Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Theft of the Master - Book Review

Theft of the Master
By Edwin Alexander
Garev Publishing
February 2008
Author Website

Most of my regular readers will know that I love art history. And I might have mentioned that I am fascinated with stories of the numerous art pieces that were stolen and hidden by the Nazi's during World War two. So that is why I chose to read this novel.

This novel opens in Poland in 1493 where German born Veit Stoss works as a sculptor. He made sculptures amd altars for the church. The novel begins when he is commissioned to make a sculpture of Christ sitting down and preaching as it says in John chapter 8v2. This sculpture was later installed in the Church of the Holy Ghost, in Tallinn, Estonia.

The novel then moves to the recent past - 1992. In Half Moon Bay (on the west side of the peninsula, across from San Mateo in Califonia) a young student arranges a party with her godfather for the July 4th celebrations. During the party the young woman, Megan, disappears. Her body is later found in the surf. The authorities call it a tragic drowning, but Megan's parents refuse to accept the accidental drowning verdict. So they hire a private detective (Al Hershey) to investigate.

The rest of the novel follows Al around the world searching for Megan's killer. And yes, Megan's murder is connected to the sculpture in Tallin that was stolen by the Nazis during World War 2. I started reading this book at 9pm. I could not put it down, and stayed up past 1 o'clock to finish it. An excellent novel.

Monday, April 28, 2008

One Hundred Years of Solitude - 50 Greatest Books


Gabriel García Márquez, then a little-known Colombian journalist, wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude over a period of 18 months, in seclusion, in Mexico City. The book was published in Buenos Aires in 1967, heralding a new literary wave from Latin America and becoming the most important novel ever published in Spanish on this side of the Atlantic.

If you read the full article today, you can get the full article. but it will be gone by the end of the week. I know I said I wasn't going to do any more, but it's habit now, so I will continue to list the books.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Benjamin Franklin - Poor Richard's Almanac

I passed the local antique markets (held every Sunday) on my way to the supermarket, and today I was on my own. My son hates going into the markets because
1 - it is noisy and dusty and that bothers him,
and 2 - he hates waiting while I look for and at books, hoping to find a bargain.

Today I just had to stop in. I was on my own, and this would be a tragedy if I passed by. Besides, I am addicted, you all know what that's like.

So I found a small booklet (or brochure maybe) of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richards Almanac. Only a selection mind you, but still - I like Benjamin Franklin. He was the true American Renaissance Man. It cost me $15.

This booklet has a brown cloth cover with a gold stamped title. It was printed by Barse and Hopkins in New York. There is no date BUT there is a small stamp at the back of the book that says "Pat D March 6, 1910 (thanks to a very strong magnifying glass).

I'm trying to work out the size designation.

This booklet has 17 leaves or 34 pages. Pages 11 to 14 are NOT cut, therev is a portrait of franklin with tissue protection. I'm thinking that the correct pages should be 16 leaves & 32 pages. But there is one page that is smaller than the rest. It looks like it may have been inserted at the last minute.

7 inches x 4 1/4 inches (cover)
18cm x 10 3/4 cm
6 3/4 inches x 4 inches (inside)


20 by 25 sixteenmo 4 16 (leaves) 32 (pages) 6¼ by 5

18 by 23 sixteenmo 4 16 (leaves) 32(pages) 5¾ by 4½

So which one is it? If you can leave a comments (or email me)and say what size you think my booklet is, I would appreciate it.

The selections from Poor Richard's Almanac, include the following.

Preface for 1736
Enigmatical Prophecies 1736
The Explanation 1737
Necessary Hints 1737
Preface by Mistress Saunders 1738
Preface for 1747
1756 (on page 12 - unable to read title)
The Way to Wealth 1758 (pages 14 to 26)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

50 Greatest Books - Globe and Mail - Venting

I've been posting the 50 Greatest Books from the Globe and Mail Newspaper on my blog since January, and now I discover that you have to PAY to read the article. I posted about Gullivers Travels 4 days ago. The article was originally posted last weekend on 19/04/2008 and now (just 1 week later) you cannot read it unless you pay.

