Sunday, October 6, 2019

Stopping Regular Book Blog

For over a year, I have published a book review every other week, on Wednesday, at noon.  Every week in the middle of both summers.

Reading for review

My wife is a librarian, and when I started this blog, it was partly a way for me to share something about the numerous pre-release books that she and I would get when we went to book events.  Also, when I started, doing this was fun, and I figured that if I were any good at it, maybe I would reach other readers.  That maybe someone might reach out to talk about a book I reviewed that we both read.

However, in the last year, my wife has only gone to one book event.  I've covered some classics, and even purchased a few books for review purposes.  I've heard directly from exactly one reader, one time, so it mostly feels like I'm typing into the void at this point.  That means that this is no longer fun.  I realize that reading with the knowledge that I'll be writing a review, has become a chore.


Each post gets up to 19 readers.  Typical, though, is much closer to 8.  I don't even know if the (as little as 3) readers are regular readers, or just folks who stumble onto the blog through search, looking for information about a book I reviewed.

My style of review does not lend itself to Amazon/Goodreads (where I can just add my stars to the pile).  I try to pull out the things that might make a book worth reading, and the reasons someone might want to skip a book.  To me, this is the type of review I like to read and find most useful.

That's the rule of creative work anyway, right?  Create the thing you wish existed.


I will still write reviews, but they won't be regular.  As far as my thoughts are today, I have already written and scheduled a review for late January for a book that is releasing in February (2020).

To those few of you who have come along with me on this journey, thank you.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

[Book] The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Title Illustration
I read somewhere that the story of Disney's Frozen was based on this book, so I decided to read and review it for this blog.   I want to be clear that there is almost nothing that the story of Frozen has left in common with this original fairytale, except for a talking reindeer.  This is a short read, and I've linked to the full text via Project Gutenberg in the book information block below.

The story starts with the creation of a mirror by a mischievous hobgoblin/sprite, which once broken spreads, as dust and tiny shards, evil into the world.  In the second chapter, we are brought forward to meet the main characters, a young boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda, and we learn that the worst snow storms are accompanied by the Snow Queen.

As fairy tales go, this one is elaborate.  There is a great deal of symbolism that may have been recognizable tropes to a contemporary reader of 1844, but left me feeling a bit lost.  Even the Snow itself is described instead as "white bees swarming".

Even though it is a short read, I don't recommend it.  I felt that most of the imagery was too abstract in that it doesn't translate to a modern day very cleanly.  That is, trying to figure out the meaning behind certain things was exhausting.  Chapter 3 introduces an Enchanted Flower Garden, but I couldn't figure out what the point was of most of it.

Feel free to try to explain what I'm missing in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

[Book] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Book cover
The Graveyard Book isn't a horror novel, but it is absolutely goth and macabre. The story follows a boy from 18 months old when his whole family is murdered and he wanders off into the night through his childhood as he is raised in a graveyard by two ghosts and a vampire as guardian (who supplies physical things, like food and clothes).  At one point, we meet a werewolf and ghouls as well.

We never learn the boy's birth-name, so the ghosts of the graveyard named him Nobody, which gets shortened to Bod.  As an accepted member of the graveyard, Bod gets to use many powers of the dead - but only in the graveyard.

The story is paced very well, and the chapters are also individual stories that make the book easy to pick back up.  Yet, I found it compelling enough that I read the whole thing in two sittings (and within 24 hours).

Young adult books are absolutely best when they don't feel like books written for a teenage audience, and this book fits right in there.  There is light romance, a lot of death (not just the already dead) and a whole lot of action.

I didn't realize until organizing my thoughts for this review: This book has a lot of parallels with Harry Potter.  Anyone who has moral issues with the Harry Potter series would probably have the same problems with this book.  Also, being raised by those who are already dead, Bod has a bit of a different morality about death itself.  That is, I can totally see some folks thinking that this book might not be suitable for their children.

To me, though, the moral ambiguity and the very different magic of the dead made this book feel like an introduction to a whole new, very believable universe.  For that, I definitely recommend this book.  It also makes a really great Halloween read (I read this book and wrote the first draft of this review just after Halloween, 2018).

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

[Book] This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren

Book Cover
Elizabeth Warren is running for president, and pretty much every candidate writes a book prior to running.   It's a good way to let folks know where they are coming from, and do so in a long format, unfiltered by the journalist's desire to pare things down into sound-bites.

This book is subtitled: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class.  This is a book about politics, personal history of the author and the economic history of the country along with ample explanation of why the past matters today.  This book does not shy away from discussing racial economic disparity. Though, I definitely feel it could have gone much deeper into those subjects (as I don't think that past is well understood by most).

Overall, this is about the author trying to sell us her plan for the future, and it lays out a good narrative that moves between individual voters that the author has talked to, and how the economic changes of the past have directly affected those people.  This is then followed up with political policy statements.  Often, this is re-instating protections that have eroded in the last 50 years, but with modifications that acknowledge racial and gender disparities of those past policies.

Personally, I have found this book to be quite compelling, and to my mind, Elizabeth Warren is the front-runner.  That said, this is mostly because she has actually put in the time to make actual policy statements, and directly talk about the plans that she would support.  Most other candidates aren't to that point yet (and some may never get there).  She's done her homework, and is serious.

Recommended: assuming you can deal with some politics.  There are enough personal touch-points in here to keep my attention (which is rare with a political book).  Skip it if you just don't have the emotional bandwidth for this sort of thing.  There are certainly many things pointed out about the current state of this country that had me feeling quite angry, and I totally get that not everyone can handle reading a deep dive on all the things that have gone awry on our way to this point.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

[Book] How To Be A Snow Queen by Mari Schuh

Book cover
This is a children's (6 to 10 years) book about leadership, the subtitle is Leadership With Elsa.  While recapping the story of Disney's Frozen, it is a combination of pointing out leadership traits within the story, and pop-up video style call-outs to movie related facts.  Because this is an educational title riding on top of the fictional story of Frozen, it is categorized as a non-fiction book.

