Fremantle presents an inventive, finely detailed, if lengthy, story.

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SISTERS OF TREASON

In her second novel set in 16th-century Tudor England, Fremantle (Queen’s Gambit, 2013) imagines the lives of three historically obscure women: Katherine and Mary Grey, who have claims to the throne, and Levina Teerlinc, the court painter who looks out for them.

Living a tenuous life at court following their elder sister Jane’s brief reign as queen and her subsequent imprisonment and execution, Katherine and Mary know that one misstep could lead them to a similar fate. After all, Tudor blood courses through their veins, and Queen Mary uses public executions to ensure her rule and her goals, including the reinstatement of Catholicism. The current sovereign suffers through several false pregnancies, but she fails to ensure a line of succession by producing a male heir—a matter that concerns the girls’ mother, Frances, as well as her friend Levina. Katherine is beautiful, flirtatious and compulsive. Mary is less worrisome. Uncomfortable with her tiny stature and physical imperfections, most people ignore her, but Queen Mary sometimes treats her as she would a pet or a doll. When Elizabeth I ascends to the throne, Frances is relieved. She hopes the new queen will be more tolerant toward her family and retreats to her country estate. Levina does her best to fulfill her promise to look after Katherine and Mary at court, as first one sister and then the other follows her heart without Elizabeth’s approval and pays the price. Told in alternating sections, the siblings describe their lives and the religious upheaval, political intrigue (including an attempt to wed Katherine to the Spanish court following Queen Mary’s death) and societal attitudes that influence their actions; but it’s Levina’s presence that binds the narrative. For those unfamiliar with this era in British history, the final pages include a brief explanation of the Tudor succession, a cast of characters and suggestions for further reading.

Fremantle presents an inventive, finely detailed, if lengthy, story.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0309-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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