A rousing tale with fine action, engaging villains, and series potential.

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BLACK SUNRISE

In Godfrey’s debut thriller, a private special ops group on a mission to rescue hostages confronts terrorists who are gunning for a biological weapon.

Californian college student Christie Jensen and her friend Jackie Dawson have been missing for more than 24 hours by the time Christie’s attorney father, Mark Jensen, gets the news. The two young women were enjoying their summer in Denver when they mysteriously vanished. The local police focus on Jackie’s significantly older boyfriend, Robert Sand, who originally reported his girlfriend’s disappearance, but they’re getting nowhere. So Jensen calls the Brecht Group, a private security and threat-assessment company whose owner has a strong tie to the lawyer’s father. Meanwhile, readers know that a man named Arthur Beeman and his accomplice, Antonio Pessoa, abducted the young women at a Denver mall. Arthur is a scientist who’s planning a rather disturbing experiment involving Christie, Jackie, and an oblivious Antonio. Meanwhile, Arthur’s deadly, synthesized virus, code-named “Black Sunrise,” sparks the interest of North Korean terrorists, and they’re willing to pay millions to get their hands on it. Brecht Group operatives, including Roady Kenehan, soon learn that American intelligence agencies have been surveilling Arthur and the North Koreans. The agencies know that two kidnapped young women are alive, but they’re unwilling to mount a rescue that could jeopardize their operation. Roady and others, including military-trained Mark and Robert, are determined to save Christie and Jackie, even if it means going up against deadly foes.  Although Godfrey’s novel definitely has its share of action, there are just as many enthralling scenes of investigation. For example, as Brecht Group operatives look into the young women’s disappearance, they use sophisticated technology, including equipment that recreates the mall abduction by drawing on radio transmissions, among other data. Several characters share similar skills, which make them somewhat less distinct as individuals; Mark and Robert, for example, both have very useful combat training, as does Roady, whom the two eventually join in a gunfight. There’s also a pronounced theme of fatherhood that involves multiple characters; Mark, for example, is a father who gets help from his own dad; most view Robert as a sugar daddy; and aging Albert Brecht, the head of the Brecht Group and “one of the last remaining fathers of the Cold War,” is preparing to pass down his company. The story’s villains, however, are more remarkable and memorable; Antonio is decidedly repugnant, Arthur is highly intelligent but likely psychopathic, and Jimmy Kim, who most often represents the North Koreans, is unusually charming. Overall, Godfrey’s narrative proceeds at a deliberate pace, thanks to hefty but often riveting backstories of several characters. Still, the story boasts a few surprises when it comes to the specifics of Arthur’s experiment and more than one unexpected death. The conclusion provides a thorough and convincing wrap-up, but Godfrey has a sequel planned, which will surely appeal to readers looking for more exciting stories of Brecht Group operatives in peril.

A rousing tale with fine action, engaging villains, and series potential.

Pub Date: June 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-08-056084-4

Page Count: 436

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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