While hampered by modern-day babbling about dream theory, this Colonial tale still delivers engaging characters and an...

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Dangerous Dreams

A historical novel examines what might have happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

The author explores the fate of 16th-century English colonists on Roanoke Island (in what is now North Carolina). Abandoned by their captain, they fight Native Americans and hunger. Emily Colman, a comely lass, is courted by many men, including Hugh Tayler, an older colonist with a dubious past. In 2000, meanwhile, Allie O’Shay, a doctoral candidate in psychology, enlists the help of a professor to study her dreams about these settlers. Back in 16th-century America, her dreams reveal deteriorating conditions. Colonists and Native Americans commit atrocities against each other. When a Spanish man-of-war arrives off the coast, the settlers flee, only to endure a fatal shipwreck and an arduous overland trek. Settling near some friendly Chesapeake Indians, they rough it while awaiting help from England. Emily falls in love with a Lakota Sioux named Isna, who’s visiting the Chesapeakes. She discovers that Tayler is “evil to the core”—confirmed when he rapes her and tries to force her into marriage by threatening to kill her friend’s baby. Eventually, Isna wounds Tayler, who’s later killed by a war party of Powhatans on its way to wiping out the colonists. But Isna and Emily manage to escape. In the 21st century, Allie realizes she’s dreaming about her family’s history, just as some of her female forebears have done, and that they’re Isna and Emily’s descendants. This sprawling novel, based on Rhynard’s 1991 YA book with the same title, is ambitious but not completely successful. He’s at his best when describing 16th-century folkways, providing detailed accounts of everyday lives, down to making bayberry candles and pemmican. His main Colonial characters are well-drawn, and their story is engrossing, action-packed, and well-plotted. But weaving in modern-day Allie and telling the tale through the lens of her dreams becomes distracting. Allie’s storyline seems superfluous in a 785-page tome. Modern characters’ dialogue can be trite, and the 16th-century dialogue, though better, contains too much exposition and an occasional howler (a colonist crying, “Fate, shmate!”). Rhynard also exhibits an unfortunate weakness for clichés such as “the writing was on the wall” and overuses silly similes: “like a millipede stampede.” The novel would have worked better as a purely historical speculation.

While hampered by modern-day babbling about dream theory, this Colonial tale still delivers engaging characters and an energetic plot.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5170-5484-7

Page Count: 798

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

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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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