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Bill R. Moore (New York, USA)
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Great Expectations
Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.50
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.45

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and beautiful book, Dec 13 2003
This review is from: Great Expectations (Paperback)
Charles Dickens's acknowledged masterpiece, Great Expectations, is rightly considered one of the greatest novels of all-time. It depth and breadth are staggering, as it follows its protagonist, Pip, from his early childhood through his later life. During the course of his life, we encounter a vast catalog of raw human emotions: love, hate, jealousy, hope, sadness, despair, anger, pity, empathy, sympathy -- and on and on. The story is treasured and revered for many reasons. One of its main strengths is its plot: after a somewhat slow introductory section, Dickens puts his story in fifth gear and delivers a fast-paced and exciting story that gallops along without ever losing interest or clarity. The incredibly complex plotline, full of separate stories and incidents that seem totally unrelated to each other, but are then all harnessed together as the book heads straight toward its denouement, is also full of constant plot twists, which continue up until, literally, the last paragraph. But, of course, as with all of Dickens's major works, it is the characters that make the book. Like Shakespeare, Dickens preferred to have the story develop through the characters, rather than having the characters be mere set pieces inside of an overriding story. And what great characters they are: the perennially paradoxical but essentially human Pip; the bitter and mysterious Miss Havisham; the beautiful and haughty Estella; the simple and saint-like Joe; the kind and benevolent Herbert; the very human convict, Magwitch -- and all of the other wonderful characters. Dickens excelled in creating well-rounded, very human characters who harbored very real and very complex emotions -- that is, human emotions. We identify with Pip as he winds through his life, because we have been there, too -- the disappointments, the surprises, the loves, the anger, the sadness. In whatever way his story may differ from our own, it is still essentially human, as is ours. For all of his complex and paradoxical emotions and sentiments, Pip is a recognizably human character -- and that is why we love him and this book. A masterpiece for the ages, which will endure for years yet to come, Great Expectations is a great book that can be loved by one and all, for, at its heart, is that grain of simple truth that says so much about what is human in all of us -- whether we have great expectations or not.

Rush in Rio
Rush in Rio
Offered by BonnieScotland
Price: CDN$ 10.56
20 used & new from CDN$ 10.55

5.0 out of 5 stars A historic and blistering musical document, Dec 12 2003
This review is from: Rush in Rio (Audio CD)
"Big In Japan" is the rock 'n' roll cliché. Late last year, Rush found out, much to their surprise, that they were Big In Brazil. The Vapor Trails tour was already a historic and important one for Rush: their first tour in almost six years, the band had managed to get back together and record and tour behind a new album. Coming on the heels of multiple tragedies in drummer Neil Peart's personal life, the future existence of the band was even in doubt for a while. The ensuing tour was a triumphant return, with the band playing songs that many Rush fans thought they would never get to hear live. Unaware of their vast Brazilian popularity, and having never played there, Rush dropped into Brazil for three shows after the apparent end of their tour had already passed. They ended up playing to their three largest audiences ever -- a screaming, adoring throng of Brazilians.
Indeed, these people are so into it that it would be a travesty to leave the sound of them off of the album: they sing along to every song, something that just doesn't happen at Rush concerts. The fact that they know every word to the new Rush songs and even sing along to the instrumentals -- yes! -- shames American and Canadian audiences. Clearly feeding off of the crowd, Rush turns in a monumental performance. The three musicians, always among the very best in rock, all turn in fine performances here. Especially notable is guitarist Alex Lifeson, who all-too-often falls in the shadows of his two virtuoustic band mates: he turns in an absolutely scorching performance here, unleashing solo after monstrous solo.
The track selection is quite good, ranging across their entire career -- from Working Man to One Little Victory -- though the 80's onward are best represented. It is a joy to hear that many of these 80's songs still hold up. The various 90's songs that are here, many of which were also included on Different Stages, all feature better performances than on that album. The Vapor Trails songs, of which there are a generous amount here, also come alive in concert. Many Rush fans, including this reviewer, were disappointed in that album, with its claustrophobic sound and half-hearted production. These live renditions prove that the fault was not in the songs: sounding vibrant and full of life, they earn their rightful place in the Rush canon on this album. The true standout tracks on the album are an absolutely menacing version of 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx -- the meanest version of the song ever recorded; a great Leave That Thing Alone which segues into Peart's excellent and re-tooled drum solo; and most of the last disc, which includes an excellent La Villa Strangiato, punctuated by Lifeson's hilarious monologue. Last, but not least, is the closing medley of By-Tor and the Snow Dog/Cygnus X-1/Working Man, on which the trio awesomely displays the full extent of their musicianship. This virtuositic jam is a fitting close to the album -- and what a joy to hear Rush perform Working Man again! Also included are two "board bootlegs" from previous concerts, excellent performances of the rarely-heard Vital Signs and Between Sun & Moon.
As for the album's controversial sound, rest assured: reports of its ineptitude have been greatly exaggerated. To be sure, the sound is not as good as Different Stages, perhaps the best-sounding live album this reviewer has ever heard. At time, the vocals are somewhat difficult to hear (this problem is basically fixed a few songs into the set -- understandable, as there was no soundcheck) and the instruments are not always evenly-differentiated. But these are minor problems. Rush In Rio sounds like what it is: a live album: it sounds live, and the crowd is intact. It really makes the listener feel as if he or she was there.
Rush normally releases a live album after every 4 studio albums. This release, coming after only one studio album and hot on the heels, comparatively, of the last live effort, is definitely a fans-only affair. But what an affair it is: a great setlist which includes many songs -- The Pass being one -- that Rush fans haven't heard live in a very long time. So, fans only -- but that's all who's buying Rush albums in 2003, anyway.

