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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)

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Nine Months
Nine Months
by Paula Bomer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.00
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Debut Novel on a Pregnant Woman's Search for Herself, Jan. 8 2013
This review is from: Nine Months (Paperback)
Paula Bomer's "Nine Months: A Novel" is no mere chick-lit fiction. Instead, it is an engrossing, often captivating, odyssey about a woman's need to find herself again, to seek her own identity while trying to reconnect with her past, as she contends with an unexpected pregnancy. Her protagonist Sonia may be seen as an "every woman" fictional role model for those women seeking to find a meaningful balance between finding emotional and intellectual fulfillment in their career as well as in discharging their duties as a devoted mother faithful to their spouses and children. Sonia literally revisits her past as she undertakes a difficult, emotionally wrenching journey midway through her latest, quite unexpected, pregnancy, abandoning her husband and their two young sons in what is a most quixotic quest in search of herself, in attempting to reclaim her past life as a young painter with ample creative potential. Sonia does almost everything to deny the existence of her unborn daughter growing within her womb, by drinking alcohol, smoking pot, and even, having unprotected casual sex with strangers. Bomer has written an emotionally intense, quite riveting, character study, as well as a page-turner of a novel that will delight those who are fans of contemporary chick-lit fiction. However, "Nine Months" should be viewed as a novel that goes far beyond its chick-lit roots by daring to ask some difficult questions regarding the choices young mothers must make as they balance the needs of their families with their own personal desires and aspirations.

The Song Of Achilles: A Novel
The Song Of Achilles: A Novel
by Madeline Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.99
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Remarkable Fictional Interpretation of the Iliad Rendered for a Contemporary Audience, Jan. 5 2013
"The Song of Achilles" is a most vivid, quite compelling, fictional interpretation of Homer's Iliad rendered for a contemporary audience; it is also one of the most impressive debuts of fiction I have read, and one destined to be remembered as a contemporary classic of Anglo-American fiction. Moreover, the author, Madeline Miller, has written the best debut novel I have read from a fellow Brunonian; a writer whose tremendous literary talent will be compared favorable with the likes of our fellow Brunonians Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody, David Lipsky and David Ebershoff for years to come. Though she was trained as a Greek Classicist at Brown University's notable Classics Department, Miller's "The Song of Achilles" should not be seen only as her fictional homage to Homer and his Iliad, but instead, as an insightful, emotionally intense, and quite compelling, psychological study of the extraordinary close bond of friendship between Achilles and Patroclus, as seen through Patroclus' eyes, and one which fully fleshes out that bond which is merely hinted at in Homer's great epic poem. Miller excels in both her storytelling craft and in her majestic, quite poetic, prose in taking us on a riveting, often fascinating, journey to an Ancient Greece in which the Olympian Gods walked the Earth alongside mere mortals, replete with the realism found within Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" fantasy novels and stories, and introducing us to Chiron, the sagacious centaur who trains both Achilles and Patroclus through much of their adolescence, and, in particular, Thetis, the savage sea goddess who has legitimate reasons to fear for her son Achilles' future and objects vehemently to her son's close friendship with Patroclus. Miller excels too in her splendid mixture of the fantastical and realistic elements of her tale, rendering an Ancient Greece that seems as familiar as any contemporary North American or European countryside, in a fictional style that has more in common with Eugenides, Moody and their peers than with Homer. Widely acclaimed by critics and readers and the 2012 recipient of the Orange Prize for Fiction, "The Song of Achilles" is not merely a remarkable literary achievement from debut author Madeline Miller but one which bodes well for a career in letters that may be as remarkable as those achieved by the likes of Le Guin, Eugenides and Moody, among others.

