Laudable characters and striking exposition give this world a grand introduction.

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TEARS FROM IRON

From the Memories of the Cataclysm series , Vol. 1

In this fantasy debut, a warrior on a mission to infiltrate a band of rebels begins to empathize with his targets.

In the world of Isfalinis, Vistus belongs to the t’Okaedrin, human warriors for the Kayrstaran Empire. T’Okaedrin serve the Syraestari, who are beings that live for thousands of years. But some humans, such as the Scions of the Fallen Tree, openly defy the Syraestari. The Scions make concerted efforts to liberate and recruit the Kalilaer, the Syraestari’s human laborers. The Scions consider these workers slaves. In response, Syraestari High Lord Tazil drafts Vistus to pose as a Kalilaer escapee and ultimately lead the t’Okaedrin to a Scion camp. Though the assignment is moderately successful, Tazil wants Vistus to go deeper: live among the Kalilaer to locate more camps and identify Scion leaders. Meanwhile, Ninanna, a Sword-Whisperer and essentially Empress Kayrstana’s bodyguard, is a Syraestari outcast since she sees humans as equals. Accordingly, the mysterious Shadow-Servant approaches Ninanna with a plan he derived from a prophecy: Further conflict in Isfalinis can be avoided by the Syraestari isolating themselves and leaving humans alone. Though the prophecy’s wording is vague, it seemingly warns against the Syraestari’s dominion and references an individual whom the Shadow-Servant believes is Vistus. As a Kalilaer and under the alias Belarrin, Vistus, along with other laborers, endures abuse, even from his t’Okaedrin “brothers.” He quickly befriends Kalilaer and Scions, later learning that, in connection with the prophecy, he may have an extraordinary ability of which he’s never been aware. Oldenburg’s painstakingly detailed world sets a solid foundation for his series opener. For example, long ago, one of the Etyni (firstborn of Isfalinis creator His Highest Above) rebelled and precipitated the Great War. The Etyni’s deaths, in turn, created the Cataclysm, a series of natural disasters that still affect characters in the present-day narrative. Vistus is a perpetually conflicted protagonist: He’s loyal to the Syraestari, whom he believes are “wiser and stronger” than humans, but also tormented by some of the Scions he’s killed in servitude. The narrative even takes to calling him “Belarrin” when he’s on a mission, differentiating his compassionate alter ego from Vistus and the t’Okaedrin life he’s beginning to doubt. As such, he garners sympathy when he’s with the Kalilaer and Scions. A female Scion named Sravika, whom Belarrin grows close to, becomes an obvious love interest. The story boasts ample mystery, primarily through possibly shady characters, like the Shadow-Servant. Ninanna has trouble trusting the enigmatic character, while Belarrin is certain Shadow-Servants are killers. In the same vein, there are dubious goings-on among the Syraestari and t’Okaedrin as well; several high lords are clearly plotting something against the empress. Despite the book’s length (over 800 pages), the author’s rich descriptions are often concise: “The thunder and lightning roared to the tempo of Belarrin’s nightmares until a final crash wrenched him to wakefulness.” Although this novel is the first installment of an epic series, its thorough resolution makes it a stand-alone.

Laudable characters and striking exposition give this world a grand introduction.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941956-22-9

Page Count: 826

Publisher: Autarch LLC

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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