The American Pageant: A History of the Republic
The American Pageant: A History of the Republic
by David M. Kennedy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 195.15
17 used & new from CDN$ 28.20

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introductory history text, Dec 9 2003
All too often, students of history, and even history instructors, dismiss the study of history as a boring and irrelevant procession of endless names and statistics. Some history books, indeed, are rather dry and boring to read. This one is not. The authors here present a fresh, vibrant take on the oft-told tale of American history; it succeeds in re-invigorating the often stale story with new life. It accomplishes this by being written in a way that is not only informative, but also thoroughly enjoyable. Beefing up the standard information and statistics with frequently amusing and interesting anecdotes and multitude of charts, graphs, pictures, and relevant contemporary quotations, the book brings history to life. Written in this style, the book reads more like a novel than your standard dry history text. The style is unconventional, witty, and even quite often amusing. It also avoids falling into the trap of the ultra-patriotic, non-objective, trumpet-blowing agenda of many other textbooks -- while also managing to avoid boiling over with authorial opinion and negative presentations. The length of chapters is just about right as well, neither too short nor overlong. The book is rounded out with a nice appendix, which consists of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and a wide array of charts and graphs, as well as an index, though a fully-fledged glossary is missed. All in all, this is a great introductory text for those wishing to know more about American history, useful to both the student and the individual reader.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful portrait of the complicated man, Dec 7 2003
This review is from: Thomas Jefferson (VHS Tape)
Thomas Jefferson, in his 83 years, accomplished many great things -- certainly more than a 50-minute video could ever completely cover. In addition to this, Jefferson was also a man of essential paradoxes: the brilliant political and social philosopher vs. the sometimes shockingly unpractical president; the ardent American patriot vs. the worldly, French-obsessed cosmopolitan -- and, last but not least, the "philosopher of freedom" vs. the slave-owning slave.
With all of this in mind, Thomas Jefferson: Philosopher of Freedom, a part of A&E's Biography series, is a splendid, immaculately done portrait of the great American. In a 50-minute span, it covers all of the major accomplishments of Jefferson's public and political life, including his role in the Revolution, his writings, his political and social philosophy, his long years in political office, his architectural accomplishments, his founding of the University of Virginia, and more. It also looks at the major events that formed Jefferson's private life: his upbringing, schooling, his married life, his relationship with John Adams and other important men of his day, and more.
That said, the video should also be commended for not falling into the easy trap of idolatry, as many such biographical portraits do. The video also examines Jefferson's faults and contradictions: his apparently paradoxical status as a slave owner, his possible liaison in Paris, and his lifelong indebtedness. It does a good job of reminding us that, for all of the idolizing that we do of these great Founding Fathers -- and great men they were -- they were also, after all, human. It is a quite well-rounded and balanced portrait of the great, but inherently human, man.
In summary, this is a great buy if you're looking for a short, concise portrait of Jefferson, for use in your home or in the classroom. It is a beautiful portrait that nearly had me in tears at one point. If such is what you are looking for, look no further than this.

