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Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada)
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The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ: Natural Genesis and Typology of Equinoctial Christolatry
The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ: Natural Genesis and Typology of Equinoctial Christolatry
by Gerald Massey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.98
16 used & new from CDN$ 5.50

2.0 out of 5 stars Almost unreadable, Feb. 8 2016
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Gerald Massey may have been a scholarly genius to produce this compilation of parallels between ancient Egyptian mythology, apocryphal writings and the canonical Christian New Testament. The sheer volume of 'evidence' that much of Christian doctrine and theology originated with extraneous sources and traditions can be compelling for the freethinker. It would present a vastly different perspective on what Christian fundamentalists refer to as 'the Word of God'.

Frankly, however, this reprint of the original 1883 edition is an incoherent shambles. It is unappetizingly bloated and turgid, almost unreadable. I mostly skimmed through it. Actually, the Index at the end would be a good place to start. Select an interesting topic and go to that page. Use the Glossary as an aid to comprehension. Good luck with that...

Modern Classics Payment Deferred
Modern Classics Payment Deferred
by C S Forester
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.00
20 used & new from CDN$ 3.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly fatalistic, Jan. 21 2016
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Having enjoyed Forester’s wonderful Hornblower adventure novels in my younger years, I had no hesitation to now explore his earlier works classified as noir mysteries. The first he wrote in the 1920s was ‘Payment Deferred’ about the machinations of Mr. Marble, a stuffy and stodgy English bank clerk caught in a predicament of financial embarrassment. Simply put, his wages have not been able to support the cost of his own and his wife’s moderate necessities. His obligation to local merchants have reached the limits of his creditworthiness. The rent for their austere suburban dwelling is in arrears. He has become dependent on friends and co-workers to extend him short-term loans.

Then a solution presents itself one evening from out of the blue when a well-heeled Australian nephew appears on his doorstep. Marble ceases the moment to murder his unsuspecting relative for a stash of cash in his possession. A late evening disposal of the body is hastily arranged by digging a grave in a small plot of garden while Mrs. Marble and their two teenage children are safely ensconced in their beds. Thusly Mr. Marble’s overdue bills are taken care of by the proceeds from his felonious deed. But from thereon he dreads having to move away from his dwelling which could lead to the discovery of the buried corpse. The solution is to purchase the residence but he has no means to do so. This leads him to devise a scheme to play the foreign currency market, with the help of his insider position in the bank; but he needs an accomplice to fund the operation.

I would not call this novel a thriller, nor is it a mystery. It is a gripping tale of one man’s desperate abominations. His actions, once committed, cannot be reversed. They haunt him incessantly and impact the lives of his wife and children adversely. It has an unanticipated ending. Noticeably, there are no likable characters. It is noir through and through. Although this story is overshadowed by dramatic fatalism it is has underlying layers of ridicule, cynicism and witticism.

The New Revelation: The Coming of a New Spiritual Paradigm
The New Revelation: The Coming of a New Spiritual Paradigm
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from CDN$ 9.60

3.0 out of 5 stars Meandering ramblings about spirit communication, Dec 27 2015
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These are meandering ramblings of Arthur Conan Doyle from the 1910s on the subject of psychic phenomena, spirit communication and life after death. Their main worth is mainly as an historical curiosity. At this stage of research he seemed only sure of one thing: personalities do continue their existence in another dimension and can communicate. He had made numerous acquaintances with psychics and recipients of such communications from ‘beyond the veil.’ He had also read a quantity of literature on the subject and recommends a number of books (most of which are now unavailable). He had arrived at some beliefs based on accumulated ‘evidence’ but leaves the door open for his readers to their own research. The title of the book is pretentious as its contents can hardly be called a “new revelation.” Being a famous author, Doyle used his writings and public appearances as a catalyst to create curiosity and lend some legitimacy to communication with the dead. (The field was awash with fraudsters.) He never pretended to be an authority on the subject.

For those who have an interest in the subject and in Doyle, I recommend the book “Arthur Conan Doyle’s Book of the Beyond” by Ivan Cooke ISBN 13: 9780854870936 which purports to contain communications from Doyle after his death. It is a very interesting read covering the subject in some depth.

Water of the Wondrous Isles
Water of the Wondrous Isles
by William Morris
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read, Dec 24 2015
I completed 2/3s of this book and wished I had quit earlier. As much as I wanted to admire William Morris, a true pioneer of fantasy, I just could not abide his quaint (at times incomprehensibly archaic) language, cryptic plotting and slow progress in the telling of the tale. There are good reasons why this work remains obscure: most modern readers would find it a laborious read garnering little pleasure for the hard work. The novel could succeed if rewritten in a language/vocabulary most can understand and edited to eliminate some of the extraneous narrative.

The Plum Tree
The Plum Tree
by Ellen Marie Wiseman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.08
26 used & new from CDN$ 10.93

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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
12 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
50 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
8 used & new from CDN$ 109.12

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$ 22.27
39 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)
SPOILER ALERT

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$ 27.99
14 used & new from CDN$ 27.98

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.

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