A pleasing fantasy that occasionally bogs down but usually entertains.


In this debut children’s book, three cousins use a magical parasol to visit Storyworld, where they encounter an evil witch who must be stopped.

Cousins Amanda Jane “Mandy” Mandez, Mickey Veen, and Gina Sitzma, all 10 years old, are celebrating Mickey’s birthday at their great-grandmother Gigi’s house. During a game of hide-and-seek, Mandy discovers a parasol in the attic with a wooden handle carved in the shape of a dragon and a dull white knob on top. When Gina rests the parasol on her shoulder and twirls it, she’s put into a short trance that sends her to Storyworld, where she’s greeted by J.T. (short for “Just The Valet”). He explains some conditions for using the parasol (for example, it only works on sunny days) and tells Gina about her ancestor Mathias Phef Venscen. He was a powerful wizard and J.T. was his squire; Phef lives on after his body’s death in the enchanted realm. Now J.T. guides and protects Storyworld visitors, who live “in the story as if it was real.” The cousins all have exciting adventures via parasol. For example, Gina goes to a royal birthday party in a fairy-talelike land; Mickey travels to Mars on a spaceship and helps rescue scientists; and Mandy visits Talon, “the center and the core of Storyworld,” where real dragons live. The secret is revealed to others, who join in. At Gigi’s house in the summer, the whole family gathers to hear the latest escapades. But all is not well in the mystical realm: Mandy’s mother is turned to stone by Loganna, the “Lizard Witch,” who’s amassing an army to invade Storyworld. The group executes a perilous plan to mount a rescue mission and fight Loganna, requiring Mandy to dig deep for her magical powers. In his novel, Even uses some popular fantasy themes, such as an enchanted portal, dragons, wizards, charmed objects, and rescue quests. Also pleasing are scenarios such as discovering a special heritage and acquiring occult abilities. Mandy, for example, gets the delightful news that as Phef’s descendant, she is “of magic—and thus a witch.” The adventures are nicely varied to suit different tastes for types of stories and settings, from outer space to undersea. The escapades themselves are mostly described after the fact, when a more direct account might be more enjoyable. That’s especially true given that the tale can drag a bit during exposition about the rules, exceptions, history, and characteristics of Storyworld and its magical items or creatures. Many of the realm’s rules seem made to be broken, making it hard to justify long explanations of lore. But the author does describe an appealingly affectionate extended family, lifted from the ordinary by their wizardly backstory. The chapter heading images by debut illustrator Canfield are naive but charming. The book ends on a dramatic and promising note of magical exploits to come, presumably less burdened by the need for lore.

A pleasing fantasy that occasionally bogs down but usually entertains.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9889048-2-8

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Cresting Wave Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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