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species
Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species
by Sean B. Carroll
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 2.86

5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable Tales about the Discoveries of Remarkable Creatures, Jan. 4 2013
With "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species", noted evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll has opted for a collection of memorable history of science vignettes which illustrate all too well both the love of scientific discovery and the often enthusiastic dedication of those who made such discoveries, greatly advancing our understanding of biology; without question, Carroll's latest book represents a radical departure from his earlier books in emphasizing more the history of science with regards to evolutionary biology rather than the science itself. Some of the these accounts - such as Darwin and Wallace's independent discoveries of Natural Selection, documented extensively in two chapters (Chapters Two and Three) may be familiar to readers, however, many may not be aware of Wallace's importance as the founder of the science of biogeography (Chapter Three) or of his friend Bates' discovery of the scientific principle which bears his name (Batesian mimicry) unearthed through years of extensive collecting of butterflies in the Amazon River basin while Wallace was busy collecting in the East Indies, acquiring specimens and important scientific insights that would establish him as the co-discoverer of Natural Selection and as the father of biogeography. Others will be introduce to the legendary careers of paleoanthropologist Eugene Dubois, the discoverer of Java Man (Chapter Four), invertebrate paleontologist Charles Doolittle Wolcott, the discoverer of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale Fauna (Chapter Five), and vertebrate paleobiologist John Ostrom (Chapter Nine), whose accidental discovery of the agile, relatively small, theropod dinosaur Deinonychus would usher a scientific revolution into our understanding of dinosaur physiology and of the origin and early evolution of birds, now recognized as the last, sole surviving lineage of theropod dinosaurs. There are excellent chapters devoted to the discovery of the "smoking gun" behind the terminal Cretaceous mass extinction which wiped out the nonavian dinosaurs and many other species of terrestrial and marine life (Chapter Eight), the discovery of the "fishapod" Tiktaalik (Chapter Ten) and the discoveries of the molecular evolutionary clock (Chapter Twelve), which led to the experimental confirmation of the "Out-of-Africa" hypothesis (Chapter Thirteen) accounting for the emergence of Homo Sapiens from Africa and our successful colonization of virtually the entire globe. "Remarkable Creatures" is yet another book from Sean B. Carroll which will delight and inspire his readers, reaffirming his status as among our most popular, and most noteworthy, science popularizers.

Making of the Fittest: Dna And The Ultimate Forensic Record Of Evolution
Making of the Fittest: Dna And The Ultimate Forensic Record Of Evolution
by Sean B Carroll
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.13
38 used & new from CDN$ 3.48

5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Impressive Account on the DNA Evidence for Biological Evolution, Jan. 4 2013
Distinguished evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll's "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution" is a superb popular introduction to some of the most important principles of biological evolution and of the key role which DNA plays in affecting biological evolution, and thusly, influencing both the current composition and structure of Planet Earth's biodiversity. Moreover, Carroll stresses the relatively new role in which DNA evidence has played - and continues to play - in understanding the timing of events in the history of life on Planet Earth which includes the development of "antifreeze" in certain species of Antarctic teleost fish (Chapter 1) recognizing the relative "unity of all life" which, via DNA evidence, demonstrates that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor (Chapter 3), the origins of color vision in animals (Chapter 4), the history of many lineages as represented in their currently inactive "fossil genes" (Chapter 5) and why evolution tends to repeat itself in different lineages of animals (Chapter 6). One of the most lucid accounts on the nature of Natural Selection is offered by Carroll in a chapter (Chapter 2) that stresses the mathematics of Natural Selection, giving readers a succinct understanding as to how Natural Selection works as the primary mechanism for biological evolution. He also succeeds in introducing readers to the concept of coevolutionary arms races and, in citing the prevalence of the sickle cell trait in Africans and Afro-Americans, demonstrates how this trait - as the result of a coevolutionary arms race with African pathogens - is an excellent example of evolution's "improvised" nature, lacking any preconceived, premeditated conception of evolutionary progress or intelligent design. Much to his credit, Carroll notes repeatedly why DNA evidence does not support any notions of "evolutionary progress" and "Intelligent Design", devoting much of a chapter (Chapter 9) in stressing the nature of science, especially with regards to well-established, well-corroborated, scientific theories such as contemporary evolutionary theory which has at its core, the Darwin - Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection, and in demolishing the breathtakingly inane claims of Intelligent Design creationist proponents that theirs is a credible, scientific, alternative to contemporary evolutionary theory, relying almost exclusively on DNA evidence and related aspects of molecular biology in making his most credible argument demolishing Intelligent Design. Once more Carroll demonstrates why he has become one of our foremost popularizers of science, while he is still actively engaged a scientific career that may prove to be far more important than those of such illustrious predecessors as Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science Of Evo Devo
Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science Of Evo Devo
by Sean B Carroll
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.84
38 used & new from CDN$ 6.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Introduction to the Science of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Jan. 4 2013
Still among the most impressive accounts on the current state of affairs in contemporary evolutionary biology, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo" is an especially lucid, well-written account on the relatively new science of evolutionary developmental biology - or "evo devo" for short - from one of its most notable researchers, geneticist Sean B. Carroll. Writing in a clear, often concise, prose that cites the likes of Eric Clapton and Henry David Thoreau, among others, in making his points, Carroll's book reads more like a grand adventurous trek through the science itself, not some mere textbook aimed for popular audiences. In Part I "The Making of Animals" Carroll gives his readers a most extensive, though concise, introduction to the fundamentals of developmental biology, citing mathematics, biochemistry, genetics as well as comparative anatomy in order to explain what are the basic building blocks for "assembling" animals and other forms of life on Earth, stressing the importance of Hox genes as those responsible for affecting the developmental biology of animals. In Part II "Fossils, Genes and the Making of Animal Diversity", Carroll takes his readers on a grand tour of the history of life on our planet, explaining the potential importance of hox genes and other aspects of evolutionary developmental biology in accounting for the relatively rapid diversification of metazoans (multicellular animals) during the "Cambrian Explosion" (Chapter 6) and in the origins of insect wings, tetrapod limbs, bat wings and bird wings (Chapter 7), the development of spots in butterflies (Chapter 8) and of coloration in animals (Chapter 8). Readers may be drawn especially to his discussion on the evo-devo explanation for the emergence of human intelligence and of humanity's close kinship with the Great Apes (Chapter 9). I know of no other book that does such a superb job in explaining the science of evolutionary developmental biology to a general audience; this is indeed a book that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone who is interested in modern biology.

