An absorbing, well-crafted mystery alive with colorful, substantive characters in a vivid setting.

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THE WINDOW TRAIL

From the Big Bend Country Mystery series , Vol. 1

In this series opener, a gruesome murder with far-reaching consequences unsettles a Texas town and brings together an attractive college professor and a young lawman intent on solving the case.

Before professor Claire Harp came to the state university in Alpine, Texas, a sophomore called Mote McCrary hiked up the Window Trail into the mountains of Big Bend National Park and leaped off a cliff. Mote’s professor and mentor, Michael Kincaid, subsequently rocked the publishing world with a much-lauded book based on conversations with the teen. The site of Mote’s death became a destination for young devotees of Kincaid’s literary triumph. When two of them persuade Claire to take them there, it turns out to be a distressing trip, made more disturbing on the way back when a coyote passes by with a woman’s hand in its mouth. Claire and Capt. Clayton Alton Shoot from the sheriff’s office find the rest of the remains the next day in a remote area of a wealthy rancher’s property. The dead woman turns out to be a part-time tech assistant at the university, notorious for her multiple affairs. The attraction between Claire and Clayton grows; meanwhile, the solution to the murder, obscured by an abundance of motives, is complicated by Alpine’s overly ambitious chief of police. Claire also finds herself on the trail of a second mystery that may or may not be related to the brutal crime. Rusz (How To Write Anything, 2019, etc.) deftly gives his characters substance and weaves humor and poignancy into escalating plot twists and turns. (Even the revelation of the perpetrator’s identity doesn’t quite lead where expected in the aftermath.) And the author, who clearly knows the territory, brings alive the book’s setting, the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, where readers can picture “a silhouette of mountains, purple and black against a sky that would not quite disappear, the horizon a bazaar of volcanic tents and towers” and the “northern fingers of the Chihuahuan desert reaching into Far West Texas.”

An absorbing, well-crafted mystery alive with colorful, substantive characters in a vivid setting.

Pub Date: July 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72242-487-9

Page Count: 284

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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