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Dad Is Fat
Dad Is Fat
by Jim Gaffigan
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 17.56
37 used & new from CDN$ 15.25

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Very funny look at fatherhood, June 26 2013
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This review is from: Dad Is Fat (Hardcover)
Jim Gaffigan is a professional comedian who likes kids. His wife more so (liking the kids, not being a pro comic). Which is why they have five of them! A stand-up comedian, Jim's written a book about the funny side of being a father. As is becoming almost common now, this book takes a funny, fond, and yet complaining look at modern parenting. As a father of five young children living in a two bedroom NY apartment, he's got lots of material! As the father of a few young children myself, I found myself both laughing and agreeing with much of what he had to say. His comparisons about life without kids versus life with kids were particularly funny and insightful. Still, Jim's true love for his kids shines through pretty strongly, so it's not hard to get the spirit in which this book is intended.

My only complaint is that as the book draws towards a close Jim gets a little defensive/offensive about why he has so many kids. I'm sure it does get annoying when people keep asking questions like "Are you done yet?" or say things like "Wow, do you know about birth control?". But still, you do it to yourself. If you have that many kids, you know you are going to get comments (heck, you get unsolicited comments and advice if you have any kids). You're also asking for a lot more craziness (especially if you only live in a two-bedroom apartment- I'd go crazy!). But that's a minor quibble, as most of this book is just plain funny.

So if you like books like Go the F*** to Sleep or Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures then this is certain to tickle the same funny bone. I should ask my parents if they laughed about parenting the same why my generation does. Because one thing is for sure, next to loving my kids, one of my favorite things is commiserating with other parents about them. Not because I don't love my angels or I don't love parenting, but because laughing about the rough spots is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of getting over those rough spots. And with five kids (have I said they all live in a 2 bedroom apartment!!), Jim's definitely got his share of rough spots to laugh over.

Ex-Patriots: A Novel
Ex-Patriots: A Novel
by Peter Clines
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.27
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Another fun entry in the series, June 26 2013
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This review is from: Ex-Patriots: A Novel (Paperback)
Having read the first book in this series Ex-Heroes, I was hoping for more of the same in the second book in the trilogy. And it delivered. Briefly, the series takes place in the near future in a world populated by (slow) zombies as well as a few super-heroes amongst the human survivors. In the second book we get to see most of the same heroes in action along with a few new heroes and villains. As the group is contacted by a military outpost, you know things aren't going to go quite as smoothly as they might hope. That's the clumsiest part of this novel, as the reader can pretty much guess from the start that something is wrong with the military (the book's description of a dark secret on the base doesn't help). Too bad as it diminishes the suspense in some ways, but fortunately Clive is able to keep the darkness and the villains relatively surprising. I half-guessed two of the dark secrets but was completely surprised by some of the others. My only other complaint was that while the first book examined what it meant to be a hero, the second book focuses more on what it means to be a patriot or soldier. Which isn't quite as interesting to me, although it might appeal more to others. Still, it's not too heavy-handed in its moralization which keeps it enjoyable.

At 400 pages, it's longer than the first novel, so you do get a chance to have a deeper look at the characters. There is a stronger focus on the heroes as opposed to the community members simply because much of the action takes place at the military base (that has a few "super" soldiers of its own). As before the book's chapters are divided between "now" and "then" moments, the latter being used to illuminate the origins of new super heroes (or villains). The writing is still crisp and engaging, the action is still fast, and the book still meets the criteria of being a very fun read. If zombies and super heroes are your thing, this is a five star book. I just couldn't quite take it seriously enough to give it five stars myself, but I wouldn't have a problem if someone else did (I'd probably go 4.5 stars myself). Overall then, I strongly recommend this as a light but very fun way to pass the time if zombies, super heroes, and the apocalypse sound interesting to you.