Sociology in Our Times (With Infotrac: The Essentials
Sociology in Our Times (With Infotrac: The Essentials
by Diana Kendall
Edition: Paperback
5 used & new from CDN$ 14.08

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine introduction to sociology, Dec 1 2003
As one of the most recently-developed social sciences, not to mention one that seems to be consistently popular with college students, sociology is a field that truly needs a good comprehensive text. Put quite simply, this is it. Diana Kendall, a well-respected scholar and author in the field, has managed to put together a text that manages to cover all of the major subfields of the field, presenting a lot of information on each, and giving a good general overview. All of the major subpoints of sociology are covered: population studies, race/gender/ethnic relations, collective behavior, criminology, and more. In addition to providing a solid block of information for each subtopic, Kendall further invigorates her text with well-placed contemporary and classical photographs, graphs, charts, and other peripheral information. She also prefaces each chapter with a real-life example relating to the forthcoming information, a quiz about the information contained within (which sometimes will yield surprising results!), and more. Throughout the individual chapters, she also sprinkles dialogue boxes with separate takes on individual subissues relating to the major topic at hand and shows readers how they can get involved. As a bonus for the college student, certain editions of the book feature a CD with access to additional material, and a free four-month subscription to Infotrac, a well-known scholarly index.
Kendall writes well, and she presents a lot of information. Therein, however, lies my only complaint about this text: certain chapters feel overlong. Granted, sociology is a diverse field, and this book attempts to cover it all between a single set of covers. Still, some chapters are so jam-packed with information that they become somewhat tiresome. Nevertheless, it is all good information -- and all worth reading. It is a small complaint, on the whole, that does not detract from the overall quality of the text.
In summary, this is an excellent introductory text both for a college text and for the individual reader.

