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Emerick Rogul (Belmont, MA USA)
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Batman: The Long Halloween
Batman: The Long Halloween
by Jeph Loeb
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from CDN$ 16.81

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but ultimately disappointing, Batman murder mystery, March 24 2003
This graphic novel gathers together all 13 issues of "Batman: The Long Halloween", written and drawn, respectively, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The story revolves around Carmine "The Roman" Falcone, the ruthless head of Gotham's fiercest gangster empire. The Roman is responsible for countless murders, hijackings, and crimes throughout Gotham, but authorities have never been able to convict him (most of the graft-ridden city is either on his payroll or bribable). Batman, along with a young Captain Gordon and headstrong District Attorney Harvey Dent, is determined to rid Gotham of Falcone's corruption, but he soon learns that a mysterious figure may have already beaten him to the punch: a serial killer, known only as "Holiday", is currently on the loose in Gotham and preying on members of Falcone's extended "family". Batman, Gordon, and Dent now face a combined problem: bringing Falcone to justice, while also ending Holiday's deadly spree.
One of "The Long Halloween"'s primary goals is to provide backstory on Gotham's crime lord past, and this is where the novel truly shines. Readers finally get to see the crime organizations that controlled much of Gotham in the early days (this dark past was hinted at in other Batman stories, but it's more fully explored here). In addition, "The Long Halloween" contains a fascinating retelling of Harvey Dent's past, which will be warmly welcomed by fans of this sometimes morally-dubious friend of Batman's. Unfortunately, readers hoping for a significant glimpse into Batman's own psyche will be sorely disappointed; Batman remains a cipher throughout most of the novel, speaking always in a terse, stacatto rhythm and providing little in the way of a glimpse into his mind's inner workings.
While "The Long Halloween" is competently written, it suffers from a lack of originality and a workman-like narrative drive. The ideas explored here (Italian gangsters and serial killers) are mildly intriguing within the larger context of Gotham, but Loeb doesn't infuse them with many new twists, so they remain tired cliches in this story. Also, in an attempt to give an "epic" feel to this saga, Loeb introduces many of Batman's most infamous foes into the mix (The Joker, The Riddler, The Scarecrow, and The Mad Hatter are just some of the villains on display here). However, the characters are introduced and then dispatched so quickly by Batman, that they don't provide any real sense of drama (in fact, at times, they almost seem to be there for comic relief, which doesn't seem quite right). I think this story would have benefitted from focusing on a much smaller handful of villains, rather than the scattershot approach it takes.
I similarly found the ending of the story and the mystery to be somewhat unsatisfying, although I acknowledge that this is a matter of individual tastes. While it's interesting to see Batman (and Gordon and Dent) involved in such a bizarre murder mystery, the story doesn't play fair with the standard "rules" of the genre--some may say this makes for a breath of fresh air in the Batman universe (and the mystery genre itself), but I think it amounts to a bit of a cheat for trusting readers. In the end, it's difficult to tell just how ambiguous Loeb intended certain elements of the mystery to be; in fact, there's a convincing argument to be made that some of the ambiguity is merely due to sloppy storytelling. Gotham and the larger Batman universe provide fertile ground for this style of mystery, but "The Long Halloween" ultimately fails to deliver on that promise.

