Books finished in 2002

1/5/2002: The Universe In A Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
My library system has recently started offering audio books in MP3 format. They give you an MP3 player with the book pre-loaded. I tried it out with this book. I listened to the book while doing woodworking in my shop. (I don't use power tools, so this is possible). It was sort of surreal to be sawing a piece of wood with a 100-year-old hand saw while listening to a book about the outer fringes of modern physics on the latest electronic gadget. This book is more of a popular and conceptual treatment of physics than that found in Hawking's wildly popular A Brief History of Time (or so he says in the introduction. I haven't read that book yet). I can't say that I understood everything here, but he relentlessly brings things back to real-world examples and implications, so it's not necessary to grasp all the details. Very interesting, occasionally funny, and definitely worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the outer limits of scientific inquiry.

1/5/2002: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (repeat)
I'm probably not alone in rereading this book what with the movie coming out and all. A friend from work rereads the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. I'm not quite as diligent as this is my first reading since my teens. The book is clearly a labor of love with copious detail on the history, culture and geography of Tolkein's invented Middle Earth. It's interesting reading it alongside the current film adaptation, both for what is left out and for what is left in. The movie excludes all of the poetry and song and most of the history, plus massively compressing the elapsed time. In the book, between Bilbo's birthday party and Frodo and company's departure from the Shire is a span of 20 years. Even the quest up to the point where Frodo and Sam strike out on their own takes several months. The film does a good job of capturing the tone of fear and dread that permeates this first book, and also the feel of Middle Earth. I haven't decided whether to go on to the next book now or wait until next year when the second installment of the movie arrives.

1/19/2002: The Merchants of Souls by John Barnes
The third book in Barnes's series about the reconnection of a galactic human diaspora is the first to take place mostly on Earth. His vision of the future Earth is the most blatant comment on the current state of our culture so far in the series even though all the books have that effect to greater and lesser extents. The greater part of the people on Earth have closed themselves up in "the box" plugging in and experiencing their lives exclusively in virtual reality. The controversy is over a proposal to use the archived recorded personalities of people who have died as fodder for the boxed's entertainment. The plot is somewhat trite, but Barnes's characters are engrossing as usual, especially the paired character of Giraut Leones and his friend Raimbaut who share Giraut's body and brain as the first step of restoring Raimbaut's recorded personality to a newly cloned body. The interaction of these two people in such close quarters is wonderfully handled.

1/24/2002: The King's Name by Jo Walton
This is the second half of Walton's first novel whose first volume, The King's Peace, came out last year. The book is an alternate history retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Sulien ap Gwien, a woman who becomes one of his most trusted warriors and mother to his heir. The story is told by Sulien in retrospect and with the stated intention of setting the record straight in defiance of what has become the popular conception of the events she lived through. The first book tells the story of the war to put Urdo on the throne, and the blanket of his law of peace over the land. This second (and final) volume tells of a rebellion against the law, and its resolution. These two books were an ambitious undertaking, and Walton has succeeded in wresting a new and entirely engaging story from what you would think would be a hopelessly over-trodden tale.

1/26/2002: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I'd never read this, and (to my friends' never-ending astonishment) never seen the movie either. Of course, it's practically impossible to not know most of the story even so. The story of Dorothy's journey via cyclone to Oz, and her adventures once there in an attempt to get back to Kansas. Reading this, it has the feel of being a self-concious attempt at writing a fairy-tale-style story without any too-heavy-handed moralizing (and Baum says this was his intent in the introduction). The story just felt over-engineered to me, but it is cute enough, I suppose. I may try another book or two in the series to see if it gets better later on.

1/30/2002: Starmind by Spider & Jeanne Robinson (repeat)
The third and final volume in the Robinsons' collaboration. I've said this before, but it bears repeating. What I love about these and other of Spider's solo books is how they come up with happy endings for the human race. What I hate about them is the absurd contortions he has to go through to make it happen. Even with the implausibility, though, Spider writes good clean page turning prose and his characters are always just odd enough to be real. Fun, uplifting and depressing.

2/2/2002: A Purple Place For Dying by John D. MacDonald

The third Travis McGee book finds him somewhat unintentionally embroiled in a mess among the monied denizens of a way-out-West boom town. It's true to the formula as far as plot goes. Scary and dangerous things happen. Travis figures out why. Travis gets in a really tight spot and then through skill, cunning, and a hefty dose of luck, gets himself and his current damsel in distress out of it with money to spare.

On some level, these books can be read as male wish fulfillment fantasy. And they work as that. But in the details, MacDonald slips in some insightful social commentary, and some lessons in interpersonal communication. Neither factor makes them any less fun to read.

2/5/2002: The Toolbox Book by Jim Tolpin
Another of Tolpin's books for Taunton. Part coffee table book, part how-to, part history. Everything from the travelling tool chests of the 19th century to the customized contractor's van of the late 20th. There's quick and dirty tool totes on one end and the Studley chest, made by a craftsman employed to make pianos using the same materials and care with detail. Lots of ideas to inspire your own solutions to the problems of tool storage.

2/20/2002: Moonlight and Vines by Charles de Lint
Another collection of short stories set in Newford, de Lint's fictional city suffused with the influences of Faerie. These are complex stories about complex characters with some deep thoughtful themes. Good chewy stuff.

2/23/2002: Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Alternately amusing and depressing tale of a frighteningly neurotic single woman in London. The diary format is contrived, but the scorecard section of each day's entry (number of calories, cigarettes, and alcohol units consumed, among other things) provide some of the biggest laughs in the book. The depressing part is how self centered and self loathing Bridget is, and how true she seems. It's easy to absorb some of her lack of self worth, and her desire to have a drink or a smoke to feel, not better, but at least in control. I'm told the second book is better, so I'll put that on the virtual stack. The film version is a reasonable adaptation though I think Mark Darcy lost something in the translation.

2/25/2002: Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer
As usual for a Sawyer novel, chock full of fun ideas. This one seems to suffer more than usual from an over-abundance of big action-stopping expository lumps. A seemingly manufactured network of wormhole conduits has allowed humankind to join with a few other sentient species. The action centers on a jointly funded and crewed research vessel. They make some significant scientific discoveries and have a big battle. The book actually has a sort of Greg Bearish slant to it, with the major engineering projects that the crew of the ship stumble on (things like intentionally turning eliptical galaxies into spiral galaxies by pushing stars around). The science stuff is really the star here (so to speak...)

