Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might...

DEATH AND MR. PICKWICK

Beguiling, entertaining novel of Dickensian England, cramming most of the island and its most interesting characters into 800 teeming pages.

Did Charles Dickens come up with all those wonderful stories of his all by himself? Nay. Debut novelist Jarvis, a British journalist and adventurer, sets numerous Dickens-worthy tales into motion in one big book, some out of the mouths of beloved characters: “though even Moses Pickwick was not mad enough to tell the entire story of Prince Bladud to his horse, he did tell the story to one or two interested customers inside the Hare and Hounds.” Storytelling—the exceedingly arcane tale of the prince among other set pieces, along with a few shaggier yarns and the straightforward exposition of the narrator nicknamed Scripty—is central to Jarvis’ enterprise, but more so the teller of the tale, for among Dickens scholars there has long been controversy over authorship, a question that Jarvis complicates by placing Dickens’ first illustrator, Robert Seymour, at the center of the story—and suggesting that Seymour deserves more credit than he gets. The story is the thing, though, even if Jarvis invites us not to believe all the stories we hear: “That story doesn’t wash,” says Seymour, while Dickens himself “committed certain deceptions which, so far, no one had noticed.” Chalk it up to drink, perhaps, for the book is full of bibulousness as much as suspect tales (“his wooden legs wore out quickly when he drank gin and water,” “There is one answer: gin, Mr Seymour, gin!”), the two connecting in the very name of the author in dispute: “ ‘Boz’ is the biggest joke of all. Pickwick is written by a genius called Booze.” But there’s more to it than the sauce; in the end, this lavish story is a celebration of art and conviviality.

Dickens himself would be proud of Jarvis’ capture of so huge a slice of life. Humane and funny, though the Heditor might have taken a sterner hand here and there.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-13966-7

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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