A slender, variable but rich collection of fantasy-horror fiction, with a nonevangelizing emphasis on the spiritual.

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PATHS TO DIVINITY

VOLUME 1

Seven horror and fantasy stories inspire chills and awe in haunted and mythic locations, ranging from a serial killer’s lair to war-torn ancient Greece to the neglected Garden of Eden.

This is the first collection of short stories by DiCristofano—the title’s “Volume 1” designation presumes more are to be expected, and that’s not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all, especially for fantastic-fiction fans whose tastes run more toward thoughtful awe than splatterpunk and visceral torture-porn shock. Sometimes writing in a fetchingly archaic style more appropriate (despite modern slang) for Weird Tales in the 1920s and ’30s, DiCristofano conjures up seven macabre yarns (or six plus a plotless, introspective concluding monologue that lends the anthology its title). The material varies in quality, effectiveness and level of violence, but on the whole the stories testify to an imaginative writer with a skilled, even sublime grasp. The Lovecraft-influenced “Hydromancy 101” describes callous archaeologists and their greedy patron meddling with an unearthly biblical artifact, guarded since the reign of King Solomon and possibly capable of unleashing ultimate evil on creation. In “The Passing of Eric Webber,” a dying German soldier on the battlefield manages a rewarding conversation with Death after noticing that the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper wears tennis shoes under his charnel robe. “Divine Vengeance” revisits the lately much-revived Greek legend of the 300 Spartans, with a rip-roaring yet moving and philosophically profound follow-up in which slain hero-king Leonidas gets revenge against enemies, mortal and god alike, with the aid of vastly powerful new friends. Though this isn’t traditional inspirational fiction, DiCristofano’s Christian-religious outlook is most obvious in the longest tale, “Thy Kingdom Found,” in which a modern girl’s innocence (and, importantly, gift for storytelling) replenishes a certain long-lost Old Testament garden. And, yes, C.S. Lewis gets name-checked—though readers will also note some resemblance to Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allan Poe and the more magically inclined confabulations of H.G. Wells. And that’s not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.

A slender, variable but rich collection of fantasy-horror fiction, with a nonevangelizing emphasis on the spiritual.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-0557295166

Page Count: 153

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2011

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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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