Food writing to die for, but little humor in the seasoning.

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PRIME

Feisty horror stylist Brite—of 1992’s Lost Souls, still her best—returns with a sequel to Liquor (2004).

Previously, two young gays, Rickey and G-man, opened their own restaurant in New Orleans and based their entire menu on fancy booze-flavored dishes. Here, it’s two years later, and they’ve become famous, as has Liquor, with great reviews in the New York Times and Gourmet. But now a local review by Humphrey Wildblood seems to trash the restaurant while really trashing shady chef Lenny Duveteaux, whose investment in Liquor makes him part-owner. Actually, the bad review has been prompted by New Orleans DA Placide Treat, who, despite being admired during his 24 years in office, fears that Lenny’s personal lawyer, Oscar De La Cerda, will give him a strong run for office. Treat, it happens, unleashed his son Humphrey Wildblood (a nom de plume) onto Liquor. Rickey and G-man want to buy Lenny out and own Liquor wholly but haven’t the cash. When Texas zillionaire Fred Firestone, who owns the failing Firestone restaurant in Dallas, offers Rickey $10,000 for a week’s consultancy in Dallas, Rickey at first thinks no, but when the wiring of Liquor’s old cooler setup fails and heavy expense arises for a new cooler, he chooses to take up the offer. Lenny, meanwhile, has been arrested by DA Treat and had his ten years of taped telephone calls impounded. When critic Wildblood returns for another meal, he and Rickey have a fuming face-off, with Wildblood making Rickey an offer to give evidence against Lenny. Soon Rickey’s off to Dallas to help award-winning chef and author Cooper Stark straighten out his Dallas menu. After getting raves for his help, he returns to the Big Easy only to hear that Coop has killed himself and willed Rickey his entire estate, including an apartment house. What is it that links Fred Firestone in Dallas to DA Placide Treat?

Food writing to die for, but little humor in the seasoning.

Pub Date: March 22, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-5008-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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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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