A timely, winning adventure that brings up serious questions about technology and medical research.

SAPIENT

Kaczmarowski’s (Moon Rising, 2014) scientific thriller pits a medical researcher against the government.

Dr. Jane Dixon is a San Francisco Bay Area scientist studying animal intelligence. She conducts experiments on both a rat and a dog to see whether exposure to a particular virus will give them humanlike intelligence and other skills, such as the ability to use tools. Jane is struggling with other issues at work, however, such as dwindling research funding and a boss who’s romantically interested in her. On the homefront, she has an autistic son named Robbie, and she’s desperately trying to hold on to her latest nanny. After dark, her laboratory comes alive in an astonishing manner when the rat (suitably named Einstein) lets himself out of his cage to mix things up a bit. It turns out that Jane’s virus has enabled Einstein to communicate—not by speaking, but by typing into a smartphone. Bear, the dog, isn’t a great typist, but he’s also become an intelligent, sentient being. The animals’ eyes glow an electric blue—a haunting image that becomes a hallmark of infected creatures throughout the novel. As Jane realizes the significance of what she’s done—including the fact that the virus has become communicable—she wonders about its potential to help her son and others with autism. Unsurprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control takes an interest in her work and demands that the program be shut down. However, Jane can’t give up the hope of a cure for her son and plans to escape to Canada with Robbie, Einstein, and Bear. With government agents in pursuit, she makes a decision that will affect not just her son, but potentially all life on Earth. Over the course of the novel, Jane’s actions convincingly come across as earnest rather than foolhardy, and Kaczmarowski does a deft job of making all the characters sympathetic, which is no small feat when the cast includes both humans and animals. The novel’s focus on the desire for scientific advancement despite possible dire consequences is reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s work, and Jane’s run from the government has a classic adventure feel that’s equally satisfying. Overall, Kaczmarowski has written a smart, exciting thriller that draws on enough contemporary anxieties to make it an entertaining and chilling ride.

A timely, winning adventure that brings up serious questions about technology and medical research.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0990410928

Page Count: 380

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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