Even trying to keep in mind the young audience that this book is for, I felt that the book was very light on leadership itself, and was much better at other real-life tie-ins.  For example, one pop-up suggests that the animators learned a lot about meteorology for the movie.  Another pop-up describes the career choice of "Doctor" (in relation to a healer Troll).  There is a very short glossary on the back page which includes; Architect, Candidate, Confidence, Coronation, Kingdom, Meteorology and National Park (only one of these being a leadership related trait).

So, while I don't recommend this book specifically for leadership information, I genuinely enjoy the story, illustrations and pop-up facts that go along with it.  It is also difficult to read out loud, because to read the pop-up information, you have to temporarily drop the narrative.  There's not an obvious place to pause and read the extra word-bubble.

Get this if you want a Frozen book for a Frozen-obsessed kid, and you want it to offer more than a recap the story: That is the sweet spot for this book.  Skip it if you don't have a Frozen obsessed kid, or if you have a kid who is actually interested in leadership.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

[Book] The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Book cover
This is a book that I've known about for most of my life, and Tom Sawyer is a character that I've heard referenced through my entire life.  A fairly large area of Disney's Magic Kingdom is dedicated to this book; one of my favorite places to hang out for an hour.  Yet, nothing of the story was spoiled for me.

First and foremost, the "n word" appears nine times through the text, four of them clustered together in two adjacent paragraphs of dialog.  Frankly, it sucks, and really does sully the experience of the book as well as my opinion of the Author.  There are a few black slave characters in the book, but none are given depth or consideration. As I also said in my review of Peter Pan, the slur was as much a disservice to black Americans then (only a decade from emancipation) as it is today.

The villain of the novel is Injun Joe, referred to as half-breed without explanation as best as I recall.  Not quite as painful as Peter Pan, but still several "Indian" stereotype checkboxes are used for this character.

A modern reader literally has to "get over" both of these things to be able to see the story.  Yet, this story has both of these things, and I suddenly understand why I've never heard the story before.  It is an archive of prejudices that went out of style for mainstream America before I was born, featuring the title character lying, skipping school, stealing, running away, smoking tobacco and somehow, ending up without lasting consequence.

Past the prejudices, the writing is good, and mostly everything feels like it could have happened.  The first half of the book drags on, and there isn't much adventure, mostly endless mischief.  Tom Sawyer does grow some in the book, but not as much as I'd expect.  This book kept my interest, but mostly because of the historic context.  This is, in part, how children acted in the 1830s, and what a small Missouri town about a mile off the Mississippi river was like.  Many of the places written about are real, and I'm fond of history.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the book.  There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the parts that made me uncomfortable pretty much outweigh the overall experience.  If you've read the book, and think I have it wrong, let me know... I'm happy to hear from others.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

[Book] Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Book Cover
This is the final book of the Defy the Stars trilogy (start with reviews of book one and two).  There are probably mild spoilers for the first and one major spoiler for the second book in this review of book three, so please proceed with that in mind.

As I wrote in my review of Defy the Worlds, I do not recommend diving into this book without reading the previous two first.  While this book could stand alone, it does not include as much exposition about the previous events as I'm used to (in other serial novels).  Also, to be honest, the other books were great, and it would be a shame to skip them just to get to the end.

This book starts with Noemi fatally injured, and in a stasis chamber to keep her alive while Abel makes a plan to save her life, but trading his own in the process.  This self-sacrificing cross-plan is a trope, even within these novels, but I cannot pretend that real people don't often repeat the same patterns.  It was, however, the one painfully predictable point in an otherwise great story arc.

Meanwhile, in retaliation against Earth, some of the leadership of Genesis have hatched a secret plan to defeat Earth once and for-all, but one of the members of this plan commits treason and reveals the plan to...  Not going to spoil that bit.  Finally, there was one technical hurdle that was described in some depth during book 2 about how tricky it is to land on Haven.  That was, well, completely ignored (or forgotten) in book 3, and that also bothered me.

I liked this book the least of the three, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  Overall, this is the ending that the series needs, and I liked a lot more about it than my two nit-picks.  That is, I recommend the whole series.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

[Book] Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Book cover
Originally a play, then released in book form as Peter and Wendy, this book is the basis of Disney's cartoon movie, Peter Pan.  The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book with the exception that Disney's version doesn't portray deaths that the book does.

Problematic doesn't begin to describe this experience.  Like a lot of classic literature, defenders will point out that this is a product of its time.  Yet, I was outwardly embarrassed while reading sections of this by just how far out of touch it is.

As much as Wendy was a main character, her experience of Neverland, a fantasy/dream world, included absolutely everyone wanting her to act as their mother, but included actual work, mending everyone else's clothes.

Then there is the Native Americans of imagination land.  Named as a racial slur*, the Piccaninny Tribe follows terrible stereo-types, and a major sub-plot puts Peter Pan as their white savior, leaving near half of the tribe to sacrifice themselves for Pan and the Lost Boys, later.  *Some online sources suggest that the term wasn't a slur until much later, but an awareness of the purveyor has rarely made the recipient feel better.

Read this if you have to, but I don't recommend it.  It's not the worst, or even most problematic book I've read, and parts of it are ripe for stealing for your own stories (since this isn't covered by copyright in most countries these days).  Worse, I'm happy I read it, if only that I can complain about it here.

If you've read it, let me know what you think I got wrong.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

[Book] Every Tool's A Hammer by Adam Savage

Book Cover
Subtitled, Life is What You Make It, this is a book about making things.  It has many, many other components though.  It is partly a memoir of the author's career.  It is partly a book about management, especially the end of Chapter 4 which covers delegation and the importance of communication.  It is also very instructional, in that it prescriptively lays out a number of best practices for making, along with illustrative stories of why these practices are so important.

This book wouldn't be what it is if it were not for who the author is.  Adam Savage is best known as the more approachable co-host of Mythbusters, that aired for 14 seasons, but he is also a set designer, prop maker and miniature model builder on several movies.  Mythbusters was recently rebooted as Mythbusters Jr., and Adam Savage can regularly be seen answering questions and making things on and YouTube.

