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World Without End
World Without End
by Ken Follett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.25
97 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Good story with some caveats, Aug. 19 2014
Ken Follett is a masterful writer. He is able to weave stories that are complex, that touch on the challenges, the pains and the joys of everyday life like few other authors can and, in this belated sequel to "Pillars of the Earth", he shows us again his knowledge of social structures and life during medieval England. Very few authors are able to communicate the texture of the medieval times as Follet does. This knowledge, along with particular insights into architecture and building knowledge during this time, are particular treats for the reader of WWE.

This is a novel that I would recommend, but not as highly as the first. Three points here: First, Follett brings to the fore too many 21st century moral issues and questions without much of the thinking of 14th century England to help us understand why people thought the way they did. Issues such as the women's liberation, abortion, the validity of religious belief, the possibility of a woman living with a man without being married, etc. all were certainly a part of life at that time, but essentially are portrayed in a way that makes 21st century thought on these issues as the "correct" ways of thinking, and 14th century thought as the rigid, incorrect and harmful ways of conceiving of these issues. It is fine that Follett brings his opinions to his writing. One would hope, however, that there would be some justice in the way historical ideas about life were treated. Perhaps an exception to this criticism is that Follett does a very nice job in showing how the seeds of the scientific revolution were perhaps present in early ideas about medicine and architecture. But here, social and moral issues are not as front and center as with other, more personal questions. Second, there is perhaps too much similarity between "Pillars" and WWE. There is also some important similarity in the character portrayals of the protagonists. It is a bit as if there was a path that Follett felt comfortable taking and took it up again, albeit with important changes. Finally, I would argue that scenes involving sex and intimacy are too graphic. There was a bit of that in Pillars, but too much in WWE. In addition, the same problem arises as in Pillars: this is a novel where church and faith-based questions are critical to the thoughts and behaviours of all actors, but there seems to be a decalage between how Follett describes faith-based questions and the actual thinking of that period. Again, perhaps too much 21st century in the 14th century.

Nevertheless, Follett's work remains remarkable because of the quality of the story he weaves and certainly, I will pick up other Follett books simply because the stories take you and keep you. So many written by others simply do not.

Child Development: A Thematic Approach
Child Development: A Thematic Approach
by Danuta Bukatko
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 179.63
17 used & new from CDN$ 179.63

4.0 out of 5 stars The bad: Much too expensive, Aug. 3 2014
The bad: Much too expensive, even for all of the resources that accompany this book. This is a book for poor university students, first year students at that. Also, an incredible focus on American research, with very little information on research conducted in other countries, examining questions that are not part of western cultures.

The good: Hands down, the single most exhaustive child development textbook on the market. Extremely well laid out, very helpful resources. Good questions asked throughout and an excellent accompanying workbook for students. Have tried many for my classes, am sticking with this one.

The Pillars of the Earth
The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.54
149 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Incursion into Middle-Age England, Aug. 1 2014
The Pillars of the Earth is set in 12th century England and tells the tale of several individuals and families with intertwined stories over the course of 40 years. Ken Follett writes remarkably well and is very well read on the history of that period. If for nothing else, the story brings out the atmosphere of the Middle Ages and some of the personal, political and philosophical issues of the day. A couple of points can be made here. Follett writes with forethought and, as a reader, you quickly become on the lookout for anything in the text which has may have significance for some future event. The writing is carefully planned, for which I am grateful.

The story tells the stories of Prior Philip, Tom Builder and William Hamleigh, and those that gravitate around them. Life trajectories intertwine and life philosophies clash. Survival, power and faith are consistently and continuously brought out as prominent life lines. Follett continuously asks the question: How can the evil thrive? How can the innocent be mocked and suffer? How can the pious be without knowledge? In a religious society, he implicitly asks the question (a question he explicitly asks in the sequel to this novel), Where is God? These questions were important in the middle ages, when there seemed to be no law that could be used to submit everyone and where power and fortune ruled. However, these questions continue to haunt us, at a time when conflicts, illness and famines, global warming and multi-national carelessness and greed continue to lead us toward the proverbial brick wall. So while the story is set in the Middle Ages, there are ominously clear ramifications for our time. As a strong writer, Follett is able to weave story lines to address some of these questions over the course of this 1000 page novel. He doesn't cheat, doesn't offer easy answers, but always allows for some hope.

