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A. Volk (Canada)
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The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History
The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History
by William K. Klingaman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
31 used & new from CDN$ 7.25

3.0 out of 5 stars A book that really focuses on a single year in history, March 17 2015
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This book isn't quite what I expected and I didn't really enjoy it. So why 3 stars? Because it's wasn't bad, it just wasn't very enjoyable. I was hoping for a book that gave me more details and depth about the specific effects of the volcanic eruption on global climate. There are some of those details, but this is largely a condensed global newspaper for the year 1816 (as well as some of 1815 and 1817). It really is a historical snapshot that covers major events as well as individual statements from North American and Europe (most of the rest of the world isn't mentioned). As such, I found it partly a history lesson about events that I wasn't really interested in. I didn't care about the US political scene at the time, only about how peoples' lives were affected by the volcanic aftermath. It was interested to read about how unrest in Europe was affected by the poor summer, but it appeared to be equally (if not more so) affected by the end of war.

The writing is fairly good, so it's largely a matter of whether the subject matter is something that will appeal to you. If you want an in-depth historical review of 1816 that includes some meteorological context, then this is a 5-star book. If you're looking for a detailed outline of how a volcano affects global climates, then this is a 2 to 3 star book. Given that I fall somewhere in the middle I'm going with 3.5 stars that I'm conservatively rounding down to 3.

Superman: The Animated Series: Complete Series Collection (Sous-titres franais)
Superman: The Animated Series: Complete Series Collection (Sous-titres franais)
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 20.99
21 used & new from CDN$ 20.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb adaptation of the Man of Steel for adults and kids alike, March 6 2015
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This is an exceptionally good cartoon that once more continues the DC tradition of having kid-friendly plots on top of some sophisticated themes. Death, love, law, morality, friendship, sexism, family, sacrifice, etc. are all dealt with by these cartoons. But in a way that's subtle enough for young children, who don't have a strong grasp on these complex concepts, to completely miss. The episodes are full of action and plenty of laughs too. Tim Daly does an excellent job as the voice of Superman (perhaps tied with Christopher Reeve as my favorite superman on screen). A lot of other superb actors contribute their voice talents to the show, making the acting some of the best in animation. The animation itself isn't the top-notch quality that will characterize later Justice League shows (or some of the earlier Batman shows), but it gets the job done and still looks good on a large HD TV.

The series does a good job of starting to bring characters together from the DC universe, with guest appearances from Steel, Dr. Fate, Flash, Green Lantern, etc., and of course, a 3-episode special starring Batman/Bruce Wayne. It really makes for good viewing and leads well into the ensuing Justice League series. There are plenty of villains portrayed, ranging from fairly harmless (a giant pet chimp) to the ultimate in ominous Darkseid (voiced by the awesome Michael Ironside).

Overall, I've really enjoyed watching these, and the kids I've watched them with enjoyed them even more. Given that there are 54 episodes, or roughly 30 hours of Superman to watch, and the fact that they are often on sale means this is an easy five stars.

Rockford Files: Season 4
Rockford Files: Season 4
DVD ~ James Garner
Price: CDN$ 46.93
25 used & new from CDN$ 28.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great entertainment from a great show, March 5 2015
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This review is from: Rockford Files: Season 4 (DVD)
Season four continues the strong tradition of quality material. It even branches out with the fun, but unlikely, South by Southeast episode. If you're a fan of Rockford files, then Season 4 won't disappoint. The material is becoming familiar, but it's not stale as Jim and his partners really hit their strides.

SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive, Frustration-Free Packaging- SDCZ36-016G-AFFP
SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive, Frustration-Free Packaging- SDCZ36-016G-AFFP
Price: CDN$ 18.63

4.0 out of 5 stars Works well, especially for the price, March 3 2015
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This is a reasonable drive. It works well, it's fast, and it's been reliable over the past few months. My only complaint is that the mechanism for pushing out the USB connection doesn't always hold fast. So nothing to really get too excited about.

The Age of the Vikings
The Age of the Vikings
by Anders Winroth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.51
40 used & new from CDN$ 22.87

4.0 out of 5 stars A modern look at an ancient people, March 2 2015
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This review is from: The Age of the Vikings (Hardcover)
This book looks to address the real history of the Vikings. As someone generally familiar with Norse mythology and European history I looked forward to reading more about these fascinating people. What did I learn? Quite a bit actually. Most importantly, many of the Viking "staples", like the blood eagle, appear to be nothing more than myth. Quite possibly so were berserkers. As was quite a bit of their mythology.

The problem is that much of what was written about Vikings in modern times comes from medieval sources that wrote about the Vikings hundreds of years after the age of the Vikings. So you get deeply second-hand material that was tainted by a desire to portray Vikings in a particular light. If Winroth is accurate, then much of what we know about Vikings is false. And in fact, much of the unique "flavor" of Vikings seems to fade as they being to resemble more more closely the older cultures of Europe like the Celts or early Saxons. That's not to say that they didn't do a number of unique and important things during history. For example, I was quite interested in how their raiding and acquisition of coinage opened up economic possibilities in Northern Eurasia by introducing coins that were more flexible currency than simple barter. Interesting tidbits like that made this book really worth reading.