To help show how the book is organized, here is the chapter listing:

Dig Through The Bottom of The Rabbit Hole
Use More Cooling Fluid
Increase Your Loose Tolerance
Screw > Glue
See Everything, Reach Everything
Hammers, Blades, and Scissors
Sweep Up Every Day

The very beginning of this book defines making as any creative activity.  That includes sewing or coding, woodworking or electronics, writing or drawing, in virtual spaces or meat space.  To get down to it, I highly recommend this book for a maker (no matter how one defines it) or anyone who really likes Adam Savage.  If building stuff is not an interest, then maybe this book isn't either.  Reading this book has pushed me back towards making more things (which includes pre-publishing a number of book reviews (I was running low), but also doing some work on my personal web site.


To my readers (between 4 and 20 of you), feel free to send me a note or leave a comment if you have ideas about things I should add to my reviews, or even if you have a strong opinion about a book that you want me to read and review.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

[Book] Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Book cover
Set before the first prequel movie, this book follows Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, and his Jedi Apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on a diplomatic mission set forth by the Jedi council.  They are sent to a planet, Pijal, that we haven't seen before, which really is a great way to see the author's creativity.

We are presented with a wide array of new characters on this new world, like the Jedi Rael Averross, who has been the regent of Pijal for the last 8 years, and the escaped slave Rahara Wick.  Count Dooku, Qui-Gon's former master also makes some important appearances in this story, which broadens the sense of the Title as well.

There is a strong theme around slavery in the Star Wars universe throughout this novel which is a fairly major plot point within the story and is shown as a shining red flag on the corruption within the late republic.  I feel I could write a lot about the dynamics of this theme, but it's better to simply suggest; pick up this book.

As in her previous Star Wars novels, Claudia Gray is a master at weaving the deep politics of Star Wars into the story.  To me, politics was the primary thing the prequels were not very good at showing in a compelling way.  Here, the politics really bring the Star Wars story out of space fantasy and firmly back into what science fiction is best at.  Here is a mirror to our current selves.

It turns out that Claudia Gray has become my favorite author.  I await each book that comes out.  Read this book if you like Star Wars and want more stories about the background of Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan.  I do not think it is necessary to know the characters before reading this book, as the movies did a poor job of really exploring their personalities anyway.  It is okay to skip this book if you aren't a fan of Star Wars.   That said, even though I'm not in love with the prequels, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it as a good piece of science fiction.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

[Book] Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book Cover
Every once in a while, I try to get in a review of a classic.  Something that some of my readers are likely to have read themselves.  I do this, mostly, to help readers calibrate my taste...  That is, it seems likely enough that some readers are likely to disagree with everything I like, and might find it compelling to read a book that I really didn't like.

In this case, the publisher link below points to Project Gutenberg, which has free downloads, in multiple formats, for this fiction which is long in the public domain.

The story is set in the mid 18th century starting in for the first sections, but becomes a sea-faring story in the Caribbean.  The narrator (with the exception of two chapters), Jim Hawkins, is a boy or young man (the book doesn't make his age clear), though it is made clear that he is not grown to the size of a man, and lacks the strength of the adults around him.

Since this story has been in the public domain for many years, I found that every major turn of the story was predictable as I read it, as the story in whole and in parts has been used many times in many, many other stories.  That said, the world building is outstanding.  The topography, flora and fauna of Treasure Island was very carefully described making the island truly feel like a real place.  One quirk of this book, which authors typically try to avoid, is that there are three characters named Tom, and three named John, which I sometimes found to be a little confusing.

Overall, I'm very glad to have read this book, even though the story itself was familiar from other sources.  This book is the original origin of that now clichéd pirate with one leg and a parrot, and treasure maps with the treasure trove marked on the map.  It is a wonderfully told story and the language was wholly accessible.

Recommended for those that want a swashbuckling nostalgia trip ... due to the familiarity of story ... told in vivid details.  Skip it if a pirate fantasy just doesn't sound interesting.  Also skippable for those readers that cannot forgive the clichéd tropes (even knowing that this is the book where those clichés were fresh and new).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

[Book] Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Book cover
This short book (novella) is the first in the trilogy.  Binti is the name of the main character.  This book starts on a distant future (unspecified timeline) Earth where humans are now space-faring, and alien races are known.

There is a lot to unpack in the world-building and the world is built along with the story.  Each chapter is unusually episodic, in that some small part of the last scene of a previous chapter will be often be repeated at the beginning of the next.  This took a little getting used to, but I imagine is much easier for readers who are going to read one chapter, and put the book down for a day or two.

Like much of my my favorite Sci-Fi, this book explores racial tensions and cultural wounds through the lens of the far off and vastly different.  The character Binti's understanding of mathematics and electronics is described as magical, as if some humans evolved to be able to create and control electrical currents in their mind.  It does a great service to explaining how distant future culture and humans have become from what we are used to now.

This is a great story, but is very brief, and suspect the book may have been better had it been a little bit longer.  More world-building could have dropped in the first few chapters before the story really got going.  The strength of this story is Binti's internal monologue, and how she navigates through harrowing tragedy and survival itself.  I look forward to reading Binti: Home, the second book in the trilogy.

Book 2 Cover
Trigger warnings for terrorist violence and detailed gore.  Read this if you like space-drama and stories that don't feature a love triangle (as so much YA does).  Skip if Sci-Fi really isn't your thing.


Binti: Home

Binti: Home picks up nearly a year after the end of the first book, and follows Binti and Okwa (her Alien friend) on a visit back to Earth.  The book is much longer than the first, and it does not have the episodic repeating of the last scene that the first book occasionally had.

There are seeds from book 1 that are mined and expanded, but the style of world building as the story unfolds is very useful as new elements are revealed and used as the story expands.  This book continues to follow Binti's internal monologue and highlights the amount of change in who Binti is after the trauma of book 1.

The themes from book 1 are still there, but this book's theme seems to focus more on family bonds (and family fractures).  This book ends on a very dramatic cliff-hanger, and really does not feel like a complete story.

While it is possible to read book 1, and be satisfied with a story I don't recommend reading book 2 unless you are committed to also reading book 3, and ... maybe read my review of book 3 (just below).

Book 3 Cover

Binti: The Night Mascarade

Binti: The Night Masquerade picks up a heartbeat after Binti: Home, and Binti is still on Earth, but as she joins the tribe of her paternal grandmother, her nuclear family is in dire trouble.  This third book is over twice as long as the first novella.

The first half of this book (maybe a little more than half) feels like the conclusion of Binti: Home.  The second half feels like a different short story.  I suspect that this book is delineated in the way it is because the theme focus is on intersectionality (and how much heartbreak comes from those who do not understand).

