A sharply intelligent and energetic historical fantasy.

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WADE OF AQUITAINE

From the Wade of Aquitaine series , Vol. 1

In this historical fantasy debut, an insurance salesman travels to the ninth century to save a lady love he hasn’t met yet.

Wade Linwood, a 23-year-old auto insurance salesman from Long Island, New York, has synesthesia. This disorder of cross-wired senses might cause, for example, the sight of African violets to conjure the taste of buttered toast. To ease these symptoms (and his carpal tunnel syndrome), Wade visits acupuncturist Dr. Gennadi “Nate” Nesky. In the waiting room, he’s pretty sure that a quadriplegic girl named Kreindel Richter suddenly gains muscle control and acknowledges him. The claim enrages the girl’s father, who insists, “Her face never changes. It can’t.” The day grows weirder during Wade’s appointment. The acupuncture is so effective it temporarily propels his mind into the deep past and onto the property of a leatherworker. Later, at Wheelwright Insurance, an incident with a co-worker results in Wade catching his hand in a slammed glass door. To relieve the agony, he uses a piece of broken glass to prick a sensitive spot above his heel. This flings his mind and body back onto the leatherworker’s land. The man, Wade learns, is Olich the Dyer. The place is Swabia in the Frankish Kingdom of 813 C.E. In this series opener, author Parris (Today You Write the Book, 2015, etc.) shapes his vast historical knowledge into an odd, exhilarating adventure. The year 813—as Wade eventually learns from another time-lost character—is a flashpoint between the crumbling of the Byzantine Empire and the descent into the Middle Ages. While fumbling through a realm of rampant kidnapping, theft, and murder, our hero meets the lovely Kreindia the Strange. She’s also a synesthete but uses the ability/affliction for an oracular power that most take for witchcraft. But soon after Wade and Kreindia meet at the abbey of Sintlas Ow, they are separated by Kreindia’s mission to heal an ill Emperor Charlemagne. Many would be lucky to write a whole series marked by the wit and gift for swashbuckling action and romance that Parris builds into his debut. A joyous—and deviously strange—finale should drive readers to the sequel.

A sharply intelligent and energetic historical fantasy.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942183-04-4

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Blueberry Lane Books

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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