An effective tale for readers who like biblical history and legend with their young love.

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Judah's Scepter and the Sacred Stone

In this debut historical romance, a Hebrew princess and an Irish warrior fall in love, but duty may keep them apart.

In 586 B.C., Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians. Princess Teia Tamar, almost 15 and the Judean king’s oldest daughter, must flee the city with the prophet Jeremiah, who brings with him the Bethel Stone that was Jacob’s pillow. They find refuge in Egypt, along with a scattered band of Hebrew refugees. Also in Egypt is Eochaid Finn, 21, son of Ireland’s high king. He’s sailed far from home, but legends say his people were originally an Israelite colony that came to Erin via Spain. Jeremiah reveals that it’s Eochaid’s destiny to rule in David’s line, a line that is also Teia’s, but his people must turn away from Baal. When Teia and Eochaid meet, they are instantly and deeply attracted, feeling as if they’ve always known each other. But they both have duties: Eochaid must return home, while Teia must serve her God and study Jeremiah’s scrolls. Over the next several years, Eochaid makes a dangerous sea journey, braving pirates, storms, and political intrigue once he reaches Erin. Jeremiah, meanwhile, insists they sail away from idolatrous Egypt with Teia as guardian of the Stone. This also becomes a treacherous odyssey, and a tempest blows them off course—to Erin, where Eochaid, now high king, is about to wed. Can the royal lines of David unite, with the Stone in their throne room? Brittain offers a well-researched, solidly described novel based on legend and history (a selected bibliography is attached) that’s bolstered by scriptural quotations on God’s covenant with Israel. The notion of this covenant as a kind of marriage is well supported in both the Old and New Testaments, which adds some weight and significance to the love story. The romance is chaste and feather light, seeming barely translated from a 1950s high school, with (for example) Eochaid’s torque standing in for a class ring. Brittain’s diction wobbles between high style (“I live for him, the Creator of all that we see…and all that remains hidden”) and contemporary (“Hannah put on a pouty face”), which can become jarring.

An effective tale for readers who like biblical history and legend with their young love.

Pub Date: July 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5069-0229-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: First Edition Design eBook Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 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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