3/5/2002: The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean
This is one of those rare pieces: an original fantasy novel. The first few pages are almost incomprehensible, Dean's setting is so strange. But as the novel unfolds, through something a character does here and a question a character asks there, and some other event along the way, you start to get a sense for what's going on. And as you read further, you start to learn why it is the way it is. Lovely piece of work. As usual in Dean's books, there are a million references to different stories from the canon of Literature. Fortunately Felix Strates has written a fascinating web site annotating Dean's works. Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten around to this book yet.

3/8/2002: Athyra by Steven Brust (repeat)
Set two years after the events of Phoenix, we join Vlad Taltos in exile, laying low, wandering the wilderness, thinking about stuff, and still managing to get himself and the people around him into all sorts of trouble. This book is distinctive in the series for being the only one (so far) which is not told from inside Vlad's (and Loiosh's) head. We see all the action through the eyes of Savn, a young (he's only 80) Teckla and a bit through the eyes of Rocza, Loiosh's mate. Savn hardly has a personality at all; his main role is to ask a million questions in order to give Vlad the opportunity to pontificate. That's overstating things a bit. Savn also gets to point out some of the fundamental falacies in Vlad's internal mindscape. By the end, it looks as if Vlad may have actually learned something. If nothing else, the immediate course of his life has been changed drastically. To say nothing of Savn's.

3/12/2002: The Laughing Sutra by Mark Salzman
A story about the collision of two world views (well, more than two, actually), Salzman's first novel takes a fictional approach to the cultural contrasts he started with his acclaimed memoir, Iron & Silk. It is the story of Hsun-ching, an orphaned boy raised by a buddhist monk during the Chinese "cultural revolution". His master charges him with finding the last known copy of the Laughing Sutra, an ancient text that is purported to confer eternal life upon its reader. The text was bought by an American collector, and their only lead is his business card. Accompanying him on his quest is the enigmatic Colonel Sun who claims to be thousands of years old, has the strength of many men, and a knack for getting in (and out of) trouble. The funniest parts of the book are when the Colonel finally gets to see America; his reactions are a hoot. The book is sweet and funny and executed with the grace that is Salzman's hallmark.

3/14/2002: Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts
Don't think I've ever read an Oprah book before ;-) I saw and enjoyed the movie they made of this one and thought I'd go read the book. Not too surprisingly for a book read by bazillions of rabid Oprah fans, they were quite faithful to the book for the most part. Everyone in the movie is thinner and maybe prettier, but other than that and some minor event changes to make it more conducive to filming they did alright. Novalie Nation is a wonderful character, rolling with every punch thrown at her and coming up smiling and wiser.

3/16/2002: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
An exhaustively researched account of the operations, influences and effects of the fast food industry. Schlosser details the history of the fast food giants, the marketing tactics they have used to proliferate at the expense of all competition, the compromises that their buying power causes in food production, their leech-like dependence on government subsidy and industry-friendly legislation, their abhorrent treatment of their employees, etc. etc. etc. It's an entertaining, eye-opening read, and will forever change any fondness you might feel for the fast food giants in particular, and all corporate food chains in general.

3/27/2002: Slack by Tom DeMarco
DeMarco has made a career out of teaching people how to manage knowledge workers (people like engineers and designers and such). This latest volume skewers bunches of the sacred cows of corporate management philosophy. The title comes from DeMarco's assertion that what makes for a successful company in the 21st century is the ability to change, and that what gives a company the ability to change is slack: time for people to reinvent their work world. He sings the praises of middle managers, scoffs at matrix organizations, derides the hurry up mentality, highlights the danger of overlooking the cost of human capital, and reveals the falacy of the belief that high pressure makes projects finish faster. And all that's in just the first 50 pages. If you manage knowledge workers or are one, read this book. You may not agree with everything he says, but if you don't get some inspiration about how to be a better manager out of this book then you're not paying attention.

03/30/2002: Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain
After reading Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, I figured I'd give his fiction a try. Bone centers on a restaurant (imagine that!) where Tommy Pagano is employed as a sous chef. Tommy grew up in a mafia family but has mostly managed to have a normal life for himself until his uncle gets him involved in a hit. The setting and characters ring true as you'd expect from Bourdain who has plenty of experience in New York kitchens. The owner's working with the FBI to keep himself out of jail, the chef is a heroin addict, everyone else is on some drug or other. There's quite a bit of lovingly described food. The overall plot is predictable and occasionally gruesome (two words: meat slicer), but overall it's an entertaining read.

3/30/2002: Deke! by Donald K. "Deke" Slayton with Michael Cassutt
Deke Slayton was one of the original Mercury astronauts who trained for the first Earth orbital missions. Due to a flutter in his heartbeat, he was never able to fly one of those missions, and instead took over the responsibility for the astronaut training organization which role he filled for the next 20 years. He was directly responsible for selecting new astronauts, overseeing their training, and deciding who would fly on what missions. Deke finally made it into space on the Apollo Soyuz flight in the early 70s. He left NASA shortly before the shuttle became operational, and spent his time racing forumla 1 airplanes, and running a company that worked at selling commercial space launch capability. He died in 1993 of cancer. The book was basically finished before he died (though not published until 1994), and is told in a conversational first person. What comes through is Deke's no-nonsense approach to everything he did. There's not much beating around the bush here. If he didn't like somebody, he tells you. As a historical record, the book is fascinating reading, packed with names and dates and the rationale behind every decision relating to staffing the Mercury and Apollo programs.

4/5/2002: Holes by Louis Sachar
KCLS is doing one of those "What if all kids read the same book?" things, and this is the book. It's won a gazillion awards. I liked it well enough. It has sort of a surreal Dahl-ian feel to it, with mostly evil grownups doing unspeakable things to kids who eventually get back at them. The main character, Stanley Yelnats is wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to "Camp Green Lake" which we understand to be an Outward Bound-style reform school until we find out that the principal method of reforming the boys who are sent there is to make them dig a hole five feet wide and five feet deep in a dry lakebed every day. Hence the title. Stanley is the latest of a long line of palindromic Yelnats, and through an alternate story line, we learn how the current Stanley is on a collision course with his ancestry.