DVD ~ Welser-Most
Price: CDN$ 28.99
38 used & new from CDN$ 14.93

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great New Year's Concert from the Wiener Philharmoniker and Conductor Franz Welser-Most, Jan. 2 2013
In a concert emphasizing both the festive nature of the music being performed and the music of Josef Strauss, the middle brother, in the Strauss family dynasty of Austrian composers noted for their exceptional compositions of waltzes, polkas and other dances, this year's "New Year's Day Concert", should be noted for both the excellent playing of the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and the fine conducting of Vienna State Opera Music Director - and Cleveland Orchestra Music Director - Franz Welser-Most. Most of the pieces performed include lesser known waltzes and polkas composed by Josef Strauss, regarded by his peers as the "Schubert of Waltz composers", with his best known work, the waltz "Music of the Spheres" among the highlights of the program; if for no other reason this is a concert that should be remembered for emphasizing Josef Strauss' exceptional gifts as a composer, surpassed only by his brother Johann Strauss II. It is followed later by a piece I have heard performed live by the Wiener Philharmoniker and other American orchestras before, the Prelude to Act III from Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin", in honor of the forthcoming bicentennial of his birth, but this is an especially distinguished interpretation emphasizing the warm, sonic qualities of the great hall of the Musikverein itself. Of course, the program concludes with the traditional encores of Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube" waltz and Johann Strauss I's "Radetzky March". To my surprise, this is the second consecutive year in which the Wiener Philharmoniker has opted not to issue the video and the CD by Deutsche Grammophon; instead, Sony is releasing both. The video may include scenes of Vienna State Opera Ballet dancers performing to the strains of several pieces, most notably those composed by Josef Strauss, scenes of the Danube River shrouded in snow-covered forests - during the performance of the "Blue Danube Waltz" - and a brief interview with the program host, again this year actress Julie Andrews, discussing with conductor Franz Welser-Most, Viennese reaction to Wagner's music. (The annual program is shown worldwide and, in the United States, is broadcasted as a co-production of public television station WNET and ORF, Austrian national radio and television.)

