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Jeffrey Swystun (Toronto & Mont Tremblant)

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Drunken Fireworks
Drunken Fireworks
by Stephen King
Edition: Audio CD
Prix : CDN$ 15.00
21 used & new from CDN$ 8.48

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Short on Sparks, July 27 2015
This review is from: Drunken Fireworks (Audio CD)
In this short outing King channels Garrison Keillor for a safe near boring tale. It revolves around a conflict between full-time residents and summer residents on a small lake. Almost any detail will end up producing spoilers so I apologize if the details remain vague. Suffice it say, I was expecting a great deal more as the story progressed. There were big bangs from the titled fireworks but little in character development, plot or resolution. This could be filler on America's NPR or Canada's CBC radio as it is so light that once read is easily forgotten. We have gotten to the point that hundreds of thousands of readers would buy King's grocery shopping list scratched out on a cocktail napkin. Mr. King and/or his publishers need to be reacquainted with value for money equation.

Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide
Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide
by Ziauddin Sardar
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 12.80
37 used & new from CDN$ 3.76

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Headache Inducing, July 27 2015
This series from Icon Books is a worthy attempt at freshly emparting knowledge on rich subjects. In addition to Cultural Studies, they tackle Ethics, Consciousness, Media Studies, Evolution, Critical Theory along with Newton, Machiavelli, Descartes and other big thinkers. Unfortunately, the result is a jumbled mess of thought and graphics. The choice of imagery seems to conflict with the heady topics addressed. Unlike the competing Dummies books, a narrative, chronological or process thread does not exist. I received a headache for my troubles and not in a good way.

The subject came across as more confusing than it should and the comics were so simplistic and duplicative to the printed words that it did not respect the intellect of the reader. I wanted to very much like it because introducing such topics to a wider audience is a laudable goal. What I concluded is knowledge is meant to be difficult and valuable in its attainment. Any attempt to oversimplify complexity robs it of relevance and application. Ironically, Icon attempts to make sense of tough subjects but because of nonexistent structure and editing succeeds only in making the topic less decipherable.

You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks
You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks
by Nick Hasted
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 33.95
34 used & new from CDN$ 20.72

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Come Dancing, July 26 2015
To too many, The Kinks are known for a small handful of songs. We all get up when You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night are played in recording or by a bar band. We will sing along to Lola and Destroyer but very few of us have dug deep into the other tracks and the band's history. Author Hasted has written a highly reverential interpretation of this band's contribution to the British Invasion and rock music. He calls The Who "copyists" and "a bloated self-parody" and the Stones as very unoriginal from the 70's on. The Beatles escape criticism only because they blew apart.

The Kinks come across as the best band that the world never acknowledged. Hasted presents the albums and songs of the band in new light even though most of us will never seek out these deep tracks. What I took away from the book was the intriguingly volatile relationship between the brothers Davies who would have had their own reality show if they set out today. Comparisons to the Gallaghers are inevitable but I feel that Ray and Dave were heartier, deeper and more talented.

This book reminds me of No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins. On the one hand, honouring the subject seems fine and deserved but by the end of the book you are wondering if infatuation has trumped journalism. That heady debate aside, I love the Kinks' music. I am no authority on how it falls into rock's pantheon or who they influenced or how they got ripped off. All I know is when the opening chords of their songs cranks up, I am heading for the dance floor.

The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
Prix : CDN$ 9.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 MadMenMadness, July 26 2015
There was a brief reference to this story in the last season of Mad Men. Joan challenges the CEO at McCann with a revolt against the ad agency's poor treatment of women. She doesn't prevail because any revolution in women's rights was very incremental at best. She made her point but it was a small building block. That is what I took away from author Povich's telling. To her and the other girls in the real fight documented here, the moment was intense and impactful. That is understandable but with the lens of history it is less so.

This is no diminishment of the issue, the action or the result. I say this only because of what several women at Newsweek in the last decade discovered. Simply, things had not progressed as much as one would think and that the story captured in the book was not well remembered. So, once again, Povich rights a wrong. And she does so eloquently and with quiet but deserved pride. If you thought the offices of Sterling Cooper were ribald then check out Newsweek for its one-sided hedonism and career imbalances. Here are three quotes that frame the content without giving much away...

