Surreal notions and landscape, grounded by the chic gadgets and intrigue of an espionage tale.



In this debut paranormal-infused thriller, competing intelligence agencies use metaphysical technology while facing off in a realm beyond the corporeal world.

Professor Robert Shilling was 9 when his parents died in a car wreck. Believing there’s a chance he can still communicate with them, he places FieldREGs (random-event generators) around his New Jersey childhood home. Rob seems to have unknowingly piqued the interest of the NSA’s Gen. Donald Flint, who’s determined to get his hands on the professor’s files. He sends rookie agent Amanda Denoyer, Rob’s new postdoc at Duke University, to find the files. What exactly Flint wants isn’t immediately clear, but it’s related to his project, Celestial Destiny. He’s furthermore impatiently awaiting completion of the enigmatic imaging cube from postdoc Vadim Gostkov. The Russian’s heading the NSA-sponsored research group at MIT professor Dirk Jenner’s Institute for Transformative Research in Metamaterials—metamaterials that “exhibit properties not found in nature.” Meanwhile, John Pierce, who works at the research institute, has an appointment with psychologist Dr. Helene Bertrand for the hallucinations he’s been experiencing. Helene’s psychiatrist colleague Paul Greer, however, has seen patients (John’s co-workers) with identical hallucinatory symptoms, leading him to speculate they’re all seeing physical manifestations (ghosts, perhaps?). When someone winds up in a coma after an unexplained heart attack, it doesn’t prevent the person’s abduction. But these apparent kidnappers, traversing a plane not of the known world, haven’t seized the physical body; they’ve taken the soul. The resultant rescue operation precipitates a battle in a strange, unfamiliar realm. Engelmayr’s book is an impressive fusion of paranormal novel and techno-thriller. Amanda, for one, in her first NSA mission, has a run-in with a Russian agent, while an intelligence agency is intent on destroying Celestial Destiny. These take place within a story brimming with metaphysical terminology, like the silver cords linking people outside their bodies to their physical selves. Characters often speak in hypotheticals, as they’re discussing concepts that are abstract, primarily unknown, or written off as pseudoscience. Fortunately, the crisp dialogue takes an intelligent, scientific approach. Flint, for example, proffers: “It’s a classic chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. Do crustal magnetic anomalies associated with iron ore alter our biological circuitry, making us think we’re seeing ghosts? Or do ghosts tend to congregate around iron deposits?” Similarly, Engelmayr simplifies the plot by separating science and religion; Paul stresses proving “not the afterlife” but “an afterlife,” while Jenner differentiates the out-of-body soul from the biblical soul. The 2012-set story is augmented with the incorporation of real-life events, from impending Hurricane Sandy to people’s fears that the world will end before the year’s over. There are effective reveals, such as what the imaging cube does, and a final act, on the other plane, in which some of the threats aren’t exactly human. But while characters’ back stories are generally solid, a few are lacking. Helene, in particular, was traumatized by a 1980s horror film; for readers who haven’t seen it, vague details like “scary storm clouds” won’t register.

Surreal notions and landscape, grounded by the chic gadgets and intrigue of an espionage tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-59566-4

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Engelmayr

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2017

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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