Courtesy of the Wiener Philharmoniker's website, here is the program, not including the three encores of which the first was a brief Josef Strauss piece followed by the "Blue Danube Waltz" and the "Radetzky March":

Josef Strauss: The Soubrette, Fast Polka, op. 109
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Kiss Waltz, op. 400
Josef Strauss: Theater Quadrille, op. 213
Johann Strauss, Jr.: From the Mountains, Waltz, op. 292
Franz von Suppé: Overture to the Operetta "Light Cavalry"


Josef Strauss: Music of the Spheres, Waltz, op. 235
Josef Strauss: The Spinstress, Polka française, op. 192
Richard Wagner: Prelude to Act III of the Romantic Opera "Lohengrin", WWV 75
Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr.: In Confidence, Polka mazur, op. 15
Josef Strauss: Hesperus' Paths, Waltz, op. 279 Josef Strauss: The Runners, Fast Polka, op. 237
Joseph Lanner: Styrian Dances, op. 165
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Melodies Quadrille, op.112
Giuseppe Verdi: Prestissimo from the Ballet Music in Act III of the Opera "Don Carlo"
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Where the Lemon Trees Bloom, Waltz, op. 364
Johann Strauss, Sr.: Memories of Ernst or The Carnival of Venice, Fantasy, op. 126

Roadside Picnic
Roadside Picnic
by Arkady Strugatsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Return of a Classic Russian Science Fiction Novel, Jan. 2 2013
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Paperback)
One of the best science fiction novels published last year is, oddly enough, among the oldest; Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's "Roadside Picnic", the inspiration for Andrei Tarkovksy's critically acclaimed film "Stalker". When it was published originally in its abbreviated English translation decades ago, none other than Theodore Sturgeon acclaimed "Roadside Picnic" as the product of "....[the] Strugatskys' deft and subtle handling of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness [produces] a truly superb tale..... You won't forget it." These are sentiments which I not only share but I believe are strongly emphasized in the newly translated edition of the entire original text of "Roadside Picnic", which is considered still as the greatest Russian science fiction novel of the 20th Century, as an excellent example of the traditional science fiction trope of "First Contact", but as Ursula Le Guin notes in the foreword to this edition, it is a "First Contact" tale in which aliens have visited Earth and ignored us, leaving behind in several areas, "Zones", debris that is potentially useful - and dangerous - to humans, especially to those willing to scavenge - "the stalkers" - it. Set somewhere unspecified in English-speaking North America, most likely Canada, "Roadside Picnic" is a most memorable odyssey of a young stalker, Red Schuhart, who is willing to test the limits of friendship and loyalty, love and desire in realizing that he must return again and again to the nearest "Zone" as a means of finding himself, as a means of finding solutions to all the problems he is facing. As a fictional exploration of the human spirit, "Roadside Picnic" is a science fiction novel worthy of a much broader readership, and one that might be especially receptive to it because it inspired Tarkovsky's brilliant film; it is also a notable novel that should earn a most receptive audience from those who are fans of speculative fiction, especially, science fiction. (As an aside, the surviving Strugatsky brother, Boris, contributes an afterword chronicling the difficult literary gestation that led to the novel's original publication in Russian.)

Little Kingdoms
Little Kingdoms
by Steven Millhauser
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.95
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Little Kingdoms Of Great Storytelling and Prose Courtesy of Steven Millhauser, Jan. 2 2013
This review is from: Little Kingdoms (Paperback)
Steven Millhauser demonstrates just how elegant a storyteller and writer he is in his novella collection "Little Kingdoms", which emphasizes his longstanding interests in exploring what some might refer to as magical realism, and what others might contend represent realistic fantasy. This is a most fascinating trio of novellas, of which the first one, "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne", may be the most endearing in emphasizing the emotional impact which Payne's cartoons have upon his life, and, in particular, his relationships with his wife and daughter; the latter becoming a most ardent fan of his animated cartoons. An emotional impact that's so overwhelming that, in essence, Payne loses himself to his obsessive desire in creating the finest animated films ever made, based on his cartoons and distinguished for their realism."The Princess, the Dwarf and the Dungeon", reads like one very long Brothers Grimm fairy tale as re-imagined by Franz Kafka; this is an especially grim - no pun intended - tale about a medieval castle that may startle the reader with its emphasis in depicting, with equal measure, both exultation and horror. "Catalogue of the Exhibition: The Art of Edmund Moorash (1810-1846)" reads like an extended essay from the catalogue of the latest exhibition devoted to the work of this 19th Century Romantic Painter, but one in which the biographical details recount scenes that could only come from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, in emphasizing the dysfunctional psychological nature of the relationships between Moorash and his friends, especially those who are women, in a style that may remind some of Thomas Bernhard's fiction. Without a doubt, "Little Kingdoms" emphasizes why Millhauser is often viewed as among our finest contemporary American writers of fiction, especially with regards to his impressive gifts in storytelling and in crafting elegant, often lyrical, prose.

