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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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Hornblower and the Crisis by Forester, C.S. (2011) Paperback
Hornblower and the Crisis by Forester, C.S. (2011) Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 21.15

3.0 out of 5 stars A slim volume of three brief glimpses from Hornblower's life, Nov. 25 2014
This slim book, touted as the eleventh of the vast Hornblower library of naval heroics, is hardly worth its purchase price. But it should be read by completists. It contains the short uncompleted novel Forester was writing just prior to his death, ‘Hornblower and the Crisis,’ as well as two short stories ‘Hornblower and the Widow McCool’ and ‘Last Encounter.’ At its abrupt ending, Forester’s notes about the outcome of the plot have been added. Had the story been competed it would have been worthy of taking its place among the other ten of Horatio Hornblower’s action packed adventures which were mostly based on actual historical events from Great Britain’s Napoleonic wars. The two short stories are excellent collector’s items. All three segments were intended to be inserts between the ten novels and take place at the beginning, middle and end of Hornblower’s career.

The Lute Player
The Lute Player
by Norah Lofts
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.92
43 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Masterly crafted historical fiction, Nov. 19 2014
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This review is from: The Lute Player (Paperback)
This was the fifth book I have read which narrative revolved around Richard the First, The Lionheart. The first was Nicholas Chase’s “Locksley” which was about Atheling of Locksley who assumed different personalities and adventurous roles, concluding with being the legendary Robin Hood. It was a very good inventive book and should have attracted more readers. The second to fourth books were of the Alix of Wanthwaite trilogy, starting with “The Shield of three Lions” by Pamela Kaufman. Although this is a drawn out narrative it provides lots of excellent historical perspective and is rich in audacious twists and turns. It is a tale of a young girl, Alix, who out of necessity assumes a false appearance as a boy, Alex, who gains the favour of King Richard’s confidence.

Now, the fifth book, Norah Loft’s “The Lute Player,” which she wrote before the other books were authored. This book’s strength is in its high quality. It is masterly crafted literature. The plot revolves around five characters, three who get their opportunity to narrate parts of the book: Blondel, the King’s Lute Player; Anna, the deformed half-sister of Berengaria, Princess of Navarre; and Richard’s mother, the imperious Eleanor of Aquitaine, called the She-Wolf. The two who do not narrate but play principal roles in the story are Berengaria, who by default becomes betrothed to the King, and Richard himself. Anna’s story has the most poignancy and as the book comes to an unperturbed end readers will wish that happiness will come her way.

The book is probably more about Berengaria’s tragic fate than it is about Richard and the Third Crusade. Historical accounts lend credence to the rumour that her marriage to Richard was never consummated. This book, and Chase’s book make the presumption that he was totally averse to having intimacy with women. In contrast, Kaufman’s books presents the case for his bisexuality which accommodates a more suspenseful and unpredictable plotline. There is lots to learn and enjoy in all of these books. I suspect I will next take on Loft’s book “Eleanor the Queen,” about Richard’s overbearing and scheming mother, to conclude my foray into the interesting life and times of Richard the Lionheart.

Walking in the Garden of Souls
Walking in the Garden of Souls
by George Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
46 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Soul solace for the bereaved, Nov. 19 2014
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This is a book primarily intended to bring solace and comfort to the bereaved about loved ones who have passed on, especially to parents who have lost children. George Anderson is a medium, an intermediary, between the soul of the departed and his/her relatives or friends who seek confirmation of the continuation of life after death. Anderson insists that he be uninformed about the circumstances of each case connected with those who seek his help. He does not want to prejudice his opinion and attitude when souls come forward with messages for those who seek answers to their state in the “Garden of Souls” (as Anderson terms the heavenly dimension).

Astoundingly, Anderson states that in the twenty-seven years since he became a professional medium he has yet to experience no soul coming forward to provide communication. This is contrary to what some other mediums have experienced, in cases where there “was no one at home” to speak from the other side. Anderson hears the “voices” of the souls but these are not audible to others. He also occasionally “sees” apparitions of the departed but similarly these are not visible to others. Although Anderson comes across as a genuine “soul whisperer” – not a charlatan – it does take a heaping helping of faith and trust by his clients who seek his help (and the readers of his books) to believe one hundred percent in his credibility.

I did a lot of skimming and skipping while reading this book. For those who may already have accepted (before picking up this book) that there can be legitimacy in the phenomena of mediumistic communication there is really nothing new, preposterous or startling revealed by Anderson. Although the subject is phenomenally two-dimensional – the here, and the heavenly – the book seems rather one-dimensionally bland in how the material is presented. From other books I have read, all is not non-conflicting accommodation, characterized by sentiments of sweetness and light, for many souls who arrive on the “other side.” Reportedly, some souls can be in states of confusion, amnesia and disconcertion until they become acclimatized and are gradually guided to a placable state, if they so choose; some will choose to linger in a prolonged comatose disoriented state. But not so according to Anderson: as soon as passing over souls become enlightened and are imbued with love and concern for others. Thoroughly comprehending their own fate they are instantly able and willing to assist people on this terrestrial globe to see the Light – mostly with feel-good platitudes and Ann Landers perspicacity. That is what I meant by the book being one dimensional. There seems to be an answer for everything and that answer is, to use a modern cliché, “Don’t worry, be happy!”