How The West Was Won: Live (3CD)
How The West Was Won: Live (3CD)
Price: CDN$ 23.84
49 used & new from CDN$ 10.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue, but well-worth the wait, Nov. 30 2003
Those who lived through the 70's (and still remember it), have been positing, for a long time, the following claim: Led Zeppelin were one of the greatest live bands in the history of rock 'n' roll. As their officially-released catalog bears it out, however, this has been perhaps a little hard to believe for many who weren't there -- even so for latter-day Zepheads. The Song Remains The Same, the band's first live album, has always had a spotty reputation, while BBC Sessions, though great, was not a true live album in the sense that it wasn't recorded in front of a live audience.
Finally, at long last, the wait is over and the claim has been proven. How The West Was Won ranks among the great live records of all-time, faithfully capturing all that was great and thrilling about a Zeppelin concert: the jams, the grandeur, the band interplay, the solos, the indulgences. Culled from two California shows in mid-'72, the album captures the band between two of their greatest albums, Untitled and Houses of the Holy. The tracks collected here comprise a great overview of their first five albums, including most of the best-known ones, and a few others as well.
As listening to the discs makes clear, the band truly shined in a live setting. They were great at improvisation, as few bands before or since have been. This is in evidence all throughout the discs, from the very long numbers to the shorter ones. New life is breathed into every song: numbers that have been driven into our consciousnesses for years through constant album-playing and on rock radio sound newly fresh and invigorating. For myself, a Zeppelin fan for years who began to grow somewhat tired of the band due to repeated playings, this was a revelation. Page and Plant always like to talk about "light and shade": the alternate soft and heavy sides of Zeppelin's music. Sans the acoustic section, this is mostly missing in the live setting, where the vast majority of the songs go straight for the gut. Stairway To Heaven is entirely electric, and Page seems to be hurrying impatiently to get through the soft, slow opening part of Over The Hills and Far Away. All of this is apropos, of course. Some of the shorter songs really come alive in a live setting: Black Dog, which features a wonderful, ripping guitar solo and a great percussion outro from Bonham; Heartbreaker, which benefits exquisitely from an extended Page solo; and The Ocean, which rocks harder than it would on its forthcoming album debut. That said, the band also proves its eclecticism here, absolutely storming through two very long numbers: Dazed and Confused, and the Whole Lotta Love medley. The former finds the band tearing apart one of their first great songs -- jamming to great avail, improvising, while also incorporating bits and pieces of other songs here and there. The latter mixes old blues and early rock 'n' roll songs with one of the signature Zep songs, with Plant doing very well on some of the covers while the rest of the band rocks out. These two tracks, long as they are, are perpetually interesting -- often great, occasionally indulgent, but never boring. Last but not least, an acoustic set is thrown in for good measure; it features a beautiful version of That's The Way.
Throughout the years, many people, including industry insiders such as Eddie Van Halen, have denounced Page's live playing as somehow sloppy or inconsistent. Here, he truly gets the last laugh -- proving all of them wrong, and improvising in a wondrous way that Van Halen himself could never hope to achieve. He truly cements himself here as one of the great rock guitarists of all-time. And John Bonham, of course, simply shines, even more so than he always did in the studio. These classic songs would be worth listening to anew, if only to hear how he absolutely drives every song to the limit with his thunderous elephant beats and titanic fills. Plant alternately screams and whispers, God-like, through the entire set, while the sometimes under-appreciated Jones drones on, sans spotlight.
My only complaint about this album is the overlong drum solo. It becomes exhausting somewhere between the 5- and 10-minute points -- and then goes on for another 10. As great of a drummer as Bonham was, he worked best in the band setting -- where he could land his killer fills -- and does not necessarily shine as a soloist. Still, it would be unjust not to include the track -- and, after all, there's always the "Skip" button.
All in all, simply an indispensable live document, for everyone from the diehard Zepp addict to the casual rock fan. It is truly a live album for the ages.

Awakening
Awakening
by Kate Chopin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.50
98 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, wide-open novel, Sept. 26 2003
This review is from: Awakening (Mass Market Paperback)
Out of all the novels that attempted to portray an alternate side to Victorian society, Kate Chopin's The Awakening is one of the few to survive, and one of the best. Few books accurately describe the reality of life, how it ebbs and flows, better than this one. Chopin created a set of highly-believable, rounded characters that live and breathe, just as real human beings do -- are full of contradictions, and sometimes act impulsively and irrationally, just as we do. Edna Pontellier, the protagonist, is one of the great female characters in all of literature -- complex, multi-faceted, believable. This novel is much more, and also much less, than the feminists who point to it as their Bible make it out to be. The ending is one of literature's great ambiguities -- just what is Chopin trying to tell us, anyway? Was she really advocating female independence? Was the really condemning Victorian domesticity? We'll never know, of course, and that is why this book continues to fascinate -- not because of its subject matter: as another reviewer wisely pointed out, if this book was merely about the repression of women during Victorian times, it would not have endured for over 100 years. On top of all this, the novel is beautifully written. Chopin writes spellbinding, poetic prose that stirs and enlivens the soul. Her descriptions of the New Orleans area are breathtaking. A short, but captivating read, this is one that can be plowed through fairly quickly, but it is highly-enjoyable and leaves the reader with a lot to think about for a book so short. This comes recommend for all readers of classic literature, not just feminists: it is one of the best books ever written by a female author.

