An exploration of radical movements and the people involved in them, with both action and insight in digestible doses.

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WALKING AWAY FROM THE KING

From Penney (Behind the Gates with the 1%, 2012, etc.) comes a novel about a new psychedelic movement, its charming leader and the variety of people caught up in the details.  

Bruno Panoka has come a long way from being an evangelical preacher. “Whereas the documentaries of Bruno Panoka as a child prodigy televangelist…regularly opened with singing, clapping, and raising hands to the Lord,” the narrator says, “here he was kicking things off with a mesmerizing Chakra chant.” Panoka’s latest message is one of spiritual exploration with the aid of psychoactive mushrooms. With his Gaia/Universe organization, Panoka pledges to spread his beliefs. He proclaims on television that “because Sacred Mushrooms are at this time illegal and a tool of Empire’s thought control, it would be self-defeating…to actively promote or engage in the physical ingestion of Sacred Mushrooms.” However, he says, “If we can’t use Sacred Mushrooms, we can indeed talk about the ingestion of Sacred Mushrooms and the opening and freeing of minds—and indeed we will.” Utilizing financial resources and leagues of followers, Panoka is perceived as a threat by mainstream America. Organizing quickly, the opposition strikes with considerable force by protesting and hacking into the Gaia/Universe system. How a man as self-assured as Panoka will respond is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, ex-convict Harry Wimple follows Panoka’s progress from his dilapidated north Phoenix apartment. Having fallen in love with a beautiful acupuncturist, Wimple is doing better than usual, though still not great. The acupuncturist has a boyfriend with whom she seems unlikely to part. When Panoka ends up looking for help from Wimple, he will be faced with a decision that could land him back in jail for the rest of his life. Mixed with characters of different stripes, the book focuses not just on major movers and shakers but on the people they affect. Panoka’s organization doesn’t function on his word alone; it requires administrators, devotees and, eventually, security. Throughout the drama, these and others play their parts; some change to provide novel perspectives, while others remain stereotypes. Whiskey-drinking Walter Dellenbach the Fifth belongs to the latter category, providing little insight into the type of man who wishes to crush Panoka, declaring merely that “We cannot render up control of the species to the rabble.” Slowed initially by Panoka’s penchant for wordy speeches, the action builds in later chapters as readers discover what happens when worlds of disparate philosophies collide.

An exploration of radical movements and the people involved in them, with both action and insight in digestible doses.  

Pub Date: June 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499277647

Page Count: 460

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 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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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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