The Asthmatic Glassblower and other poems
by Billeh Nickerson
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press
93 pages, 2000
ISBN: 1551520885

The title is too intriguing to pass by. Or, from another perspective, it's so cute you almost don't want to bite, just on general principle. The Asthmatic Glassblower proves to be the title of one of the poems in the book and, as it turns out, one of the least compelling (except for that kick-butt title). The balance of the book is comprised of poems, thoughts and vignettes in a book that begins with a single line alone on the white page: "Sometimes gay means happy." Not too far along, another lonely line: "The push of knowing you're different. The pull of wanting to belong." The Asthmatic Glassblower reads like a promising writer's marginalia: the secret thoughts he's scratched out to himself in the quest for self-understanding. Many of the poems point to a dark humor, as in the one entitled "Being a Faggot" where Nickerson tells us that, among other things, "Being a faggot means you can drink homo milk without being embarrassed." A slender but charming book that is as much about promise as it is about current content.

A Storm of Swords
by George R.R. Martin
Published by Bantam Spectra
973 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0553106635

If books sold by the pound, A Storm of Swords would be one of the most expensive books around. At a whopping 973 pages, George R.R. Martin's most recent fantasy novel is the third installment in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. As can be imagined, the plot is absolutely too long and convoluted to even begin to describe in this short space. Suffice it to say that A Storm of Swords follows up last year's very successful A Clash of Kings and, like that book, this latest is fantasy in the finest tradition. Multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Martin is also a former screenwriter and was a producer and writer on television's Beauty and the Beast.

A Song of Lilith
by Joy Kogawa
artwork by Lilian Broca
Published by Polestar
110 pages, 2000
ISBN: 1551923661

Earth's first and elemental woman/Made like man from dust/And fleshed in mortality/Not from woman born/Nor yet from man/But from earth's crust

Yes, the Lilith in question here is the uppity one created to be partner to Adam. In her Preface to A Song of Lilith, author Kogawa says that, according to legend, when Adam tried to dominate Lilith, she "sprouted wings and flew away to the ends of the earth -- the Red Sea." Alone and bereft, Adam asked God to bring Lilith back and "three angel emissaries were sent to fetch her. She refused and was transformed into a demon." Kogawa, an award-winning author, sets the Lilith tale to poetry, complemented by the artwork of Lilian Broca. The resulting book is a stylistic anthem to girl power: before original sin. A lovely little book that would nest nicely in an oversized stocking.

The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology
edited by Edward L. Ferman and Gordon Van Gelder
Published by Tor Books
381 pages, 2000

When an annual anthology celebrates its 50th anniversary, you get a sense that the editors might -- just might -- be on to a good thing. In the introduction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction's editor, Gordon Van Gelder, tells us that, "while trends in popular fiction come and go ... the interest in a good fantasy story, told well, seems to have run steadily throughout the history of narrative fiction, starting with Homer and entering English with Beowulf." As Best From is a 50th anniversary edition, you already know that this year's anthology would have to be especially special. And it delivers. Twenty-one well-known authors in the genre are represented, including Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Tanith Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Reed and Bruce Sterling.

Cargo of Orchids
by Susan Musgrave
Published by Knopf Canada
375 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0676972853

Susan Musgrave's third novel alternates between brutal emotion and raw, dark humor. If your yen is for sunny, happy books where everyone lives happily ever after, give this one a wide berth. Musgrave tackles a bouquet of taboos in Cargo of Orchids that will leave some readers cold. But it's a beautiful, poetic book with a well-constructed plot and a conclusion with enough twists for a crime fiction novel.

by Danielle Steel
Published by Delacorte Press
323 pages, 2000
ISBN: 038531687

By now, the announcement of a new novel by Danielle Steel is hardly a cause for head turning. One of the top-selling authors of her generation, Steel cranks 'em out at an amazing pace and over 440 million copies of her novels have been sold. What that really means is that a lot of people read Steel's work and many of them are pleased to see the latest is under the tree. Journey is the author's 50th novel. This time we meet Jack and Madeleline Hunter, a couple who look as though they have a perfect marriage and, with that, perfect lives, but whose private life tells another story. The journey that Maddy must take is one away from the subtle abuse she's been living with for years and towards a happier life. But then, you already knew that.

