A traditional vampire tale with an emphatic emotional core.

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THE SCRIBBLED VICTIMS

In this supernaturally imbued novel, a centuries-old vampire develops a rapport with a terminally ill girl who has the ability to see the evil in people.

Yelena Solodnikova needs blood for sustenance. It’s been years since her love (and the vampire who turned her), Marcel, abandoned her. Subsequent relationships with mortal men have been comparatively shorter as she continues to yearn for Marcel. But it’s Yelena’s distaste for killing that has proved to be her biggest burden. She feels such guilt over the people whose lives she’s taken that she regularly sees a therapist, Dr. Sloane, under the guise of having an eating disorder. One day, Yelena has a chance encounter with a 12-year-old orphan, Orly Bialek, a hospital patient with leukemia who may have mere months to live. The vampire is understandably fascinated by Orly’s drawings—scribbles, really, in which the girl can see others’ atrocious acts or desires. Later, at a special gallery, Yelena gets her hands on several of Orly’s scribbles, complete with corresponding names and graphic details of each person’s deeds. Now Yelena can feed and kill guilt-free, as the list includes a con artist, a rapist, and a serial killer. Meanwhile, she grows close to Orly and entertains the idea of fostering or even adopting her. But Yelena is once again distressed when debating whether she should make Orly a vampire; it may save the girl’s life, but could also afflict her with the same torment that has saddled Yelena for the longest time. Despite the vampire-laden plot, Tomoguchi’s (The Dead Girl I Like Heart and Stuff, 2015, etc.) character-driven story zeros in on the grounded and often bewildering human element. The mother-daughter dynamic, for one, is prevalent throughout. Neither Yelena nor Orly has a family, so their evolving connection is both convincing and endearing. But it’s a closer examination of various characters that truly fortifies the novel. Orly is initially terrified of Yelena, as her scribbled portrait of the vampire shows the girl a killer. Yelena’s vamp best friend, Hisato, acts as a constant reminder of her nature; he joins her as she takes out baddies but has no qualms about murdering innocents (for example, potential witnesses). Even more profound are the villains marked for death who, as it happens, are just as hard to read as Orly’s scribblings. Supernatural aspects are treated pragmatically; Orly’s ability is more a talent than a power. In the same vein, immortal Yelena can die if her head is severed, a staple of vampire lore. This flaw ultimately makes her vulnerable to a serial killer who has an affinity for beheadings. Tomoguchi tackles fairly dark subject matter, from domestic abuse to child molestation. Fortunately, the few instances of humor are vampire-related: When Yelena asks Orly whether she’d like anything to drink, the girl responds, “You have stuff that’s not blood?” The book’s latter half features surprising plot turns while the overall story, even at its gloomiest, remains enthralling. There’s a definite finality to the ending and, as this is part of a planned series, a few unresolved issues as well.

A traditional vampire tale with an emphatic emotional core.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-79974-1

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Ink Bleed Books

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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