Does that happen with all the articles? If yes then I am not sure that I want to continue covering this series anymore. Its not worth it if my readers cannot read the articles.

I checked all my articles and links. And ALL but one are now pay-to-view. I'd say this is a new Globe policy to make more money. Which is very disappointing to me.

While I did say I was not going to continue with this series, I have decided that I will, as it is educational and its become a habit. BUT you have to read the articles within the first week or you will end up having to pay to read them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Times - Book Review

My Times (1947-1995)
By Pierre Berton
Doubleday 1995

This is the second half of Pierre's Autobiography. The first half (Starting Out) was read and reviewed late last year.

In 1948 Pierre Berton and his wife Janet moved from Vancouver to Toronto. Pierre had been offered a job as an assistant editor for Macleans Magazine.

Pierre got this job after the series of articles he had written about his trip to the Headless Valley on the South Nahanni River. The Nahanni river is now the centre of the Nahanni National Park.

Once the Bertons moved to Toronto, they started their family. And eventually found a large house in the country. In Kleinberg, just outside of Vaughan at the NW corner of the GTA - Greater Toronto Area. Vaughan is at the junction of Highways 400 and 407. The Berton family prospered and lived in this house for over 50 years. (1950 to 2004). Well Pierre and Janet did anyway. The kids moved out, like all children do.

Pierre and Janet had six biological children, and one adopted. From eldest to youngest they are Penny, Pamela, Patsy, Peter, Paul, Peggy Ann and Perri. Peter is now an Architect and Paul is the Editor in Chief of the London Free Press Newspaper (London, Ontario).

This book details Pierre's life as a writer for Macleans Magazine, as a journalist for the Toronto Star, as a TV journalist, and a writer of exactly 50 books. Almost all of them being non-fiction narratives.

Pierre describes his involvement with the Canadian centenary (1967) whereby he edited a series of Books called the Canadian classics, and later wrote his own book called 1967. He was also involved with TV right from the beginning.

I enjoyed this autobiography very much for the over 40 years of life in Television, newspapers and book writing that Pierre enjoyed. He describes his books, how he chose the subject matter, what research he had to do, what questions he was asking and answering when he wrote the books, and what the public thought of the books after they were published.

Pierre died in 2004 at the age of 84 - he was born in 1920.
I read this book for the Canadian Challenge and the In Their Shoes Challenge.

Pierre Berton Website
Biography 1
Biography 2

Gulliver's Travels - 50 Greatest Books

Gulliver's Travels (by Jonathan Swift) is one of the best and most important books in the world. First published in London, anonymously, in 1726, it was a howling success, passed from hand to hand among the political class and general readers, and immediately translated into French and German. Voltaire thought it was wonderful.

By the 20th century, heavily expurgated and abbreviated, Gulliver's Travels had survived, but chiefly as a story for children. There is a double irony in this. The first is that it is a savage adult satire on hypocrisy, corruption in politics, the insanity of war and the barbarism that underlies so-called civilization. Swift also exploited - uncomfortably, for the reader - his obsessional disgust with the gross animality of human nature.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Secret Scroll - Book Review

The Secret Scroll
By Ronald Cutler
Beaufort Books 2008

This is yet another novel about the "what if..." question. What if Jesus DID write something about himself, and what if this scroll was only discovered in the 21st century?

Well Joshua Cohan does exactly this. Josh is an American Archaeologist, and a Jew, living in Pennsylvania. When a discovery he makes in Mexico is credited to someone else, he finds out what it is like to be denied professional credit for his work. So Joshua takes a leave of absence and goes to Israel. In Israel he feel as though he is home.

