A funny, thoughtful campus tale.



A Georgia college professor attempts to escape the ghosts of history in Stewart’s debut novel.

Atlanta, 1996: the Olympics have just left town, and historian Travis Hemperly has returned there to take up a temporary teaching position at a historically black college. The white Hemperly’s previous teaching experience includes three years at the University of Minnesota followed by a year of performing Viking re-enactments at a tourist destination in Newfoundland, Canada—neither of which has sufficiently prepared him for a career in what Abraham Baldwin Longman, one of his new colleagues, jokingly refers to as “Blackademia”: “Travis is out of his element. He has never taught on a historically black campus, has never been a minority on any piece of real estate he has ever set foot on.” It’s a difficult transition, though one that Travis is willing to make if only because there aren’t many other options for him in the shrinking academic market. Despite cultural differences and disparate sensitivities, things begin to improve—until another colleague discovers that Travis’ conspiracy-obsessed father, Henry Hemperly, hosts the racist AM-radio call-in show “Confederate Talk Radio.” What’s more, a discussion of lynching reminds Travis of a story that his father told him when he was boy about an event Henry witnessed in the tiny village of Haylow, where a man was tied to a tree and murdered with an ax. In order to remain in his new position, Travis will have to come to terms with some history outside his area of specialization—that of his family and that of the South. Stewart tells Travis’ story in lucid, observant prose (“There is a lot to look at up in the sky tonight, a lot of action going on in the cosmos….All of this astronomical activity must mean something, so it seems like the right night for an appeal to the universe”), and he gives his novel a buoyant satirical gloss without teetering too far into ridiculousness. His characters are well-drawn and generally quite complex—even the largely unsympathetic ones—and the dialogue in particular crackles with personality. The book does drag in some sections and might have been improved with a bit of condensing. Even so, it represents an amusing and sometimes quite scathing look at academia, racial tensions, and the oppressive weight of the past that still characterizes life in the South.

A funny, thoughtful campus tale.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60489-173-7

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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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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