Follett develops characters very well and he is particularly adept at bringing out character's emotions and thoughts and how they may have a part in shaping long-term trajectories and destinies. He also brings a special knowledge of the activities and tasks of Middle Age England. The ideas behind engineering and architecture at that time are particularly well brought out, as are some of the different social and economic structures that regulated the lives of individuals at that time. In many ways, this novel is an immersion into a way of life that has long been forgotten, but that still resonate today, in economic institutions and social thinking. The economic importance of markets, the financial strain of war, the impact of famine and the very real concern for survival, the smells and humidity of castles, the warmth and poverty of peasants' homes, the incredible task of cultivating the soil in harsh conditions - all come home through Follett's writing.

One thing that Follett does not do so well is portray Christianity. It is perhaps the greatest weakness in Follett's writing in general. Religion is central to the Middle Ages, and religious characters are omnipresent in The Pillars and in almost no circumstance do we go beyond the superficial, modern portrayal of a non present, distant God. It is true that the institution of religion dominated that time. It is also true that faith was lost for many at that time, in many ways. But there might have been the opportunity to draw this out in some meaningful way. Some research in the spiritual writers of that time might have allowed for the cardinal points of Christianity to be more clearly drawn out. The character story lines certainly bring out many opportunities to make implicit references to the Christian message, that would have made the explicit message more accessible. Follett doesn't have to be Christian or agree with Christianity. Simply, portraying the issues at hand and the true struggles of marrying everyday life and suffering with questions of faith might have been historically pertinent.

However, in spite of this caveat, I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed reading this novel and my appreciation for the care and thought that went into writing it. Couldn't really put it down and basically read through it in a couple of days. Which was kind of a problem because, after all, it is 1000 pages long. Highly recommended.

The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare
The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare
Price: CDN$ 0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A modern day haunt, July 1 2014
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There are many different ways to interpret this novel. There are certainly a number of philosophical issues that are raised as the protagonist, Syme the poet, is enlisted in a secret group of men to work against a global anarchist movement. Chesterton, who was certainly writing at a time when many accounts of morality and how to structure society were seriously questioned and the German nihilists were taking the high road, raises this paradigm shift in thinking about how and why you stand for different issues and beliefs. The question that is raised throughout history and throughout societies and cultures resonates plainly in this story: Is there a right and a wrong or is there only power and those strong enough to take it?

Relatedly, there is an epistemological take on the story. Rapidly, one questions what and how Syme understands his mission to be and whether there are elements to the story, important elements, that are left out, that are not mentioned, but which are critical to understanding meaning and would no doubt be helpful to Syme (and to the reader). While we are able to have much information, especially in this internet age, how do we know we have the important information, that which would help us make the right decisions in shaping our destinies? Is it possible that the most important information lays hidden and that no matter how we think, we cannot get at it? And when we decide paths to take, have we integrated correctly the information that we do have? These issues lay at the heart of Syme's mission and resonate with any reader who is at all sensitive to the complexities of life.

There is also an omen-like quality to this story. It is written prior to the two world wars which, in may ways, incarnated the questions that society and individuals were struggling with at this time. They reflected the West's strong desire to discard Christian values, and move toward a world that recognized an altogether different set of values. And in a very definitive way, Chesterton suggests that this struggle is not only one for the global society, but is really about something going on within each of us. It is not only about right and wrong, good and bad. It is also about how secretly, wrong and bad may change our way of seeing right and good. Chesterton lays out the question without hesitation. Could the enemy be within?

An interesting read and a peek into a fascinating time in recent history.

