RECURSION by Blake Crouch (Crown Publishers, 2019): A Review by Tom Lyford

Sci-Fi, Thriller, Love Story

The novel opens with a New York cop being summoned to the scene of a potential jumper from the 41st floor of a downtown skyscraper. He arrives, runs through the lobby, and up the elevator he goes. He silences his phone, steps out of his shoes, and slips out onto the terrace. The woman sits fifteen feet away beside an eroding gargoyle, her back to Barry, her legs dangling over the edge. He inches closer, the wet flagstones soaking through his socks. If he can get close enough without detection, he’ll drag her off the edge before she knows what—

“I smell your cologne,” she says without looking back. He stops. She looks back at him, says, “Another step and I’m gone.” It’s difficult to tell in the ambient light, but she appears to be in the vicinity of forty. She wears a dark blazer and matching skirt.

“Who are you?” she asks.

“Barry Sutton. I’m a detective in the Central Robbery Division of NYPD.”

“They sent someone from the Robbery–?”

“I happened to be the closest. What’s your name?”

“Ann Voss Peters.”

“May I call you Ann?”


“Is there anyone I can call for you?” She shakes her head. “I’m going to step over here so you don’t have to keep straining your neck to look at me.” Barry moves away from her at an angle that also brings him to the parapet, eight feet down from where she’s sitting. He glances once over the edge, his insides contracting.

“All right, let’s hear it,” she says.

“I’m sorry?”

“Aren’t you here to talk me off? Give it your best shot.”

He’d decided what he would say riding up the elevator, recalling his suicide training. Now, squarely in the moment, he feels less confident. The only thing he’s sure of is that his feet are freezing. “I know everything feels hopeless to you in this moment, but this is just a moment, and moments pass.”

Ann stares straight down the side of the building, 400 feet to the street below, her palms against the stone. All she would have to do is push off. He suspects she’s walking herself through the motions, tiptoeing up to the thought of doing it. Amassing that final head of steam. He notices she’s shivering. “May I give you my jacket?” he asks.

“I’m pretty sure you don’t want to come any closer, Detective.”

“Why is that?”

“I have FMS.”

Barry resists the urge to run. Of course he’s heard of False Memory Syndrome, but he’s never known or met someone with the affliction. Never breathed the same air. He isn’t sure he should grab her now. Doesn’t even want to be this close.

No. Forget that. If she moves to jump, he’s got to try to save her, and if he contracts FMS in the process, so be it. That’s the risk you take becoming a cop.

Yes. FMS. The mysterious neurological affliction that’s driving its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. You fall asleep at night, or even during the day, and wake to suddenly discover that the entire life you’ve been living right up to the time you closed your eyes is somehow just a distant, fading memory now. Like a dream. A memory of an entire life that, incredibly, somehow has never happened. A “false memory”–a life you can remember every detail of, but it’s fading fast. And on top of that, damn it, you’re now in the middle of a totally different life with its own present and, crazily, a different past that you also remember every detail of. You’re still you. But perhaps you’re married, no longer to the spouse you remember in what is cruelly now the false memory. Married to someone else now. And yes, you miss the original husband or wife terribly. You miss the children you birthed but… now turn out to never have been born. You are left longing for a family that never existed. You’re in the middle of an entirely different life.

“One morning about a month ago,” Ann says, “instead of my home in Middlebury, Vermont, I was suddenly in an apartment here in the city, with a stabbing pain in my head and a terrible nosebleed. At first I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered… this life too. Here and now. I’m single, an investment banker, I live under my maiden name. But I have…” –she visibly braces herself against the emotion—“memories of my other life in Vermont. I was a mother to a nine-year-old boy named Sam. I ran a landscaping business with my husband, Joe Behrman. I was Ann Behrman. We were as happy as anyone has a right to be. I don’t just remember my wedding. I remember the fight over the design for the cake. The smallest details of our home. Our son. Every moment of his birth. His laugh. The birthmark on his left cheek. His first day of school and how he didn’t want me to leave him. But when I try to picture Sam now, he’s in black and white. There’s no color in his eyes. I tell myself they were blue. I only see black.”

OK. I’ve taken the above from only the first five pages of RECURSION. That leaves you 321 mind-twisting, genre-bending, emotional pages about time and theoretical physics and corporate greed and undying love and loss and grief to lose yourself in. I’ve tried several times to orally explain the plot of this book to friends, only to find myself overwhelmed and tongue-tied. Because it’s complicated. Because there’s really only one way to get it: one thrilling page after another, a page at a time. Fortunately, it IS a powerful page-turner. Karin Slaughter, best-selling author of PIECES OF HER, offers this blurb on the back of the dust jacket: “Blake Crouch has invented his own brand of page-turner—fearlessly genre-bending, consistently surprising, and determined to explode the boundaries of what a thriller can be.” Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, adds this: “An action-packed, brilliantly unique ride that had me up late and shirking responsibilities until I had devoured the last page…A fantastic read.”

