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S Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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The Wishsong of Shannara
The Wishsong of Shannara
by Terry Brooks
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Parallel quests to conquer the source of evil, May 21 2014
This lengthy fantasy quest does drag its feet here and there but Brooks can’t be accused of failing to entertain. The heroic characters are creatively different, their adversaries are inventively sinister and diverse, and the imaginative geographical features provide vivid settings to portray the tense life and death confrontations between forces of good and evil.

Continuing from the second book, ‘The Elfstones’, the storyline jumps ahead about twenty years, to follow Brin and Jair, the daughter and son of that book’s hero Wil Ohmsford. These youngsters possess their own type of magic ‘The Wishsong’; by imagining wished-for phenomena to occur while singing or humming, they will manifest in reality or be perceived to manifest. This can be as innocuous as making the bud of a flower come into bloom or having hundreds of spiders crawl all over an adversary to his maddening distraction.

The goal of the heroic quest is to reach the location of the Ildatch, an ancient volume of formulae for practicing and controlling evil powers. The book must be destroyed. Doing so will accomplish the destruction of all its evil creatures and creations. This assignment is given to Brin Ohmsford who takes it on with brave determination. Setting out on a separate supportive quest (unbeknownst to Brin) is her brother Jair. The narrative shifts back and forth between the two different but parallel quests which culminate in the final chapters. The only character to reappear from the previous books is the Druid Allanon who plays a major and often mysterious role in attempting to achieve the Ohmsfords’ objectives and their very survival. Although there are a number of strange characters, the strangest is an enormous cat, Whisper, who can read minds and turn invisible! Although it is the third book of the trilogy, this book can be enjoyed independent of the others.

Spiritualism and Beyond
Spiritualism and Beyond
by Alan E. Ross
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from CDN$ 5.41

2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a scrap book of spiritualistic trivia, May 13 2014
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This little book, which, as the cover states, is printed form of the slide lecture by the author Alan Ross. It reads like a scrap book of collected spiritualistic trivia, Eastern esoteric principles and the author’s own speculative beliefs. It is also a precursory promotion for two other works edited and published by Ross “The Genuine Jesus” and the voluminous “The New Testament of Spiritualism”.

I thought it odd that although Ross adheres closely to Eastern doctrines, e.g the seven spheres, each having seven planes; the spirit body and auric fields; laws of attraction, cause and effect and compensation, etc., he rejects the most universal doctrine: reincarnation. He insists that all memories, associations and phenomena that purport to validate the belief in reincarnation are actually influences from discarnate spirits impressed on our mortal carnal minds and psyche. True spiritualists, he maintains, do not believe in reincarnation because it cannot be “proven.” Does he not see the irony of using that rationale when the Eastern doctrines he does believe in cannot be “proven” either? He tries hard to find corroboration with his anti-reincarnation stance by referencing The Urantia Book, The Oahspe Bible and Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings, all of which actually would disagree with the esoteric doctrines he supports. He also purports to have Helena Blavatsky and Arthur Conan Doyle on his side by way of their discarnate spiritualistic “corrections” from other dimensions.

I do not doubt the author’s sincerity but his presentation and conclusions are mostly unconvincing. The book does contain some useful references in chapter IV, titled ‘The Human Soul’. Other than that I think it offers little to enlighten seekers of the psychic and spiritualistic fields of thought.

The Honorary Consul
The Honorary Consul
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.02
15 used & new from CDN$ 5.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Rich with metaphors, ironies and absurdities, May 11 2014
This review is from: The Honorary Consul (Paperback)
Graham Greene wrote over thirty novels. ‘The Honorary Consul,’ published when he was sixty-nine was one of his later works. It was not one of his most popular books but does provide readers with a stimulating, funny and quirky narrative about three men of British heritage who live in a nondescript South American town.

