An ornate, gruesome, and rigorously crafted Civil War novel.

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The Veteran

From the The Castor Family Trilogy series , Vol. 1

Slaughter tells the story of a Civil War veteran’s attempts to silence his ghosts while working in the lumber camps of Michigan in this debut novel.

Will Castor serves in Battery D, 1st Regiment, Michigan Light Artillery, sending shells into the ranks of Confederate infantry whenever he’s ordered to do so. When his unit’s position is overrun at the Battle of Chickamauga, Will witnesses and commits ghastly horrors to survive the day. Separated from his army and incapacitated with a broken leg, he hooks up with a Confederate deserter who takes him home to Tennessee and shelters him. While there, Will develops strong feelings for the Rebel’s sister, Mollie. Back in Michigan after the war, he finds work at a lumber company in East Saginaw and attempts to lose himself in the hard life and colorful atmosphere of the camp. As a land looker (someone who evaluates standing timber), Will has the opportunity to traverse the Edenic forest, free of associations and memory. Even so, he struggles with the ghosts of his past, retreating ever deeper into the bottle and into the woods. Haunted by the traumas of the war, the wilds present Will with an unexpected opportunity for redemption—though it may prove to be an even greater battle than the one at Chickamauga. Slaughter is a fastidious writer, summoning the worlds of Civil War artillery and the 19th-century lumber industry in all their gritty details. A frame story about a Castor descendant searching for Will’s grave feels unnecessary and forced, but the scenes of war are replete with all the fire and death the reader expects from a Civil War novel: “Here and there the haze was ripped by long angry streaks of red from the mouths of the guns that set huge swirling eddies adrift in the dense smoke.” Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is its postwar period and its depiction of Will’s PTSD. The reader feels great empathy for this broken veteran, stumbling about in an era when the language for such aftereffects had not yet been established.

An ornate, gruesome, and rigorously crafted Civil War novel.

Pub Date: June 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-9439-9509-7

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Mission Point Press

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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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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