An epic fantasy marked by passionate prose and courageous characters.

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WINTERHUED

In this debut novel, a princess’s life changes after a dragon attacks her castle.

The land of Manydown lies between the sea and Iron Crag mountain. In Castle Lawhill, Princess Winterhued is beloved by the people of her kingdom, but she’s a lonely, restless soul. Her father, King Gers, is a fatuous gourmand who leaves the intellectual portions of his rule to his daughter. Winterhued, who loved someone once in her youth, wonders if she’s now too old to find a worthy match. One morning, after she has another dream about malevolent wings beating from above, she bathes with the assistance of Lady Ulidia. When Eudora, a young scullery maid, spills a bucket of water, Ulidia scolds her, but later Winterhued shows the maid kindness by giving her oranges. The girl, overawed in the princess’s chambers, takes the opportunity to secretly snatch a moonstone necklace. This brazen act is quickly overshadowed by a sudden attack by a vast, winged beast, which turns much of Castle Lawhill to flaming rubble. The dragon then takes up residence in the castle’s keep. The king seeks a knight to slay the beast, planning to offer Winterhued’s hand in marriage as a reward. Meanwhile, an errant knight—who already has a connection to the princess—and his squire roam the lands just below Iron Crag, and they’re watched by what may be the last living unicorn. In her debut, Alger evokes dreamy classics, such as Lord Dunsany’s 1924 novel, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, while blessing her characters with a modern wit that lets them stand beside figures created by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy fans will consistently enjoy the lyrical prose, as in the line, “[The wings] washed at the verges of her mind like twilit waves upon a strand, leaving at their ebb a scum of fear.” The dragon, which seems impossible to see clearly due to its ferocity, provides a chaotic backdrop against which secondary players, such as Stench, a young dung-scooper, perform heroic deeds. The unicorn, meanwhile, is used as a subtle metaphor for being lost or being denied one’s true path.

An epic fantasy marked by passionate prose and courageous characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-648-17250-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Windship Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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