“Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan

MachinesGenre:          Literary Science Fiction
Publisher:    Doubleday Books
Pub. Date:   April 23, 2019

This is Ian McEwan at his storytelling best.  At first, you may think you are reading a futuristic novel.  You are not.  You are in 1982 London.  But, this is an alternative 1982, which has futuristic technology.   Got it?  Once you wrap your head around that, be prepared to be entertained as well as educated on the legendary British mathematician and father of computer science, Alan Turing.  Still, much in this timeline diverges from ours, so you may find yourself googling when unsure what’s real and what’s McEwan.   You will read made-up battles regarding The Falkland war, which are written amazingly believable.  In this narrative, Margaret Thatcher didn’t win back the islands.  Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Regan.  And, my personal favorite, the Beatles got back together.  Best of all, no one killed John Lennon—Sweet.

The premise of the book is a what-if scenario regarding artificial intelligence.  This brings us to Alan Turing.  In real life, Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts.  He chose chemical castration over imprisonment.   He died in his early forties.  McEwan asks the reader what if he chose imprisonment instead and is still alive.   Turing’s fictionalized imprisonment gives him more time to create.  In prison, he takes artificial intelligence to a whole new level.  The year 1982 reads more like, maybe, 2082.   Robots have just been designed as fully convincible as human beings.  So far there are 25 of these human/machines on the market:  12 “Adams” and 13 “Eves.”   Got to love those names.  For a large sum of money, anyone can buy an Adam or an Eve.

There are three protagonists in this novel, two male and one female.  One is an Adam.   The other is a 32-year old screw-up of a guy named Charlie.  He blows his inheritance to buy the artificial man.   We also meet Charlie’s 22-year-old, sort of, girlfriend, Miranda.    Together Miranda and Charlie program Adam to have the personality qualities that they desire in a friend.  They consider Adam to be their baby.  But, they don’t share with each other what traits they programmed into their new friend.  By the way, Adam is cable of having sex.  Now, what could possibly go wrong?  Think Frankenstein meets the computer Hal from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” then throw in some kinkiness.

Yes, if you read this book you are going to go on an acid trip.  Though, it is really not as convoluted as it sounds.  Unlike pulp sci-fi novels, “Machines” is written plausibly in all dimensions, reminiscent of the movie “Bladerunner.”  McEwan certainly gives the reader plenty to think about in his what-if alternative world.  I’m sure he meant there to be a moral in his tale.  And there is.  Just what makes us human?  What makes us addicted to artificial intelligence?   Will we ever end up being controlled by machines?   However, this reviewer so enjoyed the trippiness of the plot that I didn’t pay too much attention to the author’s message.   Possibly, that is what McEwan wants.  Or, possibly, I need to reread the book.  I am sure I will anyway.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin

Genre:          Mystery and ThrillersThe Escape Room
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    July 30, 2019

A publicist from St. Martin’s Press contacted me to read and review this book, which I find hard to review.  The plot is simple and predictable, not to mention implausible.   The twist is a cinch to figure out and yet, interestingly, I enjoyed the story.   Possibly, this is because most of the story could be straight out of the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” which I, and most moviegoers, thoroughly enjoyed.  (If you are too young to know the film, google it).

I would say that the book is more a psychological thriller than a mystery. The novel reveals the cut-throat world of Wall Street corporate finance, where greed and corruption rule.   Four hot-shot financial dealers work and live in a world of million-dollar salaries—designer everything.  We are talking $11,000 for a pocketbook to be bought in numerous colors.  And all four would turn on their grandmother to ensure they keep their million-dollar salaries.  Think of the character Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”  Gekko says to the young new financial advisor, “The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”  And these four have done some horrible things to ensure they have numerous $10,000 wristwatches.  I thought the author did overkill in writing about their ridiculous spending habits but she proved her point.  These four coworkers, who you will love to hate, are summoned into an elevator in the belief that they are engaging in some sort of team-building exercise.  The reader knows from the prologue that bullet shots are heard from the elevator.  It is not a team-building experience but a revenge plot against the four.

There are two timelines in the novel told in the first and third person.  The four characters trapped in the elevator are told in the third person.  The second timeline follows a young woman who graduated at the top of her class with an MBA.  She sacrifices food and all her savings to buy an interview suit to look the part for a job in a top-tier finance company.  She gets the job and works as the bottom link with the hot-shots.  Her narrative is a bit boring.  The author clearly wants a good vs. evil theme so, I guess, she is needed to have a moral character in the story.  What kept my attention, even when things got a bit tedious, is just how horrible the other four actually are.  How far would they go to ensure their hefty bonuses?   This one is unquestionably movie material.  If you go in knowing the novel’s flaws, you will be able to enjoy the elevator ride.

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Download Watching Glass Shatter for only .99 from 5/4 thru 5/8

This Is My Truth Now

May is a big month! All of my books will be discounted for a few days at some point. This week, it’s Watching Glass Shatter, my debut 2017 novel about a family drama imploding from a bounty of secrets.Download herefor only .99 from 5/4 thru 5/8.