The plot revolves around the kidnapping by rebels of one of them, Charley Fortnum, to hold him for ransom until some of their compadres will be released from prison. Fortnum, who is a British Honorary Consul, was actually mistakenly kidnapped in place of an American Ambassador by the inept perpetrators. Most of the narrative is from the point of view of a Dr Eduardo Plarr, South American born, the son of an English father who is one of the prisoners whose release is being sought. The third man with a British connection is Humphries, an eccentric professor of English. Add to this cast an unsuccessful but prolific Brazilian novelist, an uneducated poet philosopher, a Catholic Priest who has been expelled due to cohabiting with a female, a devious army Colonel, a collection of prostitutes, and representatives of British bureaucracy, for a fine mix of mayhem.

Greene’s writing is rich with metaphors, ironies and absurdities. The characters can one moment be free-wheeling devil-may-care reprobates and at other times torn by self-doubt, guilt and contrition. The true nature of love is an insolvable conundrum. The relevance of faith and the existence or non-existence of God is a frequent topic of conflicting theorizing. There is a lot of sardonic verbal sparring which drifts in circuitous aimlessness. The writer plays constantly with his reader’s sense of humour. The comedic ubiquity is what most succinctly characterizes the novel and makes it successful.

Lehrter Station (John Russell World War II Spy Thriller #5): A John Russell WWII Thriller
Lehrter Station (John Russell World War II Spy Thriller #5): A John Russell WWII Thriller
by David Downing
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.51
38 used & new from CDN$ 6.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Chaotic and dangerous Berlin in the aftermath of WWII, May 2 2014
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This 5th of Downing’s ‘Station’ WWII crime/thriller/spy series, follows closely the events of the 4th book, Potsdam Station. The time period is June to December 1945. The allies have divided Berlin, Germany, Vienna and Austria into four areas of control. The western and eastern borders of Poland have been shifted, dislocating Germans and Poles. Jews find themselves unwanted and unwelcome in most countries; their exodus to Palestine, with the hope to found a Zionist state, has started. Black-market profiteers—many of them former Nazi operatives—are aided by unscrupulous members of the American and British ‘liberators.’ Berlin is a mass of ruins and rubble. Millions of people have nowhere to live, suffer from famine and little or no health care or emergency aid. Police protection is virtually non-existent and where it exists it operates to give advantage to the ‘liberating’ authorities. Rivalries between political factions abound.

John Russell and his long time girlfriend, Effi Koenen, have found refuge in London. John’s son Paul and Effi’s sister Zarah and her son Lothar are with them. Rosa, a displaced Jewish girl with no mother and a lost father, who had been taken care of by Effi, is also with them. Effi through the collaboration of the British, Russians and, reluctantly, the Americans, make way for her to have the major role in a new movie being filmed in Berlin. Russell finds himself indebted to the Russians for having helped him to escape from Berlin at the end of the war. So the course is soon laid out for him to once again become a double agent for the Russians and Americans. Thus he and Effi both return to Berlin.

I think Downing’s research provides this book with considerable credibility about the post-war environment in Berlin and on the European continent. I found it interesting from that angle alone; the espionage intrigues and underhanded dealings are almost incidental to the chaotic conditions and conflicts that permeate the lives of everyone, except for a few who know how to stake out their territory and play their cards to own advantage. This novel is less suspenseful than the previous four but it held my interest to the end. It does tie up some lose ends. I look forward to reading the sixth book (and perhaps the last John Russell novel) which is called Masaryk Station.

Amethyst
Amethyst
by Lauraine Snelling
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A fitting conclusion to Dakotah Treasures, April 29 2014
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This review is from: Amethyst (Paperback)
As the author states in her Acknowledgements this fourth volume of Dakotah Treasures was not planned; it became a necessity when Opal Torvald, Ruby’s young sister, was left stranded in the continuity. There was also the unresolved situation involving Jacob Chandler and his son Joel, characters introduced in the third volume. But this book begins by presenting Amethyst Colleen O’Shaunasy toiling day and night on a farm in Pennsylvania, under the oppression of her slovenly liquored-up father. He sends Amethyst to Medora/Little Missouri, Dakotah Territory, to fetch his deceased son, Patrick’s boy Joel. After arriving to Medora Amethyst discovers that Joel was fathered by Jacob Chandler before her brother married her sister-in-law Melody. (Melody had delivered Joel to Chandler before she met her demise.) Joel is therefore not her nephew or her father’s grandson. Her trip seems to have been for naught. But she is quickly ‘adopted’ by the warm-hearted folks of Medora and makes the decision not to return to the drudgery of her father’s farm. This book manages to satisfactorily tie up all the lose ends from the previous books.