The Hydrogen Sonata
The Hydrogen Sonata
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.99
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Space Opera Science Fiction on Self Determination and Identity from Iain M. Banks, Dec 31 2012
This review is from: The Hydrogen Sonata (Hardcover)
With the "Hydrogen Sonata", Iain Banks has offered readers yet another superb addition to his ongoing "Culture" space opera series of novels. These are novels that are more than action-adventure space opera science fiction epics, but instead, fictional parables on describing the importance of doing good works, the philosophical blurring between good and evil and other notable issues on ethics and morality which, alas, are all too often absent in much of what passes for contemporary mainstream fiction, and, therefore, are important reasons why great works of science fiction like the ongoing "Culture" space opera series deserve as broad a readership as possible, especially when written by one of our foremost writers in the English language, Iain M. Banks, who is well known for writing important works of mainstream literary fiction like his debut novel - as Iain Banks - "The Wasp Factory". "The Hydrogen Sonata" gives readers much of the standard tropes found in the subgenre of space opera science fiction, such as compelling battles between opposing military starships and fast-paced chases between characters in a setting as miraculous as a gigantic dirigible. However, "The Hydrogen Sonata" should be seen as an exemplary fictional exploration of self determination, identity, and responsibility for one's own actions as seen through the eyes of his chief protagonist, Lieutenant Commander (Reserve) Vyr Cossont, a musician who is called unexpectedly back to duty by the Gzilt Regimental High Command to seek out the oldest person in the Culture, who was a participant in the negotiations that led to its founding over nine thousand years ago. She is called back to duty during the final days of Gzilt civilization, one of the founding civilizations of the Culture, when virtually the entire population is ready to embrace the Sublime, the shedding of their physical bodies in exchange for immortality in a transcendent form of existence, emulating other, other civilizations which have gone before them. Banks has conjured one of his most compelling protagonists to date, and especially, a heroine as remarkable as any crafted by the likes of Ursula Le Guin and William Gibson. If nothing else, with "The Hydrogen Sonata", Banks reaffirms the relevance of contemporary science fiction to current literature, in providing yet another epic tale that dares to raise important questions pertaining to identity, self determination and one's own sense of responsibility; questions which are often absent in much of contemporary Anglo-American literary fiction.

The Kissing List
The Kissing List
by Stephanie Reents
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.00
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fine Writing, However, I Wasn't Moved by the Characters, Dec 31 2012
This review is from: The Kissing List (Hardcover)
"The Kissing List", Stephanie Reents' critically acclaimed debut short story collection, is a sterling example of what my friend the fantasy writer Ellen Kushner has described as "domestic realism fiction", a somewhat sarcastic observation of what passes for great literature by many writers who seem content to remain strictly within the guidelines of contemporary literary fiction, treating genre fiction as a literary art form not worthy of attention. Reents has crafted an interconnected set of short stories revolving around a group of young American women who meet at Oxford University and move to New York City. These are stories that chronicle their romantic misadventures and how they cope with them. The strongest story is "Roommates" which describes through the eyes of the narrator, her experience living with Laurie, stricken with cancer and how Laurie copes with it, especially during two different episodes of remission. Reents is a very good writer with an especially good ear for dialogue; however, I felt less in awe with her characters, many of whom I regard as virtually interchangeable. While "The Kissing List" should be read for its writing, both its characters and setting seem far less impressive than those described in notable short story collections also published this year from the likes of Dan Chaon, Krys Lee and Charles Yu, among others, who have offered readers compelling, truly memorable, characters and settings as diverse as the dark corners of one's own soul (Chaon), North Korea (Lee) and zombies and outer space (Yu).

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