Vincenzi’s fatally bloated novel nods to the sweet daddy-daughter partnership, and neatly compartmentalizes the guilt...

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ALMOST A CRIME

A London charity czarina and her fabulous lobbyist husband run aground over the shallows of marital infidelity in this latest from British novelist Vincenzi (No Angel, 2003, etc.).

Octavia Fleming is the kind of fashionable, well-connected working mother who manages both to enrich her power marriage with social contacts and to return home intact to tuck in her school-age twins and her baby. “Combine and Rule” is how the glossies treat the Flemings’ marriage, although Octavia finds her professional integrity in danger of compromise when public-affairs consultant Tom Fleming suggests she throw her sensitive charity know-how into helping a developer construct a community center. Meanwhile, Octavia’s businessman father, Felix Miller, detests Tom for taking his only daughter away from him (her mother died in childbirth), but tosses the son-in-law business from time to time; aging Felix has a longtime society live-in girlfriend, Marianne, who has to shuffle two teenaged daughters, Romilly and Zoë, as well as appease her temperamental lover. There is a cast of thousands in this busy, tedious novel, and once Octavia finds evidence of Tom’s affair, she reveals as much to her father. Plus, she has to deal with the news that the mother of her best friend from college, Louise, is sick with cancer, while Tom seems to be pounding away at easing a proposed merger of charming player Nico Cadogan’s financial group. Even politicians make a timely cameo here, in the form of Gabriel Bingham, a Labour leader who is also extremely attracted to the bereft Octavia. Yet Octavia simply can’t resist loving her sexy husband. As for the prospect of being a stay-at-home mom: It would have left the restless, questing, ambitious Octavia “bored, depressed, and therefore, and inevitably, a bad mother.”

Vincenzi’s fatally bloated novel nods to the sweet daddy-daughter partnership, and neatly compartmentalizes the guilt working women feel for leaving their children at home with nannies.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2006

ISBN: 1-58567-852-X

Page Count: 627

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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