Solid and diverting fantasy fare.

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TRINITY'S CONVERGENCE

A TRINITY OF FLAMES: BOOK ONE

In this novel, humanity has survived a global apocalypse on a planet that’s similar to Earth—except for a universal abundance of magic, usable by everyone.

A few generations ago, a disaster known as the Flame suddenly shattered every vestige of civilization on the planet, leaving the survivors utterly bereft of all magic. But after “more than a hundred winters,” a new order has arisen—one in which clans eke out a dangerous new existence, rediscovering skills, using primitive technologies, and fighting over the remnants of the enchanted old world. Through this post-apocalyptic landscape travels the merchant caravan of Nestor Galik and his blonde daughter, Miryam, striving to remain neutral among the tribal groups and barter or trade with all of them. Miryam is shrewd and practical, in a stable relationship with well-built and simple-minded Markus, and fiercely protective of her family. When the caravan runs into stuttering fugitive scholar Bertram, Nestor takes pity on the gawky youth, inciting trouble with the local authorities and launching Miryam on an adventure fraught with danger—including the very real possibility that magic may return, and she may well be part of its fearsome rekindling. Beachem’s (The Hunter and the Marked, 2010, etc.) series opener is quite entertaining. The pacing is swift even though the fantasy novel is long at over 570 pages. The characters are broad but sympathetic, although many are types (Nestor is obviously one, while Miryam’s short-tempered independence is more three-dimensional). But the worldbuilding is somewhat inconsistent, with references to currency in a barter-based economy and to some areas being more civilized than others. And the setting is derivative and breaks little new ground apart from using an ostensibly supernatural cause for the planet’s apocalypse. While the dialogue is serviceable, descriptions are sometimes slightly hazy when not depicting action. But fights and physical feats are lovingly and vividly detailed: “Sand got into everything, squeezing past her tightly-closed eyelids and lips, finding its way up her nose, and scraping at the gaping wound in her arm.”

Solid and diverting fantasy fare.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63492-540-2

Page Count: 578

Publisher: Booklocker

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 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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