A sweeping, suspenseful murder tale that offers enough atmosphere, subplots, and vibrant secondary characters to make...

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Winter Rage

A feud between the Mabry and Millard families in Ridgeway, Arkansas, leads to three murders, with consequences that haunt two families for five decades

In his new novel, McRaven (Build Me A Tower, 2016, etc.) explores life in the back hills of Arkansas, where it takes a special kind of inner strength and resolve to survive the soul-crushing poverty. Nate Prescott was orphaned at the age of 12 when both his parents died in an automobile accident. His mother’s younger sister, Andy (Millard) Henry, recently divorced from her cheating, truck driver husband Cam, takes Nate in and devotes her life to watching over him. Andy’s older brother Charlie, a fun-loving, irresponsible troublemaker, is also the beneficiary of her love and loyalty—at least whenever he returns from his latest adventures, usually broke. Andy and Nate manage to scratch out a bare subsistence on the dirt-poor farm that is Nate’s inheritance. Then there is wealthy, and bitter, Barry Mabry, who has never forgiven Andy for once rejecting him as a suitor. Now he contributes to the common gossip that she is a fallen woman because she divorced Cam. As the story opens, Charlie, Andy, and Nate are cutting down three trees that the Mabrys believe are on their side of the property line, rekindling a feud between the two families. When Barry is brutally murdered, Charlie and Andy are targeted as suspects. By the time two more killings are added to the toll, Andy and Nate realize they must flee the county in the middle of the night, selling off or leaving behind what meager possessions they have. The chase is on. Although the story features plenty of tension, the pace of the narrative is rather relaxed, with McRaven pausing to indulge in vivid descriptive passages that add color and texture. Of Nate’s grandfather, he writes: Elijah “was almost a caricature of the backwoods preacher, aging, with that beak of a nose that arrived places well before the rest of him.” But the frequent use of local dialect (“Don’t s’pose you’ns got a piece of hick’ry”), especially in the early sections, delays the process of sinking into the plot comfortably.

A sweeping, suspenseful murder tale that offers enough atmosphere, subplots, and vibrant secondary characters to make readers enjoy the leisurely pace.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944962-28-9

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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