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Reviews Written by
John Kwok (New York, NY USA)

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Demon&Hunter Relaxed Series Men's Loose Fit Relaxed Jeans DH8009
Demon&Hunter Relaxed Series Men's Loose Fit Relaxed Jeans DH8009
Offered by Demon&Hunter Flagship-Store
Price: CDN$ 156.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Casual Men's Jeans, Nov. 12 2015
I recently put these jeans to the test by wearing them as I was walking nearly three and a half miles on November 1, 2015, photographing both spectators and runners at this year's New York City Marathon. These are some of the finest made, most comfortable, jeans I have worn, and they look attractive even at some semi-formal events I have attended recently here in New York City. Though I have obtained a free sample from the manufacturer, this did not bias the writing of my review. Instead, I was much more interested in seeing how well they fit, as I walked, and occasionally, ran, as I was photographing the New York City Marathon. Without hesitation, I highly recommend them to any man interested in wearing loosely fitting, very comfortable high quality jeans.

Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped
Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped
Price: CDN$ 9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explaining Why Vladimir Putin Is an Ever Present Danger, Oct. 28 2015
It would be easy to dismiss “Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” as a polemical attack upon Vladimir Putin, but Garry Kasparov, with the assistance of Mig Greengard, has written a most thoughtful account on the history of Russian politics since the rapid decline and fall of the Soviet Union; a cautionary tale explaining how the democratic aspirations of the Russian people were derailed by uninspired leadership from Boris Yeltsin, the unlikely succession and subsequent consolidation of power by his successor Vladimir Putin, and the West’s inability in promoting democracy during Yeltin’s rule, and then, in turning a blind eye to Putin’s revival of a one-party dictatorship. “Winter Is Coming” should be viewed as required reading by politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen throughout the Free World who think we should maintain “normal” diplomatic and commercial ties with Putin’s dictatorial Russian regime. What makes “Winter Is Coming” especially compelling is in recognizing it as a notable historical overview of Russian politics in the last quarter century seen personally through the eyes of Kasparov, a notable Russian democrat and critic of Putin’s kleptocratic dictatorship. A notable critic who recognized immediately, the seismic shifts in Russian politics months, even years, before many Western diplomats, historians and political scientists. (For example, he predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union months before it occurred, offering a realistic assessment of current Soviet politics which eluded American foreign policy experts, including the likes of Brent Scowcroft and Condoleeza Rice.)

Kasparov offers us a far more realistic appraisal of Putin than historian Stephen F. Cohen, who has argued consistently that Putin is more a creature of the nomenklatura – the entrenched Soviet Union-born bureaucracy – and the powerful oligarchs controlling and manipulating Russia’s economy. Instead of this relatively passive view of Putin, we are introduced instead to a real-life Mafia don emerging from the pages of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” trilogy, “The Last Don”, “Omerta” and “The Sicilian”; all of which Kasparov regards as required reading for anyone wishing to understand Putin and what makes him tick:

“…..A Puzo fan sees the Putin government more accurately; a strict hierarchy, extortion, intimidation, a tough-guy image, eliminating traitors, the code of secrecy and loyalty, and, above all, a mandate to keep the revenue flowing. In other words, a mafia.”

“ As long as you are loyal to the capo, he will protect you. If one of the inner circle goes against the capo, his life his forfeit. Once Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khordorkovsky, wanted to go straight and run his Yukos oil company as a legitimate corporation and not as another cog in Putin’s KGB Inc., he quickly found himself in a Siberian prison, his company dismantled and looted, and its pieces absorbed by the state mafia apparatus of Rosneft and Gazprom. Private companies were absorbed into the state while at the same time the assets of the state companies moved into private accounts. State and corporate power merged. It became a perverse combination of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in which the profits were privatized and the expenses were nationalized.” (pages 160 -161)