Old Man's War
Old Man's War
by John Scalzi
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 9.49
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting story about future war, June 21 2013
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The Old Man's War is really the old person war as both men and women from the distant future are invited to leave Earth and join the Colonial Army. Earth is a relatively technological backwater, largely thanks to the Colonial Government not sharing its alien-related technology. As humanity discovered faster-than-light travel they also discovered a host of alien species. Some were friendly, most were not as habitable planets became resources to compete over. One advantage of that has been the gain of technology, and it is this technology that the Colonial Army offers to old Earth humans. Join up and become young again.

The recruits aren't sure how this happens, but they sign up largely because the alternative (getting even older and dying) is less appealing. Well, the book does describe a way of making them younger that's quasi-realistic. In fact, it can make them even healthier than ever. Unfortunately, it also means participating in military service with only a 10-25% chance of survival. If they live, they get to "retire" in young bodies as colonists on some distant planet.

The strength of the book lies in the details of how John Perry interacts with the people around him. At 75 years of age he's a widower with only one child whom he leaves behind on Earth. He meets fellow seniors and quickly forms a bond with them. There is a fair bit of Starship Troopers-type discussion of what military service means and entails. There's also a reasonable exploration of what it means to be human. Finally, there's also quite a bit of action which keeps the book moving along at a good pace.

The weaknesses of the book is that the rapid body count keeps you from getting too attached to anyone other than John. Also, I was very disappointed in how one of the most important ideas in the book was handled. It was the question of "Why are we investing so much in war versus diplomacy?" The author handles it very clumsily and then essentially avoids that question. Which is a pretty important one, especially considering what is revealed about the most powerful alien species encountered.

So overall, I consider this a fun but of sci-fi reading. There is some depth to it in terms of themes and ideas to think about, but it's not nearly as cerebral or thought-provoking as many other sci-fi stories. With that in mind, I think I can safely say this is a book I liked to read, but not loved to read. That means that four stars seems like a good rating for this book.

The Walking Dead Volume 18 TP: What Comes After
The Walking Dead Volume 18 TP: What Comes After
by Diamond Book Distribution
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 11.51
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 The plot thickens, June 21 2013
As readers know by now, there's a new villain on the block. Negan. Unlike The Governor, who was brooding crazy, Negan is happy crazy. Still ultra-violent, still ultra-evil, but cheerfully so. It makes for a strange combination that's at times hard to believe. As leader of The Saviors, he is extorting all nearby communities for protection money. If they don't pay, he turns from protector to killer.

In this volume, we get to see what life is like for Negan and the other saviors. It's pretty good for Negan. Not so good for the others. Which has at least one of them contemplating a revolt. But it's also a strange time as we get to see Negan trying to bond with Carl. It's particularly odd given what Carl has just done, but Negan seems fascinated by the cold-hearted nature of the boy, only to be strangely quiet when Carl does show some kind of weakness. I suspect that Negan was abused as a kid, became tough as a result, and admires the same in Carl. When he see Carl cry, it reminds him of his own pain. But that's just a guess, because other than that one panel, Negan has shown nothing by callous narcissism and violence. Carl does play a significant role in this volume, including a long scene with Michonne where he really talks about how he's coping. It's one of the better parts of this volume.

On the other end, Rick is still earnestly trying to figure out a solution for his community. Clearly, he wants Negan out, but he doesn't have the resources. Jesus (the nicknamed character) appears to help him try and take down Negan. This ultiamtely culminates in him arranging a meeting between Rick and "King" Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a strange character who's story isn't revealed until later in the series. All we get here is an introduction to a very strange character who could be a real game-changer.

Overall then, this volume is about building the background necessary to move the plot forward. There is reasonable action (I don't want to give too much away), so it's not boring. The body count isn't too high, but there are more than a few zombie kills. I do find that the characters are starting to get more cartoonish. Which might sound odd for a comic, but the hallmark of TWD has been the credibility of most of their characters so far. So when we start seeing some really over the top characters like Negan and Ezekiel, it makes it that much harder to buy into the story. That said, it's still a very interesting story and overall, it still remains a very strong series. So if you're looking to keep following the story of Rick and his friends, I don't think you'll be disappointed with this volume even if it's probably the next volume that will really tell the big changes in their story.