Joshua has dreams, and these dreams lead him to a cave in a remote part of Israel not far from the Dead Sea, and there he discovers a jar (with a scroll inside) dating from the Second Temple period (between 50 BCE and 50 CE). The Scroll is written in Aramaic - the language that Jesus and his disciples would have spoken.

Under Israeli Law, all archaeological findings belonged to the state and are under the control of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The rest of the novel involves Joshua cooperating with the IAA to determine if the jar and scroll are genuine. The IAA team must also battle an unknown religious group that hates Jews and starts attacking and killing members of the IAA research team.

This religious group claim to be Marcionites.

As for the Scroll that Joshua found, it has some interesting information. But the part I love the best and that rings true for me in this current day and age is the following "translation" in chapter 76 near the end of the novel.

The existence of evil in the world can be attributed to mankind alone. As long as he wages war, man is a savage, for war is a savage act and is a blockade to enlightenment. The day will come when there is will be justice in this unjust world. When all people realise their potential, the impossible will happen.

Just remember that this is a novel. The above paragraph was made up by the author. But at least he recognizes the truth about humanity.

While I did enjoy this book and read it within 24 hours, I feel that I have to be honest. There is nothing unusual in this novel - except for that last paragraph I quoted. Lots of people dream about finding the one scroll that proves Jesus WAS alive and that he DID perform miracles and that he WAS the Son of God. Noone has ever found such a scroll for real in the last 2000 years, so I doubt that anyone ever will find such a scroll.

I actually prefer novels set in Israel that have a different angle on them. Novels like The Samson Effect. That was a totally different and unexpected angle, and those are the sort of books I prefer. Below is a trailer of this book - The Secret Scroll.

Marcion of Sinope (Sinope is on the Black Sea coast of Turkey)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Explorer's House - Book Review

Explorers House
By Robert Poole
Penguin 2004

For more than one hundred years, National Geographic has brought "the world and all that's in it" to millions of people worldwide. Through its unparalleled research, exploration, publications, and photography, the organization and its magazine have, in many ways, defined how we see the world.

Actually the above statement is not totally accurate. For 100 years the National Geographic brought the world to millions of Americans. The rest of the world did not get their chance to read the NG in their own language until the 1990's when the magazine finally started being printed in foreign languages.

This book tells ALL the dirty secrets including the family arguments, the nepotism, the marriages and divorces, the anti-semitism, the anti-nazism, the anti-communist feelings that ran high. All mention of the Soviet Union was excluded from the magazine for 40 years (from 1917 to 1957).

This book details the arguments between the Bell, and Grosvenor familes. Alexander Graham Bell, and his father in law - Gardiner Greene Hubbard - started the magazine in 1888. Gilbert Grosvenor (Bell's son-in-law) was the editor for 50 years. While Gil was respected, his son Melville Grosvenor was much loved. Melville finally took over in 1957, and expanded the magazine and had plenty of new ideas. Including the new area of television.

This was a very good and interesting book. I thoroughly enjoyed it for the detailed inside information about the founding families, the personal conflicts (and there were plenty of them), and the feelings that ran high about the world around them.

The NGS tried to stay outside of the political arena by reporting on nature and geography. It was not until Melville Grosvenor became editor that the magazine finally started expanding into the REAL world, reporting on the truth and reality of politics, the environment, and other changes happening in the world.

The author Robert Poole was a staff member of the NGS Magazine.

I read this book for the Back to History Challenge and the Round the World Challenge.

Explorers House

Official NGS Website

National Geographic Society

National Geographic Magazine

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Darcy's Story Book Review

Darcy's Story
By Janet Aylmer
Harper Books 2006
Originally Published by Copperfield books 1996

We have all read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, right?
Well MOST of us anyway. Some of us have only seen the TV series or the Movies. This is the other half of the story.

This is Darcy's verson of events. It details his thinking of how he fell in love with Elizabeth Bennett, how he wrestled with himself about her social class (which was somewhat lower than his), and how he dealt with Wickham and Bingley, and Bingley's sisters. It's written in the same exact style as the orginal book, and it follows P&P very closely for chronology and events.

