An ambitious and engrossing tale of Renaissance Italy.



A historical novel tells the story of a soldier caught in the center of a Vatican-sanctioned plot against the Medicis.

It’s 1478 in Florence. Giovan Battista da Montesecco, the captain of the Apostolic Palace Guard and commandant of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, sits in a prison cell atop the city’s great clock tower, forced to write a confession of how he conspired to murder the leaders of Florence’s greatest family. Flash back to a year earlier: along with two of the pope’s favored nephews, Giovan plots to assassinate Lorenzo de’ Medici—known as Lorenzo the Magnificent—as well as his attractive and popular brother Giuliano. The aging Giovan’s complicity is based solely on the plot’s approval by his master, Pope Sixtus IV, who informs the conflicted captain that “we will absolve you for everything if you rid us of Lorenzo and his brother.” Still grieving from the death of his only son in battle, Giovan finds himself in an unlikely role for one so late in life: that of Lorenzo’s assassin. The story that unfolds takes the reader from Rome to Florence, Pisa to Constantinople, knitting together a struggle of power, intrigue, and revenge against the backdrop of one of history’s most dramatic epochs. The reader experiences the story from the point of view of other characters as well, including Fioretta Gorini, the mistress of the handsome Giuliano, and Thadeous of Constantinople, a Greek tutor who survived the conquest of his native city 25 years earlier and now serves as instructor to one of the pope’s nephews in Pisa. Van Roekel (Prisoner Moon, 2012, etc.) summons the milieu of Renaissance Italy with expert detail, and the novel is full of the sort of cameos that fans of historical fiction love—at one point, Giovan nearly gets in a swordfight with Botticelli inside the still-under-construction Sistine Chapel. The pope says to Giovan, “My dear Captain, we hope you let that young man live. He does have talent.” Intricate and gripping, the book keeps the reader racing along with Giovan and company all the way to the bloody end.

An ambitious and engrossing tale of Renaissance Italy.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-72917-5

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Triptych Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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