4/14/2002: Double Feature by Emma Bull & Will Shetterly (repeat)
The bulk of this collection of the short works of Bull and Shetterly is made up of their Liavek stories, presented here out of context with the series in which they first appeared (a series edited by the same Bull & Shetterly). They stand alone just fine. The remainder is made up of a few other stories by each a couple of essays by Bull, and their collaboration for Terri Windling's Borderlands series, "Danceland Blood". All are finely written character driven fantasy.

4/24/2002: Why Does Software Cost So Much? by Tom DeMarco
Essays by the guru of sane software management. Just like all his stuff, it's worth reading if you're in the software development game, especially if you manage others who are.

4/27/2002: Amplifying Your Effectiveness by Gerald M. Weinberg, James Bach, and Naomi Karten
I requested a bunch of books from the Dorset House backlist after getting their latest catalog in the mail. They publish books mostly on general software development topics (not programming, but development). This one grew out of a conference of the same name and consists of essays by 17 different people, mostly consultants who deal with software companies. There's a wide variety of issues covered, in a bunch of different styles.

4/28/2002: Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer
A high-energy physics experiment has the unanticipated effect of giving everyone on Earth a 2-minute glimpse of their own lives 20 years in the future. Stuff happens as a result. The main plot line regards one of the researchers who has no future vision, and learns from the contents of others' visions that he dies a few days before the time the visions show. So we get a murder mystery with the victim investigating the crime before it happens. That part is fairly entertaining, but the overall novel is the least engaging of Sawyer's that I've read. It's dense with abstruse infodumps on esoteric physics, and annoying stupidity from presumably intelligent characters. Being Sawyer, it's still got its moments, just not as many of them as he's spoiled me with in the past.

4/28/2002: Why Do Birds by Damon Knight
Knight died recently, so I snagged this from the library to read in tribute. It's a very odd little book about a man who claims to have been abducted by aliens who gave him a curious little ring and told him to build a cube in which to place everyone on the planet so they can be evacuated to a new planet before the Earth is obliterated. With the help of the ring (which makes people like him and want to help him), he sets this in motion before anyone seems to think to question him. As the cube is being loaded (which takes a while, there being billions and billions of us), there is finally some questioning of whether the guy's nuts (grab em!), or not. In the end... well, it's a short book, just read it.

5/5/2002: The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
Most of de Lint's books are set in the fictional city of Newford. He writes about a wide range of characters, but there is one character who appears again and again: Jilly Coppercorn. In a few of his stories, she's the main character, but usually she is there on the fringes, relating to the main characters, moving things along, but not in the spotlight. She's a cheerful, panphillic, funny, charming character. Everyone loves her, and as a reader, even through short glimpses, it's hard not to do the same, but it's also frustrating because you never really feel like you get to know her. The Onion Girl, a hefty tome at 500+ pages, is all about Jilly. But lest the reader think that Jilly's cheerfulness will become cloying at this length, de Lint, on the first page of the book, has her hit by a car resulting in her being half-paralyzed for the remainder of the story. It's an absorbing read, and mostly satisfying for what is revealed and how the characters grow. There are times at which the plot feels a bit forced, but since he gave us this much time with Jilly, I'm willing to forgive quite a lot.

5/9/2002: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones is a pathetic loser. She isn't really aware of this. Despite this severe handicap, she is a great observer of other people's insanity, and points it out to great comic effect. This book is about twice as funny as the first one. At the end, the main characters all get brain transplants from Ms. Fielding, but in a book like this, that's not not a terminal flaw.

5/15/2002: Humpty Dumpty: an oval by Damon Knight
This book is an experience. Wellington Stout wakes up in an Italian hospital and is told that there is a bullet in his brain. He moves through the remainder of the book buffeted by the commands and manipulations of the mysterious characters who sweep in and out of the scene. But as things get more and more surreal, he somehow becomes more and more in control of his own destiny. From early on in the book, the plot becomes completely non-linear. He is transported from one place to another through inexplicable means. He has bizarre dreams that blend smoothly into his equally bizarre waking life. And yet amidst all this chaos, Knight somehow imbues the occasional utterance of one character or another with an indefinable weight that lets Stout and the reader know that here is a piece of truth in the maelstrom. And over the course of the book, the bits and pieces of truth start to fit together into something that while it is no less incomprehensible, has some kind of rightness about it. An extremely weird, but oddly satisfying book.

5/26/2002: The Last Book In the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the world has become toxic and feral. A minority of humanity has managed to uplift itself through genetic manipulation into a utopian super race that has isolated itself in an enclave of the world as it used to be that they call Eden. They are surrounded by the "normals", unmodified humans, living in the ruins of most of the world. The protagonist is Spaz, who is not just a normal, but a defective with epilepsy. Spaz learns that his sister is dying, and he must venture across the urban wasteland to be with her and try to save her. He is helped in this endeavor by an old man called Ryter who is obsessed with writing a book even though reading and writing are lost skills. Philbrick's writing is gripping and occasionally sparkles with lovely surprising phrases. I really liked the book except for the occasional device of having Spaz ask stupid questions to which it is unreasonable to expect that he does not already know the answers. That annoyance aside, this is a fun hero's journey tale.

5/27/2002: Nymph by Francesca Lia Block
Book of loosely connected erotic stories with a distinct element of fantasy. Sort of Charles de Lint meets Anais Nin. Interesting characters in interesting situations make for good fiction as well as good erotica. Cute little book too. 11cm x 17cm 130 pages.

5/30/2002: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman introduces his protagonist, Shadow, while he's still in prison. Nine pages later, he gets out of prison two days early because his beloved wife has been killed in a car crash. On his way home, a man with a glass eye who already knows Shadow's name offers him a job, and from the point where he takes it, there's nothing but weird shit going down. Everyone who came to the Americas brought their old gods with them, and those gods made their home here as best they could. Now, America has built new gods: Technology, Television, Money, and all the rest. The old gods are losing out, but they're not going down without a fight, and that's the fight Shadow finds himself in the middle of. Gaiman doesn't take sides in this battle. The old gods are barbaric and bloodthirsty and capricious. The new gods are infantile, petty, and cruel. The old gods might have a little more of a benevolent relationship with their worshipers, a deeper, more complex interaction. But that's about it.

