Nazis once again make for creepy villains in Morgan’s ecstatic thriller.

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Eberhardt's Ghost

Morgan’s (No End in Sight, 2012, etc.) sinuous thriller features evildoers bent on nuclear mayhem and mind control.

In Morgan’s story, a Nazi scientist succeeded in replicating his genius in the mind of another man, moving toward the creation of the perfect superman. Though the eventual product of this experiment, Siegfried Bachmeier, uses his brilliance in 1993 to discover subatomic particles and fashion an explosive device of cataclysmic strength, he gets sidetracked by the mind-altering experiments from 50 years ago. He tries to understand and recreate their workings, but the process gives his subjects (including himself) devilish headaches, though the original goal of mass hypnosis dances only a fingertip away. Meanwhile, Bachmeier’s comrades in Argentina—questing after the next thousand-year Reich but willing to settle for the presidency of Argentina—have to thwart the steady encroachment on their project by a team of ex–Navy SEALs. The bad guys have already detonated a bomb that killed more than 300,000 New Yorkers and scared the state of Israel enough for it to launch three thermonuclear strikes on Iran, whom they erroneously thought did the dirty work. Morgan has a grand time weaving complications into this tale—plots and counterplots, dashes to the edge and then retreats—as well as bringing his engineering background into the mix: micro piezoelectric crystals, “tables of blast over-pressures versus distance,” particle-beam weaponry and electroencephalography (a measurement of electric activity in the brain). While Morgan ably captures characters on the page, sometimes the sheer number of them can be overwhelming—Brandt and Bachmeier, Baumgartner and Bihari, Basima and Biggs, etc.—and the writing has its wooden moments: “ ‘Prof, I want to talk to you about me and Karl. Could we go into your office?’ They do just that and Baumgartner shuts the door,” or “Perhaps there is something in his notes. She decides to look more carefully.” But Morgan’s clear joy in steering the story around its many curves and toward its merry ending keeps the thriller fresh and dastardly, even if readers might find it difficult to keep track of it all.

Nazis once again make for creepy villains in Morgan’s ecstatic thriller. 

Pub Date: April 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983703228

Page Count: 458

Publisher: Alicalla LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2014

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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