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A. Volk (Canada)
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Survivors: The Animals And Plants That Time Has Left Behind
Survivors: The Animals And Plants That Time Has Left Behind
by Richard Fortey
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 25.19
12 used & new from CDN$ 7.94

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting journey through time and evolution, Aug. 22 2013
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When I first bought this book, I was hoping to get details about the biology of the animals that have "survived" over geological time. Of course, they aren't the exact same animals as existed millions of years ago, rather they are very similar descendents. Still, learning about their biology can tell us something about past ecologies, which is a nice bonus. And Fortey starts off early in the book by saying he won't try to cover all the animals, just a few in order to go into that kind of depth. Only he reneges on that promise almost immediately by drifting off with all kinds of side examples (e.g., leaving a discussion of horse shoe crabs to talk about trilobites). He also spends a fair bit of ink on his travels and personal experiences. That actually put me off the book so much that I stopped reading it half-way through. I was tempted to leave it at that and give it two stars.

But a few weeks later I decided to pick it up and try it again. This time, I altered my expectations. Rather than expect a book of detailed biology, I looked at it as a naturalist's journal. A combination of biology, biography, and travel log. In that context, it worked quite well. Don't get me wrong, there are some rather interesting biological tidbits here (e.g., the fact that "reptiles" really isn't a coherent biological grouping). But the main charm of the book is wandering around the world with a pleasant old naturalist describing the journey and the biology at the same time. My expectations thus altered, I found the second half of the book to be much more enjoyable than the first, and ended up with a pleasant overall impression of this book.

To summarize then, if you're looking for a book focusing on biology, this is at best a two or three star book. But if you don't mind some amusing anecdotes and travel notes, as well as some of the thoughts of the author (e.g., on humanity's role in the current extinction process), then this is a solid four star book. Given that it ended on a high note for me, I'll stick with the four-star rating.

Killer Whales of the World: Natural History & Conservation
Killer Whales of the World: Natural History & Conservation
by Robin Baird
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 3.78

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Beautiful, if somewhat brief, look into the life of killer whales, Aug. 18 2013
Robin Baird is a killer whale researcher who first wrote this book in 2002. I read the 2006 edition that is somewhat updated as it refers to events in 2003 and beyond. The book outlines the lives of killer whales, their behavior, their distribution, human history with them, and current conservation efforts and issues. Throughout, the book contains numerous gorgeous photos that range from quarter page, to half page, to full page in size. Most are taken in the wild and from the surface of the water, so they're not as revealing as one might hope. The same could be said about the content of the book, but both are largely due to the fact that we just don't have good underwater data on killer whales. Or at least there wasn't such info in the recent past. Because it's very challenging to find killer whales in water clear enough to see and film them. Plus they swim really fast. Plus one of the two "subspecies", the mammal hunters (the other are fish hunters) could be potentially dangerous to humans. No one knows, and the author wisely suggests it's probably not a good idea to test that theory (they have been known to kill and eat swimming deer and moose).

What the reader does get is plenty of interesting facts about killer whales in general. I certainly finished this book knowing a lot more about killer whales than I did when I started. In particular, the differences between the marine mammal hunting killer whales and the fish hunting orcas are significant. The latter (obviously) hunt fish, but they're also slightly smaller and live in much bigger groups. They vocalize more, roam smaller territories, and are aggressive towards mammal-hunting killer whales (perhaps because the latter attack them on rare occasions)? Marine mammal hunting whales live in smaller groups (2-3 versus potentially ~10), are 3ft larger, and specialize in hunting marine mammals like seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales. Individual pods (family groups) tend to specialize in a particular prey and hunting technique. Given that their brain to body weight ratio is roughly equal to that of apes (excluding humans), they certainly come across as rather intelligent, if mysterious, animals. There is even a section discussing whether or not they possess a rudimentary "culture".

Overall then, this is a fascinating and gorgeous book about a very impressive animal. At up to 33ft long and 11,000 lbs (males are bigger than females), killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family. They're also perhaps the most charismatic. All of which adds up to a very enjoyable book. It's aimed towards a general audience, and I don't imagine a curious child or adolescent would have problems reading this book. Given how little we know about these majestic animals, that makes this an easy book to recommend.

