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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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A Boat for England
A Boat for England
by Sigurd Evensmo
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 33.22
4 used & new from CDN$ 33.21

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of war-time drama and self-reflection, Feb. 6 2015
This review is from: A Boat for England (Paperback)
This is a documentary novel written in Norway in 1944 during the Nazi occupation. It is based on letters and notes written by Harald Silju while incarcerated by the Germans. These had been smuggled out by couriers and civilians connected with the jail. Silju was one of eighteen Norwegians captured while trying to escape to England by a fishing boat. Most of them had worked illegally in the underground resistance and were being pursued by the German occupiers.

The book is a masterpiece of drama and self-reflection about the roles of peoples’ conviction in acting heroically for their beliefs and the importance of recognizing and upholding the empowerment of love and hope in human relations. While being imprisoned in close quarters, without adequate food or care, subjected to torturous interrogation and discipline, the eighteen men, who were very different in temperament, background and ideology, formed bonds of friendship and endearment, tolerating each other’s idiosyncrasies to the very end when they were executed by firing squad. Evensmo delves into the deepest recesses of human consciousness and dissects moral values in this book. It is the only one available in an English translation out of more than twenty that he authored.

Though the Heavens Fall
Though the Heavens Fall
by Mikhail P., Sr. Kulakov
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from CDN$ 12.36

4.0 out of 5 stars The contest between two ideologies, Jan. 29 2015
For someone who is not a member of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church it has been a privilege to get a peek into that church’s past hardships and struggles in the USSR until the collapse of its communist dictatorship in the 90s. The author, Michail P Kulakov, Sr, was instrumental in aiding SDA’s survival during the oppressive Stalin and Khrushchev years and its growth in the successive regimes. Both dictators had vowed to eradicate religions. Most clergy and many believers were imprisoned, or exiled interminably, in the most primitive and brutal circumstances and subjected to relentless inquisitions. They were charged with treasonous activities that were alleged to undermine the state’s authority. The justice system made its decisions based on predetermined dictated bias favoring the regime’s accusations, regardless of the true facts in each case.

Kulakov spent five years in ‘corrective’ labour camps followed by exile to the Siberian subarctic. He did survive incredible hardship, as did his father, but his brother succumbed to illness brought on by inhumane treatment. Remarkably, Kulakov, his wife and their children endured the oppression, the persecution and the poverty to triumph for their God and Savior. After the disintegration of the Eastern block—the Soviet empire—the SDA church, and many other Protestant denominations, experienced phenomenal growth. But this book is mostly about all the years of tyrannical impositions which somehow were endured by Adventists as well as other believers. They had no other choice but to endure, even in the most cruel and fearful situations.

This is very much about the face-to-face contest between two ideologies: One based on the Communist Manifesto which was intended to create a just and civil society based on equality—shared ownership and shared responsibility. The other was based on the infallibility of a book—the Holy Bible—and the good news of Jesus Christ who taught followers to love their fellow man and their God as much as, or more than themselves. The first became a system of government devoid of justice and fair play for the individual; the state and its vast autocratic machine became the ‘god’ everyone had to bow down to. Members of the other ideology survived and endured by faith in a just God and the promise of a Savior’s return to establish an earthly kingdom of righteousness.

As unlikely as it seemed at the outset, this book became at times a fascinating page-turner to follow the Kulakovs through a maze of difficulties as well as occasional (even miraculous) rewards. In the process it became a study in cohesive multi-generational family relationships. In our contemporary disjointed social fabric of serial divorces, uncommitted singles, dislocated children, narcissistic celebrity role models, substance addictions and moral relativism it is heartening to realize that many people can have stable, safe, loving, committed and responsible families because they adhere to sets of beliefs that are ‘grounded’ in ‘heavenly’ principles.

The Murder of Harriet Krohn
The Murder of Harriet Krohn
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.00
28 used & new from CDN$ 7.04

4.0 out of 5 stars A murderer's tumultuous existence, Jan. 21 2015
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Three aspects of this murder mystery are unusual: 1. It is not a murder mystery. 2. It is told from the murderer’s point of view. 3. Although this is one of many Inspector Sejer mysteries he does not make an appearance until two thirds through the book. But Fossum’s formula, although unusual, provides the reader with a psychological tour de force. The concluding chapters are somewhat anticlimactic in that we already are privy to all of the facts. But there is tension and curiosity about how the murderer, Charlo, will respond to Sejer’s polite but incisive interrogation.

