First in a planned series, this fantasy adventure relies on well-known tropes, but its complexities intrigue.



From the The Protogena Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In Helming’s debut fantasy novel, a California teenager is sent to her godfather in Greece, where she learns startling news about her true destiny.

“Strong women aren’t simply born. We are forged through the fires of life.” These words from her mother, Diana, have inspired Helene Crawford, almost 18, to be resilient. She’ll need this trait when she gets the terrible news that Diana has been killed, most likely by arson. Helene, meanwhile, barely escapes from a murder attempt and learns that she must leave California, go to Athens, and live with her legal guardian until she’s 21. (Helene has no known father, having been conceived in vitro.) Just as startling, several indications lead Helene to believe her mother is still alive. In Greece, she attends her new school, where she suffers the usual new-girl problems and weighs the attentions of two attractive young men. But odd events keep happening, and Helene discovers she has the key to a portal that leads to Gaea, a strange land—one she’s dreamed about—where the tyrannical Greek gods now live. She discovers information about her mother and learns of a prophecy: one day the Protogena will be born from a virgin goddess and help overthrow Zeus, restoring harmony. As Helene struggles to understand and control new powers, she strikes the first blows against Zeus in what promises to be a long war. Helming intelligently sets figures from Greek myth amid the modern-day Greek debt crisis to comment on greed, hubris, and how ordinary people survive. She offers complexity of detail and adventure with intriguing tie-ins to mythology and science. Nevertheless, many ingredients are familiar: an emotional teenager who seems ordinary but is chosen for a special purpose; a portal to another land; two romantic choices; and wish-fulfillment largesse, such as the portal transforming Helene into a perfect physical specimen. Helene notes that she’s comfortable with herself at last, an unfortunate message for girls: only flawlessness can permit positive self-esteem.

First in a planned series, this fantasy adventure relies on well-known tropes, but its complexities intrigue.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9984811-0-4

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Cool Planet Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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