It was interesting reading this shortly after Damon Knight's Humpty Dumpty: An Oval, because the books are superficially similar. Both are surrealistic supernatural road trip novels with protagonists who don't really understand what's going on until the end when they find out they are more important than they might have thought.

6/1/2002: The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints by M. V. Carey

6/2/2002: The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow by M.V. Carey
Flaming Footprints and Sinister Scarecrow are two of the thirty books about the adventures of "The Three Investigators". I read several of these books as a kid and loved them. They're set in Southern California, and chronicle the cases three boys stumble into and solve. The three are led by Jupiter Jones, an overweight boy of prodigious intellect who lives with his aunt and uncle and works in their salvage yard (where the boys' hideout is an old trailer buried in the junk pile, accessible through various secret tunnels and gates). Jupiter is assisted by the nerdy Bob Andrews and the athletic Pete Crenshaw. I hadn't read either of these two before, but they follow the general pattern I remember: something spooky happens, the boys investigate, they get into a tight spot, they escape and reveal the mundane avarice-driven reason for the spooky happening. Each book has a preface ostensibly written by Alfred Hitchcock which introduces the story and the three investigators, and each book ends with a chapter where the boys present the story to Hitchcock in his studio office, revealing the resolution of any hanging loose strings. Fun.

6/8/2002: Doors of Death and Life by Brenda W. Clough
Sequel to her How Like a God in which Rob Lewis acquires the supernatural powers and immortality of Gilgamesh and gives the immortality part of the prize to his friend Edwin Barbarossa. In Doors, we get to see how the two live with their gifts and how they deal with Edwin's amazing recuperative powers becoming publicly known. In some ways, the story is exploring the old saw that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Clough again writes a book that is full of realistic characters with attributes extremely rare in an SF novel: happily married characters, and sympathetic protestant Christian characters. The ending of this book strongly suggests that a third volume is on the way, and I suspect the Christian factors will come to the fore. I look forward to seeing what Ms. Clough (can someone please tell me how to pronounce this?) makes of the situation in which she's left these characters.

6/20/2002: An Impossumble Summer by B. W. Clough
A children's book by the author of the Doors of Death and Life. It's sort of about the economics of luck. A family moves to a new neighborhood (the parents work in US embassies and the family has lived overseas. This is their first time living in the US. This wasn't vital for the plot (though it was used), but it adds some real interest to the characters), and the children discover a possum who can talk and asks to be called an Impossumble. This improbable creature has the ability to manipulate luck in such a way as to convey the good or bad variety to people. The family is the recipient of a few good luck events in return for favors paid to the Impossumble, but they soon learn that there is a balance of luck and that they must ride out a run of bad to balance the good. The book could have gone further than it did with the material, expanding into things like how it's easier to create luck for other people than for yourself and how bad luck can look like good luck when viewed from the appropriate vantage point, but as far as it does go, this is an entertaining little book.

6/27/2002: Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding (audio)
This is Fielding's first novel, before the outrageously popular Bridget Jones books. The main character is Rosie Richardson, a young single publicist for a small publisher. Sound familiar? The similarity to Bridget pretty much ends right there, though. Rosie is a smart, competent, thoughtful woman almost completely unlike the ditzy Bridget. Rosie is in a dysfunctional relationship (maybe not completely unlike ;-) with Oliver, a pompous, handsome, charming, and moderately famous television show host. Rosie's life is changed when she goes to Africa on a business trip and sees the ongoing state of famine the people live in. The book is told in alternating sections set in London among the "Famous Club", and in the fictional country of Nambula in a refugee camp where Rosie comes to work as an administrator. When food supplies for the camp seem to have dried up and they are threatened with a huge influx of new refugees, Rosie returns to London in the hopes of rallying the famous to do a television appeal to fund shipment of food to the starving country. Fielding does an impressive job of writing a funny book about famine. She shows the plight of the starving in piercingly spare prose, but also shows the gallows humor and exhaustion-driven goofiness by which the aid workers stay sane. The funniest parts, of course, are back in London with the rich and shallow. Funny and appalling and quite believable, but also clearly showing attitudes and actions that are not limited to the famous. This is a subtle and powerful book about a very unsubtle subject. It's great that the popularity of Bridget is getting it a wider audience.

7/6/2002: Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Our managing librarian mentioned having read this book reluctantly for a book group and loving it so when I was browsing the stacks looking for books to take on vacation and saw it just sitting there on the shelf I had to pick it up.

The book centers on the Stamper family, a clan with a terminal case of wanderlust who for most of the action of the book find themselves in a small Oregon logging town on the brink of the Pacific in a bit of a disagreement with the other loggers in the town over the small matter of a strike which the Stampers are not observing. That's one plot line. There are many others. All of them are exactly as mundane as that. And yet the book is astounding. Kesey has drawn characters who are simultaneously humble and epic. There is not a single unreal note in any human interaction in this book. These people are as realistic as the people you see every day. They are plain simple people with mindblowing misconceptions and shocking insights and fatal flaws and glorious spirits.

I almost hesitate to mention the fun Kesey has with narrative voice because even though the point of view character can shift from sentence to sentence, from phrase to phrase, sometimes even from word to word, it is never unclear whose eyes you're riding behind at any given point. It's complex enough that it would be fun to go through the book and diagram it. But the real beauty of it is that you don't have to. It's there more in the background helping to tell the story and show the characters, not distracting so much as illuminating.

And interestingly enough, in addition to all that, the book manages to show both the glory and grime of the logging life. You'll have more respect for the people who cut trees for a living after reading it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of this novel.

7/7/2002: The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford
It's a gangster novel set in the borderlands between our world and Faerie. Elves with machine guns! Dames with curses on them. Mafia Dons with magic powers. Okay, I'm being way too flip for the book this is. The protagonist is a nineteen-year-old Iowa farm boy turned paramedic who goes to the city of Chicago where Faerie now abuts our world (or something like it... It's not totally clear that the real world in this book is on the same timeline as ours (even apart from the manifestation of Faerie)) He is swept up in the life of the city before he even reaches it as he witnesses a drive-by shooting as he's driving in. Stopping to help the victims is all it takes to align him with an organization that seems to be the Good Guys. Half of the fun is seeing all the weirdness that goes on through the eyes of this innocent kid, but as time goes on we find out that he's maybe not so innocent as we thought, and the world isn't really all that weird. A couple of characters and one location from Terri Windling's Borderlands books (actually they're from the Borderlands books written by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly) pass through the pages of this one. It's enough to make a tenuous tie to that world, but Ford writes his own take on the Border concept. Good meaty fun.