'In early 1970, Newsweek's editors decided that the new women's liberation movement deserved a cover story. There was one problem, however: there were no women to write the piece.'

'When Newsweek owner Katharine Graham heard about our lawsuit, she asked, 'Which side am I supposed to be on?'

"We were women in transition, raised in one era and coming of age in another, very different we were, entering the workplace in the 1960s questioning--and often rejecting--many of the values we had been taught."

Those teasers should intrigue as should the quality of the author's writing that in past decades would never have seen the light of day because women were never given the chance.

Cold War Hothouses: Inventing Postwar Culture, from Cockpit to Playboy
Cold War Hothouses: Inventing Postwar Culture, from Cockpit to Playboy
Prix : CDN$ 14.84

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Hidden Gem, July 19 2015
A theory suggests that most of humankind's progress is attributed to war. Conflict is a driver of innovation. It prompts a very dangerous race. During the Cold War the most visible example of this was the space race. Yet, there were many others that are well documented and delightfully written about in this book. Creative hothouses are now employed by startups and the advertising industry. The term represents focused efforts where teams solve big problems in intense environments with big stakes.

The authors document many by-products of the war effort and the process of assimilating military logic and tactics into the marketplace. The timing of this was incredible. The post-war WW2 boom in consumerism and capitalism was fertile ground for new product consumption. It was fascinating to learn how society was manipulated by the military industrial complex and how psychological operations were turned into marketing and advertising campaigns.

The parts that covered Alcoa advertising campaigns, the Monsanto House of the Future, and Playboy's impact on men's lifestyle are unbelievable. Plastics and other manufacturing products changed so much and this is brought alive by examining playrooms, toys and furniture. Other topics covered include America's interstate highway system, shopping centers, along with aluminum foil and the king-size bed (and the round rotating one).

I do not know why this book did not receive more attention. It is well written, entertaining and often head scratching but in the right way. It will have you questioning your own purchasing habits and making the linkages of why we buy what we buy from these decades past. It will also have you admire the ingenuity of these inventions. In short, this book will make you think.

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal
Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal
by Abigail Carroll
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 20.23
25 used & new from CDN$ 1.88

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Food for Thought, July 5 2015
This was an intriguing read. I love social histories and have often wondered how we arrived at the structure of meals we have today. For some time I thought it was due to the changing nature of the family unit and that is true to a point. Author Carroll provides evidence that it was business (agrarian to urban jobs) more than anything that influenced what we now call breakfast, lunch and dinner.

She sets out to prove or bust the popular assumptions about the way we eat. Indeed, she points out that it is are what you eat...but rather...we are how we eat. The book is replete with interesting facts and figures. We make over 200 food decisions a day and are influenced by many things including aromas, menu design, packaging along with the "the depth of a mug, and the radius of a plate." Carroll observes, "Though we spend far less time cooking than previous generations, we spend more time reading, talking, and watching shows about food."

The book is a chronological narrative. It is comes from sound research, is well written and hugely entertaining. The author points out that she first started to write a book on snacking but the research led her to a more holistic telling. That is why one chapter is dedicated to the evolution of the snack. I was surprised to find that the first chapter on Colonial America held my interest more than the others. The evolution of how we dine is rooted here.

Other parts that were fascinating include the ongoing tension between meat and both vegetables and fruit. America has largely favoured meat as the cornerstone of every meal. Once lunch was the hot and significant meals of the day, the movement of the larger repast to the evening established a change in social manners. It became the family meal and improved conversation and intellectual discourse. Evening meals became a highly ritualized event for the one hundred years roughly between 1860 and 1960.

There is much more to enjoy within the pages including the impact of the sandwich, the packaging of breakfast, the growth in portion sizes, vegetarianism (been around longer than one would think), automats, picnics, and cafeterias. Though not exhaustive, the book is comprehensive but teases in some areas that needed more attention. Finally, the author shies away from making any predictions on where we are heading with the exception of suggesting how we conduct business will continue to play the dominant role in how we consume and that screens too will influence the dining experience.

Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews
Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Prix : CDN$ 11.99

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Grand Forks, Spoons and Knives, July 5 2015
In early 2012 something extraordinary happened in Grand Forks, North Dakota. After a long wait, residents were treated to the opening of their first Olive Garden. For the town of 55,000 that was a big deal. The Grand Forks Herald thought the same and dispatched their 85-year-old columnist, Marilyn Hagerty to provide a review. This is something she had been doing since 1957.

That review went viral. Soon she was attacked online by the jaded and snobby for what is described in Anthony Bourdain's Foreward, as a "guileless" review. That review is included in this book and my summation is it is helpful, fair, quaint but entirely innocuous. It was hardly deserving of such spiteful criticism so it was wonderful when others rose to support her with "an even stronger antisnark backlash". This attention led to TV appearances and a publishing deal. I am so happy this happened for her.

I have a small connection to Grand Forks. Having grown up in Winnipeg, my family would often to travel to Grand Forks (and Fargo) for exotic winter getaways and luxury shopping at Target in the 1970's and 80's. We would often eat at the John Barleycorn restaurant in Columbia Mall (I remember the mall's advertising jingle..."Meet me in Columbia Mall!"). Mrs. Hagerty mentions that dining spot and another I discovered later when I took a date down to Grand Forks for a romantic weekend around 1998 (yes I am cosmopolitan). We visited the Red River Cafe which would subseqently be flooded as would much of Grand Forks by the namesake river. There I had the best sautéed mushroom appetizer I have ever eaten.

So this collection of reviews was a treat to read. Hegarty visits specialty restaurants, chains, fast food and everything else. As she points out, over her career single location restaurants have been pushed out and chains now dominate the food landscape in her fair town. Her column is called Eatbeat and it sets out to tell her readers the basic facts about her dining experience. It is factual and politely conversational. Her prose is sparse and to the point. She often brings pals who she names. Consider the following examples:

- I like the menu. It's varied. It's clever. And it's easy to read.

- It's fun sitting in a place where truck drivers mingle as they wait for a load of potatoes to carry south, or east.

- On my second visit to Red Lobster, I met Gladys Keig for lunch. We both ordered soup and Caesar salad.

- We were glad we approached Applebee's at 5 P.M. for supper rather than waiting until 6 P.M. By then it was buzzing, and people were waiting for tables.

- I ordered the walleye ($7.25), the reason why many people go to the Ramada.

You may have gleamed from these charming, small town snippets that Hegarty often reviews the same restaurants, that truck stops to hotel dining are included, and that chains most of us find unworthy of a review get her same treatment. Reviews include those for the Chuck House Ranch Restaurant in the Westward Ho Motel, Sonja's Hus in the Regency Inn, the Tomahawk Cafe, Big Sioux Truck Stop Cafe, Big Al's Pasta Parlor, Red Lobster, Quizno's, Stormy Sledster's, Great Wall Buffet, and KFC. Perhaps my favourites were her review of the East Side Dairy Queen and the Royal Fork Buffet. I once experienced the latter and consider Hegarty's review as generous as the portion sizes you could serve yourself.

To be a bit snarky, it is ambitious to call this "A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews" but it is definitely great source material for such a history. And it is gratifying to see a woman who worked diligently and accurately for both restaurant and patrons to receive this attention and acclaim. Finally, could the town's name not fit better for such a book?

Finders Keepers: A Novel
Finders Keepers: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 23.93
43 used & new from CDN$ 20.81

0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Literary Fast Food, July 5 2015
I said the same thing about Mr. Mercedes, if the author was not Stephen King, would everyone be so effusive about this book and its series? To be blunt, these are more James Patterson than Mr. King. The characters are comic book one dimensional whereas in the standout King novels we are treated to more fulsome treatments of who people are and why they do what they do. Suspense lacks here and predictability prevails.

What maintains my interest is the continuing focus on Brady Hartsfield, the villain from Mr. Mercedes. He is genuinely interesting and evil unlike the bad guy in Finders Keepers who is more dime store hood. Accompanying Brady are hints at something more malevolent and that is the space where Stephen King shines. I plan to read the reviews of the third outing closely and will not blindly buy it because King's name is on it.

