Category Archives: Riverhead Books

Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Title: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical (60s, 70s, 80s), Fiction
Length: 350 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passingLooking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a thought-provoking  novel that is quite engrossing.

Stella and Desiree Vignes are twins who live in a close-knit African American town which was  founded by a freed slave.  The girls live with their mother who is supporting her small family following the tragic murder of her husband. During the ’50s, the teenagers run away to New Orleans where their lives eventually go in completely different directions. In 1968, Desiree returns to her hometown with her young daughter Jude. Desiree plans to stay in town temporarily but deep down, she knows she has won’t leave again.

Jude grows up enduring terrible bullying due to her very dark skin tone. She eventually leaves for college in California where she finally finds a group of supportive friends and possibly love with Reese Carter.  By complete accident, she believes she has found her mother’s long missing twin, Stella. But Jude is uncertain of the woman’s identity since she is a white woman who is married to a wealthy businessman. However, she and  Stella’s spoiled daughter Kennedy  cross paths again.  Jude is then certain of Stella’s identity, but it is clear there will be no warm and loving family reunion. Although close with her mother, Jude keeps this discovery to herself, but will she ever tell Desiree the truth about Stella?

In New Orleans, with Desiree, Stella uncomfortably passes herself as white to secure a better paying job. She essentially comes into her new life as a blank slate and continually deflects questions about her family.  Even after she is married and firmly entrenched in her new life, Stella always feels like someone will unmask her as a fraud.  Her relationship with Bennett is complicated by her high expectations for her daughter.

Kennedy is spoiled but she knows her own mind and she goes after what she wants. She is self-centered and demanding but she finally achieves a modicum of success in her chosen career. It is initially through her career that she Jade finds Kennedy again and Jude is hopeful she will find answers about Stella. However, their relationship remains tenuous and during an angry argument, Jude angrily spills the secrets she has been keeping. Despite her mother’s denials, Kennedy cannot help but wonder if Jude’s revelations are true.

Alternating between the mothers’ and daughters’ points of view, The Vanishing Half is a well-written novel that deftly explores colorism, racisim and identity. All of the characters are superbly developed with enviable strengths and relatable flaws. While some of the women are more likable than others, their individual stories are fascinating. Brit Bennett brings this powerful and introspective novel to a moving conclusion. I highly recommend this incredible novel.

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Filed under Brit Bennett, Fiction, Historical, Historical (60s), Historical (70s), Historical (80s), Rated B+, Review, Riverhead Books, The Vanishing Half

Review: Shiner by Amy Jo Burns

Title: Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 270 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


On a lush mountaintop trapped in time, two women vow to protect each other at all costs-and one young girl must defy her father to survive.

An hour from the closest West Virginia mining town, fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in a cloistered mountain cabin with her parents. They have no car, no mailbox, and no visitors-except for her mother’s lifelong best friend. Every Sunday, Wren’s father delivers winding sermons in an abandoned gas station, where he takes up serpents and praises the Lord for his blighted white eye, proof of his divinity and key to the hold he has over the community, over Wren and her mother.

But over the course of one summer, a miracle performed by Wren’s father quickly turns to tragedy. As the order of her world begins to shatter, Wren must uncover the truth of her father’s mysterious legend and her mother’s harrowing history and complex bond with her best friend. And with that newfound knowledge, Wren can imagine a different future for herself than she has been told to expect.

Rich with epic love and epic loss, and diving deep into a world that is often forgotten but still part of America, Shiner reveals the hidden story behind two generations’ worth of Appalachian heartbreak and resolve. Amy Jo Burns brings us a smoldering, taut debut novel about modern female myth-making in a land of men-and one young girl who must ultimately open her eyes.


Shiner by Amy Jo Burns is a gritty, atmospheric novel.

Fifteen year Wren Bird lives with her snake-handling preacher father Briar (aka White Eye) and her mother Ruby. They live on a remote mountain and they rarely interact with anyone outside her mother’s best friend Ivy and  her father’s shrinking congregation.  The small family has little money and Ruby homeschools her daughter.  Living in a dilapidated shack,  Wren’s only exposure to modern technology is Wren’s once a month trip to the library where she uses the computer and visiting Ivy’s family who have cell phones and cable television. The Byrd family begins to a downward spiral the day Briar seemingly performs a miracle. In the aftermath of destruction, shocking secrets are revealed.

Wren is an intelligent young woman who lives a very sheltered life. She longs for a friendship like the one her mother shares with Ivy.  It is not until her father’s miracle that she begins to view her family differently.  Wren knows her mother is desperately unhappy and beaten down, but how did she end up trapped with her preacher husband? Shocking revelations come to light after tragedy strikes, but will learning about her family’s past alter Wren’s future?

Told through shifting perspectives, Shiner is an engrossing novel about life in poverty stricken, small-town West Virginia. The characters are well-developed and while some are appealing, others are deeply flawed. The storyline is engaging with an overall sense of misery and impending doom. Amy Jo Burns descriptive prose brings the mountain setting and overwhelming despair vividly to life. The novel’s conclusion is satisfying and unexpectedly upbeat. I enjoyed this well-written novel and encourage readers of the genre to pick up a copy.

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Filed under Amy Jo Burns, Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Riverhead Books, Shiner

Review: Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey

Title: Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ, Literary Fiction
Length: 286 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


When a group of social activists arrive in a small town, the lives and beliefs of residents and outsiders alike are upended, in this wry, embracing novel.

