Fans of Westerns will enjoy this unusual, if flawed, contribution to the genre.

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LOGAN'S LEAP

In Barry’s debut novel, a billionaire playboy trades a luxurious but ultimately meaningless life for one filled with adventure when a scandal tarnishes his reputation.

In 1931, Jamison Jackson Logan III is the president of a prestigious New York City law firm, Logan, Marshall & Partners; he has $1 billion in the bank and has just been named Bachelor of the Year by Indigo-Rouge Magazine. But at a banquet to receive the Firm of the Year Award from Law and Standards magazine, he finds out that his partner embezzled nearly $20 million. In the wake of the scandal, he flees to Paris, but it’s not far enough to escape. While returning to New York on an ocean liner, he decides to fake his death when there’s a minor collision with a fishing trawler. He then begins a Travels with Charley–esque adventure, traveling west in a van with a stray Airedale named Tag. In Tempe, Arizona, engine trouble lands him at a small outfitter store owned by Doc Boone and his daughter, Glory. With nowhere else to be, he decides to stick around and enjoy the scenery—and perhaps woo Doc’s enchanting daughter. Then a skull is found in the desert with a bullet-sized hole in it. Logan embraces his new identity as “Jack McCall” and helps track down the bandits responsible. Although Logan begins his hero’s journey as a Jay Gatsby–like playboy, Barry quickly transforms him into a Steinbeck-ian wanderer. This is, at its heart, an original Western, sunbaked and full of rattlesnakes, and the author truly does the vanishing genre justice. That said, the overall narrative is weakened by some frankly odd choices, including the inclusion of unnecessary clip art; Tag’s inner monologue, appearing only in one passage, wondering, “What is the purpose of my life?”; and intermittent dialogue indicators that are reminiscent of a play script: “Doc: ‘Excuse my sassy daughter fer her frankness, Son. Glory, that was rude and uncalled for.’ ” A stronger edit might have corrected such formatting irregularities and allowed readers to focus more on the solid storytelling and complex characters.

Fans of Westerns will enjoy this unusual, if flawed, contribution to the genre.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4809-1170-3

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 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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