7/8/2002: Finder by Emma Bull (repeat)
As the cliche goes, I think Emma Bull could write the phone book interesting. Orient is a guy with the ability to find stuff. Ask him where something is that you know exists and he gets a tug and knows it's thataway. No surprise that what passes for the police in the Borderlands (this novel is one of several set in the universe first introduced in a series of short story collections edited by Terri Windling) eventually come to Orient for help with a case. He is at first reluctant, but the case is rather compelling, and he's soon risking his neck voluntarily. The story is about everly level of human relations, about obligations and desires. But especially it's about friendship and community. And loss. Pretty big stuff for a fluffy fantasy novel, but if anyone can pull this off, it's Emma Bull. The main cop characters in this book appear briefly in John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time is why I picked it up again.

7/25/2002: Sin of Origin by John Barnes
This book has been out of print so long I didn't even know it existed until I stumbled across it on an internet bookseller's forsale list completely by accident. It's actually Barnes's second novel after The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky. Sin is sort of a first contact novel about a planet with three resident sentient species who have evolved a symbiotic culture. They are contacted by a human culture based on the Catholic church. Barnes is one of the better authors in SF when it comes to not over-simplifying human cultures. There are a bunch of different factions within the Catholic culture that is his main focus here, but also a bunch more different cultures in human-inhabited space, in particular a socialist group. The alien culture is interesting, and the interaction between it and the Catholics realistically rendered. The novel as a whole bears a bit of a resemblence to Le Guin's Hainish novels about human cultural attaches journeying into alien cultures for study and maybe a little bit of propagandizing for the galactic human culture. Barnes is less leery of showing the dark side of both the humans and aliens making for a grittier experience.

7/30/2002: A Case of Conscience by James Blish
I picked this up because I read in an interview with Mary Doria Russell that her novel, The Sparrow had been compared to it. I knew this book was coming from the library when I started Sin of Origin and discovered that I'd be reading a couple of Catholic first contact books back to back. This book starts with a team on a new world evaluating its resources and residents in preparation for a decision about whether the planet should be admitted to a human-administered federation. The Catholic member of the team adds up everything they have discovered and comes to the conclusion that the planet is a setup devised by Satan to contradict everything the church holds as sacred. (Mostly this is based on the fact that the culture is one of peace and prosperity with no recourse to religion, but there's a bunch of other details that make the place seem pretty unlikely without some sort of supernatural intervention. (Like maybe an author's? ;-)) Just as they're leaving, one of the natives entrusts the Catholic with a baby native to take back to Earth. The people have racial memory so it grows up on Earth with the intelligence and some of the background of its forebears, but is raised by the 'wolves' of humanity. From there on, the story takes a turn for the tragic for everyone concerned. It's an interesting book, but I couldn't quite accept the Catholic's bizarre assumptions. The things he ascribed to the devil seemed to me more like evidence that the planet was a culture where there was no Fall, and the God-created paradise had been allowed to maintain until the humans arrived and screwed everything up.

8/2/2002: The Gospel According To Larry by Janet Tashjian
I have a good friend who's named Larry. He likes to collect things and pictures of himself posed in front of things that bear his name in some way. He's also a Lutheran pastor. So when I saw a book called The Gospel According To Larry and got done laughing, I knew I had to read it. Tashjian begins the book by describing how the manuscript was given to her. To maintain the illusion, the book is typeset as if it were typed on a typewriter (Mostly. There's a few goofs that caught Becky's eye--things like using m-dashes instead of doubled hyphens). The book is told from the first person of a kid named Josh who, unbeknownst to his friends and family, has started a website where he anonymously calls himself Larry and posts his rants against modern consumer culture. Much to his surprise, his missives engender a cult following that grows out of control. The story is predictable because it's based on old stories, but the first person point of view of the brilliant, but human, Josh redeems the predictability. This would be a great book group book as there's a huge amount of moral ambiguity on several fronts. Good stuff.

8/6/2002: The Cross-time Engineer by Leo Frankowski
Conrad is on a backpacking holiday in his native Poland when he is sent back in time to the thirteenth century, just 10 years before the invasion of the Mongol hordes. As is usually the case in this sort of book, Conrad is extremely well equipped to not only survive, but thrive in this millieu. To Frankowski's credit, some of the things that allow him to survive are amazing coincidences that we find out were nothing of the sort in some interludes with the owners of the equipment that sent Conrad back--his transport was a mistake made by a Historical Corps which regularly mucks about in human history. But mostly we get to watch as Conrad invents all kinds of industrial paraphernalia in an effort to get Poland ready for the attack he knows is coming. This book only covers his first year or so, and there are severeal more in the series. I'll probably keep on reading for a while at least.

8/12/2002: Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey
Spider Robinson recommended this guy in an interview I read recently. The book is entertaining, but if you're at all squeamish about vicious and creative violence, best look elsewhere. The book doesn't have a plot exactly, it just follows the semi-random circlings and collisions of a dozen different psychopathic characters as they careen around Florida. To be fair, there are a couple of sympathetic characters, but they're definitely the exception. In spite of the macabre subject matter, the book is occasionally very funny, but it's an ambiguous pleasure at best.

8/14/2002: Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine by Timothy R. Dooley, N.D., M.D.

Homeopathy is at odds with traditional medicine (allopathy) in a number of different ways. Homeopathy's focus is on evaluating each patient individually, identifying their complex of symptoms and issues and prescribing a treatment based on the whole picture. The treatments or "remedies" are based on the law of similars which asserts that a substance which causes particular effects can also be used to treat those same effects. The remedies are prepared by successive dilution of the prescribed substance such that the odds of even one molecule of the substance being present in the remedy as administered to the patient are infinitesimal. And yet some effect is observed. Based on everything we understand about the mechanics of chemistry and our bodies, it seems like magic. The fact that diagnosis isn't based on the "disease", but on the individual patient's entire complex of symptoms means that it's extremely hard to study the process to find out what mechanisms are in effect.