I would have been more satisfied with the story had this book ended in the middle.  The second half felt a little too much like it was pushing for a happy ending, and maybe in sensing that it was going too far, ended on a bittersweet note.

After three books, this universe seems very ripe and full of subtleties.  I really enjoy Binti's personality, but I feel like I was done with Binti's story in the middle of this book.  That is, I would live to read about other characters in this universe.  I want to know of the adventures of other alien races, some of which were even hinted about in these stories.

Overall, I'm happy I read these books, but I can't say I recommend the second two as much as I'd highly recommend book 1.  I think, perhaps, I feel the second half of this book really needed some technological foreshadowing.  This is a place where the unfolding of world building along side the plot does a disservice to the reader.  For me, at least, there is a point in the book that broke my suspension of disbelief.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

[Book] Defy The Worlds by Claudia Gray

Book cover
This is book 2 of the Defy the Stars trilogy.  I recommend first reading my review of Defy the Stars before diving headlong into this review.  Also, there may be mild spoilers of the first book in this review.  I'm not sure that can be helped.

I recommend not reading Defy The Worlds until Defy The Stars has already been read.  Like most sequels, this book could stand-alone, but there is not as much exposition and recap as I'm used to reading in sequels.  It seems to be more closely written with the expectation that readers will start from book one.

The book starts with Noemi back on Genesis, trying to fit back into military life while dealing with global inquests, and summons to talk with world-leaders, many of whom do not trust her, or her judgement.

Most of the characters from the first book have a part in this second book.  The conflicts in this book are more political and far-reaching, and the pacing of action is quick throughout.

In part, due to the abbreviated recaps, and the little space dedicated to explaining the world-building that had occurred in book one, the action in this book picks up very quickly.  If this were a stand-alone (or first) book, I would be complaining about this, but it works very well for a second book.  Overall, I actually enjoyed this book more than the first one (which is very rare).  This has me looking forward to book 3, even more.

I recommended reading this series.  At this point, I recommend reading anything by Claudia Gray.  Her writing has yet to leave me unsatisfied.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

[Book] The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King

Book cover
Subtitled, The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, this is a biography of a man that most Americans over 30 grew up watching as children on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which is a show that ran on US public television stations (PBS) for 31 years (1968-2001).

I cannot review this book without noting that Fred Rogers means a lot to me, as I watched his show regularly for many years.  Because of this, I find his life interesting... possibly more than most.  Then again, David Bowie means a lot to me too, and I didn't review that book well at all.

The narrative line of this book is solid.  There is very little jumping around in time, and there are few narrative conflicts (and those that happen, are explained as conflicts in a straight forward manner).  There were some chapters dedicated to explaining the times he was in, people he worked with, and the beginnings of the Television Industry, in which he was an early entrant.  Some of these chapters didn't make sense to me until I saw how that background became important in the following chapters.

There was one chapter that was filled with religious references, and comparing Fred Rogers to revered religious figures.  That was awkward for me to read, and I think I would have gotten the same thing out of the book, had I skipped the rest of that chapter once I felt awkward.  Overall, after the first quarter of the book, I found myself crying pretty regularly.

In any case, if you grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, or you have a friend who won't shut up about him, or even if you saw the 2018 documentary and want to know more, I highly recommend this book (it covers so much more than the documentary).  Like any biography, it probably won't be interesting if you don't know who this is.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

[Book] Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray

This is book one of a three book series (the third book came out earlier this month), and since I've already had good reviews of two other books by this author, I decided to pick up this series as well to see what she had done outside of the Star Wars universe.

Book cover
Through a ring of stabilized wormholes, large enough for whole ships to pass through, Earth expanded to five other planets.  Over many years, one of those planets, Genesis, decided that the leadership of Earth would use up their planet as they have used up their own, and through great cost, they waged a war to gain their independence.

Thirty years after this war was thought to be won, Earth has started sending new regiments through the gateway, and Genesis isn't ready.  This is where the book begins as we join Noemi, one of the fighters of Genesis, training for a suicide mission.

From the very beginning of the book, the characters are alive with backstory.  I read this book in under a week, despite having a pretty terrible cold.  There is a deep thread here on the difference between intelligent machine and sentient beings.  I want to clarify that nothing about this series feels like the Star Wars universe.  It's a lot more grounded and there aren't sentient alien creatures.  I am really looking forward to book 2, Defy the World.

I recommend this book.  There is violence and injuries, but no gore.  Some romance, but only mentions of sex.  There is little politics, and a little more mention of religion, but overall, the only reason to skip it is if you really aren't a science-fiction person.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

[Book] Maid by Stephanie Land

Book cover
Start from one mistake, one that is tragically common - becoming a parent a little to young.  From that point, almost everything that can go wrong in someone's life while still making the best possible choice for the circumstance is laid out in the first four chapters of this book.  This beginning is a treatise on despair and government anti-poverty programs.

The arc doesn't exactly get better from there, but it starts to be framed in a way that shows gratitude for the things that haven't gone completely wrong, though things do continue to go wrong.  It reminds me of parts of my own childhood being raised by a single mom.  Those memories of being able to do the really simple things that don't cost a lot of money.

There is a lot to unpack here about how poor people are treated as fundamentally broken and lazy.  This is a really good reminder that people are people, and that the hardest working among us often do get the least reward.

Some of my most well-off acquaintances truly believe that they got there through smart-decisions and being willing to put in the work: That luck has very little to do with it.  Those are the people that I really think should skip this book.  I think they'd get the wrong thing from it.  Ultimately this is a memoir from a New York Times Best-Selling Author.  Someone who, through smart-decisions and being willing to put in the work, climbed out of poverty.  In a strange way, this book would only prove the narrative that merit is all it takes.

Read this if you want to go on a journey through some beautiful places in the Pacific North-West while experiencing some truly painful arcs.  Like any good memoir, I come away from this book feeling like I know the author, and really like her as a person.  Maybe you'll feel the same.  Trigger warnings for domestic violence, emotional abuse, medical gore, hoarding and bodily fluids.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

[Book] Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Book cover
This is the second book that I've reviewed by Naomi Novik, the first was Uprooted.  At a high level, there are some parallels between these books, but they are definitely different worlds.  Here's a quick overview of the setting:

A Jewish girl of about 16 named Miryam lives in a medieval small unwalled town with the name of either Pakel or Pavys, but the residents simply called it town which is a third of the way between two larger cities in the Kingdom of Lithvas.  Year over year, winters in Lithvas are getting longer and growing seasons dangerously short.

