A fantasy tale with unforgettable characters and a convincing, insightful message.


In Benobi’s (After, 2005, as Claire Tristram) allegorical novel, a mysterious toxin turning people into animals turns out to be a sign of the Apocalypse.

There’s something ominous about a yellow fog rolling into California from the south. It suddenly appears at the same time that Stella King, a pregnant young woman, runs away from her aunt’s home (her mother is in jail and her father’s not in the picture). Stella hitches a ride with a woman named Margie Peach to Nethalem on San Francisco Bay, where her boyfriend, Lix Tetrax, who’s also the baby’s father, is waiting. Meanwhile, a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control identifies the yellow cloud as a chemical agent called Agent-T, which is also cropping up throughout the rest of the country. Its origins are unknown, but it’s physically transforming people into animals (who retain their human minds), and girls and women appear to be particularly susceptible. Margie, for example, becomes a dog, while waitress Wanda Lubiejewski’s unexpected metamorphosis into a bear scares her cheating husband into arming himself for protection. Stella, meanwhile, hears stories of people rioting, cities on fire, and “Angels” and “Beasts” engaged in war on Earth. Fate puts Stella, Margie, and Wanda together, along with U.S. Air Force Maj. Eureka Yamanaka, caregiver Mary Mbwembwe, and Nethalem villager Josefina Guzman. All undergo changes, physical and otherwise; Wanda, for instance, garners new emotional strength as her preteen daughter’s protector. But the End of Days is upon them, as the book of Revelation has already foretold. Soon, the six women will face off against the being who may be behind the Apocalypse. Benobi’s story offers wonderfully surreal moments rich with metaphor, as when signs of Agent-T’s approach create an atmosphere of foreboding; Stella has conversations with her unborn child, who offers warnings about people before Stella encounters them. These scenes are complemented by the author’s illustrations throughout, which resemble sketches from an artist’s notebook. The pictures, while vibrant and fully comprehensible, are typically unrealistic, depicting Mary with thin, squiggly arms, for instance, with an eye floating above the rest of her face. Benobi also fills her pages with powerful themes, particularly exploring the ways that a male-dominated society treats and views women. These can sometimes be too on-the-nose; for example, Wanda believes people will react to her bear self with fear and hate, unnecessarily adding that it’s what “humans often do when confronted with a creature that they can’t control or dominate.” Nevertheless, such comments have merit, as when Stella notes that women in many religions tend to get “the short end.” Overall, Benobi’s prose is straightforward and concise, with frequent instances of poetry: “Dawn was raw at the edges and the air smelled fresh and washed clean….Life at the moment was rich and full of promise.” The plot effectively establishes how the various players’ paths are destined to intersect, and anticipation of these distinctive women’s inevitable interactions propels the story forward.

A fantasy tale with unforgettable characters and a convincing, insightful message.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996546-1-3

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Vegetablian Books

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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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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