Ex-Heroes: A Novel
Ex-Heroes: A Novel
by Peter Clines
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.27
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun, light cross-over literature, June 18 2013
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This review is from: Ex-Heroes: A Novel (Paperback)
This story is a blend of The Watchmen and World War Z. In other words, super-heroes meet zombies. In a way, that's already been done in the Marvel universe. But there, the heroes became ultra-powerful, sentient zombies themselves. In this book zombies are (for the most part) the boring, shuffling, Romero zombies. Although some former super-heroes (and villains?) have been turned, they are not sentient and so not very dangerous. What makes this book work?

First, the writing is good. Not great, but definitely easy to read and suitable to the material at hand. It's got lots of action and the super-heroes are interesting. Each gets their own back story, and none are so powerful that they completely dominate the story (no Superman here). There are some rough similarities in terms of powers etc. with existing super heroes, but they are individual enough to be unique rather than clones (so this isn't Justice League vs. Zombies).

Second, the second is good. The heroes have taken over a former Hollywood studio thanks to its large walls and significant supplies. A few hundred humans live with them in a combination of trust, fear, and jealousy. The latter elements are what reminded me of The Watchmen, and introduce ethical issues that give this book a little more weight than it would otherwise have. What are the obligations of super heroes to "normal" people? What's justifiable in an apocalypse? What morals slip or die as a result? This made for some of the better reading.

Finally, the foes are good. The heroes are not just up against regular zombies, but there's a couple worse ones and a whole lot of unfriendly humans to boot. That keeps things fresh and interesting. When combined with the back stories and the more cerebral plot issues, it makes for a fun bit of reading. As I said before, there's lots of action but the book is reasonable in the amount of gore it presents. This isn't a children's book, but it doesn't wallow in disgusting shock gore either.

So this is a good book. I didn't give it five stars mainly because I found it a little short. But if you really like zombie fiction, or super hero fiction, or just weird fun fiction, I think you'll like this book and I wouldn't argue strongly against giving it five stars. It's not that deep, nor is it classic writing for the ages, but it is a very fun way to spend a few hours. My strongest recommendation perhaps is that I've just order the sequel, Ex-Patriots: A Novel by Peter Clines (April 23 2013), so these are heroes that I'm willing to pay money to keep reading about.

Red Road From Stalingrad
Red Road From Stalingrad
by Mansur Abdulin
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.85
23 used & new from CDN$ 9.23

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Very good book by an interesting author, June 11 2013
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Mansur Abdulin comes off as a very interesting character. At times modest, at times boastful, he was a young Tartar man who believed in his country and communism in opposition to the German invaders. He is able to avoid the war by virtue of being a miner (a necessary profession) and is also offered a cushy staff position due to his literacy, but he declines both in favor of joining the infantry as he deeply wanted to actually see combat. These memoirs were written some years after the war, and were later still translated into English. So it's possible that some of the moments and memories are a little distorted (he admits as much). But generally, they ring true when compared to other Eastern Front memoirs. I will now use my usual WW-2 biography rating guide:

Tactical- Abdulin was part of an 82MM mortar crew. He saw action from Stalingrad to Kursk to the Ukraine (at which point he is wounded). That puts him in some of the fiercest fighting on the Eastern front. Abdulin frequently picks up a rifle, grenade, or SMG in the fight against the enemy which seems rather odd to me for a mortar crew member (e.g., E.B. Sledge didn't do that in the Pacific theater). Perhaps it was a Red Army thing. Abdulin is also rated as the party attack leader (I'm forgetting the name). Essentially, after Stalingrad his eagerness and bravery earn him the "honor" of being the first one to attack and the last one to retreat. He credits luck time and again for his continued survival and indeed, he certainly needed more than his fair share of it to survive the brutal combats he engaged in. This book is jammed with action, including planes, tanks, artillery, and infantry. The writing of these combat scenes is crisp and clear, meaning there's a lot of blood to be read about.

