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Ivy (Los Angeles, CA)

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Super Challenge - Walk Away Th [Import]
Super Challenge - Walk Away Th [Import]
DVD ~ Leslie Sansone
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 46.40
5 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Annoying, Inconvenient, with Mediocre Exercise, April 8 2004
I've done other Walk Away the Pounds DVDs, and I've enjoyed them - they're perfect for the days when you don't feel like doing anything, or you know you can't concentrate, but you still need to get some cardio in. Even though every DVD in the series has faults, overall, they're fairly good. But this one - this one has so many problems it's almost unusable.
This DVD is really inconvenient. There aren't any chapter titles, so you can't skip around; if you want to go straight to mile 2 or 3 (and the faster pace) after the warmup, you can't, and you also can't easily repeat a given chapter. And I don't know why she advises you to quit if you're tired, since you can't go straight to the cool down. So there's no point to buying the DVD - it's exactly like having this on VHS.
And if being hard to use wasn't enough, this one's also annoying. Other reviewers have mentioned the music, and yes, it truly is that awful. For the first 15 minutes, the "music" consists of a synthesizer beat and angry, shouting people. And they're shouting about walking, too, so you feel like you're exercising in a brainwashing session. The religious comments don't help with the whole brainwashing feeling, either; being instructed to lift my arms up to heaven and shout hallelujah does not inspire me to exercise *or* pray.
Also, the exercise isn't vigorous enough to qualify as a "super challenge"; it's not a lot different than the 2 mile DVD, say, just longer. My heart rate didn't elevate enough until I got to the highest-paced part of the program. So if the other WAtP programs are too easy for you, know that this one will be, too. (And I am not some gymbot, either; I'm fat, out of shape, and clumsy, so if this is too easy for me, it's too easy for almost everyone.)
If you're totally new to exercise, or you need very gentle programs, get Sansone's 1 or 2 mile DVD; you can always repeat the program when you need to add time, and it will be much easier than trying to fast-forward and rewind your way through this one. If you've been exercising for a while or you're at all fit, get Crunch Cardio Salsa or some other cardio DVD. In any case, don't bother with this one.

Duplicate Death
Duplicate Death
by Georgette Heyer
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 3.73

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculous Death, Jan. 14 2004
This review is from: Duplicate Death (Paperback)
Let's get one thing straight - if you're reading for the mystery, don't bother with this one. Duplicate Death's murders are easy to solve but not even remotely interesting. Don't bother if you're hoping for the fun characters of Heyer's earlier books, either. If you're looking for unintentional humor, though, this book might be worth a look.
In Duplicate Death, a man with an unsavory past is strangled during a duplicate bridge party; his hostess that night is killed in the same way a few days later. Those who have read They Found Him Dead might enjoy a brief skim through this book, as it checks in briefly with Jim and Patricia Kane, twelve years into their marriage; the book also features a grown-up Timothy Harte, whose fiancee is a suspect in the case.
This is one of Heyer's later books and one of her worst. While her mysteries were never masterworks, for most of her career she produced good light English mystery. By the time of Duplicate Death, though, she lost most of the style that had distinguished her earlier books. And her attempts to incoporate into her works the social, political, and cultural changes of post-WWII England drained her stories of energy and fun while failing to give them any depth or realism.
Heyer's attempts at modernity actually give rise to some unintentional humor. She tries, for example, to incorporate a gay man into the plot, and the bigotry displayed as a result manages to transcend offensiveness to become ludicrous. We can either cringe or remember the era when Hemingway laments that he's got to cope with a gay man as a suspect. We can sigh in exasperation or roll our eyes at the author's attempt to convey that man's sexual preferences by having him alternate fits of tears with fits of temper. But we can only laugh when Heyer explains, with complete seriousness, that male homosexuality is caused by childhood asthma. And that's just one example. There's prejudice of every stripe on display here, and while it is going to make most modern readers wince, it's so overdone and so ridiculous that those readers are likely to be amused rather than angry.
Duplicate Death is Heyer's second-worst book and is worth reading only for the unintentional hilarity evoked by the author's unwitting exposure of her strange opinions. Those who seek competent, humorous mysteries would do well to try her earlier books, like A Blunt Instrument or Death in the Stocks. In general, most readers should skip this one.

Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S.
Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S.
by Beppe Severgnini
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.55
78 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars America from the outside, July 31 2003
Ciao, America! is fun, but that's not why Americans should read it. For us, the real fascination of Severgnini's book is the perspective it provides, one English-speaking travel readers seldom get. Instead of finding out what another country looks like to an American, Brit, or Australian, we get to find out what America looks like to an Italian. It's a surprising experience, and I, at least, found myself filled with both sympathy and envy for the Europeans who have been reading outsider perspectives for decades.
Which isn't to say this book is always easy to get. Lots of passages leave Americans saying "As opposed to what?" Will everyone who reads this book understand why Severgnini lists the cost of things like hooking up his telephone and getting a social security card? And I admit to being totally mystified about the reasons Severgnini's mattress-buying experience was so traumatic. He went to a mattress store, inspected his options, picked one (without thinking to measure it first, unfortunately), and bought it. This seems natural to me. How do they buy mattresses in Italy? This book should have a second writer for the American edition - someone who can explain what other options there are.
The Italian edition should have a second writer, too - one to explain where Severgnini went wrong. Every American reader of the book will cringe extravagantly when the author pays sticker price for an automobile - there should be a footnote in the book explaining why you don't do that. The Italian edition also needs to explain why you never rent a house when the ad says "grace and charm." All Americans know that "grace," in real estate terms, means "tiny, inconvenient rooms where no furniture will ever fit" and that "charm" means "kitchen and bathroom built in an unfortunate era for appliances and décor - say, 1954 or 1976 - and never remodeled since." Apparently foreigners don't know this. Someone should tell them. Before they get here, or at any rate before they sign the lease.
Severgnini also misses a few points. He notes the widespread existence of tributes to Spam - t-shirts, hats, holiday notecards - but takes it at face value. He doesn't realize we don't actually like the stuff, or eat it; we buy the t-shirts because they're campy and funny, not because to express undying devotion. He claims that people in America drive 55, and I'm willing to entertain the notion that in Washington maybe they do, but to me that sounds like a tourist opportunity right there: go to Washington and see rustic natives drive 55!
But even when it's wrong, Ciao is fascinating, sometimes just for the way it's wrong. Americans rarely get an external review of our country, and when we do, it's hopelessly biased. Severgnini's approach to American culture is just like any ex-pat's, anywhere in the world - he has that same mixture of appreciation, frustration, and confusion that makes living-abroad memoirs so appealing. And for those Americans who are a bit sensitive to criticism, don't worry. Severgnini may not understand us, or like everything about us, but he certainly appreciates us.
Read this book. Savor it. It's fun, funny, and surprisingly interesting. And every American should, at least once, have the experience of hearing Washington, D.C. described as friendly.

Merlin Conspiracy
Merlin Conspiracy
by Diana W Jones
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 2.46