Unfortunately, for me at least, I was left really wanting more. The book touches on a number of subjects, from war, to governance, to raiding, to family life, to religion, but none in really great depth. I wish the book was 50-100% longer so that we could really get into the details. I loved the archaeological evidence, but again, I wish there was more of it.

So overall, this is a good look at the Vikings. The author attempts to present the most modern and accurate interpretation of these fascinating people. For the most part, I think he succeeds. The writing isn't the greatest of literature, but it's also far from dry. So I would say it's a relatively easy book to read and would strongly recommend it to anyone who wanted to learn more about the Age of the Vikings (i.e., the period from when they first started roaming the seas until the period when stable Scandinavian countries/monarchies developed).

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
by Norman Doidge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.91
42 used & new from CDN$ 18.81

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating new avenues of potentially healing the brain, but still needs a bit more evidence, Feb. 2 2015
Norman Doidge is the prophet of plasticity, the brain's ability to change and alter itself. The long-held view that the adult brain is essentially static at best, slowly wasting away at worst, has been changing over the last two decades as research increasingly supports the notion that the brain is capable of varying degrees of change. The focus of this book is on healing.

The first two chapters focus on a relatively traditional form of healing- rewiring the brain through concious effort. This is a long-held therapeutic technique that is used in cognitive psychological theory. The primary difference is here it is used to treat medical illnesses such as Parkinson's or chronic pain. The idea is that rather than rely on damaged circuits, the brain instead tries to trigger and promote health pathways that currently exist within the brain as well as to promote and maintain new connections that work with or around the damaged areas. This is all relatively conventional, but Doidge does a good job of presenting the material.

The remainder of the chapters delve into something that's a little less proven. Here Doidge explores the idea that external applications of energy can help heal the nervous system. This makes some sense as neurons are essentially electrochemical batteries, and we already have evidence that electroconvulsive shock therapy can (when used judiciously and only to one hemisphere) help alleviate symptoms of depression for long periods of time. So I wasn't shocked or hostile to the notion that external sound, light, and electricity could indeed help heal the nervous system. Unfortunately, I think Doidge falls into the trap of being overly enthusiastic about the healing potential of these methods. He loses his necessary skeptical objectivity when he describes a surgeon who has left the profession to work with lasers. Lasers that can apparently cure almost any human ailment. That's a really tempting thing to believe, but it's very hard to do so without sufficient evidence. Doidge does cite references throughout the book, but even two to three positive references in support of a theory aren't enough to justify some of the claims made in this book. The anecdotal claims make for good reading, but they are not sufficient evidence in and of themselves.

I'm sure that some readers are tempted to buy into the conspiracy theory that drug companies and the like suppress advances in alternate areas of medicine. I don't believe that to be true, at least not directly. They could well avoid funding alternate research (which I think they do), but there are so many doctors and other companies who would embrace new and revolutionary healing technologies that I don't believe that it's an issue. Doidge himself learns of some of these techniques from the open forum that the Ontario Doctor's Association uses to discuss and disseminate new ideas. So new ideas aren't being suppressed, the reality simply is that these ideas need more concrete evidence of their efficacy.

Overall then, the writing in this book is clear and well-delivered with lots of examples to guide the reader though it. Although to be fair, I do have a strong background in neuroscience so it wasn't hard for me to understand all the terminology he used. I do like many of the ideas presented, and I certainly think that they are ideas worth exploring in greater depth. That is, they need more solid, clinical research studies done on them. Because even if only a handful of claims that Doidge makes in this book end up being accurate, there's great potential for helping heal individuals. So if the goal of this book is to stimulate more discussion of these ideas, I'm all for it. They do offer a glimmer of hope to many people who are currently suffering from tremendous health burdens that current medicine can't alleviate. It's a very interesting and promising book,and I hope it helps stimulate gathering the necessary evidence, particularly for the later chapters.

Project Nemesis (a Kaiju Thriller)
Project Nemesis (a Kaiju Thriller)
by Jeremy Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.84
21 used & new from CDN$ 12.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly fun and entertaining, Jan. 28 2015
Watching Pacific Rim a while ago reminded me how much I enjoyed monster movies when I was younger. So I thought I'd give a monster story a try. I was expecting pretty formulaic plots, thin characters, and cheap writing to go along with the general "B movie" atmosphere of the genre. But I was pleasantly surprised. Robinson crafts a pretty interesting story. Yes, the characters are somewhat predictable, but the monster is surprisingly fresh in design. The action is heavy, and there are even a few moments of near-terror as Nemesis chases the heroes around. it was well done overall. I can't say too much more without giving away important plot details and twists. About the only thing I didn't like is that the author writes a good story, that clearly sets up a sequel, then writes three epilogues meant to drive home those possible sequels with all the subtlety of a wrench to the head. In fact, that's the only reason this isn't a five star book. Let the reader wonder a little, build some anticipation, rather than give us the equivalent of 3 different "final shots" that appear after the credits have rolled.

