An intriguing but uneven tale in search of how telepathy works.

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BLUE CRYSTAL

Dangerous new technology is deployed in Britain to prove that telepathy is possible in this sci-fi debut.

The citizens of Exeter in southwest England have noticed a strange hum. It occurs daily and seems to give people headaches as well as cause them to hear sounds and see flashes of light. Many believe the new Energy Recovery Facility is the source. One witness to the mob demanding answers from the plant is the “Leather Jacket Man,” who’s experiencing increased voices in his head—yet he isn’t sure whom to blame. The truth is that Project Blue Crystal, based in the United States, has followed the intense signal of a telepathic receiver—whether it be a person or place—to Exeter. The project has set up an electromagnetic pulse generator, designed by Australian scientist Kingsley Khan, in a secure location unbeknown to the British government. Blue Crystal is also testing a quantum-entanglement machine, created by Canadian scientist Henning Horlicks, near the Cedars mental hospital. The group believes that people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality have great potential as telepathic receivers. Blue Crystal’s experiment grows more complicated when two security guards at Kingsley’s facility are struck down by the EM pulse. His superiors in the United States order him to shoot the fallen guards to cover up any harm done by the hum. Ridler’s novel explores the overlap between science and Eastern mysticism in that “blue is the colour of the throat chakra, and so is associated with clear communication.” While the Leather Jacket Man initially seems like an enthralling protagonist, the author puts Kingsley, Henning, and lawyer Julia Barnes in the spotlight instead. The strange events in Britain are placed in dramatic context by the line “Exeter will be the new Roswell.” And even though President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron frequently exchange stern words, the narrative tension falters when Ridler’s principal trio enjoys Exeter like tourists (test-driving an Aston Martin, for example). Overall, this story almost reads like a screenplay, with focused dialogue but choppy scene setting. Nevertheless, the central premise captivates and Exeter is portrayed attractively.

An intriguing but uneven tale in search of how telepathy works.

Pub Date: March 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984589-18-7

Page Count: 182

Publisher: XlibrisUK

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 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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