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books from Jones in a long time, July 19 2003
This review is from: Merlin Conspiracy (Hardcover)
While not quite up to the level of her classic children's works - Archer's Goon or Witch Week - The Merlin Conspiracy is definitely one of the best, and most characteristic, books she's written in a long time.
Plot Summary
Roddy's world is in trouble; only she and her friend Grundo know there's a conspiracy to unseat her King, and no one will listen to them. Nick, meanwhile, is having his own problems. His attempts to learn magic aren't working, he misses the adventures he used to have, and apparently someone wants him dead. But when Roddy, Nick, and Grundo unite, they'll be able to solve the problems of several different worlds, and their own into the bargain.
Commentary
This is a children's novel, but it's sort of a sequel to Jones's adult novel Deep Secret. This causes a few complications. The adult main characters from Deep Secret (Maree and Rupert) don't appear in Merlin; Nick Mallory has a starring role without ever mentioning his cousin or friend. Also, there's some redundancy in explanations. But a fan of Deep Secret will still enjoy Merlin Conspiracy. And Merlin Conspiracy can stand alone, although readers of the first book will be far more familiar with the world and the concepts in it.
This book resembles Deep Secret in narration. Varying narrators tell the story in first person, sometimes offering different viewpoints on the same events but sometimes relating entirely different plot threads. However, this isn't complicated enough to pose serious problems for any kid old enough to read the book in the first place.
And this book is well worth reading. The plot is quite good, an unusually well-done mystery for children. The world is infinitely more appealing and realistic than, for example, the one from Dark Lord of Derkholm. And Jones does something she hasn't done in a kid's book since her heyday - she provides characters with real flaws as well as real strengths. The multiple-narrator technique works well here, giving the reader different takes on each main character.
All in all, this is an excellent book for children or adults. Fans of Jones's previous work will almost certainly enjoy Merlin Conspiracy. It isn't as funny or as enchanting as her best books, but it is one that will definitely stand the test of time.

The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites
The Appetizer Atlas: A World of Small Bites
by Arthur L. Meyer
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.63

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly limited, July 12 2003
The Appetizer Atlas claims to take the chef on a world tour through hors d'oeuvres. It also claims to be useful for most professional chefs, caterers, and advanced home cooks. Neither of these claims is entirely true.
This cookbook will only really be useful if you want to serve a lot of meat. Admittedly, there are a few recipes in the book that aren't meaty, but 85 - 100% of the recipes from each region (i.e., Italy, North Africa, Central Europe) will contain *lots* of meat. And you won't just need the more traditional meats - you'll also need access to a full range of game and lots of fresh seafood to make good use of this book. While this is interesting, it isn't very practical in this time of fat-watching and calorie-counting, not to mention vegetarianism.
Also, this isn't exactly a thorough exploration of the world's appetizers. Most regions have 7 recipes. That means roughly 7 recipes from all of China, from all of Mexico, from all of Eastern Europe. This gets truly ridiculous in the "Indian Subcontinent" chapter, which claims to cover India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. That's eight countries in seven recipes! It's no surprise that the book barely scratches the surface of anywhere outside of North America, which is divided up by into eight different subregions, each with its own set of recipes. The contrast between the treatments given to North America and the rest of the world only serves to heighten the skimpiness of most of the chapters.
This book may be of use to the professional chef or caterer looking for more showy, meat-intensive appetizers with a vaguely exotic flavor. Home chefs will be dismayed to discover chiefly recipes they can expect many of their guests to refuse to eat. And anyone looking for a real survey of the world's starters will be distressed by the limited content and depth of this book.

The Engines of God
The Engines of God
by Jack McDevitt
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
72 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Retro SF, July 1 2003
The Engines of God is a typical golden-age hard SF novel - that just happens to have been written in 1994. And although the book displays both the strengths and weaknesses of SF novels, it has some peculiarities and weaknesses all its own. It may be retro SF, but it isn't a classic.
Reading Engines, I kept checking the copyright date. I'd happen upon some strange anachronism - people in 2200 still driving cars, for example, or the clunky, non-networked computers widely featured in 1970s SF - and think, wait, this must be a reprint. Flip to the copyright. No, it still says 1994. Back to the book, where I can't help but notice that people might have personal energy shields allowing them to walk naked in space, but back on Earth they're still using the internal combustion engine and reading all the same newspapers we have today. McDevitt does make some predictions of future technology and future changes in his book, but, just like in traditional hard SF, the underlying culture is unchanged. The result is a future that's unconvincing.
But that wouldn't be a problem - after all, traditional SF was fantastic despite its limitations - if the core puzzle of the book was good enough. Unfortunately, it isn't. And I found that frustrating. It's amazingly easy to solve the archeological mystery at the heart of the book; the average reader will figure it all out before the midpoint, and will spend the rest of the novel waiting for the big surprise that doesn't come. Worst of all, the "surprise" revelation at the ending is stunningly silly; I closed the book thinking "How could a race that advanced never have heard of *domes*?"
However, Engines does have strengths. It's fast-paced, with lots of action; really, it's more thriller than pure SF. It's light, easy to read, zippy - a beach kind of book. And on that level, it works. Just don't come to this novel expecting anything more.
So this isn't the book to read if you're looking for solid predictions or a dazzling future world. It's also not the book for you if you're hoping for a traditional SF puzzle. But if you want solid escapist fiction, action-packed and non-threatening, you'll love Engines of God.

