A satisfying—if meandering—wrap-up to a memorable series of adventures with an appealing pair of protagonists.

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The Last Ma-Loo

From the The Warrensberg Trilogy series , Vol. 3

An inimitable teenage hero and his short-tempered accomplice must once again save humanity in this final installment of a trilogy.

Warrensberg, Minnesota, might seem like Plainsville, USA, to the untrained eye, but it is the “Octipoint,” the center of the universe, according to the intergalactic travelers Ceek and Wergo. What’s more, the small town’s unwitting resident Alice Jane Zelinski and her long-suffering housemate, Wilkin Delgado, aka Dodobrain, are the only ones who can set things right. The problem this time is that the Ma-Loos are missing. And this is not just another run-of-the-mill endangered species that has suddenly become extinct. The trusty intergalactic plumber Cardamon Webb has news for the improbable duo: the Ma-Loos power the universe; they keep everything ticking. No Ma-Loos means a depressing End of Everything. The good news: there is a way to reverse this madness. All that Wilkin and Alice Jane need to do is to find a Ma-Loo, but that involves traveling to another Reality. Complicating the pair’s expedition are additional members—Alice Jane’s dreamy boyfriend, Carl; Loretta, the Certified Tracking Puffin; and newlyweds Ceek and Wergo. Problems and digressions abound: Carl gets pregnant, mysterious creatures constantly surface, and Alice Jane and Wilkin face severe tests as they attempt to make desperate contact with a Ma-Loo—Greater or Lesser, any kind will do. In Ammerman’s (Escape from Dorkville, 2015, etc.) final novel in his Warrensberg Trilogy, the prose is as sparkling and witty as ever, and Wilkin and Alice Jane, a year older since readers last met them, make for entertaining and engaging lead characters. The plot occasionally teeters under the weight of all the zaniness, and after a while a numbing sameness threatens to fog the narrative’s initial cleareyed focus. Colorful players are fun for a while, but after encountering a few too many Seussian characters (including Magnominious Jaymes Hiranacus III), the novelty starts to wear off, leading to a mild case of are-we-there-yet blues. The novel should nevertheless please fans of the clever and goofy, aka most middle-grade readers.

A satisfying—if meandering—wrap-up to a memorable series of adventures with an appealing pair of protagonists.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9846822-5-6

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Kabloona

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2016

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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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