We follow Charlo from the beginning of the book, his continuous self-incriminatory thought-stream, always revolving around his obsessive gambling and drinking, his guilt about having failed his family as a father and provider, and his hypochondriacal anxieties. His hope for redemption from these mental torments lie in being able to liquidate his huge gambling debts and get back on good terms with his estranged teenage daughter Julie by buying her a horse (she is an accomplished rider). His means to achieve those goals is to rob an elderly woman, Harriet Krohn, whom he suspects has a habit of harbouring cash and valuables in her home. He deviously gains entry to her house. He thinks he can intimidate her into handing over her possessions but she physically resists. Having a trip-wire temper he becomes enraged and—although he had not planned on it—he ends up murdering the woman.

Consequently Charlo becomes paranoid, embroiled in recurring mental conflict. He lives a schizophrenic life, one side of him enmeshed in guilt and fear, the other striving to live a productive life, being employed and re-entering his daughter’s life. He yearns for her companionship (his wife had died some years earlier); gaining her approval, forgiveness and affection becomes his sole raison d’être. He lives on a razor’s edge. Fossum brings readers into Charlo’s tumultuous existence and we are caught between wanting him to succeed with restoring his life to normalcy but all the while realizing that in a just world he eventually must account for his horrendous crime. A good book giving an insightful perspective on a man’s neurotic dilemma.

Sackett's Land: A Novel
Sackett's Land: A Novel
by Louis L'Amour
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.99
72 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent straightforward historical fiction, Jan. 11 2015
Louis L’Amour is probably not only the most prolific 20th century writer but also remarkable in that every one of his more than 120 books are all still in print. “Sackett’s Land” was the first in his very popular series of Sackett novels—he wrote seventeen. The first four take place in the timeline 1600-1620, starting with Barnabas Sackett venturing to North America from his native England and conclude with him having established a family and settlement in the New World.

Critics have been known to look down their noses as L’Amour’s books but unjustly so. This book is not a literary masterpiece but is successful in so many ways: It offers good characterizations, vivid descriptions, true historic references, contemporary expressions and dialog, intriguing adventures and exciting action, as well as a pinch of romance. It is a quick read equally accessible to young and old, male or female, lowbrow or highbrow. It whets readers’ appetites to delve further into the risks and rewards experienced by the Sacketts.

The Saga of Gosta Berling
The Saga of Gosta Berling
by Selma Lagerlof
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.24
39 used & new from CDN$ 8.16

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great work of art, or...., Jan. 6 2015
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This book is a great work of art from many readers’ points of view. Probably it is, but one should probably be somewhat suspicious when a Swedish author received a Nobel Prize, awarded by a Swedish committee consisting of privileged academics. I grew up hearing about this book, and, coincidentally, my grandmother came from Värmland, the setting of the book. For decades I had ignored this work so its time had come—or so I thought. Well, as it turned out, I should have resisted longer.

This is not a novel. I was put off by the chopped-up texture of its presentation. ‘Gösta Berling’ is a work consisting of artful meanderings. Lagerlöf was a literary conjurer. She had great skill with forming phrases and sentences that enchant and charm the reader. And she often goes off-topic to add incidentals. Considerable time is taken to inform the reader about flora and fauna, local customs and the social dynamics of Värmland. Intervals are used to delve into fantasy and mythology. We share in the reminiscences of horses and even the wagons that they have pulled. We follow the fancies of an eagle on an excursion. Miss Lagerlöf was notably enamoured by her character Berling, a shifty defrocked priest, a drunkard and Don Juan. His relationships with women can best be described as whimsical, impulsive and disloyal, even reckless. The author injects a number of other characters—especially headstrong women—to act as accomplices or adversaries (sometimes both) to his egocentric foibles. The women’s’ emotional investments in Gösta are most often absurdly paradoxical from one moment to the next—from slavishly worshipful to heartlessly dismissive.

I very seldom give up on a book. Many books are not exactly gripping or entertaining from page one. Most take a few dozen pages to get the reader interested. My expectations were high for this book but it failed to engage me. With stubborn persistence I plodded through more than half of it before I decided I had had enough. I am sure my dispassionate grandmother, although a contemporary of the author, had no time for such enigmatic literary fare. By today’s standards I think ‘silly’ would be an apt word to describe the plot of this trumped-up literary work which may have fascinated readers by its non-conventionality a century ago.