Let's All Kill Constance
Let's All Kill Constance
by Ray Bradbury
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable at times, but Bradbury is out of his element here, March 13 2003
Ray Bradbury's murder mystery novel "Let's All Kill Constance" opens with the words "It was a dark and stormy night." Bradbury playfully winks at his readers with this notoriously (albeit intentionally) cliched introduction, letting us in on the joke of the novel: "Let's All Kill Constance" is a murder mystery, yes, but a murder mystery played out as high camp, all poetic hyperbole and exaggeration. When aging film star Constance Rattigan appears at an unnamed writer's beachfront bungalow (the writer is a barely-disguised younger version of Bradbury himself) with two "Books of the Dead", Bradbury finds himself plunged into a mysterious world of Tinseltown ghosts. Someone is trying to scare Constance by dredging up these ghosts from her past; the books she discovered list long-forgotten friends and acqaintances--many dead or close to death--with Constance's name appearing among them. Bradbury and Constance both comprehend the unspoken threat: Constance may be the next to die. It's up to Bradbury to figure out who's behind this macabre plot, and quickly... before Constance's past finally catches up with her--for good.
With his (often unwilling) sidekick, Elmo Crumley, in toe, Bradbury searches everywhere for clues to the mystery and Rattigan's past. Along the way, he crosses paths with a host of strange characters: a decrepit man who lives amid reams of ancient newsprints; an immense fortune teller, Queen Califia, who holds many secrets of her own; a fearful priest who presides over St. Vibiana's Cathedral; and an ancient film projectionist who surrounds himself with scenes from Hollywood's golden years. As Bradbury delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that nothing is what it seems, and there is no telling what secrets ultimately lie buried deep below Grauman's Chinese movie theater--and beyond.
This novel is Bradbury's third (after "Death Is a Lonely Business" and "A Graveyard for Lunatics") foray into the mystery/detective genre, and unfortunately, it's his least successful. As always, Bradbury writes in an archly poetic style, but here that style is exaggerated to the point of parody. The novel is a quick read, weighing in at a scant 210 pages; chapters end almost before they begin and there is a rushed feeling to the proceedings. Bradbury doesn't allow his readers any chance to savor the plot, as he seems intent on quickly rushing from scene to scene while introducing new characters (all of whom speak with a rat-a-tat, hard-boiled sameness that robs them of any emotion). In the end, "Let's All Kill Constance" manages to feel both drawn-out and not fleshed-out enough.
I'm an admirer of Bradbury's work and I eagerly looked forward to this book after hearing about its release, but ultimately, I was disappointed by it. The situations and characters do not feel realistic or involving. More to the point, Bradbury's overly stylized approach, which is typically so engaging, does not do this book justice. If you're interested in exploring one of Bradbury's more successful attempts at this genre, I would recommend reading the wonderful "Death Is a Lonely Business".

Lullaby: A Novel
Lullaby: A Novel
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but repetitive, Feb. 6 2003
This review is from: Lullaby: A Novel (Hardcover)
"Lullaby" tells the story of Carl Streator, a newspaper reporter investigating SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) for an upcoming article. As Carl delves into his investigation, a peculiar pattern begins to emerge: a fairytale book, "Poems and Songs from Around the World," is always nearby when a baby dies from SIDS. Carl eventually discovers that the book contains a "culling song," an ancient African song capable of killing anyone who hears it -- instantly. Armed with the culling song's power, Carl soon becomes an unwitting murderer; even *thinking* the culling song in someone's direction is enough to kill that person. Along the way, Carl meets up with Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent who deals in haunted houses, her Wiccan secretary Mona, and Mona's boyfriend, Oyster. Forming an "anti-nuclear family", they set out on a cross-country road trip to destroy all known copies of the song book, before the "virus" is able to spread any further.
Palahniuk's premise is certainly intriguing (albeit difficult to swallow at times), but he stumbles with the execution. The culling song presents the kernel of an interesting idea, but the book feels padded even at a slim 260 pages -- simply put, this is an idea that would have worked much better as a short story. Palahniuk is clumsy in communicating his major themes, taking a heavy-handed approach that simply involves bludgeoning the reader into submission through sheer repetition.
But there is an even larger problem here, one beyond the scope of just this book: Palahniuk is becoming repetitive. He has an incredibly unique voice, but it hasn't expanded much since "Fight Club" and "Survivor". While reading "Lullaby", I was suddenly struck by an observation -- all of the characters sound exactly alike -- in this novel *and* in Palahniuk's other novels. Likewise, the themes of nihilism, media saturation, and salvation-through-destruction are used and re-used over and over. I understand that authors have common themes that they revisit, but after a while, it begins to feel more like a rut than a style. Palahniuk needs to show more growth in this area quickly or he runs the risk of being seen as a one-trick pony.
Overall, the book is interesting, but it never rises above the level of just "OK". If you've never read Palahniuk before, I'd recommend reading either "Fight Club" or "Survivor" instead of this. Here's hoping that Palahniuk branches out into some new areas with his next novel.

