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Jonathan Crowe (Shawville, QC, Canada)

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Reptiles of the Northwest: California to Alaska, Rockies to the Coast
Reptiles of the Northwest: California to Alaska, Rockies to the Coast
by Alan St. John
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 27.46
18 used & new from CDN$ 16.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Good IDs, beautiful photographs, entertaining field notes, March 5 2003
This is a marvellously well-done little book whose only (minor) fault is that it skimps a bit on information about the animals themselves; facts about their diet, reproduction and behaviour are condensed into a paragraph each. Instead, we have a field guide worthy of the name that tells you where and how to find reptiles in northwestern North America and how to identify them, and that provides very good subspecies data (a rare thing nowadays), excellent range maps, and beautiful photography. Most enjoyable are the field notes at the end of each species description, in which the author tells a story about finding the animal in question in the wild (often so that it could be photographed for this book). This feature alone makes this book one of the most unique field guides I have encountered in years, and reminds us that a field guide is really about encountering and interacting with animals in the field -- and this point is ably illustrated by the often-funny photos of snakes dangling off someone's ear or lizards biting someone's hand. Highly recommended.

It's Been a Good Life
It's Been a Good Life
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.49
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Abbreviated autobiography yields mixed results, Jan. 22 2003
This review is from: It's Been a Good Life (Hardcover)
This compression of Isaac Asimov's earlier autobiographical works will principally be remembered as the book that announced to the world that Asimov died of AIDS. But as a one-volume summary of his life, it enjoys only mixed success.
This book both benefits and suffers from its source material: the best chapters are those on Asimov's early life and career, and were extracted from his first volume of autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, which was strongly narrative and, as a result, stronger; the second volume, In Joy Still Felt, was more anecdotal and quotidian, as Asimov settled into the routine of a workaholic full-time writer, and as a result yielded less insightful material to excerpt.
Like Asimov's third autobiography, I. Asimov: A Memoir, and his collection of letters, Yours, Isaac Asimov, the chapters are topical. While some chapters are solid, others are quite thin: the chapters that simply collect funny anecdotes could have been dispensed with. For example, Chapter 26, "The Bible", includes a couple of not-very-illuminating anecdotes related to Asimov's Guide to the Bible, and could have been folded, along with the chapter on humanism, into a longer chapter on religion and unbelief. I would have preferred fewer, longer chapters that went into more depth. Substantial introductory and connective material to piece Asimov's own work together would have strengthened the book; instead, we're given passages that sometimes look like they were excerpted, word by word, with a razor blade.
On a more mundane level, the proofreading is sometimes surprisingly bad, with several misspelled authors' names and even one book title ("I, Robert"?!?) -- just the sort of thing that Isaac would have found bothersome.

The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario
The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario
by Ross MacCulloch
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 111.94

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful pocket guide that lacks some detail, Sept. 18 2002
Ontarians have not had a field guide to their reptiles and amphibians since Bob Johnson's Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians of Ontario (1989). Whereas Johnson's little book was illustrated with black-and-white sketches that may or may not have resembled the actual animal in question, this new pocket guide is a showcase for excellent herp photography, giving each species native to Ontario three full-colour photographs on the facing page of each written description.
It's important to remember that this is a field guide, focused on the identification of wildlife in the field, and as such is not terribly in-depth -- after all, it's supposed to fit in your pocket! Each species is limited to a page of description and a page of photographs, a format which, for the most part, works rather well. Information is basic (identification, habitat, diet, reproduction), concise and, for the most part, accurate.
But brevity can be risky, and errors can sometimes creep in. ...
Common names definitely suffer from the focus on the species level, as "Eastern Racer" and "Eastern Ratsnake" are used, rather than the more commonly used subspecies names of "Blue Racer" and "Black Rat Snake". ...
In spite of the real space limitations, I would have liked to have seen descriptions of frog and toad calls and of amphibian eggs, which are dealt with only occasionally (larvae and tadpoles are well represented in the photographs).
Those wanting to learn more about our native herpetofauna would do well to consult the excellent Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by James H. Harding (1997). But, since that book is too large to tuck into your bag or pocket, grab this little book instead if you're heading out into the field and need to know what it is you've just found.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Price: CDN$ 14.83
29 used & new from CDN$ 8.47

