While the plot sometimes lacks focus, this historical romance delivers compelling moments.

READ REVIEW

THE IRISH TEMPEST

The fates of two families mesh with Ireland’s struggle for independence in this debut novel.

Courtland “Court” O’Rourke and Lacey de la Roche grew up in neighboring estates in southern Ireland. Now 20-year-old Court has just returned from cavorting in London to find Lacey, 10 years his junior, beating up a neighborhood bully and as furiously rambunctious as he left her. Court serves as an adoring yet protective older brother figure to Lacey, who’s being spoiled rotten by her wealthy widower father. But barely a year after his return, a scandal forces Court to enlist in the British army. He navigates military intrigue in India, falling into a tormented affair with the wife of his rival, while Lacey’s love of horses brings her into contact with the rakish stable worker Ransom “Ran” Longo. As Lacey matures into a headstrong and becoming young woman, Ran and a returned Court become rivals for her affections. Yet war looms—the two men become involved in an incident of death and betrayal during the 1916 Easter Rising, and Court struggles to recover after witnessing the frontline horrors of World War I. Ran, though he has a sexually charged relationship with Lacey, is never in a serious competition with Court. Court eventually ties the knot with Lacey and then struggles to balance his love of wife and family with his commitment to the dangerous project of Irish rebellion. Using several historical events and a large, socially diverse cast means that Sparrow must keep multiple plates spinning, and some plotlines and characters subsequently feel underdeveloped. Yet the author also finds emotional resonance, particularly when her players intersect with history—for example, when Lacey and Court argue over whether Irish freedom is worth dying for. The dialogue suffers from an overuse of exclamation points but is enjoyably saucy and sharp. Lacey is admirably self-possessed but would benefit from less reliance on the headstrong heroine “type” and more interior characterization. Some tone-deaf choices mar the sweet central romance, most notably when implying sexual tension between Court and an 11-year-old Lacey, and in portraying his brutal violence against his unstable mistress. 

While the plot sometimes lacks focus, this historical romance delivers compelling moments.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976851-1-4

Page Count: 282

Publisher: The Waxing Gibbous Press

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more