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel
Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent precursor to "Hamlet", Jan. 23 2003
In "Gertrude and Claudius", Updike vividly imagines the events leading up to the story told in "Hamlet." The book is divided into three sections, echoing the typical structure of a Shakespearean play: the introduction of Gertrude and the principal players in section one, a conflict that arises in the middle section (in the form of Gertrude's attraction to King Hamlet's brother, Claudius), and a denouement in the final section which resolves the story on an ironic note, while also providing a clever segue into "Hamlet"'s opening scene.
The story follows Gertrude's evolution from the impetuous young daughter of King Roderik of Denmark, to the initially unwilling bride of the soon-to-be King Hamlet (he's named Horvendile in the early sections of the book, in order to draw a comparison with "Hamlet"'s earlier source material - the same is done for other characters in the story, but since the device is never fully explained by Updike, it may leave some readers confused), to the amorous lover and eventual wife of Claudius.
Updike is very effective at explaining Gertrude's mindset; she comes alive for the reader in a way that she never quite did in "Hamlet". She is very much the main focus of this story (although, starting in section two, young Prince Hamlet is forever lurking in the shadows, a glum harbinger of events yet to come) and Updike astonishes us by deftly proving that Gertrude is a sympathetic character.
After reading Updike's book, I think it will be difficult to look at "Hamlet" in quite the same way again. He's added so much rich back-story to the characters and events, that he's not only created an excellent story, but he's also enriched "Hamlet" itself. Still, I can't bring myself to give the book five stars, mainly because Updike's peculiar mixture of modern-day and Elizabethan prose is at times clunky. But if you're an admirer of "Hamlet" in particular or Shakespeare in general (and I do think you need to have had some exposure to "Hamlet" in order to fully enjoy Updike's story), then give this story a try.

Songbook
Songbook
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great book by a thoughtful writer, Jan. 8 2003
This review is from: Songbook (Hardcover)
If you're familiar with Nick Hornby, then you already know he's a huge music fan. In "Songbook", he writes short (each one is about 3-6 pages long) essay pieces discussing some of his favorite songs. His selections are unique and his insights are often wry and humorous. He's truly able to explain what these songs mean to him and what music in general means to fans: how it inspires us and informs the other areas of our lives. The book is an enjoyable (and very quick) read. The accompanying "mix" CD features several of the songs from the book and serves as a great introduction to these bands.
If I have a complaint with this book (and it's a very minor one), it's that some of the essays only tangentially explore their corresponding song. For example, the combined Dylan/Beatles essay only mentions the Beatles "Rain" in the very last paragraph of the essay and it's rather glossed over. This is a minor flaw overall, however, and I highly recommend this book to all music lovers. It will make you think about your passion in some new ways and it will also expose you to lots of great new music.

The Riverside Shakespeare
The Riverside Shakespeare
by G. Blakemore Evans
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from CDN$ 179.22

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent one-stop Shakespeare source, Nov. 20 2000
This is an excellent one-stop source for Shakespeare's collected works (including some "non-traditional" selections). The presentation is very attractive, the critical essays are well-written and informative, and the collection is more than complete.
I do have two minor quibbles with this collection, however. One is that the annotations for each text appear at the bottom of the page, which is somewhat inconvenient for reading purposes. It would have been much easier to scan annotations if they were printed next to the text (perhaps a 2-column format - left column for the play, right column for the annotations). Also, the books are more useful as a reference than a "portable, read-it-anywhere" collection. They are two fairly large books, so they're not really something you could take on the bus with you.

Banish Your Belly: The Ultimate Guide for Achieving a Lean, Strong Body-- Now
Banish Your Belly: The Ultimate Guide for Achieving a Lean, Strong Body-- Now
by Kenton Robinson
Edition: Hardcover
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent, but repetetive, Nov. 15 2000
This book does contain some decent information on losing weight, aerobic exercise and body-building. Unfortunately, the entire book is written in a very repetetive style that makes reading several chapters in a row quite a chore. In addition, there's a lot of evidence of cut-and-paste editing throughout the book as well. For instance, the book may mention "Dr. Joe Bloggs" in 8 or 9 different chapters. However, in every chapter, the writers will "re-introduce" as though this is the first time he/she has been mentioned, and with nearly identical text: "Dr. Joe. Bloggs, a PhD from Harvard University and a world-renowned physioloigist who also won the Nobel Prize in 1978 and is currently teaching at Brown, had this to say ..." It seems like a minor annoyance, but after several chapters with several of the same experts, it becomes quite monotonous.
The book does have good information, as I mentioned, but there are simply better books out there.

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