Snelling is a masterful author of historical novels set in America, many of which have connections to Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Having that same ethnic background myself, I started reading Snelling’s books after my mother left them on her passing. I kept adding new books as they were published. Incredibly, this reading was my twenty-first Snelling book and I have four more waiting on the shelf. I have not always been happy with some of Snelling’s references to Norway, Norwegian names and language, and with some errors about settler’s lives, circumstances, wildlife, etc. but her books have been consistently entertaining. She includes a lot of credible detail and dialogue. Characters’ self-reflective subjective dialogue, included in italicized sentences and phrases, adds to readers becoming intimately involved in their lives. The fictional characters soon feel like friends and members with whom we share their hopes, joys, remorse, suffering and crisis-of-faith.

In this book we share in Opal’s crisis-of-faith and deep depression brought on by the consequences of a severe winter which brings starvation and death to livestock and her beloved horses. She questions not only her faith in the God of the Bible—Who according to Scripture shall provide—but also her reason for living. Snelling gives the reader a true-to-life insight into how self-dejection and hopelessness can completely alter an individual’s personality. Fortunately her faith is gradually restored and she finds new purpose in getting on with life in a loving supportive relationship.

The Lone Ranger Volume 5: Hard Country TP
The Lone Ranger Volume 5: Hard Country TP
by Ande Parks
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.12
25 used & new from CDN$ 11.39

5.0 out of 5 stars As good as can possibly be!, April 26 2014
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Writer Ande Parks excels in this graphic western novel featuring the Lone Ranger and Tonto. His plots are tight, the drama heart-wrenching and the scripting precise. “Hard Country” describes well these tales of hard men driven by greed and power and the women who survive by stealth. There is nothing fake about the mood and emotion evoked in these pages. The realistic art by Esteve Polls and Marcelo Pinto is exquisitely drawn and colored; I’ve never seen better. Six stars!!!

The Land of Honey
The Land of Honey
by Chinenye Obiajulu
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.12
16 used & new from CDN$ 14.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Immigrants' courage and determination to overcome obstacles, April 25 2014
This review is from: The Land of Honey (Paperback)
The author Obiajulu is an immigrant from Nigeria to Canada, having settled in the province of Alberta. This is her first book. Although the characters are fictitious the reader gets the sense that much of the book is semi-autographical. As the saying goes “write what you know” and Obiajulu does not stray off the path of what is familiar to her, reflecting on her own experiences and observances. A warning that some readers may be put off by the first hundred pages of the book which is peppered with incomprehensible Nigerian words, phrases, colloquialisms and Pidgin English. The back of the book helps out with a glossary, but I soon felt it was too much of a distraction to repeatedly refer to it and then return to the front of the book to again find my place. Same page footnotes would have been a better idea but even then I feel that the author would have improved the reader’s enjoyment by leaving out much of the verbatim vernacular.

This is a novel about a young couple, the woman Anuli and her husband Zimako. They are both educated professionals with good positions in stable companies. Nigeria’s standard of higher education, and rate of participation is the best in Africa. But Nigeria is a dysfunctional country plagued by administrative incompetence and corruption, murderous sectarian and criminal violence and crumbling and unreliable infrastructure. Half its population lives in abject poverty. Islamist extremists who oppose modern education are terrorizing northern parts of the country.

