An absorbing fantasy novel that delivers many satisfactions.

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Al-Kabar

In French’s (Superheroes in Denim, 2016, etc.) fantasy novel, a young woman gains magical powers and sets out to avenge her slaughtered family.

For 18-year-old Fakhira at Aitrae Oasis in Ilauris, a fantasy world similar to ancient Arabia, the future looks simple: she’ll marry the man her father chose for her, a guardsman for Caliph Korval. But then her father’s rival Caliph Trimar’s forces attack the Oasis; Fakhira manages to hide, but her family is brutally murdered. On her way to sanctuary in Korval’s city, Kamrik, Fakhira falls through a crack in the ground into a pool of water. While she’s submerged, whispering voices address her as “Al-Kabar,” urge her to “Go forth and fight for freedom,” and give her a special sword. Using her new, magical powers, Fakhira plans to disguise herself as a man named Al-Kabar, join Korval’s army, and attack Trimar. She soon rescues a thin young man called Tahjis the Rat from thugs in Kamrik. He sees through Al-Kabar’s disguise but makes a deal to help her. Soon she gets close to Korval and gains his confidence, but she discovers that avenging her family is more complex than she thought, with innocent lives in the balance and more factions vying for power than she’d realized. But if she gets it right, Tahjis’ prediction may come true: that “The time of greedy, power-hungry men leading our people is over. The time of the Al-Kabar has come.” French offers an intriguingly layered world in this novel, taking what could be a simple revenge story and making it far more engaging by considering such things as unintended consequences and competing interests. Her worldbuilding is three-dimensional and subtly realized; for example, Fakhira’s culture, while clearly patriarchal, is also matrilocal. French’s voice is strong and vivid, never succumbing to the overwrought style that often plagues other fantasy books; the dialogue, too, is natural and unstilted. The unpredictable plot features some plans that work and others that fail, and it moves at a fast clip, nicely weaving in romantic elements between the battle scenes.

An absorbing fantasy novel that delivers many satisfactions.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68063-032-9

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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