I cannot think of any better ways to describe the experience of reading RECURSION. I thoroughly enjoyed being glued to its pages. It’s different than anything I’ve ever read, but it works for me.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline (Crown Publishers, 2011): A Review by Tom Lyford

2044 AD. Our global civilization is hitting the downhill skids toward collapse. The newscasts, filled with stories detailing the ongoing energy crisis; catastrophic climate change; half a dozen wars; plus widespread famine and poverty with most of the downtrodden masses squatting in “the stacks”— think of shanty towns, squatter settlements, and refugee camps, but in this case strange “trailer parks” where rusty trailers, RVs, boxcars, and old VW microbuses are stacked one-on-top-of-the-other twenty or more wobbly units high.

Wade Watts, our young protagonist, lives in Aunt Alice’s 3-bedroom trailer. It is precariously wedged between the twenty trailers below it and those stacked above. A dozen souls share this living space, so Wade has to sleep like a cat on the floor in the cramped space behind the clothes dryer. Mornings, when Wade leaves the trailer to stretch his legs for a stroll, it goes like this: “I slipped out the (bathroom) window as quietly as possible and, clutching the bottom of the window frame, slid down the cold surface of the trailer’s metal siding… From there I was able to descend the ladder-like frame of the scaffolding… A rickety metal staircase was bolted to the side of the stack, but it shook and knocked against the scaffolding, so I couldn’t use it without announcing my presence. Bad news. In the stacks, it was best to avoid being heard or seen, whenever possible. There were often dangerous and desperate people about—the sort who would rob you and rape you, and then sell your organs on the black market… Descending the network of metal girders had always reminded me of old platform video games like Donkey Kong or Burger Time.”

The references to Donkey Kong and Burger Time provide an apt segue to what this sci-fi/adventure/thriller/quest novel/love story is all about: the pop culture of the 1980s and the history of computer games. But what, you may rightly ask (as I did), could a novel set in 2044 have to do with the likes of Betamax VCRs and LaserDisc players, movies such as Blade Runner and War Games, TV’s Max Headroom and Family Ties, or Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Devo’s “Whip it”? Good question. Tough question to answer though. But allow me to try.

In 2019 our social technology has become so addictive that sizable portions of us already seek psychological ‘escapist outlets’ from daily stresses by Googling, Facebooking, streaming, texting, tweeting, and/or gaming our waking hours away. Ready Player One poses possible answers to the question, ‘Where, and how far, is this all going?’ Author Ernest Cline speculates that computer simulations will continue to become so increasingly immersive and mesmerizing that by 2044 they will have become the “opiate of the masses” that will have virtually replaced our “lives of quiet desperation” with 3-D imaginary simulations.

James Halliday, the reclusive billionaire/game-software-designer born in 1972 (revered around the world as practically a god), created OASIS, the massively multiplayer on-line game platform that has gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality system most of humanity uses on a daily basis. Now almost everyone vicariously “lives” a colorful super hero’s life through the creation of his/her own computer-generated avatar and the virtual comic book “world” it inhabits, even though in reality he/she is actually just languishing on a ratty couch somewhere back in the stacks.

Wade, though virginal, shy, somewhat overweight, and painfully self-conscious about his appearance, has named his heavily muscled and handsome avatar ‘Parzival.’ Parzival often hangs out in a private chatroom with ‘H’ (spelled Aech), his BFF’s equally buff avatar. And like most best “friends” in 2044, Parzival and Aech have never met each other in person, so neither really knows the age or sex of the other, what the other actually looks like, or even where on the globe the other one lives. Consequently (for all Wade knows), Aech’s young, macho dude avatar could possibly be the “mask” of some 79 year old, one-eyed, female prison guard name Bertha. Scary? Yes. And sometimes they do wonder about this.

Anyway, back to the plot. Upon his sudden death, a self-produced video of James Halliday spelling out the details of his last will and testament is released world-wide over the OASIS channel. “My entire estate, including a controlling share of stock in my company, is to be placed in escrow until such time as a single condition I have set forth in my will is met. The first individual to meet that condition will inherit my entire fortune, currently valued in excess of two hundred and forty billion dollars.” The single condition of the will turns out to be the winning of a cyberworld treasure hunt, a situation somewhat reminiscent of finding the golden Willy Wonka coupon in your chocolate bar. “Before I died, I created an ‘Easter egg,’ and hid it somewhere inside my most popular video game— the OASIS. The first person to find my Easter egg will inherit my entire fortune.”

