An uneven historical novel, but its action scenes make it worthwhile.




The handsome, resourceful Hawaiian John Tana is back in this second volume of Fernandez’s (John Tana, 2017, etc.) trilogy, set in 19th-century Hawaii.

This time around, John has fled the corruption and dangers of Honolulu and gone back to his home island, Kauai. He’s lost his great love, Leinani, but he eventually marries a good woman, Mahealani. But the evil, powerful sugar baron Robert Grant is still his sworn enemy, and Hawaii is at a political tipping point: Will Grant and his cronies manage to get the United States to annex the islands, and is this the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Hawaii? These difficulties are complicated further by existing racial tensions between the Anglos, the native Hawaiians, and the Chinese. Also, John has converted to Christianity, but Mahealani and others still follow the old religion, gods, and superstitions, and this issue becomes a festering wound on the marriage. John tries many jobs, including working as a rice-field guard, the chief of security at a sugar plantation, and an occasional bodyguard for Hawaiian King Kal?kuau. As a Hawaiian, he wants the respect that he feels he deserves, and by the end of the book, he gets it and begins to prosper, laying the groundwork for a third volume. Fernandez’s description of a raid on a counterfeiting operation, the tracking and slaying of a wild boar, and other bits of derring-do are well-done. He also introduces readers to Hawaiian history and culture, including the mysteries and terrors of the aforementioned “old religion.” There’s even a cameo appearance by the real-life Father Damien De Veuster, who was famous for his work with lepers. All these things help to pull readers into the story. On the other hand, the villainous character of Grant veers steadily toward Snidely Whiplash–style caricature, and the backstory of a character named Joe Still is mystifying. Illustrations include rather fuzzy black-and-white photos of the Hawaiian countryside as well as sketches by Judith Fernandez that lend an effectively primitive charm to the story and bring to mind Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's sketches for The Little Prince.

An uneven historical novel, but its action scenes make it worthwhile.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9990326-5-7

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Makani Kai Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 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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