This slim sequel with flimsy characters makes for a quick, easy read.

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The Sultan of Monte Cristo

FIRST SEQUEL TO THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

Edmond Dantes, and his many identities, traverses the world in this whirlwind of a sequel.

Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, Sultan of Monte Cristo, Sinbad the Sailor, Sultan of Albania. Each of these is the same man, originally known as Edmond Dantes from Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The Holy Ghost Writer (That Girl Started Her Own Country, 2012) begins this sequel with Dantes (first introduced in the series as Sinbad the Sailor), who’s struggling with an identity crisis. He can’t determine whether he must let go of his previous lives as Edmond and the Count in order to move forward. Not only does he quickly decide to accept all his identities, he decides to create new ones. As Sinbad, he marries Haydee, previously a slave in Dumas’ book, and declares himself the Sultan of Albania. His escapades continue when he returns to Paris and reunites with Mercedes, his first love. It’s evident that their love for one another remains. Dantes courts Mercedes before proposing to her, asking that she be his second wife in his harem in Albania. Dantes continues his journey as the Sultan of Albania and encounters Raymee, daughter of Abram. Abram is in the midst of negotiating the marriage of Raymee to the caliph of Mecca. Raymee is a brazen and strong-willed woman with enchanting violet eyes. She’s resistant to becoming the caliph’s wife for fear of losing her independence, so she requests the Sultan of Albania’s help to resolve her crisis. Dantes’ adventure is fast-moving—the reader must jump from scene to scene and country to country to keep pace. These scenes, however, are thin in detail. The hero brushes aside any hint of conflict or obstacle. The characters, upon introduction, quickly fall into one of two categories: good or bad. Each character either relies heavily on the development from the previous novel or is two-dimensional. The narrative seems to borrow too much from previous works of fiction; it doesn’t sufficiently forge its own identity.

This slim sequel with flimsy characters makes for a quick, easy read.

Pub Date: July 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1480278417

Page Count: 76

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2013

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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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