Striking prose and characters make this opening fantasy installment worthwhile.

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JACK OF THORNS

From the Inheritance series , Vol. 1

In Faulkner’s series-launching urban fantasy debut, two men with untapped superpowers face off against a god with sinister intentions.

Bambi Laurence Riley, who goes by his middle name, can see the future. The first sign of his ability came three years ago during a heroin overdose. He saw snippets of upcoming events, including his father’s death and his own failed stints in rehab. Today, Laurence lives above a San Diego flower shop that his mother, Myriam, runs. He’s inherited her apparent powers of precognition as well as a supernatural ability to grow and heal plants. But although she’s mastered the former gift, Laurence only sees random glimpses of things to come. One involves a handsome man, whom Laurence soon encounters in real life. He’s Quentin Ichabod d’Arcy, a British earl who’s currently in the United States to evade his fame in London. The two have a mutual attraction—which Laurence’s stalker ex-boyfriend, Dan, unfortunately notices immediately. Laurence’s problems get worse when he forgoes his usual prayer for a blessing from the fertility god Cernunnos, and simply asks the Celtic deity for direct help and guidance in his life. Cernunnos responds by manifesting as an emerald-eyed human who insists that Laurence call him Jack. The newcomer’s persistent demands for sexual sustenance lead to him to force a kiss on Quentin, and the latter defends himself with apparent telekinesis. Quentin, like Laurence, can’t control his gift, but both try to hone their skills to combat Jack, who’s cooking up a scheme that could prove devastating. Faulkner’s first series installment offers a commendable introduction to his characters. Laurence and Quentin are flawed but enthralling; the story alternates between the two characters’ points of view, but readers learn a little more about Laurence. His fight against addiction is realistically constant, and triggers such as alcohol sometimes cause stumbles. But his respect for his mother makes him sympathetic from the beginning. Myriam earns this respect as the novel’s best character—a woman who knows the future but wisely doesn’t reveal too much of it to her son. Readers may take longer to warm up to Quentin; he’s initially pretentious, with a palpable animosity toward American customs and vernacular. His background remains somewhat mysterious, but Faulkner makes clear that Quentin has never lived anywhere without a butler before. Stretches of the story concentrate on the two men and their prospective lovers, and they offer sound character development but minimal romance; Laurence’s attraction to the virginal Quentin doesn’t seem to be much more than physical. Along the way, Faulkner’s lustrous passages turn basic scenery into beautiful imagery: “The branches waved lazily in a light breeze and, in parting, revealed a hanging rope, from which was suspended what appeared to be a vast tire from some industrial vehicle.” The story also generates a fair amount of suspense after Jack’s nefarious plan begins to unfold and lives are threatened, and the ending aptly sets up a second book.

Striking prose and characters make this opening fantasy installment worthwhile.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-912349-11-1

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Ravensword Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

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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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