a central factor in Justin's life, so his brothers, mother, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and step-siblings all get some mention. In particular, his maternal grandmother was a politician from BC who heavily influenced Justin's personal and professional style.

After family, we get a discussion of Justin's childhood and education. There's a lot to digest here, and he certainly seems to come across as someone who is serious about thinking and thought. In fact, he comes across as a rather balanced individual. I presume that if there were gross inaccuracies they would have come to light by now, so it's actually rather refreshing to read about someone who admits to enjoying reading as much as they enjoy sports. He taught at private and public schools, and covers his early foray into politics leading to his eventual nomination as leader of the Liberal party. He goes into reasonable depth about his political approach and the direction he thinks the Liberal party needs to go.

I could go into more details, but I would be giving away the book's content if I did. There are some nice pictures, particularly those with his father and family, that compliment the content of the book.

So how much of this book is advertising? Again, there's no way that it couldn't be with a major election coming up this year. But I think it's a good thing to hear from a candidate about themselves, rather than waiting for their opponents to paint that picture for them. Even if you doubt some of what he says in this book, the fact that he says it is revealing about the kind of person he wants to be viewed as. The biggest thing he convinced me of is that he isn't simply a Pierre clone running on the Trudeau name. There's no avoiding its impact, but Justin is a different man than his father was. I do wish that the book traded a little of its breadth for further depth on his philosophical and ideological approaches, but I can appreciate that in this modern era of "gotcha" politics, being vague/broad can be an important early political strategy. The book ends with transcripts of his various speeches that are both blatant advertisements and a way to revisit his public policies. I didn't like the advertising, but I did appreciate that I could sit and digest what he's publicly said.

For that reason, I give this book four stars. It's not perfect, and could use more depth, but I liked reading it and I do feel that I have a better understanding of Justin after having read it. I'm not naive enough to think this is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But again, it at the very least gives one a strong idea of the kind of person Justin would like to portray himself as and lets the reader learn a lot more about a the leader of one of our federal parties. If that's what you're interested in, then I can definitely recommend this book to you. If you're looking for a really deep, scrutinizing biography, or a detailed, in-depth exploration of his political philosophies, then this book is not likely to be quite as satisfying.

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.44
25 used & new from CDN$ 16.36

4.0 out of 5 stars A little too far leaning, but essentially good advice, Oct. 29 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a reasonably good parenting book that emphasizes connecting with and teaching your child. It views discipline from its original meaning "to teach". The underlying idea is that children's brains are malleable, and we should look at disciplinary moments as opportunities to teach rather than simply to punish. To this end, they emphasize connecting with your child to calm them down, then to discuss what happened with the child to promote understanding and ultimately build the long-term neural capacity for good decision making and self-control. It's about promoting the thinking, controlling parts of the brain rather than the reactive, instinctive parts of the brain.

Does it work? Yes, generally, it's pretty good advice. The authors certainly maintain that there are times when one can't take the time to calm everyone down, or that a child will always be capable of calming down in the near future. They admit that parents aren't perfect, that this kind of discipline doesn't work for every situation, and they provide numerous personal and client examples of how it works and how it can fail.

However, it's not a perfect book. In their zeal to promote connective discipline, they overlook and/or put down simpler forms of punishment and reward. The opposite school of thought (as best promoted by those "super nanny" shows that were popular a few years ago) goes too far in the direction of relying almmost solely on strict punishments and rewards. But this book goes too far in its own zeal. There is a time and place for a simple "No means no", just as there is a time and place for a longer, deeper, disciplinary moment. To be fair, the authors actually state just that, but it's easily glossed over in their repeated emphasis on connective discipline.

Personally, I found the book made me be more reflective about my own disciplinary practices, which makes this book worth 4 stars to me. I like it, but I don't quite love it. I think most parents would feel similar. So if you're tired of the drama and conflict that often goes along with disciplining your child, give this book a read and maybe it can help break some of the drama.