Kasparov condemns all of Ronald Reagan’s successors as President of the United States, who have consistently tried normalizing relations with Russia, instead of demanding extensive and radical reforms to promote democratic values and free market capitalism. Some of his worst criticism is aimed specifically at both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, whom he thinks missed ample opportunities to demand genuine reforms from Putin’s government, possibly discouraging it from seizing territories in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine. He also blames Russia’s first post-Soviet Union president, Boris Yeltsin, for not instituting political and economic reforms akin to those implemented by Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, who, as president of Czechoslovakia, ensured not only a peaceful dissolution of his country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also the survival of democracy and free market capitalism, allowing both to become spectacular political and economic successes in post-Soviet Empire Eastern Europe. He casts ample doubt on the actions of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, calling into question Snowden’s asylum request, and implying that Snowden may have been aided and abetted by Putin’s KGB. Kasparov concludes by demanding that Western – and indeed, all of the Free World - political leaders try emulating the moral leadership shown by Reagan and Havel, in insisting that human rights remain the cornerstone of any diplomatic and economic overtures to the Putin regime and other newly ascendant enemies of the free world, especially ISIS in the Middle East. Kasparov thinks that when Western political leaders cease offering appeasement to the Putin regime and other dictatorships, then we may no longer fear that “Winter is Coming”.

No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Slim Portable Optical Drive, Aug. 31 2015
One of the finest external portable drives I have used, I tested the Ruban 24X USB Slim Portable Optical Drive with two Dell SSD laptops operating with recently installed Windows 10 Professional, and this worked superbly with both. It has a remarkably small profile that might lead potential users into thinking that it is an external hard drive, not an optical drive. Ruban offers plug and play usage with this optical drive, with its software easily installable. It is quite fast, and quite possibly, faster, than other optical drives or other external CD/DVD player drives I have used. Although I received a sample from the manufacturer for testing, please note that mine is a sincere, heart-felt, review of this superb external optical drive.

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
by China Miéville
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.25
35 used & new from CDN$ 23.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Possibly This Year's Best Short Story Collection, Aug. 31 2015
One of the premier literary stylists and storytellers in contemporary Anglo-American literature, not only speculative fiction, China Miéville demonstrates why he may be the most interesting writer currently working in Great Britain in this splendid collection of short stories, "Three Moments of an Explosion". Most of these are recently published stories, having appeared in print - or online - in journals like Icon Magazine ("The Rope is the World"), ("Polynia" ), and Granta ("The Buzzard's Egg"), though there are some, like the title story ("Three Moments of an Explosion") that appeared in self-published form on his website. Miéville - who writes what Jeff VanderMeer has dubbed "new weird fiction" and may be its finest practitioner - offers readers a compellingly readable blend of science fiction, horror and fantasy in memorable flash fiction pieces like the title story to longer works like those I have mentioned. "Polynia" is a spellbinding eyewitness account of what happens with floating icebergs hover in the sky above London. "The Rope is the World" may be the most fascinating space elevator speculative fiction tale I have read, in which the narrator recounts tersely, the history of their construction. In "The Buzzard's Egg", the narrator has a "conversation" with the statue of the demi-god, that is memorable for its melancholy tone, and vividly descriptive prose. The flash fiction piece "A Mount" may be the collection's best, about a young boy who has an intense fascination with a porcelain horse sculpture. And then there is "The Design", about a medical student who unexpectedly finds an elegantly wrought design on the skeleton of a corpse he is studying in his anatomy course, which may be one of Miéville's most disturbing - and engrossing - weird fiction tales. Without a doubt, "Three Moments of an Explosion" is a long overdue addition to Miéville's oeuvre of notable, quite compelling, novels and short story collections; it must be seen as one of the most important - if not the most important - short story collections newly published this year.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: A Novel
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: A Novel
by Alexandra Kleeman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.05
30 used & new from CDN$ 20.05

