Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.

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THE LAST CRUSADER KINGDOM

DAWN OF A DYNASTY IN 12TH CENTURY CYPRUS

Schrader (Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade, 2016, etc.) follows up her Jerusalem Trilogy with an imaginative, fictionalized account of the d’Ibelin and Lusignan families and the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus.

By the last decade of the 12th century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to one-fourth its original size. Even the city of Jerusalem was now held by the Saracens (Arab Muslims), who had overwhelmed the Christian lords and knights in 1187 and 1188. The novel opens in 1193, and Balian d’Ibelin (a celebrated knight, member of the high court, and husband of Maria Zoë Comnena, dowager queen of Jerusalem) now lives in reduced circumstances in the manor house of his barony in Caymont. When he learns that Aimery de Lusignan, constable of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, has been arrested for treason under orders from Henri de Champagne, he travels to a palace in Acre to broker a deal with Champagne. Balian has a special interest in the affair. Aimery is married to Eschiva, Balian’s niece. Champagne agrees to the terms: Aimery resigns his position and is released to join his brother Guy de Lusignan, Lord of Cyprus, to help maintain rule over the rebellious Orthodox Greek Cypriots. Thus begins the eventual migration of the Lusignan and d’Ibelin families to Cyprus. Readers may find the extensive character list, which occupies several pages, and complex relationships daunting. Plus, there is a plethora of alliances, marriages, and historic, cultural, and religious clashes to be navigated. But just a bit of effort brings the reward of a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose (“The gold mosaics, the blue, turquoise, and aqua-colored tiles, the marble fountains, and the potted hibiscus”). With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era. And she offers a little something for everyone: royal intrigue, rivalry, bloody battles, love, tragedy, and memorable characters.

Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62787-517-2

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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