An assortment of engaging ideas in an ambitious but sometimes perplexing sci-fi story.

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THE GIRL FROM THE MOON

From the The Elemental Tides series

In this debut near-future novel, a young woman faces difficult choices after discovering she can change her elemental makeup.

A series of ecological disasters and the resulting Technological War have greatly reshaped Earth geologically and politically, even extending humanity into colonies on the planet Europa. Some decades ago on Europa, Steban Weelah and his colleagues discovered a silicate that helped to solve the ozone layer problem, which makes him the world’s most famous scientist. Steban returned to Earth nine years ago with his wife and two stepdaughters, Victoria and Catherine, called Cate. The privileged young women have bright futures: Victoria, 23, engaged to a senator, is studying political science while Cate, 17, is still choosing a college. But those destinies are challenged when, during a high-speed auto accident, Cate suddenly displays superhuman strength, pulling doors off the car and stopping two powerful Hercules robots from interfering. A gossip satellite got it all on camera, and the media are calling Cate an “Angel from Hell.” She’s held without charges; it may all have something to do with Cate’s increasing ability to transform into a silvery, metallic yet flexible being. Victoria, too, can change, golden to Cate’s silver, raising questions about her parentage. The mysterious Juveo Rogers—coppery—explains more; the sisters and others like them are “Alliafied,” which “is about the components that our shell can absorb, and it is also what we can do with them.” As politicians jockey for power on the global stage, the sisters try to get on with their lives, but another huge revelation is in store: Aliens are making their presence on Earth known at last. Chief among these is Kanio, an Alliafied citizen of Phelio; the Phelaries aim to restore Earth to the “Universal Equilibrium.” Cate becomes close to Kanio, a friendship that changes several plans, including her own. In this elaborate sci-fi series opener, Beta writes a story bristling with worldbuilding and intriguing concepts and technology (“The new-model robots resembled a classic Greek sculpture, but they only feigned it; the Hercules was the deadliest machine on Earth”). But the author’s presentation can sometimes be hard to follow. She introduces new vocabulary words and other facts without explaining them; sometimes she circles back later, but keeping this all in mind will likely become tasking for readers. For example, Kanio asks Juveo whether Cate is like himself: “Yes, but from a different Genyi.” The sisters “ ‘are both Larios. Air,’ Juveo responded. Kanio was a Thendor, and his symbol was solid earth. Juveo was a Balio, water.” “Genyi” is never defined, and new words for air, earth, and water are a lot to take in. Meanwhile, “Phima” for fire comes 40 pages later and, also confusingly, Kanio is eventually described as half Thendor, half Phima. But none of these distinctions seem especially important so why emphasize them? The author’s characterization is thin as well; if you take away the alien trappings, Cate seems like any young woman veering into dramatics about her crush (“She could barely breathe” when Kanio leaves after she rejects his offer).

An assortment of engaging ideas in an ambitious but sometimes perplexing sci-fi story.

Pub Date: April 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-987528-17-6

Page Count: 388

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 16, 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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