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THE OLD DATA MINER

A memorable combination of science and faith and the determination to unite the two.

Boyarsky’s novel follows one man’s quest to connect technology and the Messiah.

Eighty-year-old retired mathematician Jacob Lazerson lives with his wife, Sarah, in Montreal. The couple doesn’t have much money, but they do have hope for the future: They are part of an Orthodox Jewish community that believes the Messiah may arrive any day. (Jacob fondly recalls the famous Chassidic Rebbe saying “The advent of the Messianic age is only a gesture away.”) Jacob feels he can usher in that event with a little help from science. When Jacob is not observing the Sabbath or attending the synagogue, he runs a computer program of his own design that will, he believes, validate the Bible and “consequently bring about the Messianic Age.” The program works by identifying “associated Hebrew sequences for all exons in the human genome,” which will prove the Bible’s “divine intelligence.” Jacob’s obsessive quest is not the only challenge he faces—it’s 2020, and the Covid-19 virus is on the rise. Jacob must be extra cautious, as some in his religious community forgo precautions such as face masks because they might signal “that their faith in God to protect them was lacking.” Jacob takes readers on a curious, winding path; he’s immersed in a world where people actively anticipate a messianic figure, yet he’s still comfortable with aspects of the modern world like computer programming. Jacob’s love of hard science and religious adherence is an intriguing mix that finds him dreaming about a debate with a famous atheist. Some of the narrative’s flights of fancy can be on the dull side—Jacob’s imagined conversation between the Rebbe and Albert Einstein is not particularly illuminating, for example. Vague insights, such as Einstein saying he recognizes the “impact faith and philosophy have on shaping human values and society,” do not make for page-turning moments. Yet readers will remain curious about what, if anything, Jacob’s struggle will amount to.

A memorable combination of science and faith and the determination to unite the two.

Pub Date: Feb. 29, 2024

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Bayou Wolf Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2024

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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