An absolutely delightful read, perfect for a summer day with a good beer and a piece of pie.

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THE LAGER QUEEN OF MINNESOTA

A family inheritance tears two Minnesota sisters apart—but years later, they might get a chance to reunite.

Edith Magnusson never expected to be famous for anything, let alone her pies. But the pies she makes at her humble nursing-home job put the place on the map, and soon people are traveling from all over to try a slice. At 64 years old, it seems she’s starting a new life...but Edith doesn’t know what’s in store for her future. Although she remains a talented baker, the years to come leave her widowed, underemployed, and taking care of her teenage granddaughter, Diana. The two of them manage to barely scrape by, but Edith often wonders how her life would have been different if she’d received her portion of the inheritance from her family’s farm after her father died. Instead, Edith’s younger sister, Helen, convinced their father to give her the entire inheritance so she could build a successful brewery with her husband. Helen made good on her promise, turning Blotz beer into one of the country’s most prominent brands, but it comes at a cost. Edith stops speaking to Helen, and Helen doesn’t reach out to fix the rift. Many years later, by coincidence, Diana ends up working in a brewery. She shows both an interest and skill in making beer, and soon she’s a rising star in the world of brewing. As Diana’s career takes off, she needs all the help from her family she can get—which just might mean a chance for Edith and Helen to reconnect. Stradal’s (Kitchens of the Great Midwest, 2015) writing is sharp and funny while still managing to treat each character with warmth and respect. His women are complicated and interesting people who find fulfillment in hard work—and, perhaps most refreshingly, he never mocks the career hopes of older women. Although the characters' lives are full of loss—Edith of her husband, Diana of her parents, all of them of various unfulfilled dreams—the story doesn’t wallow in grief or indulge in despair. Instead, this is an ultimately hopeful and heartwarming story that never feels sentimental or trite. Readers will love watching these truly original characters overcome their challenges and take care of each other.

An absolutely delightful read, perfect for a summer day with a good beer and a piece of pie.

Pub Date: July 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56305-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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