But that's a mistake at the very end of the book and does nothing to ruin the action, suspense, and horror of a good modern version of a Kaiju story.

USB Bluetooth V4.0 3.0 Wireless Mini Adapter Dongle for PC Win 7 8
USB Bluetooth V4.0 3.0 Wireless Mini Adapter Dongle for PC Win 7 8
Offered by Accmart
Price: CDN$ 4.95
7 used & new from CDN$ 4.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Great device, if you can get it to work, Jan. 26 2015
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When I first got this device and plugged it into my Windows 7 laptop, I couldn't get it to work. I asked a question in the product Q&A, but ultimately I had to figure it out on my own. I ended up uninstalling the device, then re-installing it without letting windows search for an updated driver. The older driver on my OS was enough to make it work. It now works fine and can easily go 20-30' while maintaining a connection with my Bluetooth speakers. However, the fact that I almost gave up on it and returned it before I got it working means I can't give it a strong positive rating. It almost ended up in the garbage. So for working great, five stars. For almost ending up in the garbage (and no help from the company who made it), one star. Thus, three stars overall.

Space Eldritch
Space Eldritch
by D. J. Butler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.65
8 used & new from CDN$ 15.64

3.0 out of 5 stars Hit and miss attempt at bringing Lovecraft into space sci-fi, Jan. 26 2015
This review is from: Space Eldritch (Paperback)
To being with, I'm a huge fan of HPL. His stories are some of the best horror stories ever. Despite avoiding gore and guts for the most part, he nevertheless conveys a horrible sense of fear and almost unimaginable terrors. Superb stuff. I've been rereading some of it recently and thought I'd try out a couple of newer flavors of this style of writing. Enter Space Eldritch, a collection of short stories. The strength of a collection like this lies in the individual stories, so I'll give a brief comment for each.

The first story, 'Arise Thou Niarlat From Thy Rest', is definitely a Mythos-centered story that reminded me of Stargate the TV series/movie. Interesting, but not something I'll remember (in fact, I forgot about it until I reread the table of contents for this review). So two to three stars for me.

Space Opera is classic science fiction. An alien race ruthlessly colonizes other planets, inhabited or not. Until they run into a planet who worships a very strange, but very protective god. Who isn't very nice...the horror elements for this story are almost all but absent, making it a dark science fiction story more than horror. Still, it was well done and I liked the aliens, so four stars.

The Menace Under Mars is a classic space horror movie. Go exploring on Mars, find a possible clue for past life, wake it up, and realize that it's bad. Very bad. So rather cliche, but well written just the same. Four stars.

Gods In Darkness features a cold war fight in space that is done on the behalf of a Cthulu/Mythos cultist. Interesting, and the most on-topic story, but the writing is poor. There's a badly-forced sex scene that's totally out of place along with completely cardboard, cliche characters. So two stars here.

The Shadows Of Titan is another one of those go to a planet, find evidence of alien life, check it out, bad things happen. For once I'd love for a sci-fi horror movie (Prometheus, I'm looking at you) to have its characters treat alien life the way it should be- very, very cautiously. Because we could wipe it out with our germs, or it could do what all alien horror stories/movies , wipe us out. There's at least a partial explanation of why the astronauts on a multibillion dollar mission act like idiots, but it's pretty weak sauce. So is the deus ex machina ending. That said, the writing was good and parts of the plot were quite interesting. Not too much in the way of mythos, but a solid sci-fi story. Three to four stars.

The Fury In The Void happens in a future when religion dominates over science. It's an interesting story, but ultimately, it tries to do to much. Comment about human nature, religion/science, personal sacrifice, faith, and a Cthulhu-esque space horror. It's a good try, but rather than give you a good taste of everything, they are all too rushed leading to a poor final product.

Voidheron ends on a strong note. Not strictly a space story, it deals with a new way of travelling across huge distances to new planets. Via mystical runes that no one seems to fully understand, but which are revealed to carry a very high price indeed. Perhaps my favorite of the bunch (with Space Opera #2), this one is definitely worth four, almost five stars.

So overall, I'd rate this book between three to four stars. Given that it heavily alludes to Lovecraftian elements that are largely vague or absent (it's not a Mythos book), I'll go with three and a half stars, rounding down this time. It's worth checking out if you really like Lovecraft or space horror, but it's certainly not a guaranteed, page after page, thriller.

Jets 2015 Square 12x12
Jets 2015 Square 12x12
by BrownTrout
Edition: Calendar
Price: CDN$ 4.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Military Jet Calendar, Jan. 20 2015
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This review is from: Jets 2015 Square 12x12 (Calendar)
This is a nice enough calendar about military jets. At 12"x12" it does a good enough job containing appointment info and the like. The photos are generally quite crisp and clear, and only one of them (the F-5) is a repeat from the same company's 2014 calendar. I've definitely seen bigger and better military jet calendars, but for the price, this one does the job. Four stars.

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