Anywhere in the kingdom, but most often in the forest near town a magical road of white ice to a winter kingdom of the Staryk will sometimes appear.  The road is a magical, almost dimensional, crossing that the Staryk king is able to open.  Lithvas itself is not a magical place, but the road and the Staryk kingdom is.  The Staryk use the road to pillage Lithvas for gold.

There are three women in this book who are all under-estimated in their own ways, and who all find a greater strength through doing the right thing and not having permission to do so.  Three times at the end of the book I wept with pride.  The character arcs are strong, and even the villains are mostly sympathetic (one exception).

Read this for strong women kicking ass and getting things done.  Content warnings for graphic violence and mention of rape in past context without graphic rape descriptors.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

[Book] Predators Gold by Philip Reeve

Book cover
This is book 2 of the Mortal Engines Quartet.  For convenience, here is a link to my review of book 1, Mortal Engines, which I posted a month ago.

I'm going to start this review with a note about a changed name.  The books were originally released in the UK with a character named Shrike.  For the initial US release of the books, that character was renamed to Grike.  I didn't run into this during the first book because the post-movie release of Mortal Engines had renamed Grike back to his original name, Shrike, to match the movie.  The version of book 2 I read hasn't been reverted, and I was legitimately dismayed that the name of the character had changed.  One I looked it up online, it made sense, but it was a bit distracting.

Very early in the book, we are introduced to a character named Nimrod Pennyroyal who is described as an adventurer and autobiographer of his adventures, and the reader is also given clues that Pennyroyal is not actually an adventurer at all.  By the fourth chapter, I was annoyed by the parallels of this character to Gilderoy Lockhart, the autobiographer character from the second Harry Potter book, Chamber of Secrets, and that annoyance never fully left me.  The overall plots are different enough, that I was able to enjoy the twists and turns along the way, and by the 2/3 point of the book, I was invested in the ending despite the book's OTHER major flaw.

Hester, who was introduced in book 1 as a self-actualized, scrappy adventurer, was arguably the main character of that book.  For this book, she is reduced to a collection of petty jealousies.  It feels like the character became a shadow of her former self, and worse, this jealousy is used as a major driver of the plot.

Ultimately, the first book was sold in the US as a Young Adult adventure, but it didn't feel like it was conceived or written for a young adult audience, which was part of its magic.  Sadly, this second book definitely feels like it was written with a young-adult audience in mind.  Not that it was written for young adults, but written for what someone thinks YA fiction should look like.

That said, the world building is still first rate.  Outside of Pennyroyal, the villains are believable and even sympathetic.  It's the heroine that becomes hard to sympathize with.  Like I mentioned above, I was eventually invested in the story, but I can't recommend this book.  As a complete-ist, I will probably read the other two books, and maybe even write about them here, but I'm not in a hurry to run out and find the next book in the series.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

[Book] Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Book cover
This is a different kind of book about business management.  This book is not about success, at least not an initial success.  Instead, this book is about continuing to succeed after that initial success.  It does this by talking very candidly about narrowly averting complete failure.

The very beginning of this book does capture the early history of Pixar up through the release and success of Toy Story.  The only management lesson I think it was trying to tell is something like this:  Get a group of talented people together, give them the honest mandate that quality is priority and you have a gamble.  Maybe magic will happen, maybe everything flails around and nothing gets built.  Like I said, this book isn't about that initial success.

When a book talks about something I know about, in this case management, I look for it to help me put a name or framework to practices that I have found successful.  I often know something works and can usually replicate it, but - when I don't fully understand something, I find myself repeating a ritual, instead of understanding the essential steps.

When I read How to Make Friends and Influence People, for example, I learned a lot about what I already did right, but I learned even more about the essentials.  I was able to demystify the things I did right, and stop wasting effort on things that were needless parts of my repeated ritual ... things that most likely annoyed people.

Creativity, Inc. was written to let me know that the rituals I repeat to try to repeat a successful behavior may be more harmful that helpful, with examples (and a lot of them).  There are absolutely successful behaviors described here, but the big theme is learning to find balance in agility.  That is, change is necessary while stagnation is certain death.  Yet, change without balance is chaos.  Creativity without deadline is unlikely to ever complete, yet deadline without flexibility will lead to rote repetition, burnout or both.  Trust your people, but hold them accountable.  Accountability means that they must have the power of open and constructive input.

This book has a very clever style of writing.  It talks about a number of management strategies illustrated through a memoir style, The Making Of ..., most of Pixar's movies.  That is the story of how Toy Story 2 was made is also a cautionary tale of employee burnout.  The making of Inside Out is a tale about how constructive feedback works, while the making of a story that ended up cancelled entirely is a tale about how to feedback done wrong, or too little, does lead to failure.  There is also a bit of interesting insight into Steve Jobs in here.

Yes, I recommend this book if you, like me, are really into Pixar.  Definitely read this if you are a Steve Jobs completist.  I recommend this book if you want to read good narrative advice about running a creative and productive team.  Skip it if neither management nor animation are of interest to you.  Yet, even from a story perspective, a good half of this book is great narrative storytelling wrapping around a lesson on team management.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Fixing the Broken

I was reading my twitter feed, when I stumbled upon this:
If a process is broken throw it in the trash and start over. Nothing is set in stone.
The simplicity of the tweet is absolutely true.  It totally reminded me of a problem I've seen multiple times though.  The process is rarely the difficult part of fixing a problem.

A long time ago, when I was a team lead, the group I worked with had an automated build system that was extremely complicated, built entirely in-house, and didn't follow the conventions of any of the standard build-systems that exist.  There was a steep learning curve to get new software packages into the system, and most developers never learned to do it.  This also meant that when someone needed to introduce a project that didn't exist already, they'd often work-around the need instead of waiting for someone with knowledge to help.

