An interplanetary tale with stellar characters that will put readers on the hunt for the next entry.

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DOMANI

The first installment of Gross’ (Bard’s Exile, 2016, etc.) sci-fi series follows a woman as she aims to save a population of a planet headed for fiery annihilation.

Lulu emphatically believes in the message of peace and hope that she receives from the doyen—a prophet named Sen on the planet Dalia. As the face of the ruling Sanctuary, the doyen usually promises Dalia’s people that the neighboring planet Laima won’t abandon them; its shadow protects their world from a fire cyclone. Sen’s latest speech, however, is surprisingly grim in tone: he claims that Laima’s orbit will imminently shift, ensuring Dalia’s destruction. When one of his massive guards, known as “crawlers,” reacts to this by apparently attempting to kill him, Lulu intervenes. Consequently, she and Sen wind up being judged by the Wards, the women who rule the planet and control the doyen. Coming to Lulu’s aid is her father, Mikal, a former Sanctuary assassin who bravely confronts the genetically engineered crawlers. After Lulu and Sen escape, they uncover quite a few secrets, including a couple of major ones that Mikal has been keeping. As it happens, Lulu is a significant figure among the Dalians, and she has previously unknown capabilities, such as the power to light a beacon to call for aid. Those who respond to that beacon, however, may not be so accommodating. Lulu, Mikal, and others commandeer a ship to travel to another planet, where they make allies, face hostility, and learn a good deal about Dalia. Gross offers an initially simple story that becomes increasing dense. Lulu is the first focus, and only after she and Sen uncover more information about themselves are other major characters (and plotlines) introduced. Several characters change their alliances along the way—or at least appear to do so. For example, Mikal, to save his daughter, makes a deal with the Wards to assassinate Sen, who’s quickly becoming Lulu’s friend. In the same vein, all the major Dalian characters are forced to band together when they face opposition on a new planet. The theme of family is prevalent throughout, as well: Lulu and Mikal’s union seems unbreakable, despite occasionally being at odds, and Mikal is often paternal to others. In fact, Mikal is responsible for one of the book’s periodic moments of profundity: he tells a grieving character that if he dies as a result of not safeguarding himself, it’s tantamount to killing his loved one “all over again.” The story’s steady pace slows down considerably after the trek to the other world. Nevertheless, this action launches the series’ main arc, and Gross methodically builds upon a narrative that will continue in future books. There are still copious action scenes, though, replete with Mikal employing his cache of weapons and Lulu trying out her abilities. Tears may be shed for characters who don’t reach the end, but one death in particular will likely generate applause.

An interplanetary tale with stellar characters that will put readers on the hunt for the next entry.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-97941-9

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Outer Ring Series

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 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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