Brother
Brother
Price: CDN$ 38.35
28 used & new from CDN$ 17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to the nuances of love, Dec 31 2014
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This review is from: Brother (Audio CD)
This album of slow-paced ballads soothes the soul, stirs the heart and reflects on all the nuances involved with loving someone. I have been a fan of Harket’s vocals since a-ha’s first album but (a caution to devoted a-ha fans) this production is very different from a-ha. Norwegian Harket recorded this album in Stockholm and most of the musicians are Swedish. The music is tailored to complement the songs, a blend of acoustic, amplified and electronic. I love being able to hear all the lyrics clearly. They were mostly written by Harket, with some contributions by Ole Sverre Olsen and Peter Kvint. (The CD booklet contains all the lyrics.)

The title track “Brother” is a reconciliatory appeal from brother to brother, endued with pathos. It definitely has universal listening appeal but there are other tracks that have even greater creativity. “Heaven Cast” is a love song of reflection and on being thankful. My favourite song is “There is a Place,” which is a masterpiece. It is magical in how it conjures up the emotions of love for one’s partner and feeling secure in the relationship and ‘being different, yet being one’ and ‘drops of life among the stars’—it is optimistic but has a touch of melancholy, enhanced by a slow but a deliberate pulse-beat piano accompaniment. In contrast, “Oh What a Night” is a lush orchestral piece facing the reality of separation after a heavenly involvement: ‘we’re made to fall apart.’ The track “Can’t Answer This” is a slow but sentimental piece relishing the value of ‘the way I am with you’ but forebodes a cessation of bliss by the appeal ‘give it one more chance.’

Most albums have at least one track that gets annoying after repeated listening. That was not the case for me with this album. It is a listening pleasure from beginning to end.

Tarot in the Spirit of Zen
Tarot in the Spirit of Zen
by Osho
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.59
25 used & new from CDN$ 8.07

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Logic and reasoning is out the window, Dec 28 2014
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-90), or Osho as he called himself, was an Indian guru who established a cult-like following in the 60s to 90s. His religious philosophy was all over the map, so to speak: syncretistic but more Buddhist and Hindu than anything else. He advocated a lifestyle of balancing sensuality with spirituality. He had a complex personality and swayed his followers with persuasive arguments and jokes. When he was still alive most of his critics agreed that he was narcissistic, self-indulgent, fanatical, deranged and an accomplished defrauder and charlatan.

Because Osho's teachings--which have since his death been purged of his most outrageous pronouncements--have been gaining in popularity, I bought this book. It has been said that Rajneesh never wrote anything. His books have been compiled by anonymous devotees from his recorded talks and lectures. Many of the statements made in this book are startlingly contradictory. Logic and reasoning is out the window. It can be fun to read for its idiosyncrasy but to try to live by its 'aphorisms' would be impossibly delusional. In places it tries loosely to imitate qabalistic Tree-of-Life principles and traditional Tarot interpretations but these are most likely opportunistically designed to appeal to the New Age crowd. Chapters are based on the Osho tarot deck which is an invention in which Rajneesh had no involvement.

Childe Morgan
Childe Morgan
by Katherine Kurtz
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Bland beginning, stirring conclusion, Dec 27 2014
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This review is from: Childe Morgan (Hardcover)
Katherine Kurtz may not be the most prolific fantasy writer. That distinction may belong to S M Stirling although his works straddle a number of genres. But I think the Deryni books by Kurtz may hold the record for the most fantasy books, at sixteen (as well as three additional ancillary works), that follow a timeline of more than two hundred years (903 to 1128) chronicling the adventures and travails of succeeding Gwynedd monarchs, the Deryni magic-empowered race, adversarial bishops and sinister clergy, and the neighboring Torenthi usurpers and pretenders to the throne.

The first Deryni book was ‘Deryni Rising,’ published in 1970 and the most recent, and likely the last, ‘The King’s Deryni,’ in 2014; that totals forty-four years it has taken to build a medieval fantasy saga, surely a monumental achievement by any measure. Some books are out of print. Perhaps one day the complete saga could be republished in chronological order.

If read chronologically, ‘Childe Morgan’ is the eight book in the Deryni series of sixteen, the second volume of the Childe Morgan trilogy. In terms of publishing sequence it is the penultimate volume and one of the shortest. Continuing from the first book of the trilogy, ‘In the King’s Service,’ its central character is Kenneth Kai Morgan, the most trusted aide to King Donal Haldane. His much younger wife Alyce de Corwyn Morgan has birthed a son, Alaric Morgan, who is the ‘childe’ of this trilogy and the third book will tell of his adult experiences in support of the king and defense of the Kingdom of Gwynedd.

