A prettily written historical romance that deserves a better story.

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Song of the Highlands

THE CAMBELS

A murder plot in medieval Scotland threatens the wedded bliss of a mute woman and her brutish husband in Saxon’s (Highland Grace, 2012, etc.) latest romance.

A tragedy in Morgana’s youth robbed her of both of her parents as well as her voice. Meek and inexperienced after years of living in a nunnery, she develops a fancy for the handsome knight Robert MacVie not long after arriving at King William’s court. Her scheming cousin Vika, who’s Robert’s occasional lover, decides to help Morgana fulfill her wish; Robert is tricked into taking Morgana away to a remote cabin after she’s disguised to look like Vika. But Robert has a scheme of his own: He plans to get wealthy heiress Vika pregnant, forcing her to marry him and thereby giving him the means to pay off debts that could otherwise spell ruin for his clan. So eager is he to seal the deal, in fact, that he doesn’t notice that Morgana isn’t Vika until after the deed is done. The novel’s prose is often surprisingly beautiful (“As she continued to walk, she enjoyed…the sharp tang that wafted up to her of young fern leaves and other new-grown plant life crushed beneath her feet”). However, if readers make it past the cringe-worthy first encounter between the (supposed) hero and heroine, it will only be due to morbid curiosity, because the story quickly derails after Morgana’s tyrannical uncle orders the pair to wed. Their days together as husband and wife seem like the perfect honeymoon until Morgana’s dark past catches up with her. Morgana, always a breath away from fainting, suffers from a saint complex, while Robert is a male stereotype of razor-thin self-control, regularly grunting and clenching his fists. In the tradition of the genre, the slight plot serves only to thrust the two into rooms together so they can have sexual encounters. Indeed, every time the story seems to be taking an intriguing turn, their explicit romps cause tiresome delays.

A prettily written historical romance that deserves a better story.

Pub Date: May 2, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Passion Flower Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2014

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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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