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edzaf (Chandler, AZ USA)

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Four to Score
Four to Score
by Janet Evanovich
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
150 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Four for "Four", Oct. 3 2003
If you are up to "Four to Score" you pretty much know what to expect from both Janet Evanovich and her leading lady, Stephanie Plum. As with the previous installments, you are in for a lot of laughs as Trenton's clumsiest bounty hunter is once again tracking down unseemly folks who have skipped their court dates. All your favorite characters are back (Morelli, Grandma Mazur, and Lula), but the scene-stealer this time around is the code-cracking drag queen/transvestite/transsexual (Evanovich never quite makes it clear) Sally Sweet. Sweet is definitely a (much needed) breath of fresh air in this installment.
Overall, this is a quick and enjoyable read. It will not win any literary awards, but heck this is not why we are reading these books anyway. With the Steph-Morelli relationship taking a turn in "Four," I imagine most readers will already be making plans to read the next book well before turning the last page on this one.

East of Eden (Oprah's Book Club)
East of Eden (Oprah's Book Club)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
94 used & new from CDN$ 1.89

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic With Entertainment Value, Aug. 12 2003
If Oprah Winfrey was looking to get the American public (and perhaps even the world) interested in reading "classic" literature she could have not chosen a better selection than John Steinbeck's "East of Eden." This is certainly not the "tamer" Steinbeck that I read in high school English class. While we may not even think twice about it today, "Eden" must have been simply scandalous when it was originally published in 1952 with murder, prostitution, and adultery just some of the more "adult" issues explored in this epic novel.
Despite its intimidating length, "East" moves along quickly as we follow the life of Adam Trask - from his East Coast childhood and troubled relationship with his brother to businessman and father of two sons with equally complex relations of their own. As the title suggests, the book is a modern retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel story. As with most of the "classics," the novel is rife with topics and themes to deeply delve into and discuss with your book club. My only criticisms are that the "good vs. evil" angle gets a bit heavy-handed at times and, for me, the novel loses some steam in the final quarter - but these are certainly not enough to not heartily recommend the work.
The nice thing about "Eden" is if you choose not to take the "literary" route, you can still be simply entertained and enthralled by Steinbeck's plot and characters. There is enough suspense and intrigue that make it not terribly different from many of today's bestsellers.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Seabiscuit: An American Legend
by Laura Hillenbrand
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.87
220 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Seabiscuit, Seabiscuit Run!, July 3 2003
Admittedly, I was slow out of the gates when it came to reading Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit: An American Legend." So after endless weeks atop the bestseller list and 300+ glowing reviews here on Amazon, I finally decided to give the book a shot. Much to my surprise and delight, the book actually lived up to all of its hype and success, a true rarity in my reading experiences of late.
Hillenbrand has fashioned a compulsively readable account of one of the greatest thoroughbred horses of all time as well as three men (owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard) who molded the lame-looking animal into a national hero. Through meticulous research, Hillenbrand masterfully fleshes the main players and events of the day. With all its drama, suspense, and surprises, "Seabiscuit" is one of those real-life stories that reads like fiction.
So there is probably little more to say, except to add one more voice to this already word-of-mouth bestseller. It is an inspiring story of reaching beyond what was thought possible to achieve one's dreams - be it man, beast, or even the author herself.

Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel
Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel
by Jonathan Foer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
157 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars "Illuminated" Left Me In the Dark, June 20 2003
I knew that Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated" had its fair share of fans, but after my own valiant struggle with it I was hoping I was not be alone in just not "getting" this experimental novel. Overall, I found it to be messy and flashily hip (look all the things I can do!). Foer's work has been called genius - but as is often said, there is a fine line between genius and insanity. "Illuminated" is a roller-coaster ride with way too many loops, twists, and turns - not in plot or characters, but literary gimmicks (hair-pulling overuse of italics and indentations and capitalization, parts written like letters, play dialogue, or entries in a reference book, and pages filled with the same phrase repeated dozens/hundreds(?) of times over, etc.).
That said there are pieces (albeit small pieces) of the novel that I found engaging and even entertaining. There is plenty of humor throughout as well as passages that are simply devastating. So despite my overall feeling about the novel, there is certainly I hold no doubts that Foer has plenty of talent. Because of that potential and a hope that he can harness this talent, I will cautiously entertain the idea of reading his second novel.
I consider myself a pretty well read person, one who is open for a challenging read, but "Illuminated" simply got to the point where it was an experience to be finished, not enjoyed.

