A coming-of-age tale with memorable and poignant characters but uneven prose.

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A LIFE ON THE CORNER

In this debut novel, a man looks back on growing up with his five siblings in a family shaped by dysfunction and selfish maternal ambition.

In this first-person, coming-of-age narrative, Blydasafaulk Cain Bates has returned to his Southern hometown. The sight of the old corner house he grew up in sparks a 50-year-old memory of the day he saw his disabled eldest brother jabbed with an umbrella and called a “crippled urchin” by a passing stranger. The adult Cain continues recalling his life with his older sister, four brothers, and the cold mother who manipulated and dominated them all. Cain refers to her as “the mother,” an indication of the emotional remove he cultivated as self-protection. Dumas paints a poignant picture of a child who absorbed early on that his mother had no love to give, and who learned to scavenge crumbs of warmth and affection from his siblings. (The unassertive father is barely a presence.) The protagonist’s eldest brother, Ferdinand Freudenham “Freud” Bates (the children’s outlandish names are a symptom of the mother’s obsessive grandiosity), is the heart of Cain’s narrative. Intended from birth to be the family’s golden boy, Freud was physically disabled as a child and prone to seizures due to a brain tumor. Cain observes his brother as boy and adult with both guilt and compassion. Regrettably, Dumas undercuts his impressive characters and dilutes Cain’s narrative with numerous verbose, pedantic digressions: “If you be one of the rare persons who needed support that wasn’t present or if inquietude frequented your life as warmth passed you by, then follow my thoughts for a moment….The place where one departs from is no longer the same place. It might have the appearance of sameness. Quantumwise, it is majorly altered.” Nor is the book served by the stilted “dear reader” device (“Reader, before I return to our story”; “At this juncture, dear reader”). And the sudden, cryptic ending seems to belong to a different novel entirely, or at least needs further explanation. Errors in the text (such as “spill” for spiel; “thrills” for trills; and “self” for shelf) require attention as well.

A coming-of-age tale with memorable and poignant characters but uneven prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-975992-01-9

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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