5.0 out of 5 stars A Weird Psychological Thriller about the Body and Consumerism, Aug. 29 2015
For those unfamiliar with great writing about science and nature from the likes of Diane Ackerman, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, David Quammen, and E. O. Wilson, Alexandra Kleeman''s ''"You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine"', will be a revelation, and more than a few have noted elsewhere how she writes about the human body like no other, in her compellingly readable debut novel. While there is much to admire in Kleeman''s descriptions of human anatomy, it may be wrong to conclude that her descriptions are as unique or as well written as those I have mentioned, especially Gould's, who drew repeatedly upon references to popular culture, music, architecture, history and literature in his notable nonfiction pertaining to paleobiology and other aspects of evolutionary biology. Instead, Kleeman has written a memorably weird psychological thriller that owes much to Haruki Murakami, early Thomas Pynchon, and perhaps, to an extent, Rick Moody too, exploring a literary terrain well-traveled by the likes of China Miéville, David Mitchell, and Jeff VanderMeer, among others, which VanderMeer has dubbed 'new weird fiction'. A weird psychological thriller whose speculative fictional aspects rank her debut novel alongside Jess Row''s '"Your Face in Mine"' as the best recently published speculative fiction novel written by an American mainstream literary fiction writer, in a literary style that will remind some of William Gibson''s recent work, especially his 'Blue Ant' trilogy ('"Pattern Recognition"', "'Spook Country"', '"Zero History'"). Gibson has said that we live in a 'science fictional present', and Kleeman''s debut novel may be the closest I have seen from a mainstream literary fiction writer that explores this very notion, adhering to an extent, what J. G. Ballard has dubbed the "'tool kit of science fiction"'.

In a manner reminiscent of Murakami, and perhaps Franz Kafka too, Kleeman introduces us to three characters known only as A, B and C, with A and B female roommates in some nondescript New York City apartment, and C, A's long-time boyfriend. Told in first person from A's perspective, she describes how she spends her time eating popsicles and oranges, and watches television, especially commercials, and, in particular, those promoting Kandy Kakes that have become her dietary obsession. How she becomes absorbed in trying to reshape her body, as a means of making herself more physically attractive like those actors she has seen in many television commercials. Meanwhile B has become obsessed with transforming herself into A's twin, seeing in A, a role model well worth emulating. After becoming obsessed with Michael, an unlikely television hero who has purchased all the veal from a local supermarket chain, A decides to apply to the reality television show '"That's My Partner!"' and joins a Christian church that mandates a most unique set of dietary restrictions upon its members.

Wildly imaginative and darkly satirical in her writing, Kleeman demonstrates that she is a keen observer of human nature. Her writing sparkles with ample intelligence, in a manner not too dissimilar from Rick Moody''s best writing. It is a noteworthy fictional exploration of love, sex, faith, appetite and marketing, deserving of some favorable comparisons with the likes of Gibson and Murakami. However, her heroine, A, isn't nearly as riveting a character as Gibson''s Molly, from his exceptional debut novel '"Neuoromancer"', Chloe Bathurst from James Morrow''s recently published, quite brilliant ' and unfortunately, ignored - "'Galapagos Regained"' or the heroine in Haruki Murakami''s "'1Q84"'. While this is a notable flaw in an otherwise fine literary debut, it shouldn't discourage readers from buying copies of Kleeman''s debut novel, for which there is much to admire for the reasons I have stated. Kleeman demonstrates she is one of the most distinctive, and original, voices of her generation, having written a debut novel worthy of consideration as among this year's best.

Chasing the Phoenix: A Science Fiction Novel
Chasing the Phoenix: A Science Fiction Novel
by Michael Swanwick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.40
35 used & new from CDN$ 20.21