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers
Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers
by Stefan Fatsis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
92 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Super Freak � Super Freaky!, June 4 2003
Stefan Fatsis' "Word Freak" is a fascinating, if at times intense, look into the world of competitive Scrabble. As a "living room" Scrabble player, I looked forward to the insight that the book might give to my game. What I quickly learned was that I will never be a Scrabble pro - and after reading about those who are, I determined that maybe that is not a bad thing. To call these players quirky is a huge understatement. Most have made Scrabble their life quest - traveling to tournaments all around the country (and the world!) and re-programming their brains to the point where words like "djinny" and "elorst" jump off their racks for big points.
At first, the inhabitants of the Scrabble sub-culture are endearing, however over the nearly 400 pages of this account, Fatsis' title tag of "freak" ultimately (and truthfully) rises to the surface. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the author's own personal journey - from an outsider and Scrabble neophyte (how's that for a word!) to an "expert" ranked player whose obsession with the game nearly rivals the top pro players. It is truly a case of the reporter becoming an integral part of the story as Fastis becomes a full-fledged citizen of this peculiar world. I would guess that this Wall Street Journal sports reporter is still playing competitively these days.
Whether readers who do not have a passing knowledge and interest in Scrabble would enjoy this book is hard to say. For a Scrabble fan such as myself, even I was overwhelmed at times with the minutiae of tournament life and word play. Nevertheless, this is a quite entertaining and readable book. That said, I will happily return to the ignorant bliss of amateur Scrabble where ditching a "z" to spell "zoo" for a measly 12 points is a cool move.

Plainsong
Plainsong
by Kent Haruf
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
148 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Plain Old Song, April 10 2003
This review is from: Plainsong (Paperback)
I had been meaning to read Kent Haruf's "Plainsong" for some time. So when this National Book Award finalist was chosen as the One Book AZ selection of the year, I thought there was no better time to finally get around to it. But as often seems the case, the anticipation of reading a "chosen" book only seems to lead to disappointment. While this is certainly nothing terribly wrong with this "slice of life" tale of life in a fictional small town in Colorado, Haruf's work just did not do much for me. Normally I am eager to finish a book ï¿ but with just one more sitting left -- it took me nearly a week to find the time to come back and read the closing chapters. As with most of the book, the "plain" ending was a bit underwhelming. While I do not feel novels need to be wrapped up in a nice tidy package, "Plainsong" provides minimal closure. With the exception of the old rancher brothers, I did not see a whole lot of growth in the characters over the course of the novel. In the end, they still strike me as a bunch of losers who could stand a good talking to from Dr. Phil. But maybe that is the point.
That said, the book is a pretty quick read and well-written. The only technical quibble I have, as other reviewers have noted, is Haruf's abandonment of quotation marks for dialogue. Although this did not personally pose a huge reading hurdle, I still found myself constantly distracted by their absence. Haruf is adept at creating a small-town feel, but overall I just did not feel a whole lot of satisfaction after finishing "Plainsong." Not awful, not awesome ï¿ just okay.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.69
47 used & new from CDN$ 2.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Big Frights, Bright City, March 14 2003
"The Devil in the White City" is certainly the non-fiction "buzz" book of 2003. Erik Larson's work is two books in one as the author weaves the stories of two very different types of architects: Daniel Burnham, the mastermind behind the 1893 World's Fair/Columbian Exposition (later dubbed the White City) and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer whose crimes extend well-beyond dozens of gruesome deaths. "Devil" is truly a study in contrasts: the triumph of the human spirit coupled with the embodiment of evil in a mere flip of a page.
Larson does an excellent job capturing the pioneering spirit of the country in the late 19th century. The book is littered with dozens of "guest appearances" from such American icons as Thomas Edison, Annie Oakley, Susan B. Anthony, and Frank Lloyd Wright as well as many commonplace items/products of today that debuted on grounds of the Exposition. Winning out over New York and Washington DC, Chicago faced the daunting task of topping the wildly successful Paris Exposition -- the hallmark of that Fair being a little creation called the Eiffel Tower. The implications were clear -- the Windy City would either become one of the premier American cities or the laughing stock of the world.
As inspiring as the Fair portion of the book is, the Holmes parts are equally as chilling. The only criticisms of "Devil" may be Larson's speculations on some of Holmes' activities (he justifies these fictional moments in the footnotes) and the fairly tidy wrap-up of Holmes' story in the closing chapters of the book. But this certainly does not detract from the work as a whole.
Will Burnham's Exposition be a success and Holmes' heinousness be brought to an end? The answer may be evident but the stories of Burnham's sheer tenacity and Holmes' cold-blooded audacity keep readers rapidly turning the pages of this very readable and well-researched work.

