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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)

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The Plum Tree
The Plum Tree
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.71
46 used & new from CDN$ 6.66

3.0 out of 5 stars A novel about innocents caught in war’s cruelties, Nov. 20 2015
This review is from: The Plum Tree (Paperback)
I have ready a number of Holocaust biographies as well as novels set in the Nazi milieu. I wanted to like this novel and not be too critical since it was the author’s first novel. But there were a number of jarring errors, inconsistencies and unlikely coincidences that bothered me. The major one was the setting of “a small German village” (flyleaf description). The cover picture does not represent a small rural village. The Allied bombing raids describe some parts of the “village” being destroyed while others were not. If a bombing raid happened to a small village, ALL of it would be destroyed. Also, it would not be necessary to have repeated, countless raids happen for weeks and months while parts of the village still remained intact. The Allies would have bombed the nearby airport into oblivion but in this story the facility goes on functioning despite it being subjected to repeated bombing.

How could the ruins of a “2000 year old cathedral” exist in a small village? Only very large cities had cathedrals and they were not built until the second millennium. Wrongly, imperial units of measure for are used when metric would have applied. Regarding “The Plum Tree,” towards the end of the book, the heroine can find no trace of growth from the pit that she planted three years earlier, then at the end of the book she caresses the leaves of that three! There are some errors in the German language; it is also annoying that German words are inserted in the dialog—sometimes translated, sometimes not—as a form of tokenism for authenticity. The Allies did not send solo fighter jets on excursions to terrorize, maim and kill civilians. The author turns Dachau into an extermination facility, like Auschwitz, when in fact it was a centre of forced labor (Wiseman pleads literary license to assist with her plot line). The village’s location in south-central Germany would have been far from where the Russians invaded and brutalized women. Why would the Nazi regime send German women from the south to work far north, towards Poland? They would not have. The distance to travel between the “village” and Dachau is sometimes three days by train, other times it seems to be within walking distance. There are other inconsistencies.

Wiseman provides true descriptions of the inhumane conditions and brutal practices that existed in the treatment of Jews and “enemies of the Reich.” What she relates about the common people, helplessly caught in the hardships and atrocities of Hitler’s monumental oligarchy, is also a close representation of actuality. The author succinctly creates stark mental images that can linger in readers’ psyche for some time.

It will not be difficult for most readers to guess how this book will end but it can be a struggle to get there; it can be depressing; it can get tedious. Annoyances aside, for me it was an adequate reading experience. At least it held my interest sufficiently to reach the finish.

New Dominion
New Dominion
by Ruth P Jhabvala
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A picture of post-colonial India, Nov. 18 2015
This review is from: New Dominion (Paperback)
Here we have a tale of India in the 1950s involving a dozen or so locals and five Westerners, namely a young male tourist, Raymond; an elderly Christian missionary, Miss Charlotte; and three young girls, Lee, Margaret and Evie who are on a spiritual quest. The author, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013), was of German-Polish origin, educated in England, who married an Indian architect. She wrote numerous novels, short stories and film scripts to much acclaim. This work was first published in 1972.

The character Lee narrates some chapters in the first person but the other parts of the book are written in the third person, Raymond being the principal focus of attention. Lee is a flighty, naïve young woman whose main interest is to travel leisurely across the continent, breathing in the local culture and contemplating the varied scenery. However, at one point she—as well as the other two girls—becomes drawn to a charismatic and manipulative guru Swamiji. Lee becomes a resident of his embryonic and primitive ashram along with the other girls. Each of them falls under his spell which includes unquestioned worshipful obedience.

The reader will puzzle about the character Raymond. He is an effeminate mama’s boy, writing weekly or twice weekly to his mother in England. He showers his affections on a ‘pretty-boy’, Gopi, and much of the book recounts their companionship, break-ups and reconciliations. Their relationship is latently homosexual but is never actualized in that way. Gopi, a lazy and frivolous drift-about, by feigning friendship, is able to control Raymond to provide him with leisurely comforts and pursuits but sexually he is attracted to women. He becomes a love-slave to Asha, a middle-aged self-indulgent princess. That liaison stirs up jealous rivalry between Raymond and Asha for Gopi’s attention.

