Uncomplicated, enjoyable, and often surprising tales hampered by distracting errors.

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A PERFECT COMPANION

Jacobs’ (Chow Time!, 2017, etc.) collection of five short stories finds some characters pursued by pirates or incensed relatives while others make time for romance.

In “Hi-Jinks on the High Seas,” a yacht cruise around the world offers grand opportunities for a photojournalist. But things take an unexpected turn when he has to fight off pirates trying to force their way aboard the ship. However, it’s not the only story of a personal journey that takes a surprising detour in this collection. Caleb Watters in “A Boy Too Many,” for example, leaves home to look for work when his farming family decides that they’d be more financially stable with one fewer mouth to feed. He gets a job as a store clerk and eventually lends a helping hand to a man named John Palmer and his sister, Emma. He then winds up falling in love with the latter, which incites the wrath of her lawbreaking kin. In a similar vein, the title of “Spies R Us” teases potential action, but after Alph Furlong and Fred Worthington, two card-carrying, self-described “Professional Spize,” rescue a woman from the clutches of a gang, the plot goes in a different direction. It turns out that the woman is a producer who wants to buy the rights to their story—and the men go on to play themselves in a TV series. Jacobs delivers more humor in “The Case of the Granite Stone or Trouble in the Gardens of Eternal Peace,” a tale of melodrama at a funeral caused by the deceased’s former affairs with numerous women. The author even makes room for a love story in “A Different Kind of Recess”; in it, Carl Anderson is upset that his pal Don can’t join his fishing trip, but he forgets all about him when he gets closer to Jennifer, the cook he brings along. Overall, Jacobs excels at molding his characters—including the villainous or even seemingly insignificant ones, such as a stowaway in the aforementioned “Hi-Jinks.” But despite all the humor, surprises, and effective characterization, readers may find it hard to ignore the abundance of misspellings in the text, and they may also find the author’s choice to bury lines of dialogue within paragraphs to be distracting.

Uncomplicated, enjoyable, and often surprising tales hampered by distracting errors.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68256-366-3

Page Count: 236

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 16, 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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