Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure...



A fictional retelling of the rise to power of Nzinga, queen of the Ndonga tribe of Angola, examines her defiance of the Portuguese invaders who sought to enslave her people.

In 16th-century Angola, Portugal wages war with the Ndongo tribe, seeking fortune through the subjugation of its land and people. Upon capturing the mother, wife, and two sisters of the tribe’s ruler—the Ngola Kilijua, Mbande—the Portuguese face not a wrathful king but his half sister, the beautiful and shrewd Nzinga, sent to negotiate both her family’s release and a peace treaty. Favored in her youth by her father, the previous Ngola, Nzinga developed the keen, strategic mind of a leader through her endless curiosity and brazen eavesdropping despite being unable to ascend the throne as a woman. Freeing her family, she returns home a hero for her diplomatic maneuvering, making no concessions, and leaving only a spy network behind. When her brother dies under mysterious circumstances, it is not long before her growing popularity allows her to crown herself Ngola, defying gender norms as she leads her nation in staving off the advances of the more technologically advanced Portuguese, despite their horses, armor, and gun powder. Famously, when not offered a chair in the court of Luanda, Nzinga sat upon the backs of her own subjects, and Howard (A Teacher in West Africa, 2016, etc.) injects the novel with this same level of showmanship, from the re-creation of that scene to the bloody, vivid carnage of battle. Traveling poets and storytellers called griots impart to the younger Nzinga, as well as the reader, the history and nuanced beliefs of the Ndongo people, a culture that while at times cruel—Nzinga herself lost her own son to her brother’s fears of interrupting the line of succession—still inspires loyalty and instills the importance of such occasional brutalities to the ascending queen. Thoroughly researched, the book includes a useful list of characters, some of the author’s own notes on the text, as well as some further reference materials for those who wish to know more about this unapproachable queen.

Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure who ruled in Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939423-40-5

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Jugum Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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