Anderson uses the word “God” sparsely and I can understand why. That name has too much bad baggage. For many it has become synonymous with qualities of ignorance, exclusivity, cruelty and injustice. So, he instead uses “Infinite Light” which is the anglicized form of the mystical Hebrew “Ain Soph Aur.” I think that works well but his book only skirts around the complexity a multidimensional divine existence. However, love, peace and comfort is what most people seek – especially after bereavement – and Anderson’s messages from the Garden of Souls provide solace in abundance.

Denmark and Norway 1940: Hitler's boldest operation
Denmark and Norway 1940: Hitler's boldest operation
by Doug Dildy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.95
35 used & new from CDN$ 8.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Details the invasion and defence of Norway, Nov. 6 2014
Contains several excellent detailed maps, including topographical. Covers a part of WWII that is unjustly pretty much ignored by documentaries and historians. Yes, Denmark capitulated immediately but Norway fought on valiantly for two months. The heavy class cruiser Blucher was sunk by coastal defenses upon entering the Oslo fjord resulting in the loss of hundreds of sailors and soldiers. This event delayed the occupancy of the capital Oslo so that the royals and heads of the government were able to escape north and eventually made their way to England where they operated a government in exile.

I have a special interest because my own father took part in the defense of central Norway. British forces assisted in that area. In the North, the Norwegian army was assisted by the British, French and Poles and the strategic port of Narvik was recaptured. The Germans had the great advantage of using their air force to assist their ground operations. They also had tanks. The distance was too far for Allied aircraft to reach most of Norway from British bases. Britain arbitrarily threw in the towel after two months, evacuating twenty-five thousand troops. This upset the Norwegians, French and Poles but they were dependent on the British logistically.

This operation was the first and perhaps only invasion by the Germans in which their army, navy and air force attacked in a jointly coordinated operation. Historians have pretty much overlooked that because Germany lost half of their ships in the Norway operation Hitler was unable to launch his invasion of England by sea with his navy having been crippled. Subsequently, for the rest of the war, the German navy was most successful with their submarines not heir surface ships.

This little book documents all the facts very well for both the German and Allied forces.

The Sexual Life of Children
The Sexual Life of Children
by Floyd M Martinson
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 31.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Where to draw boundaries, that will always be the question, Nov. 3 2014
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This is a collection of research from hundreds of source books and the author’s own research. Martinson, a sociology professor who grew up in Norway but later moved to the U.S., has become recognized for his papers and books related to sexuality, especially concerning children and youth. This book was published in 1994 and is largely based on research from the 1950s to 90s. It certainly has historical information that is valuable and much of it still has relevance two or more decades later. But the impact of the Internet and the escalation of social secularization since 1994—as far as they have influenced the sexualisation of children—would no doubt skew the data presented here considerably. No wonder this book is out of print (but used copies can be found).

The fortress that socially conservative Americans built to protect children from all knowledge pertaining to sexuality has been besieged by today’s easy accessibility to sexual information by anyone, including children. The decimation of old ‘moral’ behavioral boundaries towards sexuality has had a significant impact on young people’s attitudes. As has always been the case, children will aspire to act out what they see adults do. Occasional viewing of pornography has become commonplace by a majority of Westerners. Movies, TV shows and music videos include erotically explicit scenes. The family unit is no longer closely knit to exclude outside ‘interference.’ Most parents can no longer shield their children from being influenced in attitude and behavior by examples of ‘sexual liberation,’ termed by social conservatives as ‘moral degradation.’ These modern day conditions contrast greatly with some of the scenarios presented in this book.

The work contains these chapters: 1. Early Development and Experience, 2. Self-Stimulation, 3. Sex Play in Childhood and Preadolescence, 4. Same-Sex Play, 5. Dreams, Fantasies and Myths, 6. Sexual Encounters with Older Children, Adolescents, and Adults, 7. Sexuality Education, 8. Children and the Law, 9. The Sexual Life of Children: Sweden and the United States. Every chapter is followed by dozens of references. The author tries hard to be impartial in how he selects and presents the material. Only in one area does he seem to have a strong opinion: Children should from toddler-hood be provided with age-appropriate factual information by parents or educators. For example, how can a child be aware of inappropriate behavior by an older person towards him/herself if he/she has not learned the nature of such behavior? He also seems to favor a more relaxed and informal approach to nudity, in the family setting as well as in nature and for supervised activities—as has been the case for Scandinavian countries, Germany and France. Indications are that when bodies are demystified of their sexuality children will have a more balanced and natural awakening to sexuality as they mature. For example, incidents of adolescent pregnancies are much lower in countries in which children are aware and informed. In America, where nudity tends to automatically be associated with sexuality, the prevalence of exhibitionism, voyeurism and early sexualisation [e.g. ‘sexting’ and the exchange of nude ‘selfies’ between adolescents] is much higher than in countries where nudity is considered a more normal part of life (i.e. not necessarily sexually provocative).