At some point, the group hired a published tech-author who was a big open source advocate, and quite outspoken.  Upon trying to interface with the build system, they loudly declared it broken, and suggested it should be fixed.  Management above me said a very smart thing, "Okay, fix it."

Many months later, that person left the group, and the same build system was still there and there were not even any modifications done.  Let me unwind what went wrong.

By most metrics, if a process is that hard, then it is objectively broken.  That new employee was absolutely correct in the assessment.  However, the process doesn't care.  This group had over 200 distinct, but interrelated projects, which means that any replacement system would need to be configured for all of them.  The process also had a custom syntactical structure to deal with a number of edge cases.  This is both what made it maddeningly difficult to work with, but also what made it work well in that environment.

The process, like most, was built and maintained by people, most of whom were still sitting in that office.  Generally, everyone who understood the custom build process deeply appreciated the many, many things it accomplished.  Those who didn't need to learn the complexity of adding a new project didn't have a reason to care, but that also meant that those people weren't useful allies, since they didn't understand the full extent of what the process did.

This new person basically started by angering the very people who maintained this process.  Those were the only people with the knowledge of the complexities that a new system would need to mitigate or replace.  Once this person started working in earnest to replace the system, the complexities showed themselves randomly, and the original maintainers just stood back, waiting for the inevitable failure.

Here is the lesson I learned from watching this happen.

To affect change, you must acknowledge a process' power, and demonstrate understanding of its complexity before the process guardians will trust you to replace it.

If a process accomplishes nothing, it would have already been replaced.  If a process exists at all, it accomplishes something, and it is probably there for a reason.  Sometimes a strange or ugly process simply exists because of somebody who did something really dumb.  As in, don't be the person who makes us write a rule.

If a process is terrible, ask open questions about why it is built the way it is.  Most likely it is still there because it solves problems that other tools (even if they are newer) don't already solve.  This is especially true when those processes bridge multiple other systems.  Avoid criticizing a process, but ask pointed questions about the parts that are ugly.

On multiple occasions in the many years since, I've been able to use these lessons to fix or replace multiple processes in multiple places.  In no case has the problem been a technical hurdle, but a problem of finding those who protect the process, and getting them on-board with fixing the deficiencies (even if they don't need to do the fixing, but just stop being protective).  Sometimes this means a whole process replacement, but most often it has meant paying off technical debt (like major code refactoring or updating dependent systems), and implementing new interfaces into the existing processes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

[Book] Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Book cover
Over a thousand years before the book's present, there was a war that effectively destroyed all of society.  Picking up the pieces of the technology that was left behind, London was put onto treads, run by steam, so that it find and consume other towns for resources and, ultimately, more fuel to keep moving.

Over time, other towns and cities did the same, while another group, called the Anti-Traction League, created a defensive wall across the only pass in a mountain range to keep these traction cities at bay on the other side.  This gives the background of how steam is the primary driver while other technology - well past steam - is also present.

By putting steampunk over 1000 years into the future, this book represents one of the best thought-out steampunk universes I've ever read.  The social constructs around living on - or avoiding, predatory cities are incredibly well thought out.  That is, this presents as a plausible future.

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Thomas, a young Londoner who is a "Third-class apprentice at the Museum of London".  The hero of this story is a young woman named Hester, who is trying to avenge the murder of her parents.  The first action of this story is Thomas preventing Hester from killing her target, and subsequently falling off of London with her.

In the best science fiction tradition, this ornate, fantastical background is a perfect set-up to reflect our present back on ourselves.  At its core, this book is about learning to accept that heroes may be false and that a character's society, itself, might be built upon evil.

The story is incredibly well done, though there are a few parts where the dialog between people is a little flat.  The masterful pacing and very well described action more than makes up for the places where odd dialog momentarily bumped me out of the story.

If you plan on reading the book and seeing the movie, I recommend watching the movie first.  The stories hit the same core-points, though the movie is much more of an action adventure than well balanced action and story.  For me, at least, the book fills in large amounts of detail, some of which was hinted at through movie dialog.

If you like Sci-Fi or Steampunk, I highly recommend this book.  Trigger warnings for slavery and extreme violence.  Skip it if you prefer fiction to be in the known world.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Managing Difficult Problems

I can no longer count the number of times that I've been able to re-invigorate a problem investigation, even if I have zero visibility on the actual problem.  This takes some self-discipline that doesn't come easy, especially during an urgent investigation.

Here's that one weird trick:

I do the depth of reading myself.  If I see multiple threads, I'll read all of them.  Then I will write as short a summary of all of the facts that I can.  Re-summarizing all of the relevant facts that have been shared, pointing out the places where multiple people or departments have a differing view of the facts, and sometimes suggesting a list of questions that should be put back to the customer (the person who is reporting the problem), will usually refocus and reinvigorate the investigation.

Wait what?

When something goes wrong, e-mails have a tendency of getting very long reply chains as people add a few sentences and add more people who might be able to help.  This is pretty normal, and isn't actually a terrible way to go about finding a problem solution.  The urgency is obvious, so most people just skim the top-most e-mails, and keep the chain moving.

On a normal day, few people will read e-mails beyond about two pages worth of text (some report as little as a paragraph).  During a difficult or urgent problem, depth of reading is not likely to get better.  I'm not here to lament this, it is just a fact about humans.


I started doing this back when I did product support (so long ago it doesn't even hit my resume anymore).  It came from a place of wanting to be able to contribute even when I didn't know the answer myself.  Sometimes by writing the summary, I would be able to see the actual problem and just answer with a solution.  Most often, though, the questions I would come up with would lead directly to a solution.  Frankly, it might be one of the things that I did that helped others think that I should be a manager.

Now, as a manager, I know that I am rarely going to have the answer, so it seems natural to continue doing the depth of reading and actually contributing back a summary and a few questions.  That is, to me, the very act of trying to write a summary of a problem naturally leads to important insights into a problem.

Problem space

It would seem that the people who have been on the thread since the beginning would be annoyed at seeing all the things they already said be repeated.  This has happened twice that I know of over the last 20 years.  It has never happened when the summary also brings up a disparity of reported facts.  In any case, I've taken to explicitly starting with a line similar to this, "I am summarizing this thread to clarify my understanding of what is going on here, and to introduce the problem to those recently added."  I also find it very important to end with something like this, "If I have anything wrong, or I missed an important detail, please let me know."

