Heartfelt character moments combine with monstrous wackiness for a win.



From the Monsterland series , Vol. 2

This sequel pits the heroes who took down a California theme park’s creator against a revitalized horde of the undead.

Copper Valley’s Monsterland theme park, which brought visitors face to face with zombies, werewolves, and vampires, has closed. Vincent Konrad, the park’s philanthropist designer, died during an opening-night disaster along with his star attractions. Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Baldwin and his stepfather, highway patrolman Carter White, now navigate a post-apocalyptic world of looters, giant coyotes, and a government in crisis. They pick up the radio signal of Sebastian Espinoza, a soldier in nearby Stocktonville. He has supplies to trade but also warns against a purple menace. Carter reluctantly sends Wyatt and his teen friends Howard, Lily, Keisha, and Damon on a road trip to Stocktonville to establish radio contact with the FBI. Meanwhile, in a chamber beneath Monsterland, Vincent’s loyal assistant, Igor, works to return life to his master’s severed head. Dr. Hugh Frasier arrives to help, igniting Vincent’s Plan B, which involves the zombies dispatched by the military and a strange purple substance that hungers for life. Hopefully, Wyatt and company can recruit more firepower to Copper Valley before Monsterland’s grand reopening. In this zany sequel, Okon (Monsterland, 2017) succeeds in giving a second round of creatures, like mummies, shape-shifters, and blobs, a chance for mayhem. He remains firmly plugged into pop culture, as when characters argue over what to name the purple menace (“Call it the Foam,” Keisha says). The author also inserts a tone of playful chaos, as in this line during a car chase: “Any faster and they’d be traveling back to 1985.” Supernatural metamorphoses add dimension to Lily and returning character Melvin, but human changes also occur. Wyatt, when reunited with his crush, Jade, finds her juvenile and wonders what he’d seen in her. He also gains more respect for Carter, whom he’d resented for joining his family. Okon later touches on politics, modeling Vincent after someone who “wanted to eliminate...politicians who abuse their power with empty promises.” The finale aims readers toward a raucous third installment.

Heartfelt character moments combine with monstrous wackiness for a win.

Pub Date: April 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61475-680-4

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Wordfire Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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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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