4.0 out of 5 stars On the use of themes in this soundtrack, June 11 2002
John Williams's movie scores are always grand and very listenable, and this one is no exception, even though only one major theme is introduced ("Across the Stars"), compared to three each for The Empire Strikes Back (Imperial March, Yoda's Theme, Han and Leia) and The Return of the Jedi (Emperor's Theme, Ewoks, Luke and Leia). The music on this recording is therefore much more incidental -- and that incidental music is somewhat less melodic than similar tracks from the original trilogy, probably a result of the hyperkinetic plotting of the new movie -- but it's great to listen to all the same.
I'm going to go on a bit about the use of themes and signature music here, because I think it's not only interesting, but central to the subject of Star Wars music. (Humor me.) Episode II's plot is all about foreshadowing, and its soundtrack is no exception, but here the existing themes are used in unusual ways, not least because of the role reversals (e.g., the troopers are the "good guys" in this film). It is somewhat jarring, for example, to hear the music that represented the droid army in Episode I be used for Obi-wan's discovery of the clone army ("Bounty Hunter's Pursuit"), or to hear a piece of "Duel of the Fates" while Anakin searches for his mother ("Return to Tatooine") -- these existing themes come with existing meanings that don't necessarily make sense when applied here, or at least their use makes you sit up and think a bit.
The Imperial March originally doubled as Darth Vader's theme and the signature music for the Empire. Originally this posed no problems, but this music pulls double duty again in this film, and runs into problems, because the two roles have not yet been combined in the storyline. It appears first as Anakin confesses to Padmé what he has done on Tatooine, and its use foreshadows his future career as Vader. (This music does not appear on this CD, incidentally, which is a real pity.) But it shows up again, with flourishes, at the end, as thousands of clone troopers march onto scores of troop transports ("Confrontation with Count Dooku/Finale") -- here the music is truly the Imperial March, and foreshadows the rise of the Empire (as it should), but Vader and the Empire have yet to converge. Perhaps it's not a bad thing, then, that Williams uses existing signature music sparingly in this film.

The Silmarillion (Boxed Set)
The Silmarillion (Boxed Set)
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Edition: Audio CD
Price: CDN$ 66.20
19 used & new from CDN$ 45.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Audio CD set a must for lovers of Tolkien's use of language, May 11 2002
The audio CD boxed set of The Silmarillion, which contains the entire, unabridged text of the book over thirteen discs, is a real treat to listen to. Martin Shaw's narration captures Tolkien's vatic voice flawlessly, with excellent pacing, tone, and the correct pronunciation of those tricky Elvish words. Shaw is, however, less effective when he changes his voice to speak as specific characters like Eönwë, Morgoth, Thingol, or various female characters. Tolkien's use of language is such that it rewards repeated listening, which makes this boxed set an excellent investment, even if, like me, you own a copy of The Silmarillion that has been just about read to pieces, and know the words a little too well for your own good.

Monty Python Live!
Monty Python Live!
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 45.80
12 used & new from CDN$ 0.54

3.0 out of 5 stars Great shows, but poor video quality and combinations, Feb. 4 2002
This review is from: Monty Python Live! (DVD)
I bow to no one in my devotion to Monty Python, but I do have a few concerns about this set. First, the film quality for "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" is terrible and in dire need of restoration. Second, truth in advertising: only two of four pieces on this set are live, and "Live at Aspen" is more of an interview/retrospective than a performance. The second disc, containing the "Parrot Sketch Not Included" retrospective and Episode 1 of "Monty Pythons Fliegender Zirkus", has nothing live to it at all. Third, one unfortunate result of the selection on these discs is that certain filmed pieces, done for the German episodes and recycled for "Live at the Hollywood Bowl", appear as many as three times in the set, which makes consecutive viewing a bit maddening. Having said that, the first German episode has always been one of my favorites, one I'm glad to have on DVD, and I've enjoyed audio recordings of live Python concerts, so I do like having "Live at the Hollywood Bowl", whatever the quality.

