An often vivid account of British-Canadian partnership and espionage.



Set around the War of 1812, this debut novel focuses on the travels of a British spy.

Decore (The Campfire Gourmet, 1997), a retired trial lawyer from Edmonton, Alberta, builds a vivid fictional story around the life of David Thompson (1770-1857), a renowned British-Canadian explorer and mapmaker who was part owner of the fur-trading Northwest Company. In the early 1800s, there was rising concern that American John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company intended to establish a fort in Oregon Territory, which would give it exclusive trading rights and pave the way for an American takeover. The British government feared that American agents among Astor’s men might try to steal Thompson’s maps and logs—and even kill Thompson, if necessary; Decore’s fictional protagonist, British army Capt. William Ashford, is sent to ensure that this won’t happen. Summoned to London in early 1810, the promising young soldier is tasked with accompanying Thompson on a canoe journey on Canada’s Columbia River. He’ll be an undercover “information officer,” with only Thompson aware of his true identity. The maps that result from the journey will be shared by the crown and the Northwest Company. Among the mostly French-Canadian crew are two Iroquois brothers, Ignace and Charles, who befriend Ashford. Decore brings the voyage to life by offering plentiful description of such acts as making pemmican and riding toboggans. Immersive details about meals, camping, hiking, and attire make it easy to picture the explorers’ day-to-day activities. The chapters are snappy, with extra information provided in characters’ correspondence, rendered in boldface type. After the War of 1812 starts, the author tends to rely on quick historical overviews rather than imagined scenes, which makes the narrative feel somewhat dry. However, a late scene at the Bladensburg Races battle is a highlight, as is Ashford’s hand-to-hand combat with a person who ordered his assassination. There are occasional punctuation and typographical errors (such as the use of the word “decent” in place of “descent”) as well as dialogue that feels anachronistic: “How in the world did you pull that off?” But all in all, this is an atmospheric and convincing adventure story.

An often vivid account of British-Canadian partnership and espionage.

Pub Date: June 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-2507-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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