Friday, September 13, 2019

The Institute

Evil. If the words that come to your mind when you think of author Stephen King are “horror,” “supernatural,” or “creepy,” and you avoid reading him because that’s not the reading experience you’re looking for, take another look at this talented writer and his new novel titled, The Institute. As always, King tells a great story. The characters are interesting, complex, and they resemble us or people we recognize. The new novel starts so gently that some readers may feel lulled into a state of calm. While we are feeling calm, children with special talents are being abducted and abused, locked in a Maine facility that gives the book its title. King explores the evil inside those characters who become used to abusing children to support some distant government official’s notion of a greater good. Once the use of a child has been completed, the child is destroyed. King lays all this out, then gives the children agency, and lets them use their power. Both good and evil can be powerful and King offers readers a well written story that resonates for our time. Rating: Five-star (I love it) Click here to purchase The Institute from amazon.com.

A Philosophy of Ruin

Nihilism. What’s it all about, Alfie? Philosophy should help steer us toward a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. In his debut novel titled, A Philosophy of Ruin, Nicholas Mancusi offers a brisk and exciting narrative that hovers around what happens if one’s philosophy is nihilism. If life is meaningless, how would we live? Protagonist Oscar Boatwright is a philosophy professor whose life has begun to unravel. Mancusi pulls readers into caring for Oscar and other characters as they struggle. Often dark, at times funny, the novel propels readers toward an expected ending. Mancusi writes with great skill and many readers after enjoying this initial outing will look forward to more fine prose from this author. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase A Philosophy of Ruin from amazon.com.

Their Little Secret

Connections. The fifteenth Tom Thorne mystery by Mark Billingham is titled, Their Little Secret. Fans of the series will delight in Thorne’s flaws and mistakes in this novel and will appreciate his partnership with DI Nicola Tanner. The mystery plot will engage all fans of this genre, and few readers will see all the twists and turns before they arrive on the page. The characters are complex and interesting, and Billingham leads readers into just the right of empathy to make the situations understandable, yet still chilling. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Their Little Secret from amazon.com.

Bottle Grove

Monsters. There be monsters in Daniel Handler’s novel titled, Bottle Grove. The beasts are often human, despite the presence of foxes, including a human one named Reynard. Handler uses the tech environment of San Francisco as the backdrop for this comic dark view of contemporary life and marriage. There’s love and greed, and a lot of clunky prose on these pages. Every reader open to reflecting about the forces inside and outside us that bring us together or tear us apart will find something to appreciate from this novel. Rating: Three-star (It’s ok) Click here to purchase Bottle Grove from amazon.com.

Murder in Bel-Air

Mother. The nineteenth mystery novel by Cara Black featuring Aimée Leduc is titled, Murder in Bel-Air. Fans of the series will be satisfied with the return to Paris, and to the spunky Aimée who is caught between not being the mother she’d like to be and dealing with the hijinks set in motion by her own mother. Aimée seems to never slow down: running her business, raising her child, and being used by others to achieve their own ends. Readers who enjoy character-driven crime fiction are those most likely to enjoy this novel and this series. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Murder in Bel-Air from amazon.com.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Guide. Readers could find no better nature guide than Robert MacFarlane, and his book titled, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, takes us on a global tour of what is and has been beneath the surface of the earth. On one page we’re thinking about the moment of creation, on another we’re peering at cave paintings and thinking about that part of the past, and then we find ourselves wondering about our stewardship of the earth and what lies ahead for our planet. He takes us to the Paris catacombs and to a place where nuclear waste is stored. MacFarlane’s writing is as beautiful as the world he calls on us to notice. I haven’t experienced this much awe since reading Carl Sagan. Most readers will finish this book as I did: feeling a closer connection to those and what has come before us. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Underland from amazon.com.

Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism

Racism. For those readers who can set aside partisan politics (there must still be at least a minyan of us left who can do that), former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s book titled, Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism, helps us reflect about racism in the United States and what to do about it. The death of Heather Heyer and two Virginia state troopers during the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville grabbed national attention. McAuliffe describes that event from his perspective at the time as governor and calls on citizens to unite in a fight against racism, hate and extremism. Even if you read this book as a fierce partisan, consider what tangible steps you can take toward addressing racism in our divided nation whether you agree with McAuliffe or not. Rating: Four-star (I like it) Click here to purchase Beyond Charlottesville from amazon.com.