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THE KEEPERS OF THE LIGHTNING BRAIN

From the Keepers series , Vol. 1

An intelligently written and deliberately paced story.

Four orphaned siblings take on a mysterious but unmistakably perilous assignment in this first installment of Ratza’s new SF series.

By the mid-22nd century, Electra Kittner, whose “lightning brain” has afforded her exceptional intellect, has been missing for two decades. She had employed her skills for such things as battling the deadly T-Plague, and the “Keepers Group” has been meeting annually to keep her memory alive. Tragically, an accident kills every group member except Su-Lin Song Chou. Indira, Electra’s AI–powered app that became self-aware, comes to the aid of ailing, 97-year-old Su-Lin. Hoping to recruit new keepers, they contact twins Eve and Alonzo Cortez and twins Nari and Nila Bose, all teen orphans for whom Su-Lin has been a legal guardian. Indira, posing as Su-Lin’s flesh-and-blood, online-only administrative assistant, sends the American teens on a Cairo mission. They’re to contact someone named Rani and “bring back” whatever he gives them. Once they score summer internships in Cairo, they can decide the best time to meet. Unfortunately, Electra has made a few enemies, who apparently believe she’s been hiding for 20 years. These individuals threaten the teens even before they leave the U.S. and have eyes on them in Cairo, ultimately prompting an assault. Meanwhile, Indira, who’s withheld quite a bit from the teens, has surprises in store. They’re soon communicating with yet another enigmatic figure—a woman who, like Indira, may know where Electra has been and even where she is now.

This work launches the Keepers Series, a sequel to Ratza’s five-book Electra-centric series. Readers unfamiliar with the prior series will easily follow this opening installment. Much of this book’s narrative perspective is the teens’, and while they’re winsome characters, they’re less action-oriented than Electra. They, for one, are students focused on their intern responsibilities and, accordingly, take nearly two months before rendezvousing with Rani. As such, it’s a slow-moving story with dilemmas that include Alonzo’s hoping to wrap up things quickly so he can make it back to the U.S. for a sports training camp. Frequent conversations among characters further decelerate the narrative, but these are also indications of Ratza’s smart and historically rich writing. For example, the teens learn about the origins of the Coptic Church in Egypt, and Nari is upset over a test, certain she “screwed up big-time on Stieltjes and Lebesgue integrals” by assuming it “would cover only Riemann integration.” Regardless, the siblings face dangers, from shady types watching them to at least one person’s being involved in a crash. Moreover, the novel’s latter half picks up, as the mystery of Electra’s whereabouts comes to light. Indira is a superlative character even if she’s noncorporeal; she acts as the teens’ guide, but her unsurprising indifference often jars Eve, her most frequent contact, as Indira has a tendency to berate her. Although the plot is occasionally predictable, the delightful open ending suggests a host of ways for the series to continue.

An intelligently written and deliberately paced story. (list of main characters, dedication)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 191

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2020

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DARK MATTER

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.

Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.

Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90422-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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