In this sci-fi debut, a team of neuroscientists exposes new capabilities in the brain that may steer human evolution toward miraculous—and deadly—frontiers.
Chuck Brenton, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, has been researching ways to harness the energy of the human brain for basic physical tasks. Ideally, his work would aid the handicapped or perhaps space and sea exploration. His data on gamma waves, however, is missing a baseline reading of the brain that would propel the research forward. When mathematician Matt Streegman contacts Chuck with key data from a deceased loved one’s EEG readout, the two quickly team up. They open a lab called Advanced Kinetics and soon have test subjects using their minds—via the Brenton-Kobayashi Kinetic Interface—to manipulate both computer software and construction equipment. But Matt and Chuck differ fundamentally on what kind of investors to take on: medical or commercial. Stronger-willed Matt wins out and finds himself courted by military interests. He keeps the involvement of Gen. Howard a secret from Chuck long enough to enmesh the company in complex, restrictive research, from which there’s no turning back. Yet Chuck and the test subjects—Mike, Sara, Mini, Lanfen and Tim—realize that military control of their work will lead to disaster. Luckily they have a few secrets of their own. Author Hemstreet has prepared a hard-science feast in his riveting, immensely satisfying debut. The science is always clearly stated, as are the corresponding metaphors, like one that sums up the neuroscientists’ take on burgeoning brain power: “You develop the muscles appropriate to the activity, and you learn how to use them most effectively”—essentially, “these people are…flexing mental muscles we didn’t know they had.” His characters are studies in pointed charisma, especially Matt, who’d like to “[kick] God in the teeth.” Audiences will fear for them as the plot subtly, horribly coils tighter. Ultimately, Hemstreet polishes his ideals regarding individuality and creative passion while bowing to the action/sci-fi formula. The result should be absolute bliss for fans of everything from Star Trek to X-Men. He writes a mean cliffhanger, too, one that hints at a sequel full of further narrative triumphs.
Three generations of a family venture west in this engaging, intricately embroidered 19th-century historical epic by Avery (Jars in a Pioneer Town, 2010, etc.).
The novel opens with a young boy, Alex, watching his mother die, marking the beginning of a desperately mournful early life. Despite being raised in abject poverty in a New York slum, he remains steadfastly true to his father and is horrified when representatives of a child welfare program rap on his front door and forcibly separate him from his beloved Pa. Alex is put on an orphan train, a service that relocated more than 250,000 vulnerable children from East Coast urban slums to the rural Midwest between 1853 and 1929. After he arrives at his destination, he’s thrown into an experience reminiscent of a cattle auction, in which stern-faced farmers and their wives eye each child carefully for potential adoption. No sooner is he introduced to his new parents than he’s set to work on a farm. A quiet, removed child, Alex finds more solace in nature than he does with his adoptive family. He forges a strong bond with the farm’s workhorses, Delilah and Dandy, and shares all his secrets with them. Avery juxtaposes Alex’s story with that of Will and Libby Pickard, a couple in industrial England. They head for America’s Eastern Seaboard on a ship, the Elijah Swift, and soon become embroiled with the powerful Cambridge family of Baltimore, leading to a number of dark, unexpected plot twists. The author spent several years immersing herself in the history and lifestyle of 19th-century rural America, and it shows; by comparison, the English environments seem quaint, but this doesn’t detract from the overall story. The author’s prose charts a close proximity to the land; for example, in one touching moment, young Alex sifts through dirt and finds a tiny seed. He turns “the seed over several times in his fingers,” sensing its importance without fully understanding its potential to yield new life. On occasions such as these, Avery makes readers remember what it’s like to see aspects of the natural world for the first time. She also captures some of the terse correctness of the classic 19th-century epic novel, but her tone also has a contemporary easiness that makes it approachable and pleasurable.
A beautifully written, effortlessly measured historical novel.
Lifflander’s debut memoir of his time as an aspiring spy in Moscow, where he fell in love with a Russian woman who may have been keeping an eye on him for the KGB.
Lifflander thought his dream of being a spy had come true when, as a recent graduate in 1987, he got a job as a driver/mechanic at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was soon assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency, part of the treaty between the USSR and U.S. to eliminate nuclear missiles; essentially, the American OSIA ensured that the Soviets were implementing the treaty. Sofia was one of the Soviet “escorts,” comprised mostly of young ladies who oversaw the U.S. inspectors while also (covertly) watching for potential intelligence-gathering. Lifflander and Sofia tried to hide their developing romance but quickly realized that hiding a relationship isn’t easy when you’re surrounded by spies. Both the author’s title and foreword hint at the story’s tongue-in-cheek approach: Lifflander refers to the USSR’s alarming shortage of socks as the “sock crisis”; and he notes that a chef at the missile inspection facility graduated from the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America. But Lifflander doesn’t force the humor; it’s derived from the absurdity of countless situations and twisted activities, like the Americans’ intermittently moving a trio of pink flamingos for no other reason than to keep the ever observing Soviets guessing. Lifflander’s predicament became considerably dourer when the KGB suspected he was an intelligence officer, though it was a hilarious misunderstanding: He was digging through basement walls in an American building searching for a bug merely out of boredom. The book’s final act, however, which centers on Lifflander and Sofia’s (and Sofia’s son, Max) trying to make a future together, turns somber and somewhat depressing. The story’s still engaging, though, even without the laughs, thanks to Lifflander, whose refusal to give up on a life with Sofia is something to be admired. Lifflander includes a number of black-and-whitephotographs to complement the text, but his descriptions are so dynamic and graphic that the pictures aren’t necessary; for instance, when Lifflander and Sofia walk into a cathedral and a “sea of babushkas,” readers will already have the image.
A real-life Cold War tale filled with nostalgia, exuberance and satirical wit.
This debut middle-grade book asks readers: Would you rather be fearless or courageous? Sixth-grader Joe Dearborne is known in his small North Carolina hometown for being fearless, a reputation he earned for such feats as rescuing a neighbor’s dog from a burning house. But the truth is he’s just reckless: He literally doesn’t feel fear. However, after a poisonous snakebite nearly kills him, it also robs him of this gift and gives him the chance not only to be afraid, but also to learn what real courage means. His first encounter with being scared arrives in the coolly diabolical form of Mrs. Chill, who comes to look after him while his father takes care of business matters overseas. At first, Joe longs for the simplicity of his old life, but then he resolves to ignore the fact that he’s afraid of Mrs. Chill until his dad gets home. But when she turns out to be a real danger to Joe’s family and friends, he must find the courage to stop her. The allegory may seem obvious to experienced readers as Joe moves from innocence to experience in order to discover his true character. Young readers, however, will be captivated by the tightly written, suspenseful story featuring a likable main character and an engaging villain. Mitchell creates scenarios that are exciting, believable and age-appropriate; Joe goes on adventures, such as a night in the woods with a coyote, and experiences a budding romance with an equally courageous girl named Meg Darcy. The mystery of Mrs. Chill’s true motives, along with the story’s apparently paranormal elements, will make it hard for youngsters to stop reading. A unique, engaging chapter-book adventure.