Strategy- As a low-ranking enlisted man, Abdulin had virtually no strategic knowledge or commentary. This is a deeply tactical rather than strategic book.

Moral- This was part of what made the book interesting. Abdulin is deeply loyal to his own men, dragging the wounded to safety at great risk to himself more than once. He is an atheist but calls on Allah more than once. He loves Mother Russia but also dislikes some of his companions. He is moved to tears more than once by the suffering of animals in the war, but unlike most of his peers (most of whom will never try to kill a German) he eagerly enjoys killing German soldiers. There is no remorse here for killing other than a regret that it eventually had to stop when he was wounded. After being wounded, he reflects on the horror of his experiences and realizes he doesn't want to go back into action. Fortunately for him, his injury was serious enough to stop that from happening. So this is an interesting book in terms of contrasting morals. It certainly highlights how a soldier can demonize their enemies while still being essentially a very decent person. There is some commentary on the brutality of the Soviet system, but in general Abdulin was a loyal patriot who didn't much question his superiors.

Personal- Abdulin paints many detailed pictures of life as a soldier in the Red Army. The food, the equipment, the camaraderie is all laid out in detail. He takes a great interest in the personal stories of the men around him, so you get to know a cast of characters (most of whom, sadly, die). He discusses at length issues of bravery, duty, sacrifice, life, family, and other issues. One can really get a good personal portrait of the war from reading this book.

Ultimately, he joined the war so that he wouldn't seem like he was a coward, and this book certainly shows that to be far from the case. A brave and lucky soldier, Abdulin made a great difference to the men around him. With this book he also has the chance to make a difference as it is an excellent illustration of what life was like for a Red Army soldier. It's not the best WW2 memoir I've read, but it still makes a very strong contribution towards illuminating the life of a Soviet soldier.

Joyland
Joyland
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 11.19
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great writing by a great writer, June 6 2013
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To begin with, this is NOT a horror story. But then Stephen King has already written a number of fine stories that aren't horror stories (e.g., Green Mile, Stand By Me/The Body). Joyland is the story of Devin Jones, a young college student who has his heart broken by his first crush as he heads to work at an amusement park for the summer. The story also involves the possible ghost of a girl who was murdered at that amusement park- Joyland. There was a murder, whether or not there is a ghost is something I won't spoil for potential readers. But that, along with the murder, is an important sub-plot of this book.

However, the main focus of the book is on Devin and the people he meets. From his roommates to his co-workers, King once again shows his skill at bringing people to life in his writing. There is a cliched cripple boy with psychic powers (a King staple), but even he is handled with a deft hand. King makes you care about Devin, and his ability to paint a scene makes it seem like you are there with Devin, in 1973, at a modest amusement park. The ability to create a vivid scene is one of King's greatest talents in my opinion, and this book clearly features that talent.

It's a relatively short story at just under 300 pages, and it moves along at a good pace. Be forewarned again that this is not an action thriller or horror movie. It is very much about character development and a commentary on life itself rather than a book that just tries to shock or scare you. I normally don't go for this kind of fiction, but I'm a big fan of much of King's work and I found myself really enjoying this book. It may be an odd statement for me to make, but this book just seemed like the kind of cerebral movie that Clint Eastwood sometimes directs recently. Something that on the surface seems to promise great action or blood, but really makes a much deeper connection on both an emotional and a cerebral level. All that means I think this is a five-star book. It made me feel, it made me think, and it made me lose track of time- all signs of a very good book! So if you're looking for a book that showcases King's ability to write about (more or less) real characters and real life drama, with perhaps a bit of darkness thrown in, then Joyland is an excellent read.

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
Prix : CDN$ 15.99

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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting idea, needs more data, May 30 2013
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Peter Gray offers an interesting idea- we should teach our children the way they were designed to be taught by evolution. In other words, teach them the way their brains were designed to learn. And that's largely through play, observation, and interaction with other children. Gray builds a strong case that the modern education system is a semi-random, largely historical artifact. For anyone who has studied education and child development, that's pretty clear. I've always said that education is one of the fields that does the worst in following its own advice/research. Gray goes beyond the school system to suggest that children today also suffer from a lack of neighborhood play due to helicopter parenting and fewer opportunities. I agree with both of these ideas.

