A creatively original, character-driven companion volume fusing biographical sketches with gay sexuality.

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THE MANDRAKES

A prequel explores the early lives of four gay men before they dramatically intersected.

Prolific author Jack (A High Country Tale, 2016, etc.) revisits the main characters at the center of his impressive preceding novel and presents their separate histories prior to becoming a close-knit group of friends and lovers. Split into four volumes, the engrossing saga devotes some attention to extraneous details but focuses a great deal on each man’s carnal coming-of-age. The compilation begins with Lucas Cevennes graphically describing his very first same-sex sexual encounter, an event he considers an “introduction to the Devil Incarnate.” Admitting his gay feelings early and spending his youth bound within the strict confines of a Christian upbringing, Luke pines for personal freedom while exploring other boys’ bodies at summer camp—with unrequited teenage affections blindly guided by his bulky “ever-ready snake.” Eventually, he undertakes the challenges of medical school. In the second section, Cal Broadhearst’s Southern youth born “of the blood of Princes” is distinguished by impressive manners and reserved behavior yet marred by episodes of extreme bullying. These attributes produce a refined and savvy black man talented at competitive wrestling and software engineering and masterful at “the erotic boogie and prance” of dance-floor gyrations. Jake Marshall’s third section depicts a bucolic Vermont heritage and a fatherless boyhood spoiled by a mean stepdad though greatly redeemed by male friends and frolicsome fishing trips. He is mentored by a neighboring elderly couple who invest in and promote his future in medicine. At college in Texas, Jake embraces his scholarly prowess and a newfound fondness for same-sex romance after meeting Cal. Jeremy Kell rounds out the vivid profiles as a boy born into an enormous brood of children who raises goats and becomes obsessed with a Jamaican “Rasta Mon.” Later, as a teenage father plagued in his young adulthood with “lonesomeness for a significant peer,” he braves the future with hope for his daughter and a loving male partner for himself. Fans of Jack’s original novel will be delighted to discover the humble and enticing beginnings of these four gay men, their backgrounds, and how their lives progressed up to and including their impactful intersection in A High Country Tale. The author takes his time with all of the quartet’s members, meticulously exploring their internal struggles and early ambitions as well as the ways their young lives become dramatically influenced by latent homosexuality and negatively hobbled by the strict religious leanings of parents and family members. While the narrative does have a tendency to be clunky, overwritten, or just plain cheesy in spots (Luke’s campground sexual curiosity was a “nascent stirring of endocrine undertones providing provocation,” while Cal’s libidinous “cobra informed the higher head”), Jack knows how to illustrate his characters well and make each one engaging on a variety of levels.

A creatively original, character-driven companion volume fusing biographical sketches with gay sexuality.

Pub Date: April 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9980990-4-0

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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