Unmemorable.

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THE PEACH KEEPER

In a North Carolina mountain hamlet, the renovation of a crumbling mansion reveals unsettling secrets.

Paxton Osgood, pampered daughter of one of Walls of Water, N.C.’s, wealthiest families, is planning a gala to mark the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Society Club, founded by her grandmother Agatha. The invitations go awry due to a freak storm, which is a harbinger that dark forces still lurk at the gala site, the Blue Ridge Madam manor, once owned by lumber barons, the Jacksons, who lost their money when their logging grounds were turned into a national forest. The house, deemed haunted, was abandoned for decades until salvaged by the Osgoods, who plan on converting it to a bed and breakfast. Paxton’s brother Colin has returned from his world travels to landscape the grounds, but when a gnarled peach tree is uprooted to make way for a statelier transplant tree, a skull is found in the crater. Local shopkeeper Willa Jackson, whose grandmother Georgie was 17 when the Jacksons fell from grace, declines her invitation to the gala—her ancestral memories have made her hostile to Walls of Water’s affluent residents, and too many people recall that, in high school, she was a prankster whose antics were blamed on Colin. The skull undoubtedly belonged to Tucker Devlin, a charismatic, need we say devilish grifter who came to town in 1936, instantly captivating all resident females with predictably dire results. Devlin concentrated his blandishments on the Jacksons, persuading them to invest their last dollars in an ill-advised peach orchard at an altitude unconducive to fruit. Georgie now occupies the same nursing home as her former best friend Agatha, but only Agatha is still of sound mind: She reveals that she formed the Women's Society Club not for philanthropic purposes but to reckon with Tucker. Discordant notes of magic realism at times distract from what is essentially a benign tale of spunky Southern women finding true love after overcoming not-very-significant challenges.

Unmemorable.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-553-80722-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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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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