I've been experiencing allopathic (traditional) medicine since August of 2001 when I started having occasional trouble swallowing. I went to my doctor who sent me to a gastroenterologist who put me through an array of tests (endoscopic inspection of the esophagus and stomach, esophageal manometry which measures pressure during the act of swallowing (by introducing a tube through the sinuses, down the back of the throat and into the stomach. Not fun, and how it can measure anything normal under the circumstances is beyond me), and x-ray pictures while swallowing barium.) The effect of these studies was a "diagnosis" of something called achalasia. I put the word diagnosis in quotes because they don't know what causes it and they don't know how to treat it--not a very helpful diagnosis. Oh, they think it's something to do with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) failing to open to allow food to pass into the stomach, but they don't know why. They have treatments, but they're appallingly primitive: mechanically stretch the LES with an inflatable balloon (they actually did this to me during the endoscopy and it helped--for about two weeks). Inject botox into the LES to kill the muscle or surgically cut the LES muscle so that food will theoretically just fall straight through. All of these "treatments" have nasty side effects and procedural risks mostly related to introducing chronic acid reflux. So far, the symptoms are much less dangerous than the treatments they propose. But the symptoms are annoying and uncomfortable, so I keep on looking. There's a paper by O. Arthur Stiennon, M.D. that suggests that achalasia is just a specialized form of hiatal hernia (protrusion of the stomach above the diaphragm) which can be treated similarly, but that means surgery too, and this diagnosis is not widely accepted, so could be a chimera.

In this position, alternative medicine looks pretty attractive. What have I got to lose? Especially with homeopathy where the treatments have no chemical properties we can analyze beyond the pure water or alcohol that is used as the dilution medium. Of course here I run into the other failing of our medical system: insurance. As long as I go to the usual drug pushing, flesh cutting M.D. community, my insurance company is happy to pay my bills, but as soon as I try to do something that is on anything like a fringe, I'm on my own whether my health might benefit or not. Well, okay, I'm willing to take the financial as well as the medical risk. As Dooley says in the closing of this book:

At best, homeopathy represents a new branch of science that, when better understood, will open new vistas throughout the biological sciences as it does in healthcare.

At worst, homeopathy is a harmless placebo demonstrating that much of conventional medicine is unnecessary and harmful.

8/15/2002: How Much For Just The Planet? by John M. Ford
It's a Star Trek novel and a Gilbert and Sullivan farce. Kirk and company go to a planet with large deposits of dilithium to dicker with the inhabitants over development rights. Naturally a Klingon party is there as well. But the natives have some creative and very silly plans of their own. Very funny, and probably even funnier if you're well-versed in the movie musical.

8/24/2002: The Sky So Big And Black by John Barnes
Barnes takes another run at some of the educational territory he covered in his award-winning Orbital Resonance. Not that that's all this one is about. Focuses on a teenage girl (named for the main character in OR, Melpomene Murray) growing up in the frontier a couple of generations after the colonization of Mars. The book is set in the same timeline as some of his other novels, and the Meme (used here to mean a computer virus that has adapted itself to run in human brains) One True has so far been confined to Earth but not from lack of trying to take over the colonies on the other planets. Barnes has a gift for compelling narrative and character development which makes this book readable, but the secondary point of view, a police psychiatrist, is used more as a suspense-building device than a real character for most of the book. In the end it is clear why he was there, but the big mystery isn't all that big, and I suspect it would have been a better book if the revelation had been made in the beginning rather than trying to be a surprise ending.

9/6/2002: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
Not sure how I heard about this one, but I'm glad I did. Moore gives his speculations on what the life of Christ might have been like as he grew from a young boy into the adult we hear about in the other gospels. The story is told by Levi who is called Biff (for the sound it makes when he gets smacked up side the head). Biff is a smart ass son of a stone mason. I don't want to tell too much about the story because the surprises are half the fun. Suffice it to say that this is a very funny book that makes the human side of Christ make a lot more sense than the other gospels manage. Plus, how can you not love a book that has lines like '"Whoops," said the Savior.'?

9/14/2002: The High-tech Knight by Leo Frankowski
Second book in Frankowski's Adventures of Conrad Stargard. They're interesting enough with watching to see how Conrad is going to invent various industrial appurtenances in 13th century Poland, but it gets kind of old after a while. There's also some odd inconsistencies in how Conrad deals with people. He risks his life to help the oppressed, but when it comes to the people he associates with, he basically treats them like building materials or tools, concerned more with what good they can do him than what they might want for themselves. In a lot of cases the two goals aren't at corss purposes, but in particular his dealings with women are more as objects than people from my point of view.

9/18/2002: Orca by Steven Brust (repeat)
In this volume of the Vlad Taltos series (#7 if I reckon correctly), we find Vlad shortly after the events of #6 (Athyra) which is somewhat of a novelty, there's seldom a continuous narrative between successively published volumes. This one matches Athyra too in that there are point of view characters other than Vlad. In particular, Vlad has called on his old friend Kiera the Thief to assist him in performing a favor for a doctor who is trying to help Savn (a young Dragaeran) who was damaged in Athyra. We also get glimpses of Kiera relating the events of this book to Cawti. If all these names don't make it clear, this would not be a good place to start this series, there's an awful lot of back story which is pretty much assumed. The plot is a whodunnit centering around the seemingly simple task of determining who owns the doctor's house and is threatening to evict her. The final explanation is extremely complex. I've heard Brust say that he does not plot his books in advance, and I can see this one growing out of that method. It looks like he painted himself into a corner and then worked out what would have had to be true in order for the preceding events to make sense. To his credit, the end result doesn't feel like a tacked on ending at all. This book is also notable for making an interesting revelation about a recurring character. The revelation is subtle enough that it leaves you wondering whether Brust himself knew it before finishing this book or if he was as surprised as the rest of us. Anyway, this is great fun for Vlad fans, and if you're not a Vlad fan, go back and start with Jhereg and you soon will be.