Hell House
Hell House
by Richard Matheson
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 13.36
31 used & new from CDN$ 7.01

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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun horror, but terrible ending, Aug. 12 2013
This review is from: Hell House (Paperback)
Hell House is the story of a haunted house. A dying millionaire (1970, so that meant a lot) hires a scientist and two psychics to go to the house and collect evidence of an afterlife before he dies (I guess he wants to decide whether to repent or something). The catch is that of the two expeditions who went into the house before (1931,1940), seven out of eight people died or went insane. The only survivor is one of the two psychics. The reward is $100,000 for spending a week in the house. They don't last that long (it's not a spoiler, the book's days are headers that are easy to see).

Overall, the atmosphere is well-crafted. The house history is one of debauchery, gluttony, sadism, and evil. It's certainly not a pleasant place, and the fact that the power is out when they arrive doesn't help (did I mentioned all the windows were bricked up?). As the stories goes on, the three hires (plus the scientist's wife) have to try and figure out what's happening in order to avoid becoming victims to it. Without giving too much away I can say that the first half, it not two-thirds of the story, was quite enjoyable. Definitely good to read alone in a dark place, and definitely rated-R for violence and sexuality. The characters are interesting, if a little forced (especially the scientist and his wife). The book gets a little more hectic towards the end before a climax that is anything but climactic. It's really anti-climactic. I won't ruin the ending by saying what happens. I only want to warn readers that they might end up disappointed in the book. So I'm giving it a generous four stars because I really enjoyed reading the first part of it, where Matheson shows his adept hand at building a horrific atmosphere. If I went with an overall score that gave fair weight to the ending, this would be a three, or maybe even two star book (particularly since much that was new in this book is now cliche). I really felt let-down by the ending. So be forewarned- this is a fun and at times scary book, but you might not like how it ends.

Star Wars: The Wrath of Darth Maul
Star Wars: The Wrath of Darth Maul
by Ryder Windham
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 13.71
29 used & new from CDN$ 4.11

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Good, if not too deep, backstory for Darth Maul, Aug. 10 2013
This book is meant for younger readers, so I took it with a grain of salt in that regard. It's actually a pretty good book for young teen readers, and a not-so bad book for adult readers. I gave it four stars as a result. The essence of the book is the training of Darth Maul. It stars off with him as a young child in a facility that we see in Episode 3 of the movies. As one might expect, his training at the hands of Darth Sidious is harsh, painful, and full of treacherous tests. The first third of the book, when he is training alone, is the best part of the book in my opinion. It's actually pretty grim yet vivid in its writing. The second third bogs down and the author's limitation with human (or human-like) characters becomes more apparent. The dialogue is fairly simple as is the exploration of Maul's growing emotions. Again, good enough for a younger audience, a limitation for older audiences. Finally, the book ends with the sequences from Episode 1 of the movies. It's reasonably well done, but knowing what's going to happen robs a lot of the suspense and the author doesn't do much to add to the picture beyond what was shown in the movies. There is something of a surprise ending to the whole book, but I won't give it away. Overall then, a fun, if not terribly deep, look at an interesting Star Wars villain.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese
by Michael Paterniti
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 1.66

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A great story by a writer who appreciates a great story, Aug. 9 2013
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This book's title really does it justice: it is a great story about love, betrayal, revenge, and the world's greatest piece of cheese. I'm normally not a big fan of "modern" stories, or even that huge of a fan of cheese (I like it, but I wouldn't say I love it). However, I really found myself enjoying this book almost as much I enjoyed telling people that I was really enjoying a great book about love, betrayal, revenge, and the world's greatest piece of cheese. How does one get a great story based on cheese?

It begins with the author, Michael Paterniti looking at the end of a graduate degree in creative writing in 1991. Desperate for some kind of work, and having no success with his writing career so far, he decides to try and get a job at Zingerman's, a great deli in Ann Arbor Michigan. Mainly because he loves the food there. He's turned down as they don't need help behind the counter, but is contacted a few days later when they inquire about whether he is interested in taking a job as a copy-editor of their monthly food menu/pamphlet. He happily accepts. It is through this job that he first learns of an amazing Spanish cheese- Paramo de Guzman. At $22 a pound, it's far out of his budget to buy. But for some reason, this cheese captures his heart and imagination, giving him hope of a grander, purer world.

