A fitfully effective but readable start to a mystery series.

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SOMEONE ELSE'S DAUGHTER

A MIRANDA'S RIGHTS MYSTERY

A serial killer targets girls as a woman searches relentlessly for her long-lost daughter in this novel.

Miranda Steele is as tough as her name. She can hold her own in a hot pepper–eating contest, swear like a stevedore, and dispatch bar creeps with some well-placed, high-heeled stomps and kicks. In short, as someone observes, “Girl’s a real scrapper.” But it was not always thus. Thirteen years earlier, she was the verbally and physically abused wife of a policeman who one night literally threw her out into the snow, but not before giving up their infant daughter for adoption. #MeToo? She’s more like #NoMore. Since then, she has toughened up, moved from city to city searching for her daughter, and supported herself by welding girders on a New York skyscraper, harvesting crab on a Maine fishing boat, and performing various jobs on a Texas oil rig. Now working construction in Pittsburgh, she is contacted by a volunteer with an adoption reunion agency who has a solid lead on her daughter’s whereabouts. She heads to Atlanta’s tony Buckhead community, where she meets wealthy and handsome Wade Parker, “Atlanta’s ace detective” and “the town’s most eligible 44-year-old bachelor.” Initial distrust transforms into a partnership as they investigate the murder of a local 13-year-old girl with whom Parker has a family connection. Miranda worries that the victim could be her daughter. This series launch is an appealing mashup of gritty serial killer thriller and romance novel (“ ‘Don’t tempt me, Miranda.’ She gazed into those knowing, deep gray eyes. ‘Why not?’ she murmured. ‘You’ve been tempting me since the first night I saw you’ ”). Lanier (Mind Bender, 2017, etc.) has created an empowered and formidable heroine. But her writing is as subtle as one of those hot peppers Miranda crunches. “I made myself strong,” Miranda defiantly tells Parker at one point. “I vowed to myself that no one would ever hurt me like that again. Never….Do you hear me? Never.” In comedy, there is a rule of three. There should be a rule of two for crime fiction. “A woman can never make herself too tough or too strong” gets the job done. Adding “or too street smart” is overkill.

A fitfully effective but readable start to a mystery series.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-941191-12-5

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Felicity Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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