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Read My Mind

Apr 03, 2017 01:54PM ● By Michael Harris
Book Reviews by Michael G. Harris, OD

What does it take to make a great novel? It must tell a first-rate story and have a plot that keeps you engaged. It needs characters you really care about. It must be written in a way that entices and stimulates the reader. With this in mind, here are four of 2016’s best novels.

Ruth Ware’s novel The Woman in Cabin 10 has an intriguing plot. Travel journalist Lo Blacklock gets ”the assignment of a lifetime,” a trip on the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise ship in the North Sea. The ship is beautiful. The passengers are elegant. The food is delicious. The drinks are plentiful. And it's all free! What could go wrong? Well, things change rapidly when Lo meets her mysterious neighbor in Cabin 10, a young woman wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt. Later that night, Lo is awakened by strange noises in Cabin 10 and hears what she thinks is a body being dumped overboard. But when the crew investigates, they find Cabin 10 empty and clean as a whistle. All passengers and crew are accounted for. Did Lo imagine what she saw and heard? The plot has many twists and turns as Lo tries to figure out whom she might've seen and finds her own life in jeopardy. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud!

In previous novels like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys, Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon has shown a mastery of using the English language to tell totally convincing fiction. Much as I liked these books, I couldn't stand several of his others, including Gentlemen of the Road and Telegraph Avenue. So, it was with some reluctance that I started reading his semi-biographical novel Moonglow.

I wasn't disappointed. This is a powerful story of a grandfather's life as told to his grandson, the book’s narrator. Rockets and the possibility of flying to the moon always fascinated Grandfather, an engineer by trade. In World War II, he searched for the German scientists who invented the V2 rocket so they would not fall into the hands of the Soviet Union. This is just one of the amazing and well-told tales of his life in this masterpiece.

Chabon’s prose is always compelling and challenging. Every word he uses is there for a reason. If you're a speed-reader like me, you must slow down to truly enjoy the magic of his pen. For example, he describes a flying bomb lying “jammed into a frozen pond like a cigar butt into the sand of an ashtray.” Quite a picture, and quite a novel!

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora and Caesar’s escape from slavery in Georgia in an attempt to gain freedom. As they head north and are pursued by a slave catcher, they witness all of the horrors of slavery and the Civil War. Told with “brute realism and fable-like allegory,” this story is “essential to our understanding of the American past and the American present.”

And don't miss Amor Towles’ A Gentleman In Moscow. This is the delightful story of Russian Count Alexander Rostov, who is living the life of luxury in a suite at Moscow’s magnificent Metropol Hotel. Everything changes in 1922, when he is sentenced to house arrest in the hotel's tiny attic for writing an anti-Soviet poem. Rostov makes the most of his 30-year confinement by befriending guests and staff alike. He shows that “real class has nothing to do with money; it's predicated on the kind of moral discipline that never goes out of style." I'm glad I met Count Rostov in this beautifully written tale. You'll be glad too!


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