The book fast forwards a decade or so into the future when he's married, is a successful magazine writer, and has a book or two under his belt. He is cleaning up his things as a new baby arrives in the house and rediscovers mention of this cheese from his old writings. Seeing as he's going to Spain soon anyhow to interview a newly famous chef, he enlists a Spanish-speaking friend to see if they can find out more about this cheese. And it's here where I should probably stop telling the story, because this book is a wonderful story about a wonderful story. Paterniti is clearly a man who loves both hearing and telling stories, and in the course of this book he comes across a truly great story (that's largely told to him by another great story teller). Beyond what's in the title, the story is about friendship, about life in the slow versus the fast lane, about enjoying life or what it means to be happy.

I don't normally read these kinds of books, but I found myself captivated by the author's story and story-telling (it does operate on both levels). It's one of those books that I had to keep reading until I was done, so even though it's not short at 350 large pages, it went by quickly. But it left a significant impression and was a joy to read. Does it have any flaws? My biggest beef was that it has lots of footnotes that are little side tracks from the story. Sometimes they're interesting, sometimes they are not. By mid-way through the book I made it a habit to just quickly glance at the first two lines of a two-paragraph footnote to see if I felt it was worth veering away from the main story. But given that they are optional, and that I did enjoy some of them (I liked the witches one the best), I can't say that they significantly detracted from the overall book. Which makes this book a very easy book to recommend if you like a great story. There isn't a lot of action, it's generally PG-13, but it is full of human and life drama, imagery, and good, if not great, story-telling. I can pretty confidently say that this is the best story about a piece of cheese that I've ever read, and if you like love, betrayal, revenge, the world's greatest piece of cheese, or just a really good story about a really good story, this is a book you're very likely to enjoy.

Planet Dinosaur: The Next Generation of Killer Giants
Planet Dinosaur: The Next Generation of Killer Giants
by Cavan Scott
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.77
20 used & new from CDN$ 12.27

5.0 étoiles sur 5 The latest news in dinosaur science brought to life, Aug. 8 2013
I haven't yet seen the BBC series of the same name, in large part because the blu-ray version appears to be in a UK format that doesn't play in North American DVD players Planet Dinosaur [Blu-ray] [Import]. But given that the kids around me have been on a real dinosaur kick recently, I thought I'd try a book with a bit of substance and flash. This book meets both criteria. There's lots of new evidence regarding new dinosaur discoveries, particularly outside of North America. One feature I really liked is that they offered multiple theories for things like dinosaur behavior or physiology. All too often we're simply presented with a single story that does not consider alternatives. That made this book really interesting to read as an adult who knows a fair bit about dinosaurs. For kids, the material is kept short and brief, with lots of excellent images. The clipboard images that make up a scenario were clearly taken from the TV series and are pretty good. But the separate still images that go along with each dinosaur were even better. At almost 250 pages, this book has plenty of images and information to satisfy any dinosaur fan. So if you're looking for a great book on some of the less well-known dinosaurs, or about paleontological science and theories, or simply some great images of dinosaurs, this book is sure to hit the mark.

Pacific Rim: Man, Machines, and Monsters
Pacific Rim: Man, Machines, and Monsters
by David S Cohen
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 33.36
31 used & new from CDN$ 32.33

2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Amazing guide and supplement to the movie, Aug. 7 2013
This book goes well beyond that standard "Art of the Movie..." book. It's a combination artwork, production guide, and cast interview book. The book has four parts to it. The first, Monster in the Mist, deals with the general storyline and script. It introduces the major characters with notes from actors and the rest of the crew on how they were to be played and filmed. It's pretty interesting stuff with some fun cast anecdotes thrown in.

The second part, The Crazy Kids in the Submarine, deals with the artwork and design of the movie. There is some detail on the storyboarding of the action sequences that was fun to read about. It's reminiscent of the old cartoons (e.g., G-force, Voltron) that influenced this movie. The book then goes into details about the various Jaegers who are, in many ways, the stars of the movie. Of course there's discussion of why the various choices look and act the way they do. They include closeups of their heads, battle damaged versions, 3D wireframe and models, blue-print style flaps, some stickers, and even some discarded concepts. This is a really strong point of the book.

In the third part, Doing It For Real, we are introduced to the sets where the movie is shot. From Alaska to Tokyo, we get behind the scenes looks at conceptual art, ideas, and discussions of where and what the scenery was going to be. There are some comments from the cast about the challenges of designing and filming in the various locations (CGI or not). This rounds out the section nicely and really adds some depth towards enjoying the film.

