A well-written, fast-paced, and satisfying historical adventure.

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H.M.S. BARABBAS

From the Further Adventures of Jim Hawkins series , Vol. 1

In this series opener and pastiche sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), Jim Hawkins’ plans to become a doctor are scuttled when he’s forced into another seaborne adventure.

It’s four years after the events described in Treasure Island, said here to have been written as a memoir by James “Jim” Hawkins. Jim, now 17, has enough takings from his treasure and his book to make him a rich man. Most of the money is held in trust until Jim is 21, but it’s time to consider a profession. He decides that, like family friend Dr. David Livesey, he too will become a physician and help “make the world a better place.” Dr. Livesey arranges for an apprenticeship to his friend, Dr. John Taylor, a surgeon at St.  Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. While waiting for a boat to London, Jim can stay with Dr. Livesey’s sister in Plymouth. All well and good—but while in Plymouth, Jim is press-ganged aboard the ominously named HMS Barabbas and put to work as captain’s steward, becoming apprenticed to Dr. Wilequet, knowledgeable but usually drunk. Jim soon learns that not all pirates sail under the skull and bones, and that his own memoir—which mentions still-buried treasure—has put him in danger. He’ll need courage, wits, and luck to get back to dry land. Jeapes (The Xenocide Mission, 2018, etc.) offers a nicely judged take on a classic historical adventure novel. With an occasional slip into modern diction, Jeapes generally reproduces the speech rhythms and vocabulary of Stevenson’s novel successfully, and he provides vividly authentic descriptions of life (and death) aboard ship: “Jim just had a moment to see the water around the target erupt with white splashes, before the cloud of smoke that had burst from the guns blew back across the ship. A chemical stink tore at the back of his throat and stung his eyes.” Moments of humor, a little romance, and just desserts help enliven the sometimes-dark proceedings.

A well-written, fast-paced, and satisfying historical adventure.

Pub Date: June 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-07-305745-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

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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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