Men of Promise

In the late 18th century, a British captain accepts a command to search for mythical Asian islands and a fabulous treasure in Fasolino’s historical novel.
Recovering from war wounds at his home in Scotland, British naval hero Capt. Bowman West is offered a promotion as commodore of a flotilla. He declines, however, and instead accepts a mission to the South China Sea to search for the fabled Blue Isles in a new ship, the Promise. But there’s a condition: two members of the British East India Company must accompany him on the voyage—a man named Francis Gilbraith and his older secretary, Nile Carrin. West also has a Chinese steward, Chang, who uses broken pidgin to hide his fluent, educated English from others. The voyage that follows is full of incidents and intrigue. An encounter with an English pirate, Clarion, on St. Helena leads to Gilbraith’s mysterious death. Who killed him? West suspects Carrin but continues the mission. In East Africa, West acquires two okapis as a gift for the king of the Blue Isles. At a stop at Madras, he’s captivated by Violet Taylor, the daughter of the admiral stationed there. After entering the Straits of Malacca, which is riven with pirates, West is led to safety by another displaced Scotsman named Ardshiel. A typhoon washes West overboard but he’s soon reunited with the Promise in the Blue Isles. However, Clarion has followed them and a duel ensues to see who will claim the Pearl of Long Ages. Fasolino delivers a largely well-crafted tale of high-seas adventure. The characters are vivid and the action is not only relentless but also believable. That said, more nautical detail would have better conveyed everyday life aboard an 18th century frigate. There’s some repetitive phrasing early on (such as “But there were times…” and “But there were moments…” in the same paragraph) and some unnecessary occasional foreshadowing. The romantic elements are underdeveloped, and that along with the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion make it seem as if the author is setting up a sequel. This would be welcome, even if some elements of this volume could have been handled better.
A promising debut in the footsteps of Patrick O’Brian and C.S Forester, but one that still has a long way to go.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4575-3878-0

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2015

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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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THE VANISHING HALF

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.

THE RESCUE

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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