An enjoyable fantasy with a complex heroine set in an unusual time period.

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Juma's Rain

A FANTASY ROMANCE NOVEL SET IN STONE AGE AFRICA

Gerlach (The King’s Mechanic, 2015, etc.) turns to Africa in a tale of humans and gods set in the Stone Age.

Jumatoa “Juma” Botango wants nothing more than to win the role of chieftess in the matriarchal tribe her mother abandoned. Having reached training age, she travels with her father and two brothers to the central village to join her peers and learn from the elders. But claiming her mother’s birthright will not be easy. She immediately clashes with her cousin Kandra, the daughter of the current Chieftess Jakombe, who has led the tribe since Juma’s mother left. Juma hopes to prove her worth beyond doubt but is distracted from this goal at the welcoming ceremony, where she sees a mysterious man with bright red hair among the crowd. When the stranger causes a young man to collapse without warning, Juma realizes he must be Mubuntu, the Lord of Fire, making mischief while his sister Vanamate, the Keeper of the Water, sleeps. Juma manages to save the young man by using Vanamate’s magical tears, which she obtained while walking in the spirit realm. But the tribe’s trials are just beginning. Mubuntu has imprisoned Vanamate through his trickery, creating a massive drought. Soon Juma and her people must contend with the dual threats posed by other parched tribes in search of water and Mubuntu’s quest for power—for if he succeeds in keeping Vanamate asleep, the drought will mean an end to the girl’s tribe. Gerlach’s prose has a mythical feel as it moves effortlessly between the real and spirit realms. Especially enjoyable are the complexity of the matriarchal society and the intricacies of the world of the gods. Juma, a competent and complicated protagonist, has confidence in her abilities without dismissing the wisdom of her peers and elders, and the romance Gerlach crafts reflects the care and consideration with which Juma approaches all aspects of her life. Though there are moments of awkwardly modern phrasing (“Kandra had a breakdown” and “[He] jumped Chunte”), these rarely detract from an engaging plot.

 An enjoyable fantasy with a complex heroine set in an unusual time period.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-3-9568104-9-7

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Independent Bookworm

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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