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A. Volk (Canada)
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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
by Robert M Gates
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 25.08
56 used & new from CDN$ 5.59

4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Thorough, balanced, and interesting memoirs, Jan. 28 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
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$ 11.55
31 used & new from CDN$ 5.05

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Entertaining, but a little forced, Jan. 17 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: 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
48 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
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: 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
34 used & new from CDN$ 25.78

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$ 8.01

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$ 12.27
30 used & new from CDN$ 4.21

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$ 5.99

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.

02 Sailor On The Seas Of Fate
02 Sailor On The Seas Of Fate
by Michael Moorcock
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 2.26

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Pulp fantasy fiction, Dec 13 2013
Moorcock's Elric is one of the more famous fantasy characters. One that I hadn't, until recently, read (I recently read a short story in a related collectionThe Sword & Sorcery Anthology). Elric seemed interesting enough as a character, so I picked this book up in a used bookstore and read it. It's actually pretty good. The plot is a little heavy-handed at times, as Elric seems to be forced along a path of doom, destruction, and desolation. But the writing is generally crisp and there's some fun action sequences. While not quite as good as Robert E Howard, Moorcock does have some skill in making scenes and settings come to life with vivid descriptions. The stories themselves are fantastic, yet tinged with enough of the mundane to remain credible. Overall, a short but fun bit of fantasy reading that makes me curious about the other books in the series. For that, I give it four stars.

One King's Way
One King's Way
by Harry Harrison
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fun look at an alternative history, Dec 13 2013
This book essentially looks to recreate the Dark Ages with the addition of supernatural influences and alternate history. Shef is an escaped slave who has managed to become co-king of England thanks to adopting new (old) weapons of war based on the Roman catapult and crossbow. In this story he leaves England behind to take out a new form of ship that is fitted with catapults as a counter to the Viking raiders who ply the Northern seas. His fleet meets up with the fleet of enemy Viking's and the battle proves decisive for Shef. Unfortunately though, he is separated from his ship and ends up touring the Scandinavian lands in an effort to find his destiny, safety, and his crown(s?).

It's a fun book and Harrison is a good story-teller. My biggest complaint is that there is a lot of interference from the Norse gods in this book. I don't really want to read a story if it's all predestined or forced by some god rather than the fate made by a man in control of his destiny. That heavy-handed interference really prevented me from truly buying into the concept. Had the gods merely been observers, more or less, that would have made the book five stars. As it stands, there's still plenty of action, some interesting supernatural elements, and the characters are reasonable enough for me to enjoy reading about them. So if you're looking for a light bit of alternate history tinged with fantasy elements, this is a good book. I haven't read the first book in the series, or the last, so I can't say how it fits with them. But as a stand alone book, it does the job.

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