If you love tales of suspense, turn to the master Ken Follett. With \Code to Zero,"" he doesn't mess around. The tale grabs you from page one and doesn't let up until the very end.
A man wakes up one morning in 1958, right before the launch of Explorer I, America's first rocket. He is laying in a public bathroom, dressed like a bum, and has no idea who he is or how he got there. The mystery of his identity skillfully unfolds as the man realizes he is being followed. Obviously, someone out there doesn't want him to remember his origins. Predictably, he doesn't remain a bum for long. Soon we learn that our mystery man is brilliant rocket scientist Claude ""Luke"" Lucas, en route to Washington D.C. to warn of sabotage.
As the pieces fall into place, Follett reveals that Luke's circle of friends goes back a long way... and some of them may be working for the Russians. By interspersing pleasing flashbacks to Luke's college days, a romance is woven into the plot and the characters' old loyalties are revealed. Working against the odds and the clock, Luke is able to find help from Billie Josephson, his college lover and fellow intelligence officer during the war. As the countdown to launch begins, the pair are still racing to save the fate of the fledgling American space program.
""Code to Zero"" is an extremely entertaining book. The plot is tight, racing along at a breakneck pace with absolutely no holes. The suspense is palpable, and the characters are larger than life in a pleasing way. Luke's steadfast moral compass and intelligence make him the kind of man we wish the world produced more of. Billie is a doctor, equally intelligent and fierce. Follett is excellent at his craft, and ""Code to Zero"" is one of his strongest efforts.
Who knew that Steve Martin could be such a classy, poignant writer? With ""Shopgirl,"" a simple tale about a young woman in Los Angeles, he proves to be just that. Mirabelle is a quiet artist who lives under a tragic blanket of loneliness. She fills her days as the glove-counter girl at Nieman's, enduring hours of isolation as customers simply walk by.
Mirabelle is special, however, as most protagonists are. She possesses a certain elegance despite her small life and struggles with depression. Her genuineness attracts an older, wealthy businessman who happens upon her counter one day. He sends her a pair of fine gloves and the two embark on a romance. Mr. Ray Porter may be older and successful, but he is ultimately selfish--loving Mirabelle ""without obligation"" in a strange, subdued way.
Martin attempts to catalog some of the finer points of human suffering in this novella, illustrating how an afternoon spent alone can be more painful than an actual fight.
""Shopgirl"" is humorous and sweet, despite its sometimes dark nature. It's refreshing to read a tale with characters that could be the romantic ideal, (beautiful, young, wealthy) yet fall far short of this mirage like the rest of us. With 144 pages of beautiful adjectives, it is the perfect book to polish off during a cold afternoon.