5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Darger and Surplus Romp Through a Post-Utopian China, Aug. 28 2015
Demonstrating once more why he is one of the premier literary stylists and storytellers in Anglo-American speculative fiction, Michael Swanwick's "Chasing the Phoenix" is yet another madcap romp through the post-Utopian future of Aubrey Darger and Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux - better known as Surplus; a compelling sequel to his earlier "Dancing with Bears" and the all too brief, quite hilarious, short fiction he's written about these two extraordinary con men (or rather, genetically modified dog, Surplus) who may be among the most compelling fictional creations in contemporary American literature, not just speculative fiction. Those unfamiliar with Swanwick's earlier novel, or his other Darger and Surplus tales, will find "Chasing the Phoenix" a most delightful read, not least because Swanwick's exceptional literary talents have raised what should be an ordinary example of pulp speculative fiction to high literary art. What more can you ask of a novel that has bioengineered extinct creatures, hordes of invading armies, and a long-lost nuclear warhead? In "Chasing the Phoenix", Darger and Surplus find themselves the unexpected architects of a successful effort to reunite China under the rule of a single emperor, merging a motley collection of warring states into a revived Chinese Empire. Without question, Michael Swanwick has written yet another notable addition to his splendid oeuvre of novels and stories, and one that may be remembered as among the finest new novels of speculative fiction published this year.

The Fifth Season
The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.63
27 used & new from CDN$ 13.14

5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Fantasy Novel of the Year, Aug. 27 2015
This review is from: The Fifth Season (Paperback)
"The Fifth Season" is the fantasy novel of the year, worthy of comparison with Robert Jackson Bennett's "City of Stairs" published last year for the exceptional quality of Jemisin's world-building, memorable characters, vividly realized plotting, and exceptionally crafted prose. Both superb novels are the finest fantasy novels published in recent years, with Jemisin demonstrating that she may be our foremost contemporary epic fantasy writer of our time. While I admire greatly, N. K. Jemisin's earlier "The Inheritance Trilogy", "The Fifth Season" represents her maturation as one of the most important storytellers and literary stylists in contemporary speculative fiction. Clearly she has embarked upon her most ambitious fantasy epic yet; an epic fantasy that is a compelling saga about love, identity and power, coupled with thoughtful reflections about gender, race and class which are persistent themes ever present in her fiction. But more importantly, in her dramatically realistic depictions of her characters, she reminds us of some of the foremost literary stylists of "New Wave" Anglo-American Speculative Fiction; not only such obvious candidates as Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany and Joanna Russ, but even, the likes of Angela Carter too. As a former geologist, I'll concede my initial skepticism with using terms like "orogenes" and "orogeny", but I was soon won over by her exceptionally high literary craft, starting with her exceptional world building. Without question, "The Fifth Season" is destined to be remembered as one of this year's most notable new works of speculative fiction, and one that should be a strong contender for all of the major awards in science fiction and fantasy.

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64Bit English DVD OEM
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64Bit English DVD OEM
Offered by Memory house
Price: CDN$ 189.23
19 used & new from CDN$ 189.23

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Microsoft Gets It (Mostly) RIght, Aug. 6 2015
Finally Microsoft gets it right, offering users an operating system that offers the best from Windows 7 and Windows 8, that may be the most pleasant using - and viewing - experience I have had on a laptop, including those made by Apple. (In fact, I think the new Windows 10 is superior to Apple's latest operating system.) I've been able to upgrade to Windows 10 Professional for free, replacing Windows 7 Professional on several laptops. In each case, the upgrade was surprisingly easy, taking at most an hour and a half to download and then install the upgraded software. Those familiar with Windows operating systems up to Windows 7 will greatly appreciate the return of the start menu, but in a greatly improved, updated form, which has Windows 8's visual appeal, but still opts for a KISS (Keep IT Simple Stupid) philosophy. I've tried the new Microsoft Edge browser and like it, but don't like that I have to important favorite pages from my earlier Internet Explorer browser, or that the new Microsoft Edge doesn't support add-ons to allow searching via Google or Norton Safe Search. Instead, I would recommend that users try to retain Internet Explorer 11 as their default browser so they can use online security software like Norton's easily. However, despite my strong misgivings with respect to Microsoft Edge, I think overall, Microsoft has released a superior operating system that looks to be better than Apple's.

