Saturday, February 22, 2014

Weekend Picks for Book Lovers

by Joycelyn McClurg)

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include the new techno-thriller The Martian, and a non-fiction look at the movie Network.

The Martian by Andy Weir; Crown, 369 pp.; fiction

All alone in the unforgiving environment of Mars, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself confronting his extinction. His colleagues on the first manned expedition to the surface of the Red Planet, now on their way back to Earth, believe he's dead; so do the folks at NASA. Hunkered down in his hobbled spacecraft, Mark calculates that his food and water supply will run out long before another expedition is scheduled to arrive in four years.

Houston, we have a problem. Make that a series of problems, each thornier than the last. The Martian, Weir's first novel, began life as a self-published e-book and is now receiving a second launch in hardcover, with a third iteration — as a movie along the lines of Gravity, Apollo 13, Cast Away and other popular survival yarns — already in the works.

Weir, a software engineer, has kept The Martian within the realm of what could theoretically happen in an actual manned expedition to Mars. There are no extraterrestrial beings lurking in the shadows; the prospect of starvation and/or suffocation is scary enough.

USA TODAY says *** out of four. "Page-turning … the story succeeds on several levels, not least of which is its surprising plausibility."

Mad As Hell: The Making of 'Network' and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies by Dave Itzkoff; Times Books, 288 pp.; non-fiction

Focuses on screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky as he puts together the groundbreaking 1976 film Network and unleashes it into the world.

USA TODAY says ***½. "Absorbing and revealing."

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman; Scribner, 361 pp.; fiction

A love story set in early 20th-century New York, set against the backdrop of a "museum" that's more of a carnival side show.

USA TODAY says ***½. "If you're looking for an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place, step right up to The Museum of Extraordinary Things."

Love Illuminated by Daniel Jones; William Morrow; 224 pp.; non-fiction

The editor of The New York Times' "Modern Love" column takes readers on a amicable ramble through love's many phases.

USA TODAY says *** out of four. For "fans of 'Modern Love' who enjoy affairs of the heart or just like to know that their own messy love lives are hardly aberrations."

Red Rising by Pierce Brown; Del Rey, 400 pp.; fiction

A young revolutionary leader is born in this first book in a new trilogy marrying the Occupy Movement, The Lord of the Flies and a really serious game of Risk.

USA TODAY says ***½. "Top-notch … Brown's futuristic sci-fi world doesn't seem too far off from our own society with its haves and have-nots."

Contributing reviewers: Kevin Nance, Elysa Gardner, Patty Rhule, Roberta Bernstein, Brian Truitt