A familiar but enjoyable fantasy with an intriguing heroine.

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LOOKING FOR DEI

Two magical friends seek their destinies in this debut YA novel.

Fifteen-year-old Nara Dall, the adopted daughter of Bylo the laborer, doesn’t know anything about her origins or the long scar that runs all the way down her back. Her best friend, Mykel Aragos, is strong and hardworking but self-conscious about the scar from a surgery to heal his cleft palate. Both teens live in the impoverished town of Dimmitt on the southeastern coast of the Great Lands. Dimmit is preparing for its triennial announcement ceremony, during which local adolescents are tested for magical abilities. The town has not produced a gifted teen in many years, but Nara suspects that she might be discovered at the event. “Not only would” talented young people “earn money in royal service or private employment, but the magic was a gift from Dei. A divine blessing. A reminder that they were loved.” Nara learns from Bylo the secret reason no one in Dimmitt has been chosen—and what it has to do with her—and she seeks to rectify the situation. But it doesn’t go as planned, forcing Nara and Mykel to flee for their lives. Nara’s untrained abilities draw them into a power struggle between dark forces that is about to grip the Great Lands, during which she may finally learn about her own mysterious past. In this series opener, Willson writes in a simple prose that delicately summons his fantasy world to life: “A thin-bladed ornate dagger called a ceppit was the instrument used by the priest to reveal a youth’s magic potential. The priest would intone a prayer and use the ceppit to impale each child’s palm.” While the premise and setting come from the most common tropes of YA fantasy, the author does a good job making the realm come alive by peopling it with complex characters and including worldbuilding flourishes like the runes of the Great Land’s holy book, the Cataclysmos. Readers should be happy to return for the next volume to see what Nara and her friends are up to under Willson’s capable eye.

A familiar but enjoyable fantasy with an intriguing heroine.

Pub Date: March 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9996150-2-7

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Seeker Press

Review Posted Online: March 23, 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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