Doesn’t quite reach classic status but captures many of the genre’s most enjoyable aspects while flowering with a fertile...


Strump: A World of Shadows

A war for succession consumes an imaginative fantasy world in Beas’ extremely entertaining debut novel.

King Aerostat II has two sons: the vain, narcissistic elder one, Gorgan, and his kindhearted younger brother, Alexander. Although tradition would dictate that the throne should go to Gorgan after Aerostat’s death, the old man decides to give his kingdom to Alexander. Just as Aerostatis about to make the announcement, however, the dark Lord of the Shadows, Kavardas, assassinates him, facilitating Gorgan’s rise to power and setting off a civil war between Gorgan and Alexander. While this may seem a familiar plot to fantasy fans, Beas’ novel distinguishes itself with elements as unusual as they are imaginative. One of its appealing and unique elements is the magical board game Strump, which is inextricably, mystically linked to the makeup of the actual kingdom. In order for the king or lesser leaders to rule, they must wield certain game pieces, each represented by a letter in the acronym STRUMP—S for strength, T for truth, R for righteousness, U for unity, M for malice and P for power. The type of ruler depends on the pieces he uses. Meanwhile, the kingdom is populated not only with humans but with magical figures such as pixies, mermen and brainy animals, some of the most prominent being mice—some are wizards, others are warriors—which Beas treats with only the hint of a wink. From start to finish, the novel is an immensely fun read and a wonderful throwback to fantasy classics. Perhaps one drawback, though: Whereas many contemporary fantasy novels feature morally ambiguous, complex characters, this novel’s universe is more straightforwardly black and white, good vs. evil. Nevertheless, the nostalgic vibe is balanced by sheer invention, strong prose, and a great deal of cleverness and wit.

Doesn’t quite reach classic status but captures many of the genre’s most enjoyable aspects while flowering with a fertile imagination.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2013

ISBN: 978-1493148226

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

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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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