Not liking the way things are going Zimako applies for himself and Anuli to become immigrants to Canada. It takes four years to be accepted and another half year to arrive in Canada. Zimako has high expectations of a good life in his new land but Anuli is less confident. After their arrival their adjustment process takes a long time. Canadian employers are sceptical of their qualifications. Zimako’s pride prevents him from making do with any position that lowers his professional self-esteem. Anuli is a better risk-taker, and does not confine herself to her husband’s dictates; this goes against Nigerian traditions in which the man rules the roost. But despite Zimako’s disapproval Anuli stays her course which precipitates a crisis in their relationship. As they drift apart, liaisons with others and moral dilemmas enter the picture.

From the beginning the reader becomes intimately acquainted with the couples’ family and friends, Nigerian customs as well as local surroundings and conditions. There is much chitchat and banter. Upon arriving in Canada we follow the couple’s journey through the bureaucratic maze and regulatory obstacles. As they make friends we share in these new relationships. Readers—especially immigrants—will perhaps identify with the frustrations Zimako and Anuli encounter in the form of scepticism, alienation, racism and well-meaning but ignorant remarks and questioning. Their patience and tolerance are tested at every turn. The writer has captured the reality of how difficult it can be for new arrivals to get a foothold in a new country with climate and culture that are so different from the ones with which they are familiar.

Each chapter starts with a boxed-in “Dear Diary” fragment from Anuli. Actually, most of the novel is narrated by her, with occasional segment by an anonymous narrator (for instances in which Anuli is not present). Although the couple and their parents are church-going Christians and faith is elemental to their lifestyle this book is not likely to appear in Christian book stores due to some frank erotic portrayals which, however, would be inoffensive to most readers. Considering the hardships endured by Anuli and Zimako, the title chosen by the author, “The Land of Honey,” alludes to a degree of sarcasm: Canada did not measure up to its billing. It is usually true that castles in the sky will prove to be reflections of wishful thinking based on incomplete information. This novel is educational as well as entertaining. The last third of the book rewards the reader with suspenseful surprises, stirs personal empathy for the characters and provides hearty confirmation of the resilience of the human spirit.

Calling Out for You
Calling Out for You
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.38

5.0 out of 5 stars A psychological Nordic mystery, April 18 2014
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This review is from: Calling Out for You (Paperback)
Note: This book, ‘Calling Out for You’ was later published in the U.S. under the title ‘The Indian Bride.’ Its original Norwegian title ‘Elskede Poona’ translates as ‘Beloved Poona.’

Fossum is perhaps Norway’s second best mystery writer, Nesbø being the best. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages. I prefer Fossum because of her mature Inspector Sejer who is a laid back, inconspicuous, emotionally sensitive and psychologically astute sleuth. He works hand-in-glove with his handsome, more impulsive young sidekick Skarre.

This is the fifth Sejer mystery, published in 2000, but it can be enjoyed without first reading its predecessors. The main character in this novel, Gunder Jomann, is a middle aged bachelor living in a village next to a mid-sized city in Norway. He is a simple introverted guy working as a salesman in an agriculture supply firm. He is meticulous in his habits and capable in his job. He has been close to his mother who recently passed away so now he has become lonely in the house they shared. He has never had the courage or seen the necessity to initiate a relationship with a woman but now he desires the companionship of a wife. From a magazine featuring people from the world’s many diverse cultures he gets enamoured by the picture of a woman from exotic India. Ideas start percolating and he fantasizes about going to India to fetch himself an alluring Indian bride. All the pieces fall into place and the first likely candidate, a server in a restaurant, takes a liking to him. He marries the lovely, warm and genial Poona Bai. Jomann returns home to Norway. Poona is to follow when she has put her affairs in order.