Frost on my Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer
Frost on my Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer
by Tim Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Whinging and Cringing After Dufferin, June 19 2003
It says everything about this book, really, that the title comes from an intensely colloquial joke that is too obscene to repeat here. Frost on My Moustache is a travel humor book that focuses far more on humor and cursing than it does on the travel. But what it lacks in actual information it more than makes up for in laughter - the kind of oh-god-just-let-me-take-another-breath laughter that can lead to hospitalization, insanity, and inexplicable joy. However, Moore - and his book - aren't for everyone.
Moore is very colloquially British - he uses lots of pop culture references that will not be obvious to most Americans (or Europeans or Australians or...). He's also very much like a certain kind of aging college student: perpetually intoxicated, foul-mouthed, inclined to rant and whine. But despite it all, he's lots of fun, and while you might not like him, you'll love reading about his travels.
The word that most often gets used in Tim Moore book reviews is "Bryson." The comparisons between Tim Moore and Bill Bryson are apparently unavoidable. And, to a certain extent, they hold true: both writers are very funny, both are extremely tightfisted, both spend an awful lot of time complaining. But Moore is not Bryson. At most, he could be described as an embryo Bryson - he hasn't yet learned the secrets of a wide appeal, a cultivated air, or a dignified approach to life. Moore curses, he wails, he throws regular temper tantrums, he's sulky and lazy and fixated. And he eats a lot of hot dogs. Don't expect thoughtful cultural exposition, insightful observations, or descriptions of the local cuisine from him.
But I promise you: if you pick up Frost on My Moustache, you will experience frequent bouts of all-out hysteria. This book is well worth buying and reading, not once, but again and again.

The Forever War
The Forever War
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 1.98

2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea. Shame about the execution., May 20 2003
One of the ideas behind The Forever War must've been amazing, even brilliant, thirty years ago: a war that lasts for thousands of years because of relativity. The other idea, that war is hell, is not exactly original. But the ideas make an interesting combination, and together they could've made a fantastic book.
Except. The author seems to have only a glancing familiarity with things like human nature. One perfect example is the way feminism works in the book. Oh, the women are in the army - they fight on the line and all that. But they're *also* expected to act as camp followers! When they go to a station inhabited mostly by men, they are obliged, by law and military rule, to have sex with those men for as long as the men wish it. That's every lonely 15-year-old boy's dream, maybe, but it wouldn't work in reality. Women don't respond well to rape, and highly trained, heavily armed women will eventually get tired of being unpaid, legally coerced prostitutes; the social order will rebalance. And let's not forget the strange relationship between Marygay and Mandella. It's hard to believe they're in love at all, because the author doesn't seem to have a clue how to write a convincing love affair, so it's hard to get worked up about their future together.
Except, again. The author, in his understandable bitterness about the Vietnam war, takes things a bit too far to demonstrate that war is hell. Why would any army rigorously test hundreds of thousands of people, then forcibly conscript the smartest and most educated so that they could *fight as grunts, in the frontline infantry*? Never mind that 150+ IQ people are exactly the sort you don't want in an army, since they aren't going to take orders any too well, but are the sort you want working on technological advances back home. Why go through all that to recruit for a group of people that will sustain 34% casualties every time they encounter the enemy, whether they're smart or not? And why would any army kill so many of its "elite" conscripted grunts in training? Most armies can find a way to train soldiers that doesn't, itself, inflict a 20% casualty rate.
Except, a third time. The future societies, which Mandella visits irregularly during his tour of duty, have that sad, silly tone that lots of future-predicting SF from the '70s has. It's hard to take seriously, not just because the predictions are off base; it's the way they're off base. Tobacco is illegal because it takes land needed to grow food, but marijuana is distributed free by many governments? The UN runs the major world fighting force and most of the rest of the world, too? Um.
Reading this book left me switching between annoyance, amusement, and regret, but by the end, regret predominated. It was a nice idea, and maybe it could've been a classic. As it stands, though, The Forever War is an old novel, best forgotten. Read something else; don't bother starting this War.

