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Commentaires écrits par
A. Volk (Canada)
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Guns Against the Reich: Memoirs of an Artillery Officer on the Eastern Front
Guns Against the Reich: Memoirs of an Artillery Officer on the Eastern Front
by Petr Mikhin
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 52.33
26 used & new from CDN$ 23.49

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Either severely exaggerated or this is the Soviet equivalent to Audie Murphy!, Feb. 14 2014
I bought this book expecting it to describe traditional artillery duels. That would end fairly plainly as the Soviets far outclassed the Germans in artillery during the later stages of the war (especially in terms of quantity). Instead, it's about a Soviet artilleryman who spends most of his time on the front line spotting artillery. I'll use my usual four-category war autobiography rating.

Tactical- this book has incredible tactical depth. It doesn't quite describe the specific procedures of using Soviet artillery (in this case the 122mm howitzer), but it describes the tactical use of the guns prolifically and in great depth. The author fought in defensive and offensive engagements. He fought against tanks. Against infantry. Against artillery. He even relates attacks from the air on occasion. Mikhin was an exceptionally brave soldier who didn't shy away from the fiercest of combat. He wasn't reckless, but he was almost always eager to fight. So he saw a lot of action, and almost all of it right beside the infantry in their front lines. This book contains more than enough action to satisfy the reader.

Strategic- Mikhin starts off as a lieutenant and ends up as a captain, so we get some sense of the strategic picture. Perhaps up to the division level. But it's mostly a political sense of how the military bureaucracy works versus strategic goals and efforts. So this is not a great book if you want to get a larger sense of the Soviet effort, or the use of Soviet artillery.

Moral- This book has some moral depth to it. Mikhin is deeply concerned with the lives of his soldiers. He ponders frequently on the nature of war and what it can do to people. He spares some time to think about the enemy, and how they can be brave men too. But mostly he views the Germans as enemies to be killed, especially when he believes there is evidence that they have been savages (e.g., killing civilians). He's not a cold-blooded killer, he's more of an eager fighter who doesn't enjoy, but doesn't shy away from, killing his enemies. You do get a good picture of the morality of various Soviet soldiers. From the naive to the nasty, from the altruistic to the psychopathic.

Personal- These moral pictures are largely built around the many excellent details of Mikhin's life as a soldier. He endured almost four years of constant war. Unlike German soldiers, Soviet soldiers generally didn't rotate on and off tours of duty. So there's a lot to be glimpsed of his life and the lives of the men around him.

Overall, this is an excellent book. So why four stars? Because it's either a 1 star book or a 5 star book. Mikhin claims to accomplish so much, have so much success, survive so many near-death experiences, that it's almost too much to believe. I kept thinking that yes, there were millions of Soviet soldiers, but could one be so very lucky? Coincidentally, at the halfway point of the book when I was thinking of putting it away for good as fiction, Mikhin spends three pages talking about the role of luck in war. Both for survival and for tactical victories. He knows he was lucky. I know he was lucky. I just can't be 100% sure that he really was that lucky. He actually goes above and beyond Audie Murphy in many of his exploits. Apparently, his hard-to-believe luck includes the bad luck that his single-handed destruction of an enemy group was noted as an anonymous effort. Had he been named, he would have received the Soviet's highest honor for bravery (to join an impressive list of medals he did receive).

So I recommend this book very strongly, but I have to add that I'm only 80% confident that it's pure fact without significant exaggeration/fiction. I would love to see proof of its honesty/veracity (in a follow-up review?) in which case I'd be happy to change my recommendation to five stars. But even if parts are exaggerated, there's still more than enough to impress and inform the reader. Thus my four-star recommendation.

Introducing Garrett, P.I.
Introducing Garrett, P.I.
by Glen Cook
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 17.99
35 used & new from CDN$ 12.11

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Rockford files meet Conan, Feb. 1 2014
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This is a three-story compilation of what a private investigator who lives in a fantastic world full of magic and fantasy beings (e.g., trolls, ogres, vampires, etc.). Garrett, the main character, is a charming but tough PI who primarily uses his tenacity to solve cases. He's not the strongest or the toughest guy on the block (although he's decent in both areas), but he's got street-smarts in spades and a lot of interesting allies who can help him out when he needs extra brains or muscle. The writing reads like an old '50s detective novel with good pacing, interesting plot twists, and fairly memorable characters. Make no mistake, this isn't grand literature, but it is an awful lot of fun to read if you're interested in fantasy and in detective stories. I love the older style detective shows (Rockford, Columbo, etc. versus CSI) and I like pulp fiction (in reference to the genre, not the movie- which was OK). If you like one, or especially if you like both, then I think this is an easy series to recommend. As mentioned, it's not likely to provide dramatic moments of insight or depth of thought, but it is a very fun way to pass the time. The writing is better than most pulp fantasy out there, and I did just order the next batch of stories in the series, so I think five stars is a generous, but defensible rating for this book.

