A complicated follow-up that pushes its cast to the physical and emotional brink.



From the Fourth Talisman series , Vol. 2

In this fantasy sequel set in ancient Persia, Ross (Nocturne, 2017) prepares her heroes to confront a banished tribe of fire-wielding elementals.

Nazafareen, whose parents were a mortal and a magical da?va, is in the city of Delphi. She’s under the protection of Kallisto, leader of the Maenads, a group of “virgin warriors” who fight for the god Dionysius. Kallisto is married to the historian Herodotus, who’s been imprisoned for witchcraft by the Archon Basileus. He faces imminent trial, and standing with him will be Nazafareen’s friend Javid, who was captured by soldiers in the previous installment. To help free them, Nazafareen and the Maenads investigate Kadmos and Serpedon, toadies of the Archon who likely planted forbidden spell dust in the historian’s study. The trial, however, seems to have already been fixed, orchestrated by the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo; she’s searching for information on four talismans that helped imprison the clan called the Avas Vatras, 1,000 years ago. If the Vatras, da?vas who control fire, escape from the vast desert known as the Kiln, they’ll seek vengeance on the other elemental clans responsible for their imprisonment: the Danai, the Valkirins, and the Marakai. Meanwhile, the blind Valkirin Culach, who’s also in jail, forges a connection via his dreams with Farrumohr, a royal adviser who witnessed the Vatras’ fall. For this dense second volume of the Fourth Talisman series, Ross plots with Olympian vigor, packing her alternate version of Persia with complex characters and a multilayered mythos. Javid, a transgender man, steals numerous scenes as someone who embodies the notion that “life is too short to live as others would have us be.” Meanwhile, Darius, Nazafareen’s love interest, spends half the novel chained in the rooms of Thena, a priestess who intends to break him; when Thena falls in love with the indomitable hero, Ross does what she does best—creating subtle entanglements that intensify other subplots. This volume’s opening dilemma finds resolution, but there’s plenty still in flux to drive readers to an epic third installment.

A complicated follow-up that pushes its cast to the physical and emotional brink.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9990481-4-6

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Acorn

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

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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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