While the style of writing took some getting used to, I did understand that this was Jane Austen's style, so either I read it and deal with it, or I put the book down. I chose to read it.

I enjoyed this book. It certainly got me emotionally involved. I got very upset at the Bingley sisters for their snobbish attitudes towards the Bennetts. They were vicious and horrible. So they would have had to keep their mouths shut when their brother married Jane Bennett.

"For my own part, I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin, her complexion has no brilliancy and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character. There is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way, and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I could never perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp shrewish look which I do not like at all, and in her air altogether, there is a self sufficiency without fashion which is intolerable."
Miss Bingley to Darcy about Elizabeth Bennett- chapter 23.

I am so glad I didnt live in those times. I am also very glad that Darcy did not keep those same attitudes. He had his non-negotiables, but was flexible enough to allow for some differences.

I read this book for the Jane Austen Challenge.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Angels and Demons - Book Review

Angels and Demons
By Dan Brown
Pocket Books 2000

An ancient secret brotherhood.

A devastating new weapon of destruction.

An unthinkable target...

Angels and Demons was the first story about symbologist Robert Langdon. I first read it about the same time as The Da Vinci Code came out. So when I finally got my own copy of DVC, I had some previous knowledge of Robert Langdon. I have read this again, and it was just as exciting as it was the last time.

Angel and Demons is the classic (and the second best after COSMOS) story on the science versus religion debate.

A Scientist at CERN has discovered how to make ANTI-MATTER, the stuff of Science Fiction and Star Trek. This scientist is murdered for his discovery and his one small sample of anti-matter (stored in a special magnetized container) is stolen. The batteries for this special container last only 6 hours before they MUST be recharged, or the magnetism will fail. The murdered scientist has an unusual tattoo branded on his chest.

The director of CERN calls Robert Langdon to fly to Geneva (in a special plane built by CERN that travels at Mach 5 and takes just one hour from NYC to Switzerland) to dicuss the meaning of the tattoo. The trail leads to the Vatican City where the cardinals are preparing to go into Conclave to choose a new Pope, the previous pope having died two weeks earlier. There is also the matter of four missing cardinals.

The murdered scientist had a daughter, Vittoria. Langdon and Vittoria fly to the Vatican City and have just four hours to find the cardinals and the antimatter before the magnetism fails and the inevitable explosion occurs.

Langdon, Vittoria and the Swiss Guard must follow a trail around Rome - to 4 different churches - all with sculptures by Bernini. And then to one last final place that leads to the hiding place of the antimatter.

One last note - Angels and Demons is currently being made into a movie - due out in 2009. I cant wait to see it.

The Angels and Demons Tour of Rome
A funny blog post of the tour with photos of the churches and sculptures.
A list of Bernini's works in Rome

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why I am not posting and reading.

Some of you may be wondering why I am not posting as much as I used to. That's because I am no longer reading as much as I used to. When I was having to go out to work on all my previous jobs, I had time to read on the bus to and from work, and sometimes I read during my lunch time.

Now that I don't need to travel, (I am lucky enough to be able to work from home) I use the computer for work, and then I stay on the computer in my spare time, surfing the net or checking my email, or checking my family genealogy.

Now I find, when I get tired at the computer in the evening, I go to bed and then READ - often I stay up to 1 or 2 am - like last night. Which leaves me still tired in the morning. Like right now. Also I don't get to sleep in on the weekends. My 5 year old wakes me when he gets up - usually around 7am.

Today I perused the Toronto Star Books section, and have discovered that The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill recently won a major Canadian prize. The Book of Negroes has won the Rogers Trust Writers Fiction prize - worth $15,000.

