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Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC)
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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.96
4 used & new from CDN$ 18.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Piece of Literature, Nov. 26 2014
We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly foreign to us, what with all of its many social and physical changes. Memories of our past are being swept away before our very eyes as we are being forced to stare into the bleak uncertainty of the future while struggling to come to grips with our ever-fleeting present reality. Such is the predicament facing Murakami's latest existential creation in the person of the bland Japanese civil engineer, Tsukuru Tazaki, a man given to building railway stations: which way to turn. Remember, in a very uniformed Japanese society, suicide is a viable option where honor has been compromised. One day, Tsukuru wakes up to realize that he has truly become an alienated creature in Japanese society. His close circle of friends from his past have all seemingly rejected him for some unknown reason which, in his tightly-knit culture, amounts to the kiss of death. As the story progresses, we find Tsukuru first of all attempting to re-establish that all-important social anchor in his life in the person of Sara, an older woman whose life is cosmopolitan rather than parochial. She will help him gain perspective on his solitary existence as he attempts to regain his confidence in living. It will take a torturous journey or 'pilgrimage' into his past, as he meets with his former friends to discover the true reason for being outed. What he'll learn from these encounters will both help to clarify the mysteries of the past and put him on a more solid footing for the future. A little knowledge about the pains of the past can certainly help steady us as we move into the great unknowns of the future. As a Christian, I have little problem understanding the process through which Murakami takes his reader in the remaking of the individual: devastation, discovery and determination.

The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805
The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805
by Frederick Kagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 33.21
25 used & new from CDN$ 8.07

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Better Studies of Napoleonic Campaigns, Nov. 22 2014
As one who often finds it hard to follow the historical record of troop movements across a battlefield, this book comes as a welcomed relief. Historian Kagan takes a detailed look at how the political order of Europe attempted to militarily shut down Napoleon before he completely dominated the continent. This is a masterful study that looks into the players, the resources, the strategies and the outcomes that helped to define a major turning point in European history. Any offensive alliance between the Russians, led by Tsar Alexander, and the Austrians, led by Charles, would not possibly work because of a serious inherent lack of coordination between formations in the field, a tentative attitude as to when to strike, and a lack of ground intelligence as to the relative strength of one's opponent. In short, the Allies were always going to be a decisive step behind Napoleon because they operated by the principles of an old order: large frontal formations in a contained area with little creativity of movement outside the ordinary. Meanwhile, Napoleon and his generals were forever strategizing, negotiating, and surveilling in an effort to force that decisive battle on which the war for control of Europe would change. As Kagan points out, Napoleon and the Grand Armee took what looked like a hopeless situation - outnumbered and badly depleted - and turned it around to achieve one of those monumental victories in modern military history: the Battle of Austerlitz. He forced his opponents to fight the battle on his own terms, knowing full well that they would be unlikely to adapt to any unfavorable turn of events. The Austrians and the Russians were just too unwieldy to outsmart a better prepared Napoleon who held the high ground, had a winnable endgame, and knew more about them than they did of him. In the future, military alliances such as this, built strictly on the urge to destroy one's adversary, would not work unless they employed a better plan for cornering the likes of a wily gambler like Napoleon who knew how to pick off the enemy one at the time if they weren't organized.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Ralph Fiennes
Price: CDN$ 5.00
8 used & new from CDN$ 2.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Production that does Justice to the Past, Nov. 22 2014
This sparkler of a movie has as much to do with the creative prowess of Wes Anderson and Hollywood to provide a high-paced thriller as it does the literary genius of Stefan Zweig to create a lasting impression of things past. I love this film because it reminds me that there are still many traditional values worth fighting for even though the modern world seems prepared to dump them. This historic old hotel, like the Overlook in "The Shining", in all its dated opulence becomes a symbol of what is being lost in society because nobody seems prepared to fight for it. In this romantic portrayal of a lost era, we have an unlikely dynamic duo of Gustav a flamboyant concierge) and Zero (a self-effacing lobby boy) to the rescue. In quixotic fashion, they will save the world of the Grand Budapest Hotel from all that threatens its majestic past by taking on rogues, ne'er-do-wells, charlatans, and imposters bent on destroying it. This story is so rich in detail and color that it can't be told in other format than a fantasy full of death-defying heroics, incredible stunts, plenty of high jinks, lots of special effects, and decisive moments: for what end you might ask? For the saving of a way of life and the rightful ownership of a priceless piece of art. Like a lot of Zweig's writings, winning the battle for virtue over villainy - the saving of the hotel and honoring of its continuing legacy - rarely brings with it any long-term satisfaction. Time and death have a way of closing in on and changing the things we try to hold on to. I felt that way when I recently had the privilege of wandering through the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Slowly but surely, the old is passing away before our very eyes even as we desperately try to hold on to it with all our romantic might. Having said this, the movie is still full of fun as it treats us to a full-life adventure complete with good acting and a fine story.