Les sept paroles de Jésus à la croix
Les sept paroles de Jésus à la croix
Price: CDN$ 4.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Qui nous sommes, June 25 2014
Dans cette époque dans laquelle on cherche à nous convaincre que le bien et le mal sont des valeurs subjectives (vraiment?), que tous ont raison et peuvent mener leur vie de façon autonome, que Dieu est une entité non-nécessaire, qu'il est déménagé ou peut-être qu'il est mort et que nous sommes plus ou moins seul à définir qui nous sommes et le sens de nos vies, les auteurs de ce livre nous permettent de poser un nouveau regard sur la personne tout à fait exceptionnelle de Jésus Christ. Ses dernières paroles sur la croix permettent un regard lucide sur ce qui nous définit, qui nous sommes, sur notre identité profonde avec ou sans Lui. Si Jésus est vraiment Celui qu'il dit qu'il est, on ne peut l'ignorer ou prendre certaines parties de ses enseignements qui nous conviennent: il faut le prendre tout entier en tant que Dieu et en tant que sauveur d'un monde brisé par notre égoïsme. Dans ses dernières paroles, nous sommes confrontés à qui était Jésus, sur le pourquoi de son incarnation, qui se trouve dans le gouffre qui nous sépare de ce que nous sommes vraiment.

The Pearl
The Pearl
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A fable for now, June 15 2014
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This review is from: The Pearl (Paperback)
Fables allow us to tell simple stories that resonate in complex situations. The Pearl tells the tale of a poor pearl diver who finds a pearl of incredible value. He knows that the pearl is useless unless he can sell it. To sell it, he must be able to protect it and sell it at its value price. Otherwise, all is for not. Instantly, there are different individuals and groups who either want the pearl and are willing to go to great lengths to get it, or other groups, who also want it but will instead devalue it. And there is also what goes on in the hearts of Kino, the diver, his wife and those who love them. The pearl is a way out, but also a way in, to broken hearts and to the reality of our harsh world. The pearl is a place and an object of contrasts, of potential pleasure, of certain pain. A wonderful, thought provoking story, that provides much impetus for thought about what we search for, how we think about the happiness that we search, and the workings of our world.

Imperial Cinnamon Spread,250ml
Imperial Cinnamon Spread,250ml
Price: CDN$ 2.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cinnamon Spread via Amazon? Wow!, June 15 2014
We lived in Ontario for a while and came across this absolutely non nutritious, but incredibly delicious toast/bagel/croissant spread. Could not find it anywhere now even if our life depended on it (and some mornings, it felt like it did!). But now, wonder of wonders, miracle of this postmodern globalized village, you can order it from Amazon! Wow! Wow cubed even! This stuff tastes sooooo good. Of course, the fact that you can order it testifies to the relatively inert substance that you are consuming. You do not eat this if you want to become an olympic athlete. But sometimes, taste can lead to nothing else but a smile on your face. And that is more than ok :-)

The Prophet
The Prophet
Price: CDN$ 1.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Different from now, June 15 2014
This review is from: The Prophet (Kindle Edition)
I came to the prophet with mixed expectations. Khalil Gibran has been compared with different 20th century philosophers, Nietsche for one, and I was under the impression that he might be one of those oriental writers who was part of the same zeitgeist as that wave of writers who gave way to nihilism and the search for meaninglessness. Not so.

I also was under the impression that there would be a simplicity to Gibran's writing, a kind of moralizing tone that would take one away from autonomous thought. Again, mistaken.

The prophet recounts the story of a religious/spiritual figure who has been waiting for a ship for 12 years, waiting to leave a place where he has lived not of his own will. As he leaves, a woman who seems to be well acquainted with him asks him to impart wisdom on a number of very practical subjects: marriage, talking, working, pleasure, etc. The counsel of the prophet are simple, but not simplistic. There is definite morality, but it is not moralizing. Rather, there is a depth that surpasses the spirit of disregard for meaning that the early 20th century proposed. There is also a respect for life, for the value of individuals, which is manifested in the manner in which the prophet proposes that people be treated, that they treat each other, a quality of thought regarding others that is refreshing. There is value in human life. The prophet shows this.

This short book teaches a number of ideas that are in stark contrast to the manner in which our disposable society functions. Now, here, we do what we want. We look for instant gratification, and while we propose that we should not hurt others, it is only in our ignorance that this is so. Perhaps the prophet hearkens back to a time where values of individuality and autonomy were not what they are now. Perhaps this essay calls us back to remember who we are, more important than we think, less materialistic than would be suggested by how we act. Perhaps there is something to learn from the prophet.

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers CA
Price: CDN$ 14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Lewis bites..., June 3 2014
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I really enjoy reading Lewis, because of his clear thinking, because of his "dinosauresque" manner of resisting fads and modern tastes (that may actually be tasteless) and because of his incredible grasp of the history of thought, of literature and their places in the current zeitgeist. I have also read several volumes of "Letters". I have three points to make about this most recent instalment.

