A thought-provoking if attenuated mix of head and heart.

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A teenager rewires his brain to ramp up his cognitive skills in this near-future techno-thriller. Improving his emotional intelligence is a bigger challenge.

Colt, the central figure in this propulsive but baggy yarn by Gough (Juno & Juliet, 2001, etc.), is the product of a broken home. He lives in Las Vegas with his mom, Naomi, a brilliant biologist whose findings on a process for regenerating human tissue are confiscated by the government security agency where her ex, Ryan, works. Colt spends most of his time under the carapace of a virtual reality helmet, busily programming a virtual place to escape “crapworld” (which becomes slightly less crappy when he meets a female fellow programmer). Putting mom’s research to work, Colt attempts to apply the tissue-growth process to his own brain, an act that nearly kills him but gives him superhuman computing powers. That makes him of interest to the military, but his new algorithm doesn’t address everyday foibles. (“You have to take into account human stupidity,” Gough writes. “Because it’s a constant.”) Gough uses this setup to braid two thematic threads: One involves Colt’s developing capacity to express emotion; the other involves the way technology becomes self-consuming and malevolent without that capacity. Plotwise, that pits mom and son against dad, and in the closing pages, standard-issue gunplay and explosions give way to a woolier conflagration between Colt’s “gameworld” and the military’s “immune system.” Undergirding all this is Gough’s repeatedly evoking the command of the book’s title, recalling E.M. Forster’s command to “only connect” (though Gough's taste in literary quotations favors science-fiction writers like Philip K. Dick). His plea is hard to dispute, and though he delivers it with speed—punchy, one-sentence paragraphs abound—set pieces that endanger and then rescue Colt get repetitive, and the central romance, ironically, gets short shrift.

A thought-provoking if attenuated mix of head and heart.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54133-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA

A tightly wound caseworker is pushed out of his comfort zone when he’s sent to observe a remote orphanage for magical children.

Linus Baker loves rules, which makes him perfectly suited for his job as a midlevel bureaucrat working for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, where he investigates orphanages for children who can do things like make objects float, who have tails or feathers, and even those who are young witches. Linus clings to the notion that his job is about saving children from cruel or dangerous homes, but really he’s a cog in a government machine that treats magical children as second-class citizens. When Extremely Upper Management sends for Linus, he learns that his next assignment is a mission to an island orphanage for especially dangerous kids. He is to stay on the island for a month and write reports for Extremely Upper Management, which warns him to be especially meticulous in his observations. When he reaches the island, he meets extraordinary kids like Talia the gnome, Theodore the wyvern, and Chauncey, an amorphous blob whose parentage is unknown. The proprietor of the orphanage is a strange but charming man named Arthur, who makes it clear to Linus that he will do anything in his power to give his charges a loving home on the island. As Linus spends more time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to question a world that would shun them for being different, and he even develops romantic feelings for Arthur. Lambda Literary Award–winning author Klune (The Art of Breathing, 2019, etc.) has a knack for creating endearing characters, and readers will grow to love Arthur and the orphans alongside Linus. Linus himself is a lovable protagonist despite his prickliness, and Klune aptly handles his evolving feelings and morals. The prose is a touch wooden in places, but fans of quirky fantasy will eat it up.

A breezy and fun contemporary fantasy.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21728-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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