Design for Community
Design for Community
by Derek Powazek
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Need-to-know information for community builders, Feb. 1 2002
This review is from: Design for Community (Paperback)
I'm in the process of retooling an online community myself, and Design for Community has given me a lot to think about. It's extremely useful. No one should try to build an online community without reading this book first.
While it is not difficult to find the software tools required to build an online community, experience and insight is harder to come by. Powazek draws examples from his own work and interviews some of the leading lights of online communities to show what has worked, what doesn't, and what you should look out for.
This book invites its readers to ask themselves some questions about the online communities they want to build. Why do you want to build it? What are you trying to accomplish? What relationship do you want to have with your visitors? And how do you plan to keep order, maintain decorum, and enforce the community's rules? These are questions, I'm afraid, that many webmasters and site owners have simply never asked themselves, and boy does it ever show.
Case in point: In my very, very small corner of the web, just about everybody with a small home-based business and a two-bit web site wants to set up a mailing list or discussion board to go along with it. They don't appear to have done much thinking about it, apart from a vague notion that a forum would be cool and would draw traffic to their site. In fact, the biggest site/portal in the subculture I inhabit sells itself by saying that its discussion forums draw traffic to the hobbyist/small-business home pages it hosts and the advertising it sells -- i.e., its forums are its content. Meanwhile, the quality and tone of discussion on those forums is a constant source of grief. These people need to read this book.

Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth
by Christopher Tolkien; J.R.R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
9 used & new from CDN$ 12.87

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who liked the appendices best, Jan. 11 2002
Like The Silmarillion but even more so, this book is an unusual form of fiction. The pieces in this book range from short philological essays to full narratives, and range in completeness from scattered fragments that conflict with one another, through polished tales that end abruptly, to more complete works. But if the appendices to The Lord of the Rings were your favorite part, and you want even more of the intricate backstory behind Tolkien's stunning narratives, buy this book immediately without fear of disappointment.
Unfinished Tales fleshes out in more detail what is only alluded to elsewhere. Here we get fully written stories, if incomplete, of Tuor and Túrin, whereas in The Silmarillion their tales received much briefer treatment. We learn more about Númenor: a map of the island, a chronology of its kings, and a story from early in its history. We find a well-written account of the ambush of Isildur at the Gladden Fields, and get a hint of what the power of Númenor was before its waning. We learn more about the Rohirrim. More about what else happened during the War of the Ring. And most tantalizing, we get short (if fragmentary) essays on the Wizards, the Palantíri, and the Drúedain.
Remarkably consistent, most of these works appear to have been written late in Tolkien's life, by which I mean after The Lord of the Rings was published: he's filling in details rather than establishing the basic structure. (Even the empty lands of Enedwaith and Minhiriath get histories.) One exception is the conflicting histories of Galadriel, whose role, it seems, Tolkien was still trying to work out.

The Friendly Dictatorship
The Friendly Dictatorship
by Jeffrey Simpson
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.84

4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and reasonable take on the state of the nation, Dec 30 2001
Veteran Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson presents this thoughtful and coherent reflection on the state of Canadian democracy. Simpson is erudite without being pedantic or obscure. His analysis rings true for anyone who has been paying attention to Canada's national political scene. No system of checks and balances reins in the prime minister, whose power in our political system is little short of absolute, between elections. Opposition parties, for various reasons, cannot currently get their act together to provide a reasonable alternative to the governing party. And the electorate is increasingly tuning out the whole thing.
Now this is where most pundits and dinner-table grumps stop -- that, or they offer one or two hobby-horse solutions -- but Simpson offers a few suggestions that, he thinks, might tip the balance back to a somewhat healthier polity. A revamped electoral system -- he prefers a preferential ballot in single-member constituencies to proportional representation. Fewer patronage opportunities (i.e. appointments) for the prime minister. An elected Senate. And the parties need to stop deluding themselves and reconnect with the Canadian public. However unlikely to be adopted these solutions are in the current political environment, they are rational and moderate; we could do a lot worse.

Garter and Ribbon Snakes: Facts & Advice on Care and Breeding
Garter and Ribbon Snakes: Facts & Advice on Care and Breeding
by Richard Bartlett
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 5.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good basic information on garter snake care, Nov. 6 2001
A book on the captive care of garter snakes for beginners has been badly needed for quite some time, and this excellent little book fills that need very nicely indeed. While it does not provide the level of information that serious garter snake hobbyists would like, and could be more precise in terms of diet and the unique requirements of some species, that sort of detail would be inappropriate in a beginner's guide like this one. It sets out the basic requirements (feeding, caging, health) that any snake keeper just starting out is going to need to know. I breed garter snakes myself and am very happy that I can now refer my customers, particularly the younger ones, to a book that answers so many of their questions.

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