The Story of Koloa: A Kauai Plantation Town
The Story of Koloa: A Kauai Plantation Town
by Donald Donohugh
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 27.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Special Read About Plantation Life, Nov. 18 2014
As a recent visitor to Kauai, I took some time to knock around the heritage village of Koloa and read Donohugh's brilliant history on the sugar trade in the area. I found this book to be a well-researched and poignant account of life on the Garden Island spanning the last couple of centuries. The author shows how the south part of the island opened up to the sugar industry and trade in the early nineteenth century as the demand for sugar grew and the price of production dropped. The reader will get a full appreciation for how the conditions - climate, workforce, location and technology - for this staple crop were ideally situated in Kauai. While this is not a pleasant story, what with the harsh working and living conditions, this book is full of useful detail that commemorates the courage and resilience of thousands of migrants - Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos - who called Koloa home. This work helped me better understand the ethnic diversity of the island and life both in the field and in the home of an average worker. Donohugh pays tribute to everyone who had a role to play in this era of plantation farming: bosses, workers, doctors, farmers, teachers, children, merchants, priests, police, et cetera. He makes a convincing argument for believing that this community survived as long as it did, well into the twentieth century, because of the humane and harmonious relationships between its various members. Like a lot of economic ventures in the modern era, all good things come to an end when either the resource runs out or the price drops. While the village has received a very effective make-over, in the interests of attracting tourists, the only remnant of the sugar mill left today is a bit of its smokestack. I recommend this story to anyone who has especially grown up in a company town in earlier times and needs something by which to compare the experience.

The Most Beautiful Walk In The World: A Pedestrian in Paris
The Most Beautiful Walk In The World: A Pedestrian in Paris
by John Baxter
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
42 used & new from CDN$ 5.18

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Walk Through History, Nov. 17 2014
So you want to see Paris in a week, a tour guide taking you by the hand and leading you into all those famous haunts of Paris. Well, I can't guarantee that a week will suffice but I can, based on this informative little book, assure you that John Baxter, chef extraordinaire from Australia, is the man for the task. Paris is the city to walk around and soak up history, culture, and ambiance as many people over the years, including myself, can attest to. What makes Baxter's version of a walk through the City of Lights so unique is that he liberally shares with his clients pertinent knowledge that can turn an ordinary walk into a unforgettable experience that transport one into the realms of a different times and space. His secret is that he knows not only those famous hotels, taverns, cafes and bistros but has a repertoire of stories and talking points to go with them. A stroll across various arrondisements from both the left and right banks will invariably bring the walker in touch with the famous water holes of footloose writers like Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald, the dives and dens of flaneurs like Joyce and Callaghan and the weird haunts of Picasso in the back streets of the Montmarte environs. Baxter's work succeeded in bringing the city alive for me in such a way as to imagine myself actually there in all its majesty, antiquity and memories. To live in Paris is an opportunity to know that, wherever you turn, history is there to meet you, whether it be at the Place de Concorde, the Bastille monument, the shadowy back streets of Marais, or Champs Elysee. This work is full of history of people caught up in the life of a truly great city that offers a brilliant opportunity to newcomers to enjoy a walk through the secrets of history, whether it be above or below ground, through market square or on a pub crawl, or sensing the clamor of a mob as it prepares to attack an ancient prison. What would a Baxter book on life in Paris be without mention of fine food produced by some of the finest chefs in the kingdom! Remember, you only get to enjoy it if you allow Baxter, the consummate storyteller, fill your head with the import of the moment, whether it be tragic or funny. This, by far, is the best book for putting you in the mood for walking across a city alive with history.