This book can open people’s eyes to the fact that every person, from infancy to old age, are sexual beings. Although small children have no sexual passions or desire they nevertheless live, learn and mimic gender-typical roles, and will emulate acting out sexual attitudes and behaviors—directly and indirectly—from their families and the social environments to which they are exposed. The challenge for parents and educators will always be where to draw boundaries. What is acceptable behavior and what is not? Concepts and standards of respect, modesty and morality need to be established, nurtured and upheld so that children know what their ideals are—even though they may falter, as most people do.

Black Seconds
Black Seconds
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.50
4 used & new from CDN$ 17.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A yellow bicycle and a red feather!, Oct. 31 2014
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This review is from: Black Seconds (Paperback)
This is a somber tragic story that will arouse readers’ emotions. Is there anything more tragic than when a happy, vivacious and beautiful nine year old disappears without a trace in a small idyllic town that everyone assumes to be comfortable and safe? Ida Joner was that child who took off on her shiny new yellow bike to buy her favourite girl’s magazine and a pack of gum. It wasn’t far. She should have been back home within half an hour. But she never returned.

Inspector Konrad Sejer, a veteran detective in the police department of the Norwegian town located on the south coast starts his investigation by interviewing the distraught mother. His unruffled exterior and methodical conduct hides his sensitive and compassionate nature. Sejer and his young assistant Skarre are baffled as there are no leads, no witnesses and thorough searches prove to be futile. Then, after many days have passed, Ida’s bicycle is seen being ridden by an older girl who was not a friend of Ida. Soon after that Ida’s body is found in a location where it seemingly has been dropped off where it could easily be discovered. It is well preserved, wrapped in a duvet; it has obviously been preserved by being frozen for some time and is dressed in an expensive nightie! From then on Sejer and Skarre get something concrete to work with but lot of hunches—which at first seem irrelevant to the case—are critical and lead to surprising connections, the feather of a parrot being one of them.

This is a good mystery novel that moves along a good pace. It was Fossum’s sixth Sejer novel, written in 2002. She has published six more since then as well as other novels and poetry unrelated to Inspector Sejer. She has established herself internationally and is probably the second best-selling Norwegian mystery writer, Jo Nesbø being by far the number one. This is an excellent English translation by Charlotte Barslund who has a wealth of experience. The language is simple and unpretentious but the narrative presents new perplexities of as well as the facts as they come to light. Some strange names for people and locations will not distract readers. As Fossum has a habit of doing, the very end of the book leaves her readers with an unsolved mystery to ponder. There was more to be told and we can only guess at filling in one or two blanks on our own.

South Riding (VMC) by Holtby, Winifred (2010) Paperback
South Riding (VMC) by Holtby, Winifred (2010) Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Multihued tapestry of memorable characters, Oct. 27 2014
In spite of its good reputation I was leery to buy this novel because of its list of almost two hundred characters and a plotline involving local government affairs in 1930s Yorkshire, England. But I need not have worried. The reader is eased into familiarity with the twenty or so main characters chapter by chapter and never has to endure following dreary administrative proceedings. Although Holtby chose fictitious names to the characters, cities, towns and geography of the South Riding she strove to reflect the people and conditions of south east Yorkshire where she grew up and where her mother was a prominent alderman. It is of interest that her mother was opposed to the novel’s publication. Holtby completed the book just weeks before her death at the age of thirty-seven.

The novel is held together by two characters, Miss Sarah Burton, the Mistress of the Kiplington Girls’ High School, whose personality and contemplative nature were perhaps counterparts of those of the author herself; the other is the elderly effusive, determined but good-natured, Alderman Mrs. Beddows, whose attributes image similar traits to those of the author’s mother. The meat in the sandwich, so to speak, is Councillor Robert Carne, of Maythorpe Hall, the owner of the largest estate in the county. Once prosperous, the estate has fallen on hard times economically due in large part to Carne’s pampering of his beautiful but mentally deranged wife with expensive acquisitions. Mrs. Beddows harbours an unquenchable approbation and admiration for Mr. Carne. Although she resents what he stands for—established privilege—Miss Burton develops an irrational and emotionally perilous fascination for the same man.