Almost anyone can tell you that Canada was the end of the famous Underground Railroad. Few know that on the ships delivering black and white loyalists who fought for the English in the American Revolution sailed the still chattled (owned) slaves of the white loyalists. Few know of the real book, The Book of Negroes, that listed the names of all of the Blacks who would be given passage to Canada, ensuring that there would be no stow aways who hadn't "earned" their freedom through service to the British Empire.

Oh yes, The Book of Negroes is a Canadian book. In the USA it has a different title - probably because the N word is a no-no. In the USA this book is called Someone Knows my Name.

The Interpretation of Dreams - 50 Greatest Books

Perchance to Dream by Sigmund Freud

Until Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams appeared in 1900, dreams were considered either to belong to the realm of mysticism and superstition, or were the object of unscientific "dream books" that told the reader what the dream meant. After the publication of what must be considered Freud's most important book, dreams were taken seriously in psychotherapy. Today, whatever the school of therapy, it would be rare not to give dreams some significance. This is entirely due to Freud, who called dreams "the royal road to the unconscious."

Freud used this book to reveal much of his inner life. This required courage, and encouraged others to take the same route. Even if we reject Freud's interpretations of his own dreams, or find them lacking in scientific rigour, we cannot fail to admire them as remarkable literary achievements. Probably no other author, ever, has subjected his or her own dreams to such merciless investigation.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Al Franken - The Truth - Book Review

The Truth (with jokes)
By Al Franken
Dutton Press 2005

Several years ago, I read Al Franken's book Liars and the Lying Liars who tell them, and it was subtitled A Fair and Balanced look at the Right. Most it was about how George Bush stole the 2000 Presidential Election.

Fox News took Franken to court over his use of the phrase Fair and Balanced because that is what Fox News claimed their news is. Franken won the case. The book was very enjoyable and rather funny.

Now he has written the sequel - which covers the 9/11 attacks, the aftermath of the attacks as the White House saw it as well as the 2004 Presidential election. Franken reports every known lie that Bush made (and he told plenty of lies) including the yellowcake fiasco, the claim that Colin Powell'd proof to the UN was real, and the outing of Valerie Plame over the yellowcake affair.

He has definitely done his research and home work. If you want the REAL story of what happened between 9-11 and the 2004 election, this is the book to read. Oh yes, and Franken is also running for the US Senate this year. Senate

Wealth of Nations - 50 Greatest Books

Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which appeared in London and Edinburgh in March, 1776, is to the modern intellect as important as the United States Declaration of Independence signed in Philadelphia that summer. At least 12 years in the writing, and 25 in the thinking, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations established an entirely modern way of looking at history and society.

Up to then, the rise and decay of states had been a theme for moralists or factional politicians, who peddled class and national loyalties, every sort of special pleading and odd bits of the supernatural. In contrast, as Irish philosopher Edmund Burke put it, Smith presented "a compleat analysis" of society not just in its industrial and commercial life, but in the arts, finance, justice, the military, the religious and educational establishments and the public administration.

Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher of peculiarly beautiful character and old-fashioned bachelor habits, was born in 1723 in a windswept country that was then one of the most backward in Europe, misruled by a delinquent aristocracy and a fanatical church just longing for the world to end. Scotland had lately been frog-marched into a forced union with its powerful neighbour to the south.

Smith used his deep knowledge of history and his profound curiosity to address Scotland's plight through a pair of interlocking questions: Why are some countries rich and others poor? What is wealth anyway?


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlton Heston died this weekend

Now I realize this is not a book related post, but I wanted to mark the passing of one of the all time BEST actors ever to come out of Hollywood. And Charlton Heston DID write his autobiography. This was published in 1995. See links below for memorials and obituaries.

Hollywood Mourns Heston
Los Angeles Times
Heston left a cinematic and political mark
Globe and Mail Obituary

Friday, April 4, 2008

Before Green Gables - Book Review

Before Green Gables
By Budge Wilson
Penguin 2008

This is the story of Anne (with an E) Shirley and her hardknock life growing up in Nova Scotia as an orphan. I read this book during my stay at the Sick Kids hospital.