Learning To Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan
Learning To Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan
by Bruce Feiler
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.49
67 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Appearances in reality, Nov. 17 2014
Everything about Japanese cuture in the modern context gets discussed here: the traditional cutural xenophobia blended with modern desire to adopt values in an effort to remain globally competitive. Feiler, ever the learner and teacher, has found himself in Japan on a year's teaching assignment of English to young Japanese junior high students. What Feiler is supposed to give them is a that exrtra-special edge or leg up in world where speaking and writing English opens doors to careers. What he gets in return from his students and fellow teachers are some powerful insights into a culture that both preaches the importance of conformity and the need to be perfect. In a society that is hidebound and control driven in so many respects, the author discovers that there are major intergenerational cracks existing in this so-called monolithic society. In an attempt to create the impression that Japanese youth can be regimented into being an egalitarian mass that adheres to the values of their parents, the public school system has taken every step - absurd or otherwise - to shame individuals who step out of line: For three intensive years, junior high students are hounded by rules to do with food, clothing, speech, relationships, and education. A typical young person in this bell jar existence of unreasonable expectations fears what may happen if he or she is not accepted by their peers. Alienation or social shunning often tragically leads to suicide. Feiler makes every effort to unpick this troubled social conscience of a very insecure society deadset on creating the impression that it is better at meeting the needs of its members than its American counterpart. What I liked about Feiler's approach in this book is his willingness to subject himself to Japanese values as a way of getting inside the mindset of the Japanese individual as it lets its guard down from time to time. Clearly, this is a society that lives a double-life: conformity in public for the good of the nation offset by indviduality under the cloak of night. Unfortunately, the state, rather than parents, lead the way in shaping these young people on how to burn the social candle from both ends.

The Farm
The Farm
Offered by Hachette Book Group Digital, Inc.
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Sins of the Fathers Visited on Their Children, Nov. 1 2014
This review is from: The Farm (Kindle Edition)
Talk about being torn between wanting to believe and yet having to remain skeptical. This is the dilemma facing Daniel as he listens to his mother's complex tale of horror about people conspiring to silence her by having her declared insane. Even her husband seems to have bought into this evil scheme. This is a Nordic horror story that creatively combines one woman's desperate efforts to tell the painful story of her tortured past in the backwoods of Sweden and the life of a rural community not quite ready to let go of the ugly truth. It will take Daniel's patient sleuthing and love for his mother to uncover what will amount to a complex conspiracy going back several generations where certain men in the community have abused their authority. The unfortunate result is that a number of the local women in the area have become emotionally scarred and compromised in the process. It will take a lot of hard work to re-establish reality here because of the overriding code of silence brought on by years of guilt building up in the victims. By the time the novel finishes, the sins of the past will be exposed, the spell of those haunting secrets broken, and the bonds of control and superstition snapped. Years of confusion and fear will be replaced by friendship and love. This is the first book of Tom Rob Smith's I've read, and I am very taken with his ability to compose a fascinating and complex tale in such an orderly and controlled fashion. Daniel will not buy into his mother's tale of woe before he has checked and verified critical details that will take considerable nosing around in a very hostile and unsettling environment. Fear reigns supreme here until certain individuals gain the courage to speak out. A real spine-tingling novel with all the punch and intrigue of the modern Nordic mystery tradition.

A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1
A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1
Price: CDN$ 9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pain of the Past, Oct. 31 2014
There is no man...however wise, who has not at some period in his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is so unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man..."
- Marcel Proust, "Remembrance of Things Past"
While this is, undoubtedly, a deep and troubling novel to read, it is anything but tedious, especially when Knausgaard succeeds, through gripping and eloquent prose, to capture the very heart of what haunts his blighted past: the absence of a father-figure to guide him through life. I have no trouble identifying with Karl Ove's insecurity of not knowing who to turn to for guidance while growing up in a very dysfunctional home. His sense of apprehension that he has been abandoned and betrayed by selfish, guilt-ridden parents in a minimalist society makes for one very lonely, unhappy Proustian character. This sense of adolescent loneliness, where making lasting friends is hard, seems to dog him throughout this stage of life. There are times in the story when the sense of woe and boredom are so stifling that he needs to escape the confines of the home to be out on the streets in search of fun. As often is the case, a grandmother steps in to offer refuge and succor for her lost children. As Karl Ove reaches adulthood and becomes a family man, he receives an urgent call to visit her. All of a sudden, the troubled past rises up before him, and he must come to grips with what he wants to become as opposed to what he once was: dependable, responsible and compassionate instead of fearful, unhappy, and self-centered. It is that opportunity for redemption that makes this novel a worthwhile read: the ability to change one's future by wrestling the demons of the past out of existence.