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
by Robert M Gates
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 29.99
83 used & new from CDN$ 7.00

4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thorough, balanced, and interesting memoirs, Jan. 28 2014
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I must confess that I knew little about Robert Gates before I bought this book. But I was quite keen to read the memoirs of someone who helped oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving under two different presidents. Gates was brought on board by Bush 43 to help turn around the war in Iraq as it was beginning to bog down with casualties and no clear end in sight. Gates was a university president at the time, but had a long history of working with the government, including serving with Bush 41 (and Reagan, Carter, Ford) and serving as head of the CIA. So he was no neophyte to Washington, politics, or national issues. He immediately went to work supporting the idea of a surge that proved to be successful. Calling himself the "soldier's secretary", he was motivated by a deep need to protect the troops whose combat orders he signed.

The book goes into significant detail about both wars, largely at the strategic level (tactical information largely is restricted to efforts to help protect the troops). He outlines the decision process, the people involved, the countries involved, and the bureaucracies involved. As a non-registered Republican, Gates comes off as very even-handed. He paints Bush in a slightly more positive light than Obama, which I was going to refute with a claim that Bush was an experienced president in the final lap of his second term while Obama was a new president who would have to seek re-election in four years. But Gates notes that himself. He characterizes Bush 43 as a man of decisive action, who was less concerned with political issues than with what he thought was right. He was fair and personable to Gates, although their relationship never went beyond a professional one. These same things can be said about Obama, other than his greater weighing of political costs and benefits and greater influence of White House staff. Without giving away the content of the book, it's pretty remarkable how similar Obama and Bush appear through Gates' eyes. To be sure, they were very different people and Gates notes that often enough. But at the bottom line, beyond their opposing political views, both were professionals who appeared to be very competent to Gates.

There are a lot of other people beyond presidents mentioned in the book. Gates is very positive about Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton. Again, two different personalities and political positions, but two very competent Secretaries of State who both worked well with Gates. In fact, the information about Hillary is so positive I think this book would be a real boost for her should she run for president. Even for right-leaning readers, Gates claims that Hillary taught him not to judge a book by its cover, or media reputation. Biden and Cheney both get a lot of ink. Both were extremists within their governments. Cheney was an extreme war hawk, Biden an extreme peace dove. Foreign leaders get some coverage, as do many other people in the upper levels of Washington politics. And certainly, the generals and admirals get a lot of attention. Almost all of it is positive, although comments about their lapses in media judgment are noted. In general, Gates got along with most of the people he worked with, but he doesn't shy away from describing difficult situations or people, nor does he shy away from talking about the people he ended up firing. So this isn't a feel-good book where he's kind to everyone. Everyone takes a shot here and there, but it really seems that Gates generally tried to get along with most people and most of them tried the same in return (which is actually fairly shocking in politics!).

All in all, I found it to be a very fascinating and (as far as I can tell) very honest look behind the curtains of power. Gates comes across as perhaps too sensible and thoughtful, or at least that's how it seemed to me. I could hardly fault or disagree with any of his decisions. If someone else does, at least the logic behind those decisions are clearly laid out, often with details of the political and/or military machinery that surrounded those decisions. Gates also deals with broader issues, such as problems with the Congress, or with the national media. Gates calls himself, above all, a realist, and I think he deserves that claim. He was both for and against war in different contexts, he served both presidents very well (Obama wanted him to stay on), and his motives seem to be largely apolitical and without career objectives. So as a person, I found him to be an interesting person to read about. As a topic, this book deserves to be read by a wide audience. Anyone interested in the personalities of the big players, the machinery of war and/or politics, the day-to-day challenges of being the Secretary of Defence, the history of US politics (going back almost 40 years), and plain human nature in general, is probably going to get something significant out of this book. At 600 pages it's definitely not a fast read. But it is well written, and for 600 pages of biographical history, it captured my attention from start to finish. With his added final thoughts and caveats at the end of the book addressing a lot of the questions I came up with throughout the book, I really don't have any reason to not give this book 5 stars. It's not the best biography I've ever read, but it certainly is a very good one that is sure to appeal to a broad audience on both sides of the political fence. Which, as Gates would point out, is a good thing. Solid five stars.

Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
by Peter Clines
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.37
28 used & new from CDN$ 7.81

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Entertaining, but a little forced, Jan. 17 2014
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This review is from: Ex-Purgatory: A Novel (Paperback)
This is the fourth instalment in the Ex- series of books. Briefly, they are about a group of super-heroes living in a zombie apocalypse. Only this time around, they don't seem to be heroes or living in an apocalypse. George, one of the main characters, has dreams of such things, but that's as far as it goes. At least for the start. It's hard to fully discuss this book without revealing spoilers, so I'll try to give a general impression without giving anything surprising away. First, this book is kind of a "what if" or alternate-reality that's not too rare in comic books. It does tie directly in with the regular series, so it's not a complete stand-alone, but it is primarily about the main characters and how they would behave in different circumstances.

I found the plot, and in particular the origins of the main antagonist, to be really stretched. It made little sense why the antagonist did what they did (versus something more ruthless) and how the antagonist came to be. That got a couple of sentences that didn't really make any sense to me (even within the context of a universe with zombies and super heroes). The book felt like the author had an idea and then forced a book around that idea instead of having a more flowing and believable story. Also, there's not a whole lot of action in this book, which is part of its charm and part of its failure.

For fans of the series, it's a good look at the "normal" side of the heroes. There are some good moments of action and adventure, but they are relatively few and far between. This book is about an author's plot idea (that actually has some big holes IMO) and character development. The latter is good, and makes it worth recommending this book to fans of the series as we get to learn more about the characters personality's, flaws, and "normal" lives. However, I can't be overly enthusiastic as the last 50 or so pages had me almost constantly questioning the plot and/or behaviour of the characters. It would also make a terrible introduction to the series, as this book almost certainly requires previous knowledge of the characters to enjoy it. So overall then, I think it's an OK book- maybe 3.5/5 stars, but I'm rounding down this time. Good, but not great, for fans, poor for people trying to get into the series for the first time. Try one of the first three books instead.

Be Ready When The Sh T Goes Down: A Survival Guide to the Apocalypse
Be Ready When The Sh T Goes Down: A Survival Guide to the Apocalypse
by Forrest Griffin
Edition: Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Over-the-top frat boy humour takes on the apocalypse, Jan. 11 2014
To start off with, apparently, Forrest Griffin is afraid of death. He had some really bad dreams when he was 11 and hasn't been the same since. He has a large home arsenal that he and his wife use to "protect" themselves, and he also believes it's only a matter of time before something really bad happens to civilization. Natural or human-induced. So it's not surprising that he would be interested in writing a book about surviving such an event. And there are a few tips scattered throughout the book, but generally speaking, it's a humour book.

And that humour is definitely R-rated. Forrest warns as much at the start of his book. It's aimed at young men, and I might have been just a touch too mature to really appreciate all the humour. Filthy, dirty, sexual humour fills the pages. If you are offended by someone talking about the Dirty Sanch**, then you should probably stay away from this book. If fart jokes and frat boy humour make you laugh, then this is your book. It's so over the top that it generally works for me. Forrest is not afraid to call the reader a pansy just as he's not afraid to poke fun at his own fears and foibles.

So why four stars? Well, at times it's a little too much. And he does really break the "illusion" of the book by getting all serious for a moment and discussing how he actually believes in God. It completely ruins the otherwise tongue-in-cheek attitude of the book and kills the humour. Maybe something at the end of the book would have been better. Overall then, I think this is probably a 3.5/5 star book. But since he's an MMA fighter who's had his brain bashed around a lot, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. Plus I wouldn't want him to hunt me down for giving him a bad review! (I'm joking of course)

Jets 2014 Square 12x12
Jets 2014 Square 12x12
by BrownTrout
Edition: Calendar

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Nicely done, but a touch small, Jan. 11 2014
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This review is from: Jets 2014 Square 12x12 (Calendar)
The photos here are nicely done and generally from interesting angles. Off-centre or zoomed in (e.g., front image), they present some nice images to help pass the year. At 12" x 12" they are on the smaller side for a photographic calendar though. So good, but not great. Four stars.

