A well-researched, comprehensive, but messy Viking tale.

THE CHRONICLE OF THE OSTMEN

In this debut historical novel, a young nobleman becomes a captive of Vikings set to conquer British kingdoms in the late ninth century.

Mael MacConaill is the son of Lord Bran in the Irish town of Ard Mhacha. When the Danes, led by Viking lord Ímar, raid the town’s monastery, they initially take Mael to perform folk songs on his lute. But he remains their prisoner and ultimately becomes separated from his family and friends. He winds up on the ship the Red Wasp as part of Lord Sidroc’s band. Mael gradually learns the Danish tongue and even gains a friend in warrior Meintet. He also finds comrades after a raiding party in Wessex picks up a Saxon slave, Blythe, along with her 9-year-old daughter, Godiva. The Danes assign Mael the task of teaching Danish to Godiva and learning her Saxon language. Meanwhile, the Vikings continue to raid such kingdoms as Mercia and East Anglia. But Wessex and its king, Æthelred, seem the most resistant and may prove the Danes’ greatest challenge. While the battles rage, Mael must deal with Cuthbert, a boy whose unveiled animosity results in his recurrent bullying of both the lute player and Godiva. This epic series opener is brimming with vivid fictional and real-life characters. Nunn circumvents potential muddle by rigorously detailing players’ titles and relationships while concise descriptions throughout avoid any narrative lulls. Battles are aplenty but never graphic, and though the perspectives are largely those of savage Vikings, sympathetic Mael is the clear protagonist. He searches for his purpose among the Vikings, such as gathering materials or tending to the wounded. But as he’s not a warrior, Mael is noticeably absent from the action-packed final act, which leads to an ending that deftly sets up Book 2. The author’s accompanying illustrations are indelible, particularly landscape images that are, not surprisingly, packed with characters (some of these pictures are sadly split in two to accommodate the book’s standard size). Unfortunately, a host of errors distracts from the story, from missing letters or words (“Out on the sea, left to himself, Mael thought of the Briton boys who now hostages”) to improper punctuation, like an omitted period at the end of a sentence (“This wind will take you to a large river that flows from the heart of Mercia”).

A well-researched, comprehensive, but messy Viking tale.

Pub Date: April 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5043-0752-9

Page Count: 262

Publisher: BalboaPressAU

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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