Hockey Confidential
Hockey Confidential
by Bob Mckenzie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A collection of hockey stories and interviews, Oct. 22 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Hockey Confidential (Hardcover)
I'll begin with what this book is not. It is NOT an expose of professional hockey. It is NOT an expert's opinion of the state of the game. It is NOT an insider's (THE Insider's) access to the stars behind the game. Well, not really. So what is it? It's really a collection of short stories about people involved with (in some way) professional hockey. Coaches, trainers, medical staff, parents, and some hockey players themselves.

Bob opens the book lamenting about the lack of old-time journalism, where articles were more than a few sound bytes (testify brother!). He clearly notes that he's part of the new journalism with his hugely-subscribed twitter account, but he can't help but feel that he's missing out on part of his calling: to tell stories. So he's collected a number of what could be described as hybrid story/interviews on a variety of topics:

1- Colin Campbell's near-death accident
2- Mark Lindsay's "magical" chiropractics
3- John & John Tavares- lacross and hockey uncle/nephew superstars
4- Advanced statistics
5- Don Cherry, unplugged
6- Connor McDavid - the next Crosby?
7- Brandon Prust and the role of fighting in hockey
8- The Subban family
9- Gord Downie- life as a Bruins fan
10- Sheldon Keefe's road to redemption
11- Jari Byrski's road to skills coach

Bob's story-telling is actually pretty good. He's not any threat to dethrone literary greats, but he crafts an interesting tale. How much you will like the book depends on how much you will like the stories. One of my favorites was actually about John Tavares (the uncle) and his lacrosse career. I didn't know anything about it, and it is a fascinating story about one of Canada's great unsung sports figures. The Subban family story on the other hand, came across like PK- rather loud and brash. Not my favorite chapter. Don Cherry's story was surprisingly subdued (like Grapes apparently is off camera) while advanced statistics was an interesting look at the math and people behind this new trend as well as Bob's take on the whole thing. Prust's honesty was perhaps another favorite, and the two final chapters finished strong too.

Overall then, this was a book I enjoyed reading. It wasn't what I expected it to be, but then again, a real "Insider's" look at hockey would probably be too damaging for a current journalist to write (if he even wanted to). What you get instead is a much more personal look at the people behind professional hockey. And these are stories that really would need an Insider to gather them all together. So I'm not disappointed with the book, just a little surprised at its content. This is a poor book to get if you are looking for lots of dirt, but it's a very good book to get if you want to know the human side of the pro-hockey business. So I'll lean between 4 and 4.5 stars, eventually going with 4 because this book is (in my opinion) definitely worth at least four stars for anyone who likes hockey and values some good stories.

The Book with No Pictures
The Book with No Pictures
by B.J. Novak
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.43
27 used & new from CDN$ 11.12

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No pictures? No problem!, Oct. 15 2014
OK, I have to admit it, I'm fairly jaded when it comes to kids books. There's so many out there, that it's easy to find clunkers. So when a book for young children came out that had no pictures, I thought it might have clunker written all over it (literally). I generally don't like being wrong, but this is an example of when I'm happy that I'm not right. Because this book is a gem. I think it just might become a classic.

What is it? It's a book aimed at younger audiences (I would say 10 and younger, with 3-6 being the likely sweet spot), and as advertised, there are no pictures. There isn't even a story with a plot. What this book does, and does beautifully, is get the adult who reads it to say silly things. The "rule" of the book is that you have to read what's written. Every word, even if it's not a real word. So you have to admit you're a monkey. Or that your best friend has a really silly name. Or that you are just reading some very funny-sounding non-words.

The concept works. You can have a book for young children that has no pictures. And they can, and almost certainly will, enjoy you reading it to them. You have to get into the reading to really make it work, but the reward of making a child laugh and smile is about the best motivation you can get. Which means I have no problem giving this book five stars.

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