A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.

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THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER

Corona’s latest historical novel is a sprawling saga of Jewish identity and religious freedom in 15th-century Spain.

In Seville of 1432, Amalia Riba is the daughter of a renowned mapmaker to the Spanish court. Her family's favored status is dependent on their being Conversos, Jews who have converted to Christianity. Amalia and her mother still observe the Sabbath, however, secretly maintaining their Judaism. When Amalia's mother dies, she and her father go to Portugal, where he's employed by Henry the Navigator in the race to map Africa. Though she's still a child, Amalia is given precocious freedom in Portugal: She translates for her father and is befriended by the Abravanels, the most powerful Jewish family on the Iberian Peninsula. When she comes of age, Amalia marries Diogo Marques, a dashing explorer, but their marriage is a disaster. Diogo is gay and has drunken orgies downstairs, and the source of his considerable wealth turns out to be the African slave trade. Amalia is relieved when he dies in a storm, and she retreats a wealthy woman to the Abravenel compound, pregnant with daughter Eliana. For the first time, she lives openly as a Jew, and the richness of this life is a revelation. Then she falls in love with Jamil Hasan, an Islamic courtier from Granada. Though they cannot marry, Amalia accompanies Jamil back to Granada, where she tutors the grandchildren of the caliphate. The Alhambra is a paradise, as is the open secret of Amalia and Jamil’s relationship (they compose Rumi-like verse to each other), but he must marry, and so eventually she returns to Portugal. In Amalia’s middle age, Portugal too becomes an impossible place for Jews; she and the Abravanel family leave for Spain, where they raise money for Ferdinand and Isabella to drive the Moors from Granada, earning amnesty for themselves. Though the novel lags by the time we reach Amalia’s old age (which revolves around her grandchildren, losing focus), the depth and detail of the previous chapters make up for the finale’s shortcomings.

A rich, exhaustively researched portrait of Spanish Jews at the birth of the Inquisition.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4022-8649-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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