Ambitious sci-fi ideas hobbled by salacious wandering.


Richie Millstone, the Firewater Dragon & the Platinum Water Crystal

Allen (The Divine Miracle, 2011) offers the first in aplanned series of five YA time-travel adventures.

Clancy Millstone is a wealthy computer scientist whose wife, Rachel, recently passed away. He lives with his 14-year-old son, Richie, in their Jacksonville, Florida, mansion. One day, Clancy asks Richie’s friend Travis and cousin Matt to stop by to cheer Richie up, as he’s been depressed since his mother’s death. They take him out for pizza, where they meet up with more teens,and the large, cheery group later heads back to the mansion for a sleepover. The next day, the door to Clancy’s workshop is found open, and the kids discover an enormous vehicle inside. After they board it, they watch a video recorded by Clancy, who tells them that they’re about to embark on a time-travel adventure. The time machine is well-stocked with food, clothing, spare parts—everything Richie and his friends might need. Most astoundingly, it’s powered by a platinum water crystal—and, like any technology, the crystal can be used for good or evil. Soon, Richie and his crew embark on a dangerous voyage through time and, eventually, space. Allen’s elaborately framed narrative starts with an elderly Richie meeting his younger self and delves into the intriguing questions central to many time-travel tales: Are events set in stone, or is time fluid and changeable? He offers a world that’s rich in detail and writes most compellingly about the time machine itself: “As long as the platinum crystal was submerged in water at a certain depth, it would produce power almost indefinitely.” Allen’s penchant for such detail, however, also makes the dialogue cumbersome and the prose repetitive: People constantly speak with a “wry grin” or with “rolled eyes.” The novel is also distractingly preoccupied with exploring its characters’ sexuality, which has its place in YA fiction but not when it overshadows the plot; phrases like “lube our tubes” and “horse grade manhood” may turn away casual readers.

Ambitious sci-fi ideas hobbled by salacious wandering.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1625161765

Page Count: 574

Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2014

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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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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.


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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