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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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Modern Classics Friend Of My Youth
Modern Classics Friend Of My Youth
by Alice Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
10 used & new from CDN$ 4.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mysteries of the female ethos, Sept. 25 2014
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This collection of ten of Alice Munro’s short stories was first published in 1990, republished seventeen years later. I took an interest in Munro’s writing after she was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013. Like most short stories they exist for a short time in the reader’s life. Some cast a spell, some leave a hunger for more and some are very forgettable. Munro is a master of the genre. She surprises readers by using different styles of writing in each story, to give them different textures compatible with different plots, characters and timelines. Few writers are as capable of doing that as she is.

Speaking from a male point of view I think the majority of her stories best capture the female ethos. Often her stories reveal aspects of the woman-to-woman sharing of confidences while rivalrous undercurrents of jealousy and envy are at play. Women’s rebelliousness against conventional social expectations and their irrationality about what constitutes sexual attraction or repulsion to men are themes she loves to explore. Women’s attraction to men is certainly portrayed as much more complex and nuanced than men’s attraction to women. Perhaps men could better understand the depths of women’s inner feelings, conflicts and despair by reading Munro’s tales? This was only the second of her books I have read (the first being ‘Too Much Happiness’) but I intend to read more.

Just One Damned Thing After Another
Just One Damned Thing After Another
by Jodi Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.93
18 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Time-travelling historians and technocrats, Sept. 21 2014
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I bought this book because it sounded like fun: time-travelling to the Cretaceous Period in the interest of historical research. The book is alright. It is done in a first person narrative by the character Madeleine Maxwell who attends the University of Thirsk, Institute of Historical Research, St Mary’s Priory Campus to become a Historian of anything and everything that arouses curiosity about the past, has left unanswered questions and—as a bonus—can possibly also generate income for the cash-strapped institution. It takes months for candidates to complete rigorous intellectual and physical training. Of those who apply few succeed but Maxwell is one of them. Time travels are done by means of pods that are programmed to land in specific places at specific historical dates and times. The rule is not to change history but to enhance knowledge.

I found the book to be too institution-oriented, with its staff rivalries, meticulous planning, training programs and technical operations. St Mary’s exists in a world of its own and, ironically, we get no sense of what is happening around it—of the present historical perspective. I missed the total absence of children and any family-oriented involvement in this novel to soften the tech-science nucleus. I didn’t know what to make of the adversarial Ronan, who plays the role as the spoiler of missions. There should have been more background on his past as it related to St Mary’s. The book is not lacking in humour and funny incidents, from Maxwell’s point of view. There is also tension, drama and action in every excursion into the past. The book is left open-ended, for the reader to come along on the next ride. Three books follow this one but I choose to not come along.

In The Kings Service
In The Kings Service
by Katherine Kurtz
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Meaningful relationships and intrigue, Sept. 10 2014
This review is from: In The Kings Service (Hardcover)
This is the first novel in the Childe Morgan trilogy, published in 2003. The second novel, Childe Morgan, was published in 2006. The long awaited third (and probably the very last Deryni novel), titled The King’s Deryni, is due to be released in December, 2014. This is the seventh book in the sixteen-book Deryni saga orchestrated by Katherine Kurtz if read chronologically. Some of the books are out of print but readily available through used book sellers and via Amazon.

When compared to the previous six novels (chronologically) I found this book to be very different in style and content from the earlier ones. Reading it takes a lot less effort. There are fewer words and lines per page and the chapters are mercifully shorter. Most of the earlier books required considerable concentration about who-was-who—not as challenging as War and Peace, but does require some effort to keep track of the character names and their places in the plot. This book does present the reader with some of that same attention-requiring focus but to a much lesser degree. Whereas the six earlier books followed a generational sequence (year 903 to 928), this one jumped over 160 years into the future which meant the cast of characters had no direct connection with previous personalities. This book is a good jumping-on point for new readers.

I have remarked in previous reviews that for a female author Kurtz had failed to provide (again, in the first six books chronologically) enough flesh, bone and emotive female characters. Romantic relationships were non-existent or insufficiently developed. That is more than made up for in this volume. The interrelationships between female characters and their romantic projections about their destinies are plentiful. There are tragic deaths in the plot but there is no lingering on the negative. Page after page of rituals—magic or otherwise—are also absent from this volume, to my delight. Sexual references are sparse but included—even startlingly descriptive in the case of a child being vandalized and an attempted rape.