Dogfight: The Greatest Air Duels of World War II
Dogfight: The Greatest Air Duels of World War II
by Tony Holmes
Edition: Hardcover
38 used & new from CDN$ 6.35

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Good in places, but inconsistent, Jan. 3 2014
Having received this book as a gift, I decided to give it a try. I just found out, after reading it, that's it's a compilation of five different books from the Osprey "Duel" series. This helps explains why it jumps around as well as why there is no general integration. All include a section introducing the match-up of two planes, a history of the development of the two planes, the training programs of their pilots, the strategic situation in which they met, a brief spotlight on some of the pilots who flew each plane, combat results (usually a mix of general and specific), an analysis of their relative performance, and finally an aftermath section detailing what the planes did after that conflict. There are five comparisons made:

Spitfire vs. BF109E - 4/5; good, but lacking in tactical details. This is perhaps the most famous of plane duels, so it also didn't present a whole lot that wasn't new to me.

P-47 vs. BF109G/K - 4/5; similar to the last section, this is a decent overview and has slightly better tactical information. Still, it lacked the depth to really give it five out of five.

P-40 vs. Ki-42 - 2/5; In no way was does this belong in a discussion of the greatest air duels in WW2. It was a tiny-side action event. I'm rather shocked in fact that the editor, who presumably knows more than two bits about WW2, completely left out any comparison of Soviet vs. German aircraft. By a whole lot of measures, the Soviet front presented the greatest air duels of WW2. German pilots claimed hundreds of kills on the Eastern front, but somehow the backwoods action of a small American group in China is greater? Nonsense. It's also limited to the period of 1944. The detail provided is quite good, although as the author acknowledges, it's primarily limited to the American side of the story as there is a dearth of published accounts from Japanese survivors.

P-51 vs. Fw-190 - 3/5; A pretty classic comparison of two of the more famous war birds. Praise is heaped on the Mustang while it is acknowledged that the Fw-190 was primarily tasked with shooting down bombers. I've personally long wondered how much of the Mustang's success was due to its late arrival in the ETO given that the Luftwaffe had, at that point, been ground down pretty severely by previous fighting. Nevertheless, this section does an adequate job of comparing the two types.

Seafire vs. A6M Zero - 1/5; This was a brutal addition to this book. Not only do we see the Spitfire again, but (unlike the Bf-109) we see it in an arguably inferior configuration, where it sees limited action, shooting down a mere handful of kamikaze Zero's. Wow. No serious dogfighting action here. Why there wasn't a focus on the A6M versus the Hellcat or Corsair, I don't know. This section also contained the least information about tactics and pilots.

Overall then, this book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the sections are good, one is OK, two are quite weak. There is some fantastic artwork in the book, including some great views from inside each cockpit (illustrated). If you can find this for a cheap price, it makes for a good overview of some of the more famous (and some of the less famous) planes of WW2. Three stars.

Dogfight: The Greatest Air Duels of World War II
Dogfight: The Greatest Air Duels of World War II
by Tony Holmes
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 15.33
25 used & new from CDN$ 8.80

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Good in places, but inconsistent, Jan. 3 2014
Having received this book as a gift, I decided to give it a try. I just found out, after reading it, that's it's a compilation of five different books from the Osprey "Duel" series. This helps explains why it jumps around as well as why there is no general integration. All include a section introducing the match-up of two planes, a history of the development of the two planes, the training programs of their pilots, the strategic situation in which they met, a brief spotlight on some of the pilots who flew each plane, combat results (usually a mix of general and specific), an analysis of their relative performance, and finally an aftermath section detailing what the planes did after that conflict. There are five comparisons made:

Spitfire vs. BF109E - 4/5; good, but lacking in tactical details. This is perhaps the most famous of plane duels, so it also didn't present a whole lot that wasn't new to me.

P-47 vs. BF109G/K - 4/5; similar to the last section, this is a decent overview and has slightly better tactical information. Still, it lacked the depth to really give it five out of five.