East of the Mountains
East of the Mountains
by David Guterson
Edition: Paperback
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A Mountain Too High To Climb, March 5 2003
This review is from: East of the Mountains (Paperback)
It must be an author's nightmare - the follow-up to a debut novel which was both critically acclaimed as well as wildly popular with the public. While perhaps unfair, it is almost impossible not to use David Guterson's "Snow Falling on Cedars" as a measuring stick for his second novel, "East of the Mountains." While both novels take place in the Pacific Northwest, there is little other similarity (and even there the geographies of Washington State are decidedly different) between the two works.
On the surface, the story is a simple one. A retired surgeon (Ben Givens) faces his own mortality. Suffering from terminal cancer, the bereaved widower decides to take a trip back to his birthplace - east of the mountains - where he plans to end his life. En route, Ben gets into a car accident which sets off a chain reaction of odd meetings and situations which delay his plan and cause him to reflect on his past.
Guterson, as he displayed in "Cedars," is certainly an accomplished writer and overall it was a quick read. However, it is just plain depressing. I am still trying to figure out how one review blurb proclaims it "a strikingly joyful book." Although pre-dating it by years, I found the despair of the central character quite similar to the one in the novel-turned-movie "About Schmidt." While empathizing with his illness, I was frustrated with Ben. Although it surely could be argued, I just do not feel Ben changes (has an epiphany) over the course of his strange three-day journey. So that ultimately made me question the point of "Mountains." While the one of the novel's theme of the value of each human life is certainly a worthy one - what would have been a great short story is dragged out to just a good novel.

Merrick
Merrick
by Anne Rice
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
91 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Rice Rejuvenation?, Feb. 27 2003
This review is from: Merrick (Mass Market Paperback)
Not unlike other Anne Rice aficionados, I have plowed through her last few novels more out of habit. Rice just seemed to be simply churning out repetitive and, at times, uninspiring tales of her sizable vampire family. So going into "Merrick," the first fusion of the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witch series, my expectation level was not particularly high.
Things did not look good early with Louis still over-obsessing over the loss of his vampire-child Claudia hundreds of years later (and nearly three decades worth of Rice novels to boot!) while body-switched vampire David similarly overwrought with his feelings of longing/love for the title character Merrick - a current Talmasca member and "wrong side of the track" Mayfair witch. Same vampires, different day/decade/century.
But alas there is good news. Despite using some of her familiar writing conventions (historical flashbacks, cliff-hanger ending) "Merrick" is arguably the tightest work of Rice's career - relatively short, well-paced, pretty darn entertaining with a discernable degree of energy. While it certainly does not reach the heights for the early Vampire Chronicles or "The Witching Hour," I felt it was the first positive, and more importantly forward, movement in the series in a long time. The last 50 pages or so (which I will keep free from spoilers) appear to finally resolve some lingering character issues, while also heightening expectations for future installments. With the recent death of her husband and some health crises of her own, here is hoping that Rice is able to maintain the momentum gained from this union of her Vampires and Witches series.

Carter Beats the Devil
Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen Gold
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.86
51 used & new from CDN$ 0.37

4.0 out of 5 stars Gold Conjures Up Some Magic of His Own, Feb. 18 2003
This review is from: Carter Beats the Devil (Paperback)
"Carter Beats the Devil" is the epic, but fictionalized, tale of real-life magician Charles Carter and his rise to near Houdini-like fame. It is an ambitious first outing for novelist Glen David Gold who just happens to be the husband of author Alice Sebold. While Gold received much critical praise for "Carter," these days Sebold must own household bragging rights as her own debut novel, "The Lovely Bones," has dominated the best-seller lists for nearly a year. Other novelists must be wondering what exactly is in the water at the Gold/Sebold household!
There is little to quibble about Gold's writing style. This is not a quick read but one that takes its time in creating a canvas of 1920s America and the people who inhabit it. That said, the nearly five-hundred novel does have it slow moments as readers wait for the payoff regarding the novel's central secrets - the mysterious death of President Warren G. Harding shortly after attending one of Carter's magic shows. However, if one is merely focused on the resolution of that plotline alone one may be disappointed in the commitment needed to reach this point. Gold's work is ultimately all about savoring the many unusual characters (Carter's blind female love interest, a fumbling FBI agent, the librarian smitten with the agent, a circus lion with tons of personality jump to mind) and the intriguing life of Charles Carter.
With this debut novel, Gold has been burdened with comparisons to E.L. Doctorow, Caleb Carr, and Michael Chabon. While Chabon's "Kavelier" is on my to-read list, it is easy to see why the other two authors are mentioned as both Doctorow and Carr have created works in a similar vein (early 20th century America, mixing fact and fiction through the use of real-life historical figures). In my opinion, Gold falls short in this league as Doctorow is arguably one of the best American writers out there, while Carr with "The Alienist" produced a more compelling page-turner. But comparisons aside, there is certainly nothing terribly wrong with "Carter Beats the Devil" if it is simply allowed to stand on its own. It is a recommended read for those looking for a richly detailed, well-written work. Gold is definitely on my reading list radar for the future.

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