I found this novel to be an interesting reflection of Indian post-colonial culture. Hundreds of years of British rule had set a strong imprint on the Indian psyche. Behaving and striving to be like the English became an ideal for Indians to emulate. But at the same time average Indians yearned to be free of British dominance, to show themselves to be equal to, or better than, Westerners in the spheres of business, administration, politics, healthcare, religion and even sexual liberalism. The author paints a realistic picture of a drab 1950s Indian society with some Westerners caught in its frantic and frenetic environment. Ironies and witticisms are skillfully interwoven into the lives of the characters.

Bad Intentions
Bad Intentions
by Karin Fossum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.99
60 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Not a true crime mystery, Nov. 3 2015
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This review is from: Bad Intentions (Paperback)
The plot revolves around two deaths, but neither is a murder, nor are they in my estimation felonies. One death is accidental the other negligent but surely not criminally so. There is also a third death which was unintentional suicide.

I have read and enjoyed the eight previous Inspector Seijer mysteries but I thought this effort by Fossum was rather lame. Why? Seijer and his sidekick Skarre are only peripheral. As I have already stated, there was no criminal intent involved with any of the three deaths. Yes, there was subterfuge involved to deceive and mislead investigations but none of them should have subjected the culpable to punishment by incarceration. Therefore I disagreed with the author’s rationales for this novel. What could have made this book better? A court drama focused on the guilt or innocence of the character who ended up behind bars.

But this book is not lacking in psychological drama or emotive human interest, which are always Fossum’s literary strengths. Those qualities rescues the book from mediocrity. Although it hardy deserves to be classified as a crime mystery it is it is worth the read to sort out the tensions between the quirky characters. There are surprises to the very end. But I vote for having Seijer and Skarre fulfill their investigative involvement in future novels.

The Golden Horn
The Golden Horn
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 14.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Review of 'The Last Viking' trilogy, Nov. 2 2015
This review is from: The Golden Horn (Paperback)
A review of 'The Last Viking' trilogy.

This trilogy is the most significant modern account of the fascinating the life of Harald Sigurdharson (1015-66), who became Norway's King Harald III, given the epithet Hardhraadhi (Hardråde, Hardrada, Hardrede), meaning 'strict ruler or hard counsel'. The prolific American writer, Poul Anderson (1926-2001), who was himself of Norwegian ancestry, scoured numerous historical documents and saga narratives to bring veracity to these books. Almost every main character has been based on actual persons and, for the most part, their real life situations and accomplishments.
The reader follows Harald from childhood to the age of fifteen in 1030 when he fought at the Battle of Stiklastadh (Stiklestad), a peasant uprising against the king, who was his older half-brother, Olaf Haraldsson, called Olaf the Stout. He, King Olaf II, died in that epic battle. He was later canonized by the Pope and given the epithet 'the Holy one.' Harald escaped to Russia where he became loyal to Kiev's Grand Prince Yaroslav and eventually obtained the rank of captain. In 1034 he and a horde of Norsemen went south to Constantinople where Harald rose to become commander of the Byzantine Varangian Guard. He fought in varies battles in the Mediterranean area and became renowned for his acumen and prowess. He accumulated great wealth and escaped the clutches of the Byzantine Empire in 1042, returning to Yaroslav where he prepared for his return to Norway where he eventually succeeded to claim his right to the throne. In 1044 he had married Yaroslav's daughter, Elizabeth (Ellisif), and who became his queen.

Harald was king of Norway for almost twenty years. Anderson maintains the reader's interest by his account of the main events during two decades of his garrulous rulership. This was a brutal age and Harald maintained his hold on the kingdom by any means fair or foul. Whether he was admired, respected, feared or hated he accomplished the strengthening of the rule of law, the increased influence of the Holy Church and the development of trade and commerce. He expanded the town of Trondheim (Nidaros), founded the city of Oslo, the present-day capital, as well as Bergen and several towns. He was progressive in many ways although he will mostly be remembered for his warring abilities. His ambition was to conquer King Svein's Denmark but although he attempted numerous times he never succeeded. Being the inheritor of an age-old agreement between English and Norwegian/Danish kings, Harald had by succession a claim to the throne of England. In 1065 and 66 he set out to fulfill that claim when he invaded Northumbria.

