A slim faux fantasy epic that doesn’t ultimately have much original to say.

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RUFUS THE UGLY

A noble warrior attempts to make a better world in this satirical fantasy from Aubin (Fires of Ferndean, 2019, etc.).

A messenger arrives in Rufus’ village of Green Hole to inform everyone that there is now one true god—Ethyl—and that all men of fighting age must join the crusade against the doubting pagans. No one is all that convinced of the new religion, but peasants don’t have much say in such matters. Rufus the blacksmith is no different, and he marches off to war with his recognizable “ugly” sword that gives him his name. After defeating the enemy champion in single combat, the blacksmith is sent off to kill a dragon and collect a reward. He slays a deceitful noble and, in the process, acquires a wife and her land. From the position of power, Rufus is suddenly able to correct some of the injustices of the feudal system. When the king attacks Green Hole over an unpaid debt, Rufus simply relocates the villagers to a nearby kingdom. Serving a new, kind king, he attempts to bring peace and justice to a world more often categorized by theft and exploitation. But is such a thing even possible in a land riven by dragons, war, and mountains of customs paperwork? Aubin writes in mock-epic prose that summons the fantasy tradition: “The men reached Bayside just before sunset and found themselves seated at a round wooden table, their hunger satiated, their drink almost done. Robert stared wistfully into his ale, the attention of the beautiful ladies of Bayside all but ignored.” The story is light in tone, but despite some jokey names—Robert the Insane, Steve the Assassin—it isn’t all that funny. Its earnest belief in a more just society actually seems to echo the medieval romances that it chidingly references. The book is short, and the pacing is quick, but the story itself is a bit too skeletal and rushed to be truly immersive. It’s the type of novel that seems like it was probably a lot more fun to write than it is to actually read.

A slim faux fantasy epic that doesn’t ultimately have much original to say.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5485-6667-8

Page Count: 150

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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