This narrative is primarily about five individuals: young Lady Alyce de Corwyn and her close friend Zoe Morgan, Zoe’s father Sir Kenneth Morgan, an aide to the king of Gwynedd, and the king himself Donal Cinhil Haldane, as well as the good priest Father Paschal. On the side of evil there is the priest Septimus de Nore and his powerful Deryni-hating brother, Bishop Oliver de Nore. Readers of the previous books may find this book too feminine in style, lacking in masculine force and fervor and without much gritty adventure. But I found it was well balanced with meaningful relationships and dialogue as well as suspense and intrigue.

Universe of Worlds: Exploring the Frontiers of the Afterlife
Universe of Worlds: Exploring the Frontiers of the Afterlife
by Robert J. Grant
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Unadorned comforting psychic 'truth', Aug. 22 2014
Grant has stitched together a collection of quotations and references about the afterlife together with his own illuminations on the subject. There is by no means overwhelming agreement among mystics, psychics, mediums and esotericists about this topic; Grant has been careful not to include contradictions. I will say, however, that the school of thought he advocates does represent the great majority of writers who have expounded on the meaning of human existence—before, during and after our earthly sojourn. This being an A.R.E. publication, it supports the fundamentals voiced by Edgar Cayce while in his between-worlds state of trance (when he regained consciousness he was unaware of what he had uttered). Grant also leans to a large extent on the medium Betty White’s legacy; that material is covered by a lengthy chapter of its own. Mrs. White was able to communicate with the ‘Invisibles’ and journeyed far into the fourth dimension of consciousness. Her husband, Edward Stuart White, recorded and maintained extensive files about her experiences and wrote numerous books in the 40s, most of them are still in print.

Someone who is familiar with the subject of the afterlife (as discerned by the religiously non-orthodox) will not find anything unexpected in this slim volume. They may find it bland. But for those seeking unadorned and comforting psychic ‘truth’ about life after death it is an excellent resource. The author presents a coherent and credible case that there is meaning to life on earth and we all have roles to play in weaving the universal fabric of existence long after we make the transition to ‘Summerland.’

The Gunner
The Gunner
by Paul Almond
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.95
17 used & new from CDN$ 14.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historic war novel permeated by stark realism, Aug. 20 2014
This review is from: The Gunner (Paperback)
This is the sixth book in the Alford Saga, and the second to relate to war. The fifth book dealt with the Boer War and this one with the First World War. The narrator is Eric Alford, the grandson of James Alford who jumped ship and made a home in the wilds of the Gaspé in the first novel ‘The Deserter’. All of the books are partially based on the experiences of the author’s own ancestors. Almond’s father was named Eric Alford and he fought in the battles described. Two more books will complete the eight volume series.

Almond read over a hundred books and consulted numerous historians to write this book. The result shows. He says it was the most difficult of the eight books to write. He needed to get the details correct about the artillery and guns, the procedures and the conditions the soldiers were faced with. It should be said that this is not a book for the squeamish. All the horrors of the injured and dying, corpses and body parts, tortured existences by those subjected to gas attacks—they are all included. But the book is not only as factually true to historical events as possible but it is very well written. It is imbued with empathy and pathos for Eric and his brothers-in-arms. Even the doctors, nurses and chaplains are not forgotten. In the beginning of the story, taking place back in Gaspé, the plight of squatters, left jobless after the railway project had been completed, is described. The Alford Saga books are being recommended by educators for tweens and teens. I was a little surprised therefore that Alford included rape, incest and prostitution in the story line but such activities are true to life and need to be included to provide a true picture of how lust so often leads to degradation.

This book is highly recommended for those who have followed this saga but it can be read independently since there is no need to have prior knowledge of the other books. It is a gripping realistic tale of the atrocities and gruesomeness of war. For those of us who didn’t know very much about it, we are left with the question of WHY did it ever happen and HOW could it go on for four years, most of it in a stalemate while millions suffered and died?

Trilby
Trilby
by George Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.38
35 used & new from CDN$ 2.87

2.0 out of 5 stars Hoity-toity Victorian literature, Aug. 12 2014
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This review is from: Trilby (Paperback)
This may be a quaint and charming novel about English and German artists in Paris in the 1850s, but I would recommend it mostly for English lit majors who have a good mastery of French. This Oxford edition comprises three hundred pages of the novel itself, which includes many excellent illustrations by the author. But the novel is peppered with French verses, phrases, dialogue and cultural references; there is also German, slang and dialect. The back of the book has almost forty pages of 302 explanatory notes and even they don’t answer all the questions that may puzzle the reader. Having to constantly refer to the explanations disrupts the reading experience totally. Besides, I did not think the quality of the writing itself was noteworthy. The original was published in 1894 and gained wide popularity and notoriety—especially among academics, artists and the in-crowd. It was a cultural phenomenon. Aside from the young impressionable woman Trilby, there is the lecherous, rude, dirty, sadistic and narcissistic German Jew named Svengali who is given a major role in the plot. This suited the anti-Semitic mindset of the times. (Svengali has become a word in the dictionary for a dominating man with sinister motives.) Yes, this is a literary classic but I found it a tedious bore up until a hundred pages when I decided to place it in the box for donations to the public library.