Every time I've done this, it has led to immediate changes.  First, it is a point where a large number of people can legitimately leave the investigation (even if they can just start ignoring the thread).  That is, some folks who know they have nothing to do with the problem are literally only hanging on to make sure that their one piece of input was heard.  Especially in cases where I am pointing out a dispute in the facts, a number of people will re-investigate the dispute.  About half of the time, the problem itself lies within the dispute.


Please ask questions if you have them.  Also feel free to let me know if there's anything above that I should add.  I wish to improve this if I can.  After some time, I'm likely to republish this on LinkedIn.

[Movie] Won't You Be My Neighbor (2018)

Movie poster
This is a documentary film about Fred McFeely Rogers, who was on a popular children's program called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from 1968 through 2001.  The movie starts his career with a children's show that he produced before Neighborhood, the Children's Corner, though skips his earliest work for NBC.

Won't you be my neighbor is a very well paced, carefully timed, and beautifully edited documentary.  It took a relatively small number of interviews with people from his show and life, a healthy portion of interviews from Mister Rogers himself, and a lot of footage from his shows along with just a touch of vacation footage.  I learned a lot more than I thought I would.

Watch this movie if you grew up watching this show.  Watch this movie if you want to know and understand the link between Public Broadcasting, Children's programming, and Fred Rogers, specifically.  Skip it if Mister Rogers' is nothing more than a meme for you.  Not everybody watched it, and a lot of recent adults never got a chance to watch it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

[Book] Fear by Bob Woodward

Book cover
I haven't been sleeping well.  A good friend of mine suggested that my reading this book may be one of the reasons.  I can't dispute that directly.  As I write this, right before New Year's 2018, I'm actively looking for employment, and that is stressful, but this book definitely hasn't helped.

Subtitled Trump in the White House, Fear is about the presidency of Donald Trump and written by the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.  The book is separated into 42 numbered but untitled chapters which are mostly organized by time, though not entirely.  Each chapter reads like two or three long, stand-alone articles about some set of probably related events or issues during the early parts of Trump's presidency, though I often missed how or why each is grouped together in the same chapter.

The book is well written, and seems to take great pains to state things that happened without editorializing.  This is old-school reporting, which is a difficult style to get used to again, now that I've been living in the modern age of commentary-instead-of-news.  There's a lot of stuff described here.

Emotionally, though, I found the whole book to be exhausting.  Sometimes, because I disagree with what Trump did or tried to do.  Sometimes, because I disagree with things people on Trump's staff did to prevent Trump from doing something.  That is, regardless of whether a reader is a Trump supporter, there's a lot to feel exhausted about.

I almost didn't have the energy to finish this book, and there are a lot of valid reasons to skip it; emotional stamina being near the top.  I read the paper regularly, so there wasn't a lot of major events recounted here that were new to me, though the described machinations of how the White House runs under Trump was enlightening.  Read this book if, like me, you are a politics junkie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

[Book] Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Book Cover
This is a different form than my normal reviews.  I usually don't go back to old books to add to my reviews, but this is a touch-stone.  It's a book that a LOT of folks have read, and I hope it might help someone who also read this book tune in on where I'm coming from.  I read this book several years ago, and though I flipped through it to refresh my mind for this entry, I didn't just read it again in full.  The tag label on this blog says book-notes instead of book-reviews.

The main character, or at least the character that starts and ends the book is Yossarian.  Yossarian is a pilot during World War 2, and as best as I can tell, spends the bulk of the book trying to get out of doing more of it, while also dealing in the black market with military supplies.

I say above, 'as best as I can tell' because everything is out of order.  Wait, that's not quite fair.  The stuff that happens in the 1944 narrative is mostly in order.  Two major sections of the book are also in flashback, and those are definitely not in order.

Each part of the story is retold from the perspective of someone else, and some of the basic facts don't line up.  This, I am told - over and over again - by well meaning friends and acquaintances, is entirely the genius of the book.  It's a masterpiece because of the very ways it doesn't make sense.

Here's the thing, I can see how the absurdity of war plays out here.  I can even see how the best of that old show M.A.S.H. was probably influenced by this book, but I am a reader that needs a solid narrative.  I actually think this book is something I'd even enjoy if someone simply put it all into a single timeline order.

I'm here to stand on this imaginary hill and say that it is perfectly fine to hate this book for all of the reasons your friends think its great.  I certainly do.

Content warnings for violence and rape.  Those things, too, are what make this book so powerful, and make me want - even more - to avoid it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

[Book] Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Book cover
I have a fairly particular view of science-fiction and how it is different from fantasy.  The fantastic element in science fiction is usually both a catalyst for the story itself as well as a way to explore the reactionary side of society.  Where in fantasy, the fantastic element is simply present.  Used as a tool, maybe even explored in depth, but isn't the main goal.

For example, I think of Star Wars as a fantasy story, not science fiction at all.  It does have a classically science-fiction aesthetic.  Yet, boiling it down, Jedi are wizards, space ships are little different from ocean vessels, and the story is pushed forward by that war part of the name.

This book sits on the knife-edge between the two for me.  There is nothing about the nature of ball lightning itself in this story that is necessary to push the main plot.  There is some exploration at the individual, moral level, which to my view, is this books one link to science fiction from pure fantasy.

The theme of this book is the destructive nature of obsession, and the destructive nature of those who are obsessed with something.  There are numerous characters, including Chen, who are obsessed with various things, and the destructive nature of their interactions are compelling, and a little sad.  So, in this way, this book almost feels like a dramatic fantasy story.

The Prelude of this book begins with the main character, Chen, on his 14th birthday, witnessing both of his parents dying from Ball Lightning.  This sets Chen on a life fascinated by this natural phenomenon, hoping to understand this force that killed his parents.  The book sweeps through his collage years and into a professional life where he meets other people who have also been obsessed with ball lightning, and also other people with intersecting obsessions.

Two things of note, this book occurs in the same universe as the Three Body problem (which is fully science fiction by my definition), though it takes place before most of the events of that first book.  Second, though part of both stories do share one character, the story has no relation to the subject of The Three Body Problem.

