Good old-fashioned melodrama, with plenty of sex and scheming.

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SCORPIO RISING

In Domovitch’s debut novel, the fates of an ambitious young American architect and a beautiful Parisian painter intertwine.

The novel tells the parallel stories of Alex Ivanov, who’s at the onset of a promising career in architecture, and Brigitte Dartois, who escapes a string of dishonorable men to make a career as a painter. Spanning from the late-1940s to the 1960s, the novel follows Alex and Brigitte as they come of age, take control of their destinies and begin to see their respective stars rise. Born in poverty to a single, Russian-immigrant mother, Alex single-mindedly pursues his ambition, working night and day to learn his trade and establish himself. With no time for love or marriage, he uses his powerful good looks to seduce and leave a string of women; an entanglement with sexy Anne Turner, a secretary at his firm with an agenda of her own, threatens to cost him his hard-won position. Brigitte, who left home as a teenager, finds a job in a glamorous department store and becomes the target of her married boss’ extravagant attentions; he buys her a new wardrobe and sets her up in a lavish apartment. Upon realizing his motives, she flees to start a new life in Montmartre, selling her paintings in the market. Against the odds, Alex and Brigitte meet in Paris. They’re both uncertain about the future, but they find themselves drawn to each other despite their great differences. The novel has its flaws: The plot and characters are a bit generic, and many of Alex and Brigitte’s troubles result from the machinations of stock villains. The historical period is perfunctorily set, but Domovitch commendably handles the story, weaving together multiple subplots while creating passionate, ambitious characters who fight for what they want. She allows Alex and Brigitte enough complexity to prevent their eventual romance from seeming saccharine, although it’s not clear whether things will turn out well for them. The ambiguity and ominous developments that conclude the novel serve to dramatically set the stage for the novel’s sequel, The Sting of the Scorpio (2011), which follows the lovers to America.

Good old-fashioned melodrama, with plenty of sex and scheming.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463790738

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Lansen Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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