A Death in the Family
A Death in the Family
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
21 used & new from CDN$ 6.93

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compositional literary android, Aug. 8 2014
This review is from: A Death in the Family (Paperback)
To provide an honest review of this book was a challenge because it is a literary work of some stature but it is a hybrid—a compositional android. It is suffused in melancholy despair. Is this work an appeal by the author for the reader’s commiseration? He succeeds in getting the reader under his skin, inside his mind, living in his moody turmoil and emotional immaturity—coping with his inept social skills, fractious relationships, existential hesitancy and aversion to conformity. Did I enjoy being entangled in his unease? Not particularly, but I decided early on to give Knausgaard time to present his case—not to dismiss his considerable efforts to gain my confidence.

I grew up in small-town coastal Norway myself so I could identify with much of what he related culturally and geographically but that didn’t give me much advantage in understanding his inner turmoil except on one point: writing about relationships with parents, uncles and people in one’s proximity—the inner guilt and conflict associated with revealing abusive, hurtful, embarrassing events. Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ books have attracted considerable controversy in Scandinavia due to his revelations of the personal characteristics and actions of his relatives, friends and intimate partners. How much to self-censor one’s memoir is a dilemma faced by all memoirists. I think I managed reasonably well but my memoir will never be published. Not many are brave or foolhardy enough to go the full extent, and publish, as Knausgaard has done. His callous insensitivity about not protecting privacy didn’t deter him but should have.

Most of this volume deals with the author’s relationships with his father and with his older brother Yngve. A third of it deals with the repercussions of their father’s death. Karl Ove and Yngve must attend to the filthy mess their father left behind in his distraught elderly mother’s house where he had been living as an alcoholic recluse. They unclutter and clean the house, arrange for the funeral and try to re-establish the relationship they once had with their feeble grandmother who has become ‘unravelled’. In a nutshell, Karl Ove grew up admiring but being dominated by Yngve, suffering ridicule and humiliation. Yngve was his father’s favourite; Karl Ove could never meet his father’s expectations and lived with his inattention and rejection. Their relationship could be described as tense and distrustful. Secretly Karl Ove wished for his father’s demise and after his passing he feels no grief. But for the days that follow he constantly finds himself sobbing and weeping whenever he associates anything past or present with his father. The reader might wonder why; is it guilt at his failure to connect with his father? Is it regret? Is it anger? Is it despair about state of death in general?

I found this to be a constipated work; often I kept turning the pages hoping for some laxative relief (Knausgaard, in his determined thoroughness would perhaps suggest prune compote or overripe pears). But when it came, that relief—by way of a new twist in the relationship dynamic or some aphoristic phrases of philosophical significance—was often short-lived. Knausgaard loves to list things to the nth degree. In this novel/biography he comes across as self-centred and excessively self-analytical and even pompous. He rambles on and on. But there are windows of admirably reflective and philosophical narratives and prosaic expositions. Generous readers can relate to him as an eccentric genius. I did not enjoy some parts of this book. I can understand why many readers are mesmerized by Knausgaard’s writing and become addicted. The best I can say is that I grew to tolerate reading this book and I finished it to satisfy my curiosity about a famous work by an iconic modern writer.

The Green Child (Capuchin Classics) by Herbert Read, Graham Greene (2010) Paperback
The Green Child (Capuchin Classics) by Herbert Read, Graham Greene (2010) Paperback
by Graham Greene Herbert Read
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy versus reality, ideals versus actualities, July 21 2014
The Englishman Herbert Read (1893-1968) was an eminent intellectual, world traveller and critic of the arts. He was well known for his written reviews and commentaries on many subjects. `The Green Child’ was his only novel, published in 1935. Being a mixture of fantasy and reality it is an odd duck of a book, especially in how it is structured. It is told in the third person. In the first section (there are three), the hero, Olivero, returns to England in 1861 after a thirty year absence, that time having been spent mainly in the fictional country of Roncador, South America. He returns to his home village by a river, the Druid, and a nearby flower mill. As he wanders along he discovers that at one point the river starts to run uphill. He follows it to the old mill which has been rebuilt and expanded and is humming with activity. He spies a brute of a fellow entering through a window with a lamb. As he continues to observe, he sees the man trying to force a woman to drink fresh blood from the lamb. She is no ordinary woman, having green skin and a translucent appearance, appearing fairylike. Immediately he feels that he must rescue this wondrous creature from her plight. He does and in the remainder of the section they wander along the river and streams to a pool into which they enter and are transported to a different world inhabited by the aqueous green creatures of whom the woman, Siloën, is a member.