Holtby weaves a multihued tapestry of all the characters, most of whom interact with or have an influence on the fate of the three main contenders for the reader’s attention. There is no lack of humour and irony. The first two hundred pages lay the groundwork for getting acquainted with the characters’ situations. From then on there is increased intensity until the story reaches its crescendo towards its five hundred page ending. While writing this book Holtby knew she was probably dying. The temporary nature of life and the spectre of death’s unwelcome finality overshadows some aspects of this narrative. In that sense it is, especially near the end, perhaps a somber dialogue the author had with her ‘deep’ self about futility of having hopeful objectives that will in the end be thwarted by destiny’s injustice.

A Leaf In The Bitter Wind by Ye, Ting-Xing (1998) Paperback
A Leaf In The Bitter Wind by Ye, Ting-Xing (1998) Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 14.60

5.0 out of 5 stars The heart and spirit of an enduring optimism, Oct. 8 2014
A potential reader trying to assess the content of this memoir of almost four hundred pages by looking at its title, the portrait and back-cover summary would perhaps categorize it as a dreary tale of woe by an escapee from the chaotic social and political nightmare that comprised the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yes, it is about that: a tale of horrendous suffering and deprivation, denial of justice and human compassion, a family torn apart by poverty and displacements enforced by the arbitrary decisions imposed by a dysfunctional autocracy. It is about how an ancient civilization ingrained with quaint superstitions and Confucian principles tries to adapt to new ways; but the rules are constantly changed in worshipful obedience to a dictatorial despot, Chairman Mao. But this is never a dreary tale.

The author, whose familiar name is Ah Si, Number 4—designating her birth order—born in 1952, grows up in Shanghai not long after the Communist takeover in 1949. She loses her parents at a young age and becomes dependent on her unmarried aged Great-Aunt. She and her four siblings exist in poverty, trying to sustain themselves during famines, economic disruptions and social chaos. Because her father had been a factory owner she is labelled as belonging on the wrong side of the factional struggles. This is a shadow that hangs over her no matter how much she tries to overcome her hardships. She is sent away to work on a prison farm where conditions are inhumanely primitive and authority carries a big stick for anyone who fails to toe the line. But Ah Si is a survivor who against all odds eventually is placed in a position of influence as a translator and becomes a co-ordinator of receiving and entertaining foreign dignitaries. In the meantime she has married and become a mother. But curiously she has to accede to having a second male, who is infatuated with her husband, to be their constant companion.

This is a well written book. It does not linger on setbacks and futility but moves on to take in the main events, the changes, the challenges, the twists of fate, the glimpses of hope that keep Ah Si struggling towards a better life. The book has the heart and spirit of an enduring optimism. The last third of the book provides absorbing reading towards what we know will be a well-deserved happy ending.

A Leaf in the Bitter Wind
A Leaf in the Bitter Wind
by Ting-Xing Ye
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.04

5.0 out of 5 stars The heart and spirit of an enduring optimism, Oct. 8 2014
A potential reader trying to assess the content of this memoir of almost four hundred pages by looking at its title, the portrait and back-cover summary would perhaps categorize it as a dreary tale of woe by an escapee from the chaotic social and political nightmare that comprised the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Yes, it is about that: a tale of horrendous suffering and deprivation, denial of justice and human compassion, a family torn apart by poverty and displacements enforced by the arbitrary decisions imposed by a dysfunctional autocracy. It is about how an ancient civilization ingrained with quaint superstitions and Confucian principles tries to adapt to new ways; but the rules are constantly changed in worshipful obedience to a dictatorial despot, Chairman Mao. But this is never a dreary tale.

The author, whose familiar name is Ah Si, Number 4—designating her birth order—born in 1952, grows up in Shanghai not long after the Communist takeover in 1949. She loses her parents at a young age and becomes dependent on her unmarried aged Great-Aunt. She and her four siblings exist in poverty, trying to sustain themselves during famines, economic disruptions and social chaos. Because her father had been a factory owner she is labelled as belonging on the wrong side of the factional struggles. This is a shadow that hangs over her no matter how much she tries to overcome her hardships. She is sent away to work on a prison farm where conditions are inhumanely primitive and authority carries a big stick for anyone who fails to toe the line. But Ah Si is a survivor who against all odds eventually is placed in a position of influence as a translator and becomes a co-ordinator of receiving and entertaining foreign dignitaries. In the meantime she has married and become a mother. But curiously she has to accede to having a second male, who is infatuated with her husband, to be their constant companion.

This is a well written book. It does not linger on setbacks and futility but moves on to take in the main events, the changes, the challenges, the twists of fate, the glimpses of hope that keep Ah Si struggling towards a better life. The book has the heart and spirit of an enduring optimism. The last third of the book provides absorbing reading towards what we know will be a well-deserved happy ending.

Modern Classics Friend of My Youth
Modern Classics Friend of My Youth
by Alice Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.41

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.

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