In this trilogy, published in 1980 (republished as Kindle editions in 2015), Poul Anderson, in collaboration with his wife Karen, produced a masterful fictionalized biography. Harald's contrasting relationships with his two wives, Ellisif and Thora add an element of heartfelt devotion, bringing out a softer side to the tough-as-nails absolutist and tyrannous warrior. Their prose is imaginatively descriptive. The dialogue reflects the stark reality of circumstances. Often the lingering conflict between the old Norse mythology and newly adopted Christian theology smolders in character's consciousness. Readers will often be challenged to find sympathy with Harald. He is rash, tempestuous and driven by his own agenda. He is his own worst enemy. But until he meets his tragic end he was a survivor at any cost. He was not devoid of honor and loyalty as long as they did not get in the way of his commanding perception of his ow self-sufficiency.

The Orchid House
The Orchid House
by Lucinda Riley
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.93
52 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Too much like soap, Oct. 23 2015
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This review is from: The Orchid House (Paperback)

This is what spoiled it for me: An Asian girl whose mother is oriental and father is white is passed off as the daughter of a white couple. The girl, as a grown woman, and everyone who associates with her accept this ruse. Even if she were to have light skin, her oriental characteristics (eyes, nose and hair) would dominate to reveal her biracial heritage. Yet, the author expects readers to be oblivious to this fly in the ointment in her complex plot.

Riley is an excellent descriptive and emotive writer but in this novel credibility is overstretched. Towards the end of the book the actions of one character are totally incredible. Practically they could not have occurred in a real world. Genetic nonveracity aside, the last seventy pages of the book detracted from its overall average quality.

Constance Ring
Constance Ring
by Amalie Skram
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 26.27
20 used & new from CDN$ 17.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Chasing shadows to a dark place, Oct. 5 2015
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This review is from: Constance Ring (Paperback)
This was Skram’s first novel, published in 1885. It was considered a scandalous portrayal of loveless marriage, masculine dominance over women and oppressive patriarchal religion and culture. But it had been preceded by Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ thirty years prior. There are notable plot parallels in the lives and attitudes of Emma Bovary and Constance Ring although Constance feels more duty-bound to marriage fidelity than Emma.

Most of Skram’s works focus on the plight of women in a man’s world. She felt strongly that Norwegians—and indeed Scandinavians—should be confronted with the gender imbalance and inequality to spark debate and reforms. This novel was therefore as much a sociopolitical statement as it was a fictional narrative. There are no heroes here. Most males are portrayed to be womanizers. The women are of two kinds: committed to their marriage vows at all cost, or single women (mostly young and of lower class) preyed on by opportunistic men. Constance, who in modern medical analysis would be termed as bipolar, is mentally and emotionally capricious. She chases shadows. She succumbs to a habit of analyzing her own and her husbands’ and lover’s failures. She makes no attempt to be socially involved (other than hosting frivolous parties). Some men love her but she mercurially manipulates them by successively granting and then denying them her emotional and physical affections. Consequently her husbands and lover seek sexual solace elsewhere. As she learns of these indiscretions she is devastated. Yes, Constance is victimized but tragically she fails to discern how her own failures may have contributed.

The Inheritor (The Alford Saga Book 8)
The Inheritor (The Alford Saga Book 8)
Price: CDN$ 9.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A story worth telling but the wrong approach, Oct. 2 2015
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I thoroughly enjoyed the seven books of the Alford Saga by Paul Almond which revolved around the author’s ancestors who settled in the Gaspe Peninsula over two hundred years ago. I was happy to see an eighth book, The Inheritor, being published. But ordering it was a mistake. This is not a novel but rather an autobiography about Paul Alford alias Paul Almond as he navigates the Canadian, British and American cultural landscape from the 1950s to 70s.

Almond relishes name-dropping at every opportunity; the Index tells the story: about 250 names! In addition are all the titles of books, films and the names of organizations associated with the people he knew. I suppose the book is a treasure trove for arts and culture historians but for most others it will be a tedious tome. Almond deserves praise and admiration for what he has contributed and accomplished with film, drama and literature. He has led an interesting life worthy of being told. However the irritating scattergun approach he has used in this narrative creates a bewildering array of people and events that will fail to fascinate most readers of his previous Alford books.