9/29/2002: Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb has started another cycle in her series of big fat fantasy novels. This one returns to the main character of the Assassin trilogy, Fitz. The focus here is subtly shifted to include the character known to him as The Fool as a much more active presence. I had a hard time with the Assassin books, mostly due to the attitudes of Fitz's character. This book, returning to him at the ripe old age of 35, over a decade after the end of the action in the Assassin books, introduces us to a Fitz who has had a chance to sit and reflect and grow a little. He's not quite the whiny unrealistic twit I remember, but I can see how this character grew out of that one. That alone is a fine feat for a writer. The story here is mostly setup, painting a picture of a political climate teetering on the edge of civil war. Pretty good stuff.

10/3/2002: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
A friend at work put this in my hands. Pratchett writes humorous fantasy mostly set in his beyond fictional Discworld (a disc balanced on the backs of four colossal elephants perched on the back of a gargantuan sea turtle swimming through the depths of space). This book is fairly amusing, and occasionally startled an audible laugh out of me. But. The Discworld just swamps my suspension of disbelief system. I can't quite fail to disbelieve all the silly stuff that goes on here and so I keep getting yanked out of the story. Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

10/8/2002: Fish! by Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen

Oh boy. It's a novella about management. Some pointy-haired person where I work read this book. And completely missed the point. The story is about a manager who is assigned to turn around the "toxic energy dump" in one of the departments in her company. She despairs until her lunchtime escape from the office takes her to the Pike Place Fish Market where a kindly fishmonger teaches her the four insights/ingredients to make a workplace fun and vibrant. Here, I'll give them to you: 1. You can choose your attitude. 2. Play. 3. Make your customers' day. 4. Be fully present. There, do you feel inspired and invigorated? No? I wasn't either when the aforementioned member of my company's management team bought fish balloons and placed them around our building with dishes of goldfish crackers underneath them and little signs saying "FISH!" with one of these pithy bullet items. What the pointy-haired manager missed, and what makes the book actually sort of pleasant to read is that the manager in the book achieves the turnaround in her department's attitude by managing them. She shows them the problem. She shows them that it is possible to change it. She inspires them to want to change. Then she gives them the authority and resources to figure out what the root causes are and how to solve them. Then she gets out of the way and lets them do it. I'm sure you won't be surprised to discover that scattering food pellets around the office was not her prime strategy. The book's not bad. My manager's implementation leaves something to be desired.

Postscript: For reasons unclear to anyone, the supply of food pellets suddenly dried up even though the balloons and bowls were still in place. This event inspired some of my fellow software engineers to anonymously wax poetic:

Oh cheese cracker fish.
You nourished my hungry self.
Only crumbs linger.

I especially like this one:

Fish flowed like water,
Endless fish golden in bowls.
Empty bowls remain.

10/15/2002: China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
At some point in the past of this book, the American working class got fed up with their lot in life under the prevailing political economic system and revolted, tearing down not just the government, but the capitalist system. The book takes place after that's all settled. China is the most powerful nation and various flavors of socialism and communism are the norm. What's great about this book (and it is a great book) is that all of this stuff and the obligatory tech advances are strictly in the background except in how they relate to McHugh's characters. There are a handful of very loosely connected point of view characters in rotating chapters. The story arc mostly follows Zhang, an engineering tech. I really don't want to talk about the book too much cause you should just go read it if it sounds at all interesting.

10/22/2002: The Incredible Secret Money Machine by Don Lancaster
Copyright 1978, and shows it. In a good way. Subtitled "A how-to cookbook for setting up your own computer, craft, or technical business", it's about as quirky, amusing, and engaging a business book as you're likely to come across. This is no "get rich quick" scheme, though. It's more a guide to practical approaches to business and finance that can allow you to practice some activity you love ("trip" in Lancaster's late 70's parlance) on a total lifestyle basis without going completely broke in the process. Parts of the book have aged badly (like the bit on producing printed matter which naturally has very little to say about word processors and laser printers.), but for the most part Lancaster's advice is timeless.

11/8/2002: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb (repeat)
Hobb's new novel Fool's Errand somewhat redeemed the main character of her Assassin trilogy for me. The first time I read the trilogy, I had a hard time with Fitz's refusal to accept some of the truths about his lot in life. After reading Fool's Errand where Fitz is 10 years older, I could write the things I found annoying as youthful stupidity. So I figured I'd reread the trilogy and see if I could see it that way with the events of the books right in front of me. The answer for the most part is yes. Fitz makes mistakes, but in this book, he barely makes it into his teens. As usual, I found that the things I disliked about him are things that I like to think I have outgrown, but actually have not. So I guess I'm at least becoming more accepting of these particular faults both in this character and in myself. Can't say whether Hobbs's work is the impetus behind that growth, or just the mirror that shows it to me. Either way, it's a pretty cool thing for a work of fiction to be able to do for you.

11/10/2002: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Listened to this as an audio book read by the author. Gaiman's reading contributed greatly to the experience of this little book. Coraline (not Caroline!) is a little girl like most little girls. She gets bored. She wishes her parents would let her do what she wants more. Then one day she discovers behind a locked door in her family's flat, a replica of her house with another mother and father who seem to embody her desires, and yet are kind of scary too (as Gaiman puts it, they make her feel uncomfortable). And then she goes back to her real house to find that her real parents are gone. It's a spooky, even-paced, and finally very satisfying little book.

11/14/2002: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (repeat)
Second book in Hobb's Assassin trilogy. I'm enjoying it more this time through. Fitz is buffetted about both in palace politics and real world battles. Various plots are hatched and come to fruition. In retrospect, it has all the hallmarks of a middle book of a trilogy, but to Hobb's credit, it doesn't feel like that a bit while reading it. There's plenty of well-motivated action and despite my opinion to the contrary on first reading it, a fair amount of personal growth occurring in the principals. Quite diverting.

11/23/2002: Building Wireless Community Networks by Rob Flickenger
All about the nuts and bolts of extending broadband access to those ill-served by the cable and dsl companies. I was thinking I'd set up a public net here at Flying House, but I think I'll work on getting the private network up and running first. Includes instructions for making your own pringles can yagi. Radio, Computers, and Crafts! It's like the late-seventies hobbyist computer craze all over again. Good little book (from O'Reilly) with shockingly big cover price. ($25 for 120 pages)

11/27/2002: Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb (repeat)
Third book in Hobb's Assassin series. She has an extremely detailed world put together for her books (her Liveship Traders series and the new Fool series are all set in the same place), and a large part of this book is filled with exposition on these details. Fitz gets into impossible situations repeatedly and escapes repeatedly. Granted, the whole setup of these books is that they take place at a pivotal moment in history and follow characters who are the principals in making that moment happen, but even so, it feels a bit too much like the Author is pulling all the strings here. She's a good writer, so it's fun to read the book and find out what happens next, but the feeling of engineered plotting allows few surprises.

