An engaging narrative voice and thoughtful back story add depth to a fairly standard portal-adventure plot.

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Accidental Arrival

From the The Water Stone Triology series , Vol. 1

In this YA fantasy novel, a teenage girl unexpectedly travels to another planet, where she learns that Earth may soon join an intergalactic coalition.

When Emily Harrison was just a few years old, Earth discovered the secret of “water travel”: an instantaneous journey via molecule rearrangement to anywhere that has flowing water. Now, 17-year-old Emily, in turmoil over her parents’ divorce and just wanting to get away, takes a lake dip that somehow lands her on another planet called Arden. The friendly inhabitants’ mission is to help planets like Earth “technologically and artistically prepare for mergence with The Accordance,” the intergalactic governing body. There’s much that intrigues Emily about Arden, which has highly developed technology but a quaint appearance: “sunlit lanes nestled between the cottage-style shops draped in lush foliage from the surrounding trees.” Especially intriguing is Lachlan Belean Elgin, the brother of Emily’s new friend, DeRenne. He’s a handsome, emotionally guarded young man with heavy responsibilities. Emily feels self-conscious and wrong-footed around Lachlan, even when he becomes romantic. As a result, Emily again acts impulsively around a body of water after some emotional turmoil, which gets her in more trouble—but it could also, with the help of her friends, aid The Accordance and thwart a traitor. In her debut novel, Barnett employs many tropes that are standard to YA fantasy: a portal to another world; an insecure heroine with a special role to play who can’t imagine why the uncommunicative hero would be interested in her; and wish-fulfillment details, such as fancy clothes. Still, Barnett marshals some imaginative back story regarding history and politics, describes nifty alien inventions (including wallpaper woven with light-emitting “nanoprisms”), and gives sufficiently scientific-ish explanations for miracles such as water travel, which help bolster the book. The plot moves along well, giving Emily a chance to grow as a character, and her voice is lively and amusing. The romance, though, doesn’t offer much beyond dramatic high school emotions: “How did it get to this level so quickly?” Emily asks herself—a good question that the book doesn’t really answer.

An engaging narrative voice and thoughtful back story add depth to a fairly standard portal-adventure plot.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62747-186-2

Page Count: 328

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 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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