An enjoyable ensemble cast skillfully beefs up an uncomplicated crime plot; a quick, fun read with unsavory secondary...

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ELEANOR ROOSEVELT GOES TO PRISON

From the Missy LeHand Mystery series

In this third volume of a mystery series, Eleanor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt vacation at a therapeutic retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia.

In Durham and Smith’s (The President’s Birthday Ball Affair, 2018, etc.) latest installment, it is July 1935. A black woman named Nell Gaines is locked up in Milledgeville’s state prison farm for having attacked her abusive husband with a knife. Her fate is about to change because Wilton Biggs, a prominent white citizen of Greenville, Georgia, needs a cook. In exchange for an envelope of cash, the warden grants Nell parole and hands her over to Biggs. Cooking is not the only thing Biggs wants from Nell. Months later, disaster strikes when Biggs’ 17-year-old son, Robert, finds his father in bed with Nell. Enraged, Robert grabs a machete and swings wildly. Biggs is killed; Robert runs away; and Nell is arrested and convicted of murder. She is sentenced to death. Enter Mrs. Roosevelt. In May 1936, the Roosevelts, accompanied by the president’s private secretary, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, arrive at the “Little White House” in Warm Springs. The first lady reads about Nell’s plight in the local paper and decides she must visit the prison herself and see whether the convict has been treated fairly. Meanwhile, aggressive Hollywood reporter Joan Roswell coincidentally finds herself visiting Warm Springs at the invitation of young movie star Ida Lupino. The series-defining Hollywood-Washington connection is now established. Add in Missy’s assistant Grace Tully and handsome FBI agent Corey Wainwright and the whole gang is back together, taking readers on another vivid and engaging visit to the 1930s, this time focusing on the Jim Crow South. Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell provides the episode’s celebrity cameo appearance. Although readers know the identity of the murderer, the race to save Nell from the electric chair supplies enough tension to propel the fast-paced narrative forward. Despite the underlying seriousness in theme, the breezy prose is filled with humorous interludes, and the portrait of an indefatigable and earnest Mrs. Roosevelt is delightful.

An enjoyable ensemble cast skillfully beefs up an uncomplicated crime plot; a quick, fun read with unsavory secondary characters and salient historical tidbits.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 299

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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