Finally in the fourth part, Simulating the Apocalypse, we get to read about the fiersome Kaiju. The section starts a little slowly with a discussion of post-production editing, music, and other features, but it ends strong with a list of the Kaiju. Each Kaiju gets a section on origins, powers, and design. Along with the second section, this was one of the most enjoyable to read.

All in all then, this is an excellent guide and supplement to the movie. It really adds a lot of depth and extra material that goes well beyond just the artwork of the movie. Make no mistake though, the artwork is superb. From line drawings, to colored drawings, to actual movie and CGI images, it's all top-notch. I feel very confident in saying that if you were a fan of the movie, and especially if you were a fan of the movie's visuals, this book will definitely not disappoint.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
by David Epstein
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 17.87
43 used & new from CDN$ 6.86

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Solid look at what it takes to succeed in sports, Aug. 6 2013
Nature versus nurture is one of the oldest debates about human behavior, including sports. David Epstein tackles this debate full-on in his book Sports Gene. Based on modern sports science and genetics, it examines what it takes to succeed at very high levels of sports. The answer? It's 100% nature. And 100% nurture. In a way it's common sense, but as a believer in science, I require evidence. Which this book is full of. To be a successful high-level athlete (pro or Olympic) one needs great genes and a lot of training. Just what kind of genes? Well, that depends on the sport.

There's evidence that fast-twitching muscle fiber genes (that allow you to contract muscles quickly, and hence move quickly) are genetic. That doesn't mean you can't learn to run faster or run fast longer. It does mean, in the words of one interviewed coach, that you don't ever see slow kids become fast adults. This is a theme found throughout the book. The best athletes are endowed with great biological gifts. From the Finnish cross-country skier who has an over-active blood making gene that essentially simulates blood doping (more blood, more oxygen, more endurance) to individuals who are born with a genetic variation that allows for more muscle to grow to individuals who are born tall (very important for sports like basketball) to individuals who are born with very driven personalities. In all of these cases, biology is essential for providing the opportunity to succeed at the highest levels. However, estimates from the book is that being a biologically perfect all-round athlete is about one in a few quadrillion, which means that genes matter, but they're virtually never the whole story.

It takes practice to make something of that potential. The often cited figure is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world-level at a competitive talent. Epstein revises this to 4-6000 hours for most sports. Less than we thought, but still an enormous investment of time. It also helps explains many apparent racial differences in performance. Why are so many Kenyans great long-distance athletes? Yes, genes matter, but what's more important is an economic system where jobs are really rare and winning a marathon can be the equivalent of winning the lottery. While many American long-distance athletes give up jobs to run, many Kenyan athletes run because they don't have a job (and would quit running if they could find one). It's a different incentive structure that results in different group-levels of performance. It's why so many Canadians are good hockey players or so many Jamaicans are fast sprinters or why most NFL players come from the US. Genetics matter, but so do nation-wide programs that emphasize, encourage, and develop performance in a particular sport.

Again, this is perhaps not too surprising to anyone serious about studying sports. What makes this book excellent isn't these revelations, it's the mountains of fascinating and interesting data that turn these observations from anecdotes to strong, scientifically-verified hypotheses. Which is important because many people still believe that it's one or the other. Steve Jobs for example thought nurture was all-important until he had kids and decided that nature matters more. Tiger Woods emphasizes that his father, to this day, never has to call Tiger to play golf. Tiger's the one who always wants to play, so is it Tiger's natural love of the game or all the practice he got because of that drive that matters? Or the Finnish Olympic super-star who believed that it was his willpower, rather than his super-charged blood, that made him so dominant as a cross-country skier. Would he have had that willpower if he didn't have super-blood that let him ski without becoming as tired as his competitors? All of these explanations have an element of truth, yet Epstein does a fantastic job of weaving together the evidence to tell a coherent, if complex, story. Far from making discussions of who's the best athlete in a given sport (or in general) irrelevant, this book allows for an informed discussion of who's good and why they became that good, making this an easy recommendation for athletes, coaches, parents, and sports fans.

