A capable historical novel with an unexpected premise that’s likely to engage readers interested in its time period.



In this debut historical novel set in the early 1500s, two Spaniards shipwrecked in the New World follow drastically different paths as they gradually become part of the Mayan culture.

The novel opens with a group of Spanish explorers adrift in a lifeboat, their ship having foundered on the reefs off the New World. Eventually, their boat finds land in Mexico’s Yucatan, where the native Mayans swiftly imprison them. Of the 13 survivors, only the young soldier Gonzalo Guerrero and the Dominican priest Jeronimo Aguilar last very long amid privation and slavery. The characters offer a stark contrast: Gonzalo, the novel’s protagonist, is headstrong and resists his imprisonment, while Jeronimo dutifully serves his new masters in the hope that his hard work might set a Christian example and thus convert some of the “heathens.” Both escape their initial captors and fall in with another group of Mayans. Gonzalo eventually proves himself a worthy warrior when the group is attacked, and he soon moves up the ranks. He eventually finds himself in a position of some importance and marries Ix Zazil, the daughter of his master, Nachan Caan. Jeronimo remains subservient and is constantly appalled by his captors’ un-Christian actions, but he too eventually progresses, becoming a servant to one of the Mayan chiefs. Robbins adeptly presents unusual (and to modern audiences, horrifying) aspects of Mayan culture. A particularly memorable passage involves Gonzalo mutilating his genitals as a sacrifice to the gods—and, more importantly, as an effort to fit in with his fellow soldiers. His storyline is clearly the more engaging of the two; too often, Jeronimo merely does what readers might expect instead of exhibiting more agency. Still, Robbins is an able plotter, and the eventual meeting between Jeronimo and Gonzalo (now tattooed and pierced and looking very much the Mayan) lends some emotional heft to the story.

A capable historical novel with an unexpected premise that’s likely to engage readers interested in its time period.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500892562

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 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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