This story reminds me of two other movies - Pollyanna and Annie. Pollyanna played the glad game, which Anne never did. Anne let her imagnination run wild and that is what helped her get through the tough times. But Anne was used by various foster families as free labour. And she did spend a short time in an orphanage. Anne certainly did have a hard knock life. She grew up knowing how to prepare and cook dinner for 11 people. She raised babies, she washed and cleaned the floors and the clothes. And she knew how to cure the croup.

Anne's one escape was school. At the age of 6 years old, her foster family was informed by the authorities that she MUST attend school - that it was the law. For the first time in her life, Anne was free to dream, to imagine and to learn how to read. She was curious - not so much about the world around her - but more about words and language. Even from an early age Anne's interest in words and language was very obvious.

Anne gets a few lucky breaks while she is growing up. Her school teachers adore her (Anne attends at least 2 different schools) - because of her intelligence and her love for learning. One of her teachers introduces her to Prince Edward Island - by showing a few postcards. Anne decides that her dream in life is to live on PEI.

Anne also find another mentor who teaches her 5 new words every week. Her vocabulary increases rapidly. Anne desperately wants a friend, but in her search for a "bosom" friend - she is betrayed by a few people, and she quickly learns that some people are just not nice.

This is an excellent novel, and well worth the wait to finally learn exactly HOW Anne came to be the person we know and love at Green Gables. I am reading this for the Canadian challenge.

It's a hard knock life - lyrics

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hydrofoil Mystery - Book Review

Hydrofoil Mystery
by Eric Walters
Penguin 2003

This is a Young Adult Novel - and normally I would not be reading a YA book. But when you are stuck in a Childrens Hospital for several days (and you have finished the one book you did bring) you are frantic to read something, and you will take anything you can find to read. So I found this book in the small library of the emergency department. It turned out to be very good.

The year is 1915 and Canada is deeply involved in World War One. Billy McCracken is the main character. He is 15 years old and lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia with his mother and sister. His father is a sailor in the Navy. Billy has gotten involved with some rather bad characters in Halifax. These boys have taught Billy how to play and cheat at poker and how to stay out late. Once Billy was brought home by the police at 2am. His mother was deeply ashamed, so she does something desperate. She sends Billy off to Baddeck in Cape Breton to work for a man named Mr Bell.

Upon Billy's arrival at the home of Mr Bell, he meets the gardner (an old man with long white hair and a long white beard) and proceeds to tell the gardner that he thinks Mr Bell is "batty". The gardner eventually introduces himself to Billy as Alexander - "but you can call me Mr Bell."

Billy is given a job as a sheep herder. A very boring job. There is a special boat house down on the shoreline where an experimental hydrofoil is being built. Billy is desperate to see what it looks like, but it is not until one night when he saves the boat house from a fire, that he is moved to the boathouse to work there.

Over the next few weeks Billy prevents several more attacks on the boat house, and then one last attack on the main house where the Bells lived. Billy eventually discovers who the saboteur is, and learns that friends are a much safer bet than any poker game.

The author has taken a few liberties with the events of this time. Yes Bell was working on hydrofoils in 1915, but the HD-4 mentioned in this novel, did not set the first world speed record on water until 1919.

Otherwise - this is an excellent book about Alexander Graham Bell and his hydrofoils. One of the reasons I enjoyed this, is because I think Alexander Graham Bell was a brilliant inventor, and more importantly, he had connections to the Deaf community. His mother was deaf, as was his wife. Bell was also the founder of the National Geographic Society. I personally think that the National Geographic Magazine is the BEST educational magazine available today. I actually have a book about Bell and the founding of the NGS, which I must finish reading.

AGB and the Hydrofoils
Wikipedia Biography - Very detailed
Bell family Papers
AGB Cape Breton Historical Site