Wild Blue: A Natural History of the World's Largest Animal
Wild Blue: A Natural History of the World's Largest Animal
by Dan Bortolotti
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 21.56
12 used & new from CDN$ 2.79

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Finally shedding light on the largest animal to ever live on Earth, Aug. 5 2013
I've been reading a lot about dinosaurs recently, so when I saw this book I thought I'd check it out. Because as big as the dinosaurs got, no animal, living or extinct, is believed to have been bigger than the blue whale. I was somewhat surprised then to read that we actually know very little about the largest animal that has ever lived? How big do they get? We don't know. On average, 90 feet for big females (females are bigger than males). But the antarctic variety can grow to 100 feet or more. That's simply enormous. But just their length doesn't give a picture of quite how big they are. Take every player in the NHL and put them on a scale. Then add every MLB baseball player. Average 205 pounds, with roughly one thousand, five hundred men (!!!!) and you've balanced the scale with ONE grown female blue whale!!! That's a size that just defies common understanding.

Yet as the first half of this book discusses, that very size is what almost doomed the species thanks to human greed. For centuries blue whales were too big to kill and/or too big to haul on boats as they tend to sink when dead (rather than float like some whale species). But at the turn of the twentieth century these problems were solved and soon thousands or tens of thousands of these magnificent giants were being slaughtered. It's estimated that 90% of them, 99% of the huge antarctic variety, were killed by whalers. It's a necessary component to understanding blue whales, in part historic, in part informative (because some of the dead whales were studied), but this history of glutinous slaughter was hard to read about.

Fortunately, the second half of the book dwells almost exclusively on what we know about them. From watching them at the surface, to listening to their vocalizations, to tracking them with satellite or diving tags, to DNA analyses, we are finally starting to learn about the amazing lives of the largest animals to ever live on our planet. This is really fascinating science and I loved to learn about it. Not surprisingly, almost everything about blue whales is huge. Their speed, their home ranges, their life spans, their diet, their feeding, are all on a massive scale. This part of the book filled me with great hope.

And it may be that they are finally starting to recover. A fact that has been kept quiet, in part because we don't have great survey/population data, in part because (I can't swear here but I wish I could) some nations (e.g., Japan, Iceland) are still chomping at the bit to resume hunting these magnificent creatures. Well, I hope that public opinion keeps moving in the direction of protecting wildlife. Losing the largest animal that ever lived to satisfy our greed would be a damning mark against our own species. In that light, I think this book does a great job outlining the tragic history of these creatures, without demonizing the men who killed them (that's reserved for the people running the industry), while at the same time building up a portrait of these animals that should impress all but the most jaded of people. So by all means, if you like whales, nature, or just a good story of man meeting the wild, this is an excellent book. If it helps to educate and protect whales, all the better as I sure as heck don't want them to disappear on my watch. An easy five stars for this book by Dan Bortolotti, a Canadian journalist/science writer who made this Canadian proud by writing a book where he really did his homework on an amazing, yet rarely discussed, animal.

Dying to Live
Dying to Live
by Kim Paffenroth
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.27
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Zombies meet philosophy, Aug. 3 2013
This review is from: Dying to Live (Paperback)
Dying to live is a pretty standard zombie apocalypse-themed book. The dead have risen, they like eating people, they need to be hit in the brain to die (again), they're slow, and there's lots and lots of them. What Dying to Live does differently is that it injects philosophical questions into the mix. Things like the nature of a God who could allow this, right and wrong, justice and community needs. In fact, I found the first two thirds of the book to generally be very well done.

But there are some drawbacks. The author makes cliched caricatures of many of the characters. The tough military guy, the mother turned hard after seeing her kids die, the kid growing up tough in this new environment, the evil human gang preying on fellow human survivors- they're all here and they're all in most other zombie books. The main character, Jonah Caine is a little different and a little more interesting, as is one of the other main characters, Milton. Milton is easily the most unique aspect of this book's plot and was perhaps my favorite plot element. So at the same time as some characters where cliched and hard to get behind, other characters made the plot interesting and worth following.

The pacing is generally good with plenty of zombie action and a fair bit of human versus human fighting too. It's fairly gruesome in parts, but the gore is (for the most part) not the primary element to this book. The human characters, and how they survive, are the staple elements of the zombie genre and this book meets those requirements. Overall then, it's a fun book that's generally well written. When compared to the character development of, say Stephen King (see Joyland), the author's inexperience becomes apparent. But when it's taken in the context of a fun zombie thriller meant to soak up a few hours with some decent entertainment, then this book really shines. The added bits of philosophy thrown in make it fresh and different enough from most of the genre to make it worth recommending and worth my considering buying another book in this series.

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