Fans will appreciate the high-stakes action, but they may be surprised by the addition of spiritual elements.

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THE SHAMAN

From the Assassin series , Vol. 2

In this thriller that mixes murder and mysticism, a desperate vigilante crosses paths with a raven, a coyote, and a mysterious old man.

Dan Stone, who refers to himself as the “ ‘angel of death’...to gang members who kill and destroy,” becomes an unholy terror in Nees’ (Payback, 2017, etc.) second book in The Assassin series. Dan took out the Brooklyn mobsters responsible for his pregnant wife’s death; as a result, he serves as a newly acquired asset of the CIA. His brand: “A maverick to be used in the field on almost suicidal missions.” After Jane Tanner, his CIA handler, mentors him through agent training, she assigns him to kill the most powerful drug lord in Mexico—Jorge Mendoza. Mendoza’s Pakistani partner, Tariq Basara, plans to not only traffic heroin into Mexico, but also to smuggle in al-Qaida terrorists who will then sneak into the United States. Before escaping into the desert, Dan targets Mendoza at his home. The assassin then outmaneuvers members of Mendoza’s gang who pursue him through the desert even though he suffers from a swollen ankle and lack of nourishment. As Dan flees a dozen heavily armed men, a raven with one black eye and one red eye follows him. Some time later, a coyote joins the voyeur bird. He fears the coyote may eat him alive but eventually understands that both it and the raven are leading him somewhere. It’s to Tlayolotl, an old shaman, who possesses special powers, one black and one red eye, and his own agenda for Dan. Nees excels at page-turning action and believable dialogue. He’s also good at building toward a violent scene and then epically delivering. Descriptions of weaponry are detailed, and the blending of magical elements with the gritty plotting of the cartel and terrorists succeeds. The cover art is terrific, but a juicier title should have been selected. Essentially told in third person, it works to have Dan’s internal monologue supplied in italics. He is a complex character, a brutal killer with a soft spot for children and women, even when they’re on the wrong side.

Fans will appreciate the high-stakes action, but they may be surprised by the addition of spiritual elements.

Pub Date: June 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72116-918-4

Page Count: 338

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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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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