A heartbreaking commentary on the importance of making sound choices.

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IN AN AWFUL WAY

From the The Dangerous Things Trilogy series , Vol. 2

A down-on-her-luck divorcée falls for a younger guy and faces one disaster after another. 

This second installment of The Dangerous Things Trilogy continues to tell the story of hapless Hester Randal. Following the catastrophic demise of her marriage in the first novel (On the Edge of Dangerous Things, 2013), middle-aged Hester is now single, broke, unemployable, and effectively homeless. In order to make ends meet, she is forced to sell many of the valuable belongings she has acquired over the years. She ends up at a flea market in Lambertville, New Jersey, where she sells her treasures for far less than they are worth. The strapping young owner of the flea market, Jimmy Raymer, takes pity on Hester, his altruism culminating in their drunken lovemaking in the back of a van. In his post-coital guilt, Jimmy offers Hester lodging in the closet of his office at the flea market. Meanwhile, Jimmy reunites with his ex-fiancee, Cecilia Kurts, a woman who brings nothing but misery to Hester’s already complicated life. As Hester tries to navigate her personal difficulties, her relationship with Jimmy and Cecilia grows increasingly precarious, and the reader fears for Hester’s sanity as well as her safety. In this raw and gritty sequel, Snyder-Carroll (Click…Kill, 2015, etc.) unapologetically details Hester’s many mistakes and miscalculations, decisions that repeatedly sabotage the character’s own happiness. The writing is chock-full of rich imagery and cringeworthy descriptions of the deterioration of Hester’s physical appearance and personal hygiene as she battles poverty (at one point, she muses about “rummaging through the trash and sleeping in the same clothes for a couple of weeks now”). With a character-driven plot and fast-paced storyline, the tale should easily keep readers engaged. Despite the accessible nature of the narrative style, the book tackles many weighty topics in this sobering story, ranging from mental health issues and sexual identity to infertility, blended families, and child custody. Suspenseful situations and improbable hope should keep readers turning pages as they race to determine whether Hester will ever manage to get anything right. Loose ends abound at the tale’s conclusion, leaving plenty of room for the next installment. 

A heartbreaking commentary on the importance of making sound choices.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-5008-6120-9

Page Count: 266

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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