JUDGMENT OF TEARS

ANNO DRACULA 1959

With his third in a series, Newman remains in top form as our sharpest vampire novelist, a far more inventive stylist than Anne Rice. In Anno Dracula (1993), the Count married Queen Victoria and became England’s Prince Consort while Newman regaled himself with dense Victoriana. In The Bloody Red Baron (1995), German vampire battle-aces of WWI fought English vampire battle-aces while Newman reveled in the gallows humor of pilots on the edge of darkness. Now in exile, Vlad, Count Dracula, steals Victoria’s throne and is about to wed Moldavian princess Asa Vajda in Rome, circa 1959, amid the decay of the Via Veneto so richly observed by Federico Fellini in La Dolce Vita. Newman appropriates much of Fellini’s anti-plotting, or cumulative mode of storytelling, introducing the arrival by plane in Rome of the bustiferous starlet Malenka (Anita Ekberg), who’s greeted by battering flashbulbs and jaded tabloid journalist Marcello (Mastroianni). On hand from the earlier novels are vampire journalist Kate Reed and vampire detective Geneviäve DieudonnÇ (in the company of British secret agent Hamish Bond, a vampire with a license to kill), as well as fresh walk-ons amid the dress extras: a dissolute Errol Flynn, an enormous Orson Welles, H.P. Lovecraft’s re-animator Dr. Herbert West, Bride of Frankenstein’s Dr. Praetorius, and William Peter Blatty’s exorcist, Father Merrin. When Dracula is beheaded on the eve of his wedding, is Rome’s Crimson Executioner—who has been killing elderly vampires—the culprit? At last all converges on Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, Rome’s four-fold guardian girl/youth/woman/crone who protects her city from the living dead. At heart a costume drama in dark glasses rather than tights, with Newman noting every Playboy club signet ring and Patek Lioncourt wristwatch worn by wealthy bloodsuckers. As did Fellini’s, Newman’s artistry meets the challenge with energy to spare.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7867-0558-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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