A historical novel with an exotic locale, well-wrought historical details, tidbits about flora and fauna, and wonderful...



Lester’s (Marvels, 2018, etc.) first novel, set in Jamaica in the 18th century, reveals that paradise can be a mixed bag.

In 1762, plucky Martha Grant is offered a proposal of marriage by her cousin, Henry Mason, a Jamaican planter. She’s finding herself adrift after the death of her own true love, and fearing spinsterhood, she accepts Henry’s offer. Now she’s ready to fall in love with her new home of Jamaica, and the rest of the book mostly consists of her letters home to England and entries from her diary. Compared to his wastrel brother Jonas, Henry initially seems to be a good man, but readers quickly learn that he’s a tyrannical, arrogant, self-centered monster. Nonetheless, Martha is determined to make the best of it. Then Henry impregnates his half sister Pearl, whose mother is an African slave. In an elaborate ruse, it’s made to seem that the offspring, Peter, is actually Martha’s child. Things become particularly insufferable for Martha when Jonas dies and his widow, the outlandishly crude Antoinetta, comes to live with the Masons. This is Lester’s first novel, but she’s a much-published writer of biographies and histories, and it shows. Martha is a wonderfully well-rounded character—a romantic and an idealist but not at all naïve; she ekes out small victories with the brutish Henry and always leaves her surroundings just a tad better than how she found them. Lester also effectively shows how the Jamaican settlers have the trappings of civilization—such as a Governor’s Ball and expensive finery—but at bottom, they’re revealed to be ruthless materialists and exploiters. The childish and grasping Antoinetta—representing the worst of the colonial infestation—strikingly contrasts with the beautiful, childlike Pearl, a happy and generous local. Interspersed are snarky poems, presumably from Martha’s witty imagination, which skewer the society’s pretensions and its matrons’ cattiness in a kind of off-key Greek chorus.

A historical novel with an exotic locale, well-wrought historical details, tidbits about flora and fauna, and wonderful characters.

Pub Date: April 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-7335984-0-8

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Mason & Fraser

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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