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Book Overview

After 40 years of marriage, Olivia Glass thought she could handle the unexpected death of her husband. But when Ben’s will reveals a life-altering secret, she suffers a blow no widow should ever experience.

Olivia learns that she gave birth to a baby who later died in the nursery. Instead of telling his wife what happened, Ben switched the child with another. And as if that’s not enough, Ben’s will doesn’t reveal which of their five sons is truly not hers.

While an attorney searches for answers, Olivia visits each of her sons to share a final connection before facing…

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“Secrets of Eden” by Chris Bohjalian

Genre:         Psychological FictionSecrets of Eden
Publisher:    Broadway Books
Pub. Date:   2010

Wanting a quick break from Advanced Review Copies (ARCs), I decided to read a 2010 novel by Chris Bohjailian.  He is one of my preferred authors of page-turners.  In “Midwives,” one of my favorite novels, Bohalian crafts a courtroom drama that investigates an impossible decision made by a midwife who lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.   In “The Double Bind,” he weaves together the world of “The Great Gatsby” and the lives of his current day Vermont characters.  This results in a spellbinding tale of tension.   “Eden” is a decent read but doesn’t have the literary chops shown in Bohjalian’s other suspense novels.  It lacks the powerful writing that makes the reader want to read quickly to learn the ending.  Unlike “Midwives” and “Bind,” the characters aren’t intriguing enough to make one want to jump into the book to meet them.

“Eden” is also a psychological thriller that is once again located in rural Vermont.    The author takes on the subject of domestic violence.  We meet a couple in a troubled marriage that ends in an apparent (or was it?) murder-suicide.  This happens soon after the wife is baptized in a river. The story is narrated by the four protagonists:  the town’s reverend, the prosecutor, a female author whose own parents died in a murder-suicide, and the dead couple’s teenage daughter.  The reverend is an interesting character.  The reader is not always sure what to make of him.  I found the prosecutor’s part in the story rather dull and predictable.  “I can tell you that the river Denial is indeed pretty freaking wide.”  There is none of the sophisticated fire of “Midwives.”  The female author, who happens to see angels, is simply an unneeded character.  Can’t figure out why she wasn’t edited out.  Maybe the author wanted to show different thoughts on religious paradise: The Garden of Eden.

However, the orphaned teenage daughter is very well written.  She becomes alive on the page.   It feels as if you are reading a real teen’s diary.  “What it was like to suddenly be an orphan (and I am an orphan) and feel all the time like you’re an imposition….Membership in Club Orphan has its privileges too.”  She could do anything and no one would reprimand her.  “Still, I wouldn’t recommend it.”   Hers is the only voice that allows the author to shine.  In an odd way, the daughter’s irony and wit, combined with her survival instincts, remind me of the females in Bohjailian’s “The Sandcastle Girls.”  That story is about the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  It is filled with the suspense of life and death.  I was mesmerized when I read that one.  My point is that the author’s talent pokes through even in a tale not quite as polished as I know his work can be.

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“The Great Unexpected” by Dan Mooney

Genre:           General FictionThe Great Unexpected
Publisher:    Trade Publishing
Pub. Date:    June 25, 2019

This tenderly written novel is both depressing and hilarious.  The plot revolves around two old men living in a nursing home.   Think “A Man Called Ove” meets “The Odd Couple.”  One is an introverted curmudgeon who has been there for years and considers his place of residency a prison.  He walks around all day in his pajamas.  In younger years he was a working-class mechanic who owned the shop.  Nowadays, he desperately misses being the boss.  He has given up on life and has suicidal thoughts.  The other old dude is a sweetheart who has just moved in.  He once worked as a soap opera actor.  He is flamboyant, extraverted and just happens to be gay.  This man dresses meticulously and always wears an accent scarf.  He makes the best out of the living in the home, though he too misses his working life.  The author has them sharing a room opening up all sorts of humor.  Mooney does a great job nailing their differences and incompatibility.  In the “outside world” they would never have been friends, but “locked up” together they create an unbreakable ying-yang friendship.

The real meat on the bones of the story is how the elderly are often thrown aside and made to feel isolated and useless.  Mooney shows this best when the two old men sneak out to visit the mechanic’s old shop.  The reader will feel the weight of depression when the mechanic realizes that now he is just an intruder and is asked to leave the premises. The author skillfully handles the sensitive subject of suicide.  And somehow manages to make humor work so it doesn’t read all doom and gloom.  He does this without minimizing the seriousness of suicidal ideation.  Not an easy task.  At times the writing gets sweetly/schmaltzy with a family reconnecting.   Nor is the plot always believable.  If you have ever been in a nursing home you know that sneaking out is unlikely. Still,  two old man enjoying high school antics is fun to read.    If you are in the mood for a story that will make you cry and laugh at the same time this one is for you.

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