And so The Hunt is on. And naturally our hero wants to win. BUT…

There are just a few obstacles to contend with. Like the sheer and almost infinite size of the OASIS “universe” itself. Like the fact that the entire population of Earth, like Wade, will also be enthusiastically in on The Hunt. Like the fact that, to win, contenders will have to know everything there is to know about 80’s pop culture in order to understand the riddles Halliday has planted throughout the OASIS: Alice-in-Wonderland type clues requiring an in-depth knowledge of the pop songs, literature, movies, TV shows, cartoons, video games, and computers of the 80s he was so obsessed with. And how about the fact that Wade and everybody else on the planet already IS an expert, 1980’s, pop culture cultist anyway, since Halliday’s OASIS is an entire, nostalgic re-creation of all of his own childhood’s 80s’ memories. And last but not least: the hard, cold fact that the second most powerful corporation on the planet, IOI (Innovative Online Industries), has already amassed a militaristic army of 1980s-scholar-mercenaries already scouring OASIS to insure the win, the future plan being to regulate and tax the heretofore totally free OASIS experience.

So… the lone wolf questers, like Wade, really won’t stand much of a chance.

I found this a surprisingly engaging and fun read. Even for me at age 73, a willing suspension of disbelief was easy once I wrapped my head around the fact that Cline’s well-developed characters are seen through their avatars in a cyber world. But no fear, the real, physical world keeps popping up as well. And as I alluded to earlier, this is also a heartfelt love story.

The book was written in 2011, but you will find it in our “New” section as it is new to us. The movie version came out in 2018, but (spoiler alert) the book is ever so much better, and more complete, than the movie, Surprise, surprise…

GOOD RIDDANCE by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019): A Review by Tom Lyford

In my third year as a high school teacher, the seniors dedicated their yearbook to me. I was touched by their gesture. I was humbled, not to mention quite flabbergasted and, of course, not just a little flattered. That happened in 1972. And there it sits today, squeezed in so tightly down there on a bottom bookcase shelf among all the other annuals collected over the years since then.

A similar yearbook, coincidentally, serves as the centerpiece of Elinor Lipman’s novel, GOOD RIDDANCE. It’s the 1968 Pickering High School annual (Pickering, NH), The Monadnockian, woefully named for nearby Monadnock Mountain. It was dedicated back then to a Miss June Winter, a first year English teacher, yearbook advisor, and soon-to-be Mrs. Tom Maritch, wife of the high school principal. Now, however, near the present, Mrs. June Winter Maritch, having retired with her husband some years earlier, has just passed away leaving behind two daughters, Daphne and June, along with the widowed Tom.

The first thing that makes her annual unique, and an apt springboard for the plot, is the handwritten codicil attached to her will: “My daughter Daphne will take possession of the Pickering High School yearbook.” And of course the second thing is that June who, for some reason, obsessively attended every single PHS Class of 68 reunion since then, always brought along the prized yearbook so she could add even more personally inked notes within its pages, chronicling the newest details of what had been transpiring in her ex-students’ lives.

‘But there would be more—her own embellishments, her judgments and opinions, written next to those photos in her small legible hand, a different color (red, green, blue) for several milestone reunions, starting with the fifth and continuing to her last, their forty-fifth. Her margin notes were coded but easily deciphered: “M” for married. “S” for single. “D” for dead. “DIV” for divorced. “DWI” said a few, “AIDS” suggested one notation. “Same dress she wore at 15th.” “Very plump” was one of her milder put-downs. “Braces.” “Pregnant.” Occasionally, “Still pretty.” “Looks older than I do” was one of her favorite notes.’

Daughter Daphne is our protagonist. We find her living in a tiny New York apartment, licking her wounds after a demoralizing divorce and trying to lock onto a plan for her future. Prompted by a magazine article about decluttering, she walks the newly acquired Monadnockian down the hall and tosses it into the recycle bin. Big mistake, it is found by The Tenant From Hell down the hall who fancies herself a “future documentarian.” With “Finders Keepers,” the lady announces her plan to make a movie out of this teacher’s life and those of her one-time students. “It has my name written all over it,” she says. Fearing lawsuits and a lot of embarrassments, Daphne proceeds to wage war to get the book back.