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Threw Nickels Around Like Manhole Covers, Oct. 28 2014
To understand that seminal team called the Chicago Bears of 1985 that not only won convincingly but did it in such a way as to destroy its opponents, one has to familiarize oneself with the crusty, blustery legend of George Halas, the team's original owner. This is where the real heart of the story starts: the mercurial relationship of a hardheaded, foul-mouthed owner/coach Halas and star tight-end, Mike Ditka, who did everything in his power to emulate his master. They won a championship together in 1963, playing a hard-knock, rough-and-tumble brand of football that mirrored the Monsters of Midway back in the early 1940s: a pack of talented oddballs. Roll the clock ahead twenty-two years and Cohen introduces us to yet another Bears powerhouse team in the form of the 1985 Super Bowl champions, a group of wild warriors bent on not just winning but annihilating. This time it is led by the zany apprentice to the sorcerer in the person of Mike Ditka who has learned his lessons well. He will take 46 individual talents, attitudes and characters and turn them into another one-time championship wonder. It becomes Cohen's task to return to that year in history when the Bears got serious again and lived up to their name and reputation and discover how it all happened under the harsh and unrelenting mentorship of Iron Mike. He will interview the likes of Ditka himself, Jim McMahon, that wild but talented QB from Brigham Young, Walter Payton, that amazing halfback with all kinds of electrifying moves, William Perry, that refrigerator of a lineman who could score touchdowns as well, David Hampton, that ferocious middle linebacker who tackled to punish, and numerous other stars. While Ditka could be both serious and theatrical in his duties as a head coach, it was probably Buddy Ryan's leadership as defensive coordinator that made the difference. One gets the impression that while Ditka welded this team together for this one brief fling with glory, his woeful lack of self-control and humility contributed to its rapid demise soon after. I leave the reader with two stories that Cohen tells about how Ditka and McMahon performed as living contradictions in the game of football. In the first one, Ditka, when he played with the Cowboys, was alleged to have found the Lord, though many people questioned the truth of that persistent but unlikely rumor. Then there was the time, years later, when McMahon was playing for the Packers as a backup to Favre in the 1996 Super Bowl. When asked near the end of the game to sub in, he refused, arguing that he had never in his illustrious career backed up anyone. Today the man, contrary to what happens to washed up football players, lives on millions while suffering the ravaging effects of CTE disease from having his bell rung one too many times. This is a must read for anyone who wants to get inside a very good but strange football team on its way to a unique but disturbing destiny.

Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas
Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas
Price: CDN$ 14.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Elephants in the Same Room, Oct. 28 2014
Klein has made a very good living from writing about political families in American today. This book is no different. With access to a lot of social gossip and political intrigue, the author has put together a very instructive guide as to what is currently going on between two very prominent political families in the Democratic Party: the Clintons and the Obamas. His story amounts to a detailed no-holds-barred account of how these two influential, highly intelligent husband-wife teams have basically declared war on each other in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the American public. There is no depth to what these two couples will sink to in order to win the popularity stakes that go with controlling the party agenda in the decades to come. The Clintons are already on their way to cementing their legacy with eight 'transforming' years in the White House, a humanitarian foundation, incredible wealth, and a chance to return to power in 2016. Standing in their way are the Obamas who, too, have an agenda that just might derail the Clintons' dreams. Most of this book is taken up with looking at the various Machiavellian tactics and strategies both sides in this political set-to are using to get the upperhand. What it amounts to, as you will learn, is a lot of petty one-upmanship. Just a lot of egos at work here as one side tries to outbest the other. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out in 2016 when it could become Obama's turn to campaign on behalf of Hillary, as Bill did for him 2012. To show how shallow this tiff has become, both sides have put themselves in the hands of cosmeticians, speech coaches, fundraisers, celebrities, and old friends to make sure they remain forever in the forefront of American politics as powers to be reckoned with. The problem here is that what they have to offer in the way of national leadership all comes down to what they want people to perceive them as: political royalty.

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