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My three book clubs

My three book clubs: Enthralling sci-fi, fantasy novels entice even nonfans

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Fantasy and science fiction novels are usually hit or miss for me, but the two I read for book clubs in July were grand slams. One of my three groups took the month off.

"Project Hail Mary"

‘Project Hail Mary’

By Andy Weir

What I thought • I don’t tend to read much science fiction, but after a cousin recommended “Project Hail Mary,” I decided to give it a shot. I am glad I did. Though my eyes may have glazed over during some of the science and math portions of the book (I know others may geek out in these parts), the silly buddy-comedy elements and Weir’s edge-of-your-seat storytelling kept me fully engaged.

Ryland Grace awakens on a spaceship, the only survivor of a crew of three. His memories are fuzzy — he has a hard time remembering his name at first, much less the reason he is in space millions of miles from home. With the clock ticking, he must unravel the mystery and figure out a way to stop an extinction-level threat to humans on Earth. But he doesn’t have to do it alone.

“Knock-knock-knock.

“No, that’s not creepy at all. Being in a spaceship twelve light-years from home and having someone knock on the door is totally normal.”

Enter Grace’s wacky new friend, Rocky — an Eridian who communicates through tones and chords, similar to a whale song. He’s described as “similar in appearance to a spider,” about the size of a Labrador with a rough, rock-like exterior.

This novel about bravery, persistence and friendship made me laugh, think and also marvel.

At book club • Only one of the members of this group regularly reads science fiction. That member had already read this one as well as Weir’s better-known book, “The Martian.” One member said it wasn’t a book she would normally read, but she was glad she gave it a chance. Like me, most didn’t really like the technical portions, although one member enjoyed puzzling through it. It was the “best book I’ve read in a long time, and I didn’t think I liked sci-fi,” said one member.

I have a road trip planned later this month and plan to listen to the audio version of “Project Hail Mary” because I know it’s a book my husband will enjoy. An online reviewer raved that narrator Ray Porter’s “enthusiastic, geeky, humorous, witty, and sarcastic tones are an absolute delight to my ears.”

"Cloud Cuckoo Land"

‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’

By Anthony Doerr

What I thought • I read “Cloud Cuckoo Land” in January and predicted it would be one of the best books I read in 2022. So far, I’m not wrong. From the walls of Constantinople to the inside of an interstellar spaceship, the novel spans eight centuries and is told from five points of view — Anna, Konstance, Zeno, Seymour and Omeir. A sixth plot line — an ancient comic novel — connects those characters. Doerr masterfully weaves the past, present and future together in this beautifully written book.

At book club • It had been a while since I had read this book, and at 626 pages, I didn’t bother to read it again, so my memories of this very complex and layered story were a little fuzzy. But I was happy to hear how other members were wowed by Doerr’s storytelling.

One member, who listened to the book on audio, said she thought it was going to be corny the way it all came together, but she was blown away by the ending and the way the author tied it together. Doerr’s writing is really effective and just … amazing, said another member.

Bonus books

"Haven"

• One thing Emma Donoghue taught me in her new novel “Haven” — I would have never made it as a monk in seventh-century Ireland. Three monks set out on a journey to find an isolated spot to build a monastery after Artt, a scholar and a priest, has a vision telling him to escape humanity and leave the sinful world behind. The remote spot Artt picks is no “Haven.” It’s a bird-infested, rocky nightmare of an island, and there’s a reason it’s uninhabited. Donoghue’s talent for beautiful imagery is on display in this novel, but I had a hard time warming to the story. Maybe it was that unlikable, infuriating, power-hungry religious zealot Artt? He was supposed to be the saintly one, but I admired his companions, Corman and Trian, for their mercifulness. I would have definitely shoved Artt off one of those craggy rocks in the first few days. “Haven” is due out Aug. 23; an advance copy was sent to me by the publisher. Fun fact: Donoghue’s inspiration for the setting and the history was Skellig Michael. A monastic settlement dates back to the sixth century there, but the island more recently rose to prominence as Luke Skywalker’s sanctuary in the Star Wars movies.

"Cover Story"

• Told through diary entries, emails, text messages and a few FBI memos and Instagram posts, Susan Rigetti’s “Cover Story” was a book I binged in two days. Lora Ricci has had a rough time in her first year at NYU, but she has landed a summer internship at Elle magazine. While at Elle, she meets and is quickly enamored with the enigmatic Cat Wolff. It becomes clear pretty quickly that Cat Wolff is not who she claims to be, and if you have seen “Inventing Anna” on Netflix or “The Dropout” on Hulu, you will know where this book is headed. But the ride to the ending (which I would describe to someone with a wide-eyed emoji) is fast-paced and absorbing.

"The Latecomer"

• Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s previous novel, “The Plot,” I was expecting suspense and mystery. What I got with “The Latecomer” was a slow-building family drama. The book begins in the 1970s when we meet Salo Oppenheimer and discover the tragedy that will shape his life and that of his family. Salo marries Johanna, and the two of them have trouble conceiving. After many failed attempts with IVF, they have only four embryos left. Three are implanted in an attempt at one last shot, and the result is triplets — Harrison, Lewyn and Sally. The three siblings may have shared a womb, but to their mother’s dismay, they feel no strong familial bond. They are looking forward to going their separate ways as they near college age. Johanna, faced with a husband who has distanced himself more and more over the years and an empty household, makes a decision to implant the final embryo, which had remained in the clinic’s freezer all these years. I particularly enjoyed the final chapters of the novel, told from from the point of view of Phoebe — aka the Latecomer.

"The War Girls"

• Another novel set during World War II involving women caught my eye just when I thought I’d had my fill of that genre. “The War Girls” follows the lives of three women — Stefa, a young Jewish woman living in Warsaw, Poland; her sister Hanna, who lives in England; and Janka, a Polish Catholic woman. It was a challenge to listen to this novel at times because of the violence, loss and awful things the characters endure, but the bravery, compassion, love and hope all three women exhibit balanced it out. This is my second book by V.S. Alexander — I also enjoyed “The Taster” — and I might just read another novel … even if it’s about WWII.

Norma Klingsick is a former designer and editor at the Post-Dispatch. She can be reached at mythreebookclubs@gmail.com.

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