Arts & Culture

nowhere-girl“Nowhere Girl,”

by Susan Strecker.

(Thomas Dunne Books, P 297, $ 25.99)

 

A sophomore book for Susan Strecker after her elegiac and biographical debut novel “Night Blindness,” which appeared on a TV episode of Books du Jour last season. In “Nowhere Girl,” Susan has lost none of her style, although this time, her voice takes on a fantasy tone, which at times makes this engaging novel swing between a thriller and a woman-in-jeopardy story. But because the story focuses on the main protagonist’s rumination (not too much cop, not too much ghost) it remains a novel, though a suspense-ridden one.

 

Cady Martino has a twin sister, Savannah, a popular girl who, one night, is found murdered.  The police at once classified the murder as a “random attack of opportunity.” However, Cady never stops hearing from her sister. Savannah keeps sending her messages that make no sense. Years later, Cady, now a bestselling author of suspense, makes a chance encounter, which gives her the missing piece of the puzzle. But in order to solve her sister’s murder, Cady must now cross a maze of betrayals and deceptions dating back to their youth.

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sweet-as-sin_cover“Sweet as Sin,”

by Susan Benjamin.

(Prometheus Books, P 320, $18.00)

 

I cannot imagine dentists buying this book. In fact it is probably number one on their list of banned books. Though I would recommend it to them, just to better know their enemies. “Sweet as Sin,” is all about candies. Sweet and sugary. The very stuff your teeth dislike but which constantly hits the sweet spot on your taste buds.  I do not know of kids or adult who do not enjoy candies, even surgarless ones.  Benjamin is a candy specialist, and she has written an incredible journey through the evolution of confections. It is not just a history of candies, but also an almanac filled with intoxicating stories of the country, starting with Native American and the little-known son of a slave woman. Like all good candies, the book has a lingering flavor, which will make you ponder about the changing quality of our palate through time. Why for some generations eating barks, roots and bugs were considered treats, whereas now candies have to be coated with layers of sugar before anyone sucks on them? At heart, the book is an unwrapped story of the evolution of the American society, and of the development of gustatory passions, and the invention of lots and lots of sticky fingers.

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virtual-billions_cover“Virtual Billions,”

by Eric Geissinger.

(Prometheus Books, P 295, $25.00)

 

This is the book that will explain to you what is Bitcoin and how they came to be, if you only have heard about them and thought it was just another App. If you are looking for a roller-coaster ride in the underworld of alternative finance, this is the book as well.  You will learn about the reclusive genius creator of Bitcoins, Satoshi Nakamoto, who, on his own, decided to wage war against the world financial and banking system, and the prince of darkness himself, Ross Ulbricht, who used Bitcoins to create the largest Dark Web superstore, Silk Road, where drugs, hacking service, counterfeit money and even murdering could be purchased. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Geissenger tells the story of the multi-talented Winklevoss twins, Harvard, Olympics, lawsuit against Facebook’s Zuckerberg, for stealing their idea (which they won), and their contribution to the rise of the Bitcoin cause.

 

Putting this book down was impossible, the stories being so captivating and strangely unique in their excesses. The fact that this parallel banking world has fueled legions of steroid-pumped-up coding hacks, and “canny” bitcoin miners, added to my curiosity. For certain, the book will make you feel like a dinosaur, especially if your job consists in reading books, and on paper that is. The world of bitcoins is so far from my consciousness that I could not help pondering what kind of world is taking shape out there. Once you put the book down, you may catch yourself looking at your neighbors suspiciously, cautious before making another online purchase or placing another call on your smartphone, or else grateful that, at long last, after the banks took the country down the path of the Dust Bowl, that some individuals are doing something to replace them.

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no-map-to-this-countryNo Map to this Country”

by Jennifer Noonan.

(Da Capo/Life Long Books,

p 316, $19.99)

 

This book is about the “A-Word.” A could stand for Atomic, since explosion is implied, but in this case it is about Autism. Autism is a trend that keeps on gaining momentum, and its label, once inflicted on a child, reverberates as a social suicide for families. The merit of Jennifer Noonan’s journey is precisely to expose the daily struggle families with autistic children must live through, bringing her resourceful personality to the front. When her son was diagnosed, like most parents, she found herself entering a world, she was unprepared for, a world laden with misinformation and guidance. Her struggle was not to investigate the whys but rather to locate the unique abilities and challenges of her child to change his plight.

 

“No Map to this Country,” captures the initial sense of despair watching her child scream and spin, while feeling powerless to help, to her decision to put a stop to it. Gathering her own information, leading an endless crusade, she tackles the world of dietary, immunology, and metabolic research, to seek a treatment for her son. She began experimenting with alternative diets, supposed to be beneficial to autistic children. I will not reveal whether she succeeded or not, but her journey allowed her to sound her limitations. With stark frankness and uncanny humor, Noonan narrates how through her six-year ordeal and with determination, she managed to rescue her own family from implosion. Autism not only impacts children but families above all.

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children-of-the-new-world_300dpi

“Children of the New World,” by Alexander Weinstein. (Picador, P 240, $ 16.00)

 

Since we have not covered a single short-story collection yet, I thought it was time to remedy the problem. “Children of the New World,” which is garnering lots of accolades in the publishing world, is the perfect book to initiate this book review page. It is not your customary middle of the road sentimental or experimental story collection. Rather it is a speculative one, in a new genre, often referred to as Human Future fiction. What is at stake here is the becoming of Man, and I mean Man in the broadest possible sense, as in mankind. For the stories reflect on the effect of technology and our interaction with it, notably the increasing blurring between reality and the virtual world.

 

Part Magic Realism part sci-fi, the story collection will take you back and forth into a hard-to-breathe utopian-dystopian world of societies gone numb. Here robots have better gut-feelings than humans. Social media lives inside your brain. Video games are integrated into lives. Memories are manufactured, as in “The Cartographer,” where the main character makes virtual memories, while he grapples with someone he once loved, and only a “memory bank” helps him to retrace his past and experience it again. But the most frightening aspect about the stories is not the obvious lost of practical ability in daily life, such as writing, but the widespread disembodiment that comes with relying only on simulated technology. All the protagonists run around steeped in technology to fill out existential voids unaware that the very technology reinforces the sense of disconnection and loss. It is all uneasy and completely creepy, but what a read.

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