Live At Budokan
Live At Budokan
Price: CDN$ 20.23
28 used & new from CDN$ 16.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Fans only, Sept. 26 2003
This review is from: Live At Budokan (Audio CD)
Bob Dylan is famous -- or infamous, depending on whom you ask -- for constantly reinventing his songs in concert. Despite holding what is unquestionably the most important catalog of songs that any 20th century artist possesses, Dylan does not treat them with the reverence that many would expect. Instead, he deconstructs them nearly every single tour -- giving them radical new arrangements, changing the sacred lyrics -- and every show is truly different because he NEVER plays a song the same way twice. At Budokan documents Dylan's 1978 tour, prior to the release of Street Legal. It features what are probably the most radical re-arrangements of his entire career, although this album is almost never talked about (by Dylan fans or anyone else.) As soon as you realize that the song that starts off the album is Mr. Tambourine Man (with prominent flute!), it is clear that all pre-conceived expectations must go immediately by the wayside. Only a handful of these songs are relatively close to their original versions -- Like A Rolling Stone, Just Like A Woman. Some of these arrangements are very well-done, even revelatory, others are indifferently successful -- and some, to be quite honest, are train wrecks. Perversely, Dylan is in excellent voice here -- the best, indeed, on any of his live albums, save the recently-exhumed Live 1975, as he was still riding high with his '75-'78 vocal peak. It is a great treat to be able to hear him use his late 70's voice on some of his classics. The awards for best arrangements here must be handed to the aforementioned Mr. Tambourine Man, which features an outstanding vocal and some great guitar work (although that flute just needs to go); Love Minus Zero/No Limit, which features a beautiful arrangement and actually benefits from the flute (yes, it's on more than one song); and All Along The Watchtower, which chugs powerfully along, aided by a violin. Especially noteworthy are I Want You, which is positively revelatory in its new-made guise: the spare instrumental backing bypasses the catchy original melody but puts newfound emphasis on the lyrics and succeeds in transforming the song from a pop number into a beautiful, endearing love song; and It's Alright, Ma, I'm Only Bleeding, which boasts a thunderous new arrangement that adds power to the song without burying the remarkable lyrics. Blowin' In The Wind, with its piano-led arrangement, is actually quite good; it recasts the song in a new, more contemporary note, but doesn't deny the power of the words. A solid version of the then-unreleased Is Your Love In Vain? is the soon-to-be-released Street Legal's lone representative, and it features Dylan's characteristically dry humor: "Here's an unrecorded song. See if you can guess which one it is", delivered with a knowing eye directed at his famous bootleggers. The album closes out with a beautiful rendition of Forever Young, perhaps the best version of the song I have ever heard, and a fine take on The Times They Are A-Changin'. That said, Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, in its new reggae guise, is an unquestionable failure. And Maggie's Farm is almost unbelievably bad -- featuring, as it does, a bombastic new arrangement that completely destroys the message of the original. Similarly bad are Oh, Sister, which features a lethargic, one-chord arrangement that just plods along, and All I Really Want To Do, whose arrangement recalls a lullaby. Needless to say, this is an album that only hard-core Bob Dylan fans need bother with. It is quite interesting and features a very generous number of songs with new arrangements, some of them very good. If you are looking for his best live work, though, then you need to check out his two most recent live releases, Live 1975 and Live 1966.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 1.33

