A taut, emotional tale that portends an even deeper exploration of this world in the sequel.

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THE DESIRE CARD

A high-stakes thriller focuses on a banker’s painful journey.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can purchase liquor, prescription drugs, and a Fifth Avenue apartment with a Central Park view. For Harrison Stockton, that’s almost the same thing. But getting fired from his investment banking firm seems like rock bottom, especially when home offers only cold comfort from his kids, Brenton and Gracie, whom he barely knows after years of long nights away, and his wife, Helene, for whom he’s ceased to be good enough. But he quickly finds himself in the hospital with liver disease, one problem he truly can’t buy his way out of. With this setup alone, the novel could have come across as a simple parable, as Harrison gets his just deserts for taking his life of privilege and the wealth of possibilities for happiness for granted until it’s too late. Nevertheless, even in the early sections of the tale, Harrison is surprisingly sympathetic. While his “extracurricular activities” certainly will raise readers’ eyebrows, the vivid portrait here is not of an evil man but one torn between striving for his own advancement and providing for his family until a haze of pain-killing vice takes everything from him. Or almost everything. As part of his severance package, Harrison receives the titular Desire Card, offering “any wish fulfilled for the right price.” When his last hopes dry up and he’s cheated out of a black market liver, the Desire Card is all he has left. But the price for such a request is all too high, and the shadowy cabal behind the Desire Card begins threatening people he cares about. Harrison must make the ultimate choice between everything he could want and the people to whom he owes so much. Goldberg (The Mentor, 2017, etc.) delivers a thoughtful examination of human selfishness in this series opener. The moving story is a modern-day devil’s bargain, twisting and turning through an understandable fight for survival and a more complex view of the morality of a system where anything can be had for a price, a more literal and explicit version of the landscape readers live in each day.

A taut, emotional tale that portends an even deeper exploration of this world in the sequel.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-912526-35-2

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Fahrenheit Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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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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