Tuesday, March 12, 2013

February Books

*Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan “is a suspenseful plot-and-character-driven novel with an unexpected postmodern twist.” Serena is brilliant and beautiful, a speed-reading lit geek and Oxford math major, who is recruited by MI5 in the 1970s.  “Sweet Tooth” is her only operational assignment which is to infiltrate and influence the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley.  Although slow at times, the book offers a bit of suspense, romance, political intrigue and insight into the human psyche.

Hallucinations, according to Oliver Sachs, are not the exclusive property of the insane.  More commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, drugs, intoxication, illness, or injury. Told largely through well-crafted anecdotes,  Sacks emphasizes  Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition characterized by intricate visual hallucinations and his own experience with hallucinogenic compounds.  The book is moderately engaging, but I did not find it substantive.

*Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is masterful, witty and humorous  suspense story  about a marriage gone  terribly wrong.   On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, clever and beautiful Amy disappears. Her diary is found, and Nick is exposed as a lying, cheating jerk, but the alpha-girl  Amy could put anyone on edge. Under mounting pressure to find the person responsible for a wealth of clues, the police become increasing focus on Nick.   “Marriage can be a real killer,” but just how guilty is Nick?

The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez is a “lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's.”  It is a tribute to all the smart kids who knew they had to leave home or die or boredom. “Martinez lushly captures the mood of the era and illuminates the struggles of a family hobbled by poverty.”

**Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is “is a brilliant and suspenseful novel set in present day Appalachia; a breathtaking parable of catastrophe and denial.” The story introduces a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain and how that discovery energizes diverse factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians to  address issues of poverty, consumerism, illusion and fear. “Flight Behavior is arguably Kingsolver's must thrilling and accessible novel to date” and the best fiction I’ve read in over a year.

What’s a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man's Best Friend by John Homans explores the dog’s complex and prominent place in our world and how they evolved from wild animals to working animals to nearly human members of our social fabric. Homan reviews the extensive serious scientific studies concerning pet ownership, evolutionary theory, and even cognitive science. He explores how dogs moved into our families, homes, and beds in the span of a generation, while becoming a $53 billion industry in the United States in the process.

*Ancient Light by John Banville portrays  an actor, Alexander Cleave,  in the twilight of his career as  he plumbs the memories of his first love (when he was fifteen)  with the mother of his best friend. The story explores  the impact of  his daughter’s madness, a movie role portraying an enigmatic  literary figure and his young, famous and fragile leading lady.  Ancient Light is a profoundly moving meditation on love and loss, on the inscrutable immediacy of the past in our present lives.”

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