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, if not spectacular Dick, Sept. 25 2003
Phil Dick is an author that one either gets or doesn't get. His philosophical, paranoiac brand of science fiction both alienates many fans of "hard" science fiction and attracts many non-genre fans. Two main questions run through all of his work: "What is reality?" and "What does it mean to be human?" This is one of his better-known novels, though it is not one of his best. The basic plot is hardly an original SF one -- unlike most Dick, which basically defines the word "original": a man wakes up in a world in which he does not exist. Dick, however, puts a unique spin on this tried-and-true formula, as only he could. Interspersed throughout the book are long philosophical dialogues on such subjects as the meaning of love, the purpose of pain, the nature of justice, and other such Big Matters that come out of nowhere and disappear just as fast. This sense of half-reality is a defining characteristic of all of Dick's work; one critic put it well when he said that he couldn't decide if Dick's dialogue is totally unreal, or more real than most. Never a prose artist, Dick writes with a hand that belies his pulp origins -- and yet, paradoxically, nevertheless laces his books with obscure literary references, startling philosophical asides, and half-used concepts that lesser authors could build an entire career on. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, in addition to having one of the absolute greatest titles in all of literature, takes a steady shot at much familiar Dickian subject matter: paranoia, the nature of reality, alienation, and a distrust and suspicion of the powers that be. One need not forget to take into account that this book was written in the early 70's, in the wake of Watergate -- (keep a sharp eye out for the hilarious and disturbing mention of Nixon that Dick subtly inserts into this book --, when the entire country seemed to be falling apart; if this scenario sounds familiar, pay close attention to the police state that Dick envisions in this novel. It actually seemed as if the country might, indeed, be heading toward the future that Dick outlined in this book -- and perhaps, alas, it does now as well. Dick created some great characters for this book. They act as real, living, breathing people do -- irrationally and full of contradictions. Jason Taverner, famous television star and protagonist, is by no means a hero; indeed, in some ways, he is quite a detestable character. On the other hand, the policeman, whom we are ostensibly supposed to hate, is the one whom we ultimately end up feeling sympathy and empathy for. This is yet another instance of Dick's shifting reality of contradictions and subversions. One thing I do not understand is the numerous complaints about this book's ending. I have read about a dozen PKD books, and this is one of the very few that HAD a satisfactory ending. With some of his other books, notably Ubik and The Man In the High Castle, I was quite frustrated at the ending -- not so here. Every loose end, for once, is finally tied up. That said, it would have been better if Dick had left the ending as it stood and not added the epilogue -- but one gets the feeling that Dick did this to parody the pop culture epilogue cliché, especially in light of the book's protagonist. All of this aside, I also think that this is not one of Dick's great books. It's a fine work, to be sure, but he has certainly done better: it is not as original as his best works, and it generally lacks their deeper meaning. This is certainly a great book for the Dick fan to read, but I would recommend starting with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or A Scanner Darkly.

Notes from Underground, The Double and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
Notes from Underground, The Double and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A goldmine for the Dostoyevsky reader, Sept. 23 2003
This great paperback omnibus collects Fyodor Dostoyevsky's two most famous short novels, Notes From the Underground and The Double, as well as three short stories: White Nights, The Meek One, and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. All five are essential reads for fans of the great Russian author. This book also serves as a good starting point for the neophyte who is just looking to jump into Dostoyevsky: it contains an array of short works that serve to introduce the unfamiliar reader to the author's writing style. This is very valuable, because, after all, one would not be wise to jump into the author's immense novels unprepared. All of these stories introduce themes that Dostoyevsky would develop more fully in his great novels -- suicide, madness, nihilism, the existence of God. The author always was one to deal with life's Big Things, and he does not hesitate to do so even in his shorter works. All of the stories exhibit the vivid psychological realism that was Dostoyevsky's trademark. Never one for beautiful prose, Dostoyevsky much preferred to get down and dirty with the inner working of the human mind, never afraid to back away from all of the dark and terrible things that he found there.
Notes From the Underground, one of the greatest short novels of all-time, portrays one man in the depths of despair. A vivid depiction of the dark side of human nature, Notes is a great classic that perfectly evokes the feelings of isolation, despair, narcissism, and paranoia that continue to afflict the mass of men. The Double is another interesting story. Though an early work and not as well-crafted, it manages to put a new spin on the doppelganger phenomenon. In it, Dostoyevsky very skillfully portrays one man's lonely descent into madness -- and manages to be screamingly funny while doing so. White Nights is a brilliant short work, beautifully written, a testament to the eternal, if occasionally capricious, nature of love. The Meek One is a very dark story that examines the roots of suicide. The Dream of a Ridiculous Man offers a unique take on the nature of evil.
I should take time out here to note how wonderful these Barnes & Noble Classics Editions are. They offer a wide range of supplementary materials to the readings, of interest to both the general reader and the Dostoyevsky reader, not to mention the literary scholar. These include: a short profile of the author, a timeline of his life, a substantial critical introduction, effective but not overlong notes, an offering of critical opinion and commentary on the text, and even a list of discussion questions. Not least of all, they are extremely affordable. I highly recommend this volume to anyone looking to get into the author, and also to dedicated fans looking to have all of these stories in one place.

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