Big Burr, Kansas, is the kind of place where everyone seems to know everyone, and everyone shares the same values-or keeps their opinions to themselves. But when a national nonprofit labels Big Burr “the most homophobic town in the US” and sends in a task force of queer volunteers as an experiment-they’ll live and work in the community for two years in an attempt to broaden hearts and minds-no one is truly prepared for what will ensue.

Furious at being uprooted from her life in Los Angeles and desperate to fit in at her new high school, Avery fears that it’s only a matter of time before her “gay crusader” mom outs her. Still grieving the death of her son, Linda welcomes the arrivals, who know mercifully little about her past. And for Christine, the newcomers are not only a threat to the comforting rhythms of Big Burr life, but a call to action. As tensions roil the town, cratering relationships and forcing closely guarded secrets into the light, everyone must consider what it really means to belong. Told with warmth and wit, Under the Rainbow is a poignant, hopeful articulation of our complicated humanity that reminds us we are more alike than we’d like to admit.


Celia Laskey’s debut Under the Rainbow  offers an intriguing peek into small town America and its relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Through a series of vignettes from different characters’ perspectives, each chapter offers a glimpse into the Acceptance Across America (AAA) workers and townspeople’s lives.  Avery is uprooted from Los Angeles to Big Burr, KS when her mom accepts a position with AAA. She is struggling to be true to herself while also trying to keep her family’s association with AAA under wraps. Linda is grieving a tragic loss and unexpectedly finds solace through volunteering with the AAA. Christine is a devout Christian who is adamantly opposed to the gay community and the AAA. David and his partner Miguel relocate to Big Burr and their life is quickly complicated by an older family member’s medical issues and lack of gay community. Zach is a teenager struggling to fly under the radar and attention of his classmates. Gabe is an avid hunter and family man who questions the life he has made for himself. Henry blames the AAA when he makes a shocking discovery about a loved one.  While each chapter is narrated by a specific character and their life in Big Burr, other characters sometimes overlap with the current narrator.  The final chapter in the novel offers a brief glimpse of how many of the characters have fared long after the AAA have moved on from Big Burr.

Under the Rainbow  is a fast-paced novel with an interesting cast of characters and distinctive plot. The characters are well-developed but some are more appealing and memorable than others. Some of the characters’ actions and opinions are a bit stereotyped while others are refreshingly unique. Celia Laskey’s debut is a thought-provoking novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Filed under Celia Laskey, Contemporary, LGBTQ, Literary Fiction, Rated B, Review, Riverhead Books, Under the Rainbow

Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Title: Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Literary Fiction
Length: 492 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


Two sisters travel the same streets, though their lives couldn’t be more different. Then one of them goes missing.

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.


Long Bright River by Liz Moore is a poignant mystery with a topical storyline.

Police Officer Mickey Fitzpatrick is a single mom to four year old son Thomas. She  and her drug addicted sister Kacey were raised by their neglectful grandmother Gee after their mother died of a drug overdose and their father disappeared.  Mickey is estranged from Kacey but she does her best to look out for her as she patrols the Kensington community. Following a series of murders  of women in the neighborhood, Mickey is growing increasingly worried about Kasey, who has inexplicably dropped out of sight. With her partner of ten years Truman Dawes out on medical leave, Mickey becomes increasingly desperate to find Kasey. Making impulsive choices that jeopardize her career, will Mickey find her sister before it is too late?

Mickey has always been rather socially awkward and that has not changed over the course of her career as a police officer.  After moving out from Gee’s home years earlier, she keeps her distance from her grandmother and the rest of her extended family. Mickey is devoted to Thomas but their recent move has  upended their formerly comfortable life.  When no one can give her any information about Kacey’s whereabouts, Mickey takes matters into her own hands and she begins making one disastrous choice after another.  With the police no closer to finding the killer who is preying on vulnerable women, Mickey ignores her boss’s warnings to stay out the case.

With chapters weaving back and forth between the past and present,  Long Bright River is a heartbreaking mystery that explores family bonds and opioid addiction. Mickey is an extremely guarded and emotionally wounded woman who is willing to make tough choices in order to protect her loved ones. Kacey’s struggles with addiction are heartrending and her numerous attempts to get clean are realistically portrayed.  Liz Moore deftly written novel is a sensitive and timely novel that shines a much needed light on the opioid epidemic and the long-term emotional damage on family and friends.   A layered and multi-faceted mystery that will linger in readers’ minds long after the last page is turned.  Highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Liz Moore, Long Bright River, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Riverhead Books

Review: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Genre: Fiction
Length: 207 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.
Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson is a poignant family-centric novel.

Beginning with 16 year old Melody’s coming of age celebration, the story then unfolds in a series of vignettes from various character’s perspectives. Melody’s party sparks memories of her mother Iris whose unplanned teenage pregnancy upended their lives.  Melody is close to her father, Aubrey and  her maternal grandparents, Sabe and Sammy “Po’Boy” Simmons. But her relationship with Iris is distant since her mother has not been a part of her life for many, many years.

Although the various stories are compelling, the story feels a bit disjointed.  The shifts in character perspective are not clearly marked so it is sometimes a little confusing trying to figure who is currently narrating.  The novel touches on a series of significant and life-altering changes but some events are covered more in depth than others.

Red at the Bone is an interesting novel with a unique storyline.  The characters are richly drawn and most of them are likable. Iris is a notable exception since she is somewhat self-absorbed and essentially abandons Melody.  Jacqueline Woodson beautifully incorporates true to life events such as 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa and 9/11 into the storyline.  An overall enjoyable yet short read.

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Filed under Fiction, Jacqueline Woodson, Rated C, Red at the Bone, Review, Riverhead Books