This book struck me as a being short of adversarial plots and dramatic encounters except towards its conclusion. Its first half consists mostly of placid dialog and descriptions of events that are inconsequential to the plot. As is Kurtz’s style we are inundated with introductions and references to new characters and their genealogies. These come in lumps and clumps at the beginning of many of her books and challenge readers’ recollective abilities. The ‘Index of Characters’ in the appendix is of some help but lack detail in order not to reveal pending events. However, by its middle this novel gains more substance and I found the book’s ending had made it worth getting through its bland first half. The ending sets the stage very well for the next book ‘The King’s Deryni’ which should be much more substantial at over five hundred pages in length.

The Secret Keeper: A Novel
The Secret Keeper: A Novel
by Kate Morton
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.75
46 used & new from CDN$ 2.41

5.0 out of 5 stars Ferreting out the facts, Dec 17 2014
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I have read all of Kate Morton’s “family secrets” mysteries, this being the fourth. She follows a formula which has been successful for her: A family member becomes intrigued by events from her family’s past. She goes on a search to ferret out the truth. But she is not the only narrator. Invariably other family members or individuals who were involved with the circumstances in the past are also given sections of the book to narrate. The reader is therefore given several points of view which are dated in the past and the present. So, the pendulum of time swings back and forth to reveal facts and provide clues. Some readers may find this systematic arrangement of past-present-past-present by several characters taking their turn to be deviously distracting. Others will enjoy the intrigue and ponder the possibilities that lie ahead, rooted in the past. Morton is a skilled story teller and always manages to tie up all the loose ends to make chronological sense by a novel’s conclusion.

In this novel the author uses a seldom-used fiction device. Close to the beginning of the book she weaves into the narrative a puzzling multipage episode that relates to what happens towards the end of the book. Trying to make sense of it, the reader may get the feeling that something was missed while reading the prior pages. But Morton leaves it hanging there until events are fully revealed when that episode is revisited at the end of the book. A monumental surprise delectably twists the reader’s presumptions. A murder, a dreadful abusive marriage and two emotive love stories as well as the tragedies of WWII bombing raids on London are included in the story. Many readers will no doubt have smiles on their faces when they complete the last page. There is no clichéd happy ending, but a happy ending none the less.

A History of Pagan Europe
A History of Pagan Europe
by Prudence Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 53.68
27 used & new from CDN$ 20.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of information somewhat lacking in accessibility, Dec 5 2014
A book of history can be reviewed from at least two main perspectives: 1. Does it present factual information without author bias, and 2. Does the text have a readable, comprehensible and logical format (i.e. is it accessible). As for the first, I think the authors have put in a lot of effort to provide the reader with well-known as well as obscure facts sifted from five thousand years of historical and archaeological research. It is unfortunate that also much of its contents relies on hearsay, guesswork and extrapolation. I believe that the authors, who reportedly are of the Pagan persuasion, have tried conscientiously to make a balanced and neutral presentation although in a few places I detect some tongue-in-cheek ironical digs.

As for the second perspective, its reader accessibility I would give it a failing mark. It is severely lacking in structure and focus. The text seldom stays on its stated chapter’s topic for more than a paragraph or two. It jumps forward and back in time; it constantly inserts anecdotal information; it flightily tosses around facts, tidbits and asides, lacking scholarly depth. Overall its presentational form is a mishmash. However, its detailed index does redeem its disorganization to a great extent. Is it useful? For the generalist interested in the topic it does offer up a lot of information. As far as any academic worth is concerned many would probably rate it as mediocre.

It is fascinating to comprehend how faith and beliefs have existed since the advent of man/womankind. Some have been localized to a small group, others have gained worldwide acceptance. Over time beliefs have become superimposed on each other. More authoritative creeds have tried to push aside and even obliterate less authoritative ones. Today we are witnessing authoritative forms of Islam attempting to vanquish western civilization which has become secularized and liberalized, favouring cultural pluralism. This book proves that nothing stays the same. Changing loyalties and beliefs are often catalysts for confrontation and suppression. Lasting solutions are found in dialogue, diplomacy and compromise. The imprint of paganism is still an underlying factor in our modern time (e.g. traditional customs, celebrations and rituals). Since neo-pagans will be interested in reading this book about the past I wonder: Based on their naturalistic polymorphous beliefs can neo-pagans contribute to reach convergent solutions in today’s world or is their interest quaintly isolated and insular, searching for the revival of obscure meanings from the past?

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