Although simple in message and execution, this tale about three brothers turns into an addictive read.


The Sons of Silas McCracken

Podbury (These Tumultuous Years, 2016) explores how the early influence of a hard, unloving Scottish father shapes the successes and failures of his three sons.

Silas McCracken remains largely disliked in the Scottish town of Kinross—an aversion he’s fooled himself into believing to be respect. He marries the gentle and submissive Mary, and the two bear three sons: their twins, Robert and Harold, whom Silas refuses nothing, and the sickly Angus, who receives only his father’s constant scorn. Rob and Harry attend the renowned St. Giles College in Britain, spiteful of their wealthier peers and relying largely on cleverness and guile to succeed. After graduation, Harry travels the world, seeing London, France, postwar Germany, and America, a con man working under the guise of a stockbroker, seducing and robbing women and their families. Less savvy but just as cutthroat, Rob moves to London and falls under the tutelage of a Mafia don in Soho, rising in the organization’s ranks while gaining great power and numerous enemies, threatening the family he loves. Left behind, Angus adopts his mother’s kindness, his hard work and honesty awarding him an apprenticeship, and later a partnership, with the town’s most beloved carpenter, offering him the means to build a family with his first love, Maggie Campbell. These chapters on Angus’ provincial life are the lengthy novel’s strongest: light in tone and good humored, not without conflict or tragedy but neither diluted by its small-town setting. Rob’s and Harry’s “grander” exploits are more focused on violence and subterfuge, invoking aspects of spy and crime thrillers, though once it is clear neither one has any hope (or desire) to be redeemed, there’s only so much perverse enjoyment to be taken from the pair’s wanton criminality. Maggie receives a surprising and significant amount of focus in the narrative as she attempts to make her own way after falling for Rob, who callously leaves her pregnant and in ruin. Regrettably, once she is reunited with Angus, she fades into the story’s background. Like the tale’s commentary on the evils of ego and ambition, its religious imagery is a touch on-the-nose, with the Mary-raised carpenter Angus cast as a Christ figure, while his brothers’ failings represent deals with the devil.

Although simple in message and execution, this tale about three brothers turns into an addictive read.

Pub Date: April 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4917-8700-7

Page Count: 676

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 22, 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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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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