The problem is, he doesn't present much research outside of Sudbury School, a special school that allows learning without teaching. Adults are present as general supervisors and resources, but they don't teach. Children instead learn from each other, from books or computers, or from asking adults. They learn what they want, when they want, how they want. For the ~150 students (ages 4-19) who attend, it seems to work quite well. Gray has also done research demonstrating that mixed-age groupings of children (in and outside of school) optimize social, emotional, and cognitive learning.

Which is all very good and very interesting. But would this really work for all children? Is it really feasible to dismantle all our current schools and start up Sudbury-type schools instead? Would it really save the billions that Gray suggests? What would we do for those children who don't fit in that system (special needs or disciplinary problems)? What role does the increasing demographic trend of fewer children being born, later, to smaller families, have to do with decline in neighborhood playing? These questions go unanswered beyond personal opinions.

So while I agree with Gray that letting children learn to learn on their own is an excellent idea worth pursuing, I'm hesitant to take the great leap that he suggests. He notes that many of the graduates from Sudbury go on to creative jobs. Would that work for students who go on to become plumbers, factory workers, or service industry workers? I don't know. I do think his general ideas are worth testing, and I look forward to hopefully seeing more research being done on both how we can improve our schools as well as how we can allow our children more liberty in their home lives.

Bonobo And The Atheist, The
Bonobo And The Atheist, The
by Frans de Waal
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.50
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3.0 étoiles sur 5 Rambling view of morality and atheism, May 16 2013
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Frans de Waal is clearly an expert on primates (chimps and bonobos in particular). That's where he should have stayed in this book. Unfortunately, it's a wandering, rambling, often flawed look at morality and atheism that is clearly hindered by de Waal's personal grudges against prominent atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins. The subtitle of the book is "in search of humanism among the primates." That defines about 25-33% of the book, and it's clearly the best part. When we hear stories (mostly anecdotal, but some experimental) about how our primate cousins display a shockingly advanced degree of morality and even, potentially, supernatural beliefs, it makes for fascinating reading. de Waal is at his best when he talks about the primates he knows so well, as well as other animal examples. His thesis, that morality is a bottom-up process driven by our evolved minds is one that I am sympathetic to, although he's not the first person to make such a claim, so it's not a terribly original book in that regard.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this makes up the minority of the book. Much of the book is spent either on a rambling discussion of a piece of artwork that he likes (The Garden by Bosch) or on misguided attacks against scientists (which I will discuss below). I have no problem with anyone liking art, but de Waal repeatedly refers to it as if it were evidence for his ideas. It's certainly an inspiration for him, but it could well be the work of a schizophrenic painter rather than a masterful statement about morality and human nature. I certainly wasn't expecting a significant portion of this particular book to be an essay on art (or one work of art) and morality. That's a topic for an entirely different kind of book, and it severely detracted from my taking his argument seriously.

