A densely packed story with plenty to savor for readers of any faith or none at all.

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Seekers, Sinners & Simpletons

THE SPIRITUALITY PLAYERS

Lynch’s latest thriller (The 2020 Players, 2011, etc.) follows a series of people in the aftermath of two apparently isolated shootings.

In Tampa, Fla., a crazed man goes on a killing spree at a university campus. That same day, a doctor overseeing a new abortion clinic is murdered in a parking lot. As detectives and a reporter search for a connection between the two events, different people slowly come into the frame, including “Patch” Munson, an Alabama farmer who confesses to killing the doctor. Some of the story’s players even come together to find a missing woman during a hurricane. In this complex novel, religion is more than just a theme; it serves as a catalyst, connecting and repelling characters. For instance, Father Hanlon’s leaving the priesthood scares Patch into believing his confession will be revealed, which leads to Patch kidnapping Hanlon’s lover, Carol. It’s not just Christianity that seeps into the story: A blind scientist is an atheist, and Julianne, a computer saleswoman, considers herself to be a “seeker,” a spiritualist who follows no organized religion. Lynch doesn’t tip his hand by siding with any creed; instead, he criticizes and praises each one, frequently through debates between Julianne and “Hawk” Richter, the atheist. On the other hand, phonetic renderings of a Southern drawl from the likes of Patch and Rev. Billy Brand can be excessive and distracting, with cryptic words such as “decahded” (decided) and “reignahte” (reignite). The narrative also tends to be a bit wordy, typically in the form of superfluous adverbs—a professor can “visually see” the shooter, a touch is “paradoxically both soft and firm,” and a blind man “blindly” reaches. But Lynch also includes peculiar dualities for readers to ponder: a priest learns he has a son; a sermon inspires a shooting; and the death of the campus shooter isn’t considered murder, but killing a man who condones abortions is. Near the book’s end, as detectives, Hanlon and others desperately search for Carol, the hurricane casts a dark shadow that only intensifies the hunt.

A densely packed story with plenty to savor for readers of any faith or none at all.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615758220

Page Count: 424

Publisher: ERE Publications

Review Posted Online: July 8, 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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