Smooth, in-the-moment prose and realistic dialogue enliven a haunting tale tightly packed with historical facts that should...

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THE RESISTANCE BETWEEN US

BOOK ONE: INGRID'S WARS

In this debut novel, set in a small town in Vichy France on the Swiss border, World War II arrives at the back door of a wealthy 41-year-old widow, causing her to risk everything in the battle against unspeakable evil.

It is 1941, and the Germans have occupied northern France. But in the southern, “free” region, the Vichy government is still in control, albeit through collaboration with the Nazis. Almost two years ago, a skiing accident took the life of Madame Ingrid Fellner’s husband and left their daughter, Marta, seriously injured. Grief over her husband and devotion to her 8-year-old daughter’s recuperation have allowed Ingrid to distance herself from the chaos enveloping Europe. But as the book opens, she walks by the river that borders her property and makes a discovery that shakes her out of her complacency: “Oh Mon Dieu! There is one, no, there are two yellow stars, two people. A Jewish couple has washed up on my shore!” It is the pivotal moment that will lead Ingrid to join the French Resistance, a decision that will cost her more than she can imagine—her self-respect, her standing in the community, and perhaps her life. She agrees to let the underground use her basement as a way station for Jewish refugees, some of whom have escaped from concentration camps. While Ingrid entertains the regional head of the Gestapo, Erich Heisler, upstairs in her drawing room, becoming his “field mattress” to keep him distracted, the “Old Testaments” are hiding downstairs. The riveting first-person narrative is written in Ingrid’s voice. It is a voice outwardly enriched by her aristocratic upbringing and inwardly full of self-doubt and anguish. The novel, the first installment of a series, is simultaneously character-driven and rich in historical details about the operation of one aspect of the underground’s activities. Libby paints a vivid portrait of the competing forces that turn friend against friend, ripping off the veneer of civility even as they lead to new, deep bonds of trust and love that cross traditional societal lines. Ingrid is living with two identities: she is Madame Fellner in public but is known as the mysterious Madame “Henri” within the underground, literally traversing from one world to the other each time she descends or ascends the back staircase to her basement: “I spend my days paranoid and obsessed with questions. I torture myself worrying about every detail that could reveal what I do secretly and then give up because it’s too much to carry.” With the increasing deceptions, Ingrid’s closest confidants are her mentor (and local underground leader), Dieter Van der Kreuzier; her butler, Guy; and her housekeeper, Marie. They also are among this impressive book’s most significant secondary characters. A dark back story, which first appears as an intriguing subplot, takes on greater importance as the primary narrative moves forward, weaving together the threads of war and revenge.

Smooth, in-the-moment prose and realistic dialogue enliven a haunting tale tightly packed with historical facts that should alarm readers even today, seven decades later.

Pub Date: June 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9987441-0-0

Page Count: 514

Publisher: Ingrid's Wars

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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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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