An imaginative work craftily depicting the failure of imagination that is American racism.

THE RIB KING

A historical thriller delves into the raw, knotty roots of racial uplift and upheaval that have been transforming America up to the present moment.

In her debut, The Talented Ribkins, (2017), Hubbard ingeniously blended the motifs of superhero comic books into a bittersweet road novel tracing the scattered destinies of Black civil rights crusaders. Her follow-up departs from the fantastic but is no less inventive. It begins in 1914 New Orleans with August Sitwell, an enigmatic, circumspect Black man working as groundskeeper for an estate belonging to the Barclays, an upper-class White family no longer as wealthy as it once was. Sitwell became part of the family’s all-Black domestic staff when he was orphaned as a child and has grown to manhood working with “Miss Mamie,” the family’s prodigious cook, and, more recently, with Jennie Williams, a one-time “cakewalk dancer”–turned-maid, and three rambunctious young apprentices, also orphans, whom the family patriarch seeks to “civilize.” As the staff struggles to negotiate their lives among Southern Whites in the depths of the Jim Crow era, the Barclays, desperately seeking a way out of the financial doldrums, make a bargain with an ambitious food entrepreneur to sell Miss Mamie’s vaunted rib sauce to local markets under the brand “The Rib King” with Sitwell’s caricatured image on the label. Neither Mamie nor Sitwell are getting a cent from this transaction, and Sitwell reacts to this exploitation with an act of retribution that reverberates into the next decade as Jennie, by 1924 an entrepreneur with her own brand of beauty products to sell, has to make her perilous way through economic and political intrigue brought about in part by the decade’s surge of African American achievement. The two halves of Hubbard’s chronicle have distinct tones. And even if one prefers the deadpan gothic tactics of the first part to the pell-mell momentum of the second, one will be impressed at all times with Hubbard’s control over her historical milieu as well as her complicated, intriguing characterizations.

An imaginative work craftily depicting the failure of imagination that is American racism.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297906-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A heartfelt but schematic wartime tear-jerker.

ETERNAL

Quite a change from Scottoline’s bestselling contemporary thrillers: an ambitious, deeply researched historical account of three Roman families caught in the meltdown of Fascist Italy.

May 1937 finds Alessandro Simone and Marco Terrizzi competing for the favors of Elisabetta D’Orfeo, an aspiring journalist and cat lover who waits tables at Casa Servano, the well-regarded Trastevere restaurant owned by Giuseppina Servano, widely known as Nonna. Since Sandro’s father, Massimo Simone, is a Jewish tax lawyer who strongly supports Mussolini and Marco’s father, Giuseppe Terrizzi, is a former cyclist who proudly styles himself a Fascist of the First Hour, there’s plenty of potential for ethnic, religious, and political conflicts both between and within the leading characters, and despite the widespread conviction that Mussolini’s pre-Hitler brand of fascism will never turn against the Jews, the coming of the war flushes all these conflicts out. After Marco’s brother Aldo is killed when he joins a group of anti-fascist saboteurs, Marco, groomed by Commendatore Romano Buonacorso for a rapid rise to power, begins to have second thoughts. Sandro, his dreams of academic stardom trashed by his religion, is more open in his opposition to Il Duce. The real calamities, however, follow the German invasion of Italy, which kicks off several painful rounds of increasingly severe anti-Jewish legislation, expropriation, extortion, and finally rastrellamento, the wholesale roundup of Italian Jews to be shipped off to destinations readers will know all too well. Through it all, Scottoline struggles mightily to bring her sorely tried characters alive through their love for each other, but they mostly remain pawns of history who believe till the end that “the Vatican will intervene, of course.”

A heartfelt but schematic wartime tear-jerker.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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