Then, abruptly, in the second section the narrative shifts to Olivero’s experiences from thirty years prior. He leads a rather shiftless life without goals. Unjustly, on a sojourn in Spain, he becomes identified with the hated French Jacobin Club and is jailed for two years. Then he sets out for South America where he by pure chance becomes involved with a clique of revolutionaries whose aim it is to oust the dictator of Roncador and establish a new republic on Voltarian and French revolutionary principles of freedom, liberty and equality. This is a very long section well written, expounding on the theories and practicalities of founding and running a new government. The country is rugged and sparsely populated by uneducated farmers and sheep herders. It gives the author the opportunity to express his utopian ideals about politics and administration. But eventually Olivero tires of the monotony and he finds no more challenges to conquer or ideals to put into effect. So, he manufactures his own assassination and flees to return to his beloved England.

Chronologically we then return to the end of the first section for the beginning of the third section. Herbert Read was an atheist but in this section he engineers a euphoric realm in a dimension consisting of eternally illuminating lights, life giving pure waters, lofty vaulted grottos, euphonious seven-tone gongs and the worship of crystals. Mysticism and esotericism are combined with fantasy. Olivero arrives to this dimension with his beloved Green Child woman and he is soon accepted by this aqueous race as one of them. He takes on various tasks, graduating from level one to level four—the highest—as he learns the physical and mental skills that determine each individual’s progress and eventual soul survival.

Reading this book was an adventure in two unlikely themes: political idealism and metaphysical fantasy. It was obviously the writer’s examination into his own life’s quest for meanings, answers, resolutions to existential quandaries. A unique book that in 1946 was recommended by the illustrious author Graham Greene who provides the foreword.

The Lone Ranger Volume 6: Native Ground TP
The Lone Ranger Volume 6: Native Ground TP
by Ande Parks
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.64
30 used & new from CDN$ 13.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Conflicts between Natives and whites told with stark honesty, July 19 2014
Like Vol 5 before it, this Vol 6 continues the superb work of writer Ande Parks and artists Esteve Polls and Marcel Pinto. This book is titled “Native Ground” and the main plot deals with the brutal confrontations between the Natives protecting their ancestral lands on one hand and the U.S. Cavalry and Mormon settlers on the other. The time is 1870 and the place Colorado Territory. The portrayal is surprisingly frank, gritty, brutal and bloody, presenting with stark honesty the positions in which everyone finds themselves and how they react in order to survive. Conflicts within each group are manifold. The six chapters are connected by the story of Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal companion, being seriously wounded. The Ranger seeks help for him from a Native healer who turns out to be a white woman who was abducted and taken into the tribe when she was a young girl and was taught her healing skills from an elder healer. Some chapters give accounts panel by panel of Native American folk tales, the illustrations—without dialogue—follow the main plotline; this is an unusual device which succeeds in telling two stories superimposed on one another. This book is not at all suitable for children.

These Things Hidden
These Things Hidden
by Heather Gudenkauf
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.99
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Somber, grim and grisly patched-together story., July 16 2014
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This review is from: These Things Hidden (Paperback)
Having read ‘The Weight of Silence’ and giving it a passing grade I thought I would pick up ‘These Hidden Things.’ Dramatic fiction requires credibility. Gudenkauf stretches it too thin in this novel. There were too many gaps in credibility. Among them that a young slim teenager could be pregnant to term with twins without her sister, parents and schoolmates having the slightest suspicion. Second that she seems oblivious herself that she is pregnant (she still had her periods?)! The other gaps have to do with the legal and justice system—slipshod doesn't even come close. Other gaps have to do with the unlikelihood of the four main characters completing the puzzle so neatly, and all living in close proximity. It was also most unlikely that the behaviour of the parents of the pregnant girl—churchgoing and well off middle class—would be so crass and cruel. Sorry, but I was not convinced by Gudenkauf’s plotlines. For the most part it is a somber, grim and grisly patched-together story.

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