A sci-fi mind-stretcher with a strong opening that spirals down confusing pathways.

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THE COUNTERCLOCK PROPHECY

From the Counterclock series , Vol. 1

Via time travel, two siblings are whisked away from an Earth apocalypse in 2016 to a distant-future space station—where they discover they may be the key to saving the world. 

In this debut YA novel, high school freshman Emily Clocke and her older brother, Eric— children of a pair of scientists—have unhappily relocated from California to Chicago after their father perished in a lab accident. Her feelings of dislocation are complicated by a science teacher, Ms. Crana, who seems suspiciously attentive to Emily. But a larger crisis looms on the horizon, literally, with the sky changing unnatural colors. Suddenly Eric and Emily are transported from all that they know by Ms. Crana, who claims they are the children of time travelers who lost their memories during an Earth mission. Now the Clocke kids are 500 years in the future at a space station called Caelestis. Earth is a barren rock and its only human descendants are on Caelestis, enhanced physically and mentally by nanotechnology. They call themselves the Remnant and dwell as ultra-logical telepaths and time travelers, troubled by the fact that historical records have been expunged of everything about Earth’s catastrophe. But the Remnant does maintain a quasi-religious “Prophecy” that two visitors will set everything right, and many interpret Emily and Eric as these saviors. As such, the siblings are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want, including maladroit attempts to take “timeships” back to 2016 to see the Earth cataclysm. Can they stop it? Let’s just say the protagonists’ temporal problem-solving would not earn good grades from Doctor Who, as the repeated crisscrossing time zones, snarled cause/effect overlaps, and predestination paradoxes make previous mind-expanding sci-fi material that ventured into such territory (like the films Donnie Darko, 12 Monkeys, and Prime) seem like models of linear storytelling. Mattson’s ambitious time-travel adventure offers an intriguing setup. But the tale ties Möbius strips into pretzels with its plotting. The questions only multiply, as one character says: “I don’t know what any of this means! I don’t know what will happen if I do something differently! Nobody does!” Which may be true, but which leaves a whole lot unexplained by the last page (a sequel is promised). While pitched at a tween to teen readership, adults won’t feel condescended to; it’s pretty puzzling for all ages.

A sci-fi mind-stretcher with a strong opening that spirals down confusing pathways.

Pub Date: March 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73203-060-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Marley-Goeste

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 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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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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