THE ELEPHANT CAGE

A teenager-against-the-world techno-thriller about a young Alaskan hacker and his battle with Russia after a nuclear strike on the United States.

Eric Palmer, role-playing game addict and prodigy hacker, gets roused one morning by his father, who believes the reports that a Russian terrorist has taken over a missile-launch facility and will fire on Alaska imminently. In true slacker fashion, Eric won’t get up and the police forces his family to leave him and vacate the area. As Eric finally makes his way to a shelter close by, the rumors and speculations crystallize in a terrifying blast of neutrinos—the Russians really have reared their heads and struck, and the terrorist group was only a clever Soviet-style ruse designed to excuse the nation at large. Thus Tarrant throws readers into the scrambling action and dread of life beyond brinksmanship. Stranded initially in a fallout shelter, Eric seems to take things in fair stride with only a copy of The Sound of Music to keep him company. There are a few nagging questions that distract from the early narrative—Did the United States retaliate? Would the United States really accept Russia’s stance that it won’t bargain with terrorists? Why isn’t Eric more terrified? Despite some of these loose threads on the suspension of disbelief, the author works in a crisp, punctuated style that moves in blessed efficiency—especially in a genre which often finds its practitioners gorging themselves on impossibly ornate details and extraneous exercises in melodramatic atmosphere. There’s none of that fat in this taut volume. Eric meets a roughneck resistance leader and a definite love interest, and then breezily hacks into the eponymous Elephant Cage, a secret military facility dedicated to intelligence and command. From there, Eric must save America from a Napoleonic Russian hell-bent on finally increasing the empire. It’s not believable for a second, but the book reads well and the characters are lots of fun—readers will keep burning through pages to get to the novel’s sly conclusion, where America hits those devious Russians where it really counts.  Outlandish but exciting entertainment for fans of technology, geopolitics and even romance.

 

Pub Date: March 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615430799

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Bert Tarrant

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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