Haven’t done this in a while, so I’m just gonna touch on what I remember from the past month or so.
***** The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell – When the planet Rakkat is discovered to be inhabited by apparent intelligent life that communicates via the radio transmission of gloriously alien music, Catholicism’s Jesuits rush to get the first contact with the new world. The team sent to make first contact is made up of four Jesuit priests, an aging female doctor, her equally aging engineer husband, a young male astronomer and a young female expert in computers and all things A.I. An odd mix, granted.
The bulk of the story moves between the official inquiry into Father Emilio Sandoz, the only survivor of the venture, and the story of how the venture came to be put together and carried out. It’s a beautiful, heart-rending story about the need for belief and the search for God. It’s also a first-contact story unlike any other I’ve encountered, in which everyone involved behaves rightly and does the best things, and yet everything goes wrong. Why is Sandoz the only survivor? How did he survive? What happened to the others? How did he manage to get back to Earth?
All these questions drive the story, which exists on the surface of it as a perfectly fine science fiction novel. But if you care to read deeper, there’s much to be pondered. I won’t be forgetting this book any time soon.
* Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoesky – I already blogged about this. Never again.
**** Luther, BBC – Luther is one of those six-episode BBC “series” that seem so odd to the U.S. viewer. That said, I enjoyed Luther, which is basically just another cop show, this one about British detective John Luther and his troubles at home and on the job. I watch a lot of crime shows, both U.S. and U.K., so I rarely get truly surprised by any plot development, but Luther managed to do it. Luther himself has troubling issues with anger, and wouldn’t last ten days in any real job, I suspect, but it made for entertaining viewing.
**** Waking the Dead, BBC – So what is it with the Brits and anger management problems? I really enjoyed Waking the Dead, although it contains nothing truly new or unusual. Standard TV cold-case fare, but the characters are nicely drawn and I got very fond of them. Much to my frustration, at one point. Anyway, the main character, Peter Boyd, while sometimes charming and amusing and always whip-smart, is also constantly angry. I mean constantly. It must have been traumatically exhausting for the actor who plays him to be so freaking angry all the time.
** The Jacket -I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, so I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an interesting if mostly irrational meditation on time travel, of all things. But I’ll be honest… I had a hard time paying attention to it because I find Adrien Brody so amazingly distracting in appearance. I can’t mentally place him in any role because he looks so distinctively just exactly like himself all the time. And his nose distracts me. There. I admit it. I AM that shallow. So sue me.
**** Precious – I’ve put off watching this for a long time because I figured it would be depressing. And it was. But it was also oddly hopeful, and I recommend it to anyone. Let me say this, and that’s all I’m saying…. Mo’Nique deserved every gram of that Oscar, baby. Her performance is utterly fearless, ferocious, eviscerated and lacerating. The main character and all the others were fine, but Mo’Nique’s amazing performance as the abusive mother completely makes the movie. Holy cow. Watch it, for a perfect example of what real, gut-level honest acting is.
Death Note, anime – I’m watching this on the Kiddo’s recommendation. It’s certainly twisted and forces the viewer into some uncomfortable moral positions. That said, it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters beyond surface level. I’ve still got a few more episodes to go, though.
*** Surface (aka Fathom) – I’m not entirely sure why the Kiddo and I started watching this, but we did, and we both enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s one of those TV series that gets started, never develops enough viewers, and is dropped before it has a chance to live. Surface, in which a marine biologist, an insurance adjuster and a 16-year-old boy race to solve the mystery of “what the heck is that in the ocean?” is a great deal of good clean entertaining fun. Sure, it’s got plot holes you could slip an entire Panzer brigade through, but if you just chill and enjoy it, it’s better than most of the shows that have lasted several seasons. You can find it on streaming Netflix, by the way, under the name “Surface.”
**** The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson – An excellent work of non-fiction, contrasting the struggles and successes of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 with the predations, during the same time and in the same location, of America’s first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. I started reading the book because of a vague interest in Holmes, but I’ll admit that the story of the World’s Fair stole my heart. It’s a mind-boggling story, and I highly recommend it.
* Sister: A Novel, by Rosamund Lupton – This, on the other hand, was seriously so-so. I picked it up because I’d seen it on a couple lists of recommended summer reading. It’s okay; nothing special. I’m pretty sure I finished it, but to be honest I have very little recollection of it at all.
*** Big Machine: A Novel, by Victor LaValle – There’s no way I can describe this book. It’s weird from the get-go. But it was a fascinating read, partly because it made me realize just how seldom I’ve ever read anything written from a contemporary black male perspective. Fascinating for that alone. Waaaaay better than Sister: A Novel. If you’re only gonna read one novel this summer, I recommended Big Machine: A Novel over Sister: A Novel.
**** A Little Death in Dixie, by Lisa Turner – When I got to the end of this book and eagerly started searching for more from this writer, I was stunned to discover that this is her first novel. Damn, girl. That’s a good one for a starter! Again, there’s nothing overly unusual about the plot, but the writing is nice and clean, the plot gallops along, the characters are three-dimensional, and it’s set it Memphis. Can’t beat that.
**** Forever Queen, by Helen Hollick – This was a 99-cent book from Kindle, otherwise I might never have read it. That would have been my loss. Forever Queen reminded me of how much I used to love historical fiction. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Aelfgifu, better known as Emma, a young Norman girl who, in 1002 or thereabouts, was married to Aethelred, King of England. She survived him and married Cnut (Canute), a Dane who became king in 1016 of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and England and proved to be a good king for 20 years. She also was the mother to two kings, serving as regent for one of them for several years. She was also the first English queen to have a biography written of her. Hollick, the author, is a dedicated researcher and this story reads very well while retaining as much historical accuracy as possible.
Queen Emma’s great-nephew, by the way, famously returned from Normandy to England in 1066, and changed everything.
*** The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura – An awful lot of public domain books are available for the Kindle for free. This is one of them. It’s a lovely meditation on Japan, Japanese culture, and, almost incidentally, tea. I read the whole thing with delight, unable to determine any time period for the writing. Afterward (to the WikiMobile!) I was startled to discover that the author died before WWI. The writing has an ageless quality that I found remarkably soothing and easy to read. There’s an awful lot about flower arrangement, too. It’s a short book, and well worth the time for anyone with any interest in Japanese culture.
And that’s it for now. I’m waiting fairly impatiently for midnight and the magical appearance of “A Dance With Dragons” on my Kindle. After which I’ll disappear for a few days. ;D
Nothing like a good book.