P-40 vs. Ki-42 - 2/5; In no way was does this belong in a discussion of the greatest air duels in WW2. It was a tiny-side action event. I'm rather shocked in fact that the editor, who presumably knows more than two bits about WW2, completely left out any comparison of Soviet vs. German aircraft. By a whole lot of measures, the Soviet front presented the greatest air duels of WW2. German pilots claimed hundreds of kills on the Eastern front, but somehow the backwoods action of a small American group in China is greater? Nonsense. It's also limited to the period of 1944. The detail provided is quite good, although as the author acknowledges, it's primarily limited to the American side of the story as there is a dearth of published accounts from Japanese survivors.

P-51 vs. Fw-190 - 3/5; A pretty classic comparison of two of the more famous war birds. Praise is heaped on the Mustang while it is acknowledged that the Fw-190 was primarily tasked with shooting down bombers. I've personally long wondered how much of the Mustang's success was due to its late arrival in the ETO given that the Luftwaffe had, at that point, been ground down pretty severely by previous fighting. Nevertheless, this section does an adequate job of comparing the two types.

Seafire vs. A6M Zero - 1/5; This was a brutal addition to this book. Not only do we see the Spitfire again, but (unlike the Bf-109) we see it in an arguably inferior configuration, where it sees limited action, shooting down a mere handful of kamikaze Zero's. Wow. No serious dogfighting action here. Why there wasn't a focus on the A6M versus the Hellcat or Corsair, I don't know. This section also contained the least information about tactics and pilots.

Overall then, this book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the sections are good, one is OK, two are quite weak. There is some fantastic artwork in the book, including some great views from inside each cockpit (illustrated). If you can find this for a cheap price, it makes for a good overview of some of the more famous (and some of the less famous) planes of WW2. Three stars.

The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities
The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities
by Catherine Salmon Ph.D.
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 13.27
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting, but perhaps stretches the data somewhat, Dec 30 2013
Being a middle-born myself (and being a parent to middleborn too), I was curious to read more about the secrets of middleborn children. Catherine Salmon really is one of, it not the, leading experts on this topic in the world. The book is broken down into two major parts. The first is a sketch of what middleborn children are like and why. The second half deals with how to best interact with, support, and/or nurture middleborn partners, co-workers, and children. Both parts of the book were lively and well-written. Salmon draws on a broad body of research to lend support to her theories. However, there are some important limitations to this research. First, it's a very new field with few researchers, so we don't have a lot of competing hypotheses to really challenge existing data and explanations. Second, and along these same lines, there is also a scarcity of data, especially outside of the Big Five model of personality. To be fair, Salmon is aware of and explicitly points out these limitations. But she then goes right on ahead and ignores them by overstating her conclusions. Effect sizes, rather than just the presence or absence of a link between middle borns and personality, would be more welcome. Again, there's some attention to this, but not enough for my tastes. So I find that this book is a good, but not great, blending of popular science writing and hard science writing. If it was in an established area of research, I would rate it three stars or less. But given that it's really the first major book to discuss the topic of middle-borns, I can go along with four stars. I did recognize pieces of myself in much of what she said, but there were also times when I didn't even remotely resemble what a "standard" middle-born should act/be like. So it was a fun and interesting read, but one that should be taken with a large grain of salt at this point in time.

The Tyranny of the Night: Book One of the Instrumentalities of the Night
The Tyranny of the Night: Book One of the Instrumentalities of the Night
Offered by Macmillan CA
Prix : CDN$ 10.99

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Might be a good book, but the first 100 pages are BRUTAL, Dec 16 2013
I don't often give up on books, especially ones written by an author I like (I generally quite liked The Black Company chronicles). However, the first 100 pages of this book read like a phone book mixed with the Bible. Strange names after strange names in strange countries with strange connections. The author essentially sequentially goes through all the major people and factions in his book by introducing them, one after another, with no real connection or flow, for a long, long time.

Now perhaps the story picks up after that. The premise of the story, an alternate history of 14th-15th Century medieval Europe/Middle East combined with magic and spirits seems interesting enough. But I'm afraid that any book that just "hazes" its reader into suffering through a completely boring treatise of names doesn't deserve my higher ratings. If someone who made it through the whole book wants to write a complete review here on Amazon.ca, I'd welcome that for balance sake. But I thought it was important to warn casual readers that this is not a book for them. Only those who really appreciate fine levels of historical detail and don't mind long pages of plain introduction will be able to reap the potential rewards of this book. Which is too bad, as I had strong hopes for this book. But as I picked it up for fun and not homework, it's back to the bin with it.

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