A meticulously researched historical account presented in the form of a thrilling political drama.



A historical novel set in sixth-century Constantinople charts the extraordinary ascent of a woman from poverty to royal power. 

Theodora is born into inauspicious beginnings: Her Greek father, Acacius, is a bear trainer in a circus, and her Syrian mother, Asima, is a dancer. Their fortunes only grow worse when Acacius dies in an accident. Theodora is only 5 years old when the tragedy happens and is forced to work by the time she is 10. Her life is brutally hard—she is raped with impunity at 12—but she is also dauntlessly ambitious and refuses to resign herself to a lowly station. Theodora learns to read and write and works as a prostitute and an actress, but she pines to escape the “fringes of the theater circuit.” She eventually becomes the mistress of Justinian, the nephew of the emperor, destined to take the throne. Martin (Hologram, 2017, etc.) weaves into the tale a crucial subplot—a poor Syrian boy, born Sufian but renamed Stephen after he’s sold to an unscrupulous magus, discovers that he’s “singularly adept at languages” and lands a high-ranking position in Justinian’s court. He befriends Theodora, but she betrays him. Later, as empress, she demands that Stephen—wasting away in jail—become her biographer, giving him an opportunity for both freedom and revenge. In this ambitious novel, the author vividly brings to life the cinematic story of Theodora’s life, chronicling her rise, more halting than meteoric, to spectacular power (“Theodora set about to prove wrong her sister’s assertions regarding the roles of women. She wanted to affirm that her own role in life was not preordained—and that she had some talent, some gift”). Martin’s command of the historical period—not just the chief political events, but also the nuances of its cultural mores—is masterful. Furthermore, he conjoins that scholarly rigor with novelistic excitement—the entire tale is intelligently conveyed with great emotional poignancy. 

A meticulously researched historical account presented in the form of a thrilling political drama. 

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73400-430-4

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Hussar Quill Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 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...


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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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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