This is pure fun, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s a romantic comedy. (OK, I admit it. One of my secret guilty pleasures is RomCom movies and now, after reading my very first ever RomCom novel, I hate to think about what awaits me in my literary Future. This WOULD be a good candidate for a film.) It’s got about as many plot twists in it as a Shakespearean comedy such as AS YOU LIKE IT. The romantic interest for Daphne is her across-the-hall neighbor, Jeremy. Yes, he’s younger than her, but not that young. But yes, he does wear braces, but that’s only because he’s a bit actor playing Timmy on RIVERDALE, the Archie and Jughead television show (so they’re just a realistic prop).

And when (against her better judgement, but to protect her own interests) she’s talked into accompanying the would-be movie-maker the 50th class reunion’s of Pickering High’s Class of 68, she meets the members of the class who voted to award June their yearbook dedication. And then she begins to find out oh so much about her parents…

You can find this one in TFL’s New Book Section.

THE INVITED by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, 2019): A Small Review by Tom Lyford

From “Hattie Breckenridge, May 19th, 1924”:

Hattie lowered the ax.

“Where have you been, girl?” she asked her daughter. It was a school day, but Hattie had forbidden her daughter from going to school. And last she knew, Jane was gathering kindling in the woods.

Jane opened her mouth to speak, to say, but could not seem to make the words come. Instead, she burst into tears.

Hattie set down her ax, went to her, wrapped her arms around Jane’s trembling body. Then she smelled the smoke on Jane’s dress, in her tangled hair. Even the smoke spoke to her, spun an evil tale.

“Jane? What happened?”

Jane reached into the pocket of her dress, pulled out a box of matches. “I’ve done something wicked,” she said.

Thus, in this prologue chapter, is the groundwork laid for a story set much later in Vermont, in 2015, that (to cite an accurately promising quotation from one of the blurbs on the book’s back cover) explores “the themes of family, revenge, the tangled web of history, and the possibility of the preternatural.”

A little synopsis, sans spoilers, is in order:

Helen and Nate, crazy in love with each other, leave the comforts of their professional suburban lives as educators in Connecticut to fulfill Helen’s lifelong dream. They abruptly pull up stakes and move to the woods, taking up residence on forty-four acres of rural land in Vermont where they will begin building the house of their dreams. However, they soon discover that their beautiful new property has a dark past, leaving former history teacher Helen to become consumed (to the point of putting serious strains on her picture perfect marriage) by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, the woman who lived and died there a century ago. Having a passion for artifacts, Helen begins collecting special materials for the new house–a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse–objects which draw her deeper into the lore of three generations of the Breckenridge women, each of whom died suspiciously. As the building project progresses… (Oh, never mind).

If you like spooky (I like spooky), then this is a novel for you. If you like well-developed characters with whom you can’t help but honestly identify and sincerely care about (I myself insist upon well-crafted characterization), then this is a novel for you. If you find satisfaction in painstakingly architectured plots (I certainly do), then this is a novel for you. And if you like settling in for a good read that comfortably drops you down into a familiar, New England village setting with enough selling points to easily get you to sign on the realtor’s dotted line… but which turns out, a few chapters in, to… (oh, never mind).

Suffice it to say that I read the first 100 pages in one sitting late at night, and knocked off the final 253 the following day between 2:00 and 8:45 pm.

I enthusiastically recommend The Invited.

Just sayin’.


A review by Ms. Michelle

Have you ever read a book that made you feel warm and cozy? I read Heartwood Hotel: A True Home, by Kallie George, and I felt just that. An early reader chapter book that is the beginning of a series to capture your heart.

Mona mouse is alone in the world with nothing but a walnut suitcase, with a tiny heart etched in to the top. She finds herself in a terrible storm that could take a turn for the worse, but instead finds herself at the doorstep of the Heartwood Hotel ; a wonderful, warm, safe place for all traveling creatures. Mona meets many wonderful animals that include Mr. Heartwood, a gentlemanly badger; Ms. Prickles, a porcupine who cooks delicious treats; and Tilly squirrel, who is not warm and inviting at first but is soon to warm up.

With wonderful pencil illustrations, and warm descriptions, this story comes to life quickly. The hustle and bustle of the Heartwood Hotel comes through with the lively conversations between the staff and guests and the inner dialog that dear Mona has with herself. An exciting twist of fate for Mona keeps readers wondering if Mona will leave, but perhaps she has ties to the Heartwood she never knew of.

This book is geared towards newly discovered chapter book readers who love animal stories, especially where the animals take on human like traits such as talking and vacations. With illustrations and only 162 pages this book can be a great start to dive into the chapter book world; readers who enjoy this book will indeed enjoy the other seasons of Heartwood as well.