The Collector
The Collector
7 used & new from CDN$ 18.22

2.0 out of 5 stars Macabre dark thriller, Sept. 27 2015
This is a brutally frank and dire analysis of two people, a neurotic male psychopath and the naïve woman he kidnaps and enslaves. His motive is to coerce her to admire and love him by being in his company. He considers himself ‘moral’ therefore he does not plan to rape her. In fact he is too sexually insecure to bond with any woman. The novel is divided into three first person narrative sections, the first from his point of view, the second from her point of view and the third again from his point of view. It is the kind of book that shocks and enthralls readers. We feel caught in a web of deranged madness. We keep pondering how this can end. We hope for a glimmer of light. This novel was too dark and macabre for me. Although it is well written (four stars) I did not enjoy it (one star).

King Kelsons Bride
King Kelsons Bride
by Katherine Kurtz
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 4.83

3.0 out of 5 stars King Kelson gets everything sorted, Sept. 22 2015
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This review is from: King Kelsons Bride (Hardcover)
I have been a loyal Deryni fan since the early 70s started the chronicles with ‘Deryni Rising’ up to the sixteenth volume ‘The King’s Deryni’ published last year (2014). After reading the ‘Legends of Camber of Culdi’ trilogy, I merely bought subsequent Deryni books and put them on the shelf to read later. In the 2010s I picked up some I had missed from used book sellers. Having more spare time on my hands I resumed reading unread books in chronological order rather than the order in which they were published. Now I have just finished ‘King Kelson’s Bride’, the sixteenth and last book chronologically.

It has been quite a ride. To be honest, looking back, I have not always been happy with Kurtz’ Deryni books. Quite a bit of the time it was only my determination to complete all the books that kept me reading. Kurtz is the epitome of an antonymous minimalist. She describes clothing and regalia in infinite detail. She delights in ceremony, liturgy, incantations and magical abracadabra. She simply has to name genealogies, providing bewildering arrays of names and relationships; some characters go by more than one name, title or status in the narrative. Books may have a cast of characters numbering thirty, forty or more. Dialogues between members of a cluster of people can get confusing—as you are reading it you ask yourself ‘who is saying this in response to whom?’ Trivialities abound. But despite these idiosyncrasies of Kurtz’ writing, devotees of medieval sword and sorcery will get a lot of pleasure from most of the sixteen Deryni books. There is ample drama, intrigue, suspense and, occasionally, romance. There are heroes and villains aplenty. Plots are well thought out.

I have rated most of the books four or five stars but there were some threes. I debated whether to give this book a two but gave it a three even though two and a half would be most accurate. All of the idiosyncrasies I named above apply to this book. I read page after page waiting for the inevitable to happen and when it did it was anticlimactic. The book could have been much shorter and accomplished the same by its conclusion for most readers. The ending leaves a dangling lose end inviting another book to follow but if other readers are like me I think we are sated. Last year’s ‘The King’s Deryni’ was disappointing. We don’t need another one like it. Thank you Katherine for giving us a lot of reading enjoyment for more than forty years!

Multidimensional Man
Multidimensional Man
by Jurgen Ziewe
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 27.36
18 used & new from CDN$ 14.84

3.0 out of 5 stars A chaotic journey, Sept. 6 2015
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This review is from: Multidimensional Man (Paperback)
The book contains a bewildering array of out-of-body situations. These are not chronological, but in a random order sorted according to chapter headings with titles such as ‘Past lives, ancient crimes and misdemeanours’ (!) and ‘The lower dimensions: Worlds of suffering.’ Reading Parts 1 and 2 was a chore but I found the ending, Part 3, of some value, especially what he says about thought forms. But I asked myself “if Ziewe claims to have made ‘progress’ through thirty-five years of multidimensional reveries, how so?” Overall I found it a chaotic journey lacking order, symmetry or direction. But at least he should be congratulated for having maintained his own sanity and continued to function productively through it all.

It struck me as ironic that the author repeatedly warns his readers no to adhere to systems of belief or rely on faith but rather that personal experience and realization should provide the motivation in life and yet he expects us to believe his diarized other-dimensional experiences, theories and propositions as authentic. His list of recommended reading includes Hindu/Yogi and New Thought works which in fact do espouse particular systems of belief.

He elucidates five types of power to employ when manipulating the subtle dimensions: the power of intent, the power of expectation, the power of the subconscious, the power of desire and the power of consensus. Ziewe seems to disregard that to function creatively most of these ‘powers’ will embody large components of inherent ‘beliefs’. Without some structured belief to live by most individuals would find it difficult to maneuver through life’s trials and tribulations. After all, belief nurtures hope.

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