An intelligent, energetic tale rife with double-crossings and espionage.

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THE EXPANSION

The chief engineer of a Panama Canal project unwittingly becomes immersed in political conspiracy and implicated in murder in this debut thriller.

The chance to work on expanding the Panama Canal is an amazing opportunity for British geomatic engineer Max Burns. It comes courtesy of childhood friend Godfredo, whose father is Francisco “Paco” Roco. Paco’s CISCO Construction represents Britain in the bidding for the project. Max is wary of Paco, who physically abuses his son. Meanwhile, Max’s hydrogeologist colleague Alexandra Wong quickly tires of endless parties and prostitutes in Panama as the British group preps its design for the bid. The bidding war soon entails illicit deeds from Paco and the U.S. engineering consortium, each trying to undercut the other. Even after CISCO wins and Max becomes chief engineer, tensions remain high. A U.S. agency believes someone newly associated with Max is a particular country’s attempt to sabotage the project and threaten America’s national security. Max is in a precarious spot, now a scapegoat for both CISCO’s dire financial state and something much worse: a project-related murder. He turns to Karis Deen, biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (and romantic interest), for help, but she’s been keeping a rather sizable secret from Max. Martin’s novel is a smart, rousing story condensed into a relatively quick read with short and sprightly scenes and chapters. Much of the suspense is relegated to the final act; the author uses the preceding pages to focus on what Karis has been hiding. It’s worth the wait, though, with the protagonist in peril and a prime candidate for a murder frame-up, all part of someone’s political coverup. Max’s naiveté (staying with the project despite warning signs, like Godfredo not showing up for meetings), coupled with losing his parents years ago in a helicopter crash, earns him sympathy. But it also makes him less intriguing than some of the other characters, especially Godfredo, who’s torn between loyalty to his father and his unmistakable hatred of the man.

An intelligent, energetic tale rife with double-crossings and espionage.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-911525-29-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: Clink Street Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 9, 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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