A well-plotted thriller with a likable, female protagonist strong enough to be featured in her own series.

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TERMINATION OF BENEFITS

In Sloven’s impressive first installment of a planned series, someone is killing psychotherapists in Portland, Maine, and the primary suspect is another psychotherapist.

Sarah Green was a Boston lawyer with the public defender’s office until her best friend from college, Miriam Moss, was murdered by a criminal defense client. She moved to Portland, got a degree in clinical social work, and went into private practice as a trauma therapist. She also has some psychic skills. She experiences premonitions and can speak with dead people. It runs in the family. Sarah is preparing to accompany Louise Gold, another close friend and fellow therapist, to a court proceeding. Louise is testifying on behalf of Brooke Hart Tate, one of her patients, in a custody dispute. Brooke’s estranged husband, George Tate, happens to be the CEO of Constant Caring Managed Care Company, a health insurance corporation that pays (or, more often, denies payment to) most of the therapists we meet in this narrative. Testifying for George is Dr. Harold Henderson, an arrogant misogynist who treated Brooke and George in couple’s therapy. When Henderson turns up dead in his office, suspicion falls on Louise, who was overheard bad-mouthing him in the court’s restroom. Unfortunately, Louise is involved in a personal crisis (her husband, Mark, may or may not have fallen off the AA wagon) that is causing her to be more secretive and appear guilty. Sloven (co-author: Compassionate Journey, 2018) makes fine use of her own experience as lawyer-turned-psychotherapist to lay out an intricate, twisty plot that maintains a steady pace. Sarah is a complex character, still working her way through PTSD from Miriam’s death, conflicted about her paranormal visitations from Miriam, and simultaneously navigating two romantic relationships, one of which is with her wealthy former husband. There is a satisfying skewering of managed care health insurance, enough bad guys to provide tension and keep readers guessing, a few psychopathic patients to add to the danger, and a group of analysts still working out their own issues.

A well-plotted thriller with a likable, female protagonist strong enough to be featured in her own series.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-63381-130-0

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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