July 1, 2013

Book Catchup

I feel like I've been cramming books into my eyes nonstop over here, though most days I actually don't get to read as much as I want because I have to devote time to writing, and also to occasionally interacting with my loved ones. But I have been doing a lot of reading, especially during my recent travels. As a result, I have various half-written book-related posts in the pipeline, including more from my START HERE project, which I haven't forgotten about. Those will be coming later in the month.

Today, I'm catching up with a few quick recommendations of books I've read in the past couple of months. If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have already seen these, but I wanted to share them on the blog as well.

NOT SO LONG AGO, NOT SO FAR AWAY by Trisha Slay - Erika is a shy, awkward teenager in a small Ohio town in 1977, and her already crummy life has just gotten worse. Her best (and only) friend runs away from home, leaving Erika to deal with the fallout. Her controlling, criticizing mother is treating her more awfully than ever. And the kids at school taunt her through the final days of the school year. But everything changes for Erika when she sees the hit movie of the summer. Star Wars gives Erika a new hope, and all she wants to do is watch it over and over, so she volunteers at the local theater in exchange for unlimited viewings. There she meets the band of rebels who will become her friends, learns that some of the problems she's facing are more complicated than she thought, and also discovers that she has the power to fight back.

Erika and the other characters in this book are wonderful and multi-dimensional. I felt great sympathy for Erika in her struggles and kept rooting for her to recognize her own great qualities. Her emotions often seemed excessive to me, but I think it's an accurate portrayal for an adolescent character. The story has several subplots that work well together, including some romance and a bit of a mystery about what's going on in Erika's town. It always kept me engaged. The book is written for teens but can be enjoyed by anyone.

Trisha was one of my local NaNoWriMo buddies, though she's since moved away. She started this novel during NaNo long ago, and I'm glad that after years of effort on the book, she's released it into the world. Congrats, Trisha!

HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA by Mohsin Hamid is a beautifully written work with an intriguing style and structure, though it falls short of fully succeeding as a novel. As the title suggests, HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA pretends to be a self-help guide. It's a good premise, and I enjoyed the clever self-consciousness of the narrator who provides the instructions.

The main character of the book, the one who receives the benefits of the coaching, is "you." As in any second-person novel, the you is a specific character unlikely to bear any resemblance to the reader. (It's acknowledged on the first page that "the idea of self in the land of self-help is a slippery one.") In this case, the main character is a poor village boy in an unnamed Asian country who moves to the big city for a life of slightly less poverty. I was fascinated by the portrait of a culture and background very different from my own, and on the strength of that alone, I would recommend the book.

The novel's weakness is its plot. There's not a lot of it, and what there is develops mostly through summaries of events rather than in scenes of characters interacting. This kept me from enjoying the book as much as I was expecting, but I still found it an entertaining read.

WITHOUT A SUMMER by Mary Robinette Kowal is the third installment of the Glamourist series. It's a strong story that combines the subjects of marriage and domestic matters, the focus of the first book, with the political intrigue of the second. I wouldn't suggest reading this book unless you've read one of the first two, but either of those would make a good starting point, so I wanted to link to my reviews of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY and GLAMOUR IN GLASS to encourage interested readers to check out this series.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Caustic Cover Critic interviews designer Andrea C. Uva about ebook cover design: "Most ebooks are displayed at about one to two inches high on an ebook retailer site. This means that in order to sell our books, titles must be made as large as possible to be readable at thumbnail size. Ebook covers are not a place for subtle art, either. The concept must be clear at a small size and not obstruct the type. It is much more difficult to be evocative within these parameters."

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