First, we owe an enormous debt to the editors who put this together. They have provided information and insight into a number of letter recipients, some known, some less so, who have been influential in different ways in Lewis' thought. The letters are not only rather exhaustive, but also informative regarding Lewis' circle of friends and acquaintances.

Second, you get a glimpse of Lewis' thinking throughout the letters, especially those intended for correspondents who had questions or who provided ideas or erroneous information regarding matters of thought or faith. Several letters are intended for people who are fairly hard core atheists, others for some who asked questions and seemed to be genuinely seeking plausible answers. Finally some others to editors, friends or other people who knew something of Lewis' projects and plans. In a very real sense, if you are able to keep track of names and sequences of letters as you read, you get a real glimpse into the progress and change in Lewis' ideas.

Third, there are some very personal matters that are discussed and one can't help but be moved by some of the issues that are addressed in Lewis' correspondence. Some deal with American readers who supplied the Lewis household with a steady flow of victuals while the rest of England faced post war rationing. Others were more personal. One particular letter is addressed to JRR Tolkien after publication of The Lord of the Rings. In it, Lewis elicits memories of their time during the war, discussing projects and writing, in a way that very much testified to Lewis' longing for the friendship that was a part of those days. And one also gets a feel for Lewis' happiness at his friend's work finally getting out, which is significant in light of knowledge that Tolkien and Lewis had somewhat had some difficulty during this time. So the letters give insight into personal issues, issues that impinge on everyday life and, while not at the heart of stories, certainly informs the reader into some of the challenges that were there for Lewis.

Finally, one can't help but be impressed by the perseverance Lewis showed in keeping this correspondence. These were not emails, but hand-written notes and letters intended to keep communication channels open with all kinds of people. We currently live in a time where you can send the same note to a slew of people all at the same time and forget about it in the following minute. While it is clear that Lewis wrote quickly, it was clear that he was thinking about each note he sent and, consequently, each correspondent. It was another time, with different ideas about what it meant to write someone a note.

Interesting insight into the life of a well loved author.

The Confessions
The Confessions
by Saint Augustine
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.55
44 used & new from CDN$ 2.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Read to understand, Feb. 24 2014
This review is from: The Confessions (Paperback)
There is something old about "The Confessions". It harkens back to a time that many have viewed as "dark" or "medieval" and Augustine is clearly one of the founders of a perspective that we are in a bit of a hurry to reject. I would argue, however, that if you want to understand anything of western civilization, if you want to begin to grasp why Christianity became dominant in Europe (and by extension, the Americas) and if you want to probe into the radical differences in epistemology that takes the Christian God as a starting point, rather than other gods, philosophies or the absence of god at the beginning, then reading Augustine's auto-biography is unavoidable. The book is regularly on the "Top 10" classics that must be read. It is written during a strange time when the West was at a sort of crossroads, deciding between classical, Greco-Roman culture, different pagan perspectives and philosophies and Christianity. The contrast between these views of the world and the universe is striking. At the time, the choice became clear for both leaders and people: choose Christianity, for there is safety and comfort there. Choose Christianity because it is not only safer, but it is truer. Choose Christianity because closeness to God is not based on your flawed ability to live well, but on the redemptive work of a God who, somehow, has not forgotten who we are. How the faith must have been misread to foster theocracies and conflict between peoples... and how now, through this misreading, as we look back on that time, we struggle to understand the choices of our European ancestors in favour of a faith for which Augustine was (and still is) a leading proponent.

What has not often been said about The Confessions is that they may be prophetic. We cannot reinvent radically new philosophies - we can only remodel old ones, trying to keep what we like of each. As we reject Christianity and the possibility of the Christian God, we have nevertheless kept the values that are at its base - values of love and acceptance, values that some would say are at the heart of political democracies or, in the least, behind the idea that people should look after people, and give them a fair hearing and a glass of water if they are thirsty (perhaps as Augustine might have in his day). However, Augustine suggests that this might be impossible. You cannot have the fruit if you won't have the tree. The question will be whether the values we like can survive when their base and roots, which we no longer like, have been cut down. Of course, as others would say, that is an empirical question. No doubt we will soon find out.

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