Few surprises, but a solid contemporary romance nonetheless.

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NICE GIRLS DO

Duncan’s amiable follow-up to Adultery for Beginners (2005) pairs the tribulations of modern love with the far less titillating world of historic British gardens.

A historian specializing in English landscape, Dr. Anna Carmichael lectures, gives tours and researches private gardens. Old Mrs. Davenport hires Anna to investigate the ruined grounds of her beloved estate, Templecombe, hoping she will be able to find something unusual so that grants can be obtained to restore the garden. On her first day at Templecombe, Anna meets the two men who will occupy the next year of her life: rugged gardener and handyman Will Sutton; and Oliver Davenport, charming young heir to the estate. Although Anna feels an immediate affinity with Will, Oliver sweeps her off her feet and plunges her into his posh London world of designer boutiques, chic restaurants, club openings and cocaine-fueled weekends. Though her friends start to worry about her, Anna is thrilled with her transformation into the shiny, champagne-swigging girlfriend of one of London’s most eligible bachelors. (Readers may briefly wonder, however, why two hunks are so taken with this stuffy historian.) Meanwhile, her work is suffering, her debt is rising and her report to Mrs. Davenport is her shoddiest work to date. Oliver is suspiciously dismissive about Anna’s investigation of the garden, but with black-tie affairs and a trip to Prague planned, she decides to agree with him that the evidence for Templecombe as a historic find is slim and not worth pursuing. This angers Will, who sees Oliver for the spoiled brat he is . . . but who is Will? The dashing romantic who treats Anna to a dreamy, chaste evening in the garden also admits to being a murderer—so much for the perfect man. Anna figures it all out by end, but along the way are tedious descriptions of gardens coupled with a not-very-convincing personal journey from divorced academic to free spirit.

Few surprises, but a solid contemporary romance nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-36287-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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