A cross between chick-lit fare and Bridesmaids.

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JENNIFER JOHNSON IS SICK OF BEING MARRIED

Bawdy, occasionally lewd and often funny, this follow-up to Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single (2009) returns us to the screwball adventures of a likable screw-up.

Jennifer has landed her man, handsome Brad Keller, heir to a Midwestern department store. The novel opens as the happy couple leaves for their honeymoon on St. Johns, where everything goes wrong. Flight delays, luggage lost and food poisoning, all in the first 24 hours, set the tone for the rest of their marriage. When they arrive home in Minnesota, Ma and Pa Keller have a surprise for the young couple—they bought them the McMansion right next door—and Mother Keller has thoughtfully decorated the whole thing in pastels and ceramic figurines. She also hired them a maid, Bi’ch, an elderly Hmong woman who lives in the guesthouse with her entire extended family. Jennifer is livid, Brad could care less, but in the end, how could she turn down a $3 million lakefront home? Then, Brad breaks the news: He and his sister, Sarah, are to compete to inherit Keller’s when their father retires. Brad and Jennifer must become the perfect church-attending, Republican-voting, golf-playing, pastel-wearing (Jennifer only) couple. With the help of her best friend, Christopher, Jennifer (a once aspiring writer, sweatshirt-wearing Everywoman) is transformed into someone who could’ve starred on Dynasty. Alas, everything always goes wrong (for a variety of reasons, not least of which is sabotage at the hands of the evil Mother Keller). Dinner guests are poisoned, bodily fluids run rampant and her $10,000 refrigerator won’t stop belittling her in Japanese. And to top it off, she and Brad don’t seem to love each other anymore, if they ever did. Next up: Operation Break the Prenup. Some of McElhatton’s conventions—the gay best friend, the endless shopping and makeover scenes—are happily redeemed by her wicked sense of slapstick comedy.

A cross between chick-lit fare and Bridesmaids.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-206439-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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