‘People of Morning Star’ reveals truths

“People of the Morning Star” by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear. Tor, 2014. $25.99.

There’s a misconception that when Europeans came to the Americas, they came to a land of savages completely lacking in any kind of civilization. But nothing could be further from the truth. Native Americans built sprawling cities like Poverty Point in north Louisiana and Cahokia, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, where the Gears set their latest historical novel.

“People of the Morning Star” is, at its heart, a political novel. Though the cast and culture may initially be unfamiliar, the reader is quickly swept into the deadly court intrigues of the elite Four Winds clan, controllers of Cahokia.

Marked as the first in a series, “People of the Morning Star” will leave you hungry for the rest.

— Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com

“The Right Thing”

by Amy Conner. Kensington, 2014. $15.

When 7-year-old Annie Banks’ best friend Starr Dukes is suddenly whisked out of Jackson, Mississippi, by her itinerant preacher father, Annie is devastated.

So when 26 years later she discovers Starr being ridiculed in an upscale Jackson boutique, she defends her old friend. This accidental reunion is the beginning of Annie’s journey toward the realization of what matters most in her life.

Told from Annie’s point of view in chapters that alternate between 1990 and 1963, the reader is happily drawn into Annie’s and Starr’s world by Amy Conner’s captivating descriptions, deft use of metaphor and often hilarious narrative.

There is much that is heart-rending here, too, as we explore Annie’s desperation over remaining childless (the book begins with her sneaking out to her garden to bury the most recent of many negative home pregnancy tests), her frustration within her marriage to a highly ambitious, society-enamored lawyer, and her personal struggle to fulfill the expectations of her parents, her husband and other members of the Jackson social strata she was born into.

A native of Jackson, Conner paints an accurate picture of life in the civil-rights era south, and baby boomers will delight in the reference to 1960s popular culture. A particularly amusing and memorable scene involves Annie and Starr playing queen for a day with Barbie dolls named after members of Annie’s mother’s bridge club. Unfortunately for Annie and Starr, the ladies are gathered within earshot of the game.

This novel is perfect summer entertainment, and its clever plot twists and surprises ensure that, like a well-written mystery, the reader will be reluctant to put the book down. Those who join Annie Banks on her odyssey from Jackson to New Orleans and back, and then ultimately to a place she can really call home, will be glad they did.

— Celeste Stover, New Orleans