An exuberant narrator, a conjure woman, and a pirate-mad white suitor enliven this tale.

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THE DIARY OF A SLAVE GIRL, CAMELLIA CASSANDRA

(CAPE FEAR, NORTH CAROLINA 1725)

From the Plantations and Pirates series , Vol. 5

Fifth in a series of children’s books, this fictional diary recounts how a widow’s mystical sessions affect a 13-year-old slave girl’s family.

Beginning in June 1725, Camellia Cassandra writes in her diary that “nothing exciting ain’t NEVER going to happen on this here New Ashley Hall plantation!” (Her literacy, or how she got a diary, isn’t explained.) Most of the North Carolina plantation’s 43 slaves labor in the fields, but when Camellia and her two sisters get a chance to serve in the Big House, they soon discover it’s harder work than dusting a few knickknacks. Pansy Pearl, the runt, is tasked with looking after the Hightowers’ sickly baby. Then, when the plantation gets visitors—Jimbo Studebaker is courting Miss Charlene Hightower—Camellia and Myrtle Millicent are brought in to clean bedrooms and look after the guests. Though the girls no longer have to fear leeches and gators, they’re more directly under the thumbs of their white owners. If the marriage comes off, the siblings will be separated and Camellia will have to leave behind her boyfriend, Barn Boy Jesse. But when the white folks ask Ole Widow Brown, reputed to be an Obeah woman, to raise spirits of the dead, Jimbo seems more interested in pirate ghosts than his intended. Can the wedding be stopped? McWilliams (Diary of a Black Seminole Girl, Ebony Noel, 2016, etc.) writes in an entertaining, vivacious voice that’s much the same from book to book, full of capitalized words, multiple exclamation points, dialect, and many sentences beginning with “That’s when.” Although the indignities of slavery underlie the novel’s plot, Camellia’s irrepressible sense of fun stands up to them well. Widow Brown’s conjuring sessions provide much amusement. Stede Bonnet speaks: “I grow weary and wants to go back to the here and beyond where I gots BLUE SKY, WHITE CLOUDS, PURTY ANGELS, and PEACE from WHITE BOYS what think they knowd ’bout PIRATES!” An author’s note provides more information on slave narratives.

An exuberant narrator, a conjure woman, and a pirate-mad white suitor enliven this tale.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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