King himself said that he is "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries." This series is definitely fast food. Bland, predictable, ultimately forgettable but strangely comforting. I believe it is the latter that has skewed real critiques of the book.

What We've Lost Is Nothing: A Novel
What We've Lost Is Nothing: A Novel
by Rachel Louise Snyder
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 18.53
30 used & new from CDN$ 1.70

2.0 étoiles sur 5 There Goes the Neighbourhood, July 1 2015
The best part of this novel comes at its end. I am not being flippant about wanting it over. I truly mean that the most impactful aspect came in the last 25 pages. The daylight burglaries and subsequent reactions of the victims that claim to be the whole plot are a 300 page feint.

The bits about racism and the borders of class-defined neighbourhoods are interesting. The families who comprise the homes are well imagined. However, none made me care about them making this a difficult book to commit to and enjoy. They were wooden and certain actions they took unbelievable. The author's attempt to build tension and suspicion also never worked.

The superlatives in the book's promotion are wildly overstated, such as, "Tour de force"' "incisive", and "panoramic". This brings me to those last 25 pages. They contained the biggest shock and perhaps the only insight that would be a major spoiler so I will hold my tongue. My last comment is, this story is mighty bleak. With all of the darkness there is not enough redemption to make this a pleasant read. Which is too bad because suburbia has been a rich vein for writers since Cheever.

Modern Warfare, Intelligence and Deterrence: The Technologies That Are Transforming Them
Modern Warfare, Intelligence and Deterrence: The Technologies That Are Transforming Them
by Benjamin Sutherland
Edition: Hardcover
8 used & new from CDN$ 165.79

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Modern Response to Ancient Problems, June 30 2015
This collection of articles from The Economist was first published in 2011. The content is drawn over the few years previous so is heavily influenced by terrorism and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Overall, it is fulsome review of the current workings and future capabilities in warfare and intelligence. If anything has permeated the public's consciousness regarding modern warfare it is the use of drones and cyber warfare. The news is replete with mentions of these but there is so much more going on, including:

- wearable systems within combat uniforms that gather intelligence
- actual ray guns that detonate unexploded ordnance
- military bases on the ocean that fit together and come apart based on need
- liquid armour that arranges itself at point of impact
- using rubber that steel tracks on military vehicles to reduce wear and tear
- smaller and more accurate munitions

What makes the investment in these technologies so amazing is they are a responses to unsophisticated enemy tactics. RPGs, IEDs, and AK47s have inflicted the most casualties on Western nation forces in past 15 years, yet the response resembles the fodder of Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Star Wars.

Still it is the 'ground pounders' that turn the tide in most battles and they need help. That is why the topic of camouflage resonates. Software now designs patterns "that incorporates neuroscientists' understanding of human vision." These take into account reflective and light-absorbing properties for most conditions. The Canadian Armed Forces Canadian Temperate Weight digital camouflage pattern, or CADPAT was first introduced in 1996, this pattern is often called "relish." It employs small squares of colour or pixels deemed harder to see. This did not stop the critique of Canada's initial deployment of troops to Afghanistan in this highly green battle dress given the beige environment they fought in. Since that time, Canada has improved the pattern so that "observers must be 40% closer than they would have to have been in 2000."

The subjects within "Munitions of the mind" or psychological warfare has the goal of getting the enemy to surrender and reduce casualties. Von Clausewitz put this as, "compel our enemy to do our will." This leads the book to military intelligence and the desire to make every soldier a sensor that not only kills and conquers but gathers information at every turn. Then this work turns to spy craft. As the book states, "The net is closing around old-fashioned secret-service methods."

Historians have pointed out that so many of the technological advances society enjoys are due to wars. Military conflicts result in significant investments. One of the more instructive articles in the book covers how militaries are now learning from and employing technologies from business. What we call social media has lessons for how terrorist cells are organized and operate.

For centuries, military theorists and professionals have pursued "more brain, less brawn". History shows that even the smartest plays can be trumped by passion and persistence (remember Vietnam). Even with all of this neat gadgetry, there is vulnerability that the most modern nations cannot overcome and it has proven itself in the committed suicide bomber, the ubiquitous AK-47, and the sinister improvised explosive device.

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