California: A Novel
California: A Novel
by Edan Lepucki
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.75
76 used & new from CDN$ 1.90

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Debut Novel About A Young Couple In Crisis, July 31 2015
This review is from: California: A Novel (Hardcover)
One of the more notable debut novels of 2014, "California" is recommendable as a compelling saga of a young couple forced to survive in the wilderness and live by their wits, after fleeing a decaying Los Angeles sometime in the near future. Debut novelist Edan Lepucki deserves praise in writing compellingly about the young couple Cal and Frida, and how they must contend with the internal political dynamics of a survivalist New Ageish commune and its charismatic leader, while also coping with Frida's unexpected pregnancy. As a work of near future apocalyptic/dystopian speculative fiction, "California" is far more realistic than either Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange" or Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven" - two of the highly touted dystopian speculative fiction novels from mainstream literary fiction writers also published for the first time last year - but, like them, it has its own problems in speculative fictional world-building - starting with a plausible explanation for Los Angeles' decay that would result in thousands fleeing it - that render it as a far less compelling work of near future dystopian speculative fiction than Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars", Davide Longo's "The Last Man Standing", and Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Water Knife". Lepucki does deserve praise for the quality of her prose and storytelling in "California"; those who treat it more as a very good debut novel about a young couple in crisis than as near future dystopian speculative fiction will find much worth reading from a writer who warrants ample attention as one of the noteworthy young American writers of her generation.

South Shore
South Shore
Offered by importcds__
Price: CDN$ 16.81
12 used & new from CDN$ 16.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Notable Introduction to an Important Young New York City-Based Composer, July 20 2015
This review is from: South Shore (Audio CD)
There’s almost a timeless quality to these miniature pieces found in Michael Vincent Waller’s “The South Shore”, a notable introduction to an important young New York City-based composer, whose works are being performed increasingly throughout the United States, Europe and East Asia. Waller is looking backward to composers from the Baroque and Second Viennese School periods, but blazing new musical terrain that is almost uniquely his, determined to offer listeners, works that, while deceptively simple, are indeed sophisticated in their scoring, especially with regards to counterpoint, and demand repeated listening. This two-cd set is a superb introduction to Waller’s music, tracing his strongly-felt affinities to the Baroque period, while also acknowledging his artistic debt not only to the Second Viennese School, but especially to the likes of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, without sounding derivative at all. For years he’s been fortunate to work closely with a varied, extremely talented, assortment of New York City-based classical musicians; one of whom, cellist Christine Kim, featured on many of the tracks, is also the album’s co-producer, along with Waller and Ryan Streber. But there are impressive performances too from musicians from Europe and Asia, including pianist Nicolas Horvath, flutist Luna Cholong Kang, and Dedaleus Ensemble, which commissioned Ritratto, a sextet for flute, alto saxophone, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone, that had its American premiere in the Fall of 2013 at Brooklyn, NY performance arts space Roulette; its recording is a live performance from that concert.

Virtually all of the pieces on “The South Shore” were composed in 2013 and 2014, but an especially noteworthy exception is Waller’s compelling Baroque-tinged string trio from 2012, Per La Madre e La Nonna on the first CD, composed to celebrate his mother and grandmother’s introduction to his emerging talents in musical composition; at nearly ten and a half minutes, it is the longest piece listed on either CD. Other notable pieces on the first CD include his three-movement piano trio (Tre Pezzi per Trio di Pianoforte), the two-movement Nel Nomo di Gesu for cello and organ, and the solo organ piece Organum. Waller demonstrates repeatedly, his interest in composing melodies that may lead listeners to conclude that he is merely composing Baroque music for the 21st Century; one notable exception, which reflects his initial interest in contemporary atonal music, is his four-movement work for solo cello, Y for Henry Flynt, composed in 2012, with cellist Christine Kim, a most passionate advocate for it. “The South Shore” deserves ample praise for being a superb recording from a small label, XI records; it is also to my ears, one of the most intriguing, and enjoyable, recent recordings of classical music, and warrants ample consideration as one of this year’s best. If nothing else, “The South Shore” represents an important artistic “debut” of Michael Vincent Waller’s music; a young composer who seems poised to remain an important figure in New York City’s contemporary (classical) music scene.

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