11/30/2002: The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod
I've been hearing about Ken MacLeod from SF junkies for a few years and finally took the plunge. There are two alternating storylines involving some of the same characters, one set in the late 20th century in the UK, the other set in a colony on a planet in a far-distant solar system in the late 21st. The overlapping characters are two friends who meet in college in Scotland in the first chapters of the book, and as the book goes on become more and more central to world events. Virtually everyone in the book is politically active, mostly in various Marxist/Socialist sects, but the main character is sort of an Anarchist Libertarian. There's a fair number of political info dumps, but they all further the story, and there's enough action to keep things interesting even if you don't (like I didn't) quite follow all the nuances. I understand that several other of MacLeod's books cover the same events from different points of view. I'm looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

12/8/2002: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
Carter the Great was a real vaudeville magician in first half of the last century (That would be the 20th century). Gold has written a novel based on Carter, and it is just a whole lot of fun to read. I've been trying to write some sentences that talk about what happens in the book, but the events are complicated and have strange nuances, and I can't describe them to my satisfaction. Perhaps just a list of things which bear on the plot: the death of President Harding, a lion who roars on command, Houdini, San Francisco society, a bumbling Secret Service agent, some relatively competent Secret Service Agents, Philo T. Farnsworth, a mad magician, and lots and lots of magic tricks and illusions. Quite diverting.

12/10/2002: The Duke of Uranium by John Barnes
Barnes is one of my favorite authors. He's written a wide variety of books in different sub-genre's of SF from juveniles to hard SF co-written with actual astronaut Buzz Aldrin, from extremely dark near-future SF to humorous fantasy, from adventure pulp to multi-volume SF epic. This book is his second that I would instantly toss into the juvenile category. Seeing that word here, I'm reminded that it means something different to SF fans, especially Heinlein fans than it might to others. Heinlein wrote a whole bunch of novels that have come to be known as "Heinlein's Juveniles", and they are the books that introduced a huge number of young people to SF. They're generally stories of young people in future, but not too future, worlds who are getting into adventures for the first time. They're a lot of fun, and they're full of subversive little memes of social theory. Lots of other people have written books that feel like Heinlein juveniles, but two have done it better than any others I've read: John M. Ford, and John Barnes. This is Barnes's second run at the genre, and it's actually more juvenile than the first one (and this time, I mean that in both senses of the word, but still in a good way! ;-) Anyway, the main character (who is not the title character) is a teenager in a space station. He is quickly thrown into an adventure that takes him on a brief tour of the inner solar system ending on Earth where he gets into big trouble. The characters are all interesting people and the adventures are fun. One thing I didn't quite accept is that the book is set 1000 years in the future, and to my mind, things just haven't changed enough in that time especially since contact has been made with a galactic civilization. But maybe I've just been reading too much singularity lit lately.

12/16/2002: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
Picked this up on my friend Mark's recommendation. Mark gets a point! In the first few pages of the book you find out that scientists have learned how to genetically engineer away the need to sleep. The rest of the book is spent subtly and intriguingly exploring that possibility and simultaneously pondering the question of what human beings owe each other, particularly what they owe to people who are less advantaged. None of the answers is pat, and the people and events Kress uses to investigate are darned interesting. Very good book.

12/21/2002: The Paths of the Dead by Steven Brust
This is the latest in Brust's series of historical novels somewhat in the style of Alexandre Dumas. Of course the history he's describing is that of the world on which his Vlad Taltos series takes place, but don't let that scare you away. This book is actually the first volume of the three-volume novel The Viscount of Adrilankha. It stands alone about as well as The Fellowship of the Ring does (well enough, but leaving in its wake much anticipation of the next volume). The main characters in this volume are the same as those in The Phoenix Guards, and Five Hundred Years After as well as their children and other successors. Along with them appear a few of the main characters from the Vlad Taltos books in their relative youth. In short, there is a wealth of fascinating backstory here for anyone who has enjoyed Brust's other Dragaeran adventures. Plus, Paarfi, the fictional author of the book is in even better form than in the earlier volumes, the narrative style is like nothing you're likely to read in a modern novel, and it is just a whole lot of fun. What wasn't a whole lot of fun was stumbling past a bunch of errors in the text. At least once a chapter I would snag on a doubled word or incorrect word or other editorial gaffe to the point where I started reading with a pencil behind my ear so I could mark them and move on. Copyediting Paarfi is no picnic, but still. In spite of that quibble, I look forward to book 2 with great anticipation.

12/26/2002: Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
My friend, Mike, has been nagging me to read this book while I've been nagging him to read Lamb, neither of us realizing that they're by the same author. Coyote is the story of Sam Hunter, a Crow indian who has been passing in the white world for a long time. One day he is joined in the real world by his long-absent spirit guide, the trickster god, Coyote. Mayhem ensues. Sam suddenly finds himself fighting to retain his mundane lifestyle amid a maelstrom of disasters and revelations all engineered by Coyote. The characters are all amusingly quirky, and Moore has a gift for moving the story along through a long series of absurd occurences while somehow managing to avoid straining your credulity to the breaking point. It's a fun look at cultural heritage and the crossover between the spirit world and the "real" one. Kind of Charles de Lint on laughing gas.

12/27/2002: Skellig by David Almond
This was a gift from my brother-in-law the 8th grade English teacher. It's a beautifully written novel about a young boy who has moved to a new neighborhood and acquired a baby sister at the same time. But neither change is going very well. The new house is ramshackle with an overgrown garden and a garage that is verging on collapse. The new baby sister is born prematurely and is clinging to life with the help of doctors and hospitals. While working to clear the garden, the boy is drawn to the danger and mystery of the garage where he finds something strange and extraordinary. With 46 chapters and only 182 pages, the story sails along combining the mystery with the anxiety over the sister, making new friends in the neighborhood, and dealing with school and schoolwork during a trying time. Lovely book.

jeffy's books 2002
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