August 1, 2011

June/July Reading Recap

Due to one thing and another, I skipped a month in my regular book roundups, so this recap covers both June and July. During these two rather busy months, I read:

THE CITY AND THE CITY by China MiƩville - This book is astounding, and I can understand why I've heard so much about it from so many people. The premise is a difficult one to wrap your head around, and even after finishing the book, I'm not done musing about the concept: Somewhere in Eastern Europe, two cities occupy the same physical location. It's an idea from the realm of the imaginary, but MiƩville presents it so carefully, and with so many mundane and realistic details of the logistics of life in the cities, that the book mostly doesn't feel fantastical at all. This is by design, because the story is a pure police procedural that just so happens to occur in this unusual setting.

I highly recommend THE CITY AND THE CITY. It's a challenging read, with a lot of invented terms that the reader often has to figure out from context. The premise is a bizarre one, and it won't appeal to all readers, but if you're intrigued by the idea of two cities co-existing, you won't be disappointed.

GREEN MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson - After several months, I'm nearly finished with this second book of the trilogy. I'm enjoying it just as much as RED MARS, and I continue to be impressed by how much research and world-building Robinson had to do for this trilogy. Like the first book, GREEN MARS has fascinating characters grappling with the problems of building a civilization on Mars. The book contains a lot of politics and a lot of descriptions of geology and machinery. If you're excited by that combination, then this is the trilogy for you.

THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman - If I'd realized that this is a collection of related short stories rather than a novel, I might not have picked up this book. Each story features a different staff member of an international newspaper based in Rome. Early in the book, there wasn't much connection between the stories, and the characters weren't holding my interest, so I was considering abandoning it (which I hardly ever do). I kept reading, though, and by the end I had a more positive feeling. The later stories drew me in more, and the book did form a coherent whole, though not in as satisfying a way as a novel with a unified plot. A well-written book that didn't match my tastes very well.

DEADLINE by Mira Grant - The recently released second book in the Newsflesh trilogy. I previously posted my opinions about the first book, FEED, and I feel the same way about this one: It's an exciting, compelling story with a writing style that constantly drove me crazy. While the first book is roughly a political thriller with zombies, DEADLINE is a medical thriller about the zombie disease, and that aligns even better with my interests, so I was hooked even as I imagined taking a red pen to the text. Recommended according to your tolerance levels.

THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell - I'm in the process of listening to this as an audio book along with my family. We started it during the long car rides of our recent vacation, and we're now a few chapters from the end. The story is about the discovery of intelligent life on a not-too-distant planet and a first contact mission organized by the Jesuits. At the start of the book, we learn that the mission was ultimately a disaster, and the story revolves around trying to understand what happened and what went wrong. I like the characters and much of the story, though there are certain parts I think are too drawn out. I'm eager to find out how it ends. The narrator of the audio book, David Colacci, does a good job portraying the many different accents of the characters.

I didn't end up getting around to one of the books I announced at the beginning of June, 36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, so I'll put that on my August list.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Ian M. Dudley asks, Are You Critiquing My Novel, Or Do You Just Hate Me?: "Given the level of impersonal rejection that an author faces when attempting to find someone to publish their book, you need to have a pretty thick skin to succeed in this racket. Thick enough to endure that rejection, and thick enough to not only face down this sort of critique, but to say 'Thank you!' afterwards, even if you're choking on your own bile as you say it."

→ Julie Isaac finds an 1893 article on The Writing Method of Louisa May Alcott: "Not only did she make do without a computer, but her most famous work, Little Women, was published two years before the first typewriter was sold commercially."

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