A pleasing spiritual romance about love lost and regained.

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ECHOES OF PARADISE

A woman experiences supernatural love in Kahler’s debut novel.

Celeste plies a tedious but stable trade as an accountant while raising her 5-year-old son, Chip. She’s separated from her husband, Dave, and lately, she’s been reflecting on a former love, Connor, who moved to Italy and subsequently died in a plane crash. Connor had a “playful sense of humor,” a contrast to Dave’s nose-to-the-grindstone approach to life; she remembers their lighthearted relationship as one of spontaneity and fun instead of duty and obligation. Although Connor has been dead for some time, she still thinks of him and wants reassurance that he’s OK, wherever he is. Soon, she’s having unusual dreams, receiving strange messages and noticing recurring number sequences that seem to have hidden meanings; then little Chip has multiple encounters with what appears to be a male angel. Dave, a successful finance director, is determined to win Celeste back, and her controlling, violent ex-boyfriend Andy wants her as well—but it’s clear that her heart is with Connor: “It didn’t matter that he was physically dead. The strength and vitality of his spirit were more powerful than any being living on earth.” Kahler presents a touching story of a woman pining for an earlier love and questioning the nature of her own reality, and it ends with an unforeseen twist. Throughout the novel, synchronicities, signs, sensed presences and psychic influences abound. The spiritual communications are plausible and varied (a license plate, a disembodied voice, a flower on a path). Some are familiar New-Age staples, such as numbers in a series (4:44, 11:11), while others are more imaginative, such as an intense sensual union between a physical and spiritual entity. The story asks engaging questions about the purpose of one’s life versus that of one’s soul; intuitive truths versus “concrete proof”; and earthly versus unearthly delights. In this story, it turns out that heaven isn’t a nirvana of stasis but a cycle of continuing growth through all levels of existence. One plot point involving Connor’s demise seems far-fetched. Overall, however, this unpretentious story may bring comfort to those who believe that love survives long after the physical vessel is gone.

A pleasing spiritual romance about love lost and regained.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615863399

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Rose Petal Publications

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2014

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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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