An enthralling blend of mystery and SF with a striking hero.

GEODYSSEUS

In this 1950s-set, SF–infused novel, a physicist discovers a personal connection to the otherworldly object he’s investigating.

The CIA doesn’t know what to make of the old wreckage of a domed container, possibly a cargo pod. Someone unearthed it near the Nevada Test Site, making communist-hating America fear the Russians have been up to no good. Answers may lie with a metal disk found inside the container and with four sets of coordinates marking areas surrounding the wreckage. Dr. Frank Sartori of the Atomic Energy Commission scours Western desert landscapes for each location. What he discovers sparks wild theories, such as the pod is extraterrestrial and carried a now-missing passenger. But it’s the strange symbols on the disk that the physicist finds truly spellbinding. They’re identical to the ones on the aluminum attaché case of his uncle, the man who raised him and cryptically asserted that they both were “not of this world.” Working with Bob “Bobcat” Babcock, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, Sartori aims to unravel the mysteries of the pod, which is seemingly capable of creating energy from magnetic fields, and deciphering his bizarre link to it. Costanzo’s story deftly drops assorted puzzles at Sartori’s feet. Along with his AEC investigation, he must deal with his dreams, which teem with inexplicable images (for example, an unknown man at a bus stop), and his uncle’s abrupt disappearance. The tale is generally easygoing, as the protagonist doesn’t face sinister forces. But he does struggle to trust people, even immensely likable Bobcat and a local newspaper reporter named Kate Wilson who doubles as a potential romantic interest. The author couples a measured pace with vibrant prose, such as nuclear tests producing “a glowing orange sphere inside of an iridescent, billowing gray cloud.” Costanzo also aptly infuses real life into the narrative, from people constantly worrying about atomic bombs and radiation to characters mentioning famous baseball teams and players and TV series. The superb ending resolves some of the questions that readers will be asking.

An enthralling blend of mystery and SF with a striking hero.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-578-33953-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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