As Jomann is about to pick up Poona at the airport, his dear sister Marie becomes seriously injured in a car accident. Her husband is out of the country so Gunder has to go to the hospital to be at his comatose sister’s bedside. The great anticipation he has harboured is shattered. He is forced to assign the village’s taxi driver to go to pick up Poona. But that driver is unable to find her at the busy terminal. So Poona hires her own taxi to take her to Gunder’s village. But her reunion with her husband never happens because she is found brutally murdered in a field by a lake less than a kilometre from Gunder’s house. Inspector Sejer gets assigned to the case and together with Skarre they eventually zero in on a culprit. The reader gets to know the mindsets of the different suspects and residents of the village. In a small place everyone knows everyone else and fingers point in different directions. As with one or two other Fossum mysteries the door is left ajar just a little bit at the end about who the murderer was—a literary device called ‘a mystery to conclude a mystery.’ I loved the last few pages in which Gunder self-reflects about Poona and by way of a translated letter—which she had sent to her brother before leaving India—we discover her true feelings for her new husband and her hopes for their future in a far off land. A very nice touch!

King Javan's Year
King Javan's Year
by Katherine Kurtz
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 3.55

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently crafted intense and suspensful, April 17 2014
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This review is from: King Javan's Year (Hardcover)
Katherine Kurtz is an author who never shies away from twisted plots that often provide readers with the opposite of what they want or expect. But that doesn’t mean that readers will abandon her. In a fantasy world akin to our world’s tenth century, with the addition of a race having supernatural and magical abilities, a tension of treachery broods like a clammy fog to the landscape. It seems that victory for the righteous can never long be savoured until treason and betrayal festers to precipitate a calamitous vengeance.

This is the second novel of ‘The Heirs of Saint Camber,’ the eleventh of the fifteen Deryni novels* to be published but, confusingly, the fifth if read in chronological order (which I recommend). In the first novel of this trilogy, ‘The Harrowing of Gwynedd,’ the oldest of the late King Cinhil’s young sons, Alroy, had been drugged and manipulated by his self-serving power hungry Regents to do their bidding. Their primary task was to suppress the members of the Deryni race and legislate the removal of their rights to land, liberty and the sustenance of life. Alroy dies, having been weak and sickly for some time. After Alroy reached his age of majority, his Regents had lost some of their ability to act freely. His twin, Prince Javan, sympathetic to the Deryni, had temporarily sequestered himself for three years in a monastery, preparing to emerge to become king at the passing of Alroy. Archbishop Hubert, who sponsored Javan to assume a priestly vocation, had assumed that the youngest, immature and more pliable prince, Rhys Michael, would become king since Javan had chosen a life of religious devotion. But Javan has a surprise for Hubert and his courtly allies, he is determined to become king. Javan also has his allies and his younger brother has no interest in kingship for himself. These events lay the foundation for this novel. It becomes a year of incessant games of brinkmanship between King Javan, his allies and the ‘good’ Deryni and Archbishop Hubert, his allies and the ‘bad’ Deryni—games that frequently end in tortures, murders and battles to win and keep power through treasonous and brutal means.

Kurtz is usually big on rituals and ceremony in her books but in this novel she does not go to extremes. The book has loads of drama and presents both adversarial sides vividly through dialogue and narrative. We get to know the characters intimately, how they think, reason and plot to win power and keep it. This is an excellently crafted intense and suspenseful installment of the tragically heroic Deryni saga.

*a sixteenth novel ‘The King’s Deryni’ is scheduled for publication December, 2014

Carpathian Castle
Carpathian Castle
by Jules Verne
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected episodes of the macabre, April 5 2014
A famous opera soprano, her fanatical Baron admirer, her lovestruck Count fiancé, a mad scientist inventor and a collection of simple village folk in Transylvania are all brought together by Jules Verne to spin a tale of the haunted Carpathian castle. The inclusion of unexpected episodes of the macabre in this work is credibly presented. Yes, there are important elements of science fiction in the story but those are only revealed at the end. Before then the reader becomes practically convinced that there are evidences of supernatural phenomena afoot. Reading Verne over a century after he penned his books is an indulgence in literary nostalgia. (This novel was first published in 1893.) They assume a naiveté that a twenty-first century reader gladly assumes in honour of the Grand Master of the sci-fi genre. The latter part of the book comes close to being a page-turner. This is an easy and enjoyable read.

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