I liked the book, and recommend it as a good dramatic human story.  It certainly has a science-fiction aesthetic.  If you are really into modern science-fiction, this book isn't it. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

[Comic] Darth Vader 1-25 by Charles Soule, art: Giuseppe Camuncoli

Issue 1 cover
If you read my review of the book, Oracle Year, I mentioned that Charles Soule writes for comic books, this is one of them that I've kept up on, and have read from start to finish, as this run ends at #25, though Charles Soule will have more to write for Marvel in the Star Wars world.

This series starts moments after the end of Star Wars episode 3, Revenge of the Sith, and tells the story of both Darth Vader becoming the Dark Jedi Master under Palpatine, but also tells of the growth of the Empire during that time.  It has four main arcs, The Chosen One (issues 1 - 6), The Dying Light (7-10)  The Burning Seas (13-17) and Fortress Vader (19-25).

This is a comic book run, so I need to take a moment to really appreciate how well done the art is on this whole book from Giuseppe Camuncoli's layouts, the finishes of Cam Smith then Daniele Orlandini, colors by David Curiel and Dono Sanchez-Almara, and the Lettering by Joe Caramagna.  The cover shown to the right was done by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson (with other cover artists throughout the run).  For any run to go this long with so few personnel changes seems like an accomplishment these days.  The art is a very cinematic take, like most of the Star Wars comics, making the characters in the books look very similar to the actors that play them in the movies, which makes characters from the Rebels cartoon series seem more real, in a way.

I disliked Star Wars Episode 1 so much that I'd never seen Clone Wars or Revenge of the Sith.  I've literally seen everything else that the franchise has to offer, and this comic run has been amazing.  It actually has me thinking that I should be willing to watch those other prequel movies.  Maybe that is a mistake, but before this, I really didn't care about Vader and his origin story.  Now I do.  I don't like everything that Charles Soule writes, but when he is in my lane, he is a great writer.

Read this if you want to know more about this story.  Like the other Star Wars books I've written about, if you aren't into Star Wars, feel free to skip this.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review Feedback Request

I have gone through and updated tags on all existing and future book reviews, with the hope they may be easier to find in the future.

First, all book reviews (even short ones) now include the tag book-reviews.  That is, if I'm telling you what I think about a book, it is a book review.  There are also short-book-reviews on some.

If my general impression of a book is that I enjoyed it, I've included the tag, recommend.

Genre categories - if you want to discuss these, see below:

Genre notes, additions and debate are welcome, there are a few things that I am not likely to budge on...

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

To me, science fiction means that a story element that exists outside of the mundanely possible is specifically there to frame or force a change in the society portrayed in that story.  Where I see fantasy as having extra-existent elements that are used as a backdrop and plot devices to move the story forward.  This can be a thin line, which is why the two are often bundled under a single header.

Star Wars, to me, is a fantasy.  There are Jedi-Knights who can dabble in magic and fight with "laser swords".  With some minor exceptions in the prequels, this magic isn't used as a way to show a societal shift, or show us what dilemmas might exist because such a thing exists.  Instead, it is used as a plot device.  Something for the hero to obtain on the hero's journey.  With the exception of minor mentions in Rogue One, the terrible weaponry of the Death Star isn't explored in its affect on society, but as a weapon to be defeated before it causes more harm.  Even mass cloning is mostly used to distance the audience from the number of deaths, not as an exploration of the moral implications of cloning itself.

Star Wars doesn't directly face the societal implications of magic or cloning.  It sure could have done a lot of exploration of the implications of a weapon that is able to destroy an entire planet, and why it is imperative to dismantle such things - no matter who has such a thing.  In the middle of the Cold-War, maybe this was supposed to be an obvious connection, but nothing really talks to these parallels.  It was not a moral choice about the weapon itself as much as it was a survival imperative to defeat the enemy by defeating the enemy's weapon.

Oppositely, the movie Dragon Heart represents what I expect from Science Fiction.  In that world, dragons exist, but have been hunted near extinction, mostly due to a misguided ruler.  The movie shows a societal mirror to our own hunting of predator species like sharks or wolves, reflected in the Dragon's pleas to the benefits that dragons had brought.  The hero of the movie is forced to face his own bias, and befriend the last dragon on earth, which is also a regular science fiction reflection on racism.


Romantic does not necessarily mean romance.  That is, none of the books I've so far reviewed include love triangles, but romance - or missed romance - is a major element of the plot.


If I'm missing a genre that would make it easier to sort through my reviews, leave a comment!  If you think I should read a book that fits a genre that you want me to review, leave a comment!  What I'm trying to say is...

Never be shy about leaving a comment!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

[Book] Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book cover
Seems an appropriate way to start off the first book review of 2019 with a book that came out in 2009.  On top of that, it's a book that I really, really enjoyed reading.

This book follows the protagonist, Henry Lee both as a 13 year old in 1943, and an adult in 1986.  If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you'll note that I get picky when time starts jumping around, and I'm really happy to say that this book gets this simple detail absolutely right: Every chapter title includes the year.  No guesswork, no wondering, just four extra characters makes so much difference.

In 1986, Henry's wife, Ethel, is dying of cancer.  Henry's son, Marty is in college and the two have trouble communicating as Ethel declines.  This brings Henry to explore the parallels between himself and his own father, who died well before Marty was born.

In 1943, Henry's parents, through great sacrifice, send Henry to an all-white, private school, where he gets picked on mercilessly.  His only friend is a busker named Sheldon who plays Jazz saxophone.  That is, until a Japanese girl named Keiko shows up to school, too.  Tragic-romance style, Henry's father absolutely hates all Japanese people, but Henry falls in love with Keiko anyway.  Japanese Internment and Henry's father both get in the way.

This book has a wide cast of outstanding characters, and I will say, the night after I finished this book, I actually had a dream where I was trying to cast this book for a movie (So many great Asian actors come to mind, even while I'm awake).  I liked this book so much, that I'm planning on reading and reviewing Jamie Ford's more recent novel, too.

Really, the book title is a little too on the nose.  This book is both heartbreaking and hopeful.  I really loved it, and I strongly recommend it.  Normally, I would set aside this little space for reasons why someone might decide to skip this book, but I can't think of any.  I mean, I guess if you hate reading, but then you probably wouldn't be reading my very low traffic'd blog.