No Exit by Taylor Adams

A hand print appears smeared across a frosty blue window. The cover fades to black at top and bottom, with title and author in

by Piyali C.

It was almost 1 am when I let out a long breath. I did not even realize I was holding my breath and at the edge of my seat till I read the last page of No Exit by Taylor Adams. This is the kind of thriller I like to read – one that allows me ‘no exit’ until I finish the last page. A thriller that is crisp, fast paced and yes, thrilling. In one word – unputdownable! 

Darby Thorne, a sophomore at CU-Boulder, gets a message from her sister Devon that their mother has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and is, most likely, at the last stage of her life. Darby, who was determined not to venture ‘any further off campus than Ralphie’s Thriftway’ (p.4), finds herself racing down the highway in the middle of a fierce blizzard in the Colorado Rockies to reach her dying mother in Utah. Darby’s old Honda Civic does not have snow chains on the tires and the last sign that Darby read before heavy snow obliterated her vision was ‘CHAINS MANDATORY’.  Darby is forced to pull in to a desolate rest stop to wait out the raging snowstorm. She discovers, much to her dismay, there is no cell reception at that rest stop. There are, however, a coffee machine, a vending machine and….. four complete strangers taking refuge, just like her. 

The charge in Darby’s phone is at 17 percent and rapidly depleting. She is desperate to talk to her sister to know more about her mother’s condition so Darby goes out in the snow to search for signal. As she tries to hold her phone up near the cars parked in the parking lot of the rest stop, she sees a little hand – the hand of a child in the back window of one of the parked cars. Shocked at this discovery, Darby moves closer to the car and tries to look inside. The inside is dark and she can detect no movement or sound. She convinces herself that the hand she she saw was nothing more than a trick of light and gets ready to go inside. But before she goes, she wants to put her suspicion to rest so she directs the LED light from her phone inside the back of the car. A child’s face stares back at her. The little girl is confined in a dog kennel in the back of a car in a raging snow storm. 

Darby has no way to call for help and no idea how to rescue this little girl. It is clear that one of the strangers inside the rest stop is a kidnapper who may come out any moment and discover that Darby has uncovered his or her secret. Thus begins a chilling and suspenseful tale of young Darby’s effort to unmask and outsmart a psychopath in an increasingly dangerous and alienating situation as the snow piles up and threatens to bury them in the rest stop at the edge of civilization. 

Darby must keep the little girl alive and stay alive herself to save the child. As the odds pile against her, her determination and will to save the kidnapped child increase exponentially. But is her determination enough to defeat the kidnapper who has an answer for all the challenges that Darby throws their way?

This book is not for the faint of heart. If you enjoy a chilling, suspenseful, edgy thriller that will keep you reading late at night, this is the book for you! No Exit by Taylor Adams is available in print and Large Print formats.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction and keeps the hope alive that someday she will reach the bottom of her to-read list.

The Institute by Stephen King

The book cover shows a boy in sideways silhouette in the back of a train caboose; he is seated on a bed with pillows and there is a desk with a lamp and a chair next to him. The small room contains a window with a cloudy bright sky, surreal because it is facing forward towards the next train car. The caboose is on a train track and is surrounded by a darkened landscape and skyscape depicting either dawn or dusk.

By Gabriela P.

Until recently, if someone mentioned Stephen King around me, all I pictured were the usual horror staples: clowns, spiders, dark hallways, mysteriously red and sticky substances. Of course my familiarity with King’s work was about the same as the average media consumer – starting and ending with the Hollywood blockbusters like It and The Shining. As a reader who prefers historical fiction over horror, I never ventured into his dizzyingly enormous body of work.

It was not until my recent read of King’s 2019 novel The Institute that I realized I may have been missing out on his ever-developing literary skills. The Institute delivers on a terrifying antagonist, but rather than supernatural, the bad guys in this story are all-too human. In the “Institute,” inmates with telekinetic abilities are kidnapped, imprisoned, and tormented with unexplained experiments. The inmates are children. The story primarily revolves around Luke Ellis, a 12-year old with extraordinary genius, as he wakes up in the Institute and attempts to navigate the sadistic staff and build peculiar friendships. As he and his newfound friends and allies learn more about where they are, readers come to understand that those working for the Institute believe they serve a higher good, and that there exists a place for cruelty with a purpose. The staff members in charge of the children would show up to work, run their terrifying tests, stop for coffee in their breakrooms, chat and flirt, then head home each night. Even as Ellis and his fellow captives live their days bouncing between mysterious injections and surreally normal basketball games, the real horror is apparent in the quiet complacency towards child abuse as a necessary evil, and at its worse no more than daily routine.

How could children survive in a place designed to strip them of dignity and humanity? Could they even survive? The Institute weaves together a story of unimaginable scale with the most authentically human characters: policemen, innkeepers, custodians. And yes, there is a 12-year old genius and kids who can read minds, but their abilities are the least important things about them. Their moments of anger, sadness, courage, and joy are their characters’ truly grounding elements.

While definitely a tough read, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this novel. Ruthless and brutal, but at times captivatingly heart-warming. If you’re interested in making a foray into the Stephen King sphere, The Institute is a great book to pick up and get absorbed into.

The Institute is available from HCLS in a variety of formats: regular print, large print, as an audiobook on CD, and as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive.

Gabriela is a customer service specialist at the Miller Branch. She loves long walks, reading with her dog, and a good cup of coffee.