Gumshoe Gorilla
Gumshoe Gorilla
by Keith Hartman
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Paging an editor...any editor, April 27 2003
This review is from: Gumshoe Gorilla (Paperback)
Keith Hartman's next novel should feature a really bad copy editor who is horribly killed because he simply couldn't recognize an error, even to save his skin. It would be partial revenge for the work - or lack of work - done on Gumshoe Gorilla. Almost every page contains an error, and almost every error in the grammar book is made more than once. Capitalization, font, spelling, and every element of punctuation known to the English language (especially apostrophes) - each and every one gets horribly mangled in this novel. So, if you can read English reasonably well, don't expect to be able to read this book without cringing and moaning in pain.
Despite that, though, it's a fairly good book - it'd be worth four stars without the editing problem. The characters are still fun, the writing is still funny (even if it would make Strunk and White foam at the mouth), and Hartman still has a deft hand with social satire. Unfortunately, the plot isn't quite as intelligent as The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse's was - it's too easy to put the pieces together. Readers who are looking for a puzzle to solve will be finished well before the book is over.
But readers looking for a light, enjoyable book with lots of humor will really like Gumshoe Gorilla. They'd just better bring their red pens with them.

Point of Dreams
Point of Dreams
by Melissa Scott
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 2.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A weak little sister to Point of Hopes, April 24 2003
This review is from: Point of Dreams (Paperback)
Point of Dreams is the plain little sister of the delightful fantasy/mystery Point of Hopes. Though the books share background, genre, and main characters, Dreams just doesn't shine the way Hopes did.
The plot of Dreams is fairly weak. It's hard to write SF/mystery that obeys all the rules of traditional mysteries, and though Barnett and Scott succeeded in Hopes, they fail here - the mystery is remarkably easy to solve and is transparently clear by the book's midpoint.
Also, the setting, which was easily the best part of Hopes, is in Dreams just a backdrop for a (relatively) normal theater production. Hopes established a fascinating world. Dreams inhabits a tiny portion of it.
The real problem, though, is the further development of the main characters. At the start of Dreams, Rathe and Eslingen are living together, having gone from unexpressed mutual interest to an ongoing, committed relationship between books. Scott and Barnett, in choosing not to show the early stages of the romance, are making an unusual, daring, and ultimately unsuccessful choice. They can't, or won't, write the relationship convincingly without the early bits. (I love Melissa Scott's writing, and I honestly believe she *could* do this right, but that only makes this book's failure worse.)
In Dreams, it's hard to believe that Rathe and Eslingen actually love each other. In the brief interludes they spend together, they show very little affection, let alone romantic love. The strongest emotion they seem to feel is mutual jealousy; that's not exactly proof of true love. And it doesn't help that the one passionate sequence in the book is between Rathe and an ex-lover. The intensity of that bit just underscores the absence of any such feeling between our heroes.
Despite the problems, though, the book is still a good one. Fantasy/mysteries are rare, as I said, and the book would be worth reading for that alone. Add in the marvelous setting and the light, fun writing, and Point of Dreams becomes more than worth the purchase price. I just hope that the third book in the series reveals more kinship with Hopes than with Dreams.

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