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Black Seconds
Black Seconds
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.50
6 used & new from CDN$ 15.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A yellow bicycle and a red feather!, Oct. 31 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: 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
6 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

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
23 used & new from CDN$ 2.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The heart and spirit of an enduring optimism, Oct. 8 2014
Ce commentaire est de: A Leaf in the Bitter Wind (Hardcover)
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$ 3.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mysteries of the female ethos, Sept. 25 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
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$ 14.96
19 used & new from CDN$ 5.53

3.0 out of 5 stars Time-travelling historians and technocrats, Sept. 21 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
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
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.56

4.0 out of 5 stars Meaningful relationships and intrigue, Sept. 10 2014
Ce commentaire est de: 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
18 used & new from CDN$ 2.88

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$ 14.40
22 used & new from CDN$ 7.90

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
Ce commentaire est de: 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$ 10.40
37 used & new from CDN$ 6.06

2.0 out of 5 stars Hoity-toity Victorian literature, Aug. 12 2014
Achat vérifié(Quest-ce que cest?)
Ce commentaire est de: 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.

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