Light Action in the Caribbean
by Barry Lopez
Published by Random House
162 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0679310762

The dozen short stories that make up Light Action in the Caribbean represent some of the best of Barry Lopez' work to date. In Light Action in the Caribbean the National Book Award winning author (for the non-fiction Arctic Dreams) brings us 12 tightly told tales that deal with all aspects of the human condition in Lopez' characteristic spare-yet-colorful prose. Set in the American West, China, Peru, the Caribbean and California, Lopez' characters deal with innocence and ennui, passion and estrangement, denial and forgiveness. The author of Desert Notes and Giving Birth to Thunder, among others, here brings us his sharpest collection yet.

The Looking Glass
by Michèle Roberts
Published by Little, Brown and Company
277 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0316854565

The word most often used to describe acclaimed British author Michèle Roberts' work is "sensuous." It's in the textures, the visuals she describes and the full, rich language that she uses. In The Looking Glass, Roberts tells the story of Geneviève, a convent-raised orphan who is like a blank slate when she is old enough to leave the orphanage and enter the wider world of rural France. Here, of course, are delights for all senses: Geneviève must learn about the price of freedom, about truth and deception and the varying forms of love. Roberts was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Daughters of the House in 1992.

Lost Classics
edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding & Linda Spalding
Published by Knopf Canada
346 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0676972003

"A book that we love haunts us forever," the introduction to Lost Classics tells us. "....And so lost books -- books that have gone missing through neglect or been forgotten in changing tastes "... gnaw at us." In Lost Classics, some of the world's best-loved authors write about literary treasures that have been forgotten. Margaret Atwood tells us about Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel by Hjalmar Söderberg of Sweden. Russell Banks expounds on Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene, a cousin of the writer Graham Greene. Anne Carson, Karen Connelly, Douglas Fetherling, Steven Heighton, John Irving, Pico Iyer, Michael Ondaatje, Michael Turner: in all 74 authors pick their own lost classic and share their thoughts on a favorite lost treasure. The resulting book is rich in writerly insights and offers a delightful running monolog on literature in general.

Opening Shots: Great Mystery and Crime Writers Share Their First Published Stories
edited by Lawrence Block
Published by Cumberland House
397 pages, 2000
ISBN: 1581821255

Anyone who knows anything about the process of becoming a published author knows one thing: it ain't easy. The road to a book with your name on its spine is often paved with rejection slips. But, somewhere along the line, someone had to say "Yes," in order for there to ever be a book to share with the world. Lawrence Block, who knows an awful lot about both crime fiction and breaking into writing, has compiled a collection of firsts that include the earliest published stories of some of the top writers in the genre today. Opening Shots includes the first published stories of Max Allan Collins, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Loren D. Estleman, Peter Lovesey, Susan Moody, Sara Paretsky, Peter Robinson, Minette Walters, Donald E. Westlake: 19 authors in total, including Block's own first story, "You Can't Lose," published in Manhunt in 1956. The stories themselves are reason enough to read Opening Shots, but each one is prefaced by an introduction by the author of the story. The insights offered in these introductions almost warrant another book by themselves.

The Truth
by Terry Pratchett
Published by Doubleday
319 pages, 2000
ISBN: 0385601026

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of books have often been compared to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in terms of irreverence and an "apropos of nothing at all" kind of style that makes J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books look like serious literature. Fiction in the fantasy vein, the Discworld novels, of which The Truth is the 25th, have gained an enthusiastic international following. In The Truth, a scribe by the name of William de Worde has become the editor of Discworld's first newspaper. He wants to get the truth, but there are others who would prefer that he didn't. This description doesn't even begin to touch on the hilarity of it all, but it's all too delicious to give away.


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