As did his repeated and nonsensical attacks against atheists and scientists. He's mad at Dawkins et al. because they attack religion, rather than just leaving it be and promoting humanism. I think he misses their point. They view aspects of some practicing religions as promoting poor morals and/or deliberately promoting ignorance. Both of those are worth attacking in view, even if other aspects of religion (e.g., promoting community) are laudable. True, you can't prove that there is no god, but I think they are attacking specific religions rather than the notion of any kind of supernatural deity. And that is within the realm of science. Science has clearly shown the religious texts of the world to be fictions. The earth isn't 11,000 years old, Thor doesn't control lightning, and the Earth doesn't sit atop a giant turtle shell. The idea that there could be an infinite being is of course impossible to falsify, and believing that it is falsifiable is religious in a sense. But I think the vast majority of atheists would consider themselves technically agnostic, but functionally atheist. As in it's possible there's an infinite being, but none of the current religions are likely to be true beyond a reasonable doubt and so worshiping such a being makes no sense. He chastises scientists for trying to determine morality (e.g., Moral Landscape) at the same time as he uses evolutionary science to promote his theory that our natural evolved morals gave rise to religion, rather than religion giving rise to our morals. Again, I agree with his theory/thesis, but it's not new and it is based on science. He also seems to believe that the selfish gene theory rules out any true appreciation of cooperation or altruism. I think it does offer such an appreciation as it explains how and why genuine feelings of altruism could have come to exist. He also rails against evolutionary psychology for having too many just-so stories, which is one of the laziest and most disingenuous arguments out there. Just-so stories, a term the late Stephen Jay Gould popularized, suggest that because evolution is such a powerful theory, you can create any kind of story to explain why a trait has evolved (e.g., noses evolved to support glasses). The problem with this lazy critique is that all those "stories" are really theories or hypotheses that can be tested and falsified. That's a triumph, rather than a failure. He also attacks scientists for not being open-minded, so how can they criticize religious people for sticking to their biases? Again, we've got another biased de Waal opinion. Of course some scientists are slow to accept new truths. They should be, otherwise every new paper could reshape the entire theoretical landscape. Science should be cautious, but over time it corrects itself. de Waal is angry that some of his ideas took time to be accepted. Sorry, but that's the nature (and purpose!) of science- to carefully evaluate competing hypotheses and to only accept new theories once they have been sufficiently proven. I also wish he had spent more time discussion hunter-gatherer morals beyond sharing and reciprocity.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. This book has some fascinating information about animal morality. It is also a decent introduction to the idea that our morals are heavily influenced by our evolutionary past. Those are its strong points. But it's also burdened by aimless speculation about a work of art we know very little about and repeated but distorted attacks against anyone involved in science or atheism who has disagreed with de Waal over the years. It's petty, it's specious, and it detracts from what could otherwise have been a very interesting book. The writing is clear enough, but be forewarned that this is like sitting down with a guy over a few beers and getting a long, rambling story. Some of it is good, much of it is just rambling about people or causes he doesn't like. He's welcome to present his opinions, but frankly I really just care about his data. So I give this book a generous three stars because I so very much enjoyed the animal data, even if I had to read through a lot of fluff to get to it.

Last of the Breed: A Novel
Last of the Breed: A Novel
by Louis L'Amour
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 6.99
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun, but not very deep story, May 3 2013
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This story probably would have been more gripping when it was written in the 1980s and the Cold War was still on. The absence of the Soviet Bear tames the story significantly for modern readers, but it's still a fun book. The essence of the story is an American military test pilot is shot down by the Soviets so they can capture him and pick his brain about the new planes he's flying. Unfortunately for them, he quickly escapes and seeks to get back to America the only way he knows how- by the route of his aboriginal ancestors crossing the Bering Sea. Being a Native American who was raised in the Western mountains Major Mack (yes, it's kind of a silly name) has the skills, aptitude, and cultural determination to survive on his own in the harsh Siberian wilderness for a very long time as he tries to evade capture and make his way home. As someone who spends some time outdoors and knows a bit about primitive technology, I think there's almost no way he could accomplish the things he does so easily (e.g., make a bow and arrows, easily hunt game, make clothing, etc.). So you can't expect this story to be a highly realistic tale of northern survival. But it is good enough, and reasonably plausible enough, to allow one to ignore some of the details and concentrate on the ride. Because it is a very entertaining ride to see the hero try to survive both the wilderness and the Soviets, the reactions of Soviet citizens who he runs into, and his interactions with his former captors. A friend said that in many ways this book reads like a movie, and it does. Some people have complained that the ending is a bit abrupt, and perhaps L'Amour (who died shortly after writing this book) intended on writing a sequel. But I found the ending to be more than satisfying enough and it fit well with the general tenor of the book. His characters are OK, but nothing amazing. His description of the scenery was quite vivid and his writing keeps the plot moving long at a good pace. Overall then, this is a fun bit of "popcorn" writing that's good a for quick and easy read whenever you are in the mood for some good action.

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