A familiar plot refreshingly enhanced by its setting during the Revolutionary War, which is depicted realistically and with...

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THIS DAY IS OURS

A love story set in Philadelphia during the American Revolution explores an unlikely pairing between an aristocratic woman with loyalist attachments and an unrefined rebel agitator.

In 1776, Philadelphia is a tinderbox of contentious political division—the city is torn between those who reaffirm their loyalty to the British crown and those who angrily demand political independence from it. And besides the tension created by the gathering clouds of war, the city is terrorized by a bandit known as Jack Flash who only targets wealthy loyalists and who is seen by the poor as a “hero.” One night, Jack Flash purloins a diamond- and sapphire-studded necklace from Alexandra Pennington, a recently widowed loyalist of exquisite elegance and beauty, a bold move that puts pressure on an otherwise feckless Sheriff Owen DeWalt to bring the culprit to justice. Meanwhile, Alexandra makes the acquaintance of Dalton Jameson, an “uneducated and humbly born” horse breeder who nevertheless impresses her with his “sincerity” and “gallantry.” Dalton is also an enthusiastic advocate of independence, and so despite their obvious admiration for each other, a remarkably implausible romantic coupling ensues, though Jeannette (A Devil of a Time, 2014, etc.) skillfully renders the possibility believable. But Charles Villard, a sophisticated descendant of British nobility, has eager designs on Alexandra as well and loathes the closeness that forms between her and Dalton so much that he’s willing to ruin his reputation: “ ‘Listen, you side-slip of a whoremonger. I’ve never liked you, and I especially dislike having you near things that belong to me. I’ll say this but once,’ he hissed. ‘Leave what’s mine alone, or you’ll have hell to pay.’ ” Jeannette not only manages to make the affections between Alexandra and Dalton credible—that in itself is no mean authorial feat—but also develops both characters with great depth and sensitivity. While an ocean of difference divides their lives, they do share something important: painful personal histories of adversity. Dalton was compelled to leave England after a romance went wrong, and Alexandra was forced into a marriage of convenience after her father left the family in financial ruin. The plot itself is fairly formulaic—an uncommon love swims against the currents of convention. But the backdrop of the Revolutionary War adds a fresh twist; the author’s portrayal of the political contentions that cleave Philadelphia is historically rigorous and dramatically gripping. Unfortunately, the tale as a whole unfolds at a glacial pace—it’s simply not necessary that this novel is nearly 500 pages. In addition, readers will confidently guess Jack Flash’s identity from the work’s very beginning. Still, while Jeannette’s prose doesn’t reach any poetical heights, she does achieve a linguistic authenticity for the period that helpfully contributes to a full immersion in the engaging story.

A familiar plot refreshingly enhanced by its setting during the Revolutionary War, which is depicted realistically and with great intelligence.

Pub Date: July 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-08-277653-3

Page Count: 561

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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